Thursday, August 1, 2019

Book Reviews July 2019

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson.  Kate Atkinson is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I was very excited to hear that after a few novels’ hiatus, she was returning to write about the detective Jackson Brodie.  She is such a skilled author that reading her books is a treat – you can relax, knowing that you are in excellent hands, and enjoy the mystery as it unfolds.  Jackson has moved to be closer to his ex, Julia, and his son, Nathan, and as per usual, crimes seem to find him.  He is hired by a woman who thinks she is being followed, plus he witnesses a young hitchhiker picked up by a suspicious older man and his wheels start a-turning.  It is a fast, fun, and suspenseful read.  

Crow Planet:  Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.  I first read this a few years ago when it came out and loved it.  I got it out to loan to Sean because I thought he might like it, but then I took it back because I wanted to read it again.  I did and it was just as good as the first time.  Haupt is very knowledgeable about birds, and it is a book about seeing crows in the urbs and suburbs, but it is also about living on this planet amongst birds and animals, the changes to our planet, and life in general.  I don’t always agree with Haupt, but her writing is intelligent and thought-provoking and I highly recommend.

He Said, She Said by Erin Kelly.  This was an excellent train read, except that I got so involved in it I kept almost missing my train stops.  Laura and Kit are a new couple back in the nineties when they go to watch an eclipse in Cornwall and end up stumbling upon a rape in progress.  They help the woman and, as witnesses, later testify in the trial of the rapist.  The book goes back and forth between the events of the past and the current time, in which they are living undercover so that the woman who was being raped can’t find them.  It goes back and forth from Laura’s story to Kit’s, both of whom are keeping secrets from each other.  It is well planned and a really good read.

The Darkness and The Island by Ragnar Jonasson.  I read two Icelandic mysteries by Jonasson featuring a detective named Hulda Hermansdottir.  They were both good, light reads – light not in subject matter but in depth.  They read quickly and don’t have much variety of detail.  In the first, Hulda is on the job, when she is told by her boss that she is being forced to retire.  She has two weeks left to work and is told to pick a cold case to work on.  She does, and starts finding out information about an immigrant whose death was declared a suicide, but who Hulda expects was murdered.  Hulda has many past traumas which are brought to light as she works on the case.  It has an ending which keeps the reader hanging.  Then I read the second book in the series (there are only two books so far), but it begins chronologically many years before the events of the first book.  It’s similar to the first:  an okay mystery with interesting scenery, but nothing spectacular.  A young woman was killed ten years ago and a group of her friends get together to reminisce, when things go awry.

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda.  This was a really fun read and I recommend it.  It takes place in a fictional town in Maine; Avery is a townie who has a career as a property manager for rentals owned by a wealthy family who summers there.  The time swings back between a year ago, when Avery’s best friend, Sadie, was found dead, to now, when Avery begins to find out things about Sadie’s death which she finds perplexing.  It’s a good mystery and very well written.  Miranda is great with detail and she does a very satisfying wrap-up at the end.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda.  I liked The Last House Guest so much that I moved straight on to another of her books (she has many!  Yay!), and liked this one even more.  Leah is a journalist, who has become a teacher and randomly moved to Western Pennsylvania with an old friend who was relocating there.  The friend, Emmy, has a night job, and it takes awhile for Leah to realize that she hasn’t seen her in a few days.  She is finally concerned enough to contact the police, and when she does so, the police, after investigating, don’t quite believe this person exists.  Leah then sets out to both find her friend and figure out what has happened.  It is so well done and well written and was an excellent read.

