Summer Books

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted any book reviews here (though I’m always active on Goodreads). I realized recently that the last several books I’ve read are either very new or haven’t been published yet, but all come out this summer, so I’m offering a little preview.

Broken Harbor by Tana French (July 24, 2012)
This is the fourth Dublin Murder Squad book. I hesitate to call it a series, because you can read the books in any order and they are all perfectly good standalone novels; however, characters in one book often appear in the other books. Broken Harbor features detective Scorcher Kennedy, who investigates what looks like a quadruple-homicide in a housing development called Brianstown (an area that used to be called Broken Harbor). Together with his rookie partner, Kennedy digs for the truth, relying on expertise and instinct. French does a beautiful job maintaining the suspense throughout, and there’s real character development there as well. I’d rank this just below The Likeness (my favorite of hers), and if you’re looking for a good creepy murder mystery with some good twists and turns, this one’s for you.

The Red House by Mark Haddon (June 12, 2012)
Author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and A Spot of Bother, Haddon follows those two successes with another. It may take some time to adjust to the style of storytelling – point of view often changes from one paragraph to another – but once you get to know the characters, the reading experience becomes smoother. The Red House is the story of eight people on holiday, and the way in which Haddon tells the story shows their relationships to each other as well as what is going on in their own lives. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it is very well done.

The Lost Prince by Selden Edwards (August 16, 2012)
I had high hopes for this one, as it is a follow-up to The Little Book, which I adored. The Little Book involved time travel to fin de siecle Vienna, and was fascinating because of its setting, characters, and plot (the time travel bit). The Lost Prince simply isn’t as good. The main character, Eleanor Burden, returns from Vienna with her destiny in her hands: specifically, in a journal that sketches out future events that she must help bring about. She struggles to follow the incomplete instructions, never knowing if her actions are the right ones. She is determined and brave, but the sense of magic and adventure that The Little Book had is lacking in The Lost Prince. Even twists that should have the impact of revelations (relating, for example, to Arnauld “the Haze” Esterhazy’s true past) lack power.

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper (August 21, 2012)
If you liked Tropper’s previous work – How to Talk to a Widower, for example, or This is Where I Leave You - then picking this up is a no-brainer. Again, Tropper delivers a heartbreaking suburban comedy. Silver, our middle-aged male narrator, has an ex-wife, an estranged daughter, supportive parents, and friends in situations similar to his own. His life is stagnant, but when he discovers that he has a life-threatening medical condition, he has to decide if he wants to live or wants to die. For most, this isn’t a tough question, but it takes Silver the length of the book to decide. Meanwhile, there are moments of laughter, introspection, shame, and love. Recommended, especially for fans of Nick Hornby and Michael Chabon.

Gold by Chris Cleave (July 3, 2012)
I missed Cleave’s first two books, Incendiary and Little Bee, but now I see I shall have to go back and look them up, because Gold blew me away. It is the story of three Olympic cyclists – Zoe, Kate, and Jack – their coach, Tom, and Jack and Kate’s eight-year-old daughter Sophie, who has leukemia. Zoe, Jack, and Kate met at age nineteen, and Zoe and Kate have been friends and rivals ever since. They are now thirty-two, and London 2012 will be their last Olympics. Due to a rule change, however, only one of them will be able to qualify to go. Will it be Zoe, who has been racing away from events in her past since childhood, and for whom winning is everything? Or will it be Kate, who, having missed out on Athens and Beijing to take care of Sophie, inarguably deserves to go? The relationships between these five characters, as much as the actual events of the story as it unfolds, are the reason to keep reading. This is a five-star (five-Olympic ring?) book.

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