Book Review May 2011


May is a busy month for publishers; they release many big titles for the Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/graduation gift-giving season. The titles reviewed here would make excellent gifts, but buy them early and read them yourself before giving them away!

Geraldine Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize winning author whom I have never before read.That is a shameful admission from a bookseller (on a par with not listening to NPR,which I also don’t do), but I have rectified it by reading her new book,Caleb’s Crossing.Set primarily in Martha’s Vineyard in 1665, it is the fictionalized story of the first Native American student to graduate from Harvard College. Bethia Mayfield, daughter of the island minister and desperate for an education, is the narrator whose secret friendship with Caleb draws him from his Wampanoag tribe into her world. Brooks does a great job of making the past come alive and of portraying the injustices casually meted out to lesser beings (women, savages, the poor) by the educated, white male ruling class. While Bethia and Caleb’s friendship is important to both of them, it is strictly platonic, which makes the story more realistic. This is a beautiful historical novel, and now I have the pleasure of reading earlier novels by Brooks. Lucky me!

Jen Lancaster, who has written five very funny memoirs, makes her fiction debut this month with If You Were Here, a novel about first-time homebuyers Mia and Mac. It is fictional, as it has a plot and some pretty crazy characters, but the author’s note at the beginning makes it clear that her and her husband’s house-hunting ordeal inspired the plot. As always, Jen Lancaster is caustic, sarcastic and more fun than a barrel of contractors. Mia, the thinly disguised Jen, is the author of a bestselling teen romance series which features Amish zombies in love; the popularity of her books makes moving out of their bad urban neighborhood into a suburban dream house financially possible. As Mia and her husband, Mac, embark on their real estate adventure, Lancaster gives free rein to her snarky wit, making their travails with bad decor, nasty new neighbors and (gulp) home renovation a heck of a lot of fun. If you enjoy pop culture (especially John Hughes), if you’ve ever renovated a house or if you need a really good laugh, read If You Were Here.

After reading the Twilight series, I thought I was done with vampire novels. Been there, done that, I said. But a co-worker kept recommending Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth, a book that featured a vampire who has worked for the President of the United States for over 100 years. I resisted, but when it came out in paperback, I picked it up. What an entertaining read! Nathaniel Cade is a vampire who took a blood oath to serve and protect the President, and his job is to deal with the paranormal entities who are trying to infiltrate the world. In Blood Oath, we meet Cade and his new handler, Zach Burrows, whose ambition was to be the presidential Chief of Staff, but who has been shunted into this job instead. Oddly enough, the cross-pollination between men’s adventure and paranormal mystery works well—imagine Lee Child crossed with Stephen King. This month, the second Nathaniel Cade novel, The President’s Vampire, comes out. Like its predecessor, it is a fast-moving, exciting story. If you are anxiously awaiting the next Jack Reacher or Sookie Stackhouse book, give this series a try!   

Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.


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