*** The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


I was saving my stars this week for The Girl on the Train, which lives up to its media acclaims. The girl on the train is not a girl, but a grown woman who is a black-out alcoholic and who nurses an unhealthy obsession with her ex-husband and his new family. So when she fixates on another couple, neighbors of her husband’s, her motivation is suspect. And so she is snared into a police investigation and her unreliable memories put her in a vulnerable position. A twisty plot and a fine portrait of a psychopath reminded me strongly of Gone Girl, but with an entirely different direction — and with a British accent.

Delicious.

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** After Birth by Elisa Albert


After Birth stars a new mother with postpartum depression, stumbling through life (and, annoyingly, constantly rehashing her emergency C-section, which she feels was unneeded, without proof that is was indeed the case), who regains her self-confidence and place in the world when she rescues another mom in the throes of the same post-birth haze and confusion. I thought this was the best portrait of the fog of early mothering I had ever read.

 

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** Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby


Ten Years in the Tub is a compendium of monthly columns Hornby wrote for The Believer, following More Baths, Less Talking. I would not recommend reading the whole thing linearly, as I did: the book is too long for that, and the format unavoidably repeats itself a bit. Still, his unpretentious approach to reading (in particular, here, the recommendations for young adult books, which he sees are under-appreciated) and his hilarious asides about soccer (he loves Arsenal and its manager, Arsene Wenger), his children, and even, to excuse his lack of reading on a particular month, his wedding make the book most enjoyable.

I was particularly amused by the strange custom of the magazine for which he writes not to name the books he dislikes, which leads to amusing circumlocutions.  Alas, as the book goes on, the tender irony seems to take a darker turn. A book to read in small increments, with a note taking implement at the ready to jot down other books to read…

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* One Nation, Under Taught by Vince Bertram


I picked up One Nation Under Taught: Solving America’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Crisis because its title hints at tackling the poor performance of American students in STEM fields. I was disappointed. The book is, mostly, a paean to the author’s project, the so-called “Project Lead the Way”, a science curriculum for K-12 students, with a dash of bashing of teacher unions that protect low-performing teachers. Sadly, the good ideas in the book, such as emphasizing STEM disciplines from an early age, or aligning grades better across science and liberal art courses, are lost in the shuffle.

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*** Ghettoside by Jill Leovy


Written by a Los Angeles Times journalist, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America follows the investigation of the murder of a young black man in South Central L.A., and along the way tells the story of this violent neighborhood where people live in dire poverty, and under the constant threat of gangs. The best part of the book was, for me, the very personal descriptions of the detectives who work there (one of whom is the father of the victim, but the book focuses on the detectives who investigate the crime) and the description of the police system as a whole, which seems to be in the way of the better detectives rather than helping them.

The writing is clunky at times but the subject matter and the way the writer approaches it make for a warm recommendation to read the book.

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*** Severed by Frances Larson


Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found is morbid, but also highly entertaining and informative, as the author explores shrunken heads made to order, the guillotine, relics of saints, skull collections, and crazy cryonicists (is there any other kind?)

A wonderful book — really!

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**The First Bad Man by Miranda July


The First Bad Man is a magnificent portrait of an introvert. A middle-aged woman working for an exploitative non-profit is forced by pushy board members to house their adult daughter. Problems ensue. I found the story to be disturbingly unbelievable,  but the ruminating of the heroine is brilliantly captured, as is her ability to believe in her fantasies of violence, revenge and sex.

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