Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

“I mean, most of the people I defend aren’t evil ... They’re guilty, yeah, but they aren’t evil. You know what I mean? There’s a difference. You listen to them and you know why they make the choices they make. People are just trying to get by, just to live with what they’re given, and some of them aren’t given a damn thing in the first place. But evil is something else. It’s different. It’s like… I don’t know. It’s out there and when it shows up…  I can’t explain it ... All I know is I should have been afraid of one thing but I was afraid of the complete opposite.” 

The Lncoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (2005) is a legal thriller set in Los Angeles California and it's the first book in Connelly's Mickey Haller series.  Michael (Mickey) Haller narrates this novel.  He's a criminal defense attorney who works out of his Lincoln town car meeting with witnesses, reviewing files, making calls etc.  His driver Earl takes him wherever he needs to go. 

Haller's been a defense attorney for 15 years.  He has two ex-wives who he gets along with and a young daughter.  He is smart and successful but he has become jaded about the legal system.  Haller still does pro bono work but mainly these days he is on the lookout for wealthy clients who can pay his considerable fees.  And then he gets the high profile case he has been waiting for.  

His client Louis Ross Roulet is the son of a prominent family.  Louis has been charged with attempted rape and battery of Reggie Campo, a young woman he met in a bar.  Louis insists he is innocent and that he is being extorted because of his family's wealth.  Haller is inclined to believe Louis and is sure he can get the case dismissed without even having to go to trial.   

Haller is a bit disappointed at this because if the case were to drag on he could continue to bill the Roulet family for his services.  But Haller has ethics and so he proceeds to bring this case to a quick close.   Or at least that's the way he expects this case will go.  I'll just leave it there..

I really enjoyed the Lincoln Lawyer and a major reason was Mickey Haller.  He is smart and a good man despite a few flaws.  He's also very funny in the way he explains the legal system.  I also liked the storyline of The Lincoln Lawyer where you have a narrator for whom the idealistic reasons he became a defense attorney went out the window years ago.  Now it's pretty much a game and a nice paycheck until the Roulet case lands in his lap.  

Thanks to Lark & Sam at Larkwrites and Bookchase, two very fine bloggers I follow for alerting me to Michael Connelly.  I plan to try his other series featuring Detective Harry Bosch.  What's interesting is that Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch are half-brothers who meet later in life and after reading Harry's bio you could not find two more different individuals.  

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier


A shy and reserved young woman who is alone in the world, no friends or family, arrives at an isolated mansion. The owner of the estate is considerably older than the young woman.  He is handsome, brooding and mysterious. There is a secret about his first wife which the young woman will discover and at that point she will have a decision to make.  

Charlotte Bronte made this storyline immortal in Jane Eyre and almost one hundred years later Daphne DuMaurier gave this tale her own twist in Rebecca published 1938 which I decided to go with for the 2022 Back to the Classics Category - choose a 20th century classic.

It is my first time reading Rebecca and I went in thinking I knew the novel better than I did.  But I soon discovered that the book is significantly different than Jane Eyre in key aspects.  And nowhere is that more true in my opinion than in the different way Jane Eyre and the second Mrs DeWinter respond when a major revelation about the men they love occurs later in the book.  Their opposite response shows that despite some biographical similarities they are very different women.

But since I am here to review Rebecca let me get started. Rebecca is set in the 1930's and narrated by the second Mrs. DeWinter.  We never learn her first name but we do learn how she came to meet her husband, Maxim DeWinter.  She was twenty and staying in Monte Carlo working as a companion to a wealthy older woman by the name of Mrs Van. Hopper.  Mrs. Van Hopper is a busybody and thrilled to discover that the wealthy widower Maxim DeWinter, owner of the magnificent  Manderley Estate in Cornwall, is vacationing at their hotel.   

In true Cinderella fashion Maxim is interested in Mrs. Van Hopper' shy young companion and within weeks they are married.  After the honeymoon the DeWinters arrive at Manderly ready to begin their new lives but Mrs DeWinter is a fish out of water.  The servants are reserved and not very friendly.  And Mrs Danvers the unbalanced housekeeper who was very close to Maxim DeWinter's first wife Rebecca makes it clear that she regards the new Mrs. DeWinter as an unwanted intruder, not fit to touch any of Rebecca's things.  

