The First Three Books of the Year

How goes it? Have you set your reading goals for the year? I hope to read and listen to about the same amount of books as I did last year — perhaps 60, or five per month, which feels a reasonable pace to me. My first three books of 2018 included one nonfiction book and two page-turners, though since then I’ve had a bit of trouble settling down. Lately I pick up one book read some, then put it down and pick up another, which is very unusual for me. Usually I just commit to a book and stick with it. It seems I need to reclaim some focus these days.

Granted, it’s been busy this month with travels. And tomorrow we’re taking a road trip of about 13 hours to meet up with my sister and her husband in the States. It’s a short trip then we will drive back, but we get to take our dog Stella, which will be fun since they have her half sister — a Yellow Lab that she will meet for the first time. Hmm. I hope to take plenty of pictures of our treks with the dogs. Needless to say this long preamble is basically to make the case I haven’t had a lot of time recently so I will put forth a few mini reviews of what I’ve finished lately.

From the publisher’s synopsis: In 1968, nine sailors set off on the most daring race ever held: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe nonstop. It was a feat that had never been accomplished and one that would forever change the face of sailing. Ten months later, only one of the nine men would cross the finish line and earn fame, wealth, and glory. For the others, the reward was madness, failure, and death.

My thoughts: I came upon Peter Nichols’s 2001 nonfiction book “A Voyage for Madmen” because my husband, who enjoys sailing, had a copy of it on our shelves. I wanted to read it because there’s a movie coming out in February or March called “The Mercy” starring Colin Firth as Donald Crowhurst, who was a competitor in this round-the-world yacht race. And boy, the mysterious circumstances surrounding him and the race is something I had to find out about. (Rachel Weisz stars as his wife in the upcoming movie.)

I went into the book, not knowing much about the 1968 sailboat race, which was an amazing undertaking back then. It was the first solo round-the-world race, in which the sailors were not allowed to stop on land or receive supplies or food. Everything they needed had to be onboard at the race’s start and each of them had to travel alone on their boat. It was a time before GPS, cell phones, and satellite dishes, so basically one had to navigate by charts and the skies using a sextant, and communications were done through two-way radios though those often broke down. Needless to say, the sailors in this race were much of the time completely out of touch with the rest of the world and by themselves for many months at sea. Oh the dangers they faced were staggering too; 30 to 40 foot waves from storms in the Southern Ocean knocked them about senselessly.

I’m glad that I didn’t Google the race beforehand because the author let’s the story unfold as it happens, detailing the nine racers as they are underway and not giving away who wins till the end. It adds to the suspense of the book — only you know from the subtitle that nine start the undertaking but only one crosses the finish line, taking 10 months to do it. I found myself guessing along the way who it would be. The action and details of each boat at sea are quite fascinating, as well as the backgrounds of the sailors, the geography and their routes. I was hooked by the story and the incredible risks and hardships that all the competitors had to face. How they were able to recover from the damages to their boats at sea was pretty incredible too.

My only slight warning to other readers is that it takes some focus at the book’s beginning to keep track of all the different people and racers, and a bit of the history. Though after awhile you get a handle on each boat and participant. There’s also a fair amount about sailing throughout the book — terms and techniques used and a swath of information about the sea and sailors etc. — but I sort of welcomed learning about it all. For those without an interest in boats or sailing, this might not be a read for you. However at times “A Voyage for Madmen” reads like an epic survival tale and human interest story.

I don’t want to say too much about Donald Crowhurst and the other racers or what happens, but they all have their ways about them. Some drop out, some boats fall apart, others can’t handle the circumstances and only one finishes. There’s enough stuffed into this story to encompass much of the human battle and condition, making it an enjoyable nonfiction read and my first of the year.

Next up, I finished the audiobook of Alafair Burke’s 2016 crime thriller “The Ex.” I hadn’t tried her before and didn’t realize she’s the daughter of crime novelist James Lee Burke, duh! “The Ex” is about New York City lawyer Olivia Randall who comes to defend her long-ago love (Jack Harris) who may — or may not — have killed the man responsible for his wife’s death. As Olivia begins to investigate the case, details and secrets about her once relationship with Jack emerge. And as evidence mounts, she is forced to confront doubts whether he was capable of the crime and if she ever really knew him.

