Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

In a return to modern Salem, Brunonia Barry's latest starts with a Halloween death, which sets afire rumors and speculation about witchcraft and occult. Callie, the daughter of a woman murdered 25 years earlier, returns to town amidst the media coverage connecting the tragedies.

Everybody's obsessed all over again with the "Goddess Murders" from 25 years ago: Three women died violently, a child was orphaned, and a respected local scholar required institutionalization for years due to mental upset. The crime was never solved, and it seems to be related to the current death.

Add in a love story or two, some strong personal demons to conquer, and a maybe-mystical-or-maybe-bunk storyline and this is a rich, complex story.

You don't have to have read Barry's other books to enjoy this one - although if you've read The Lace Reader or The Map of True Places you'll recognize the local citizenry.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

A gang of tough boys form their own kind of family in a world that doesn't accept them. Conflicts with the popular kids, avoidance of the law, and general poverty conspire to make life tough for a 14-year-old boy and his gang.

This is the book that's widely celebrated as introducing the genre of teen literature - before this, books were either for children or adults with nothing in between. I picked this one for the library's book discussion from The Great American Read's list because somehow I missed this as a teen. Stranger yet, I'd also never seen the movie. Got 'em both out of the way now!

I enjoyed the book, but it's dated. There's still plenty to talk about, and there are universal thoughts and discoveries to be found within ... but it's a piece of historical fiction since the kinds of discrimination and the conflicts in the book are downright quaint when compared with modern problems.

Friday, July 13, 2018

King Maybe by Timothy Hallinan

You don't double-cross a double-crosser, and nobody gets away with setting up thief Junior Bender. It's a good thing he's such a quick thinker, because this is a rare Bender book where he's not on his "A" game: he's targeted, burgles are bungled, and he's about to take a big fall. Plus, there are problems in paradise as his lady love, Ronnie, isn't speaking to Junior for much of the book.

I was prepared to say I didn't like this book, and then I actually really did love it. I thought maybe I was growing bored with Junior ... and then I loved the way this story twisted, turned and came around.

Hallinan does a great job with all the ancillary characters in his stories. I love the teenage wiz team of Anime and Lilli, and there's a whole high school drama substory to this book with Junior's daughter Rina. You'll love to hate the bad guys (or gals) in a story where some of the good guys are kind of bad guys.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin

Mona is 24, slightly unstable, bored, depressed, and adrift. Cleaning houses is the only thing she really knows how to do, but she doesn't mind the work because it offers lots of time to dream, imagine and think. Plus, she loves to vacuum.

After a brief affair with a man she meets volunteering at the needle exchange, she pulls a "geographic" and moves in search of a fresh start. Her transcendental neighbors try to help, and she finds diversion in the homes and lives of her customers.

I loved this book. Mona's hilarious, and she's got a rich, twisted inner life. You're rooting for her to get ahead, while also hoping she doesn't change because she's awesome (if a little fucked up).

A wonderful piece of contemporary fiction for those who don't have to have everything tied up in a bow at the end.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Arthur Less is a man who stumbles through his own life. He's a semi-successful writer with friends and lovers, but he's a bumbler more than a planner.

When an ex announces his wedding, Arthur decides to run away rather than deal with the pain. He agrees to every offer away from home: a lecture, an award ceremony, teaching, a sabbatical, an article, and more. Circumnavigation of the world (on someone else's dime) to avoid one small ceremony.

Every kind of travel mishap occurs - missed connections, miscommunications, illness, injury, near-death experiences - and yet Less keeps moving, keeps going, deals with it and moves on. Nothing really phases him, and nothing really ruffles him. Along the way, he attracts friends, lovers, and even quaint, harmless rivals.

I'm surprised by how under-the-radar this book has been, despite its Pulitzer Prize. It's engaging, both silly and heartwarming at the same time. I read it within just a few (busy) days because I was so engaged with the story. It's funny and smart, and I enjoyed it immensely.