This installment: a Gothic tale set in 19th century New England (f); an excellent Scandinavian mystery (f); from Synanon to rock success (nf); twins battle over grammar (f); from lawyer to housekeeper in one fell swoop (f);
Editor’s Note: Much of our print collection is now available for holds again. The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with special notes made of digital ebook and eAudiobook availability.
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
Trilling hearts are an invasive species of aggressive red birds. An experimental school for girls started by Samuel in 1874 in rural Massachusetts bears their name. He’s a visionary whose previous small school for boys folded because a lurid novel about it became a sensation. One rumor: said author had had an affair with Samuel’s wife who then died of a “fit.” The staff consists of Samuel, his daughter Caroline, and his handsome acolyte David. When the daughter of the novel’s author, Eliza, arrives to join the student body, things start to go wrong very rapidly. A rash (literal and figurative) infects the student body and the diagnosis is “hysteria,” The cure: manual manipulation that leads to “paroxysm.” Gothic, with more than a touch of Hitchcock.
The Tenant by Katrine Engberg
A dark Scandinavian mystery (how I love ‘em). Gregers, old, on the top floor. His landlady Esther in the middle. A sweet young woman-not sure which of the two roommates at first—dead on the ground floor. A grisly killing. Detectives Jeppe (divorced and hurting) and Anette (well-married and grounded) are on this very convoluted case. What do those carvings on the corpse’s cheek signify? Another death follows soon after, and peril lurks for others. Nuanced characterizations make this one quite special.
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
It starts with young Mikel at The School where Synanon children are brought up communally. It’s very lonely; his older brother Tony is withdrawn and mean. When the cult’s rules take an even more nightmarish turn, their mother whom they barely know escapes with them and they embark on a very dysfunctional, peripatetic life. They see their father very sporadically; their best days with him are at the eponymous racetrack. Mom’s crazy but manages despite her depression. Two stepfathers—one good but weird, the other “normal” but deeply creepy—come and go. Mikel’s sensitive and smart. He gets to Stanford, gropes for meaning, becomes a journalist and spawns a rock band. Finally gets essential therapy (I kept waiting but I guess it only happens when the time is right) and achieves peace at last. And produces this magnificent memoir—art arising out of necessity from pain.
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
Who knew the subject of grammar could be so loaded? Identical twins Laurel and Daphne are in love with words early on, with a shared language that sounds like gibberish but is very articulate to them. When they grow up, Daphne becomes a snarky columnist who dissects contemporary language. Laurel develops a reputation as a poet. An extended rift develops between them, fueled by jealousy. Their husbands, good friends, have to hide their partnership on the sailboat they own in common. Eventually deaths in the family soften the twins’ intense antipathy. Lots of wit and wordplay, a little arch at times, but more charming than not.
The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
I consider these my bonbon books and I was so pleased to have it waiting for me after a long walk. Samantha is so highly strung she sneaks her Blackberry into a spa. As a lawyer with a possible partnership pending, she can’t afford to miss a single call. A scandal at work—could she have made a such a hugely costly mistake? She flees on the nearest train and fetches up at an elegant country house, desperate for a glass of water. There she’s mistaken for a candidate for a housekeeping job and finds herself taking it. She knows nothing about the tasks ahead, uses her credit card to cover her outrageous flubs, but gets some lessons from the gardener’s mother and learns to slow down and savor life. Including the gardener, of course (this is a Romance, after all). Kinsella’s smart and funny, like her heroine, and the book was just what the doctor ordered…
See you next week.