I was impressed by the author’s storytelling and pretty captivated by the story, particularly because the protagonist, defense lawyer Olivia Randall, is a sassy and tough, smart character. She’s appealing, especially with Xe Sands reading the part for the audio — one of my favorite narrators.

Towards the end, I figured out whodunit but still enjoyed following where it goes with it nonetheless. The storyline, too, gets a bit crazy near the end — not sure if it’s totally believable — but still Olivia Randal’s detective and legal work were well worth my time with it. I would definitely check out the author’s next book — “The Wife” — sometime, which coincidentally just came out this month.

Speaking of page-turners, I also finished the audiobook of Robyn Harding’s 2017 family drama “The Party,” which I first heard head-spinning things about from Ti at her blog Book Chatter. And she wasn’t kidding this story was hard to put down. I was wrapped up in it from start to finish. It’s about an accident at a Sweet 16 birthday party that triggers a series of traumatic events that threaten to unravel a wealthy family in San Francisco and their seemingly picture-perfect life. Oh my! You invite teenage kids over for a little celebration, and this is what you get in return. Jeepers, how alarming.

“The Party” is a novel that’s been marketed for folks who liked Liane Moriarty’s novel “Big Little Lies” — perhaps with a splash of “Mean Girls” thrown in. Oh those high school cliques, darn them. Jeff and Kim Sanders are the parents who let their daughter Hannah have a sleepover party for her 16th bday, inviting four of her friends. But good girls will be bad girls sometimes, and unfortunately things go terribly wrong. In the end, the consequences that play out over the following months come on like a train wreck waiting to happen.

I liked the character development of the parents and teens, and the story felt real to me. Everyone came off rather flawed. And I also liked how the chapters alternated narrators mainly between Jeff and Kim Sanders and their daughter Hannah; their viewpoints all differed and led down a path that you try to reckon with. It’s a quick story that kept me listening for long walks at a time and one where I felt its shattering effects.

Lastly I wanted to briefly mention we saw the Golden Globe-winning movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” last week, and although it’s not an easy movie, I liked it and felt it elicited strong emotions while also including dark humor and bold themes. It’s about a mother who buys ad space on billboards to challenge her town’s police to solve her daughter’s murder. One could say it’s a movie that touches on various issues, including policing and racism, viligantism, abuse and redemption.

Both Sam Rockwell who plays a racist cop and Frances McDormand who plays the mother that takes up arms are pretty rough, flawed characters — you don’t necessarily like either, but during the story they seem to undergo slight transformations, which unearth some compassion about them after all. It’s a movie that shows both the harsh and nasty side of human nature, along with the more tender. I found it quite a different kind of film and one I’m still thinking about. But if you’re sensitive to bad language, or tough themes, this one is chock full of them, so beware. It might not be your cup of tea.

What about you — have you read any of these books or authors, or seen this movie — and if so, what did you think?

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24 Responses to The First Three Books of the Year

  1. TheParty sounds really good. I think I will look for it on audiobook. Thanks.

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    I tend to not set ready goals. However I seem to to off to a slow reading start as I have only finished one book so far this year. I have been reading long books however. A Voytfor Madmen sounds very good. Susspenful non fiction is rare but it can be so good.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Brian, you read & tackle some complex books so they can take longer. I can understand not setting reading goals, just enjoying what you pick up at one’s own pace. A Voyage for Madmen had a lot of information in it but it also kept some suspense to it too.

  3. Carmen says:

    I hope you guys like the upcoming trip, including Stella who will be meeting a buddy. I, too, have been very scattered brained lately; I can’t seem to focus on anything and the few movies I’ve watched have left me craving for something really, really good without finding it. I’m almost done with The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson and so far I’m liking it.

    A Voyage…, and The Party sound great, though I think I would enjoy the former more.

