Perhaps Wendy Lesser has a point. There are lots of books that are, well, mediocre. Exhibit A: After Her, which strains to recreate the frisson of a (real) serial killer’s spree, although to be fair it paints a sweet picture of a loving detective-father’s relationship with his daughters. The plucky heroine could not save it for me. I recommend Labor Day instead (the book).
The Days of Anna Madrigal puts a capstone on the legendary Tales of the City series, neatly (almost obsessively) tying out all the loose ends. Perhaps it’s inevitable that it should take us to Burning Man, with its free-flowing madness, while Anna goes back, one last time, to the town where she grew up as the son (yes, she was a boy then) of the brothel’s owner. While some will lament the end of the series I think it was time to end it, for the characters are getting old and tired and their complicated entanglements a tad wearisome. Still, there are some lovely observations throughout the book about, say, how older people can act like teenagers, and a touching back story of how Anna became Anna.
If you’ve never read Tales of the City, start with the first one! This one is just too high in the series.
The eponymous hero of Chance is a psychiatrist in a heap of trouble: divorcing, with a wayward teenage daughter, in hock to the IRS, selling furniture he pretends is genuine, and, more troubling, pursuing a relationship with a patient. From the mess emerges a battle with a crooked cop, an improbable alliance with an unlikely furniture restorer, scenic scenes all around the San Francisco Bay area, all in a haze of heavy drinking and little sleep (could it be that Bay Area heroes are fueled by alcohol and no sleep?)
I thoroughly enjoyed the dark story, dark characters, and dark non-ending. Try it!
Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side is a collection of essays by a Chinese-American writer and mother that starts as a shrill attack on her mother’s Tiger Mother style of parenting and a stern defense of her own, consciously relaxed approach. The best part of the book are the autobiographical asides, whether it’s her mixed feelings about moving away from San Francisco, her love for her maternal grandmother, or her parents’ belated acceptance of her Caucasian husband. The rest felt too vituperative and rather pointless to me: who really thought that Tiger Mothers were to be emulated, anyway?
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a mystery with a strong sub theme of Silicon Valley’s technical prowesses together with old-school secret societies. It’s quite fun to read, although I must profess a complete lack of interest in secret societies, and the one featured here is barely believable as it involved a belief in immortality (strike one) and harsh contradictions in its choices of technology.
The puzzling part for me, which prevented my embracing the story, is the place of Google, the company, as the almighty savior of all things technical (and all things, period), so much so that the book reads like an obnoxious ad in parts. And if you are going to go that route, why not get the details of the Googleplex right, down to the organization of the cafeteria?