In Brief: Recent Reads

Friends, Romans, countrypersons: if I had my druthers, I’d review every book I read in-depth, but alas, my druthers never seem to be had. Herewith, three recent—and very different—titles in brief.

The High Divide** by Lin Enger

photo (8)Perfect if you’re looking for a Western with big themes.

One day, Ulysses Pope walks away from his home, his wife Gretta, and their two sons, Eli and Danny—without any explanation. Eli and Danny decide to follow him, and Gretta them, and their odyssey (you knew that was coming, right?) becomes both a search for survival in a changing Western environment and a search for forgiveness. Mr. Enger writes women very well, has a knack for the perfect detail, and somehow kept me reading even though child endangerment (in this case, running away on trains) usually scares me off. And I loved the book’s ending. Highly recommended.


Rooms* by Lauren Oliver

photo 1Perfect if you’re still craving spooky after Halloween.

Ms. Oliver is known for her young adult fiction (which I haven’t read); Rooms is her first novel for adults. It’s a ghost story, in a way, but with a nice twist: the house is a ghost, or rather, ghosts. A family (dipsomaniac mother, nymphomaniac daughter, depressed son) returns to their country home after the death of the estranged patriarch. Mysteries—theirs and the ghosts’—ensue. Rooms is a great example of a novel with near-completely unlikable protagonists that is nonetheless compelling. The ghosts are a treat to read, and for a few days the normal sounds of house (creaks, buzzes, sighs) might seem very strange.

The Divorce Papers** by Susan Rieger

photo 2Perfect for the plane (which is where I read it).

The Divorce Papers is amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny. Despite its chick-lit pink cover (detest, detest, detest), the book features some seriously interesting legal writing (Ms. Rieger is a lawyer, and this is her first novel). Sophie is a criminal lawyer in the fictional state of Narragansett who’s pulled into a high-profile divorce case against her better judgment. As the title suggests, The Divorce Papers is an epistolary novel, combining Sophie’s memos, legal briefs, court cases, emails, rage notes between soon-to-be-ex-spouses, and other documents. I liked the (invented) legal cases the best; Sophie’s emails to her boss (both personal and professional) made me cringe — no lawyer I know would ever in million years write in such a fashion to her (or his) boss, but that’s artistic license, I suppose. A subplot about sexism in law firms had great potential, but fell flat. I’d like to see what Ms. Rieger could do with a protagonist who doesn’t whine about being teased for going to Yale Law (seriously?) and a subject other than divorce, especially given the detail and wonderful voices of her case summaries.

*I received this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

** I received these books from Library Thing’s Early Reviewers Program, which did not affect the content of my reviews.

Recommended Reading: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Unless you’ve been insensate for the last ten years or so, you know that Mr. Gaiman is a book world superstar with novels, short stories, and children’s books to his credit. I loved American Gods and Smoke and Mirrors, so I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s received amazing press and Mr. Gaiman commands round-the-block lines whenever he reads at a local bookstore. photo (26)

Now, I found American Gods suspenseful, and Smoke and Mirrors occasionally chilling, but The Ocean At the End of the Lane is downright terrifying. It’s a tribute to Mr. Gaiman’s storytelling that I kept reading, because the whole novel turns around big time child endangerment, which is almost always a book-closer for me. I went into this one not knowing anything about the plot, though, so I wasn’t really prepared for how frightening the book would become.

To say much about the plot would make me feel like a thief in the night, so I’ll refrain.

But you should read this. You’re going to fall in love with the Hempstock family.