The Temptation to Be Happy is the funny story of a grumpy old man who avoids his cat-lady neighbor but takes an interest in a new neighbor who seems to be in trouble. His life changes as he opens up. It’s delightful, and perhaps a little repetitive if you have read A Man Called Ove and other stories of this ilk.
Anything is Possible starts in a small midwestern town where, apparently, everyone is kind and happy. But there is much darkness that lurks: children beaten by their stepdad, unhappy marriages, vengeful arson, rape, and sibling jealousy against the one who got away (Lucy Barton, who got her own story a while back). It’s breathtaking and wonderful — and will make you stay up way past your bedtime because you just have to know what’s coming next.
Freya is a luxuriously long story, starting immediately after WWII in England, of an interesting woman who forges a career and lives an inspiringly independent life. But if you look a little deeper you may find, as I did, that it often feels like a careful recitation of historical research rather than a free-flowing novel, and that the resolute independence of the heroine is a little forced, anachronistic even. Fun, but not more.
Not exactly a Valentine Day story, A Separation stars a wife in a marriage that’s already failed — except that the husband’s parents have not been told. When the husband disappears on a solitary trip to Greece, she is asked by her mother in law to investigate and travels there to uncover the sad truth. There’s very little action in the book, mostly reflections on herself, the marriage, and inspired observations of the locals and her in-laws. If you like slow-moving, introspective literature, this one’s for you.
I did enjoy some of the insightful rumination about the various characters, whether the tightly controlled father in law or the receptionist who perhaps, definitely, had an affair with her husband, But navel gazing is not my thing
Dance of the Jakaranda tells the story of three men, two white British settlers and one Indian emigrant, who live in what will become Kenya and initially build the railroad that connect the hinterland to the port of Mombasa. Their personal lives are linked in direct and indirect ways, and will play out through their descendants in the story, which takes us through the early days of independence. The plot is intricate and often has unexpected twists, and the author’s description of the land is affectionate and occasionally lyrical. The history lesson is a bonus.
Good Me, Bad Me is a chilling thriller, even more chilling because written by a mental-health nurse, that tells the story of the teenaged daughter of a serial killer, who reported her mother to the police and is temporarily sheltered by her therapists’s family (which seems to be a very bad idea to begin with!) She is bullied in her new school, and she will want some revenge, somehow. I guarantee you will keep reading!
Little Fires Everywhere skillfully unrolls the story of a family in a conservative suburb that simultaneously befriends a single mother with a mysterious past and another family who adopted an also mysteriously abandoned baby — so the story is about motherhood, chosen or not, biological or not.
And it’s certainly filled with surprises and twists, both in the life stories of the characters and their personalities. But what a melodrama, and what a cliche-laden story, with unpleasant consequences for the logic of the events. Would a young college student recognize “baby hunger” in an older woman? I think not. Would the police fail to find an abandoned baby in one of the city’s fire stations a couple of weeks after the fact? Of course not.
There are some well-observed mannerisms and interactions in the book, but they could not overcome the overdone affect and underdone logic.