The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This novel interweaves the stories of two women in their thirties who are suffering fairly unique forms of heartbreak. Anna is an early onset (age 38) Alzheimer’s patient living in an assisted living residence for the elderly, and Eve is the new cook and housekeeper whose husband just killed himself after being convicted of a massive Ponzi scheme. Throughout the book Anna sadly loses more and more of her memory, but develops a romantic relationship with a man her age who also has early onset dementia. Eve struggles to build a new life for herself and her seven year old daughter, with the help of the handsome gardener who shares her love of organic cooking. The author sensitively portrays the frustration of people who can’t remember what anything is called or which door goes where, as well as the hurt of losing all your friends and living in poverty because of what your husband did. This excellent book will make you sad and yet hopeful, and give you much greater understanding of the experiences of people with dementia and their families.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon and Schuster, 2017)
Although Hoffman has apparently written many Young Adult (teen) novels, which I have not read, this one is for adults. I am not sure how I feel about it. It did have quite a large amount of tragedy, mainly untimely deaths. You might even say that was the theme. The plot concept is clever – how the descendants of witches killed in the Salem witch trials fare in a 20th century world that is not quite as hostile to witches, but doesn’t exactly accept them either. This book takes place in the 1960s, mainly in Manhattan and Boston but also in Paris and San Francisco (I suppose because there is plenty of historical information available on those places in the 1960s). The concept of witches not being able to swim underwater without immediately floating up is not only portrayed as scientific fact, but is a major plot point (because it keeps them from saving others from drowning). So, interesting book, a little weird, lots of death – the main characters spend most of the book trying to avoid the curse that anyone they love gets killed. It doesn’t go that well for them.
Filed under Fantasy, Fiction
The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy (Harper Collins 2017)
This novel is very reminiscent of the many excellent works of Maeve Binchy, the Irish novelist who passed away a couple of years ago. Felicity Hayes-McCoy is apparently a famous actress in the UK but her writing skills are also quite good. I picked up the book on the New Books shelf because it is about a library and a librarian; the “edge of the world” refers to a fictional coastline community in Ireland. Although the main character is a bit prickly, she does eventually mellow and helps her community save their local library. Figuring out what the Irish vocabulary words mean is an ongoing challenge, but certainly provides local flavor. If you liked Maeve Binchy you will like this book.
Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, & Lore edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books, 2017)
This collection of 24 short stories is all about librarians and libraries, as the title says. Many of these stories could be described as science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and several are post-apocalyptic. Others are completely different. I didn’t like all of the stories, but there is something for every taste. Librarians are portrayed positively and with a modern adult perspective (there is sex and romance of both straight and LGBTQ persuasions). Books are highly valued in every story. Libraries are portrayed primarily as a place to keep books safe, though they have many other roles in the twenty-first century. This collection reminded me of my roots as a person who became a librarian because I love books and reading.
The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard (Penguin Books, 2017)
Although this book sounds like it might be science fiction from the title, it isn’t really. It’s just that a small piece of alternative history involving a tattoo machine that puts “epiphanies” onto people’s forearms has been inserted into ordinary 21st century New York City life. These messages are chosen by the machine, or possibly the machine’s operator, it’s not clear; not by the person who asks for a tattoo. The messages declare in a sentence or phrase some fundamental truth about the person’s character.
The protagonist of this novel is a man whose whole life revolves around the stories of people who get these tattoos (his parents, to start with) and what happens to them as a result. Said main character is basically a lazy person who spends most of his time thinking about or having sex, so writing about the epiphany machine (in a story-within-the story) is a great excuse for not accomplishing anything with his life. If you’re like me and instinctively dislike people like that, you will probably not enjoy this book. I didn’t. Your mileage may differ.
I found you: a novel by Lisa Jewell (Atria Books, 2017)
This seemingly ordinary novel about a single mom somewhere in England (I don’t know English geography very well) sort of turns into a murder mystery when you’re not looking. A man shows up in a beach town without his memory and the single mom takes him in, realizing this is probably a stupid move. Luckily it works out all right. Meanwhile other pieces of the story are narrated as seemingly separate stories, one about a young foreign bride and one about a family with two teenagers, which eventually all come together. The character development is very good, and the descriptions of life in England will be interesting to American readers. This is a well-written novel which keeps the reader wondering what will happen next, without so much graphic violence that you can’t sleep until you’re done.
Filed under Fiction, Mystery
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2015)
This novel fleshes out the stories of the Old Testament about David, king of Israel. Brooks does a good job of showing all sides (good and bad) of David’s character, from the point of view of his prophet Nathan. Women are not neglected in this tale. Although overall they are treated very badly by the male characters, their stories are told as fully human beings living in a time when they are not respected. Unfortunately (male or female) in this book everyone’s life is full of violence, blood, and death, which is (as far as we know) how things really were. It’s hard to believe that the psalms that we still sing today came from this man, out of this time period.