Book Review June 2011

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It is time for summer reading! This month we have three novels — one  suspenseful, one from a bestselling author, and one that is light and fluffy. Whatever your fictional preferences, June has a new book you will enjoy.

Ann Patchett is the author of the bestselling memoir Truth and Beauty and the bestselling and award-winning novel Bel Canto, as well as several other novels. State of Wonder, her new novel, once again transports the reader into a different, dangerous world in which anything might happen. Marina Singh is a middle-aged researcher in a pharmaceutical company whose life is in a secure rut until the company receives word that her colleague, sent to the Amazonian jungle to check on the progress of research in the field, is dead. Marina is sent down to the isolated research facility to discover what happened and to retrieve his body, if possible. She must also report on the status of the research project; the company is anxious to know if any profit will come from their investment. What Marina finds on her arrival is unsettling: a primitive tribe, a martinet former med school instructor as chief researcher and women bearing children well into old age. And what really happened to Anders? As Marina is swept into life in the jungle, she discovers that all is not what it seems. Patchett deftly illuminates Marina’s character through flashbacks of her earlier life, and the many plot twists keep the reader guessing until the end. As in Bel Canto, Patchett weaves together strands of topics in which I have little interest (medical research, Amazonian jungle, primitive tribes) and comes up with a fascinating story.

Before I Go to Sleep
by S. J. Watson is a suspenseful debut novel narrated by a woman who has no short-term memory. Every day Christine wakes up and is astonished to see that her hands are middle-aged, that she is lying in bed with a strange middle-aged married man (who happens to be her husband, Ben), that she has no memory of anything that has happened in her life. Everyday, Ben tells her she had an accident and lost her memory, that he loves her and he’ll be back from work in the evening, and here is the cell phone she can use to call him if she has a problem. When Dr. Nash calls, she doesn’t know who he is until he reminds her about her journal, hidden in the back of her closet, in which she has been recording her life since she started treatment with him several weeks ago. A journal which, when she opens it, is labeled: DON’T TRUST BEN! From this fantastic beginning unspools a gripping mystery—what happened to Christine 18 years ago, and who can she trust to tell her the truth? Is Dr. Nash only helping her so he can write her up in the medical journals? What happened to her best friend Claire? Why is Ben concealing the birth and death of their son Adam? Like a rat in a cage, Christine must use her journals to guide herself out of the maze of her life. Watson has written a taut psychological thriller, bound to keep readers up late to find out what happens next.

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly is another of the crop of recent novels inspired by a classic book, in this case, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The novel’s central motif is a cache of family letters ostensibly written by Jo March, ancestress of Lulu, Emma and Sophie Atwater. The Atwater sisters are loosely based on Jo, Meg and Amy March, but their trials and tribulations are of the 21st century variety. If you enjoyed Little Women and like fun chick lit, this is your perfect beach read—light, fluffy and a guaranteed happy ending!

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.
 

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