Two posts in two weeks? As I tell my guy after I fix a bang-up dinner, don’t get used to it! But I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that Louise Penny consumed all my reading energy this year. Not so! Here are other books that grabbed my reading time in the last few months.
Some years back, I swore off Cathy Lamb’s books – because of what I consider an egregious grammar error that I could not stomach. I hated reading ‘Me and Wally went to the store,’ so much, I even wrote to complain. It was a good story that I couldn’t stomach for the fingernails-on-chalkboard clench of that all-too-common mistake. I wasn’t satisfied with her reply. But I gave her another chance ala my library’s book sale and I liked this story very much. (She learned!) Here a mom has to let go and let her smart, funny, and disfigured son live beyond the protective bubble she built for him. Well-developed characters and heartfelt emotion made this a gratifying read.
I looked forward to reading the Lilac Girls for a long time. Alas I have to say that as stories of concentration camps go, it was far from the best I’ve read. The plights of the Polish girls – all Christians – in the camps were heart-rending. And the moral dilemmas of the camp doctor were interesting – until they weren’t and she began to show the typical tyranny and glib acceptance of human suffering that one expects from the Gestapo. The author’s quasi-reliance on the real lives of the doctor and the rich New York socialite limited, in my view, her storytelling. Am I sorry I read this book? No. But nor would I recommend it when there are so many other better options set in the World War II era. Try The Nightingale, The Guernsey Potato-Peel-Pie and Literary Society, or even The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance.
I was ready for a light rom-com after Ravensbruck and Helen Hoang gave it to me. She followed a fairly standard formula – because hey, it works. But she added a twist in that the heroine lives in the high-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. She’s hyper-aware of her shortcomings, exceptionally skilled at her mathematical profession, and emotionally and relationally a mess. So I was rooting for her and delighted when she attracted a sensitive and too-gorgeous-to-be-true guy. I found The Kiss Quotient great fun.
I was predisposed to adore Rachel Joyce’s sequel-of-sorts to The Improbable Pilgrimage of Harold Fry because I adored Harold Fry when I read his tale some years back. (While reading I cast Alan Rickman as quirky, misunderstood Harold.) In some ways, Queenie’s story was back-story – and darker since she felt Harold’s losses as well as her own. But she too finds redemption of sorts – or at least the author sets the stage to let us believe she does.
Any time I see a new Elinor Lipman book, I will grab it! Her characters are walking human foibles who fall into situations that border on the absurd. And we want to see them through to the other side! I can put myself into Daphne’s character and wonder how I’d deal with an inheritance that only showed the worst of my mother and a secret that might damage my most stalwart relationship. And that might mess up my hopes for the handsome guy next door… Lipman is guaranteed fun!
I’ve never known a Queenie. Nor do I remember ever reading about a character named Queenie. But in the space of a month, I read about two! This one is a compelling, funny, and seriously messed up young woman straddling worlds of her former white boyfriend, the Jamaican culture that made and sometimes shames her. One despairs when Queenie lets herself be used because at least it’s something – and cheers when she can finally and honestly be herself.
I like novels so when both my book clubs chose short story collections for May, I wasn’t thrilled. And as is so often the case, I was glad to read books I would otherwise not have chosen. Gene Weingarten’s collection of feature pieces written for the Washington Post will stick with me a long time. Probably the most compelling – and disturbing – is about the infants and toddlers who die alone every summer in an overheated car. And the parents who live with the consequences of distracted minds that allowed them to forget their child was strapped into the seat behind them. Heartbreaking, and heartbreakingly told. Weingarten shares powerful guidance for writers too. Stories should be about the meaning of life. Ala Kafka, Weingarten reports, ‘the meaning of life is that it ends.’ Hmmm… By the way, not all of Weingarten’s stories were dark. Some were laugh-out-loud funny.
And now for something completely different… David Sedaris – and his family who populate this volume of stories – are the royalty of quirks and oddity. I doubt I’d like to live with them, but I think they’d be fun to hang out with. Sometimes. I related too-much-for-comfort to some stories despite my book club’s belief that Sedaris exaggerates wildly. “Surely no one could be that obsessed with his Apple Watch!” I sat quietly knowing that very afternoon how I’d jostled and jiggled mine for a full forty minutes trying to fool those circles to close.
I started this right before a business/vacation trip and finished stuck in the Philadelphia airport at 3AM. So don’t count on clarity in my review. But what I remember is honesty – or rather a struggle to achieve honesty. In a world where Facebook joys are paraded and it seems no one has troubles, our heroine is shaken to the core when her best friend overdoses on painkillers she never seemed to need. Why would she with such an idyllic life? Except it wasn’t. Seeing another’s grim reality is Penny’s wake-up call to face up to a less than perfect marriage. Pagan presents a realistic view of loss, lies, parenting young kids, and confronting hard truths in marriage. This book deserves more attention than I gave it.
And that’s it. I think. At least for now until I remember more. Stay tuned…