Category Archives: Mystery/Thriller/Crime

Returning to Therapy

Book therapy, that is. Eight years ago I began my year of reading a book a day. I was looking for escape, wisdom, comfort, and clarity after losing my oldest sister to cancer.

Reading in my purple chair, with my cat on my lap
Reading in my purple chair

When my year was over, I found myself stronger, calmer, happier. I knew I would always grieve for my sister but I learned through books that I could always carry her with me in my heart. As I wrote in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair about my year of reading, “We all need a space to just let things be, a place to remember who we are and what is important to us, an interval of time that allows the happiness and joy of living back into our consciousness.”

I need that space and the therapy of books — immersion in reading — again. It has been a long, brutal election season and instead of finding relief in the result, I find myself waking in the middle of the night filled with fear. Fear for the future, fear of what America has become, such a divided and angry nation. In researching my book on the Lowell family, I followed them through the years of the Civil War and the aftermath of the divided nation. I found proof in family letters and journals of individuals struggling to bring the country together again with new dignity, new rights, new dreams. I need to find the energy and the hope to work for positive change for all who live here in the United States.

I hope to find that energy and hope in books. I find myself gravitating towards books about women, looking for role models of survival and strength, resilience, and power. Books like Time and Again by Charlotte Rogan, with its heroine who fights for truth at a terrible cost, and The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson, in which women from different times strive to understand the unique power of words, the power to record and reflect and inspire. Nicotine by Nell Zink has a quirky and sometimes even flaky heroine who is ultimately tough enough and resilient enough to get it done — “it” being bringing new life to an abandoned house (and way of life).

I will indulge in the books by Elly Griffiths, in which mysteries are solved by Ruth Galloway, a single woman of large build and big heart and keen intelligence. I gave myself an afternoon of fun in reading Hot Flash Holidays by Nancy Thayer: five women in their fifties and sixties deal with aging parents, faltering bodies, annoying in-laws, and impatient children — and through the ups and downs all five rely on the strength of their shared friendships to keep them going. As Renee notes in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I am re-reading, “the complicity of indestructible friendship…is what life is all about.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was the very first book I read during my year of reading a book a day. Over the past eight years, I have looked back at the notes I kept in the book, and passages I underlined but this is the first time I am re-reading the entire book. What struck me right away is that Renee, one of narrators of the book, is fifty-four, the same age I am now. She also happens to weigh exactly what I weight now. Strangely enough, these similarities are changing the book for me — I feel now as if Renee is my double, and I am cheering her on as she enters new territory with trepidation but with hope as well. Right back at me: enter the future with trepidation (and rightly so) but also with hope.

fullsizerender-7But as you can see from the photo, I am not only reading books about women or by women in my new book therapy. I have a wide range, fiction and non-fiction. With so many books to anticipate, the future looks brighter. I feel sure that I will come out of this round of immersion stronger, and ready to work for what I believe in: a future that brings people together to work for the welfare, security, and dreams of all who live here in America.

Adding to HOW to Read ALL DAY

As summer approaches and “summer reading” appears everywhere we readers tend to go – the library, bookstores, book supplements in our local papers, book blogs (like this one!) – I thought an update to my “How to Read All Day” list might be in order. To help me out, I solicited advice from readers on Facebook and got some great new additions. Feel free to share more on Readallday‘s Facebook page….

The days are longer, so there are more hours to read outdoors. Try the beach, the garden, your stoop, a bench in a park, a blanket on the grass in the park. As long as you always carry a book with you, you will always have something to read and when the moment arrives, dig out that book and read.

My summer reading recommendations include:

Rachel Howell Hall’s latest and always fabulous Louise Norton thriller, Trail of Echoes – I love everything Hall writes;

Now and Again by Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat – this novel is a brilliant exploration of truth and our human impulse to do the right thing – but what is the right thing? Rogan has us thinking about and caring about – and we will never forget about – the characters in this wonderful book;

LaRose by Louise Erdrich, another beautiful book from national treasure Erdrich about loss, faith, redemption;

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sanchez, a joyful ride of a read while also being a masterful story about friendships, romance, commitment, and the importance of staying true to oneself and yet open to change and adventure;

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson,  a gorgeous, stirring novel that  reads like a poem, telling the story of four girls in 1970s Brooklyn, and the tragedies and triumphs of adolescence, as seen through the lens of one of the girls, now a grown woman;

A Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North, a thought-provoking and unputdownable novel by an incredibly creative writer-  on my own to-read list for the summer are two more of her books, Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August;

And of course I will be reading the latest from Elly Griffiths, The Woman in BlueSharon Bolton, Daisy in Chains, and Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning.

 

HOW TO READ ALL DAY

Always have a book with you.
Read while waiting.
Read while eating.
Read while exercising.
Read before bed.
Read before getting out of bed.

Read instead of updating FB.
Read instead of watching TV.
Read instead of vacuuming.
Read while vacuuming.
Read instead of updating blog or website.
Read instead of weeding.

Read what you want.
Read a book a friend wants you to read.
Read a book a bookseller swoons over.
Read a book loved by your local librarian.

