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David Baldacci: One Summer
Although bestselling American author David Baldacci is better known for his thriller novels, he has managed to write One Summer beautifully. The novel tells the story of a family torn apart by a sudden death, but brought together by a miracle. It follows the characters as they reconcile, overcome their loss and grow closer.
As a former army ranger, Jack Armstrong has spent over half his marriage away from his family. Now in his mid-thirties, he's suffering from a fatal disease and his future has been narrowed down to a few weeks, if not days. His high school sweetheart and wife, Lizzie, is agonized over her husband and has to look after her family of three kids.
On Christmas Eve, as she is picking up Jack’s medication, a fatal accident claims Lizzie’s life. Traumatized by the sudden death of their mother, Grandmother Bonnie pushes for Jack to live out his last days in a hospice while she takes care of the children.
With the family at their lowest point, a miracle sees Jack gradually get better against all odds. There is no medical explanation for it. All doctors assert that Jack's disease is 100% fatal and there are no exceptions, but he somehow survives.
Fulfilling his wife's wish, Jack takes the children and spends the summer in an old family house in South Carolina. His feelings of guilt over his wife's death eventually subside, he meets Jenna, the local diner's owner, and with her assistance reconciles with his kids. And that's when the plot really kicks in.
The novel is well-paced, and Baldacci moves readers smoothly from one emotional state to the other. He manages to make readers really sympathise with Jack; but some of the plot twists are pretty dramatic. The characters are likable, but they are too perfect to be a part of the real world. By the end of the novel, it feels like all their problems have been solved a bit too easily, and they can all live happily ever after.
The novel is too emotional to the point of sappiness, and is reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks’ novels. But if you are looking for a light summer read that offers escapism, we recommend you give One Summer a go.
Penny Vincenzi's latest novel The Decision tells the story of Eliza Fullerton-Clark and Matt Shaw who live in London in the 60s. Eliza is a society girl, carving out a career for herself in the fashion industry and Matt becomes a millionaire by working in the property market.
Introduced by Eliza's brother, they get married, but it's not long before their seemingly-solid marriage goes downhill. Eliza wants to keep pursuing her career, but Matt's old-fashioned notions require her to stay at home and raise their only girl, Emmie.
The entire story is pretty much given away in the synopsis. It feels like the author is robbing you of the element of surprise; you already know they are getting a divorce. The only part that the author holds back on until the end of the novel is the results of the court battles over custody of their daughter. Emmie is a spoiled brat of a child; a fact that makes it difficult for readers to sympathize with her.
There are many subplots seamlessly woven into the main plot, adding richness and depth to the story. Readers might even find themselves more interested in the fates of the secondary characters than Eliza's and Matt's.
Vincenzi's writing is laden with poignancy. She accurately describes how marriages that are often fuelled by so much passion can gradually deteriorate into a battle. In this aspect, Eliza and Matt are extremely relatable.
The Decision is such a long read, but that doesn't detract from its enjoyment. The longer pages only mean additional engagement with the characters' lives, but it also means that Vincenzi ends up repeating herself quite often.
The story captures many of the time’s ill-founded ideas against women, but it also includes many female characters that challenged the ideologies of the 60s. Louise, Matt's business partner, is a headstrong woman who won't let anything come between her and her goals, while his sister Scarlett is another female character who does things her own way.
The author takes readers back to the 60s and offers vivid portraits of different aspects of life back then; however, the plot could have easily fit into any other time.
Vincenzi's avid fans might find The Decision a tad disappointing. It's not quite as addictive as the rest of her novels, and it generally sticks to the author's pattern, making it even more predictable.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.