Monday, June 5, 2017

Books for summer daze ...

By Ann Connery Frantz
Once upon a time, families hauled a box of books to beloved vacation spots, adding them to shelves stuffed with books from earlier years. Now, there's no hard lifting. If you want, devour Dostoyevsky on an e-reader or pick up an audio book—great while traveling and at the beach, since your eyes can focus on what's imperative, or just pretty, while you listen. Many prefer paperbacks, rather than ruin a hardcover with oil, water and wine.
This list includes books available in several genres, unless very new. No romance novels here; if you like them, you know how to find them. Other mysteries were discussed in a May 28 column.
Audio for the trip:
"You Don't Look Your Age and Other Fairytales"—an audio collection of funny insights read by wonderful readers: Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Alan Alda, Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Bates, Edie Falco, RuPaul, and more. Count on funny and feeling.
"Into the Water," Paula Hawkins—Multiple readers (a hopeful sign of listening quality) narrate a mystery, involving victims of drowning, or murder. Hawkins wrote "The Girl on the Train."
Dennis Lehane's "Since We Fell"—It's 12 hours long, but intriguing, complex, character rich, the story of a young journalist whose breakdown changes her life. She becomes a recluse until a chance encounter with dangerous deception. Also in hardcover.

On arrival

First, fiction:

From Sweden—"A Man Called Ove," "Britt-Marie Was Here" and "My Grandmother Asked me to Tell you She's Sorry." Fredrick Bachman's amusing and uniquely touching novels of grief and recovery, guilt and reaching out. Quick, rewarding reads.

"Ordinary Grace," William Kent Krueger—Beautifully written, although not his latest ("Sulphur Springs," hardback). Mystery: "All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota."
"Underground Airlines"—Ben H. Winters presents an alternate history, in which slavery did not end after the Civil War, but continued to the present day in four southern states.
"The Nest," Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney—A common inheritance plummets siblings into funny, dysfunctional dealings. The Plumbs are the best and worst of us, twisting family ties into disappointment, jealousy and loss.
"Everybody's Fool"—Richard Russo brings back the unique townspeople of North Bath, N.Y., in a sequel to "Nobody's Fool." Loved it.
"The Fifth Petal"—Brunonia Barry of Salem presents a taut mystery set in the north shore town. Loved her previous novels—"The Lace Reader,""The Map of True Places"—and expect the same mystery and enjoyment.
"Lilac Girls"—Martha Hall Kelly interweaves the lives of three women altered by World War II, the Nazis and resistance. Every book about that war reveals some new, often shocking detail, about cruelty and kindness. This one is readable, moving and memorable.
"The Widow's House," Carol Goodman—now in paperback, and a creepy read: a contemporary Gothic about a couple who leave Brooklyn for caretaker positions at Riven House, in a small Hudson Valley town.
"The Stars are Fire," by Anita Shreve—Based on actual 1947 forest fires that raged along Maine's coast, Shreve writes of a woman left with nothing but her tiny daughters after a night spent in the water. She faces an uncertain—and far more challenging—future, learning to recreate herself after tragedy.
"American Gods"—Neil Gaiman's novel has hit the TV screen. It is a unique story—for Gaiman fans. Suspend your sense of reality and gravitate into fantasy, a world in which Shadow, an ex-con, finds himself wedged in a conflict between the gods of antiquity and avatars of contemporary America's faith in industry, wealth, and celebrity.
"The Girl in the Spider's Web"—Lizbeth lives. David Lagercrantz picks up where the late Stieg Larsson left off in his Lizbeth Salander series. Lizbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo, and editor Mikael Blomkvist inhabit a plot rooted in the underworld of government bad-boys and cyberspies.
"Commonwealth"—Ann Patchett examines the dissolution of two families after a flirtation turns to a kiss at a christening party. The resulting upheaval becomes fodder for a writer who steals the family story and puts it into a book. Wit, mortality, faithfulness, ethics.
"American War," Omar El Akkad—Dystopian America during its second civil war, a novel written by an accomplished journalist.
"Everyone Brave is Forgiven"—Chris Cleave's "Little Bee" is memorable. This one is in paperback and audiobook. It's about three people during World War II, depicting the war's impact on soldiers and those who remain behind in a war.
For moms—"Confessions of a Domestic Failure." Bunmi Laditan brings it all up: the early mornings, the humor and the myriad ways to fail.
"Born a Crime," by Trevor Noah—Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show" host describes a turbulent childhood in apartheid South Africa with wit and wistfulness.
"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"—Sherman Alexie won me as a fan with "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian." Now, he confronts a harrowing reservation upbringing, thanks to a bipolar, emotionally screwed-up mother.
"X"— Journalist and cultural observer Chuck Klosterman talked with Tim Tebow, Kobe Bryant, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen, others. Inspired interviews and essays about living in the 21st century by a writer curious about the people and times. Don't miss "And What if We're Wrong?" for a view of today's cultural absurdity as it may be remembered tomorrow.
"The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck"—A self-help book for summer learners. Mark Manson guides the way to real happiness, despite the past year. His lead: "Charles Bukowski was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a chronic gambler, a lout, a cheapskate, a deadbeat, and on his worst days, a poet. He’s probably the last person on earth you would ever look to for life advice or expect to see in any sort of self-help book. Which is why he’s the perfect place to start."
"Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy"—A new biography of Ernest Hemingway. Nicholas Reynolds profiles the lesser-known life of one of America's most iconic writers. Try also Lesley L.L. Blume's "Everyone Behaves Badly," about Hemingway's 1925 visit to Spain before he wrote "The Sun Also Rises."
"Broke Millenial"—For young adults starting to realize saving for the future isn't happening without help. Get a funny overview of the reality in popular blogger ( Erin Lowry's book. She'll get you past reluctance and into an amusing but helpful road map.
"Astrophysics for People in a Hurry"—Neil DeGrasse Tyson brings "the greatest story ever told" to the table. It's clear and smart, even witty. Finally, you can understand the universe, just from reading this small, concise volume.
This summer will see the release of multiple favorite authors, including Tom Perrotta, Sue Grafton, Elin Hilderbrand and Adriana Triagiani.