    • Susan Wright says:

      thanks Carmen, focusing has been tough for me too lately! I’m all over the place with books. I’m glad you’ll be reviewing the Denis Johnson story collection. I usually like his work and I’m curious about this one, unfortunately his last. Perhaps the Voyage movie will be good? — wait to see, it’s called The Mercy.

  4. I haven’t read any of those books but keep hearing good things about Burke’s writing. I read Ti’s review of The Party and need to pick it up.

    I saw Three Billboards and liked it a lot but agree that it’s pretty tough and intense.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Kathy, the Burke book surprised me in a good way, I wasn’t expecting much. So did The Party which was even more unputdownable. I think you’d like it — the audio is good. I remember your review of Three Billboards and agree it is quite tough!

  5. Judy Krueger says:

    Lots of emotional impact in those books you read. So far the books with the most impact that I have read in January are Dune and Miss Burma. Traveling sounds good. I have not been anywhere since Thanksgiving.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, I started Miss Burma but wasn’t focusing well so I set it down, but look forward to your review. We are headed to Park City, Utah, and made it to Montana last night before snow — hope the roads are okay today but we’ll see, a bit of weather. Usually I always fly so a road trip is different for me. hmm.

  6. JaneGS says:

    I wish I had time to read the sailing book–I really enjoy books like that. Maybe I’ll just put it on the TBR list for sometime–sounds so interesting.

    I’m at that same reading pace as you–5 a month feels right.

    Happy reading and enjoy your road trip. I’m due for one myself.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Jane. Just got back from the long road trip, wow. Glad you also like 5 books per month; it seems to fit me. The sailing book was a bit out of my zone but I like adventure tales so it ended up being perfect. Hope you enjoy it if you try it out. Cheers.

  7. I like the sound of A Voyage for Madmen…

    I hope you have/had a good trip to the States!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks TJ. Just came back from a good road trip; will post on it next time. A Voyage for Madmen was really quite a wild ride & interesting. Enjoy your week.

  8. I read and enjoyed The Ex…and recently downloaded the “follow-up” book, The Wife.

    I’ve also read three books (so far) in a series that Alafair Burke co-wrote with Mary Higgins Clark (the Under Suspicion novels).

    The Party sounds like a book I would enjoy.

    I want to see Three Billboards…I love anything Frances McDormand does…but any time I’ve planned to go, something gets in the way!

    Thanks for sharing…and for visiting my blog.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Laurel, I think you’d like The Party and perhaps Three Billboards though a bit harsh. I was a bit impressed by Alafair Burke, she puts out some entertaining crime mysteries. Enjoy your week.

  9. 60 books a year is impressive! I usually average about a book a week. I love Frances McDormand and plan to see the movie but will probably wait to stream it.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Sarah, yeah Frances McDormand is worth seeing in this movie. Quite a powerful performance. I think a book a week works well for me too. Cheers.

  10. A Voyage for Madmen sounds fascinating! I really enjoy nonfiction about people doing adventurous things 🙂

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Katie, thanks for stopping by. Yeah I’m a sucker too for adventurous survival tales and this one fit the bill. It has a lot of background information in it too but it didn’t get too slow for me. I learned quite a bit about the sailing routes & geography, and sea. Enjoy, if you get a chance. Cheers.

  11. Catherine says:

    I’m adding The Party to my list for reading that keeps my attention.

    I want to see Billboards, bu first, am planning on seeing Lady Bird next week.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Catherine: Oh The Party was a lively one. I’d be interested to see what you think of it. You remind me : I still need to see Lady Bird. Soon.

  12. Naomi says:

    Now you have me wanting to read Voyage for Madmen, which I had never heard of before. Maybe I’ll watch the movie instead – it has Colin Firth in it, after all. I’m hoping you’ll go see it and let us know how it compares to the book!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Naomi, yeah I keep waiting for the sailboat movie called The Mercy to come out with Colin Firth. It was first scheduled for Thanksgiving and now it might be March. The Voyage for Madmen was quite an adventurous survival tale, packed with a lot of sailing info too.

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