*** Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed stars a female detective who goes from one disastrous Internet date to another and who is assigned to the suspicious disappearance of the daughter of an upper-class couple. As the disappearance remains unsolved darker secrets come up and must be shared with the media, bringing the ire of the family and professional complications for the detective. I found the twisted end almost entirely unbelievable, but the juxtaposition of the detectives’ private lives and the investigation felt, for once, both entertaining and a wonderful reminder that detectives, like all of us, can have regular lives outside of work.

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** The Evangelicals by Frances Fitzgerald

I’m not sure many readers of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America have managed to read all 650 pages of it carefully. I certainly did not, and I found the detailed stories of the various political machinations and scandals very tedious.

That said, I found it most interesting to see the how some of the themes of the early start of the movement, during the Great Awakening, sound quite modern. The author also does a great job of showing how the thirst for political influence shapes the values that are put forth — abortion restrictions rather than anti-poverty campaigns, for instance. We are quite far from religious values and

 

 

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** Baking Powder Wars by Linda Civitello

That innocuous can of baking powder in your kitchen cabinet comes from a long line of chemists (understandably) and also schemers and corporate villains who made consumers believe their competitors sold poison and in the process changed the way home cooks baked. Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking tells all about it, in often excruciating detail.

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* At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

At The Water’s Edge stars a trio of spoiled Philadelphians who decide to go photograph the Loch Ness monster near the end of the Second World War, bringing with them a breaking-down marriage and very little money as they have been cut off from the family fortune after one too many escapade. Their haughty and oblivious behaviors do not endear them to the locals, but as the two men leave the woman to wait for them at the inn, she mysteriously acquires half a brain, realizes that she is acting as a twit, and even manages to contribute a bit to the world. A love story ensues, of course, in which she is forever rescued from her weaknesses by the stoic, taciturn local. Cliches abound. I did not like.

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*** Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

The hero and narrator of Standard Deviation is the mildly confused husband of a pure extrovert, once married to a very contained professional woman, and parent of a middle-schooler with Asperger’s. The novel tells of the family’s adventures as the bubbly mother invites various friends and strangers to be their guests for lengthy stays, gets her son into a mysterious origami club, befriends the ex-wife, and has various marriage-damaging adventures. All the while, the husband observes, and worries (and cooks!). There are some hilarious passages, including a stay at an origami convention and various private school charity functions, but the general tone is more subdued and focused on how surprising spouses can appear to each other, years into a marriage.

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*** The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

What if we were somehow taxed on our happiness? The hero of The Invoice, a Kafkaesque novel, receives a large bill from a mysterious organization because, well, he has led a very happy life — not a showy life, certainly not a rich life, but one that has been remarkably content. He tries to find out more about the bill, of course, and ends up tangled into infinite bureaucracy, although he manages to fall in love with one of the handlers (and she with him!) Unlike a Kafka novel, there is no undue angst or doom. After all, the hero is endlessly content. An interesting look at what is success and how we measure it.

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*** Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson

In Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home, Amy Dickinson steps away from her column and talks about her life, including how she moved far away from her small town in New York state but returned eventually to take care of her ailing mother, and, unexpectedly, find love (and the complications of stepdaughters). There’s a lot of adventure but all described with great kindness to all around her.

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