Maxim has also changed since returning to Manderley.  He has become withdrawn, short- tempered.  Maxim's friends and neighbors are eager to call on the the new Mrs. DeWinter. But she tries to avoid these lunches sure that they will be comparing her to the beautiful Rebecca who died a year ago in a boating accident as she has been told and who she fears Maxim is still in love with.  

Mrs. DeWinter finally decides to throw a costume ball.  But the evening ends in disaster when Mrs Danvers in an attempt to sabatoge Mrs DeWinter picks out a ball gown which Rebecca used to wear.   Mrs DeWinter doesn't know this and as she descends the staircase at Manderly wearing Rebecca's dress the guests are shocked and Maxim is furious demanding she change her outfit.  Mrs DeWinter in tears runs back to her bedroom.  Maxim's sister Beatrice tries to comfort her but it does no good.  Mrs DeWinter is a young woman with not much confidence and she compares herself harshly to Maxim's sister Beatrice: 

"She belonged to another breed of men and women, another race than I. They had guts, the women of her race. They were not like me. If it had been Beatrice who had done this thing instead of me she would have put on her other dress and gone down again to welcome her guests. She would have stood by Giles’s side, and shaken hands with people, a smile on her face. I could not do that. I had not the pride, I had not the guts. I was badly bred."

Can you imagine Jane Eyre talking about herself like this?  I can't. Jane was shy and reserved but there was also an inner strength and toughness in Jane which is missing from Mrs. DeWinter who is constantly imagining the worst with regard to what everyone is thinking about her and believing it as well.

But then a significant event happens at Manderley which I can't go into but the pace of the novel really picks up and I was very eager to know how it would play out.  It is also because of this event that Mrs. DeWinter finds her strength so that she can stand up for herself, be a supportive spouse to Maxim and run Manderley with confidence.  And that was a problem for me because this is not the lesson in my opinion Mrs DeWinter should have drawn from what is revealed.  Standing by your spouse is a good thing  but there should be limits and Mrs. DeWinter doesn't see those limits.  Jane Eyre would have.

I finished Rebecca therefore with a new respect for Jane Eyre and for Mr. Rochester.  But I also enjoyed Rebecca which is very well written and the suspence builds which is what I like in a mystery.  I can see why after finishing Rebecca many readers go on to Daphne DuMaurier's other novels, Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel to name two.  

Thursday, July 14, 2022

American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever

I'll just say it straight out, I loved American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever published 2006.  What a marvelous group biography of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.  Some may ask why did the author choose these particular writers for a group biography? What connection do they have with each other?  You would be suprised.  I know I was. 

For starters all five writers, to a greater or lesser degree, were part of the transcendentalist movement.   Trancendentalism was a philosophy that began in New England in the 1830's, and as Susan Cheever explains:

The Concord group of transcendentalists was part of a wave of liberalism and a passion for freedom that seemed to be sweeping through the new United States. After decades of Puritan striving and dour farmers rising at dawn to tend to the necessities of crops and barns now nature was a friendly environment to be enjoyed. The world was shifting. It was time to kick up our heels ... Even the dour, handsome Nathaniel Hawthorne was not immune to this exuberant mood. “I want my place, my own place, my true place in the world,” he wrote; “I want my proper sphere, my thing.”

After discussing trancendentalism Cheever moves on to the major focus of her book detailing the lives of these brilliant American writers liiving near each other (in the case of the Alcotts and the Hawthornes right next door) in Concord, MA during the 1840's to the 1860's.  These writers also lived elsewhere at different points in their lives but they always returned to Concord.  The  exception tragically was Margaret Fuller who drowned in a shipwreck with her husband and infant son off the coast of Fire Island, New York.  Hawthorne and Emerson were deeply affected by Margaret's death. Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott were horrified as well and Susan Cheever's recounting of the shipwreck makes for powerful reading.