Mysteries for summer days

Readers suggested a variety of noted books. I've read a smattering of the genre—Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves, Mary Higgins Clark, Sharyn McCrumb, some New England writers—and classical writers like Daphne Du Maurier, Poe and Dostoyevsky, but I asked more expert mystery fans to help. There are so many that it's not possible to generate a list complete enough for all.

Readers suggested a lot of women, but don't neglect the men. Just a few: Steig Larson, David Baldacci, Greg Iles, Lee Child, James Lee Burke, Tony Hillerman, John Grisham, Elmore Leonard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Mosley, Ray Chandler, Dennis Lehane.

Thanks for your suggestions. If no one in your group reads mysteries—which hardly seems possible, given that most books, even classics, employ mystery in their plots—I suggest that everyone takes a different book and reports back. That'll be an interesting meeting.

"I am not one who likes cozy mysteries, but I don't like torture and mayhem either," says Geraldine Collier. "Basically, I enjoy ones that are set against an interesting time period or inform me about a slice of life that I wouldn't necessarily have known about. There's a ton of mystery writers I could mention to you ... but I will just mention a current one, who started publishing about the same time Louise Penny did. Her name is Tana French and she writes about the Dublin Murder Squad. They don't have to be read in sequence because each book focuses on different detectives and different plots. Some stories could be transferred easily to an American background while others have a uniquely Irish flavor ... there's a certain sadness that lingers."
Mystery author Karen Pullen ("Cold Feet," "Cold Heart,") likes books written by New England Sisters in Crime. Pullen resides in North Carolina but lived in Maine. She also recommends these Brits: Ruth Rendell,Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill.
Some regional authors might be available for a book club meeting, Pullen says:
"Brunonia Berry of Salem, author of "The Lace Reader" and "The Map of True Places" and her latest, "The Fifth Petal;" Sheila Connolly, whose New York Times bestsellers include the Orchard mysteries; the County Cork mysteries and the Relatively Dead mysteries; Hallie Ephron, who strove to keep readers on their toes with " Night, Night, Sleep Tight," "There Was an Old Woman" and the upcoming "You'll Never Know, Dear;" Kate Flora, of Concord, Mass., writes the Thea Kozak series of mysteries and has authored true-crime books; Gary Goshgarian (Gary Braver) has written eight mysteries, including "Elixir," "Flashback" and "Skin Deep;" Steve Liskow ("The Kids Are All Right") writes many mysteries about the Greater Hartford area.
Avid reader Charles Innis of Paxton brought up a reading guide: "A book (that) groups might find useful is "Books to Die For," (2012) edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke. It includes, Innis says, "great mystery writers writing about great mystery novels."
His suggestions of writers (and characters) include: "Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher, Corinna Chapman), Katherine Hall Page (Faith Fairchild), Rita Mae Brown (Sneaky Pie, Mags and Sister Jane).
"No longer with us, but the writing is still good: Philip R. Craig (Vineyard with JW Jackson), William G. Tapply (Brady Coyne), Charlotte MacLeod (Kelling and Bittersohn, Madoc and Janet Rhys), Patricia (Penny) Moyes (an old friend, Henry and Emmy Tibbett), Robert Parker (Spenser, Jesse Stone). Classic: Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey), Ross MacDonald (Lew Archer), John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe), Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade, The Continental Op)."
He also points out Janet Evanovitch, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, M. H. Clark and Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series.
These writers vary widely in topic and treatment; discuss them first to help choose something readers will enjoy and find interesting enough for a meeting.
BookPage, a magazine I pick up free at the library (also available online), recently suggested contemporary mysteries, among them:
—"Dodgers" by Bill Beverly
“...Think Attica Locke’s 'Black Water Rising' or Dennis Lehane’s 'A Drink Before the War'—it's that good. ... (It) will upend your notions of the sort of character with whom you might empathize.”
—"Fatal Pursuit" by Martin Walker
“Walker’s engagingly droll series featuring Bruno, chief of police, is a longtime favorite. Readers can expect great plot and great milieu, but the icing on the g√Ęteau is Bruno himself. Of all the cops in all the cop books I’ve read, he is the one whose home I would like to visit."
—"The Girl Before" by Rena Olsen
“Disturbing and unsettling ... the first-person tale of a woman in the throes of upending everything she holds to be real and true. As in the best suspense novels, there are mysteries within mysteries, and all is not what it seems.”