Conviction by Denise Mina.  I love all of Denise Mina’s books, but this one is definitely one of her best.  It was such a good read and a good idea.  The main character is Anna, who begins her day looking forward to listening to a podcast once her kids are off to school.  When she does so, she realizes that the true crime podcast features someone that she used to know.  When her current life situation is upended unexpectedly, she decides on a whim to figure out what really happened to her old friend.  She keeps referring to episodes of the podcast, which are printed out, and then ends up starting a podcast of her own, while now totally mixed up in the mystery featured in the original podcast.  It is really suspenseful and such a good read.  I highly recommend!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Book Reviews June 2019

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  This book started as one thing, and then at some point became a completely different kind of book!  Completely!  I was so surprised!  I did not see it coming.  The narrator, Rose, is a young girl growing up in California with her parents and brother.  Her mother is a little lost and her father a little clueless.  One day her mother bakes her a lemon cake and Rose can taste all her mother’s angst in the cake.   From that point on, she has to be very careful of what she eats, because she can taste the mood of the cook in the food.  Okay, so it’s quirky, and a little bland, and I was getting annoyed that the narrator was a kid, when all of a sudden, Rose learns something about her brother, which is NOT what you would expect.  And the book completely changes.  I will not say more than that.  I’m not sure Bender pulls it off, and I didn’t love the book, but kudos to her for trying!

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors.  This was a beautiful book and I found it heartbreaking and original.  Sonja is a 40 year-old woman living in Copenhagen and learning to drive for the first time.  She is also at a crossroads in her life, having grown up in the countryside and become a successful translator of mystery novels.  Her interactions with her driving instructors, and learning how to drive become a symbol of all that she is confronting now with what her life has become.  She has a good friend with whom she no longer has much in common, and a sister who does not want much to do with her.  It is a fast read and smart and lovely.

Unfuck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman.  This is a Marie Kondo-esque book about not living in squalor.  She makes some good points and has good strategies about how to unclutter your physical surroundings, but it is more a book geared to a young twenty-something (very slobby) audience.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman.  I really enjoy Batuman’s pieces in the New Yorker, so decided to read her first novel.  At first I was a little put off because the narrator, Selin, is a first-year student at Harvard and in love with her first love, Ivan, and Batuman gets it so right, that it is rather painful to read.  It was bad enough to experience that the first time – one really does not want to dwell.  So at first I was a bit grumpy with the book, but Selin – although often infuriating in her inaction – is cerebral and charming and awkward and ultimately very likeable.  She very much tries to live what she learns in her college courses and tries to make sense of her feelings for and interactions with Ivan, ultimately following him to Hungary in the summer where she teaches English in small villages.  It’s a good novel and I felt tender toward it.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.  This is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos, which was supposed to change the whole blood testing world, but ultimately ended up a scam.  Carreyrou is the journalist who broke the story in the Wall Street Journal, and it was a fascinating read.  It’s an interesting story and he gets so many great sources, and the whole time I was reading it I just didn’t understand how/why she pulled it off for so long.  So manly people could see that her technology didn’t work, yet she retained a board of political superstars.  Anyway, I recommend the book, and listening to the podcast, “The Dropout” afterwards.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg.  I didn’t love this book.  It is all about one woman, Andrea, the narrator, but each chapter is sort of set up like a stand-alone short story, so you end up getting repeated bits of information that I found confusing.  At first I thought each chapter had a different, yet obviously similar, narrator.  So it took me awhile to work out the form.  Andrea is a 40 year-old single woman living in New York and conflicted about relationships.  She had a turbulent childhood, and a difficult relationship with her mother, yet is very upset when her mother moves to New Hampshire to help out her brother and his wife, who have a dying child.  It is witty and well-written, but ultimately unsatisfying.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Book Reviews May 2019

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.  This is the first in a three-volume science fiction series, and I immediately understood while reading it why it has won so many awards.  It is told from the point of view of a ship, which sounds quite odd, but makes sense in the context of the book.  The narrator is actually part of the consciousness of a ship, and is on the lam after realizing and witnessing some damaging information about the leader/s of her world.  The writing is excellent:  Leckie immediately draws you into the world (galaxy really), having you make sense of things by the narrator’s account of the past and present.  It is hard to explain, but I very much recommend.