American Bloomsbury brings home throughout the book how connected the lives of Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and Fuller were.  The young Louisa May Alcott went on boat rides with Thoreau and Cheever tells us the character of Laurie in Little Women is based on him.  Hawthorne was quite taken with Margaret Fuller and she may have been the inspiration for Hester Prynne in The Scarlett Letter.  When Louisa May Alcott returned to Concord an invalid after working as a civil war nurse the Hawthornes and the Emersons went right to the Alcott's home asking how they could help.  That's understandable since Louisa had leant a helping hand caring for the Emerson and Hawthorne children when they were growing up.  

I don't want to reveal too much more because I want people to read American Bloomsbury for themselves and there is much more to discover.  I can't close though without saying a few words about Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was a wealthy man and a generous one.  He helped his friend Thoreau out financially throughout his life.  The Alcotts and the Hawthornes would eventually be able to live comfortably but for a long time they needed Emerson's help and he always gave it.  Suffice it to say without Emerson such American classics as Walden, Little Women and The Scarlet Letter might never have been written. 

I finished American Bloomsbury determined to read and in some cases reread the works of these classic American writers and I highly recommend American Bloomsbury, a fascinating and inspiring book of American cultural history.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

"Suddenly Peter felt his stomach turn to ice. What if kindergarten was not as great as he’d imagined? What if his teacher looked like the witch on that TV program that gave him nightmares sometimes? What if he forgot which direction the letter E went and everyone made fun of him? With hesitation, he climbed the steps of the school bus. The driver wore an army jacket and had two teeth missing in the front. “There’s seats in back,” he said, and Peter headed down the aisle" 

Jodi Picoult is a bestselling, critically acclaimed novelist who I have been meaning to read for some time.  She has published 28 novels that have been translated into 34 languages. Her books often touch upon hot button, ripped from the headlines issues.  And in 2007 she published Nineteen Minutes a novel centering around a mass shooting at a high school.  It's a subject that tragically hasn't aged in the fifteen years since the novel was published.  If anything it's gotten worse. 

The shooter at the center of Nineteen Minutes is seventeen year old Peter Houghton who  walks into Sterling High one morning and opens fire on his classmates.  Ten students are killed including a teacher.  Nineteen Minutes deals with the aftermath of the shooting but also the years that led up to why Peter snapped and did this terrible thing.   There is no excuse for what Peter did but we are shown over the course of the novel how serious an issue school bullying is.  How it can change a person and it certainly changed Peter who was physically and verbally assaulted by the school bullies starting in kindergarten.  

At first Peter has an ally in his friend Josie Cormier.  She protects Peter from the kids who pick on him daily but as they go through grammar and high school together Josie begins to drift away from Peter joining the popular crowd.  She feels bad about this since she likes Peter but it becomes clear that to remain friends with him will end up making her an outcast as well.  So Peter becomes increasingly isolated and actually if the jocks and the bullies left Peter alone he could live with that.  But these kids are sadistic and cruel.  They will not leave him alone and it eventually ends in disaster.  

Nineteen Minutes focuses on school bullying mainly but other issues are discussed too, the easy availability of guns, violent video games, mental illness.  And one thing that really struck me in this novel is how hard it is to be a parent.  Your heart breaks for Peter's mother Lacy.  She is a good woman and she loves her two sons but she makes a mistake early in the book when she goes to see Peter's teacher.  Peter is about seven and the teacher tells Lacy that the other kids are picking on him.  Lacy is horrified and expects the school to put the bullying to an immediate stop. 

But the clueless teacher tells Lacy that this kind of thing happens in schools and therefore the best thing for Peter would be learning how to stand up for himself.  Lacy in her heart is bothered by this advise and yet she is intimidated into thinking maybe the teacher knows best. A big mistake since the bullying doesn't stop and going forward Peter begins to withdraw further and further and never shares with his parents again about how things are really going in school.  

Nineteen Minutes is not a beach read but it is wonderfully written, thought-provoking and heart-breaking.  And one lesson the author drives home is that from the moment a child leaves for kindergarten and on through high school, parents have to stay involved and ask questions.  Teachers have to be on the lookout as well because kids that are bullied often don't say anything.