Here’s a sprightly introduction to my reviews of the books I read in the past month.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
There are multiple husbands with multiple secrets in this twisty story, which is sort of a mystery but also an excellent “modern realistic fiction” novel with lots of complex characters.
Cecilia finds a letter from her husband with instructions that she is to open it after his death–but he’s still alive, just on a business trip, and happens to call her before she can succumb to the temptation to read the letter.
Tess and her husband Will have a happy business partnership with her cousin Felicity, until Will and Felicity announce that they’ve fallen in love.
Rachel is smitten with her grandchild, lonely, and still recovering from the murder of her daughter many years ago–and now, her only surviving child and his wife suddenly announce their plans to move to the other side of the world.
What do these three women have in common, and how will the various husbands’ secrets affect their intersecting lives? This is a fascinating story!
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
I had never read this well-known self-help book. It’s popular for a good reason: It explains, with lots of clear examples, a truth that isn’t at all obvious to most people: The acts that convey to you that someone really loves you may be very different from the acts that really feel like love to someone else. The author is a marriage counselor whose experience with clients led him to identify 5 distinct ways of expressing love.
The basic idea certainly resonates with me, and the 5 love languages are pretty clearly distinguished. But this book raised a lot of questions for me about how to interpret some of the intricacies of relationships I’ve experienced and witnessed. Here are my thoughts on The 5 Love Languages in more detail.
The author occasionally mentions Christian ideas but in a way that I (as a more liberal type of Christian) thought was more helpful than offensive. His biases in favor of traditional gender roles and strict monogamy are more annoying, but it’s possible to “read around” them to apply the ideas to your own experience.
Despite its flaws, I recommend this book to anyone as a nudge to examine how you are expressing and receiving love and whether you could try some new ways that might be more effective for the individual people you love.
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, illustrated by Kali Ciesemier
This young-adult novel with excerpts from a fictional webcomic drew me in with a very intriguing premise, led me into a suspenseful mystery adventure . . . and ultimately wrapped up implausibly and with a few clues left hanging, but I loved it anyway!
Libby and May, best friends from fifth to eighth grade, spent a lot of their time writing and illustrating the adventures of Princess X, a heroine with a pink puff-sleeved dress, red sneakers, and a katana. Then Libby and her mother died in a car accident, and her father abruptly discarded all of Libby’s stuff, including the Princess X archives. Now May is 16 and suddenly seeing stickers around Seattle depicting Princess X . . . and then she finds the webcomic, filled with subtle clues that convince her that it’s Libby drawing the comic and that Libby is still alive . . . for now. May and her new friend Trick embark upon Princess X’s quest for the Four Keys, applying the clues from the webcomic to real places in Seattle.
The character development is not great–especially for the villain–but I appreciate a story in which girls take initiative to do real things, and when they need help from a guy they don’t have to fall in love with him. I really liked the mood of some of May and Trick’s adventures:
“Take the light,” she said, her words distorted as she moved her lips around it.
Gingerly, he retrieved it with two fingers. Then he wiped her spit on his pants.
[She used the cinderblock she was holding to smash the knob off the locked door.] She put her weight against the door, and it scraped open, leaving a rainbow arc swept clean on the dusty floor.
“And here I thought you didn’t want to break and enter,” Trick said.
“Dude, shut up.”
. . . and moments later, she’s the one who reaches into the toilet tank in the dark to see what is in there.
Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
This is not the right book to read at the hospital while you’re waiting for them to do stuff to you. Nor is this one of Anne Tyler’s best books–I recommend Saint Maybe or Digging to America. But this is a pretty good novel of a person trying to find himself at an age when he thought all such confusion was behind him.
Liam was a philosophy major who wound up teaching fifth grade and then got downsized. He was married to a beautiful musician who committed suicide, then married to an ordinary sensible person, and then divorced. Now he’s sixty years old and moving to a smaller, more affordable apartment where he intends to lead a quiet life for his remaining years.
He settles into bed on his first night in the new place–and awakens the following afternoon in the hospital with a concussion, a human bite on his hand, and no memory of what happened. Nobody cares that he can’t remember. Nobody understands that he just wants to know what happened to him.
I thought this would be “Anne Tyler writes a mystery,” but it really isn’t. Liam’s quest to discover what happened that night never brings him a complete answer to that question, but it brings him a lot of other stuff: renewed relationships with his family, a new girlfriend, a confusing moral dilemma, and ultimately a new job. The reader comes to know and love Liam as he’s learning more about himself and the surprising ways love works in his life.
The Past by Tessa Hadley
This is a fine book to read once. You spend a three-week vacation with nine assorted relatives at their ancestral home in rural England, getting to know them and their problems and dreams. In the middle of the book is a chunk of narrative from about 50 years earlier, giving you the problems and dreams of two of their ancestors . . . which the characters in the present will never know about, and which have very minor effects on the story in the present. Ultimately, one of the problems in the present blows up and resolves sadly, A Tragedy Occurs except it turns out it isn’t really, there’s a coy allusion to the secret from the past that only the reader knows, and the old letters that one of the characters has been reading don’t reveal anything of particular interest.
But if you like reading about people who feel ways about stuff and each have their own experiences of the same place and moment, this book will keep you busy for a while.