Strangers Tend To Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson.  This is a memoir about returning to live full-time in a rural town in New York state by Amy Dickinson, who is the Amy of the advice column, “Ask Amy”, and a regular participant on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.  She left the town when she went away to college, and then lived in Chicago and DC, but as the single mother of a daughter would return to her hometown in the summers.  When her daughter is grown, she returns in part to help take care of her ailing mother.  The book is about her past and her life growing up in the town, but also about finding a second chance at love there and marrying a high school friend.  She’s an entertaining writer, and I enjoyed the book, although I didn’t particularly find her to be a kindred spirit.  I’m still laughing at a line she wrote about going on a blind date with a (rather mean) guy who had very tiny hands, and all she could think of was those hands washing an apricot in a stream.  Ha!

Something In The Water by Catherine Steadman.  This was a fun British thriller written by an actress who had a role in one of the seasons of Downton Abbey.  It’s a fast and hard to put down read, although once you are finished, I’ll admit, not everything quite adds up.  However, it begins wonderfully and the suspense is high.  Basically Erin and Mark are on their honeymoon in Bora Bora when they find a bag in the ocean filled with money and diamonds and a gun.  At first their intent is to do the right thing, but down on their financial luck, they consider keeping their find and start to plan how they could get away with it.  The criminal owners of the bag are soon on their trail.  It is fun!

Late In The Day by Tessa Hadley.  This is a rather melancholy novel about what happens to two intertwined London couples and their families when one spouse dies.  Zachary was the glue that held them all together, so when Christine, Lydia, and Alex are left behind, there is a certain amount of unraveling.  Christine is the main character, an artist who worked closely with Zachary and his art gallery.  She and Alex invite Lydia to live with them while she is grieving.  There are stories of the past woven into the present, and you hear about how the four met and what has happened in their lives over the past twenty years.  It was a nice, calm, read, but my problem with it is that I basically disliked all four main characters, plus their two daughters.  All bothered me for different reasons.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Book Reviews April 2019

How To Live With Kids: A Room-By-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair.  This book had been on my nightstand for a while.  It’s the kind of book that is fun to dip into now and then and get inspiration.  However, I was tired of it taking up space in my “to read” pile, so finished it to move it along.  It is basically a book about home décor, the best part of it being the pictures of various options.  What she does well is a sort of “Marie Kondo” approach of making sure that you consider how each space in your home can best work for you with the least amount of clutter.

The Nix by Nathan Hill.  This was the longest-residing book on my kindle, and as I was in an orderly mode, its time was up.  It is a very long read, and while reading the first half of it I was a little grumpy; however, the second half won me over.  The first half was primarily the narrator’s childhood reminiscences, and I find I’m a little resistant to so much of that.  I think the book would have been better had those parts been edited out.  But I do see why the book made it to so many top ten lists of 2017.  The narrator is Samuel Andresen-Anderson, an English professor who is not very motivated by his job or life.  He spends most of his off hours playing a video game, until one day when his mother, who left Sam and his father when he was 11-ish, is in the news for throwing a rock at a Trump-like politician.  Samuel has a publisher – for a novel that has long been in the works – and this guy gets him to go visit his mother to try to write a book about her actions.  As mentioned above, the book goes into too much detail about Samuel’s childhood; it also goes into his mother’s considerably more interesting past, and why she abandoned Samuel.  There’s also a very funny and well-written storyline that involves the star player of the video game he plays, who goes by the moniker Pwnage, and is addicted to gaming.  The writing is often very funny, and when everything starts coming together in the second half, I really liked it.  

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown.  Ugh.  I HATED this.  It is a biography, more or less, about Princess Margaret, but it becomes more about how impossible a biography is, especially a biography of a royal figure, who is so much façade to begin with.  I could easily get on board with such a metanarrative – and with 99 sections both very short and long; however, I just found Brown tiresome and annoying.  He does gimmicks where he pretends Margaret married Picasso, and there is a section or two where this topic is treated as fact.  Sometimes he did do interesting studies, such as presenting all the different viewpoints/opinions of an event.  But I found the majority of his ideas puerile and it was all I could do to make myself finish reading the book.  Don’t so torture yourselves.

