Happy February! Winter weather is perfect reading weather, and I have three excellent novels to cozy up to this month.
Matthew Quick’s debut novel, The Silver Linings Playbook, was made into the popular and award-winning movie of the same name. His new novel, The Good Luck of Right Now, is narrated by Bartholomew Neil, whose mother has just died. Bartholomew’s story is told through letters to Richard Gere, his mother’s favorite actor, from whom he seeks guidance on what to do next. Life without his mother’s protective presence is frightening; for 38 years his mother has been his rock, along with the Catholic Church and the library. Learning to live on his own is Bartholomew’s challenge, and with the help of his parish priest, his grief counselor, the attractive new female librarian and her cat-loving brother, he slowly begins to rebuild his life. The author does a great job of making the cast of off-the-wall characters believable, and Bartholomew’s vulnerability, anxiety and bravery are realistically portrayed. This is a coming-of-age story for a very late bloomer. Anyone who feels out of touch with modern life will enjoy it.
I am a big Laura Lippman fan. I devoured her Tess Monaghan mysteries, and I read her stand-alone novels as soon as they come out. After I’m Gone is the story of the five women who are left behind after Felix Brewer disappeared instead of being jailed for tax evasion in 1976. The novel switches time frames from 1959, when Bambi Gottschalk met her future husband, to 1976, when Felix’s mistress Julie Saxony drives him to the airport so he can flee, to 2012, when Roberto Sanchez picks the cold case of Julie Saxony’s 1986 murder as his next investigation. Felix’s three daughters also tell their parts of the story. When Sanchez begins questioning Bambi and her daughters about Julie’s murder, old feelings about Felix’s disappearance begin to surface, and it starts to look like one of the women may have hated Julie enough to kill her. What a suspenseful story! And as an added bonus, Tess Monaghan makes an appearance at the end. If you enjoy mysteries, this is the book for you.
Bruce Holsinger is a respected scholar of the medieval period who has written several non-fiction books and many academic articles. His first novel, A Burnable Book, is set in England in 1385 during the reign of King Richard II. Richard’s tenure was marked by much unrest because of his efforts to rule without consulting his nobles, and Holsinger uses this unrest and the King’s autocratic response to it to good effect in his novel. The story begins when Agnes, a prostitute, witnesses the murder of a woman outside London’s walls, a woman who had handed her a package containing a book right before the murderer showed up. Then John Gower, a man who does favors and ferrets out secrets, is asked by Geoffrey Chaucer to find a book that speaks of the death of King Richard II, a treasonous book. And far off in Italy, an exiled English nobleman plots. From the stews of Southwark to the palaces of London, Holsinger describes the stink, squalor and elegance of medieval England. Violence and death are never far from the surface, and life is cheap, especially for the poor. This is historical fiction at its most real.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.