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Dark Horse: An Eddy Harkness Novel (Eddy Harkness Novels)
Dark Horse: An Eddy Harkness Novel (Eddy Harkness Novels)
by Rory Flynn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.62
61 used & new from $3.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dark book, but a fun one, June 21, 2016
DARK HORSE is indeed a dark book, but a fun one. Eddy Harkness made his initial appearance in Rory Flynn’s authentic THIRD RAIL, which chronicled Harkness’ fall from grace within the Boston Police Department and his second chance at a well-earned and deserved redemption. This second in the series demonstrates that Flynn is no fluke, even as he broadens his subject matter and creates a believable and unforgettable scenario for his memorable character.

The book begins just as a major hurricane strikes Boston proper. Harkness is on patrol as a newly reinstated member of the Narco-Intel unit, attempting to locate anyone who hasn’t evacuated the area. His search leads to the discovery of a young hearing-impaired boy chained to a radiator at a low-end transient hotel, and he manages to free him just as the flood waters begin cascading through the streets. A subsequent photo of Harkness saving the boy’s life makes him a city-wide hero, but the heroine is still out there.

The Lower South End residents of Boston seemingly have been forgotten. City Hall does not seem to be in any particular hurry to help in relocating the residents or in assisting them in repairing their housing. Two things happen: 1) an obscure law is uncovered that seemingly permits residents displaced by calamity to move into other areas of the city, including Nagog, Harkness’ hometown, and 2) the local government’s passive neglect seems to be tied to a potential gentrification development project for the area.

Meanwhile, Harkness and the Narco-Intel division are dealing with a new, potent and lethal heroin mixture known as Dark Horse that appears to be tied to the young boy whose life Harkness saved. The police are forced to play catch-up as they follow potential leads, even as new urgency attaches to their investigation when two college students die overdosing on the powerful street drug. Harkness follows an evidentiary trail that leads to a couple of very surprising places and presents him with a problem: What is he supposed to do when the culprit behind the manufacture and sale of the drug appears to be tied to someone well above his pay grade? The answer is supplied, but at a surprising cost, as the novel concludes.

I don’t anticipate that the Boston Chamber of Commerce will be passing out copies of DARK HORSE any time soon, but they are probably missing a bet in not doing so. Flynn does such a terrific job of describing the twists and turns of the environs of Boston that one is tempted to visit the city just to do a self-guided tour through the scenes presented here. However, the reason to come --- and stay --- in Flynn’s world is Harkness, who is realistically steady instead of flashy and is all the more a cop’s cop because of it. Flynn’s series is off to a roaring start with its first two volumes. Considering his present trajectory, it should continue for as long as he wishes.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman!! Jodi Picoult!! Brad Meltzer!! . . . and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives
Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman!! Jodi Picoult!! Brad Meltzer!! . . . and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives
by Liesa Mignogna
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.69
63 used & new from $3.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A testament to the staying power of story, June 21, 2016
In the anthology LAST NIGHT, A SUPERHERO SAVED MY LIFE, editor and Batman enthusiast Liesa Mignogna taps a wide array of writers to articulate how reading comic books and emulating superheroes affected each of their lives. Some instances are more dramatic, others more resonant; as with any anthology, some of the included pieces work better than others. But the book captures the outsider environ of comic book fans before superhero movies found a global audience, and the way lives can be influenced by a character on a page.

It was a little surprising --- and relieving --- to get into this collection and find that it wasn’t essay upon essay about swapping comics with friends in basements and consecutive Halloweens dressed as Superman. This doesn’t come across as a book strictly for fans of comics. Instead, each new essay carries a weight --- a tribulation suffered by the writer and the strength found through a comic book superhero.

In Delilah S. Dawson’s exquisite essay, “On the Hulk: You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry,” she discusses a turbulent home life with a drunken and verbally abusive father, a suicide attempt as a teenager and the Hulk she harbors inside her. In the South of France as a 17-year-old exchange student, Ms. Dawson decided she couldn’t go back to the States, to her home and to her father, so she took a swim in the sea. She swam as far out as her body would physically take her, and then she sank into the murky water, letting it fill her lungs as she willingly gave up.

She came to on sand, waves gently lapping at her feet. “Some monstrous, unbeatable, utterly indestructible beast inside me was willing to rise and bypass my brain and heart to keep going, even when the rest of me had given up,” she writes of finding herself alive on the beach. Rather than repress her Hulk, she embraced it, and it served her well in the life she continued to live.