Savage News by Jessica Yellin.  I follow Jessica Yellin on Instagram, and really like her stories, in which she presents the news of the day.  Her thing is to do “news not noise,” filtering out all the stories of the day in Washington that are really just noise.  I recommend her.  Anyway, Savage News is her first fiction, and it is a fun, light read.  She wanted to write a news novel that was a comedy and I’d say her book is a success.  The narrator, Natalie Savage, is a broadcaster trying to make it as a serious journalist in the world of television news.  She wants to report the facts, and her bosses want her to get her hair straightened, and report on the gossip and rumors rather than what might really be going on behind all the bluster.  She tries to please her bosses enough to not get fired, while following a real story about a disappearance of the first lady and all its political implications.  It’s a quick and fun read.

Hold Sway by Sally Ball.  I read one of my best – and oldest! -- friend’s new book of poetry this month and it was a treat.  Hold Sway is Sally’s third poetry book and it is a rich collection.  There’s so much in it to stop and think about, and when I finished it I found myself immediately returning to the first poem to start all over again.  It did not come as a surprise to me that Sally’s poetry is smart and reflective, but there was so much humor, both wry and otherwise in the book!  There are a pair of dog poems, both called “Can You Hear My Dog?” which – having a new young reader in my household, reminded me of the do you like my hat sequences from Go Dog Go.  There’s also a line about a hiking trip, in which the food carried is “lentils, lentils, lentils, quinoa!, lentils” which cracked me up.  And a poem about a Shakespeare sonnet we had to memorize in 10th grade that ends with the BeeGees!  It is all done, too, in a thought-provoking, original, and lyrical manner.  I think my favorite is a poem called “Breaker,” in which the narrator shuts down, emotionally, like a circuit breaker powering off, switch by clicking switch.  Her topics range from being in Paris during a terrorist attack, to seeing a heron fly up and away, and listening to her daughter sing jubilantly in the car.  There’s also the wonderful poem, “Hold”, about the disturbing state of our planet and its changes in climate.  Hold Sway is an impressive book of poems that will stay with you long past your initial reading of them.

The Hollow of the Hand by PJ Harvey and Seamus Murphy.  PJ Harvey is my favorite musician of all time, and I was pleased to receive her first book of poetry as a gift.  The book is half poems, half pictures taken by the photographer, Seamus Murphy, when they were traveling in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington DC.  Each location has its own section in the book of poetry followed by photography.  Her poetry reads a lot like her song lyrics, which is not to denigrate either.  As I read though, I could hear her singing the words (and some of the phrases from the Washington DC section in particular appear in her album, The Hope Six Demolition Project.)  As you can imagine from the locales to which they travel, the subject matter is bleak.  Harvey is good at painting a scene in few words and closing with an image that is poignant and food for thought. 

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman.  I adore Elinor Lipman’s books and this one does not disappoint.  Her books tend to stay on the surface, in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get manner, but she is really funny and she has a knack for setting up humorous situations.  Here, Daphne is a young woman whose marriage has ended and mother recently died.  She found out that her husband had only married her to get his trust fund money, so she is bitter about that.  Then when her mother dies, she bequeaths to Daphne a yearbook filled with notes about what all the graduates went on to be and do.  Daphne decides she doesn’t want this and puts it in the recycling bin in her Manhattan apartment building.  However, a woman down the hall finds it and decides to make a podcast out of the information.  In trying to stop her from doing so, Daphne discovers a secret her mother had been keeping.  Meanwhile too, her widowed father has moved from NH to Manhattan and is enjoying his retired life as a professional dog walker.  Daphne also starts dating an actor who lives next door.  She frequently travels to NH regarding the information from the yearbook, and it is all an amusing farce. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Reviews March 2019

