Saturday, July 2, 2011

June Books

*Bill Warrington’s Last Chance by James King was 2009 Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award–winner. April Shea is a bright 14-year-old girl who experiments with pot and constantly squabbles with her single mother, Marcy. Together, Marcy and April care for Marcy's 79-year-old father, Bill, a Korean War vet, retired salesman, failed father and now, an Alzheimer’s patient. Bill longs to bring his family together for a reunion, but with no takers on this idea, Bill and April take off for California, where April plans on joining a band and Bill imagines he can force a reunion. With shades of “Death of a Salesman” and The Notebook, King fashions a good story with a terrific ending.

Nose Down, Eyes Up by Merrill Markoe features Jimmy, a canine seminar leader who instructs members of his pack in the art of manipulating their human masters. Jimmy's canine wisdom is made available when his owner, Gil, an unlucky in love handyman learns how to communicate with dogs. When Gil shoots down Jimmy's idea that he is Gil's biological son, Jimmy insists on meeting his birth mother, who happens to belong to Gil's now-remarried ex-wife. A series of setbacks beset the duo, and “the tribulations provide lessons in life, love and finding happiness.” Fun, cute, but hardly great literature.

In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Petroff won the Minotaur Books/MWA Best First Crime Novel award. Det. Simon Ziele has abandoned big-city policing for the quiet dullness of a town in Westchester County when someone kills a Columbia mathematics graduate student whose brilliance evoked jealousy in her peers, in her home. Ziele's investigation is soon joined by Alistair Sinclair, a Columbia criminologist who thinks he knows the killers identity. The period detail, characterizations and plotting are well-done, but I found the plot predictable and a little slow.

*The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall describes the travails of Golden Richards, the title patriarch, his four wives and 28 children. Golden's houses are the sort of places where the dog often wears underwear and a child or two doesn't. “Golden may be hapless, distracted, and deceitful, but he is large-hearted and so is his story.” Like John Irving and Pat Conroy, Udall is a great storyteller who sees humor in the human tragedy and enjoys pyrotechnics.

Dixie Divas by Virginia Brown introduces the Divas--a group of 12 women from the small Mississippi town near Memphis, Tennessee. This eclectic group holds a very private monthly meeting with chocolate, alcohol and an occasional transvestite stripper as the main staples. The main characters are Trinket, a 51 year old divorcee who just moved back to Cherry Hill and her cousin, Bitty, recently divorced from her fourth husband Senator Hollander who is discovered murdered in her coast closet. Most of the Divas work to help find the killer while we also learn about the history of the area, the people with a slice of southern small town living. Too clever by a third, but still a fun, quick read.

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