Brad Meltzer writes humorously about the first love of his life, Terra of the Teen Titans series, and “slam books” of 1980s Brooklyn, how his choice of girl in a fifth grade slam book was indicative of his adoration for Terra several years later. She ultimately broke his young heart when she betrayed the Titans and morphed from lonely orphan into femme fatale.

Batman wins as most popular character. Even in essays that don’t focus on the Caped Crusader, he’s in the shadows. Unlike his counterparts --- Superman, who is an alien and can fly in space; Wonder Woman, who is an Amazonian princess and has a Lasso of Truth --- Batman is human. He’s a guy with a chip on his shoulder who knows parkour and wears a cape and cowl. This seems to make him the most empathetic to mortals. The sentiment allows that if Batman can survive The Jokers and The Riddlers of Gotham, we as humans can survive the deaths, abuses, depravities and tragedies that befall us.

As this is an anthology, themes recur, and it can start to feel redundant. Reading it straight through can make some essays lose meaning. Conflicts and heroes begin to meld, voices become less unique, and the niche that was charming in the beginning feels repetitive, as though the book needs to be about 60 pages shorter. To get the most out of the collection, read it in sections --- it’s set up with three to four essays in each section, e.g. Superheroes and Love, Superheroes and Being Human --- or choose an essay from several different sections to read in one sitting.

It is, regardless of reading method, a fantastic example of how heroes, real or made up, can change lives. In some regard, LAST NIGHT, A SUPERHERO SAVED MY LIFE is an ode to the importance of reading in childhood, as the vast majority of essays steer clear of modern cinematic adaptations and stick to the original panel comics. It serves as a testament to the staying power of story and how, sometimes, a fictional character can save a real life.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman


The Tumbling Turner Sisters: A Novel
The Tumbling Turner Sisters: A Novel
by Juliette Fay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.16
51 used & new from $5.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming and filled with unbridled enthusiasm, June 21, 2016
In 1919, the U.S. ratified the 18th amendment. The normally mild-mannered Frank Turner, who has “got his temper all twisted up about Prohibition,” marks the occasion by smashing his hand up in a drunken brawl, rendering him unable to work. This uncharacteristic moment of violence spells disaster for his family, who is barely getting by as it is.

Matriarch Ethel springs into action. A woman who “always had her nose to the wind, sniffing out ways to improve our station in life,” she sees an opportunity in the crisis. Though her four daughters --- 13-year-old Kit, 17-year-old Winnie, 18-year-old Gert, and Nell, a 22-year-old widow with an infant on her hip --- are united in their indifference to the theatrical life, their ambitious would-be stage mother will brook no opposition. The girls are to become The Tumbling Turner Sisters and make their living on the vaudeville circuit.

Juliette Fay’s charming fourth novel is inspired in part by her own family’s history in vaudeville, and she dives into the era’s rich history with unbridled enthusiasm. The book is peppered with evocative details --- the sisters dread the prospect of being assigned the “chaser” slot on the bill (the unfortunate act charged with chasing people out of the theater), eat 15-cent cheese sandwiches, smear on greasepaint, and fight unscrupulous theater owners who try to short them on pay.

As the girls learn their way around the vaudeville stage, they find themselves pushing boundaries both personal and political. From the scandalously short costumes the sisters wear to the fight over women’s suffrage, THE TUMBLING TURNER SISTERS captures an America on the verge of great social change. Though each sister at first resists performing, they soon start to see life on the stage as a means of escape, both from their domineering mother and from the limited expectations the world has of them. “We all wanted our version of freedom, every last one of us,” Gert says.

Told from the alternating perspectives of quirky, studious Winnie and brash, beautiful Gert, the book buzzes along as speedily as the vaudeville revues Fay delights in describing. (The comedy routines are borrowed from actual sketches performed at the time.) With each engagement lasting no more than a week or so, there’s plenty of opportunity for the Turners to meet colorful supporting characters and get themselves into scrapes. A few of these interludes are as pat as a worn-out stage routine. Can any modern reader doubt that obsequious fellow performer Sissy Salloway is not what she seems, or that Gert’s flirtation with an African-American tap dancer will end in anything less than disaster?

