Living With a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich

Living With a Wild GodBook – Raised atheist by her upwardly-mobile, blue- and then white-collar parents, Barbara Ehrenreich set out on a quest when she was a teenager: to discover the meaning of life. She studied science and philosophy, but mostly she worked through the tough problems on her own, without any assumptions that the answers were already out there waiting for her. And then, when she was sixteen, she had an episode which she thought of then as a bout of schizophrenia, but which she now refers to as a mystical experience, a contact with an intelligence profoundly and completely other than herself.

Most famous for Nickel and Dimed, her analysis of the working poor in America in the late 90s, this book is a little outside Ehrenreich’s usual subject matter, but just as fascinating. She deconstructs her childhood journal entries and her present-day thinking ruthlessly, and she still never assumes that the answers are out there waiting for her, only that it’s important to look for them anyway, and to keep looking, even when what we find is different from what we expect.

I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, but I can’t recommend it – she reads like an academic presenting a paper at a conference. I loved the book despite the dry narration, however, and I think anyone interested in the intersection of science, religion, atheism, and spirituality would enjoy this as well.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

a man called oveBook – Ove is a grumpy man. He’s exasperated with his neighbors, the stray cat who keeps hanging around, the postman and anyone else he encounters in his daily rounds through the neighborhood. He’s recently lost his job and cannot understand why the rest of the world cannot follow life’s “rules” and be more productive and sensible. His wife Sonja says that Ove is “unforgiving.” Ove calls it “having firm principles.” And, while Ove is trying to stick to his principles, life keeps straying from the plans. Despite his grumpiness, Ove is kind (in a grouchy sort of way). When his new neighbors accidentally back their U-Haul over his mailbox, Ove’s world begins to change in ways he never could have imagined. This story is charming, funny and slightly off-beat. If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, you may enjoy Ove’s quirky tale.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

The Divorce PapersBook – Sophie Diehl is a criminal attorney. She doesn’t want anything to do with her firm’s divorce cases, but when a senior partner asks her to step in to lend a hand, she can’t say no. And the client – Mrs. Mia Durkheim, nee Mia Mieklejohn, from one of the oldest families in New England – thinks Sophie is great and won’t have anyone else for her lawyer. The story unfolds through a collection of memos, letters, notes, and legal documents as the divorce gets longer and longer, messier and messier.

It sounds a little traumatizing, but most of the time it’s hilarious. Sophie and Mia are both smart, clever women, at two very different points in their lives: Sophie trying to get a handle on the beginning of her career, and Mia trying to get out of a marriage that’s grown stifling. The insults fly fast and heavy, usually in the direction of Mia’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, Daniel. Rieger puts her years of experience as a law professor to good use in this witty first novel. (I particularly liked the way she invented a whole New England state so that she could invent her own legal precedents.)

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

riding campBook – The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is the coming of age story of Thea Atwell. She is 15, lives on a ranch in Florida with her parents and her twin brother, and is already an accomplished horsewoman and beauty.  She has always been very close to her family and sheltered, as she and her brother are homeschooled and really don’t have any friends except for each other.  Thea’s world is shaken when the Depression begins and she is sent away by her parents to an exclusive equestrian boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains as a punishment. We see her adjusting to her new school and making friends with privileged Southern belles as she tries to overcome her feelings of guilt and homesickness. The reader will keep turning the pages as the story slowly unfolds to reveal the reason for her banishment by her family from her beloved home. This is not a cozy read as it is full of scandal, sex and secrets. The book has received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus.

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

mermaids in paradiseBook – Deb and Chip are pondering where to take their honeymoon. After considering and rejecting several adventurous possibilities, they decide on a romantic Caribbean island vacation. Chip is an outgoing jock who makes friends easily and, at their first dinner on the island, he invites several guests he’s met to join them. Among them is Nancy, a marine biologist. The next day when the newlyweds are relaxing on the beach, Nancy races up to them and informs them that she has spotted mermaids while snorkeling near the reef. What ensues is pandemonium, as Nancy tries to manage her “discovery,” while protecting the mermaids’ lives and habitat. What surprised me most about this book was the humor. It’s narrated by Deb, whose droll observations and opinions on everyday life balance the deeper messages concerning corporate greed, the impact of social media and the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

The Killer Next DoorBook - Hossien is looking for someplace to live. Vesta has never lived anywhere else at all. Cher shouldn’t be living here. And Collette, according to her former boss, shouldn’t be living at all. Everyone at 23 Beula Grove, a run-down boarding house in South London, has a secret, from the scummy landlord to the quiet man who lives upstairs and never tries to make friends, but some of their secrets are more dangerous than others.

