As a child, David Corter happily dug up artifacts from the war and haunted the local museums, dreaming of running his own museum one day. He collected artifacts from his own life almost obsessively, cataloging them and preserving them, building a history of his and his family's lives. When, at the age of 22, a family friend suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's reveals the long-held secret that David was actually adopted, he finds himself having to reevaluate everything he thought he knew about his history. Coupled with David's quest are his wife's problems...her abusive relationship with her family has left her prone to debilitating bouts of depression.
While the story itself, of two dysfunctional people finding their way in life, is not a new or original one, the way in which the story is told is unique. Each chapter takes as its center an item from David's collection, using that item as a jumping-off point for a story about his past. These stories jump around in time, weaving together slowly into a complete picture of his life and struggle for identity. A quiet, slow-paced, melancholy title, this book is nevertheless engaging.
It’s been an interesting year for the apes. Laurence Gonzales started it off with Lucy, in which a half-girl, half-ape Lucy is brought out of Africa and into the suburbs where her adoptive mother gradually learns the truth and must move quickly to save Lucy. Then there’s Sara Gruen’s Ape House in which bonobos in a refuge are turned loose and then exploited in a reality show. Then there’s Benjamin Hale’s The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, in which chimpanzee Bruno learns to speak and believes he is becoming human. Human-animal communication is a fascinating subject and these books each frame the topic in unique ways. In case you’re interested in even more Ape novels, take a look at these:
Banks, Russell. The Darling
Hoeg, Peter. The Woman and the Ape
Preston, Douglas. Jennie
Self, Will. Great Apes
Wesselmann, Debbie. Captivity
Simmons’ lengthy novel tells the hypothetical story of the lost Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage in the late 1840s. The story is told on a rotating basis through the eyes of several of the expedition members, including the leader, Sir John Franklin; Franklin’s second in command, Captain Francis Crozier; naïve young surgeon Dr. Harry D.S. Goodsir; Lieutenant Irving; and several others. Little is known about the actual fate of the Franklin Expedition, but Simmons’ account is, for the most part, true to what little has been discovered. In Simmons’ version of events, Sir John Franklin is an aging buffoon whose pride does not allow him to make decisions in the best interest of the survival of the crews of H.M.S. Terror and H.M.S. Erebus, but instead lead to the ships being trapped in the sea ice for years, waiting in vain for a thaw as their supplies slowly run out. The men’s slow death by starvation, scurvy, lead poisoning and botulism from ill-soldered tinned foods, near-mutiny, outright murder, and injury from frostbite and hypothermia are bad enough (and described in lavish detail), but Simmons has injected an extra horror—a huge white beast is stalking the ice-ridden ships, killing and eating men. Is it a white polar bear? Or is it something much, much worse?
“The Terror” is a book which demands patience. At times as glacial in pace as the ice in which the ships are trapped, it nevertheless builds inevitably toward the horror of the expedition’s nightmarish fate. Worth the ride for the historical detail alone, the fantasy/horror addition of the strange white beast on the ice and a final few chapters delving deeply into Inuit legend and mysticism will not be for everyone. Enjoyable.
Abandoned by his girlfriend and struggling to make ends meet as a freelance translator, Georg is leading a dull, lonely life until one phone call changes everything. Hired be a new translation agency where he meets and quickly falls in love with a new coworker, Georg’s life finally seems to be turning around. Then a former employer dies, and Georg has the chance to advance his career even further by buying his own agency.
All is well until one night he awakens to find his new girlfriend, Francoise, photographing the work he has done for a project involving a military helicopter. Soon Francoise has disappeared, and Georg is in danger. Finding her and uncovering the truth about his new employer takes Georg from France to New York where he finds himself on the run, in disguise, and plotting to sell what he knows for millions, if he can get away alive.
Although the ending is a bit contrived, Schlink’s stylish and fast-paced noir is an enjoyable read.
Terry McMillan’s quartet of Phoenix girlfriends have grown older but not wiser in this Waiting to Exhale sequel. Gloria, Savannah, Bernadine, and Robin struggle through the joys and heartaches of grown children, wayward husbands, unexpected tragedy, and newfound romance. Critics have had mixed reactions to the book, with a few complaining that the plot is unsurprising or that the characters have not matured much at middle age. While it’s true that McMillan doesn’t really break much new ground with the plot, she throws in enough twists and surprises to keep the reader turning pages. And, for those who enjoyed the original novel, the characters are like old friends, and McMillan’s dialogue is as witty and engaging as ever. This is a fast, light read for fans of popular women’s fiction.
