Jean Harley was Here but she was killed in a silly car accident, and her husband, young son, and friends are stricken. Turns out that Jean was just perfect in every way. And perfect people are pretty boring.
The best part of the book focuses on the musings of four-year old boy, who is puzzled about his other’s disappearance in a charming, rather than heart-breaking way.
The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers is the story of a fascinating woman, the author’s mother, who ran a successful (illegal) lottery in Detroit for decades. In a less racist environment, she would have managed a much larger business. She is shown balancing her work and her family, including a disabled husband and five children, and helping quite a number of young women through tough times.
A second, strong theme is the sad transformation of Detroit into a violent and very poor city, adding to her private problems in addition to her business problem, competition from the state lottery. The story meanders and repeats itself at times, but it’s well worth reading.
Barbara Cleverly is the queen of mysteries in which death is caused remotely, with the perpetuator actually convinces the victim to essentially kill herself, and Enter Pale Death fits the mold. It also features the usual pomp of old-style British aristocracy and its grand houses. Both the plot and the way it is uncovered seemed just too precious to me but the vast cast of characters was certainly well observed.
I loved Kang’s The Vegetarian, but The White Book , an elegiac, impressionistic fugue on the color white, inspired by the death of an older sister, was just not my thing.
I need to take a break from Higashino and his favorite plot of long-ago hatreds culminating into murder. This is not to say that A Midsummer’s Equation is not clever, just that the particular motive seems downright improbable. But the scenery, a struggling beach resort in Japan, is stunning and I particularly enjoyed the relationship between the egg-headed scientist and the vacationing child, who does not want to do his summer homework until he is shown what science really looks like.
The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America starts with a startlingly candid self-assessment of the author’s body as a sphere, he who can only shop in the one store that carries size 6X clothes, and has trouble fitting into restaurant booths, or climb stairs. Shaken his sister’s death, he undertakes a slow diet and describes his progress, along with his life as a journalist and husband, and various observations of what it’s like to live in a very large body. It’s a good story for thin people to read.
Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone will make you think about all the times you just bypassed dusty bones in museums. The author tells their stories, whether it’s competing archeologists bribing miners to steal fossils from others, the reasons why exoskeletons cannot support huge creatures, creatures breathing with their ribs rather than diaphragms, the not-really-awful consequences of corsets, and why bears’ bones don’t just disintegrate during hibernation. He also describes how the very holding of human bones in museum collections is controversial, reminding us that it’s a privilege to be able to observe them, dusty or not.
In Late in the Day, a man dies and his wife and their best friends lose their minds (I say, uncharitably). The story alternates between the current days of grief and the past history of the four, a tad complicated and entangled, with foreshadowing of the current and fatal entanglement. I grew bored of the foursome’s banal lives–but not without admiring the apt observations and engaging style of the author.
The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer explores the exciting progress made in using our own immune system to fight cancer, and, so doing, explains how cancerous cells cleverly evade our immune defenses.
It would be easy to paint a triumphant picture, when in fact progress has been made only for very specific types of cancer, and the author wisely avoids hyperbole while conveying the power of the techniques being developed. Very accessible reading for non-specialists.
I have loved other John Straley mysteries (here and here). The Big Both Ways fell short.
It stars a man who saved enough money from a brutal logging job and an anarchist with a dead man in the trunk of her car who escape Seattle for Alaska — with the woman’s young niece and her cockatiel– in a tiny boat. Various adventures ensue, some self-inflicted and others caused by the police and unions who are after them.
As much as I was rooting for the trio, it became less and less likely that they would escape their foes or the ocean. Glad they made it, but just could not believe enough.