This installment: brilliant, provocative essays (nf); the corporate toll on ambitious women (f); cozy Midwestern journalism with an edge (f); St Louis in the Depression (f);a witty romance CD (f); and a witty, unlikely romance in Maine (f)
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Subtitled reflections on self delusion, this stunning, challenging book of provocative essays sometimes left me in the dust. She’s a New Yorker staff writer and her depth of research shines through. She also manages to be very entertaining as she skewers topics such as politics, misogyny, social media, and more. The pieces that really spoke to me included an early stint in reality TV, the grotesqueries of the wedding industry, scams through the ages (culminating in the big one facing us in the White House) and the history of terrible sexual conduct among the fraternities at her alma mater, the University of Virginia. Others, equally praise-worthy, were so full of layered references that I couldn’t do them the reading justice they deserved.
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
The corporate world is hell on ambitious women, and the three featured here are stretched to the max. It’s sexist as all get-out and they have to reshape themselves to survive which turns them into unpleasant characters. A complicated dance of support and undercutting, status, and materialism, trysts and betrayals. You can tell I didn’t warm to any of them, but horror fascination kept me glued to the not-so-bitter end. Yes, they finally got theirs, but at what cost?
Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with recipes) by Lorna Landvik
A cozy Minnesota book with an edge. Haze has been writing free-form columns for the local small-town newspaper for years. She says whatever’s on her mind and it often makes waves, hence the moniker from a scoffer which was meant as pejorative but which she embraced. Now she’s felled by a stroke and the paper’s publisher, Susan, employs her teenage son, Sam, to comb through old columns for reprinting. Awkward Sam, undone by his parents’ split, gets quite an education and even discovers a secret very close to home. Sweet.
The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom by A.E. Hotchner
St. Louis in the heart of the Depression is a rough place to grow up, especially when your only available parent is jailed as a material witness in a heist. (Mother is in a sanitarium with TB.) Young Aaron is determined to free him with detective work which he manages with great determination and guile. He’s essentially homeless and beds down all over the place, especially in Hooverville. A happy ending (whew), a lot of spunk, and local historical color.
I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
This CD set fell into my hands by chance and I really had fun with it. She writes smart, witty romances, predictable yet charming. Poppy is affianced to Magnus, an odd match. She’s a dentist’s daughter and a physiotherapist; he’s an academic, son of rich professors. She’s always scrambling to catch up. Her engagement ring gets lost, her phone gets nicked, and she finds one in a trashcan—very handy. It turns out to be connected with a corporation in turmoil and her contact is truculent Sam. Somehow she becomes the go-between (he never answers his emails) and thus begins an outrageous adventure. Poppy is smart but has low impulse control and likes to “help,” which more often than not goes awry. We know from the beginning where this will all end up but that didn’t keep me from listening with bated breath to see how it would play out. A romp!
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
Evvie’s husband died in a car crash and she’s holed up in her big house in small town Maine. She has only one good friend, Andy, a widower with two young daughters. Everyone thinks they should get together but it’s not that kind of relationship. However Andy has a friend, Dean who needs a place to retreat from his ignominious fall from grace; he’s a famed pitcher who’s mysteriously lost his skill. So they’re both edgy, grumpy, yet (of course) something stirs between them, though it takes a long time. Meanwhile there are lobsters, therapy, high school sports, and mutual if begrudging aid. Charming, and I’m not even interested in baseball.
Back next week.