Conor Grennan didn’t set out to be a hero. In fact, the only reasons he volunteered to spend three months helping out in a Nepalese orphanage was that 1) it would be a great way to pick up women (Who could resist that resume item?) and 2) it made him sound less selfish to his family and friends as he outlined his plan to blow through his entire savings accumulated over 8 years in the working world since college graduation.
Before arriving at his post, Conor didn’t know anything about children, Nepal, or about the heartache that accompanies caring for children plucked from disastrous circumstances. His life changes when he finds out that these children are not orphans, but rather the victims of child trafficking whose parents believed they were being taken from a war zone to safety. Conor made a commitment to return these children to their homes, and soon moved to Kathmandu to start reconnecting these children with their families.
A little reminiscent of Three Cups of Tea, Conor’s self-effacing manner and humor makes him stand out as a reluctant hero to the world’s smallest victims.
From the start we know it will end badly. Karen Clark is educated, intelligent, a devoted mother and the last possible person you would expect to find harboring dark, violent memories. In alternating chapters, Kelly reveals Karen’s past and present circumstances and how her fate was altered at the end of college by a chance meeting with an odd brother and sister. Biba Capel is a free-spirited actress with dark secrets of her own who lives with her brother, Rex, and an assortment of other bohemian friends in a crumbling mansion in Highgate. Rex and Biba share an unusually tight bond thanks to their joint survival of an especially dysfunctional childhood. Karen quickly trades her disciplined, boring life for the dark adventure of living with the Capels for the summer in what turns out to be one long, strange party that eventually goes horribly wrong.
Kelly excels at creating interesting, layered characters and a unique, gothic setting for her story. Suspense builds as Karen constantly alludes to the bloodshed that eventually dissolved their unusual household without ever giving too much away. Readers will follow the novels twists and turns to the unexpected end of this dark, original novel.
Published in 2002, Ann Packer’s book deals with young adults transitioning from college to adult life. In Packer’s story, the group has been together since high school. Consisting of Mike and Carrie, the high school sweethearts, and their mutual friends, the group remains in their hometown of Madison, WI to attend the University. Since graduation they’ve seen some changes including getting jobs in their fields, and the engagement of Mike and Carrie. Still, they have their rituals, one of which is driving to Clausen’s Lake each Memorial day and diving off the pier into the cold water. This time, the day doesn’t go as planned and a diving accident leaves Mike paralyzed and his future uncertain.
Most of the book deals with Carrie struggling to figure out her future and what she owes Mike. She alternates between wanting to run away and wanting to remain by his side and eventually she bolts for New York City where she finds a very possible and very different future awaits. Packer is careful to keep Carrie realistic. She’s young, inexperienced, and has her selfish moments. She’s neither sinner nor martyr, and is naturally confused as she considers what could be and what might have been.
This book got excellent reviews, and won an Alex Award which is awarded to books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults. I highly recommend it for both teen and adult readers of women’s psychological fiction. There’s also a film version that you’ll find playing on the Lifetime Network.
Hale’s debut novel is narrated by Bruno, who is not your average chimpanzee. He was identified early in life as behaving as human-like as many children and as a result was pulled into a University of Chicago study. What truly sets Bruno apart, though, is his ability to learn how to learn and as a result he gains the ability to speak as a human. In the beginning, only Lydia Littlemore, newly minted primatologist, could understand his attempts. Lydia, far from the troubled home in which she grew up finds herself way too attached to Bruno and he to her and in this love affair they find their downfall.
Bruno’s voice is clear and as he educates himself, his reasoning becomes more sophisticated until it’s difficult to remember at times that he is still biologically a chimpanzee. Bruno does not merely achieve, but rather he exceeds. He doesn’t just read Shakespeare, he wants to act and direct it. The line between what Bruno is and what he wants to be is ever in motion, and each time he believes he has found the difference between man and animal, he steps over the line and must entirely rethink the matter. If the premise grabs you, you’ll find an absorbing and entertaining read containing plenty of food for thought.
Susan Casey is a journalist and author of The Devil’s Teeth, a book about great white sharks. In her latest, she studies the large waves of tsunamis, rogue waves, and large waves coveted by tow surfers. She spends much time with giant wave surfer, Laird Hamilton and his friends, as well as with climatologists, wave scientists, and those in shipping to try get a layman’s view of what causes these waves as well as their effects.
Fans of Simon Winchester may be interested in Casey’s book. Although slightly less caught up in science and slightly more in the human aspects of her subject than Winchester, she makes science understandable and compelling.