* Save the Date by Jen Doll


Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest is the cringe-inducing memoir of a twit who attends many weddings, gets seriously drunk at most, sleeps with ill-chosen guests (we should, perhaps, charitably assume that drunkenness makes for poor decision-making), and seems to want, above all, a wedding of her own, despite her swearing up and down to the contrary. It’s all very sad (and boring).

Behind all the silly stories, there emerges an obvious truth that many wedding traditions need a makeover: when no one wants to catch the bouquet, why throw it? Why a wedding registry if pots and pans and plates and glasses are already owned? But the author does not want to linger on anything substantial and seems to want most of all to recall her outfits in great details. Presumably because she chose them before falling into that drunken stupor…

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** The Bees by Laline Paull


The heroine of The Bees is a lowly sanitation worker, Flora 717, who through pluck, intelligence, hard work, and luck will eventually overturn the set order of the hive. The story has a 1984-like plot overlaid with assiduous regurgitations of the latest studies in bee communications — so that the result oscillates between a delightful rendition of the exploits of the heroine (most of the time) and a highly predictable, even boring structure. If you can forget that you have read the story before, you will be cheering for 717!

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* Suddenly, Love by Aharon Appelfeld


Suddenly, Love stars an aging, lonely man and a young(ish) woman he hires to take care of him and his house. He is smart and well read and she is devoted and uneducated.

I suppose it should have read as a lovely and unlikely May-December romance. I read it as run of the mill exploitation of younger women as personal servants. Call me a feminist.

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*** The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham


The hero of The Bones Beneath, Detective Tom Thorne, travels to a small island off the coast of Wales to find the body of a serial killer’s victim, in an errand he knows to be doomed, and you, the reader, will readily agree when you learn that the serial killer himself will accompany him. The author nicely builds up the suspense until the horror finally unleashes, late in the story. Never mind that the deus ex machinae is highly unlikely: the anti-hero detective is wonderfully drawn, as is the psychopathic killer.

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* Perfectly Miserable by Sarah Payne Stuart


The author of Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, fled hurriedly after high school, leaving behind its boredom and conventionality, and flocked back to it, kids in tow, to raise them in the boring, conventional town that seemed to her to be the perfect place to raise a family.

Minus the heroic early American history, this sounds like the town where I live, deserted by anyone between the ages of 18 and 35, taken over by mansions replacing humbler abodes, and ruled by a coterie of stay-home moms who have given up high-powered jobs to push their progeny into prestigious colleges. It’s half interesting to see the same pattern described in this book, but it really isn’t that interesting, nor are the author’s travails with her credit card balances as she overspends on her house(s), or the descriptions of the various writers who made Concord famous. What is interesting is the description of her 70s childhood and (somewhat) that of her children’s upbringing. Not enough to make the book worth reading, for me at least.

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* Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson


The hero of Fourth of July Creek is a social worker with plenty of personal problems, including a wife who left him, his teenage runaway daughter, and a serious alcohol problem, who labors to help children in and around a small town in Montana where the locals don’t trust him to spend their hard-earned taxes and the parents of the children he tries to help don’t seem to appreciate much either. Eventually he finds the young son of a crazy survivalist and that rescue will go worse than all others.

This is not a happy story, especially for those of us who would like to hope that at least some children can be helped out of the misery their parents create. But the hero, the social worker, is a nicely nuanced character with a good heart and could make for a great story. It never quite got together for me. Perhaps there were just too many hopeless cases of abused children?

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*** Can’t we Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast


I’ve reviewed many books about aging parents, some great and others not so great (here, here, here, here, here). Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, exploring many of the same themes in graphic novel form, tackles the sad, the sordid, the exhausting in a hilarious package that does not avoid the author’s failings or desire to see her parents’ lives end. With many flashbacks to her childhood and her parents’ own lives, this memoir is much more than the grim recounting of their final years. Highly recommended (read it in hard copy, not on a Kindle!)

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