Summer Books – Not All Are Beach Reads

With the help of my friends, I found a list of easy books to capture my attention.

9780062562647  Carol Goodman, one of my favorite Gothic mystery writers, always adds a literary flavor to her stories as she maintains the suspense.  Her latest book – The Other Mother – had me reading through the night.  Daphne Marist and Laurel Hobbes, new mothers suffering from post-partum depression, meet in a support group and become best friends.  As Goodman develops the tale, I wasn’t sure which one had been murdered, if one had assumed the other’s identity, or even if there were really two women.  It’s a gripping page-turner and so much fun to read.

518SwKZGkdL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Joanna Trollope’s modern version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is easier to follow if you know the original story, and Janeites may know Austen’s novels well enough to predict exactly what will happen next.  Whether or not you are familiar with the plot (from Austen’s book or the movie with Emma Thomspon), this updated story  will make you want to read to the happy ending of Trollope’s version.

contentAfter avoiding her books for so long, I finally read the first in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels – Still Life.  I enjoyed it more than I had expected. In Still Life, Penny establishes the setting in Three Pines. Her description of this fictional town near Montreal made me want to book a flight to find it.  Gamache is introduced as the brilliant investigator who speaks fluent French as well as Cambridge educated English, and he starts each investigation with a croissant and a coffee – a civilized approach to murder.

Next on my agenda are two easy reads: a paperback I found buried in my stash – To Capture What We Cannot Keep – a nineteenth century romance by Scottish writer Beatrice Colin – set in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower construction; and Mary Alice Munroe’s beach read – appropriately titled Beach House Reunion.

Waiting in the wings:

  1. William Trevor’s Last Stories
  2. Frances Mayes’ Women in Sunight
  3. Madeleine Miller’s Circe

A great start to the summer…

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It Happened in Monterey

I miss chatting with bookstore owners who are avid readers. With only one independent bookstore on the island (BookEnds in Kailua) and a perfunctory Barnes and Noble at the mall, the pickings are slim in Hawaii. On a recent trip to the Monterey Peninsula, I found four independent bookstores within a five mile radius, and with booksellers happy to share their favorites. Of course, I could not get out of a store without buying a book or two.  img_4298

At Bookworks in Pacific Grove, I found two books: an older (2012) Donna Leon mystery I had not read, with my favorite sleuth, Commissario Guido Brunetti – “Beastly Things,” and Joanna Trollope’s “Sense and Sensibility” (2013), her modernized version of the Jane Austen classic.

At Old Capitol Books in Monterey, I found myself scanning the stacks of old used books, some rare editions, checking off those I had read. Looking for favorite authors, I found an Amy Bloom book I had not read (at least I don’t remember reading it) – “Lucky Us.”

In Pilgrim’s Way, the charming bookstore connected to a garden in Carmel, I decided on “The Green Thoreau” and Scottish author Beatrice Colin’s “To Capture What We Cannot Keep.”

Chatting with the proprietor led me to another independent bookstore not far away – River House Books. There I found the first of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books – “Still Life” – recommended by a good friend, and Amy Bloom’s new book – “White Houses.” The bookseller commisserated about “Manhattan Beach” – like me, she had not been able to finish it – but I plan to try again. And her recommendation for the best page-turner she had read recently – “The Dry” – went to the top of my to-read list.

With this stack, Laura Lippman’s “Sunburn” on my iPhone and Navin’s “Only Child” on audible, I am ready for a long flight – unless, of course, the movie selection has an Oscar nominee to distract me.

The Immortalists

How long do you expect to live?  Chloe Benjamin uses the theory of expectations to deliver a compellng family saga of four siblings who visit a fortune teller after their father dies at forty-five. When the clairvoyant names the dates they will die, predicting a short life for the younger two, middle-age for the oldest son, and a long life for the eldest daughter, each designs a life destined to fulfill the phropecy.

Each life is revealed separately, weaving in  the circumstances of the others over fifty years. Simon, the youngest, drops out of high school to escape to San Francisco in the nineteen eighties with his sister, an aspiring magician.  Knowing he will die young, he adopts a reckless gay lifestyle leading to devastating consequences.

