This installment: hilarious true-life domestic fumbles; a witty novel about Singapore wealth; a very popular British DVD; a lyrical non-fiction account of a poet’s peregrinations; a creepy British mystery; and a very satisfying family story placed in the Northwest.
The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster
This hilarious book doesn’t match anything I think I am. I don’t consume, decorate, dote on pets, like holidays, live in the Heartland, etc. But Lancaster is a great storyteller--on herself, so I was willing to overlook the disjunction to watch her fumble, stumble, overreach, and make peace with her aspirations and the spectacularly imperfect results. From trying to blow out Easter eggs with compressed air to wresting with a duvet cover, she keeps finding the positive amid the chaos. Poignancy plays a part, as she and Fletch, her game husband, try to keep their beloved pit bull Maisie alive. A fun read.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Rachel Chu, a writer, has no idea her boyfriend Nick, a professor, is fantastically wealthy until she accompanies him to the wedding of the year in Singapore. When the reigning families discover she’s not a plastics dynasty Chu, they put into motion a wicked campaign to come between them. Including a bloody raw fish stuffed into her handbag while she’s out of her hotel room and a threatening note to go with it. A celebration of excess and nastiness that heats up to soap operatic proportions with a slam bang finish. Very entertaining.
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
I read the memoir a while ago, enjoying the gritty, intense depiction of a young nurse who practiced in East London in the mid ‘50s. But then I discovered how richly it comes to life on the screen, courtesy of the BBC. The teeming, still war -torn streets, the great characterizations from the nuns of Nonnatus House to the nurse midwives and their lusty, long-suffering patients all provide rich fare. It’s also beautifully shot. Not for the squeamish, though, with loud and bloody birth scenes throughout. (Note: in the book there’s a great appendix on Cockney vocabulary and traditions.)
Walking Home, A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage
Armitage conceived a journey over the Pennine Way that would take him from the border of Scotland to his very own home in Yorkshire. The plan: he’d go from village to village giving poetry readings along with local hospitality. His heavy suitcase, dubbed the Tombstone, would be ferried to every stop, and friends and fans would accompany him on and off. The terrain, the trail, and the weather were all considerable challenges and he’s not in top shape physically. But what a way with words: lyrical, intimate, funny, and candid in turn. Not exactly Wild but equally absorbing, in my book.
Lost by S.J. Bolton
Another British mystery featuring murdered children. (Don’t know why I’m so drawn to this genre—must be horror fascination.) Exsanguinated corpses of boys appear on the banks of the Thames and the detectives are stumped by motive and suspect. The Vampire craze, fueled by the media, doesn’t help. Lacey, a traumatized detective on leave, is 11- year- old Barney’s neighbor and observes he’s hiding something. Actually, a number of characters are hiding something and Bolton leads us on a merry chase in terms of who might be the perp. Very suspenseful and atmospheric, with a psychological dimension (the kind of mystery that speaks to me).
The Doctor’s Wife by Luis Jaramillo
Here’s a surprisingly perfect book tracing a Northwest family’s story through the decades. Short chapters (called short stories) introduce us to the eponymous heroine, her 4 children, the doctor himself, and their lakeshore lives. Each gives us another layer of insight into the rich, subtle family dynamics as the kids play and squabble intensely, The lake itself is polluted but the town doesn’t go for a sewer bond. Their youngest, John, has mysterious health problems. No overall plot to speak of, but utterly absorbing. The language is so transparent (the “perfect” part) that I never noticed it other than as a direct transmission of this family’s life and times. Highly recommended.
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