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This installment: female friendships anatomized; a novel about bird watching in Indiana; a therapy dog in an old age home (and the lessons therein); a doomed real-life romance; a gritty mix of fantasy and folklore; and the conjunction of four very different women.

 

   She Matters by Susanna Sonnenberg

Subtitled:  A life in Friendships but what a mixed bag these friendships seem to be.  The author is very intense and emotions run high, from crushes to betrayals, from youth through middle age. Sonnenberg grew up with a very problematic mother (as described in her previous memoir) and this made friends even more important.  As situations changed—geographical, familial—the relationships often couldn’t take the burden.  I don’t know if I’d trust Sonnenberg as a friend; she certainly tells it like it is, with real first names.  How do those now ex-friends feel with their failings displayed here?  She’s not necessarily blaming them, but still…Despite these caveats, I found it intriguing.

   Snapper by Brian Kimberling

In the forests of Indiana, Nathan studies birds for a living.  He also yearns for the elusive Lola. Things don’t work out well but there are lots of entertaining adventures along the way.  I didn’t know much about the pleasures and pitfalls of the region before I read this book, and now Indiana really speaks to me.  For instance, for some, the Confederacy still lives in spirit.  Kimberling has lots of fun with academic and hippie pretensions.  A modest romp.

   A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home by Sue Halpern

Subtitled: lessons in the good life from an unlikely teacher.  True confessions: I’m not a pet person.  But I’m very interested in the subject of aging, so that’s why I accompanied Halpern and Pransky, her therapy dog, into the county home where they’ve been visiting residents ever since.  First there was the challenge of meeting the requirements, and Pransky had a stubborn habit that they circumvented on testing day by cheating. (Yes!)  Worth it, because the dog brings connection and often joy to a wide variety of elders, as touching, vivid vignettes reveal.  Halpern invokes various philosophers on what constitutes a good life—a bonus for her development as well as us, the readers. Warm and thoughtful.

   My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro

 A different take on travel, into the land of illness (cystic fibrosis) but shot through with incredible spirit, humor, and love--my favorite kind of memoir.   Scarboro meets her intended, Stephen, early on and he gives the impression of health so the implications of his condition take a back seat to burgeoning romantic friendship. But soon enough UCSF Medical Center has become their second home.  Despite frightening, debilitating procedures, they manage a lively, engaged life—jobs, school, some travel, and even a dog. No pity or mawkish sentiment here, and just enough medical information to carry the story. At the time of his death, Scarboro was teaching middle school kids and the support her challenging students provided gives me hope for the human race. A luminous, heart lifting book.

   Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

Chelsea is a benighted town near Boston and the creek is full of trash.  But it’s also a refuge where 13 year old Sophie and Ella go to play the dangerous game of “pass out.” In her altered state Sophie meets said mermaid and discovers she has a vital, cosmic role to play.  She’s only half human, it turns out, with a terrifying grandmother who embodies evil.  This fantasy material soars with folklore but is grounded in gritty contemporary detail and the mix works very convincingly. Designated Young Adult but for don’t let that stop you from entering this intense, amazing world.  And the first in a trilogy!

   Traps by Mackenzie Bezos

We meet four women first in separate stories and wonder what they have in common. Dana is a tough security guard on a mission, Lynn runs a dog rescue facility in the Nevada desert, Jessica is a Hollywood star trying to keep a low profile and lead a normal life, and Vivian is a hard luck teenager on the run with twin babies. Lots of surprising action when their lives predictably converge. There’s a noir, surrealistic quality to this book and it carried me along even when I was a bit suspicious of the all the coincidences

Back next Monday.

 

 

 

 

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Book suggestions

Thank you Neshama for your wonderful book suggestions. What a treat to go beyond the NYT etal and enter the world of books one might have missed.

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