Extreme Prey, by John Sandford
The Good Neighbor, A. J. Banner
She's Not There, by Joy Fielding
212, by Alafair Burke
The Theory of Death, by Faye Kellerman
Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman
The Sandford, Burke, and Kellerman books are installments in long-running series--none terrible, none really good. The Good Neighbor is something I got free on Amazon when I was a Prime member--and I got what I paid for.
She's Not There is the story of a child kidnapping similar to the Madeleine McCann--a toddler daughter is snatched from a hotel room when her parents are having dinner in the restaurant downstairs. More than a decade later, the parents marriage has collapsed, they are still hounded by the press (especially on anniversaries), neither gets alone well with their other (older) daughter, and both are haunted by guilt--although the father, perhaps stereotypically, has found it easier to move on. When a girl calls to say she thinks she is their daughter, it causes even more strife, but eventually leads to a disturbing resolution of the crime. Okay but wouldn't recommend (and I'm getting tired of a mini-trend involving mothers being blamed when their children go missing).
Laura Lippman has written some very good mysteries--both in her Tess Monaghan series and in her stand-alone books. Wilde Lake is a stand-alone that focuses on Lu Brant, newly elected state's attorney in Howard County, Maryland. Her first case in office is a murder case that eventually leads Lu back to a series of terrible events during her older brother's senior year of high school (when her father was the state's attorney). Subplots involve new developments in the case that made her father beloved in the community and revelations about her mother's death. The themes of the book are important: the expectations we have of our heroes and the stories we create to cover the pain of our histories. But somehow the book doesn't quite work--too many coincidences, a dual narration (Lu as a child and Lu today) that isn't consistent, and an obnoxious protagonist. Not one of Lippmann's best.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
The granddaughter gave me this Newbery-award-winning book for my birthday because she enjoyed it--and I can see why. The story is narrated by a gorilla named Ivan, who has lived for 27 years in a small glass enclosure in a mall. When his friend and fellow captive Stella the elephant becomes ill and is clearly dying, their owner brings in a baby Ruby to replace her. Before she dies, Stella asks Ivan to get Ruby to a zoo. He uses his artistic talent and his friendship with the daughter of the custodian at the mall to bring public attention to the animals' plight. It's a sweet story and is written in single-sentence paragraphs that somehow made me believe that might be how a gorilla used language. Kids who like animals will love this book.
They Don't Mean to But They Do, by Cathleen Schine
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, by Ramonda Ausubel
They May Not Mean to But They Do is a funny but sad story about aging parents and their adult children's attempts to control them. As the novel opens, 86-year-old Joy is still working while caring for her husband, who suffers from dementia. Then her husband dies, she loses her job, a boyfriend from her past turns up, and her children, Molly and Daniel, start trying to control her (while being unable to control elements of their own lives). All of the characters are well-intentioned, and all of them make lots of mistakes. A depiction of Joy's apartment as seriously cluttered with mail and other papers Joy cannot deal with reminded me so vividly of my own nearly 92-year-old mother's dining table and desk (if you're reading this, Mom, sorry) that I came close to simultaneously laughing and crying. Definitely worth reading.
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! has a similar theme. Harriet is an older woman whose husband recently died, after suffering with Alzheimer's. She learns he bought two tickets for an Alaskan cruise before he died, and she decides to go on the trip. Things don't go well and her estranged daughter decides to join her to rein her in. It turns out the daughter and her brother are trying to manipulate the mother for their own benefit; at the same time, Harriet is learning some disturbing things about her late husband. Chapters telling the story in the present are interspersed with "This Is Your Life" type narration describing, in second person (as on the old game show), various periods in Harriet's early life. I think the author intends the book to be funny, but mostly it just made me feel sad for Harriet. Schine's book is much better!
Author Heidi Durrow is the daughter of a Danish woman and an African American man--as is the heroine of her novel, young Rachel. Rachel has recently begun living with her paternal grandmother and aunt in a black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. She feels like she doesn't belong and her classmates are happy to reinforce that feeling. As she tries to cope with her new circumstances, she is also grieving for her mother, brother, and sister and recovering from injuries she sustained in the event that killed them: a fall from the roof of the apartment building where they were living in Chicago. She also wonders why she has not heard from her serviceman father, still stationed somewhere overseas. As Rachel comes of age, her back story is filled in through sections narrated by her mother, her mother's supervisor at her job in Chicago, and the neighbor boy who saw her brother fall past his window. Rachel will break your heart and make you think; as the mother of biracial children, I may be somewhat more interested in Rachel's story than the average reader, but everyone should certainly care because multiracial children are, in my opinion, the future. Recommended.
A couple of years ago, I undertook a project to read Pulitzer and National Book Award winners. I'm doing it slowly--in part because there are a lot of them and in part because some of them just don't appeal. Tree of Smoke, the story of CIA operatives and collaborators during the Vietnam War, was one of those. And, in this case (unlike The Road, which I resisted but ended up admiring), my trepidation was well-founded. I don't think it's an overstatement to say I hated this book. Similarly, I disliked A Confederacy of Dunces, frequently referred to as a modern-day Don Quixote. Although I haven't read Don Quixote (I probably should), this is only true if Don Quixote was a narcissistic, idiotic, and abusive fool, as is Ignatius Reilly, the protagonist of Dunces. Definitely not worth the time.
In Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, we meet Edgar and Fern. They both grew up in wealthy families with parents who weren't warm--Fern's family was old money, Edgar's nouveau riche. As college students, they decided they didn't care about money--yet by the time they have been married for over a decade and have three children, they seem to be enjoying the life of leisure Fern's parents' money has given them. Then they learn the money is gone. Fern assumes Edgar will go to work in his father's steel company--but Edgar, who fancies himself a novelist, does not want to. Both essentially melt down and run away (without telling each other), leaving their three children at home with no supervision. Although I thoroughly disliked Fern and Edgar, I enjoyed the depiction of their hypocrisy and their meltdown--until Ausubel gave them a dose of sudden-onset maturity. Despite the letdown of the happy ending (I know--it's a weird reaction), I'd recommend the book.
The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
This classic novella is the story of hard-working traveling salesman Gregor Samsa, who has the financial responsibility for his parents and his younger sister--but wakes up one morning as a horrible vermin. No one seems to wonder how or why this happened, they just try to construct a new way of living with a family member who is no longer human and without their income source. Gregor's sister assumes the task of taking care of him, but gradually she, too, tires of the task and begins to talk of killing Gregor. The parents wish they could move to another apartment, but they feel tied to their current quarters by Gregor's presence. While Gregor deals with his transformation dispassionately, he does begin to feel responsible for the problems his family faces.
I read the novella as representing the dehumanizing and alienating effect of both family and work. It also poses ethical questions about how we treat others, even when their outer presentation becomes repulsive. Definitely strange, definitely worth a read.
Not for Bread Alone, edited by Daniel Halpern
This book is a collection of highly variable pieces about food, from authors as wide-ranging as Alice Waters, Wendell Berry, M.F.K. Fisher, Michael Dorris, Colette, and many more. The topics are equally wide-ranging. My favorite was a Paul Schmidt essay about the meaning of oysters in Anna Karenina. Overall, however, there were more essays I found boring than ones I liked.
Pick of the Litter: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
It's easy to smile just to make other people feel better. But when a person fakes happy, it has edges. Regular people may not see, but the people who count, they can see edges and lines where your smile ends and the real you, the sadness (me) or the anger (Grandma) begins.
From The Girl Who Fell from the Sky
There are some things that can't be righted. . . . It's good to name them.
From Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty