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An Unconventional Page-turner

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 10:54am

HeftHeft by Liz Moore is a confessional novel about loneliness, human fragility and hope. From the very beginning, Arthur Opp confides, “the first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.” By his estimation, he probably weighs between 500-600 pounds and has not left his home in Brooklyn since September 11, 2001.  He has no contact with family or friends. If he needs anything from the outside world, he simply orders it online.

 

Out of the blue, former student Charlene calls Arthur to find out if he might consider tutoring her teenage son, Kel. Although Charlene was Arthur’s student over twenty years ago, he still thinks of her often. For him, Charlene represents a life that might have been.  Meanwhile, Charlene is a struggling single mom raising her son in Yonkers. Wanting more for Kel, she has managed to get him into a better school in an affluent neighborhood nearby by working at the school as a secretary. Kel is a gifted athlete and is interested in pursuing a career in baseball. Charlene is concerned that he’s more interested in sports than in his academic future. A firm believer in higher education, she hopes Arthur Opp may be able to help. Readers will stay up way too late, temporarily neglect chores and relationships just to see how this story unfolds.

Heft is a heartfelt novel that never crosses into sappy sentimentalism. With Moore’s keen attention to detail, deeply compelling story and all too human characters, Heft is destined to land on many of the “Best Of” lists this year. Adult and teen readers who enjoy coming of age stories should not miss out on this lovely book.

 

 

 


 
 

The Night StrangersHalloween is long past, but readers can recreate the ambiance with Chris Bohjalian’s (Midwives, The Double Bind) new book The Night Strangers.  Set in a small town in upstate New Hampshire, a community’s sinister secrets are gradually unearthed, creating a satisfyingly creepy tale. 

 

The setting says it all.  An isolated town with spotty cell phone reception.  A spooky Victorian house with a mysterious door in the basement.  Disturbing rumors about the former owners.   Enter Chip, who moves his family to this house after a passenger plane he was piloting crashes and kills almost everyone on board.   As they settle in, the family discovers unnerving elements about their new home, including hidden weapons and a heavily bolted door in the basement.  They also meet some unsettling townspeople, the “herbalists”, who have taken a special interest in the twin daughters.  As the story further unfolds, the reader follows Chip in his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and his slow descent into a world of ghosts and voices from the beyond.

 

This is a refreshing read because it is, simply, a ghost story with plenty of psychological terror (think Stephen King’s earlier books like The Shining) and a subtly frightening cast of side characters.  And like any good horror story, the family doesn’t see the danger until it’s too late.  All the signs are there, questions are raised, but (sigh) the family stays.  Although this book is a departure from Bohjalian’s usual style and lacks any real shocking twists or mind-bending ending, it is still a mature tale with a conclusion that leaves much room for discussion.  Interestingly, the author himself lives in an old home with a strange door in the basement…


 
 

Remember When "The Police" Meant the Band?

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 10:16am

Down the Darkest RoadSince the disappearance of her sixteen year-old daughter four years ago, Lauren Lawton has had to cope with the suicide of her husband and the silent struggles of her younger daughter who self mutilates because of her unhappiness.  Lauren’s pain is exacerbated by the fact that she believes she knows who abducted her child.  She is outraged that the police have been unable arrest the suspect.  So begins the newest novel by Tami Hoag, Down the Darkest Road

 

In an attempt to rebuild their lives, Lauren and her daughter Leah relocate to the quiet and beautiful town of Oak Knoll. The peace that they are seeking is not meant to be as it quickly becomes apparent that the alleged kidnapper has also moved to the community.  Are they being stalked? Is her youngest daughter the man’s next target? Will the police just stand by and do nothing, again?  Lauren has developed an acute mistrust of the police; however she hasn’t dealt with the members of the Oak Knoll Sheriff’s Department before. This community has been the setting for Hoag’s two previous spine-chilling books Deeper than the Dead and Secrets to the Grave.

 

The series is set in the 1980’s and is filled with humorous references of that era. The interesting twist to these thrillers is reading about the forensic technology and police practices of that time. There is no DNA database and ViCAP is just wishful thinking. We follow the dedicated law enforcement personnel as they attempt to solve crimes with limited tools by today’s standards. Any of these novels can be read as a standalone, but if you enjoy this novel you will definitely want to check out the others!


 
 

Strangers in a Strange Land

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 9:13am

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of ForgetfulnessWhen A Crocodile Eats the SunWhite Woman on the Green Bicycle

The sun eventually did set on the British empire.  The process of its descent makes for some interesting reading in both novels and non-fiction books as authors explore the impact of the withdrawal of British rule on non-native families living abroad.

 

Author Alexandra Fuller’s latest book Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an account of her parents’ migration from the British Isles to east Africa and is the story of immigrants adapting to and adopting a new country and adjusting once again as British colonialism yields to self-rule.  Fuller’s mother, especially, has a voice in this book as the family moves throughout east Africa’s farming communities.

 

The same themes of family history intertwined with recent African history are carried out in When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin.  Godwin, a journalist now living in the United States, was raised in Rhodesia; he and his sister left the country but his parents remained even as Robert Mugabe rose to power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.   Godwin’s description of his aged parents’ life under Mugabe’s rule is harrowing but he, as does Fuller, conveys the attachment of his parents to a country  which has become inhospitable and often dangerously hostile to them.

 

Monique Roffey’s novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle examines the marriage of a white couple, George and Sabine Harwood, living in Trinidad.  The newlywed Harwoods arrive on the island in 1956 as George has been offered a three year employment contract.  Sabine, wilting under the heat and culture shock, can’t wait to return to England but George thrives as an Englishman living in a British colony and refuses to leave.  Broken promises figure in both the Harwood marriage and Trinidad’s move to independence and this Orange prize short-lister blend of fiction and fact is an interesting window into a lesser-known former British colony.


 
 

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