Archive for December 2020

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian


If there is any silver lining to having to spend the majority of my time at home this year, it would have to be having no excuse to not catch up on my backlog list of TV shows I want to watch. At this point, the list of shows has started to rival even my massive "to be read" list. One show that recently caught my eye was The Flight Attendant on HBO Max. I love a good mystery, so the first episode had me hooked from the start. When I discovered that the show was actually based on a book, I decided to do the only logical thing and read the book before continuing the show. 

Working for an airline has always held an air of glamor and adventure to me. Pre-COVID, I loved flying to far off cities, exploring the people and culture of places that are different from my own, and embracing the unique perspectives that only come from traveling. As a flight attendant, Cassandra Bowen has been fortunate to fly all over the world. She wouldn't, however, call her job glamorous. Shuttling from airport to hotel after long days in the sky has really taken a toll on Cassie. The only thing that seems to be having a worse effect on her is her drinking. You see, Cassie is an alcoholic. 

For years, Cassie has been able to hide her addiction. She's no stranger to drinking all night to the point of blacking out, but she's always up the next morning, ready to fly to the next destination. It comes as no surprise then, that Cassie finds herself living it up with one of her passengers from her most recent flight to Dubai. The couple dines, drinks, and sleeps together all night. When Cassie wakes up in the man's bed the next morning, she has no clear recollection of what exactly happened the night before. She jumps out of bed and expects to make a clean break to the airport. There's only one problem, the attractive man that she spent the night with, is now a murdered corpse in the bed. 

It is oddly fitting that Chris Bohjalian's The Flight Attendant should be the 52nd and final book that I read this year. When I started my blog and yearly goal of reading a book a week, it was mainly because the last book I read took me months to complete. That book just happened to be The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed that book a lot, but the fact that I was only reading a handful of books each year really bothered me. Fortunately, The Flight Attendant only took me a couple of days to breeze through. Bohjalian strikes a fine balance between a globe-spanning mystery and the more intimate story of a woman battling her demons. The book takes a more serious and dark tone than the show, but I feel that was really to the benefit of the novel. Even if I felt a bit let down by the ending, I can't deny the fun I had reading up until that point. As the sun sets on the roller coaster year that we've all lived through, I'm grateful for books like this one that can both entertain and implore me to think a bit in the process. With the new year quickly approaching, I'm eager to start reading a book a week all over again. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 52) 

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham


I think it is safe to say that for many of us, this Christmas was anything but ordinary. My Christmas traditions usually consist of traveling home to see my parents, attending Christmas Eve church services, and celebrating the evening and following day with a large family gathering. Thanks to COVID-19, this was the first Christmas that I spent away from my family. There was no traveling, and holding our usual party was simply out of the question. Still, we managed to find ways of adapting our traditions to adhere to this new normal. Instead of attending church together, I watched it virtually. Instead of gathering around the Christmas tree to unwrap presents, we shipped gifts to each other and opened them during a FaceTime call. Fortunately, one of my personal traditions stayed exactly the same. As Christmas Eve turned to Christmas morning, I stayed awake, reading the final pages of a good book. 

When John Grisham, known more for his legal thrillers than Holiday-themed fare, published Skipping Christmas back in 2001, the idea of foregoing the holiday probably sounded absurd. In fact, Luther Krank's money-saving scheme of taking a cruise instead of practicing the family Christmas traditions raised ire and disbelief across his entire neighborhood. Krank did little to appease his community perception as a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, he relished in the opportunity to smugly rub his nonconformity in everyone's face. As such, he isn't the most likable character. But like the aforementioned Scrooge, Krank goes through a transformation. Through the power of a community coming together to bring the spirit of the season to an outsider, Luther Krank embraces that Christmas magic and learns to appreciate the smaller wonders of the holiday. 

I've read this book before, but this year saw the novel take on a deeper meaning for me. Sure, you'll have to overlook the unlikable main character and the all too convenient plotting, but there is something to be said about the idea of skipping Christmas this year. While we didn't skip our observance of the holiday, the way in which we approached it was vastly different. I think that Skipping Christmas mirrors our reality in some ways. How easy would it have been for us to simply put a halt to our celebration? In a year that has seen so much tragedy and despair, I'll admit that it felt a bit silly falling into the commercialism of decorating my home and buying gifts. But those are just trivial parts of what this season truly means. Like the neighborhood in the book, countless friends and families came together to keep the spirit of community that flows through this season alive. While 2020 certainly hasn't looked or felt like any other year that I've experienced, I'm glad that we made the effort to persevere through it all. More importantly, I'm thankful that we didn't skip Christmas. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 51)

Fool Me Twice by Jeff Lindsay


With just three books to go before completing my goal of reading a book a week this year, I'm finding that the end of this journey is looking much like it began. My reading has taken me through many more genres than I typically encounter, but I'm falling back into a more comfortable territory to close things out.  I started the year off by reading Just Watch Me, the start of a new series by Jeff Lindsay. Lindsay shot to fame for his best selling Dexter series, and his newest character proved to be just as fascinating. When his publisher offered me a copy of Fool Me Twice, the second novel to feature Lindsay's burglar protagonist Riley Wolfe, I jumped at the chance to read it. I'm pleased to report that this sequel more than delivered everything I grew to love about the first book. 

