“And life, life has swept her along like a tiny seashell onto sand, has washed over her and now, suddenly, she is old…, there is no one to ask the questions she needs to ask.”
― Hala Alyan, Salt Houses
On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s future in a cup of coffee grounds. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of war.
Salt Houses provides an intimate view of how the wars of the Middle East affected individuals and family units. There was not any one character I grew to love, but I was sympathetic to almost all of them. Many family members did not see eye to eye a lot of the time, but when they came together they were strengthened. It was a reminder of what a family can be when forgiveness is granted and positive connections are reinforced.
The Six-Day War is the first to impact the family. The Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors was not about one particular concern or dispute. The war occurred, rather, after a series of events escalated tensions. It then details the family’s journey through the Six-Day War (1967), the First Intifada (1987), the Gulf War (1990), the Second Intifada (2000), 9/11 (2001), and the 2006 Lebanon War.
“Life is messy. We all know this. Terrible things happen, I learned that while I was still a child. But no matter what happens, life is only a series of days. You can’t control more than a single day. But you can control one of them. Twenty-four hours can be curated.”
― Lucy Foley, The Guest List
The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body
Guests gather on a secluded island to celebrate a beautiful wedding. The groom is a handsome and charming rising television star. The bride is smart, ambitious, and a magazine publisher. It is a high-profile and luxurious wedding.
Soon after arriving, all of the guests can feel the dark energy of the island. As the champagne popped and the festivities began, resentments and petty jealousies mingled with the reminiscences and well wishes.
And then someone turns up dead.
I was very impressed with this book. As the reader, you get to know each character very well, and every detail of their story is important. There is constant drama between the guests, and I was never sure what would happen next. It was full of scandals and secrets.
I was suspicious of each guest while reading. At one point or another, I thought each one of them could have killed another person on the island. The vibe of the island was dark and mysterious. I could imagine the fear of each person while they each experienced the strange feeling of death in the air. Finding a body was almost expected.
Nothing was clear until the very end. All of the dark secrets came out, and everything made sense then. I did not see the ending coming at all, and I am more than satisfied with how the author wrapped up the loose ends!
People Like Them by Samira Sedira, translated by Lara Vergnaud
First Line: There’s no cemetery in Carmac.
Summary: The story is told from the perspective of Anna, who lives with her husband and children in the quaint Alpine village of Carmac. Life seems to follow a comfortable pattern for those who live there. Everyone lovingly tolerates the two old men who spend their days at the pub, they know the bartender and his past relationships, and they all celebrate together at the wedding of a young couple in town. This is a close-knit community unused to interlopers, aside from the mild annoyance of seasonal tourists. But of course, that all changes once a new family begins building a house next door to Anna and her husband. The Langloises seem to have wealth. Their house is large and they drive expensive cars. Bakary, the husband and father of the family, is black. This is all in contrast to the other villagers. But despite their differences, Anna’s husband becomes close to Bakary and Anna even works as the Langloises part-time cleaner. However, it isn’t long before tensions build to a shocking end.
My Thoughts: This is a small book to begin with, but it is also a page-turner. I finished it in one night. The writing is lovely, and it’s the description of the later hours of an outdoor wedding that might be my favorite part of the whole book:
“I didn’t know where you were, but I wasn’t worried. I imagined you were chatting under a lime tree or along the river, amid a cacophony of frogs… I raised my head toward the sky; it was pure, without complication. The moment struck me as so delectable that I closed my eyes. I went inside myself with as much delight as if I was slipping into a warm bath. I reached a primitive state of serenity, rocked by the music and the whispers around the table.”
If you haven’t felt this way in the wee hours of a summer night at some point in your life, are you really even human? But the other thing the author does so well is demonstrate how subtle racism can be–how we might ignore a questionable comment from a community member, assuming they meant no harm, or thinking perhaps we misheard them, or in the interest of avoiding conflict—and she does so with a light touch, without judgment. She merely shows us where prejudice can hide, how everyday it can be, and how tragic the consequences might be.
FYI: This book was based on real events that occurred in France in 2003, which I didn’t even realize when I first read it!
First line: She first spotted him at Bobbie’s Coffee Shop on Twenty-Second Street.
Summary: Just days before her wedding to millionaire, Bruce Lamb, the one night stand from her bachelorette weekend shows up trying to convince her to not go through with the wedding. She tries to ignore his attempts but then he appears at her wedding too. But she thinks that his stalking is over until he appears at the secluded island on her honeymoon. Does she tell Bruce or try to solve the situation on her own?
My Thoughts: When I looked at the rating for this book I was kind of surprised that it was so low. I found the book to be rather enjoyable with lots of dark and twisted moments. I found it to be more like an eighties horror movie than psychological thriller. And part of that can be found that several reveals were rather predictable. But I had a lot of fun reading it nonetheless.
Even though the island is supposed to be secluded and good for getting away from technology it also seems rather scary. You are secluded. On an island. With little communication. What if something bad happens? Well this book answers that question. And it was thrilling and scary.
FYI: Language, death, infidelity.
American Duchess by Karen Harper
First line: Everyone was calling it the wedding of the century.
Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress to the railroad empire, is
marrying the future Duke of Marlborough. However, she is in love with
someone else and is being forced into the marriage by her strong willed
mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt. The marriage is an unhappy one but
Consuelo hopes to use her influence as the Duchess of Marlborough to
help the lower classes living around Blenheim Palace.
My Thoughts: I have been a reader of Karen Harper for many years. I really enjoy her historical fiction even though she seems to elaborate her narratives a bit. Her most recent novel was a fast read about one of the American heiresses whose money helped sustain the British aristocracy. Having recently read, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, I was familiar with the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the nineteenth century.
was a force to be dealt with but it sounds like her daughter learned a
lot from her mother. I loved hearing about Consuelo’s life and the way
she tried to improve her circumstances and those of the poor. I cannot
imagine living her life though. She was forced into a marriage, had
unimaginable wealth and was very unhappy for many years. Harper does a
great job of breathing life into her characters. I loved “meeting”
Winston Churchill. As with most historical novels, I googled many of the
locations and people to see what they really looked like. This was a
fun romp through the Gilded Age and into the time of the world wars.
FYI: This is perfect for fans of Downton Abbey!