It’s the end of March and I’ve FINALLY started reviewing the books I read this year, smh. The first two books I read in 2020 were both audiobooks, which shows that this year began on a busy note.
It’s a little surprising to me how comfortable I’ve become with audiobooks. Now I don’t mind listening to new-to-me books on audio; however, I can only do so for certain genres. I refrain from listening to new-to-me epic fantasy books on audio since they tend to be very detailed and there’s no way I’d be able to keep up or remember what’s said. If I do listen to such a book on audio, it’s because it’s a reread.
As for these two books, one is a psychological thriller/mystery, which work well for me on audio because I get so hooked on the mystery that my attention hardly strays from the story, and the other is a memoir, which, surprisingly, works well for me on audio too. There are no similarities between these two books other than that they were the first books I read this year and they are both audiobooks. Those are the only reasons why I paired them in this post.
Blue Monday by Nicci French, narr. by Beth Chalmers
Psychological Thriller; Mystery
Frieda Klein, book 1
The abduction of five-year-old Matthew Farraday provokes a national outcry and a desperate police hunt. And when a picture of his face is splashed over the newspapers, psychotherapist Frieda Klein is left troubled: one of her patients has been relating dreams in which he has a hunger for a child. A child he can describe in perfect detail, a child the spitting image of Matthew.
Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson doesn’t take Frieda’s concerns seriously until a link emerges with an unsolved child abduction twenty years ago and he summons Frieda to interview the victim’s sister, hoping she can stir hidden memories. Before long, Frieda is at the center of the race to track the kidnapper.
But her race isn’t physical. She must chase down the darkest paths of a psychopath’s mind to find the answers to Matthew Farraday’s whereabouts.
And sometimes the mind is the deadliest place to lose yourself. (Goodreads)
I learned about this book from Jen Campbell’s booktube channel when she did a roundup or something of books she read last year or recently read in January… I forgot the video. Anyway, whatever she said about this book intrigued me and made me get it through Audible. But I didn’t listen closely enough to her review because I didn’t realize the author “Nicci French” is actual a husband and wife team (or maybe Jen mentioned this in the video and I forgot) until after completing the book. While reading, I couldn’t tell that two people wrote the book, so I guess team work works well for these two.
Blue Monday is a slow-paced mystery that begins with the abduction of Joanna Vine’s little sister, which tears Joanna’s family apart leaving her devastated. The story then jumps several years to the present and introduces us to Frieda Klien, a reserved psychotherapist who manages her insomnia by taking long walks around London alone late at night. Because her former mentor, Reuben, needs to deal with some personal issues, Frieda takes on a new client and later realizes that the description of the child in this client’s dreams is very similar to a child who was recently abducted. She teams up with the detective, Malcolm Karlsson, to uncover who is behind the child abductions.
Although Frieda is the protagonist, the story is also told from several characters’ POV but is limited to make them a little unreliable and to not give away too much too soon. I liked reading from Frieda’s POV, but her cold, reserved nature sometimes made me think I missed a connection or communication somewhere, especially regarding her romantic relationship. I was surprised when the guy proposed because I didn’t realize that the relationship had advanced to that stage. It made me wonder if I zoned out on a section and missed the development of the relationship. But I later reasoned that it’s probably due to Frieda’s personality. She compartmentalizes everything and is very private. She doesn’t share much about herself or her life to anyone, not even to the reader.
I was surprised that we get to read from almost all the characters’ perspectives, including the abductor’s, whose POV was very creepy. We only get the abductor’s perspective when the abductor is plotting to abduct a child or break down a child’s defenses to shape the child into what the abductor wants the child to be. Although these scenes aren’t very detailed, they are a bit disturbing and can potentially be triggering for some readers. I also thought this POV was creepy because of the voice Chalmers uses for the abductor. It sent chills down my spine to listen to it and made me think of the evil witch living in the gingerbread house in the Hansel & Gretel fairytale. I guess that sounds silly, but it’s really what popped in my head whenever this POV came up.
Although it was a good story and I liked it, it sometimes bored me. I blamed that on the slow pace and the story seeming disjointed in some parts. Like I said above, when it comes to Frieda’s relationships, I sometimes felt as if I missed something to fully understand how the characters relate to each other. I also became annoyed with the story toward the end because I knew what the “major” twist would be and I thought that would be resolved too before the end but instead it ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger, which more annoyed me than made me eager to read the next book. It made no sense to me why none of the characters (Frieda, the detective, the wife) would not know what the hell really happened on the bridge (…I think it was a bridge, if I remember correctly) and who really came back. I’m so annoyed by it that I’m getting upset again thinking about it.
What I did like were Josef, the jolly Ukrainian handyman who fell into the story from Frieda’s ceiling, and the smaller twists throughout the story as we get closer to learning who the abductor is and what’s up with the client’s dreams. What I was hoping for…. did not happen, but I was okay with that. I just didn’t like the end, or rather I love-hate the end because it is a cool twist. I just think certain characters should have known or expected what really happened based on their previous experiences with the characters.
As for the audiobook narration, Chalmers did a really good job. It was entertaining to listen to.
A decent read/listen, but I’m too frustrated with the end to continue with the series.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I think it’s worth checking out.
Nonfiction — memoir
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country. (Goodreads)
This is a very popular book I had no intention of reading until I came across Hopewell’s review of it. Her review made me curious because I don’t know much about this part of America; so I borrowed the audiobook from the library and gave Vance’s life story a listen.
Like everyone, I agree this was a good read. Vance tells us what it is like growing up poor and White in the U.S. He also talks about poor communities in the Appalachians, their culture, how the opioid crisis has affected them, and how aspects of their culture prevent them from overcoming this and other obstacles that prevent their community from progressing. It’s very obvious that Vance has a strong sense of pride for his people but realizes that they need to make changes in order to progress.
He also talks about family members’ struggle with drugs, his chaotic upbringing, and how he was able to escape and overcome certain obstacles to become the person he is. It’s a journey that can inspire some in similar situations. Throughout the book, his Mamaw (his grandmother) was an impressive figure. She was a formidable woman and total badass who tried her best to protect and care for her grandchildren.
Listening to this book made me recall Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy, which I listened to on audio last year. Dopesick is a comprehensive look on the opioid crisis: how it began and the communities it has affected. It also talks about the impact of the crisis on small towns in the Appalachians: the many people who have succumbed to opioids and the few who try to help those addicted to it and maintain the health of their communities. There are some similarities between the two books, so if you decide to give Hillbilly Elegy a try, I’d also recommend Dopesick too.
Overall: ★★★☆☆ ½
A good listen that gives some insight into the mindset and culture of poor White communities in the Appalachians.