Reader’s Notebook, 1/8/19

The kids are back at school, so time for one more piece of 2018 wrap up.

I finished my reading year with two more excellent books, one of which was a big a change-of-pace for me.


The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian
I put several books that I saw on Best of 18 lists on hold at the library, and this was the first to become available. Man, is it a humdinger of a read!

It begins with Cassandra, a flight attendant with a penchant for heavy drinking and hooking up, waking in a strange bed in Dubai. As she reviews the events of the previous night to figure out where she is and how she got there, she realizes the man next to her is dead. Not “died peacefully in his sleep” dead, either. But rather dead because his throat was slashed and he bled to death.

Egads!

From there we follow Cassandra as she makes a long series of bad decisions, which, apparently, is pretty standard for her life. Although she, and we, are fairly certain she wasn’t responsible for killing the man she woke up next to, her actions at least give the impression that she has something to hide. Which is a problem because the FBI has their eyes on her – along with the rest of the flight crew she flew to Dubai with – and so does a woman who appears to be working for Russian interests. Cassandra may be innocent, but by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and by acting rather stupidly after the fact, she’s placed herself in the crosshairs of some very powerful folks.

The book then transitions into more of a spy novel, and does so deftly. The final 150 pages or so are pretty breathless. And outstanding. Bohjalian lays on a series of “Oh shit!” moments so casually that you almost miss them.

Reading some reviews after I finished the book, a number of readers were disappointed that Cassandra was such an unsympathetic lead character. That’s true, although Bohjalian offers evidence for why she is so messed up and presents her as a changed person at the book’s close. But a lead character lacking in redeeming qualities did not distract from what is, otherwise, an excellent and quick read. At least to me it didn’t. Perfect for long flights, in fact. Ironically, I found someone’s boarding passes to flights from Indianapolis to LAX and LAX to Honolulu tucked inside the front cover. I hope that woman enjoyed the book as much as I did.


Because of Mr. Terupt – Rob Buyea.
L is in a book club with several of her classmates. They meet once each month after school to talk through what they’ve read. A mom does a great job running it, and a couple grandmothers and one of the 4th grade teachers usually help with their meetings. I decided I wanted to read something L was reading, and based on discussions with the mom in charge, this seemed like a good one to jump in on.

It’s a delightful book. It tells the story of Mr. Terupt, a new fifth grade teacher at a school in Connecticut who has different methods of connecting with his students. The story is told from the perspective of seven of his students. We see how they slowly come to appreciate his style, how he guides them through difficult moments, and how he helps them to become better classmates. Much of how the story plays out can be predictable. The new kid becomes an integral part of the class. The kid who acts out constantly and the mean girl are both forced to change their behaviors. Two girls who want to be friends but who are forbidden by the family of one of them eventually become fast friends. And there’s a deeply sad moment in the middle of the book that resolves itself in a wonderful way.

But the book is written for young readers, and I’m not sure the endings will be as easy to figure out for them as they are for adults. And Buyea, a former teacher, is a fine writer. The characters are full of life and each has their individual voice.

L told me this was her favorite book she’s ever read before she was even halfway through it. I think the sadness in the middle gave her some pause, but the ending pulled her back in. And I’m glad that I read it, too.


With everything accounted for, I knocked out 63 books this year, my best total in several years. Granted, 10 of those were graphic novels, but at least those were each collections from the Y: The Last Man series. And my pace really slacked off from May-July. Otherwise I could have really put up some big numbers.

My favorite reads of 2018 were:
Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
American War – Omar El Akkad
All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire – Jonathan Abrams
Star of the North – D.B. John
In The Woods – Tana French
The Long and Faraway Gone – Lou Berney
Beartown – Fredrik Backman
The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian

I’ve already completed book #1 for 2019, but will save that for my next Reader’s Notebook entry.