New Literary Gems Under 200 Pages

thumbnail_IMG_4482    A quick read is usually a mystery thriller I cannot put down, but I recently found a few books not in that genre but just as intense, and under two hundred pages.  I wished they had gone on for more.  They are so small and compact, I thought of saving them for my next long flight, but like chocolate, I couldn’t resist.

Have you read anything short and sweet lately?

My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle

imagesAt only 179 pages, Mayle’s book was long enough to remind me of one of favorite vacations in Provence a few years ago.  I still have some thyme weighed out for me at the farmer’s market, but I am running out – time to go back for more. Mayle’s travel musings have his usual rambling flair in this posthumous “reflections of then and now.”  A joy to read and reread, this 25-year retrospective includes the amazing croissants and wines in cozy cafes (you can almost taste them), and the wonder of the beautiful landscape in the Luberon region.  He includes some bumps along the way to tranquility, but I agree with Mayle’s philosophy; ““Memory is at its best when it’s selective, when we have edited out the dull, the disappointing and the disagreeable until we are left with rose-colored perfection.”

Harbor Me by Jacquelyn Woodson

Honored with many awards, including the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson’s new book for middle school age children – Harbor Me – has a message for adults in its 176 pages.

When the teacher assigns four boys and two girls to meet every Friday in the old art room they rename the ARTT (A Room To Talk room), with no adults to listen in, they share their problems and discover together they have the strength to face them. The issues are timely: Esteban’s father’s deportation after being taken from work at a local factory to Haley’s father’s incarceration and her struggle with her own bi-racial identity, and Amari’s fears of racial profiling. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they hide from the rest of the world and find a safe harbor.

His Favorites by Kate Walbert

Kate Walbert’s 149 pages in His Favorites build into the #MeToo story of a vulnerable fifteen year old girl at a prestigious private boarding school.  The story starts with the death of a teenage girl from a drunken joyride in a golf cart.  As the driver,  Jo’s guilt drives her to acquiesce to her thirty-four year old Advanced Lit class teacher’s sexual advances, until she finally decides to go to the headmaster for help. The administrator’s reaction is predictable. Walbert clearly points to all the adults who have abandoned Jo, including her parents, as she navigates a painful journey that never ends:

“From here there is never … a day without Master’s shadow across my life — a solid bar, a locked turnstile that brings me up short, trapped on the other side of where I thought I was going, the place I once imagined I would be.”

A story with a short but powerful and painful  statement…

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

UnknownDorthe Nors 192 pages had me remembering when I learned to drive; I was sixteen and taught by my patient father, but Nors’ heroine, Sonja,  is over forty trying to learn how to drive a stick shift in a driving school with an impatient young instructor.  Written as a stream of consciousness dialogue with herself, the story allows the reader into Sonja’s anxiety-driven “monkey mind” as she jumps into tangent topics, often daydreaming while she is having a driving lesson.

Nors’ book is translated from Danish with obscure references to the landscape; coincidentally, Sonja is a translator of gory Swedish crime novels. It took awhile to get into the rhythm of the story, maybe because of the translation, but when Sonya drops out in the middle of a hike with a group of women to find a bakery with “thick slices of cake,” I suddenly liked her.

The book may be short but it is packed with dark humor and introspective notes, and double entendre on living life alone, as Sonja watches out for her blind spots:

“I’m a woman past forty.  Alone… Barefoot and besides, I can’t shift gears.”

lightning-bolt-clipart-lightning-bolt-hiMore Short Books to Look For:

  • Coming later in September – Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini 

In 48 pages in a letter from father to son. the author of The Kite Runner commemorates the second anniversary of the death of the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned while attempting to reach Greece.

  • In January, 2019 – Ghost Wall by Kate Moss – 144 pages

“…A gothic tale of bullying and bog people…”

Only You Can Save Mankind

9780060541873_p0_v1_s260x420What if a character in the computer game you were playing suddenly became real? In The first of Terry Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell trilogy, Johnny faces down aliens in “Only You Can Save Mankind.” Targeted for a middle school audience, Pratchett’s science fiction thriller has some elements appealing to adults, with Pratchett’s clever references to human foibles, including unhealthy food, politics, and parenting, but overall, Johnny’s struggles with making friends, being a nerd, and generally trying to understand the adult world, fit the formula for a coming of age adventure.

I found this slim paperback, surrounded by shelves of Terry Pratchett books in the upstairs maze in The Last Bookstore. The title attracted me and had me wondering – can mankind be saved? Pratchett offers a few funny alternatives in his war against the aliens, and the action gets exciting as the story heads to its climax.

A fun quick read and Pratchett is now on my list of children’s authors to follow.  My favorite quote from the book:

You might never win, but at least you could try.  If not you, who else?

Summer of the Gypsy Moths

GetAttachment-4.aspxHow long can two little girls hide a dead old aunt, as they manage the Linger Longer Cottage Colony in Cape Cod in Sara Pennypacker’s tween novel Summer of the Gypsy Moths? With humor, compassion, and a dog named Treb, Pennypacker’s heroine combines the heart of a child with the maturity of an adult.

When Stella’s spirited mother runs off to find happiness, she leaves Stella with her great-aunt Louise, caretaker for a string of summer cottages on the Cape. Louise decides to foster a Portuguese girl, Angel, as a companion and friend for the little girl. No one expects Louise to die, and when she does, the young girls decide that life alone would be better than the unknown possibilities of an orphan home – and they know how to keep a secret.

Once you get past the macabre scenes of a dead body and the unlikely burial, the tale of friendship and responsibility is endearing, and you will be cheering for the girls to succeed. Stella’s penchant for Heloise’s Helpful Hints substitutes for motherly advice as the two girls clean the cottages between guests; at times, those helpful hints offer funny possibilities – who knew Febreze laundry odor eliminator would help with the smell of a dead body. The girls set up a baby-sitting service, dig for clams on the beach, and try to stop an infestation of caterpillars in blueberry bushes planted years ago by Stella’s mom. The ending has everyone living happily ever after, with the two wily girls demonstrating their resourcefulness.

Pennypacker has been compared to Beverly Cleary with growing-up stories that have a message – for both adults and children. With moments that will have you aching for their loneliness and laughing at their gumption, Summer of the Gypsy Moths is worth the read.