The silver lining of being mildly disabled for months after a car accident is that I’ve had lots of time for reading! I’m grateful that I had the type of concussion that makes computer work difficult but isn’t hampered by reading on paper. Here are some of the books I’ve read.
I’m giving away my copy of Last Call in the City of Bridges because, although I mostly enjoyed the book, I don’t feel like I’ll need to read it again. [UPDATE: Laura Reu is the winner!]
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Two infertile couples each adopt a little girl from Korea. They meet at the airport, where Bitsy Donaldson has an elaborate plan for enthusiastically welcoming her new daughter and capturing every memory, while the Yazdan family has a quieter approach. Bitsy sees this other family as connected to hers by the shared experience and organizes annual shared celebrations of Arrival Day for years to come. The gradual accumulation of Arrival Day traditions is very sweet and realistic, the interplay between various members of the two families is fascinating, and the eventual romance between two of the grandparents is superbly poignant and unique. One of the most interesting things about this story is that, while the Donaldsons are typical white Baltimore natives, the Yazdans are Iranian immigrants, so they have their own non-American culture in addition to the daughter from Korea. Anne Tyler’s long marriage to an Iranian-American surely helped to inform and inspire the Yazdans’ customs and attitudes. This wonderfully immersive story of very real people gives Saint Maybe (reviewed here) some serious competition as my favorite Anne Tyler novel!
The Minotaur by Barbara Vine
John is mad, mad I tell you–I mean, that’s what his mother and four sisters say. Three of the sisters are still living with John and their mother in their English country estate, yet John has asked to have a hired nurse come to look after him. Kerstin takes the job and finds herself in the middle of puzzling family tensions. When John begins refusing his medication, Kerstin begins to see what’s really going on, but it’s hard to unravel the whole mystery as it keeps twisting around her.
This isn’t the best of Barbara Vine’s novels (A Dark-Adapted Eye is the one that blew my mind) but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it for the second time.
A World Between by Norman Spinrad
I picked up this book from the $1 rack outside a used book store because it looked like the kind of campy story about gender roles that one of my friends would enjoy, and I thought I might read it before sending it to him. In fact, I really enjoyed this book, which has some serious social commentary and a pretty serious plot along with the hilariously exaggerated approaches of the two gendered groups and their media blitzes. Also, considering that the book was published in 1979, it’s a startlingly accurate depiction of what life is like when everyone is constantly checking in on hundreds of media channels–it even uses the terms “web” and “net”.
This is the story of Pacifica, a beautiful world colonized by Earth people generations ago, which is getting along well with digital democracy and balanced gender roles until the Transcendental Science guys demand to set up one of their Institutes on the planet–bringing Pacifica the benefits of their advanced technology but also pulling it into the male-dominated side of the galactic struggle that’s become known as the Pink & Blue War. Before Pacifica’s ruler Carlotta Madigan and her lover Royce Lindblad–who just happens to be Minister of Media–can decide how to spin the situation to Pacifica’s benefit, a spaceship full of Femocrats fakes an emergency landing on Pacifica, and its women infiltrate the society to set up cells of their female-dominant culture, which is then countered by a men’s movement called Bucko Power. This is a fun read but also an interesting take on media saturation, propaganda, gender roles, and ethics.
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
A letter lost in the mail for fifty years. Three old spinsters living in a castle, guarding the secret of what inspired their late father’s bestselling horror novel. A mother who doesn’t want to tell her daughter what happened when she was evacuated from London during World War II. An old man who won’t give up searching for his long-missing brother. These elements come together into an irresistible puzzle for a young woman who yearns to make sense of it all.
This is a fabulously twisty mystery! I could barely put it down! Many things did not go the way I thought I’d figured out, and I especially appreciate that what appeared to be a hint of incest actually hinted at a situation that isn’t overdone in novels. This is a book to read again every few years, whenever I’ve forgotten just enough of it!
Last Call in the City of Bridges by Salvatore Pane
Michael is a Millennial from Scranton now trying to find his way into an adult life in Pittsburgh. On Election Night 2008, he tries to celebrate despite all the things that are wrong in his life, and most of the book is a flashback explaining how earlier that year things were going mostly right, except that underneath it all some big things were wrong, and, well, it’s complicated. In many ways this is the typical first novel about a young adult struggling to grow up, but the details are very specific to Michael’s (and the author’s) exact time and place. Nintendo, Facebook, and some specific Pittsburgh locations play important roles.
I really enjoyed reading a book that’s so consciously set in Pittsburgh–Michael lives in the neighborhood where I live, in fact–and evokes some of the ways Pittsburgh feels to me. Being so familiar made me a bit nitpicky, though, about things like the exact location of his apartment (there simply isn’t any place that is one block from the 61C coffeehouse and seven blocks from the Squirrel Cage!) and the fact that Phipps Conservatory never was “the university greenhouse.” Also, although it was interesting to get inside the head of someone a decade younger than myself and learn about how that informed his perspective on our neighborhood and life in general, I rolled my eyes at some of his ideas and choices–even compared to what I was doing and how I was seeing things when I was 25.
A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie
Somehow, although I’m a lifelong mystery lover, I had never read anything by Agatha Christie! (I did see a few of the movies on television.) I decided to correct this oversight.
A wealthy businessman in 1950s London suddenly keels over in his office and dies. Someone poisoned his tea. The police find some grains of rye in the pocket of his suit. While they’re trying to investigate, his wife and maid are murdered on the same day. What’s going on here?! The household includes so many suspicious characters that I was kept guessing.