From ' 'Everybody's Fool'

Richard Russo's "Everybody's Fool"
I promised an update on Richard Russo's latest visit to upstate New York's fictional North Bath, the sluggish, economically fatigued town first featured in "Nobody's Fool." (The book became a movie starring Paul Newman as Donald Sullivan and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Doug Raymer, a match-up we won't see again.)
Sully's still around, secretly sweating out a terminal diagnosis and mostly managing to ignore the stirrings of conscience stemming from a love affair—ended, but lingering emotionally. Russo's focus this time, however, is on the self-conscious, reluctant lawman Raymer. Self-doubt punctuates his days and, tormented over his wife's death as she was about to leave him, obsessed with learning the identity of her lover, he feels unequal to his job. Raymer is still much annoyed by the town's n'er-do-well (but now financially secure) Sully, but it's Sully who has the shrewd cunning and strength of character Raymer needs to move ahead with his life. Sully is still magic for readers; it's his satiric insight and well-protected core that elude Raymer, causing resentment to fester inside the chief's anxious mind.
Beautifully written, the book heightens in intensity with the introduction of a dangerous sociopath, Roy Purdy, released from prison and determined to destroy those he blames for his bad luck, including Sully, his ex-wife and her mother (Sully's former girlfriend Ruth). In a novel filled with characters whose humor, forgiveness and innate honor grant them dignity, Roy Purdy stands out for his evil.
It's a wonderful story, and Russo is more witty than ever, often using Sully to voice his funniest remarks, while Raymer voices the failure we all fear. One cannot dislike Sully or fail to pity Raymer, rooting for their eventual triumph.
I loved it.

When the group doesn't like the book...

It happens—sometimes the club doesn't go for the selection. But, in sport, they usually make the meeting to discuss their aversion. Dislike may even fuel attendance.
"Some of our best discussions result from a book no one likes. Some labor through and some give up reading the book. We talk about what we did not like about it. Sometimes it's the characters and sometimes the plot," said Ann Young, who coordinates the book club at Gardner's Heywood Library.
Fiction isn't a favorite with evening book group members at Thayer Memorial Library, says the library's Karen Silverthorn. "However, we try to read fiction one month and non-fiction the next, so that everyone gets a chance to read both. Those who don't like fiction will sit rather quietly when we discuss the book, unless they voice their negative thoughts or get drawn into the conversation by the comments others make."
Since members select the book from a favorites list of recommendations, they respect another's selection. "We vote on the books for the next year without knowing who recommended the titles," Silverthorn  said. "No one complains about book choices because we all get to have our say, one way or another."

At Bannister Book Club in Brookfield, members also suggest reading choices. "We have enough titles to sort through for the next two years or more," said Brenda Metterville. Members still attend if they don't like the book. "We've had, at the most, three members  at a time dislike the book." They may not finish it, she said, but they have an opinion. Everyone is vocal about what they like and don't like, and we don't have any one person who dominates the group, which is a huge plus." When a member insists that his or her point of view is the correct one, conversation is definitely stifled.

Joan Killough-Miller of the N.O.W. Women's Issues group admits that she suggested "the last clunker" to her Worcester group (Meg Wolitzer’s “Belzhar").
"I admitted right off that I liked the book the first time around, but not so much on the second reading. That made it easier for everyone to say what they didn’t like," she said. "Still, our members are gentle on each other, overall, and they seem to find some good in all of our selections. They also generally finish the book, although sometimes they’re not done by the night of the meeting.
 "We do have a rule that you have to have actually read a book before you suggest it, and not just have seen it on the shelf, or read another book by that author."
Betsy Johnson, coordinator of the Holden group, chooses books she's pretty certain the group will enjoy—"although some things are more popular than others. ... I learned long ago, one person's must read is sometimes another's plus-minus, or worse, so the format we use seems to function best."