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton.  I really enjoyed reading this.  It is very much a Kate Morton novel, in that there are multiple parallel storylines going on that all take place in different times but share a connection.  In this novel the connection is a house out in the countryside in England that was first an artist’s retreat in the late 1800’s, and then a school for girls in the early 1900’s, and then a refuge for a family whose home was bombed in London in WWII.  The daughter of the title, who is one of the main narrators, is a ghost (which you learn right away so I’m not being a spoiler in revealing it).  She, known as Lily, was the muse of the painter who lived in the house in the 1860’s, and was trapped there after an incident which had reverberations for years to come.  It’s hard to explain without giving too much away, so I won’t.  But all of the characters are interesting and well written and it is easy to get invested in their stories and fun to piece all the parts together.  I recommend.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. I kept hearing good things about this book and was not disappointed.  It’s a light, quick read – more a novella – and simply done.  Korede is the narrator, and she is a hard-working nurse at a hospital in Nigeria.  She is the opposite in looks and temperament from her sister, Ayoola, who is a beautiful serial killer.  When the book begins, Korede has been called to clean up after Ayoola’s third murder.  As her sister’s caretaker, she does, but when Ayoola shifts her attentions to a doctor at the hospital at which Korede works – and a doctor who Korede has feelings for – Korede is torn between helping her sister stay out of trouble and helping the doctor.  It is fast-paced and stripped down.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. This is the third Fredrik Backman novel I’ve read and I am quite fond of them.  His books are sweettarts – sugary treats with a sour narrator and generally happy endings.  This book follows the tradition of A Man Called Ove, and Britt-Marie was Here, in that they have a slightly on the spectrum narrator who likes things just so.  In this case, however, the narrator is a 7 year old, Elsa, who is teased at school for her oddness and rigidity, and who has a wild granny she adores.  Her granny is fighting cancer, and leaves Elsa a series of letters to deliver to various people in her neighborhood, who then tell Elsa their story.  Britt-Marie lives in Elsa’s building (her novel comes after this one in sequence), and is as OCD as ever, making sure people don’t put signs up or let their dogs bark, etc.  I thought it would be a good novel to read after reading about a serial killer, and I was right.  It’s fun, and although Backman definitely has a formula, his books are quirky and enjoyable.  I will continue to read them.

Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths.  This was a fun ghost story/thriller read.  It's a "stand alone" book and not part of any of Griffiths' series.  Clare is a high school teacher and is also working on a book about an author of a famous ghost story.  A fellow teacher and friend of Clare's is murdered, and the whole community is thrown for a loop.  When a second teacher is next to die, things get serious!  The point of view rotates between Clare, her teenage daughter, Georgie, and Harbinder Kaur, the detective in charge of the case.  Interspersed throughout is also the full text of the ghost story, which begins to run parallel to the events Clare is living through.  I did figure out who the murderer was pretty early on -- and if I did, then all of you will figure it out much faster -- but that did not inhibit my enjoyment of the book.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Book Reviews February 2019

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith.  This is the fourth Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott mystery novel by J.K. Rowling, and I found it as delightful as the first three.  It is thick and meaty and slow-going in a good way – I was very excited to read a few chapters each night, and was sorry when it was over.  It begins more or less a year after where the third novel left off – Robin has married Michael, and is recovering from her serial killer attack.  She is back at work with Cormoran, and they get a new case figuring out who is blackmailing Jasper Chiswell, a member of parliament.  Robin goes undercover and works in Chiswell’s parliament office, while Strike chases down other leads.  Chiswell has many adult children and a wife and ex-wives, and all seem to be working at cross purposes.  Plus the Olympics are underway in London, and Michael is as displeased as ever with Robin’s job.  Like all in this series, it’s a very detailed, slow-paced and satisfying read.

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson.  I had heard good things about this book, which was nominated for a Booker, but it wasn’t the book for me.  I should begin with my pet peeve, which is when people write a novel with the events all out of sequence for no reason whatsoever.  Now when this is done well, I love it, but I feel it is too often used as a crutch to disguise a weak narrative.  This novel is basically a re-writing of the Oedipus story in present day time, and the narration is mostly that of Gretel, a woman who has just found her mother after a 16-year disappearance.  Her mother now is senile and doesn’t understand who she is or that Gretel is her adult daughter.  We get flashbacks to their life together on a houseboat, and Gretel tries to work out why her mother disappeared suddenly from her life ten years previously.  Then we also get chapters from the point of view of Margot, who transitions to Martin, and who ran away from home because a neighbor predicted he’d kill his father and sleep with his mother.  All of this could, possibly, have worked, but I didn’t like any of the characters, fitting together the back and forth timeline was annoying, and although most of it takes place on the river Avon in England, the locale of it all was strangely generic.  Plus Gretel steals a dog and then later on loses him, and is not at all bothered by this.  Sigh.