Read with a book group.
Read with your kid.
Read with your cat.
Read to your dog.

Read on a schedule. Set the timer for twenty minutes and let everything else go.

Sisters Lost and Found, in the Land of Shadows

Land of Shadows, Rachel Howzell Hall’s latest novel, is a riveting exploration of crime and its repercussions in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Together with her previous thriller, No One Knows You’re Here, Land of Shadows proves that Hall is a star at weaving fast-paced, layered, and gripping stories. She creates an L.A. seething with tension; plots that twist and turn; and heroines bristling with intelligence, heart, and grit. Her women are street smart, sexy, and determined. Having made it through tough childhoods in L.A.’s worst neighborhoods, now they want to give voice – and justice – back to the places they came from. Unknown-1

Such a task is not for the faint-hearted – and Hall’s readers have to toughen up as well. Along with Lou in Land of Shadows, I had to face ugly facts and even uglier secrets as the plot unfolded but the writing is so good, the story so compelling, the characters so real, that I dove right in and stayed willingly submerged until the final word. Coming up for air, I was grateful for the provoking and sustaining experience of reading Hall – and I was ready to dive right back down again. So I did, rereading Land of Shadows almost immediately in order to catch all the nuances I’d missed the first time round.

In Land of Shadows, L.A. police detective Lou Norton is called to the scene of a murder staged to look like the suicide of a teenaged girl. Lou quickly spots the grisly signs of foul play but even worse: she is launched back into memories of the disappearance of her sister Tori, when Lou was just a child. Back then, the police barely took notice of a poor black girl gone missing and her disappearance went unsolved. Lou has been nursing the pain of losing her sister for years; the sight of the murdered girl reopens the wounds with a searing vengeance. Norton vows that this time round, the victim will get the attention she deserves.

I stared into the girl’s dead, half-mast eyes – 3 percent of me still believed that the last image seen by a dying person remained fixed in her eyes. ‘Who did this to you sweetie?’ I didn’t care about the ‘why.’ Fuck the ‘why.’ I wanted to know who had taken this girl’s life. Unfortunately, there were no images of that monster in her cloudy corneas. There were specks of red, though. Blood.
‘That’s okay, ‘ I whispered. ‘I’ll find that son-of-a-bitch.’ For you. And for me.

When there is little chance that a crime or its victim will garner attention, how are the losses caused by such violence to be absorbed? There can be no closure, only disillusionment; there is no healing, only a festering of disgust. Without healing, hope becomes crippled into an emotion that aims too low: for revenge, not justice; for escape, not security; for oblivion, not understanding. Lou knows what the unsolved disappearance of her sister has cost her family and how it still haunts her own nightmares.

No matter where her current investigation leads – into “respectable” neighborhoods or the gilded world of college basketball or Lou’s own backyard, further crumbling her broken relationship with her husband- she follows the trail with doggedness, fighting against her own painful memories to get through the web of lies created by family, witnesses, and perps. What Lou discovers in the end won’t make healing easy, not for her or for the family of the girl – but it will make healing possible. And with healing, comes a possibility of rehabilitating hope.

Kit Lyman’s novel, Satan’s Garden, also looks at the toll taken when a sister goes missing. Leaving aside the unfortunate title, this debut novel is engaging, provocative, and deeply moving. Two sisters are as closely twined as only sisters can be, their distinct personalities meshing together into a special bond of strength and comfort. But then Dani is kidnapped and Keely is the only witness. Unknown-2

When months pass with no message from the kidnapper and all clues have been followed to blank conclusions, Keely alone remains certain that her sister is alive. And she is – but for how long? While she remains imprisoned by a psychopath (who seems to know way too much about both girls), Keely becomes caught in another kind of web, one woven by society’s expectations, adolescent cruelties, and the deep pain of missing her sister. Can Dani be found in time – not only to save her life but also to save Keely’s sanity?

Lyman is a wonderful writer and the story she tells in Satan’s Garden quickly drew me in – I read feverishly and on the edge of my seat. The story is told in alternating chapters by first one sister, then the other, in voices that are vivid and unique. I cared about each sister so much, and found myself willing them the strength to survive while hoping against hope that time would not run out. Will one sister have to sacrifice herself to save the other? How can such a choice be made – and yet what other choice is possible, when the life of your beloved sister is in the balance?

Caught in A Dark and Twisted Tide

Summer is here but I will not be jumping into any bodies of water to cool off, thanks to my beloved Sharon Bolton. A favorite harbinger of summer is the release of her latest thriller and A Dark and Twisted Tide met all my expectations of thrills, chills, and brain curls. It also left me hanging on tightly to the safety of my backyard lawn chair and vowing never ever to jump into any river – or lake, for that matter – any time soon. I don’t want to run the chance of finding a dead body – or two or three or more – the way heroine Lacey Flynt does in the latest Bolton novel. Unknown

Granted, Lacey is swimming in the Thames, not exactly known for the pristine quality of its waters or for the safety of swimming therein. But just the thought of encountering what makes even the brave Lacey shiver down into her bones (to say nothing of the bones she encounters – shrouded in linen and shackled to the depths of darkness) may just keep me land bound for the foreseeable future. The added element of reports of mermaids – drawing boaters to their death through haunting songs – creeps me out in the deepest recesses of my brain, where my own belief in supernatural beings lays dormant until raised to blazing reality by the vivid writing of Bolton.