Still, following along as the fierce, feisty Turner girls come into their own is a joy. Smart, awkward Winnie secretly has her heart set on college and hopes to perhaps become a nurse. Initially, having to leave school to perform annoys her, but she begins to hope that vaudeville might provide an alternate path to achieving the independence she craves. The lively Gert immediately takes a shine to performing; she sees life as an itinerant acrobat as an escape from the strictures of home and boredom of small-town life. “[T]he greater the risks, the more alive I felt,” she muses, and she’s not just speaking of her on-stage tumbling tricks.

Each girl, along with their two sisters, and even their prickly, grasping mother, eventually gets what she longs for, though not necessarily in the way she expected, and not without some heartbreak along the way. While most of the novel is light and humorous, things take a dark turn in the third act, when the real world abruptly intrudes on a world of costumes and stage lights. Theater might be a way to escape from your life for a time, Fay suggests, but you won’t be able to outrun reality forever. And when difficulty arises, it is family who will catch you when you fall --- in the case of the Turners, quite literally.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott


June: A Novel
June: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A slow-burning, wonderful story of love and responsibility that will strike a chord in any reader’s heart, June 21, 2016
This review is from: June: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
JUNE, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s fourth book, takes readers to the small, rural town of St. Jude, Ohio, where the past and present collide in a lush, sprawling mansion, and powerful secrets rock the life of an unassuming young photographer.

At the start of JUNE --- aptly set during the month of June 2015 --- we meet Cassie Danvers, a 25-year-old photographer who has just inherited her grandmother’s crumbling but gorgeous mansion called Two Oaks. Built by her grandmother’s great uncle, Lemon Gray Neely, the mansion has stood at the center of St. Jude for ages. Although it is quickly apparent that Cassie’s grandmother (also named June) more or less raised her, there was some sort of falling out between the two shortly before June’s death. Now Cassie, orphaned, alone and teetering on the brink of depression, spends her days avoiding the phone and ever-growing stack of mail and dreaming of two young girls living in Two Oaks. In Beverly-Whittemore’s skillful hands, the house itself takes on a ghostly quality in these dreams, encouraging Cassie to piece together the mystery without ever fully becoming anthropomorphized.

The narrative switches here to the Two Oaks of June 1955, where an 18-year-old version of June plays dress up with her 14-year-old friend, Lindie. Lindie is more of a tomboy, but she idolizes June, and besides, their hometown of St. Jude has just been rocked by some very big news. Hollywood has descended upon the rural town to finish filming scenes for a movie called Erie Canal, starring Jack Montgomery, the most dazzling man in film, and Diane DeSoto, a relative newcomer who makes up in beauty and drama what she lacks in actual acting skills. Lindie, desperate to find some excitement, is determined to become a part of Erie Canal. But it is June who will be forever changed by the film, its stars and their effect on St. Jude.

When we reunite with Cassie, there is a man on her front porch with some shocking news. Not only has Cassie inherited Two Oaks, but, with the death of iconic actor Jack Montgomery, she is poised to inherit a grand sum --- $37 million, to be exact. There’s one problem: Tate Montgomery, Jack’s celebrity daughter, who is dead set on finding out why her father would leave everything to some nobody from nowhere. Contrary to the typical money-hungry starlet archetype, Tate is no fool, and she soon arrives in Two Oaks herself, where Cassie forces her and her two assistants, Nick and Hank, to comb through the house with her for evidence of a relationship between June and Jack. If they find nothing, Cassie will submit to a DNA test --- but only if Tate agrees to conduct a thorough search.

Back in 1955, Lindie has secured a job as a PA and has seen very little of June, who is preparing for an arranged marriage with Artie, the younger brother of St. Jude’s most ambitious entrepreneur, Clyde. June is not exactly in love with Artie, but she is a respectable, responsible girl and, like any young woman, dreams of her wedding day with joy and excitement. For days things run smoothly, with Lindie quickly and eagerly learning the ins and outs of show business. But then Jack spots June, and with the help of Lindie, history is silently but irreversibly made.

Meanwhile, Cassie has begun to form a sort of family with the dazzling Tate and her obedient assistants. Although she is in no hurry to find proof that her grandmother kept secrets from her and her own husband, she so clearly wants a reason to join Tate --- not because she is starstruck, but because she is lonely. As she continues to dream of her grandmother’s girlhood, however, she begins to realize that family means something very different than constant approval and affection.

You don’t need to be a careful reader to know without a doubt that Cassie is, in fact, Jack’s granddaughter. But the way that June, Jack and even Lindie’s histories are so carefully, gently revealed is a true testament to Beverly-Whittemore’s talent for character development and pacing. Young Lindie, with all her bravery and stubborn determination, shines in every scene, while June provides the backbone that connects every plotline, character and secret. The conclusion to her story is so deliciously satisfying that it will make every hardship worth it. It is Two Oaks, however, that is the true highlight of the novel. Never before have I been so immersed in a single fictional building. Two Oaks is full not only of history but of solid, lively personality and endless potential --- so much so that I was often reminded of my childhood dollhouse while reading JUNE. The novel has that same alluring draw, and the sensation that anything can happen once you begin flipping through its pages.

The drama that unfolds in St. Jude during the fateful summer of 1955 spawns many secrets --- some you will pick up on your own, but others are held by Beverly-Whittemore until the very last chapter. Through it all, though, you will delight in the author’s talent for balancing multiple timelines while introducing believable, dynamic characters whose passions, loyalties and secrets create a slow-burning, wonderful story of love and responsibility that will strike a chord in any reader’s heart.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro


The Second Girl
The Second Girl
by David Swinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.77
51 used & new from $12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You won’t want to miss a mile of this ride, so jump on now, June 21, 2016
This review is from: The Second Girl (Hardcover)
Author David Swinson specializes in tragically and spectacularly flawed heroes. Detective Simeon, in Swinson’s dark, memorable novel A DETAILED MAN, was afflicted with Bell’s Palsy. Swinson, after too long an absence, returns to the crime story world with THE SECOND GIRL, introducing a tragically fractured and darkly rumpled knight errant in a book that hopefully launches a long and prosperous series.

Frank Marr is the unlikely protagonist of THE SECOND GIRL. Frank, when introduced, is on a stakeout of a drug house for the worst of reasons. A former Washington, D.C. police detective, Frank in his dark present is a drug addict with multiple monkeys on his back who masquerades convincingly as a private investigator employed by a defense attorney. His plan is to rob the drug house on its pharmaceutical assets when no one is home. He ultimately does just that, though he is startled on his first entry to discover that the house has more than drugs and money inside. Specifically, a 15-year-old girl is being held hostage. Frank liberates her and sees that the wheels are put in motion to reunite her with her parents.

No good deed goes unpunished, though. Frank, in his guise as a noble PI, finds himself reluctantly tasked with finding another girl who has gone missing and went to the same high school as the young lady he rescued. As one might expect, there are some twists and turns in the investigation that take him to places he does not expect. But the book is primarily character-driven, and Frank is quite a character. Swinson knows the territory of the addicted mind. When Frank, who narrates the book in the first person present, talks about substances such as cocaine making everything clear and helping the mind work in the way it’s supposed to, in a manner that was “taken away,” I got chills up my spine. This guy is for real. A good part of the novel occupies itself in the manner with which Frank plans his next high and takes pains to hide his addiction from the rest of the world. This is true addictive behavior: the high takes center stage, and everyone and everything else become supporting cast and scenery.

The problem that Frank encounters here is that his rescue of the abducted girl results in an unexpected and unwanted spotlight on him, which makes it more and more difficult for him to carry on his lifestyle as he has become accustomed. The tragedy is that his addiction really doesn’t give him much time to adapt. Watching him go through life is like witnessing a reel of broken-field running through a land mine, only there’s a missing girl’s life potentially at stake, as well as his own. And as tough as it may be to watch it unfold, you really can’t ever look away.

My understanding is that THE SECOND GIRL heralds the start of a new series. I assume that Swinson will be putting his protagonist through some interesting changes. You won’t want to miss a mile of this ride, so jump on now.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


Brighton: A Novel
Brighton: A Novel
by Michael Harvey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.31
54 used & new from $8.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Put this dark, gritty and beautiful novel at the top of your must-read list, June 21, 2016
This review is from: Brighton: A Novel (Hardcover)
There is a vignette in BRIGHTON that is frozen in my mind. It consists of a momentous meeting in a Boston dive bar, during which conversation of some foreboding importance takes place while “Wonderful Remark” by Van Morrison plays incongruently but nonetheless perfectly in the background. It doesn’t get much better than that, but BRIGHTON --- a stand-alone crime story by veteran grammar-miner Michael Harvey --- is full of scenes like that, wonderfully told and beautifully done.

BRIGHTON is split roughly into two parts. The first takes place in the book’s past among Boston’s working class poor. Kevin Pearce is 15 years old, an athlete and a scholar who represents his Brighton neighborhood’s best bet of rising above his background. No one is a bigger fan of his than his best friend, Bobby Scales. Their friendship is unusual and unexpected. Bobby is older and capable of sudden, though focused, violence, balancing Kevin’s bookish intelligence with his own canny street smarts. When Kevin takes it upon himself to bring down the finality of some harsh street justice on a local character, it’s Bobby who ensures that he’s well clear of the scene and Brighton, sending him away with the instruction never to return.

In the book’s present day, the adult Kevin comes back to the old neighborhood, just before the official announcement that he has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. He has learned that his old friend Bobby, who he has not seen in decades, is suspected of being the doer in a series of murders. Bobby is a successful career criminal, and while he demonstrates during the course of the novel that he is certainly capable of murder, there is room for doubt that he would be guilty of the murders for which he may well be charged. Kevin feels an obligation to return Bobby’s favor after all these years, but Bobby is concerned that Kevin’s reappearance will cause him to be tainted by the act that they shared from their adolescence.

It turns out that both men have more to worry about than they know, and from a source closer to each of them than they might think. Harvey also tosses in a mystery that doesn’t even show up on the radar as such until the climax approaches, making the sins of those assembled all the more surprising. By story’s end, there is the opportunity for redemption, and a final balancing of the books in ways expected and otherwise.

My copy of BRIGHTON is full of underlined passages and phrases --- it’s how I measure whether or not a book is a keeper --- that you will want to carry with you as well and more than balances out the one or two occasions where Harvey overreaches in a metaphor. I highly recommend putting this dark, gritty and beautiful novel at the top of your must-read list.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub


The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan
The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan
by Laurence Leamer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.01
44 used & new from $14.61

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uplifting and inspiring, June 21, 2016
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” observed Edmund Burke centuries ago. It is an often-quoted observation because the world is reminded of its truth on a regular basis. THE LYNCHING by Laurence Leamer is a fascinating narrative of a moment in history when good people did stand up to racism, bigotry, evil and hatred. Readers of this compelling historical account will find themselves angry at silence and inaction in the face of clear injustice. But they also will find inspiration in the story of Morris Dees, an extraordinary American hero, who found a way to fight and ultimately defeat the Ku Klux Klan by resorting to the law rather than to violence.

THE LYNCHING is the story of two trials, one criminal and one civil, that arose from the tragic events surrounding the murder of Michael Donald, a 19-year-old black man living in Birmingham. In 1981, an Alabama jury heard evidence in a criminal case whereby a black man was accused of killing a white Birmingham police officer. The jury of 11 blacks and one white was unable to reach a verdict. Members of the Alabama United Klans of America were incensed by what they viewed as a legal injustice. Two Klan members, Henry Hays and James Knowles, went on a mission of revenge, seeking out a black man to kill. Donald was their randomly selected victim.

Securing a conviction against the white defendants was not an easy task. Eventually the U.S. Justice Department became involved, resulting in a criminal trial. Hays was convicted and sentenced to death, the first time in more than 50 years that Alabama had imposed that sort of punishment on a white man for killing a black man.

In most instances, that account alone would be compelling. Justice was obtained for a minority member of the community, and his family and friends could share in that outcome. But the criminal trial was actually just the opening story of what would become the real justice obtained in Birmingham.

Entering the case was Moris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization devoted to fighting racial injustice. Dees had observed Hays’ criminal trial and became convinced that the murder was not an isolated act, but part of a large conspiracy undertaken by the Klan and its leader, Robert Shelton. Dees began a legal crusade to destroy the Klan through a civil lawsuit, giving the Donald family the chance to obtain a financial judgment against the Klan. That battle is the crux and substance of THE LYNCHING.

Laurence Leamer is an experienced author. As a first-rate historian, he has done more than simply chronicle the events surrounding the two trials that are the book’s foundation. He has captured the era and the major actors who played important roles in the compelling story. In addition to Dees and Shelton, readers will learn of Alabama Governor George Wallace and many heroic southerners who came forward to bravely speak out and assist Dees in his legal battle. Other politicians and leaders were not so brave, and they appear in Leamer’s story as well.

