Monthly Archives: April 2018

*** The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall

Bertie’s mom is back, sadly for him — but I predict he will grow into an even more thoughtful and strong young man as a result of her overbearing upbringing. So as he trudges from psychotherapy to Italian lessons to saxophone lessons, he is learning. We also have lots of adventures with the triplets and their au-pairs, and a new child appears on the scene so children all around.

Back to the mom: aren’t evil female characters enjoyable , and mothers to boot?

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*** Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

The heroine of Need to Know is a CIA analyst and happily married mother of four who discovers that her husband is not quite who he claims to be. She spends the entire book trying to disentangle herself, and him, from the ever-tightening scrutiny of the agency. The writing is sometimes not as tight as I would have liked, and some of the situations are hard to believe (really, a computer with a USB port in a room without a camera??) but the twists continue until the very end, and I mean the very last word of the story.

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Filed under Mystery

** Women and Power by Mary Beard

Women and Power: A Manifesto, contains the transcriptions of lectures about sexism, and lectures don’t translate well into books. That said, the author’s considerable erudition takes us seamlessly from Homer to Twitter, showing that trolls and idea-stealers come from a long and sad tradition. I would have liked a bit of optimism with all that sad, long history.

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Filed under Non fiction

** Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers (in the 44 Scotland Street Series) brings us Bertie without his mother, who has been waylaid, improbably, during a stay in Dubai (hence the two-star rating — surely there would be a better way to make her disappear for a few months!) Freed from his obsessed mother, he can participate in all kinds of delightful activities, from eating ice cream to ditching his psychotherapy sessions, and displays his considerable charm and caring to his heretofore-remote grandmother. Assorted other characters also make an appearance. Lovely if you can compartmentalize that silly disappearance device.

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* You are a Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero

Huge fail on selecting this book because I thought the title was funny. You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth is a ridiculous self-help book that basically states that (1) you just have to believe that you can make money and (2) the minute you really, truly do that, money will pour onto your head. Great financial planning, right? (And I suppose that if money does not immediately flow, you are simply not worthy?) Rather surprisingly after an ocean of “if you believe, it will come” statements, the last chapter contains some remarkably level-headed suggestions for employees and business owners. But that’s after 200 pages of nonsense.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** Educated by Tara Westover

The author of Educated grew up in a survivalist family in Idaho, toiling in the (highly dangerous) family junkyard or helping her mother concoct homeopathic compounds — but never studying, either in an organized school or through any kind of home-schooling. Still through grit, ingenuity, and some luck, she managed to matriculate at BYU and from there pursue graduate education. The book describes her often shocking upbringing and how she painfully and slowly extricated herself from it, becoming estranged from a big part of her family in the process. It’s a harrowing tale.

The book is put together with intricate flashbacks and considerable skill. But there are some strange passages, in which pivotal scenes are tagged with footnotes explaining that different family members have very different recollections of the same events. Do they betray the care of a historian or on the other hand a fanciful delusion? And the assertion that her father is simply mentally ill seems rather generous: how about simply violent, controlling, and egotistic?

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Filed under True story

*** 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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