Watching You by Lisa Jewell. This was a really good read.  It takes place in a small town outside of London, and the chapters switch back and forth between Joey, a young woman newly married and recently returned from living abroad, and who is trying to get her life together and be a more responsible adult; Jenna, a high schooler who is living with a mother with mental illness that manifests itself in paranoia; and Freddie, a high schooler on the spectrum, and the son of the head superintendent of the local school.  When the novel begins, someone has been murdered, and it is someone connected to Tom, Freddie’s father, a charismatic and successful man.  Everyone is watching everyone else:  Freddie takes pictures of people in the town from his window, Tom seems to be watching two high school girls in particular, Jenna’s mom thinks the whole world is in on some spying conspiracy involving her, etc. etc.  There are layers and layers of watching, all skillfully done, and it is fun trying to figure out when the watching is nefarious and who is guilty of what.  It’s well written and very enjoyable.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.  I didn’t like this one.  Apparently, it is the first of a series, but I won’t be reading the rest.  It’s about a young London policeman, who one day out on patrol sees a ghost hanging around the scene of a crime.  Because of this ability, he becomes an apprentice in a kind of hidden police version of the ministry of magic, and is taught about the magic underworld existing in tandem.  They also then are working to figure out why there are so many murders committed by non-criminals.  There’s this whole plot about all the murders acting out old Punch & Judy puppet shows, and then the young policeman is also meeting all the gods of London’s rivers, etc. etc.  It was clever, and the writing wasn’t bad, per se, it just came across to me as an exercise.  I was glad when I finished the book.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper.  I loved this book and highly recommend it.  She is such a good writer.  This is her third book, and whereas the first two had characters in common, this one is “stand alone.”  It’s about a ranching family in the way outback in Australia, where the sun is so hot that you can’t be outside without a water supply nearby.  It begins with Nathan learning that his younger brother Cameron has died from such a fate.  Cameron was an experienced rancher, though, and shouldn’t have been defeated by the elements.  Things get even stranger when they discover that his car, stocked with food and water and working air conditioner, was nearby.  The police expect it was a suicide, but something doesn’t add up.  Nathan has a farm nearby, but he goes to stay at the main homestead with his extended family, and they all try to piece together what happened.  Nathan is working through his own difficult path, so that often the title refers to him as much as to Cameron.  The writing is so wonderful!  Harper is so good at creating interesting characters and then shaping them subtly.  It’s well-paced and fascinating and I loved it from beginning to end.  Read this book!


Friday, February 1, 2019

Book Reviews January 2019

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.  I really enjoyed this novel.  It flips back and forth from a family in the present day living in a ramshackle house in Vineland, NJ, to a family living perhaps in the same house 100 years earlier.  In the present day, Willa is a middle-aged woman whose family is having financial difficulties.  Her husband is a professor whose job keeps getting downsized, her son is a widower with a newborn, and her daughter is a hipster with leftwing beliefs that tend toward the extreme.  Willa is not where she thought she’d be at this point in life, and the house they inherited is falling apart around her.  She starts doing research to see if they can declare it of historical value, and discovers that a famous scientist who corresponded with Darwin, Mary Treat, might have lived there.  Meanwhile the reader knows Mary Treat lived next door, since we are also privy to the situation of Thatcher, a young teacher and Darwinist who is trying to support his wife and her mother and sister, in the manner to which they would like to be accustomed.  He is trying to teach a more modern science in the high school there, but comes up against the founder of Vineland, a bit of a tyrant.  It has a welcoming, leisurely pace and Kingsolver of course does a great job of creating a world both factual and fiction and connecting it to what is going on today (there are many interesting connections between Trump and the tyrants of yore).  I recommend. 