THE LYNCHING revisits a sad event in American history that ended with a verdict instilling hope in the rule of law. It is endearing to read about those willing to fight injustice with more than just thoughts and prayers but with heroic action and personal risk. In these difficult times, it is an uplifting and inspiring story.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman


Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
by Ramona Ausubel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.64
57 used & new from $13.50

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written exploration, June 21, 2016
Fern, Edgar and their three children are the kind of family who might show up in a Ralph Lauren ad. Fern comes from old money, and Edgar is the only son of a wealthy steel magnate. They were high school sweethearts and now, in their early 30s, live a comfortable life, with a home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Neither of them has had to work a day in their lives. Fern, who at times has felt drained by the incessant demands of wifehood and motherhood, and bereft after the death of her troubled twin brother, attended classes at Radcliffe for a time. It’s 1976, and Edgar has spent the years since his military service during the Vietnam War (during which his father pulled some strings to get him a posting in Alaska rather than on the warfront) writing a thinly veiled autobiographical novel about a young man with a complicated relationship to his own privilege. Edgar has spent his whole life simultaneously relying on his family wealth and resisting it, but always --- at least on some level --- taking it for granted, since it’s all he’s ever known.

However, in the wake of the deaths of Fern’s parents during one of those idyllic Martha’s Vineyard days, the lawyers call. It turns out that there’s no money left in Fern’s family estate, and the couple is going to need to sell their home just to pay for the taxes owed. That is, unless Edgar is willing to take up the family business, a proposition that will not only compromise his idealism but also make his novel (which has just been accepted for publication) seem hypocritical and false.

Wracked with fear and uncertainty, both Fern and Edgar undergo personal crises of confidence, which lead them to abruptly leave Boston and head in different directions as they try to figure out what to do next. The only problem? Both assume that the other will be at home to take care of the three children, but instead, their nine-year-old daughter Cricket is left in charge of her younger brothers. Fueled by her charismatic teacher’s visions of a romantic Native American past, Cricket leads her siblings into a sort of Neverland, subsisting on baked beans and living in a teepee erected in their backyard.

Although the premise of Ramona Ausubel’s novel is compelling enough, what makes it truly memorable and important are the journeys taken by each of these characters, all of whom, regardless of age, have made the assumption that their comfortable, predictable lifestyle would always be there for them. In the absence of that privilege, all three characters struggle to define who they really are or who they want to be. SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF EASE AND PLENTY is a beautifully written exploration of the ease afforded by unexamined privilege and the potential for one to find value and identity through one’s vocation and through hard work.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl


The Course of Love: A Novel
The Course of Love: A Novel
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.97
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sagacious and sophisticated, June 21, 2016
Alain de Botton's May 29, 2016 op-ed piece in the New York Times, entitled "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," inspired a blizzard of reader comments --- 531 in all by the time the response period closed. Not surprisingly, his view that "Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for" struck many readers as cynical in the extreme.

Those same readers might want to reconsider that reaction after reading his sagacious, sophisticated new novel, THE COURSE OF LOVE, which wraps insights like that one around a sensitive portrait of a marriage to make any thoughtful reader question, with de Botton, the psychological and social damage inflicted by our modern notion of romantic love.

He patiently marshals the evidence to support his case through the characters of Rabih Khan and Kirsten McLelland. Rabih is an architect with an Edinburgh urban design firm that specializes in public works projects, while Kirsten is a local civil servant with a degree in law and accountancy. They meet on a construction site, and within two hours Rabih magically "feels certain that he has discovered someone endowed with the most extraordinary combination of inner and outer qualities," the person "with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life." The couple's brief, intense courtship is proof positive of de Botton's arch definition of marriage:

"Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don't know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate."

Though their backgrounds couldn't be more different, they share the experience of early loss. Rabih, an atheist of Muslim ancestry, grows up in Beirut amid the sectarian violence of the Lebanese civil war. Shortly after fleeing the city for Barcelona by way of Athens, the 12-year-old boy loses his mother, a German flight attendant, to cancer. Raised a Catholic in Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, Kirsten watches her father inexplicably walk out of his family's life when she's seven, never to return.

As the couple discovers only after much pain and mutual misunderstanding, these early traumas have shaped each one's response to marital conflict in ways that threaten repeatedly to undermine their bond. "We too often act from scripts generated by the crises of long ago that we've all but consciously forgotten," de Botton writes. "We behave according to an archaic logic which now escapes us, following a meaning we can't properly lay bare to those we depend on most."

That corrosive process plays out as de Botton follows this attractive young couple through the first 14 years of marriage. We experience along with them how the first flush of romantic love and its attendant sexual excitement are gradually scraped away by the friction of life's demands and disappointments that include the birth of two children and a casual act of adultery.

