Books of the Month - January 2016
One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read at least 50 books by the end of December, regardless of how busy I get with work and life. I plan to practice what I preach, so as the first month of 2016 is coming to an end, it's time to share what kept me busy on the reading front:
1. Stephen King - 11/22/63. For those who don't know, this was the date of John F. Kennedy's assassination, in Dallas, Texas. What does this have to do with Jake Epping, a divorced English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, living in our days, who takes an interest in the school's janitor? Everything.
After reading a horrifyingly gruesome story about the janitor's family slaughter from fifty years ago, Jake is more inclined to take on the task of helping his friend Al, owner of the local diner, to prevent the Kennedy assassination, by means of a time portal Al found in the diner storeroom.
Al believes that everything that's wrong with society nowadays could be made right by changing this one episode in history. But he seems not to be aware of the butterfly effect, where every little change brought to the past can trigger some twisted version of the present. I'm not going to give out more details, because we all hate a spoiler, but this is one piece of fine alternative history.
The Verdict: Absolutely. This should be on your reading list if you are a fan of alternate history. And even if you're not, the story is a page turner, suspenseful and mysterious and totally worth your time. And, for full disclosure, because we are talking about Stephen King, you can expect some bloody episodes, but it's not that bad, trust me!
2. Philip K. Dick - The Man in the High Castle is yet another alternative history book set in the 60s, except in this one no one travels in time.
In this universe, the Axis powers won the Second World War, Europe is under the Nazi boot, Mussolini was shoved away into the Middle East, Japan rules Asia, USA was split between the Germans and the Japanese, and Africa was used as an experiment field, while Hitler was locked away in an asylum. Slavery is legal again, the Final Solution was completed and the few Jews that are still alive are hiding under different identities.
The book features different story lines: an American antique dealer trying to make connections in the Japanese high society, a Jew pretending to be someone else, his ex-wife who fled to the Neutral Zone - a buffer space between the Nazi & Japanese parts of the US, her Italian lover, and a Japanese official who does everything by the I Ching to prevent the Third World War. All these lives seem to gravitate around a book: The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by a mysterious man, who lives in a castle on a cliff, a book who tells the story of what would have happened if the Axis lost the war.
The Verdict: Read the book first and then look at the TV show, which is an adaptation. The story is very different from one to another, but I had the feeling that the book was all over the place, while the TV show gave a more comprehensive version and tied all the characters together in a better way. That being said, the book has an open ending, leaving you wanting for so much more. It is interesting and it raises a good point - just how different would our lives have been if the Allies would have lost the Second World War?
3. Paula Hawkins - The Girl on the Train - we've all been there: sitting on a train, getting from point A to point B and killing away the hours by looking at the houses lined by the train tracks and imagining the lives of the people who live in them.
So does Rachel, a divorced alcoholic, who commutes from the suburbs to London everyday on the 8:04 train, and back on the 17:56 one, trying to pretend that her life is not falling apart. Her favorite house is just down the street from where she used to live with her husband, and she fantasizes about the two residents and their seemingly perfect lives, until she starts to think that she gets to know them.
But one day everything changes, when Rachel catches a glimpse of a shocking secret. Unable to keep it to herself, she goes to the police and becomes involved in a series of unfortunate events, as well as in the life of her perfect couple.
The Verdict: They say this is the next Gone Girl and from the twists and turns of the story, I feel like they are right! I truly enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to all thriller fans out there: it's a compulsive read, gradually building suspense and empathy towards the central character, who's not so likeable at first. Try to read it before September, 2016, when the movie comes out!