This installment: a bipolar journey from China to the US and Ecuador (f); she desperately wants a baby (f); a teen book that tackles the advantages and snares of technology on CD(f); a funny mystery based in Alaska (f); a mad housewife embarks on a wild road trip (f); and a marriage under stress with fertility issues (nf).
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
So it seems to Lucia when she first arrives in America from China as a child, then when she moves up to Westchester, to Ecuador, and finally to Minnesota in deep winter, her final, tragic destination. Because Lucia is bipolar: creative, hugely enthusiastic but sometimes delusional or paralyzed by depression. She makes a surprising connection with one-armed Yonah from Israel, and when he doesn’t want a child, takes up with young undocumented Manuel. Gets her wish but hormones play havoc with her mental health. Her older sister Miranda does what she can—not much, it turns out. Returning to Manuel’s family farm puts Lucia in a culture at odds with her talents and needs. Intense, atmospheric, often painful to read but very well-done.
The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham
Agatha is fixated on Meg whom she spots as a customer in the market where she works. Meg seems to have an ideal life—handsome husband, two children, beauty—you name it. At first we think both women are pregnant but then with mounting horror, we start to recognize Agatha’s plan. When Meg’s newborn is snatched from the hospital—uh-oh. No one is free of secrets, including Meg and her husband, it turns out. English setting. Very suspenseful.
Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi
A teen novel that intrigued, then puzzled me. The subject: technology and its effect on society. In the not too distant future in Palo Alto, Opal defends what seems like a bullied girl on a TV show and fulfills the book’s title. The lab which sponsors the show, runs her experimental high school, and was started by her brilliant dad (now missing), tries to parlay her into becoming a big, influential star but she balks when she discovers the hypocrisy that lies beneath. The enemy? Luddites who want to scroll everything back to the “good old days.” But the lab itself also seems inimical. Who to trust? Her gut, that’s what, and she’s a brave girl. Fascinating details, like almost everything is done via avatars and there’s long-distance contact with sensual Saran wrap and haptic gloves. Still don’t know what to make of it, but couldn’t stop listening.
Baby’s First Felony by John Straley
A mystery set in Alaska: funny, sometimes outrageous, and at times pretty literary. Cecil, a public defender, gets in way deep when he approaches what seems like a straightforward case. He ends up locked up and puts his case before a judge (which is what we’re reading.) Everything has gone wrong. A librarian gets involved. A glorious mess—very entertaining.
Donna Has Left the Building by Susan Jane Gilman
Why did she leave not only the building but, her husband, her kids, and her job? Because she caught him in flagrante, cleaning the oven in a maid’s uniform under the direction of a hired domme. She has a checkered past as an alcoholic punk rocker, but has straightened out– until now. Off she tears on this crazy road trip to Las Vegas to connect with her high school heart throb, still sexy until she briefly moves in and sees his disgusting habits up close. The book takes a surprising turn when she’s summoned to Greece to bail out her college-age daughter and ends up doing desperately needed relief work with immigrants on Lesbos, thus discovering what’s really important. Indeed a wild ride, vivid and funny.
Vessels: a Love Story by Daniel Raeburn
A portrait of a marriage under incredible stresses, miscarriage after miscarriage and then a still-birth. Bekah is a potter, Dan is a writer, and it’s amazing they hung in there. So much sadness and discouragement which is hard to read but so honest and beautifully written, it’s worth it. The image of the crack that when mended makes the vessel stronger and more beautiful runs throughout. An important message.
Back next week.