Far from being the embodiment of perfection and mutual fulfillment each initially sees in the other, Kirsten instead endures the frequent flaring of Rabih's irritability and anger as his career stalls and he's weighed down by the burdens of fatherhood, while her response to his tirades is to withdraw into isolation, a reaction that only fuels this destructive cycle. When each embarks on the process of improving the other, the tension rises.

The aphoristic style of de Botton's New York Times essay emerges here in frequent authorial asides that make his novel a cross between a work of fiction and an astute self-help manual. Ranging from droll to at times a bit frightening, those observations offer substantial grist for reflection to readers who have been married for any length of time.

de Botton argues (and displays movingly through the story of Rabih and Kirsten) for what he calls "enlightened romantic pessimism," an attitude that "simply assumes that one person can't be everything to another." Instead of holding each other up to an idealized (and impossible) standard of perfection, he suggests, "We should look for ways to accommodate ourselves as gently and as kindly as we can to the awkward realities of living alongside another fallen creature. There can only ever be a 'good enough' marriage."

By the novel's close, de Botton has gently helped us understand how even the most seemingly unremarkable marriage may deserve to be regarded as a work of quiet heroism. "Love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm," he concludes, an attitude most couples might do well to adopt to carry them through the inevitable rough patches and leave their unions intact.

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg


Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises
Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises
by Lesley M. M. Blume
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.39
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well-researched, accessible look at Hemingway's meteoric rise, June 21, 2016
For those readers who would prefer a nonfiction version of THE PARIS WIFE, this readable narrative might just do the trick. Written by a journalist, children’s author and “cultural historian,” EVERYBODY BEHAVES BADLY chronicles the Hemingways’ life from 1921, when the 21-year-old Hemingway was engaged to Hadley Richardson, through the publication and initial extravagant success of THE SUN ALSO RISES. This book’s title comes from that novel’s protagonist Jake Barnes’ comment that “Everybody behaves badly. Give them the proper chance.”

Though there is a coda to this story explaining what happened to the various characters portrayed in the novel, the focus here is squarely on the Hadley years. (Her divorce from Hemingway came through in January 1927, just as THE SUN ALSO RISES was about to go into its fifth printing; her settlement was the royalties from the book.)

Lesley M. M. Blume is not unsympathetic to Hadley, but this story is about Hemingway as he begins his five-year climb to successful author and international celebrity. At the end of 1921, when the Hemingways first moved to Paris, the chances of him supporting them as a writer --- as opposed to the journalist he had become --- seemed remote. Nevertheless, he would soon gain the support of his first friends and mentors, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, to whom he was introduced via Sherwood Anderson. F. Scott Fitzgerald would join that cadre eventually, and his unwavering support of Hemingway would prove to be critical.

There are many stories in these pages of the bacchanalian trips to Pamplona and the South of France, the dark months in Toronto, and Hemingway’s messy affairs, but his obsession with writing, and success, is always front and center. What is hard to grapple with are the ways in which he seemed to jeopardize the potential for success, especially with his attempts to caricature and belittle his most loyal mentors. In his book, THE TORRENTS OF SPRING, which some suggest he wrote to get out of his original publishing contract but which he insisted his next publisher acquire, he parodied Sherwood Anderson, his first major supporter. In THE SUN ALSO RISES, barely any of his friends survived skewering --- and some never talked to him again. Hemingway’s need for discord to feed his creativity seems likely, but Blume dwells more on how the victims responded than on Hemingway’s psychological impetus. She does, however, quote Fitzgerald, who anticipated then that each major novel would require that Hemingway find a new wife to spur him to create. He was right.

It would be easy to say that, following Hemingway’s introduction to Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, “the rest is history,” but Blume actually makes the navigation through the shoals of publication pretty compelling. Her journalism background gives her license to use terms that would make more academic biographers flinch: at one point, she refers to Hemingway being on a “gossip-lit bender,” a very apt description. At another point, she mentions that the ads from Scribner’s to entice prospective readers relied on “what today would be called “FOMO” --- or fear of missing out.”

What’s satisfying about EVERYBODY BEHAVES BADLY is that it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is --- a well-researched, accessible look at Hemingway’s meteoric rise to the pantheon of American literature, the mayhem it caused and the toll it took on those around him. Ultimately, we know what it would cost the writer himself, but this book is about THE SUN as it rises.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley


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