The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead

Just finished this book about Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee. Elwood is headed for success when he is unjustly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, where boys are horribly abused. Elwood is scared constantly but friendship with Turner helps him deal with day to day survival, although what ultimately happens leaves lifetime scars. The book is based on a real “reform” school which operated for over 100 years. The writing is stellar, which is to be expected from the guy who recently won the Pulitzer. 

The Defense – Steve Cavanagh

This is an excellent legal thriller. Kept me hooked from start to finish. A con man turned lawyer must get an innocent verdict for his client-the head of the Russian mob-or they will kill his kidnapped daughter. The hero is my favorite kind, someone who uses wit to outflank the opposition.

The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer

I liked this book about a young woman who’s heroine and mentor is one of the central pillars of the women’s movement. This mentor gives purpose to Greer’s life even if she isn’t living the way she always imagined when tragedy envelops the life of her once upwardly mobile boyfriend. It’s about the people who guide us and how that relationship can evolve from worship to the realization that no one is perfect. Meg Wolitzer writes detailed slice of life dramas. When I have time, I enjoy her work. Her book ‘The Interestings’ was good too.

The Last Mrs. Parrish – Liv Constantine

Amber Patterson has decided she’s going to move up in the world. She’s tired of being a nobody and tired of struggling. Gorgeous Daphne Parrish has everything Amber wants: an uber wealthy husband and a beautiful seaside home in an exclusive Connecticut neighborhood. Amber uses an event from the past to insinuate herself into Daphne’s life and the two are soon best friends as Amber plots to steal Daphne’s handsome husband and become the new Mrs. Parrish. When I started the book, I found it a bit ho-hum although well written. It seemed like a typical psychological thriller, maybe even a little sub par given the heroine is old-fashioned and oblivious to Amber’s machinations. But when the narrator switches from Amber to Daphne, the reader learns all is not what it seems on more than one level and the book is instantly lifted to a higher plane. I would have liked for certain revelations to come sooner, but that would have spoiled the fun and ruined several plot points I didn’t see coming. Toward the end, I couldn’t put the book down. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’ve been lucky, reading several exceptional books in a row. This one was probably my favorite. It reminded me of a Sidney Sheldon or a Danielle Steele, only better written. Elderly movie legend Evelyn Hugo wants to leave an honest account of her life, only the woman she hires to write her memoirs is young, inexperienced and perplexed as to why she’s landed such a plum assignment. As Evelyn recounts her life, we learn of her early struggles, and the guy who helped her get away from an unhappy childhood. We follow her through her meteoric rise in Hollywood and the various men she marries to further her career. Throughout it all, however, there’s only one person Evelyn truly loves, a relationship forbidden by the constraints of society and stardom. As the story winds down, we learn the reason she chose the writer she did, a reason which makes the young woman question whether she can do the job despite a guaranteed multi-million dollar payday. Sometimes, it felt as if the author was checking boxes on a list of political correctness, but this is an enjoyable, can’t-put-down read which inspired me to seek out her other books and read them, too. 

Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly

I resisted reading this book because concentration camp sagas are sad and depressing; the inhumanity hard to digest. But the author quickly drew me into the story about three women from different countries whose paths eventually intersect. Caroline Ferriday, a liaison to the French consulate, is safe in America, but WWII becomes personal when her lover is trapped overseas. Her character is based on the true story of a New York socialite who championed a group of concentration camp survivors after the war known as the Rabbits. In Poland, Kasia Kuzmerick is drawn into the underground resistance; a decision which lands Kasia, her mother and her sister in Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. The terrible conditions provide for difficult yet compelling reading. Unable to find work, young German doctor Herta Oberheuser answers an ad for a medical job only to find herself at Ravensbruck caring for prisoners. Through Herta, we see how her Nazi upbringing allows her to lose sight of humanity as she oversees heinous medical experiments. Although the subject is gruesome, the book provides at least some small voice for the horrors one group of Polish women endured at the hands of the Nazis.



Born Standing Up – Steve Martin

I still remember the first time I saw Steve Martin perform. He made me laugh so hard and left such an indelible impression I can only compare it to the moment I saw Michael Jackson moonwalk on TV. Martin’s material was fresh; a real departure from traditional stand up comedy. His autobiography isn’t new and I’m not sure what made me grab it but I’m very glad I did. Martin is a terrific writer which is probably the backbone of his success as a comedian. I’ve read many rags to riches stories over the years, but none manage to convey as well the Herculean effort it takes to make it in the entertainment field. Martin spent years on the road, learning his craft and honing his act. He provides in this book a visceral sense of just how awful it can be to tour, a lonely hardscrabble lifestyle which I could never endure. He also paints a very vivid picture of what it’s like to go from obscurity to “instant” stardom, and why, at the height of his stand up success, he chose to walk away. As a child, Martin had a very contentious relationship with his father. Their reconnection at the end of the book made me cry. 

Happiness – Heather Harpham

Heather and Brian are madly in love until she gets pregnant. Brian doesn’t want kids, but Heather is getting older and fears she may never get another chance. Because her mom and friends live in California, Heather moves cross-country and sets about having the baby alone, with support from home. It’s not easy, but Heather knows she made the right choice when little Gracie arrives. However, her new mom bliss is quickly interrupted when it becomes clear Gracie is sick, very sick. She’s got a blood disorder which requires constant transfusions, but transfusions bring potentially fatal health problems of their own. Having followed Heather’s situation from afar, Brian reappears and together they make several heart-rending decisions to try to ensure Gracie makes it to adulthood. Told with humor, the author nevertheless manages to convey the horror of coping with a sick child. The book is nicely written and totally authentic since it’s based on Harpham’s own real life experience. Throughout the book, love and happiness come shining through showing that it is possible to retain joy even when circumstances are most dire.

The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner

This is not an easy book to read. Not because of the writing, which is magnificent, but because of the subject. Romy Hall is one of those people who never stood a chance despite being a relatively smart women. Born to a feckless mother, surrounded by poverty, it seems inevitable when she finds herself in prison, sentenced to life for murder. We sympathize with Romy not only because of her circumstances, which include a young son now abandoned to foster care, but because her case isn’t clear-cut and she has no access to the kind of legal representation needed to prove reasonable doubt. In this book, the author manages to make us feel the tragic waste of Romy’s young life as well as the horror of the legal and penal system, unfair and broken. Although the topic is timely and shows the grievous need for prison reform, the real star of the book is the writing which is rich, textured and unique. This isn’t a beach read, but if you like good literature it’s for you.