The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 38. Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Other Possible Prompts: 29. Over 500 pages long (some versions), 41. Involves a second chance

Okay so, I was very skeptical of this one at first, but I’m super glad I read it. And honestly, as the prompt implies, I probably would’ve been more likely to pick it up if it had the cover to the right and not the old, paperback version I had in my hands. This one looks more thriller-like, which is sort of how I would describe this novel, versus the more literary fiction style cover of my copy.

This novel is hard to explain without ruining it! I’m going to keep it as general as possible, but just trust me when I say the intrigue and the twists are what will keep you reading! I think even the Amazon description of the book goes too far.

When CeeCee Wilkes was sixteen, she met a boy: Timothy Gleason, who captivated her and convinced her to do something that would haunt her forever. Now, thirty years later, Tim is being charged with the murder of Genevieve Russell, the woman he kidnapped, and her unborn child. But what CeeCee knows has the power to exonerate him, because no one killed Genevieve…and no one killed her daugther.

My boss and I frequently discuss books because we’re both readers, and we’re regularly trading novels. She said I absolutely had to read this one…and normally, these aren’t my style. I just had a feeling I wasn’t going to like Diane Chamberlain’s writing. And while I’m not sure I’d read another of hers, I am glad I read this one. It wasn’t what I expected from her and I didn’t find it preachy or even bad, and I definitely jibed with it – so it wasn’t that bad. This novel falls into more of a thriller crossed with a family drama, as opposed to the purely family drama I was expecting from Chamberlain.

My boss also told me not to read the description of the book, and not to read the first chapter until you finish the book. This is kind of why I’m hesitant to tell you much about the novel in the description, and I’d have to agree with her advice after having done it this way. She said it unfolds more like a winding mystery if you don’t. While it bothered my OCD a tad, I did give this a try (sort of). I just didn’t pay as much attention in the first chapter, so it didn’t actually make a big difference. I was more shocked and awed by the twists and turns of this book for having done this!

This one was just unexpectedly enjoyable for me. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be; while I thought it would be a family drama, the thriller aspect was a surprise. Even the family drama, which I would never pick up on my own, was captivating and interesting as it was told across many years, and you got to see each and every character grow up throughout the story.

And I actually loved all the characters. Except for the obviously awful ones, like Ken, most of them had redeeming qualities but were extremely human, so while they erred or did things I disapproved of, I couldn’t help but love them and want the best for them by the conclusion of the story. They’re by no means perfect, but they’re all likeable. They’re all people, written really, really well.

I think part of what makes that so interesting and important to note is that many of them have done horrible things. A lot of them have motives that make them do bad things, or they did bad things but they’re trying to move forward…the story forces you to grapple with the idea of what makes a person “a good person”, and just how much you’re willing to allow or forgive when they’re trying to move forward. I really liked this element and I think it’s the heart of what makes the story so captivating. What earns forgiveness?

So yeah, I definitely liked this more than expected. I never pick this stuff up so I was surprised I devoured it so quickly (I think this took me less than twenty four hours in total, even working a full day). I would definitely recommend it for a good mystery, but with some depth.

Have a wonderful week friends! 🙂

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 22. An unlikely detective

I actually can’t come up with any other possible prompts for this one…this book has won awards, but it’s not from my country (but maybe it’s from yours?). It wasn’t part of my original plan to complete this one so I had a tough time fitting it in. That being said, let’s jump in!

After his neighbor’s dog is killed in the middle of the night, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone sets out to figure out who killed Wellington the poodle. As he endeavours to solve the mystery and write this book, he ends up unraveling unexpected lies that affect him and his family, completely by mistake. Christopher, in trying to find Wellington’s murderer, ends up discovering all that he is truly capable of.

I know this synopsis sounds pretty cryptic, but honestly, you’re not going to get much more by reading the back of the book! The Curious Incident is written from Christopher’s perspective, and while it’s never explicitly stated, it becomes known to the reader that Christopher lies somewhere on the autism spectrum. He’s an absolute genius who can solve complicated math problems in his head, but he also can’t look people in the face when he talks to them and firmly believes that four yellow cars in a row means he’s going to have a bad day. So when things start going south for Christopher, he doesn’t notice or interpret it the same way that the other characters, or you or I might. The things that take precedence in his head are not the same things in yours, which makes this book not only enlightening but a very interesting perspective to read this family drama from.

I’m far from the first to read and enjoy Haddon’s novel – this book has been a well-loved book club pick for almost twenty years. I’m just finally getting around to it now…being, you know, in my early 20s. And I get why: I think for many people who don’t have friends and family on the autism spectrum, this can be eye opening. I don’t think the majority of the general public understands all the intricacies of it all, and so this book, presented as a narrative rather than a list of facts, can give them a lens through which to view this experience. And it’s beautifully done, 100%. I think the only reason this book didn’t blow me out of the water was that I had this prior experience and knowledge to read it with. I grew up around a family of teachers and special education teachers. I have family on the autism spectrum. Friends, too. Once you start to “get it”, you pick up on it in different situations, and the behaviors and thought processes are less shocking to you than it was to say, the strangers in this book. Instead, you just laugh or nod your head and move on.

Even without that incredible revelation to accompany my reading experience, this is a very good book. The perspective adds that depth, but the story that Haddon unravels is a wonderful coming of age tale and yes, a good mystery. About halfway through he really had me because I was gasping as I read along. “Nooooo, he didn’t!!” ~Me at like 5pm Wednesday night. I have to hand it to him, the yarn isn’t lacking here, and the imperfect resolution to this tale is raw and honest.

While this is a short novel, I certainly think the content is worth the read. I’ll definitely be recommending it to my teacher friends if they haven’t already read it. I laughed, I commiserated, and I even teared up a bit. This is a good one.

Have an awesome week, friends.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This book took me by surprise. Mexican Gothic drew a lot of attention when it first released, I believe, because it was a choice for Book of the Month. I grabbed a copy then, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf (my recent theme is kicking my TBR’s ass…oh, waiting on me to read you for several years, have you? *Cracks spine*) . My friend read it last year and didn’t care for it, but told me I would probably like it. She was correct: this is good stuff friends.

Noemí Taboada is a strong willed socialite. After her cousin Catalina sends a confusing and concerning letter to her father, Noemí is forced to leave behind her life of parties in Mexico City for High Place, to check on Catalina. There, she finds an intriguing cast of characters in her in-laws, the Doyles, a long forgotten wealthy family of mine owners, and their home surrounded in silver and rot.

It doesn’t take long for things to start going awry. Catalina’s behavior is far more concerning in person. The Doyles have many rules, and won’t seek the proper medical attention for Noemí’s cousin. And Noemi has begun to sleep walk again…something is wrong at High Place, and Noemí would die to find out what it is.

I had a lot of expectations for this book just based on what people had *told* me it was about, but it blew them out of the water. My biggest expectation was that it would be along the lines of a Shirley Jackson novel. Anyone that regularly reads my blog sees me compare things to Shirley Jackson, or preach my love for her, on a fairly regular basis. She’s a genius and a visionary, not appreciated in her own time. While Moreno-Garcia’s writing did have a similar tone and darkness to it, I think what was most missing from my expectation was the ambiguousness. Jackson tends to leave a lot up to the imagination. Moreno-Garcia, in contrast, wrote with rich and colorful detail, so much so that I could practically see High Place in my mind. I could picture the characters, their quirks, everything in striking color. Which is good, because it seriously adds to this book to have all that.

The story within this novel is wild and fanciful. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting; it kept me guessing right up to those very last chapters. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it was so delightfully creepy and horrifying, and all the characters so perfectly malicious. This is the exact kind of horror I love to read, that requires that extra level of depth and thought.

I discovered, upon gathering my photo for this post, that THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE A HULU SHOW!!! If done well, it’s going to be truly incredible to watch on screen. I think of it akin to The Haunting of Hill House show… if a good troupe of actors plays these incredible characters, it should be an absolute delight. They truly made the story, and I think any good visual representation of it will require some damn good acting.

Since it took me so long to pick this one up, I’m dying to know…have you read Mexican Gothic? What were your thoughts? Did you love the story, or get bogged down in the details? My friend felt personally that the writing style was too similar to Jackson, and because she didn’t care much for Jackson, she had to drag her way through it.

Overall, if your tastes are anything like mine, I highly recommend Mexican Gothic. Grab a copy. Seriously!

I hope you all have an amazing week as we head into fall!