Great Reads

Kelly, Erin. The Poison Tree

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.  

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Packer, Ann. The Dive from Clausen's Pier

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, Benjamin. The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore

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. 

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Casey, Susan. The Wave: In pursuit of the rogues, freaks, and giants of the ocean

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. 

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