At The Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen.  This was a pleasant, light read – nothing spectacular but it is fun in a tense way.  When the book begins, it is WWII and the young Maddie and her husband and best friend are living a rich alcoholic kind of life in Philadelphia,  Ellis and Hank tried to enlist in the army, but couldn’t, and the three of them are dealing with scorn from those who think they are cowards.  Ellis’s father was involved years ago in a discredited search for the Loch Ness monster, so on a drunken whim, the three end up crossing the ocean during wartime (and getting shot at), and end up in Scotland looking for the beast.  Maddie soon realizes that she didn’t know her husband as well as she had thought, and that he has all sorts of nefarious plans he is trying to bring to fruition.  Meanwhile, she becomes close to the owners and workers in the small guesthouse in which they are staying.  It’s a fun, fluffy, yet also tense romp.

This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression by Daphne Merkin.  This was a more “enjoyable” read than I had guessed it would be, since the subject is Merkin’s life-long depression, which has had her in and out of institutions since childhood.  She is an excellent writer, though, and begins with her fascinatingly odd childhood as one of six kids born to wealthy Park Avenue parents who don’t seem at all interested in having or caring for children.  She and her siblings have thus struggled emotionally all their lives.  Merkin examines the beginnings of her depression as a young child, and explores honestly, it seems to me, how it was only when she was depressed that her mother would care for her.  It’s an honest and interesting exploration of her condition and how it has affected her personal and professional life.

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris.  This was a really fun thriller to read!  I recommend.  One has to suspend disbelief a bit, but if willing to do so it won’t disappoint.  Jack and Grace seem to have the perfect marriage.  Jack is a wealthy lawyer, and a doting husband, who seems like he’d do anything for Grace and her disabled sister, Millie.  About a third into the book, however, you discover that all is not what it seems.  And all is pretty horrific!  I can’t say more without giving it away, but it is well-done and tense and very fun, subject-matter notwithstanding.

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane.  This is the first Dennis Lehane book I’ve read and it has made me curious about the rest.  The first half of the book is about Rachel, a young woman who is trying to learn the secret of who her father might be, since her mother will not tell her.  She becomes a journalist, and investigates many leads.  She then becomes a successful television journalist, until her stint in Haiti causes her to have a breakdown live on TV.  So the first half of the book is establishing who Rachel is, and I found her compelling and the novel interesting.  But then!  Then all of a sudden she gets an inkling that her husband is not who he says he is.  She starts investigating what he has told her and then the rest of the book is this amazing fast-paced thriller, in which she discovers secret after secret, many of which are dangerous.  It is an exciting read, although I am still trying to piece together some of what happened.  I couldn’t put it down.

Astrophysics for People In A Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  I know nothing about physics, sadly, and not much about astrophysics either.  I’m not sure I’m “in a hurry”, but I definitely needed to start with the basics, and Tyson does a good job doing that.  He’s a good conversational writer, and also good at putting things in layman’s terms. I think I’d fail a test on the material, but I happily read a chapter each night, and enjoyed trying to wrap my mind around what he was explaining.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro.  I really enjoyed Dani Shapiro’s writing, and would like to read some of her other memoirs.  This one centers around two years ago when she does the Ancestry DNA test and discovers from the results that her half sister is not related to her.  She begins investigating why her father is not her biological father – her parents are both dead so she has to figure it all out for herself.  She remembers a conversation she had in her twenties with her mother, who mentioned a fertility institute in Philadelphia, so Shapiro pieces it together – and somewhat amazingly figures out who her real father is in the course of two hours.  The rest of the book is her contacting her biological father, a man much different from the orthodox Jewish father who raised her.  Shapiro is smart and calm and explores all aspects of her new information, how it answers questions she always had about herself growing up (the only blonde in the family), and how it affects her sense of self and family.  It’s a very good read.