Summer Thrills

A Ghost at the Door – cousin to The House of Cards

9781471111549_p0_v3_s192x300   Having become a fan of the Netflix series House of Cards, changed from the British version to the American political system, I was delighted to discover its creator, Michael Dobbs, is the author of mystery thrillers.  When I met Harry Jones, former Special Forces operative and Member of Parliament, in Dobbs’ sixth book in the series, he had has recently lost his millions in an accounting mistake and is looking for clues about his father’s death.

Our hero travels from London to Bermuda, through the cloisters of Christ Church College and into the Lake District with exciting twists to the plot. Although I had not read the first five, I relished submerging in the world of intrigue and politics in Dobbs’s sixth book – A Ghost at the Door.

Two More Spy/Thrillers I Am Looking Forward to Reading:

images    The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

” Bernie Gunther, former Berlin homicide detective and unwilling SS officer,  is living on the French Riviera in 1956.  A local writer needs someone to fill the fourth seat in a bridge game that is the usual evening diversion at the Villa Mauresque. Not just any writer: W. Somerset Maugham. And it turns out it is not just a bridge partner that he needs; it’s some professional advice. Maugham is being blackmailed.  Maugham once worked for the British secret service, and the people now blackmailing him are spies.” Penguin Random House

9781250077349_p0_v3_s192x300 Into Oblivion: An Icelandic Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason

“Many years before, a schoolgirl went missing, and the world has forgotten her. But Erlendur has not. Erlendur is a newly promoted detective, and he is contending with a battered dead body, a rogue CIA operative, and America’s troublesome presence in Iceland. In his spare time he investigates a cold case. He is only starting out, but he is already deeply involved in his work.”   Macmillan

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The Man Booker Baker’s Dozen

Unknown The anticipated Man Booker Longlist announced today has a few familiar titles but some books are not yet published in the United States.  Thirteen books made the prestigious list.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a satirical assessment of racism in the United States, tops the list.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Beatty’s novel uses a Jonathan Swift premise in his character’s modest proposal to bring back segregation and slavery.

Four other American novels on the list include Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  The author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, Strout returns with a short but powerful novel as she tells the story of suffering and relationships.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s suspenseful tale, Eileen, also examines a lonely woman – this one works in a boys’ prison.  Virginia Reeves uses the setting of prison – this one in Alabama in Work Like Any Other, and David Means’ Hystopia imagines a third term for former President John F. Kennedy.

From the United Kingdom, another mother-daughter relationship is explored in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk,  Graeme Macrae Burnet’s psychological thriller His Bloody Project looks for motivation behind a murder, Ian McGuire’s The North Water has a suspenseful journey of a  ruined doctor volunteering on a whaling ship, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many has a strange mystery in a coastal village.

The Schooldays of Jesus from Australian Nobel prize winning author J.M. Coetzee will be published in the United States in February, 2017.  David Salzay’s All That Man, set in Prague,  will be published in October, 2016.

Canadian Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing centers on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 China. From the United Kingdom, A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet offers “a day in the life of London lonely hearts.”  Both are not yet released in the United States.

Thirteen books to digest before the committee proclaims the short list in September, and the winner in October.

Travel to Shop

luxuryrow-header-tmb  The main street in Waikiki is known more for its shops than for its obscured view of the beach and ocean.  Japanese tourists have long been the mainstay of the economy as they flit in their stilettos from Chanel and Tiffany to Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, carrying bags of luxury along the sidewalk.  According to author Dave Sedaris, Japan is his preferred place to shop.   In Tokyo, shopping is not an art – it’s a sport.

In the New York Times travel section, “In Transit,” Nell McShane Wulfhart interviews David Sedaris for a list of places to stay (the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara – “everyone there looks like Mitt and Ann Romney”) to his dream trip (to India – “I want to go to India for three hours.  So I can leave when I get thirsty, and then I can get back on the plane without any risk of getting a stomach bug.”).  But his favorite travel activity is shopping; forget the monuments and art.

As a seasoned traveler, Sedaris offers a list of must-haves for every trip, including:

  • Vicks VapoRub  (Use on your upper lip to diffuse cloying perfume of fellow travelers.)
  • An extendable backscratcher (to relieve the itchiness brought on by dry air in planes).
  • A wooden hanger that folds in half to dry shirts (because “in a crummy hotel you can’t disconnect the hangers.”)
  • Set Editions’ Stop Talking Cards (useful to give at appropriate times).Set-Editions-Stop-Talking-Cards

Related Review:  Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Delay Tactic 247

Unknown    I have a stack of books from the library I should read – award winning, thoughtful, well-written books – The Year of the Runaways (Man Booker), Fortune Smiles (National Book Award) among them.  I’ve renewed them, and they sit accusingly on my coffee table.

But I need something else – something light, distracting…

What I Am Reading:

P. G. Wodehouse’s Something Fresh on audible

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson on iPhone

Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin on iPad

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – battered old paperback

One of them should work to improve my mood.

Do you have any suggestions?

Need Help? Hire a Virtual Assistant

Unknown-1When I read Amy Palanjian’s article in the May issue of Real Simple magazine – “Need Help?  Hire a Virtual Assistant” –  I couldn’t help thinking of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette?   Feeling overwhelmed and alone, Bernadette hires an online service and befriends her virtual assistant.  Bernadette’s experience is funny but still a caution.

Despite her savvy as an architect, Bernadette falls into a relationship with a stranger she should not trust.  Her online personal assistant, Manjula Kapoor, her “virtual assistant from India,” happily completes tasks for Bernadette and helps her minimize personal interaction with others – at only 75 cents an hour.  Manjula manages Bernadette’s life from buying her new clothes, having them delivered to Bernadette’s house – even  arranging flight tickets and making restaurant reservations.

Manjula manages to sound polite and friendly when faced with Bernadette’s ramblings or rudeness.  She is the ideal assistant – never seen – and, in fact she does not really exist. The whole connection to a virtual assistant has been a scam, a front for a Russian crime syndicate who are now in possession of the family’s financial details – noone is really from India.   Ah – only in the movies, or, in this case, in fiction.

In her article, Palanjian suggests making “a list of everything you would like to get off your plate” and offers suggestions making hiring someone safer than Bernadette’s experience.  Palanjian notes “a personal referral is always best” – advice Bernadette would probably never have considered.  But, then, Bernadette’s antisocial behavior is one of the reasons the book is so funny.

Nevertheless, Manjula Kapoor was the perfect assistant. Her name may not have really been Manjula Kapoor, but someone has been reading and replying to Bernadette’s emails, making dentist’s appointments and booking flight tickets and restaurant tables.  Manjula is kind to Bernadette and offers compassion when she needs it – albeit, at a price higher than she thought she was paying.

Would you hire a virtual assistant?  I still have some qualms.

9780316204262_p0_v2_s192x300   My review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  

 

Semple’s next book will be published in 2017 – one to anticipate.