Tag Archives: recent fiction

“The Summer I Met Jack” and “The Book of Summer” by Michelle Gable

I changed my mind about Michelle Gable. She’s off my “to read” list.

Once again, I ask myself “Why did this author write FICTION about a real person whose life is well documented? And rather recent?”

The Summer I Met Jack is a fictional account of a possible affair between John Kennedy and a young woman who worked, for a brief time, at the Kennedy family enclave in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. This is too speculative for me. 

Whatever happened to the concept of privacy? Isn’t it enough that the whole Kennedy family has been dragged through endless tabloid speculation? Why does Gable feel free to impose her imagination on the former President and her biases on the dynamics of his family? 

I stopped reading after a few chapters. 

When I tried The Book of Summer, I found it trite. A family drama set in Nantucket. Not in the mood…

Back to my search for satisfying recent literature. 


“A Paris Apartment” by Michelle Gable

Who else has had to press “restart” after life (or death, for that matter) interrupted their reading? I’m suffering from brain fog and distraction. I decided a good dose of chick lit might help me get reading again.

A Paris Apartment is reasonably intelligent chick lit. Our heroine is an American woman with a shaky marriage and family burden of fears, most particularly, fear of child bearing. A charming Frenchman gets inside her boundaries and helps her deal with some of them. Fun reading.

Gable uses the term “provenance” so frequently that I am now curious. I plan to do some reading and consult with friends who are artists.

I’m willing to give Gable’s other books a try.

“The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

This book was Turton’s 2018 debut novel. (His second novel was recently released.) I had trouble pushing through this book. TOO MUCH PLOT. Too many characters. Too fast a pace. Little time to “get to know” even the primary characters.

I’m always a bit put off by fiction that comes accompanied by a map and list of characters. Do really good authors need these aids? How often should I need to consult them? And what about characters not included on the list… (I make an exception for historical fiction, where dynastic charting is often useful.) 

Is there a genre name for fiction that includes dim figures in the background pulling strings? Not “deus in machina”, the “god” that steps in at the end to accomplish resolution. No, a slowly revealed and perhaps permanently hidden figure pulling the strings. 

I’m reminded of John Fowles The Magus, described on Amazon as “an elaborate series of staged hallucinations, riddles, and psychological traps”.

I’m not your ideal reader for fantasy fiction. I’m literal minded, perhaps to an extreme. My opinion about this novel may be an outlier.

So what about Turton’s book? I recommend it if you want something to keep yourself entertained on a long train trip. You have to enjoy uncertainty. I found the ending unsatisfying. 

“The Department of Sensitive Crimes – A Detective Varg Novel (1)” by Alexander McCall Smith

The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg Novel (1) (Detective Varg Series)

This is McCall Smith’s first novel set in Sweden, introducing a new protagonist, detective Ulf Varg. Why Sweden? McCall Smith has so many other irons in the fire! In books like the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, the reader feels like he knows his territory (as well as his characters) so intimately. You can’t help but love Mma Ramotswe and Botswana. Does McCall Smith really know Sweden equally well? Or has he found a formula he plans to extend to new countries at random?

Indulge me while I ponder the matter of cultural appropriation. Again, why Sweden? Admittedly, McCall Smith’s novels deal with the interior life – the thoughts, feelings, joys and sorrows of his characters. So maybe it doesn’t matter where they are set. But will Swedes find his portrayal of their country sympathetic? Or condescending? Possibly stereotypical? And (getting down to the tiniest detail…) whence came the umlaut (double dot) over the “A” in McCall Smith’s name (see cover above). Sorry, Sir, you can’t just help yourself to an umlaut! That’s linguistic appropriation. Stay in your own lane, as we say in the USA. (This may prove that I have NO sense of humor.)

The plot deals with a series of criminal investigations, and with the interactions between a group of co-workers (and one “outsider”). Also included is Ulf Varg’s psychoanalyst, who conveniently illuminates the disorder afflicting a person targeted in one investigation, clinical lycanthropy. In other words, the overwhelming that delusion that one is, in fact, a werewolf. Clinical lycanthropy is NOT a crime.

I enjoyed the end  of this book (when a romance emerges) more than the beginning, so perhaps I will continue to read about Detective Varg. He and the other characters may grow on me.

“The Case of the Felonious Friend” and “The Question of the Dead Mistress” – Asperger’s Mysteries by EJ Copperman and Jeff Cohen


The Question of the Dead Mistress (An Asperger's Mystery Book 5)

Among the forms of “identity politics” emerging in American culture is the “disability” subculture. The Americans with Disabilities Act (now almost 30 years old) prohibited discrimination based on disability and codified the concepts of accommodation and accessibility. As always, the devil is in the details. The past three decades have been spent working them out, and along with this has come a cultural shift in how “disabled” people see themselves and interact with others. So, logically, a genre of “disability literature” is appearing.

I stumbled on the Asperger’s Mystery series at the Library. The series dates from 2014 and the books I read are #2 and #5 (I think).

When I started reading The Case of the Felonious Friend, I found the language, which is in the first person from an Asperger’s point of view, to be unpleasantly choppy. But an early plot twist caught my attention and I got used to the author’s cadence. A very good mystery read, with the advantage of being set in New Jersey, which I found amusing!