Riley Wolfe is really good at his job. He's meticulous in the preparation, execution, and clean up of each job he undertakes. He has to be. When you devote your life to pulling off the kind of heists that even the most competent thieves wouldn't even dream of attempting, there's really no room for error. In fact, that's why Riley is so frustrated with himself at the start of this novel. You see, despite all the precision and careful planning, the disguises, the fake names, and the payoffs, Riley has been double-crossed. He finds himself in the exact position he has worked so diligently to avoid. He's at the mercy of another crook. 

Held captive for several days, chained in place, his finger broken, Riley is pretty much done with whatever the heck is going on. He's not used to this kind of treatment, and he's ready to do whatever it will take to gain back his freedom. It is soon revealed that his captor, notorious arms dealer Patrick Boniface, is ready to make a deal. Boniface is prepared to trade Riley's freedom in exchange for a heist. But this isn't just your ordinary theft. What Boniface wants is impossible. He wants Riley to bring him a famed fresco by Raphael that is directly painted onto a wall within the Vatican. Fortunately for both Riley and Boniface, Riley has a knack for achieving the impossible. 

With Fool Me Twice, Jeff Lindsay is two for two in providing clever thrills and intriguing drama in his series. Like his more famous character Dexter, Riley Wolfe is a classic anti-hero. The man literally lies, cheats, and steals his way through life, and I couldn't get enough of him. There's something delightfully irresistible about Wolfe. It is fun in the way that any heist story is. You know what the protagonist is doing is technically wrong, but you're so caught up in the thrill of the attempt that you can't help but root for them. While reading the first book will provide more insight into the existing relationships between the main characters (there's a noticeable lack of continued character development in this book compared to the previous one), not reading it won't disqualify you from enjoying the main story of this one. That being said, the first book is really fun too. Do yourself a favor and read both! As for me, I'll be anxiously awaiting the next book to feature this fun character, and quickly reading a couple more books to finish my book a week goal. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 50)

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi


"One minute there was a God with the whole world in his hands; the next minute the world was plummeting, ceaselessly, toward an ever-shifting bottom."

With this unprecedented year quickly coming to a close, I've got just a few more weeks to tackle my 2020 reading list and achieve my goal of reading a book a week. I've been not so patiently waiting to read Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom pretty much from the moment I closed the cover on her stunning debut Homegoing. I was left astounded at the way Gyasi brilliantly captured the enormous scope of systemic racism across the timeline of American history while maintaining a relatively small page count. The depth of emotion that she presented in 300 pages was masterful. This new novel clocks in at an even shorter page count but still delivers all of the emotional heft of a much larger work. 

Gifty is in the 6th year of her doctorate studies at Stanford, working diligently each day to understand the inner workings of neurological processes. Specifically, her science deals with the tragic cycle of addiction and the emotional trauma it leaves in its wake. She watches as the mice navigate her experiment, getting their fix from a chemical concoction that keeps them coming back for more. Gifty sees the agony of the mice who are denied this drug. She sees the depression set in, the will to live diminishes, and the sheer desperation that fills the poor creatures. But these mice are mere pawns in a science project. For Gifty, the realities of addiction and depression hit much closer to home. 

Gifty and her family moved from Ghana to Huntsville, Alabama when she was just a small child. Her father quickly left the family to start a new one, and her mother sought solace in the only place that was available to her, the evangelical southern church. With one parent out of the picture and the other too worried about protecting the soul of her family to have a real conversation with her children, Gifty and her older brother Nana formed an inseparable bond. The two could turn to each other no matter what. That is, they could until Nana injured himself on the basketball court. The rising star soon became dependent on prescription drugs, and the family was never the same. 

Transcendent Kingdom sees Yaa Gyasi juxtapose science and religion through a grounded story about a family and their struggle to find their place in the world. There's no narrative gymnastics in this one. Gyasi deftly keeps her story small in scope, remaining intentional in the way she reveals the trauma of her characters. Her main character Gifty is a young woman caught between devotion to caring for her family and a desire to make more of her own life and become her own person. She longs to move on and make her mark on the world but is constantly held back by her past. She is simply unable to tend to one without neglecting the other. Gyasi has written a novel that is classical in its modernity, a story that is both of this time and transcendent of any particular moment in time. This family, these words, all come together to form one truly Transcendent Kingdom

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2020, 49)

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