Best Books I Read This Month
Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penney. For me, this is by far the best of the Armand Gamache mysteries (well, the best of the first seven, since that's all I've read). It is really three stories in one book, but each feels fully developed. One involves a disastrous operation that occurred in the recent past that has left Gamache and his second-in-command Inspector Beauvoir physically and psychologically damaged. Gamache has been healing himself by reading at the Literary and Historical Society in Quebec (an Anglophone institution) when a man obsessed with finding the body of Samuel Champlain turns up dead in the Society's basement. Gamache becomes involved in the case, in the process learning a lot about Champlain. Meanwhile, Gamache has sent Beauvoir to Three Pines to do some follow-up on Olivier's murder conviction. It sounds like a lot, but all the stories are interesting, and Beauvoir for the first time becomes a three-dimensional character. I had thought about giving up on Penney, but now I'm on board for a few more!
The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian. I really enjoy Bohjalian's writing, especially his ability to write great female characters. The Flight Attendant is not among his best--the protagonist is unlikable (an alcoholic flight attendant who sleeps with random dudes, one of whom ends up dead next to her in bed), the mystery around how said dude ended up dead is overly complicated and paranoid, and the ending is dumb. Yet inexplicably, it held my interest.
What We Lose, by Zinzi Clemmons. This book is hard to describe. The narrator is a young woman named Thandi; Thandi grew up in a middle-class Pennsylvania neighborhood with a South African mother and African American father. Much of the book is about how Thandi coped (or didn't) following her mother's death, but the author also delves into South African history, Thandi's dating history, the birth of her child, and more. The book generally feels like a series of vignettes, yet some sections read more like essays. Clemmons also includes and comments on primary sources (excerpts from President Obama's first book). Occasionally, the book is confusing, but it's also beautifully written and insightful.
Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza. Former White House photographer Pete Souza has been throwing shade at Donald Trump since his 2017 inauguration--and I've enjoyed those posts immensely. I think I may have expected some sarcasm in the book, but it's a straightforward and admiring chronicle of President Obama's time in the White House. It's fun to look at the photos and read the brief text, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Still good though.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Like listening to your 10-year old and his friends talk about playing video games. Clearly (as my son pointed out), I am not the target demographic for this very popular book.
Split Second, by David Baldacci. I don't know why I keep reading Baldacci--I never find them satisfying. This is the first entry in his King and Maxwell series featuring characters who were or are Secret Service agents. Rife with conspiracy theories.
Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan. The other two Jennifer Egan novels I have read were experimental in form--and I enjoyed both of them (A Visit from the Goon Squad and Look at Me). Manhattan Beach is a much more traditional historical novel about a woman growing up in New York in the Depression and then working as a diver in World War II. That character is interesting, but the book itself didn't sparkle.
Duel to the Death, by J. A. Jance. The more Jance's Ali Reynolds series focuses on cyber crimes, the less interesting I find it. This one was, for me, a snooze-fest.
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. Wonder, the story of a middle-schooler born with numerous facial deformities, has been a sensation in the YA field. I liked it, but thought it was pretty predictable and perhaps overly sunny.
My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne Du Maurier. Why do people like Du Maurier? I hated this book and thought Phillip Ashley was perhaps the stupidest protagonist ever! Ugh.
The Gods of Guilt, by Michael Connolly. Legal thriller featuring the "Lincoln Lawyer"--okay but not great.
Alternate Side, by Anna Quindlen. I like about every third Quindlen, and this one I did not like. The book features a couple who lives on a lovely dead-end street in Manhattan. The setting is idyllic until there is an incident involving one of the residents and the local handyman--the incident serves as a trigger for a negative spiral in the narrator's life. As someone who has always lived in flyover country, I thought this book was a perfect reflection of the provincial attitudes of New Yorkers. It's hard to care about their ever-so-first-world problems.
My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent. This is a sickening tale of a young woman abused sexually, physically, and psychologically by her survivalist father. I recently read a movie review in which the critic described a movie's intense violence as "audience abuse"--and that's how I felt about this book. For a more complete analysis of the problems with this book, which was much ballyhooed, read Roxane Gay's review on GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2116465636).
Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Locke. Okay mystery with an interesting focus on race.
This was the paradox: How would I ever heal from losing the person who healed me? The question was so enormous that I could see only my entire life, everything I know, filling it.
I thought about how every place on Earth contained its tragedies, love stories, people surviving and others falling, and for this reason, from far enough of a distance and under enough darkness, they were all essentially the same.
When they were first married they had vowed they would never be one of those married couples who sat silently at dinner because they’d run out of things to say. They were determined that they would never run out of things to say. So they repeated themselves a lot.
You could argue they’d lost their way, in their choices, their work, their marriage. But the truth was, there wasn’t any way. There was just day after day, small stuff, idle conversation, scheduling. And then after a couple of decades it somehow added up to something, for good or for ill or for both.
Anna Quindlen, Alternate Side