The protagonist, Samuel Hoenig, has spent his life learning how to get along with “neurotypicals”, that is, those of us who aren’t on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. It’s a struggle, and he works hard at it, with help from his mother and a psychologist. He owns a successful business called Questions Answered. He has two close neurotypical friends (his work partner and a taxi driver named Mike). Samuel is the only character with Asperger’s in The Question of the Dead Mistress. There’s a romance in the works. If this series unfolds like other mystery series (for example, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books), it could go on for MANY more volumes.

I’m not giving the plots away. If you like mysteries, read these books! Another good series with an Asperger’s protagonist is Graeme Simsion’s Don Tillman/Rosie series. That’s romantic comedy, not mystery. I reviewed one of these here.

A young person with Asperger’s syndrome is much in the news recently – Greta Thunberg of Sweden, 16 year old climate activist. She has kicked the conversation on climate change to a new level (crisis), addressing international bodies with an enviable level of composure. She’s a notable leader in our difficult times.

So what does it mean to be neurotypical? Hard to say, when “normal” cannot be defined. Usually, it refers to anyone NOT on the autism spectrum. But a new concept, that of “neurological diversity” is emerging, and it is broader. It might include brain injury survivors and stoke victims, who think and function differently from their earlier baselines, and who may (or may not) consider themselves to be disabled. It might include dyslexics. Oliver Sachs wrote about many people whose brains seem to operate “differently”.

I recommend the Asperger’s Mysteries for mystery lovers and anyone looking for new and interesting avenues in contemporary fiction.


“Jeeves and the King of Clubs” by Ben Schott


This “new arrivals shelf” book has a subtitle. I usually dislike subtitles, but this one actually conveys useful information! “A Novel in Homage to PG Wodehouse”. Irresistible! I’ve read Wodehouse and watched any number of the humorous video adaptations shown on the BBC. Jeeves and the King of Clubs was so much fun to read. Schott’s website informed me that Jeeves was authorized by the Wodehouse estate.

Sometimes the language is a bit “cute”, and there’s anachronism here and there (“flash mob”? really?), but a good dose of Wooster and Jeeves was just what I needed this week. Highly recommended when you crave escape fiction and don’t want to stumble onto angst or gratuitous violence.

I looked up Ben Schott. Jeeves is his first novel, released in late 2018. His previous, non-fiction works were lists, an “almanac” and a “miscellany”. In 2013, he published Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition. I want it! Please keep writing, Ben Schott!

“The Quiet Girl” by Peter Hoeg

Genre: crime fiction, sort of…aka, philosophical thriller (according to Amazon).

This book takes place in Denmark and was translated from Danish.

The plot is confusing, the characters interesting. The girl of the title remains mysterious. Hard to explain why I kept reading, but I did.

I’ve been told the test of “really good literature” is that you want to go right back to the beginning and read again. I re-read the first few chapters. I found that some intriguing elements of character from early chapters were not ever fully developed (psychokinesis?). Too bad. But lots of other good details emerged. Some reviewers refer to the mystical or metaphysical abilities of the hero.

Two other striking aspects of this book are the framework of a circus, and the science of geology. (Sounds crazy? Don’t blame me! I didn’t write it…)

The protagonist has an unusual (supernatural?) sense of hearing and a multidimensional relationship with classical music. He often refers to classical composers or pieces to explain his reaction to people or situations.

I recommend this book to whoever likes a book that slows you down a little. I returned it to the library, but may give it a second shot.

I believe I read the author’s Smila’s Sense of Snow a little before I started blogging in 2013. It was a blockbuster hit  (300 reviews on Amazon, four stars) and was made into a movie. Maybe I should dig out the comments in my old reading journal! If you saw the movie, please fill me in! Thanks.

“One Red Thread” by Ernie Wood

This is the second of the fiction-with-a-supernatural-twist novels I promised to review. (See blog entry of July 1, 2015.) Instead of a mere hint of the supernatural, this book goes all out.

The plot is complex, and it took me a long time to read the book. It would be just the thing for a long, rainy weekend at the beach.

Every family has a “past”. But how important is it? How interesting? I grew up with repeated admonitions like “don’t shake the family tree, who knows what will fall off?” Possibly my mother felt our recent immigrant status was not a source of pride. As far as I know, there wasn’t any real “dirt”. If there was, it’s now to late to dig it up. And I don’t care.

Protagonist Eddy McBride had much more in his past to ponder. Why did his father leave? What was wrong with his “fragile” uncle? Why did his childhood friend return?

And Eddy McBride learns, over time, that he can visit the past. He begins to wonder if he can change it. That’s when things get crazy. Life threateningly crazy. Things settle down (after a fashion) when his first child is born. But she also has the “gift” of time travel…

This novel was published by Tyrus Books, a new and relatively small press. I think they made a good choice in publishing Ernie Wood’s first novel.

Book Source – The “Common Reading” selection process

Last Spring (May 7, 2013, to be exact) I commented on the Common Reading program at the college where I work. The Common Reading is linked to the Freshman Year Experience and to a “convocation” held annually early in the Fall semester. 

The convocation was held last week, so the process for selecting next year’s Reading is underway. The list is below. After two years of non-fiction, the committee is looking for a novel. Not a familiar book or author on the list!

1. Me Before You by  Jojo Moyes

2. Equilateral  by Ken Kalfus

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

4. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein