This installment: strange doings in Japan (f); a teen book full of ghosts (f); a rollicking book set in the arctic (nf); a rom-com with a twist (f); from Africa to NYC, with trauma (f); and lesbian relationships (f).
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
An odd book set in Japan by a Singaporean author originally from Indonesia. Ren learns his sister was stabbed to death. He tries to figure out what happened (the police aren’t helpful) and ends up filling in as a teacher in the cram school where she worked. It’s a backwater town with a handful of intriguing, disturbing characters, including a student who puts the make on him. Sometimes dreamlike and surrealistic—shades of Murakami.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
A teen book chock full of ghosts. Set in the ‘40s in Chicago, it features two sisters who ended up in an orphanage. Yes, their mother died, but then their father married a greedy woman and there was no longer room for them. The primary ghost also narrates sections and we gradually learn her sorrows as well. Atmospheric and haunting, literally and figuratively.
Arctic Solitaire by Paul Souders
Subtitled A Boat, A Bay, and the Quest for the Perfect Bear. This book gladdened my heart, start to finish. Souders is very funny, for one thing, and wonderfully articulate. He ends up becoming a nature photographer but it’s a ragged path, full of missteps. And then crazy adventures, often ill-provisioned and in the fiercest weather conditions. He has a wife, Janet, and they manage to stay in touch via the wonders of technology. Amazing pictures, too. A winner!
Something Like Happy by Eva Woods
A tender, funny rom-com with a twist. Cancer, that’s what. Polly has three months to live. She comes across sad-sack Anna in the hospital, who’s tending to her mother with early onset dementia. Like a fearless, colorful bird she swoops into Anna’s life and gives her the 100-day challenge: find something to celebrate each day. Anna’s resistant but gradually between them all sorts of surprises manifest. I knew “Dr. Grumpy” was waiting in the wings but it takes the whole book for all involved to realize it—that’s the rom-com formula. Polly’s brash energy cuts through what might come off as saccharine, and the book left me more than something like happy, which doesn’t happen often on the page these days.
Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
Abeo, 9, has a sweet life in Africa until her family has a reversal of fortune and she’s taken to be a” wife of the gods” when she comes of age. Indeed, things improve back home (the superstition seems to work) but she’s thrust into a nightmare of hard labor, early pregnancy, and then her baby drowns. 15 years of misery until she’s rescued and finally connects with relatives in New York City. There she learns a shocking truth but also manages to take hold and seize life despite her traumas. Atmospheric, and a dip into a culture I don’t know much about.
Right After the Weather by Carol Anshaw
A favorite author, and so glad to come across this new one. (Anshaw specializes in the L word.) Here in Chicago in 2016, Cate has just ended a very magnetic relationship with no apparent future and has embarked on another that has potential but there’s a disturbing glitch. (Maureen and her own sister were intimate in their teens). Cate’s a set designer and her weird, rich ex-husband is temporarily bunking in her spare room. Her best friend from childhood, Neale, who teaches yoga and has a teenage son, experiences a traumatic break-in and this also destabilizes Cate’s life that just got back on track. Anshaw is especially great with descriptive details.
Back next week–which means next year!