Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark

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Some light reading

This is a book I possibly normally wouldn’t pick, but I went to a different library which had a smaller English selection. Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark, published in 2008, is an easy-to-read mystery about a woman searching for her missing brother.

Every year for 10 years, Carolyn MacKenzie and her mother receive a phone call on Mother’s Day from missing brother and son Charles, known as Mack. He says he is fine and not to worry. But they do worry, because Mack had everything going for him when he disappeared. Why did he go? This time, Carolyn decides she’s had enough of Mack’s games and goes on an elaborate and dangerous hunt.

She encounters people from his past, struggles with police who believe she should let sleeping dogs lie, and learns more about those close to her. When a young woman goes missing, the race is on to find out if the two cases are connected.

There’s a clever twist, just when you think you know what’s happened and ‘whodunnit’, and despite a schmaltzy ending, it was an entertaining story. I’ve never read any books by Mary Higgins Clark before, but the cover says she’s the queen of suspense and a bestseller.

I’m not sure I’ll actively seek out another of her books, even though I did enjoy this one in a “I need to read something easy” kind of way. It would be suitable to reach for before bed or to pass the time on holidays lying on the beach or rugged up by a fire.

To sum it up? I wasn’t blown away, but I was left feeling satisfied.

The Lotus Eaters by Marianne MacDonald

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Marianne MacDonald’s first novel about two lost souls who somehow become friends

When the internet was down for the week, I had the chance to read this book in one three-hour sitting, which gives an indication of how easy it is to read. Whether I like it or not is still debatable. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great.

Dowdy journalist Lottie and wannabe-actress Patty Belle strike up an unusual friendship during the late 90s. Patty seems to have it all and Lottie, well, not a lot. Her hopeless relationship with a forever-absent copywriter becomes a bit dull and pointless. Patty’s relationships with, well, almost everyone, including the violent gangster Ed Kaplan, are also eye-rolling material, but we all know people like Lottie and Patty and I suppose that’s a bonus point for MacDonald.

All friendships in groups big or small tend to have that one train-wreck member, and in The Lotus Eaters, Patty is just that. Guys fall for her innocence and charm, girls don’t know whether to hit her or play mum. By the end of the book most people just want rid of her.

Without any thought for consequences, Patty makes her mark on Lottie’s established group of university friends and changes them all. Patty just thinks about what feels right at the time in her constant search for adoration and love. Of all the characters, she is the most memorable, but at the end of the book you’re left with the feeling that everything has changed but it’s still exactly the same. Not much of a legacy for the glamorous Patty Belle.

Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis

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Lionel Asbo … Not for the faint-hearted

The end of this book was almost a blur because I felt so nervous – the tension had been building for sooooo long that I don’t know if I took the words in properly. Martin Amis has a wonderful style, very raw, and Lionel Asbo has to be one of the most … ahhhh … distasteful characters ever to be immortalised on paper.

I haven’t read much of Amis before so when I saw Lionel Asbo: State of England I thought why not? Reading the front and back covers made it sound quite funny. And it was! But it was also very, very chilling. Because I’m sure there are many real Lionel Asbos out there in the world, not just in England.

He’s a thug and petty criminal, who, in a fit of rage, makes someone disappear. In prison, on completely unrelated charges, he wins a fortune in the national lottery. Once he’s out, a reporter and photographer pretty much follow his every move – his new lifestyle and old personality are perfect tabloid fodder. He never thinks to help his large, struggling family with any cash and crashes his way through life with his own sense of what’s right and wrong.

Yes, his nephew and other main character, Desmond, does do something that 99.9% of the population would consider to be very, very wrong. But Lionel’s version of justice keeps you on tenterhooks right to the end. What will he do to Desmond?

I can’t say too much, other than if you’re looking for a bit of a laugh with a sinister undertone, this could be the perfect story. If you’re into civility, decorum and being nice to dogs, then this could be totally wrong.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

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Marie Kondo gets to the heart of decluttering

“Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things.”

There are hundreds of decluttering and organising books on the market, guiding you on your chosen journey to ‘get rid of stuff’. I’ve read many of them over the past four years, after a “my stuff owns me” revelation in early 2011. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (or The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, depending on the version) is possibly one of the most extremely simple, because she gets down to the nitty gritty by asking one brilliant question.

“Does it spark joy?”

When you hold something in your hand, and really feel it, does it make your heart sing, or do you feel indifferent, or, at the other end of the scale, repulsed? We think we might have indifferent reactions to, say, kitchen utensils, but if you hold your whisk and think, “That makes lovely scrambled eggs for breakfast on Sunday mornings” then the association is a good one, and therefore the item stays. If you hold a book in your hand and think “I disliked the main character immensely”, then, obviously, it’s a goner.

I read this book quite quickly, because Kondo has a very relaxed style, with the occasional anecdote and story from a client. She is a Japanese tidying expert, and has been decuttering, cleaning and organising things since she was a small child. It was her calling, so to speak. Once she’d finished with her room, she did her siblings’, and then her parents’, with mixed results! So she strongly suggests sticking with your own personal things at the beginning of your what-will-soon-be mania. Organising is divided into clothes, books, papers (sorting through papers! Argh!), miscellaneous items and lastly, sentimental items and keepsakes and should be done in this order.

As mentioned before, we live in a small house, which I love, because it limits what we can bring in. We have a wardrobe, set of three large drawers and two smaller chests of drawers each. Before reading this book, I was an advocate of Project333, where you have about 33 pieces of clothing in your cupboard for each season. I hadn’t quite got around to whittling my wardrobe down, because I pretty much had 33 items of clothing for EACH season, and stored the out-of-season clothes in the three large drawers and hung the in-season things, including t-shirts etc, in the cupboard. Then I only needed to look into the cupboard to decide what to wear. Surprisingly, I miss this a little bit – knowing everything you’d decided was right for the season is right there in front of you. I hung t-shirts and singlets and shirts and skirts and shorts and jeans in the cupboard. No guess work really.

Now, everything that needs to be hung is hung, so summer and winter skirts snuggle side by side. Seeing these summer skirts when it’s -4 outside does seem like a bit of a waste of space at the moment, but I’m making a commitment to the KonMari Method and know there will be an adjustment period! But one thing I am truly excited about is Kondo’s great way to fold clothes. When you read about it you slap your head in disbelief that you’d never thought of it before. For example, instead of putting all your t-shirts piled up on top of each other in a drawer, so the bottom ones rarely see the light of day, fold them all on their side, from the front of the drawer to the back, so you can “flick” through them easily and see them all in one go. This little change means I’m now wearing things I’d forgotten about.

Kondo could be classified as a little bit odd, but by goodness, she is passionate. And you cannot hold that kind of harmless passion against anyone. She loves it. She’s made a business of it. She’s written a million-copy bestseller about it. She’s into it! And I like that about her. She has many sweet ways to help you let things go and most of the time her logic is sound (note that I use “most of the time” … if you read it, I think you’ll know what I mean).

But her undeniably intelligent strategy is this – once you have only the things that spark joy, and you’re found the right place where they should live, you will never have to tidy or declutter again; the day-to-day house stuff solves itself. When you love what you see around you, the promise is almost there that it will be a life filled with much more joy. And therein lies her perfect pitch. After a recent clean-out, I still have the last three sections to attack (Papers! Argh!) and in a strange way, despite my joking protestations, I’m actually quite looking forward to it.