The deaths of the two middle children seem contrived with both dying on their appointed days, but Benjamin reveals her message with Vy, the eldest and longest living, who works as a researcher for a pharmaceutical firm developing a longevity formula.  To live to her predicted 88 yesrs, Vy has severely limited her caloric intake and avoids physical contact, suffers from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and lives in fear. An observer of her life comments she may be surviving but she is not living.

I remember a line from a movie with Tom Hanks asking the spy who is about to be sentenced why he is not worried.  The spy answers: “Would it help (to worry)?”  What will happen will happen. What would you do if you knew the date of your death? Would you try to change your life’s trajectory or worry as the date drew near?

Is It Time to Revisit Montaigne?

In the frenzy of caustic political diatribe in the weeks before the vote for President in the United States, Tim Parks offers the voice of reason in his articleShould Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? in the Book Review section of the New York Times.  

“Montaigne’s position was always that we must be extremely careful about our emotions, in particular our tendency to get emotional about ideas.  He didn’t advise neutrality, but simply that ‘we should not nail ourselves so strongly to our humors and complexions.’ To foster emotions deliberately and habitually was dangerous, because once a strong emotion had kicked in it was very difficult to find a way back.”

The rhetoric of emotional intensity has spilled over from reality show television and action packed books and movies into the political arena, a place where the calm assessment of affairs has been replaced by dyspeptic rants, brutal verbal attacks on adversaries, and “horror for the future.”  Montaigne notes: “No one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly.”

9781590514832_p0_v1_s192x300   Rereading Sarah Bakewell’s A Life of Montaigne has immersed me into introspection – and a new appreciation for nonfiction.

 It will not stop me, however, from escaping reality and losing myself in the next book of fiction – life seems better when it’s not real all the time.  Alan Bradley has my attention now in the return of Flavia de Luce. 9780345539960_p0_v2_s192x300 

 

 

The Red Car

Addendum

In reviewing The Red Car for the New York Times – Fast and Furious –  Daniel Handler noted “There is, now, a literary term for a book you can’t stop reading that makes you stop to think.  It is “The Red Car.”  And that’s just what happened to me when I read it.

AN ASIDE

After finishing The Red Car, I felt like Leah, the main character, riding in a car with its own mind – taking me on its own journey – for my own good.  My first thoughts were not to review but to remember.  You might want to skip this “aside” and go straight to the review below – but like Leah riding in the red car, I just had to write it.

I remember waking up one day and noticing I was not wearing earrings.  When had I stopped?   Then I remembered; it was when my baby took to pulling them off my ears and I worried about her swallowing them.  Now she was grown and had pierced ears, but I still forgot to look at my own ears.

It was a wake-up call, as though I had been someone else all those years, dreaming through life, pretending to have it all together and rushing around trying to keep everyone happy – my daughter, my husband, my dissertation committee, my students, my mother.  It never occurred to me to keep myself happy.

Much later, it happened again.  This time I was older and about to enter another decade – without the responsibilities of parenthood and career.  I decided to get my ears pierced – a tribute to five decades of meeting expectations.  For a while, I was happy, until once again I fell into the mode of responsibility.  It still seems difficult to make decisions only for myself.  I could blame my Catholic schooling or my strict Italian father.  I could wonder what if, as we all do periodically, especially when life seems unbearable.  I should just be grateful – so many have a much poorer life.

Maybe someday someone will leave me a red car to jolt me.

MY REVIEW

9781631492334_p0_v8_s192x300   Marcy Dermansky’s short novel – The Red Car – will lead you on a wild ride, but possibly leave you with an urging to reexamine your life.  When her former boss dies and leaves her red sports car and some money to Leah, a budding novelist, Leah revisits her old life, discovers strands of unfinished business and the courage to find her own happiness.  A quick read, The Red Car offers a philosophic look to sleepwalking through life,  with the same quirky, humorous, yet disarming grounding as Where’d You Go Bernadette?  It’s no wonder Maria Semple highly recommended this new book.  Read it in a sitting, but be prepared to think about it longer.