The Killer Next Door isn’t much of a mystery; although there’s some ambiguity over who the killer is, the possible suspects are narrowed down pretty quickly. That isn’t the focus of the book, though, which is instead concerned with how all these very different people make a life for themselves in something less than the best of circumstances, how they help each other out when help is needed, and how they betray each other without ever meaning to. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, and I’ll be making time to read Marwood’s first novel, The Wicked Girls.

Son of No One by Sherrilyn Kenyon

son ofBook – Cadegan has been cursed into living in a realm without color or hope because of one bad judgement. His entire life has been nothing but trying to do the right thing in spite of the circumstances around him. When he wakes up one day and finds a spot of color in his realm that doesn’t belong, he is given a chance to taste life again, but is it just more cruelty or a real chance at redemption?

Poor Jo, never quite fits in anywhere. Her family is nuts. Jo shades more towards sane, but not far enough to get by in the ‘real’ world outside of her family. Trying to earn a living she falls through the looking glass, literally, into a colorless world inhabited by demons and a strange knight that she really should be scared of….

While I still loved this book I felt that it was much more flippant and soft than her usual books. I usually need a few tissues while reading about the Darkhunters and their crew, this time I only needed one. I don’t know if I didn’t get as into the book emotionally, if I was just tired as I read, or if the characters didn’t resonate quite as well with me as Zarek, Acheron, or even Julian. Whatever it was…I still enjoyed the book and have purchased it, cheapskate that I am that’s a real endorsement.

 

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

mag assBook – The Magician’s Assistant is a magical story of loss, discovery, and healing. Sabine has been Parsifal the Magician’s lovely statuesque assistant for over 20 years in L.A. Parsifal marries her shortly after his male lover, who is also friends with Sabine, dies from AIDS. It is only a brief time later that Parsifal also dies and Sabine surprisingly learns that her husband has a mother and two sisters in Nebraska, when he had claimed that he had no family, as they were all dead. Sabine and Parsifal’s family meet and Sabine learns about Guy as a boy growing up in the Great Plains and his mother and sisters learn about Parsifal the magician from L.A. The family is enchanted by Sabine as she demonstrates some of the magician’s tricks and they all form a very special bond as they share the details of the magician’s life and eventually face up to the painful reason why he left his home, abandoned his family, and took on a new identity. Beautifully written and insightful.

Us by David Nicholls

usBook – Douglas Petersen, a scientist, is trying to cope with his wife Connie’s announcement that she thinks she wants to leave him. Also, his relationship with his recalcitrant seventeen-year-old son, Albie, has always been rocky. Douglas hopes that their family’s planned “Grand Tour” of Europe will somehow help them resolve their issues. He sets some personal goals for their inter-rail trip, including “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” As they embark on the trip from their home in suburban London, Douglas narrates their experiences, and shares the story of his marriage to Connie and struggles as a father to relate to his son. Told in short chapters, and alternating from past to present, Douglas kept me entertained with his dry humor, insights and predicaments as he tries to approach his life in a new way.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

ghostsBook – I didn’t love every story in this collection, but I loved the collection as a whole. There’s an art to putting together a short story collection, and most collections just don’t quite make it. 20th Century Ghosts flows smoothly from one story to the next, sometimes featuring a kind of free-association logic that’s downright humorous in effect. A mention of Kafka in the end of “Pop Art” ties into “And You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” a story about a boy who wakes up one morning having turned into a giant insect, and the Biblical overtones in that story give you completely the wrong impression of “Abraham’s Boys” until you finally learn the good doctor’s surname. It’s a little thing, a fun trick, but I enjoyed it.

I’m having a hard time picking a favorite story, to be honest. The opener, “Best New Horror,” is a fairly predictable sort of “but it was all really true!” story about a horror writer and an editor, but the self-awareness of the story raises it to a new level. “The Black Phone” is a terrific anti-serial-killer story (as opposed to all the stories in which the serial killer is the star of the show), “The Cape” features a very convincing creeper of the sort you’d hate to meet on a dark sidewalk but probably already have, and “Voluntary Committal” is both the scariest and the most heartwarming story in the book (and won a well-deserved World Fantasy Award).