The Mothers: A Novel by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, 2016)
This is not a terrible book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I guess I thought it would be about young married moms in their twenties and thirties, but it wasn’t. The title seems to refer to two groups of women: the judgmental older women (mostly grandmothers) who keep a black church in Southern California going, and the two young adult best friends who grew up in the church and went on to become very young mothers. Actually one of them did not become a mother, because she had an abortion, but she spends the rest of the book regretting both that choice and the choice to leave her first boyfriend who would have been that baby’s father. The novel is set in a present day African-American community, and promotes the idea that abortion is a mistake.
Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth Lacovara (TED Books, Simon & Schuster, 2017)
This small (but bright orange) hardback is the book version of Dr. Lacovara’s TED talk, which I saw and which was also awesome. He is a surprisingly good writer for a paleontologist. Why Dinosaurs Matter is charmingly illustrated by Mike Lemanski and is easily accessible to all high school and adult readers. In 2005, Dr. Lacovara (now at Rowan University in New Jersey), discovered one of the largest dinosaurs that ever lived, and named it Dreadnoughtus. This book is the story of that discovery, but also the story of how geology and paleontology became sciences, and how understanding our planet’s past is critical to its future. I was interested to realize that human have only known about dinosaurs for a couple hundred years; before the early 19th century, the widespread belief that the earth was only 6,000 years old kept people from interpreting fossils for what they were. Dr. Lacovara also emphasizes that dinosaurs are now known to have been killed off by an asteroid hitting the earth; they did not simply “fail to adapt” to changing conditions, as implied in Disney’s movie Fantasia. Also, they did not all become extinct; the “non-avian” ones evolved into birds. Science is amazing.
Now that you mention it by Kristan Higgans (HQN Books, 2017)
The overall plot of this novel is so much like a Hallmark movie that the main character comments on that fact early in the book. For those of you who are not Hallmark movie fans, they all go like this. Young woman in her thirties gets in a accident, breaks up with her boyfriend, and takes a leave from her high-powered big city job to go back her hometown and reconnect with her family. While there she rediscovers an old flame, falls in love, and decides to stick around in small town America. In this story though, the details are a little darker than Hallmark would allow. Nora (a Boston doctor) not only got hit by a van in a freak accident, she was also still getting over a narrow escape from a man who broke into her apartment and tried to kill her. Her hometown family consists of a single mother on an island off Maine; her father left when she was a child and her sister is in jail in Seattle. A high school classmate, still bitter about her getting the Tufts scholarship he expected, is now a drug addict and an ongoing violent threat during her summer visit. Ultimately, there are some surprises you’d never see in a Hallmark movie that keep this novel from being a cliche.
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2017)
This is a new novel by an accomplished British writer I haven’t run across before, though she has published several previous novels. It is set in 1988 in a run down suburb in England, in a music shop obviously. The main character Frank runs the music shop, which stocks only vinyl records, no CDs. He has a knack for interviewing customers and determining what music would be perfect for their needs. Unfortunately this is not enough to keep his shop in business. The story centers around a mysterious woman customer to whom Frank gives music appreciation lessons, and of course falls in love with. I won’t spoil the plot but it is very sweet.
This Could Hurt by Jillian Medoff (Harper-Collins, 2018)
This is a very entertaining novel about people who run a Human Resources department in a large corporation. No, really. You find out what each of them is really thinking inside, how they feel about each other and the company, and what makes them do the things they do. The company is not doing well and layoffs are part of the story, as foreshadowed by the employee termination notice decorating the front cover of the book. Although I assumed the author was male at first, due to the frequent gutter language and focus on everyone’s appearance, it turned out to be one of those female chick-lit authors. She should be commended for portraying two strong woman executives (one of them Latina) in a positive light.
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.
A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This historical novel turned out to be a murder mystery although it took me a while to catch on to it. This is probably deliberate on the part of the author since the main character is an innocent girl who wasn’t expecting all this intrigue either. She accepts an offer of marriage from someone she barely knows, to escape from keeping house for her father, even though she realizes the man is only marrying her for her money and property. It kind of goes downhill from there. But life for women in late 18th century England clearly doesn’t offer a lot of great options. The good news is that the bad guys get their come-uppance and Grace gets her first love in the end. Oh, and the start of every chapter has a recipe for an 18th century dish, drink, or potion. You’ll see why if you read this book.