This installment: the new Moyes book is set in Kentucky! (f) ; an historical novel with freaks and an outsider artist (f); a bizarre political cover up (f); a mystery with a sharp geriatric sleuth who’s also the victim (f);around the world in hopes of family bonding (nf); and love troubles in East Berlin in ’88 (f).
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
What a surprise to be in Kentucky with Alice, a bride from England. It’s the mid ‘80s, and her handsome husband Bennett’s father runs coal mines—a very dim scene if you remember Harlan County of that time. Turns out Bennett is a connubial bust, his father is an overweening, ever-present bully, and there’s only one outlet: she joins the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. These plucky, unconventional women rile up community sentiments and things get very dire indeed. It’s obvious who Alice will end up with but I didn’t care—the story was so exhilarating.
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
This book had many elements that fascinate me: a girl who’s more at home as a boy and gets to masquerade as one. A carnival freak show. And that outsider artist, Henry Darger. It’s 1915 and Pip, daughter of the carnival’s “gypsy” fortune teller, is a hustler by necessity, running drugs. Someone’s killing young girls and she does some sleuthing. Of course the local black guy is arrested but the truth will out—whew! The book sometimes had an over the top penny-dreadful quality, but I stuck with it to glean all that bizarre material.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
What if the children of a rising politician periodically burst into flames? That’s the wild premise of this book and it somehow really works. Madison, said politician’s third wife, is ambitious herself. They have an odd little boy, Timothy, but give the impression of a perfect family. However Lillian and Madison, from a former wife, (now dead) need tending and Madison enlists Lillian, an old friend from college, to be their nanny and keep them under wraps. The women have a secret, Lillian really needs the work, and for a while it seems to be functional. Things get predictably gnarly but Lillian, an outsider herself, really bonds with these incendiary kids. I especially appreciated the reflections on the nature of politics here. Suspend disbelief and you’ll be launched on a fascinating journey.
What Rose Forgot by Nevada Barr
68-year-old Rose comes to in the woods, in bad shape. She’s “escaped” from an upscale institution, supposedly with early-onset dementia. But in moments of clarity she realizes something is really wrong, and it’s not her. She ditches her meds, plots a successful escape, and then come a series of terrifying encounters. Someone really wants her dead. With a canny 12-year-old accomplice and her canny tech-skilled sister she manages to elude them despite really close shaves. Her Buddhist practice and yoga moves help, as well as her tough persona. Lively and charming, both Rose and the tale.
How To Be A Family by Dan Kois
Subtitled The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together. Starting from their home in Virginia, they spend 3 months each in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Kansas (!). Lyra, 11, mostly just wants more screen time; Harper, 9, is more outgoing but pretty clingy. Each location has pluses and minuses and Kois is very candid, especially about what disappoints. (I love this in a book.) Did they have spectacular revelations and discover a whole new way of being? Not exactly, but it’s great fun to learn about cultural differences, misfires, and joys despite.
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
This is one of those strange but haunting books. In ’88, Saul goes from London to East Berlin to do research. He falls in love with his translator, Walter, but that’s over when Saul returns home. However he leaves more than traces back there, as we discover. Fast-forward, we learn of another child, now dead, from his ex, a renowned photographer who used him as her primary subject. Lots of murky relationships and a very peculiar recurring accident at the same Abbey Road crossing of the Beatles’ album cover.` There’s something very precise in Levy’s writing which kept me reading even when I got a little lost.
Back next week.