*** A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

I loved A Long Way From Home, which takes us, very literally, around Australia in a madcap road race on dubious roads and in standard cars. We all root for a couple who wants the recognition to start a dealership, assisted by a fired schoolteacher who will discover his roots, very unexpectedly, during the trip. It’s the 1950s and the brutal treatment of Aborigines is just coming to be known, if still tolerated, and the second part of the story dwells heavily on that topic.

Written in alternate chapters penned by the wife, a fast and fearless driver battling the usual sexist strictures of the time and the navigator, the schoolteacher, the book is full of well-observed details of daily life even as the competitors race around Australia (and you will be sorely tempted to follow along on your favorite maps app).  I could have done without some of the more elegiac chapters at the end of the book but I still warmly recommend it.

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** Blue Dreams by Lauren Slater

The author of Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Mind has suffered from bipolar illness her whole life and asserts in the introduction that she is a practitioner as well as a patient — although she is a psychologist, not an MD nor a scientist, which sometimes shows. Her book combines her own experiences (sad, but not too interesting to me) with a solid history of treatments and drugs for mental illnesses (the best part of the book) and rants against the sorry state of our knowledge about mental illness (understandable, but not too useful, and not always entirely coherent, as when she raves against blindly prescribing drugs for which we don’t know why they work while also pursuing completely untested treatment with psilocybin or MDMA for herself).

The best (and main) focus of the book, the history of treatments for serious mental illness, is certainly discouraging, since most available treatments have serious side effects, certainly when taken for long periods of time, and unknown action mechanisms. No wonder that patients are hungry for better solutions!

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* The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

There’s much to love about The Portable Veblen: a sweet young woman with a big heart, a crazy mother and a really crazy father, and a strange fondness for squirrels; her rather clueless nerdy fiancé with an unusual hippy upbringing, embroiled in unhealthy machinations in his health-tech company

But although the two dysfunctional families offer much occasion for merriment,  I did not feel that the story ever came together in a coherent or believable whole.

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** Swearing is Good For You by Emma Byrne

The title may be the best attribute of Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, as the rest can be relatively humdrum, consisting of a series of loosely connected chapters about language, physical effects of swearing (it does diminish the sensation of pain, apparently), and an entirely non-surprising assessment that swearing is all about culture. There are some fun parts, certainly, and the writing is upbeat, but the whole thing does not quite jell.

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** Straying by Molly McCloskey

The young bride in Straying has an affair, and describes it in beautiful prose and masterful time shifts — both of which contrast sharply with the lack of rational decision to engage in it, or even stay in it. Perhaps she married too swiftly, or just needs to grow up a bit?

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*** The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith

In the 44 Scotland Street series, The Importance of Being Seven is titled for Bertie, who is indeed about to turn seven and still trying to escape the domination of his controlling mother (he does manage to bring his baby brother to school, unassisted, in this episode!). But it also stars his old teacher, now married, whose first pregnancy ultrasound brings many blessings, and a remarkable holiday in Tuscany by a group of friends, who bears a suspicious but entirely charming resemblance to My Italian Bulldozer.

 

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** Secrets We Kept by Krystal Sital

Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad tells the stories of the author, her mother, and her grandmother, who were all born in Trinidad and eventually moved to the US. It’s not a pretty story, as her grandfather was a violent man who ran roughshod over his family, her father, although less extreme, was also abusive, and the overall climate of Trinidad, as described in the book, is also laced with violence, especially against women.

I found the book very sad, and eventually without much direction. It was also challenging to read as it features large chunks of dialog in Trinidad dialect.

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