Perhaps if I had the help of cool and collected Dana Tulloch, my favorite recurring character in the Bolton novels, or the anticipation of sheltering in the arms of hunky Mark Joesbury (another fabulous recurring cast member in Bolton world), I could be a bit braver, a bit more like Lacey who faces her fears and runs headlong into them. But I prefer reading what this guilt-ridden, secretive, sensitive, and completely wonderful wonder woman faces off against, again and again, using brains, body, and intuition (hard-earned from her own hard knocks) to solve mysteries and save lives.

This time the mystery is manifold: who is drowning these young women, where did the women come from, who (or what?) is leaving threats (or promises?) on the deck of Lacey’s houseboat, what is Mark Joesbury up to – and does a mermaid really exist in the waters of the Thames?

Bolton once again treats her readers not only to a thrilling mystery but also to a fascinating landscape, this time set in and around the Thames, a murky, dirty, seething river that carries both the life and the history of London in its ebb and flow, leaving markers of the past to be deciphered and clues of the present to be found. Trust to Lacey to find the clues and also some deeper answers to questions not only of death – why did these women have to die? – but of life itself: how do we keep swimming, when the tide turns against us? Lacey knows – and she shows us how.

Maybe I will go swimming this summer – after all, Lacey’s got my back.

Merry Murders

Nothing says the holidays for me more than a good old-fashioned Christmas murder mystery. I also like the more modern ones, but give me a snowed-in estate in England, with house guests galore, a burning Yule log, a flaming pudding, holly branches cut fresh from the woods and stuck behind centuries-old picture frames, and I am just the jolliest reader ever.

The best thing about reading Christmas mysteries in the weeks leading up to the big day itself is that the joys and pleasures of the season come early and often, as long as I can find the books to read, and the time to read them, and the glass of wine to drink while reading…

But finding the right Christmas books can be hard, very hard. I’ve been lucky in the past, and I have favorites to revisit (Dickens’ Ghost Stories for Christmas – and I don’t just mean The Christmas Carol!) but this year I really hit the jackpot. My favorite mystery peddler has put together his best collection ever – Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. I could not resist this cover, and when I got the book home, and settled myself in with wine, cat, and even a fire going in the fireplace, I discovered that behind that fabulous cover, paradise awaited me. The paradise where snow falls and Yule logs burn and punch is poured – and a dead body (or two) appears to spice everything up.  images

I love this collection of short stories and how could I not? The first story is by Agatha Christie – The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding – and all the stories that come after are as diverting, pleasing, and murderous as her sumptuous offering. But it’s not all high tea in jolly old England – there is the pleasure of Ed McBain in San Francisco and Mary Higgins Clark in New Jersey and a fun historical piece (the 1950s) by Ed Gorman set in Iowa. There is even a ghost story – but I can’t tell you by whom or its title, or I’ll give the whole thing away. Read the book, and discover for yourself. If you love mysteries, and enjoy the holidays (or even if you don’t), you’ll love The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries.

Of course, Anne Perry has come out with her annual Christmas offering.  A Christmas Hope is a lovely, light pleasure (even with a murdered young woman and some evil lords and a valiant lady trying to do what is right) and goes well with a glass of eggnog and a cookie. If you have to read your books on the subway or in the California sun or behind a closed office (or bathroom stall) door, don’t worry! Reading Otto Penzler’s great collection or Anne Perry’s latest offering will make you feel as if you were sitting by a frosted window, fire burning low on the hearth, carols on the radio, cookies on a tray, and Santa on the roof.

Joy to all and to all a good night – of reading.

 

 

 

Shelley’s Monsters

Mary Shelley wrote the most famous monster story of all time, Frankenstein.  Or did she really? That question is just one of the literary mysteries explored by Lynn Shepherd in her mesmerizing novel, A Fatal Likeness. Was Percy Bysshe Shelley insane or cruelly narcissistic or simply misunderstood? Were his poems reflective of reality or rooted entirely in his wild and torturing (to say nothing of tortured) imagination?  Did Shelley sire the child of his step-sister-in-law Claire Clairmont, or was it Lord Byron, as the Shelley clan always claimed? And in what is a most tantalizing tangent for me (lover of letters that I am), do the surviving letters of Percy, Mary, and Claire tell the truth – or merely hint at what were dark and deep secrets for the twisted trio of lovers?  

The novel begins with the daughter-in-law of the Shelleys, Jane Gibson, desperately trying to track down papers that might besmirch the image of Percy Bysshe Shelley which Jane has spent years burnishing and promoting.  She hires a young investigator, Charles Maddox, to hunt down the papers she fears.  It quickly becomes apparent that what Jane is after is quite something else, and that Maddox is quite something more than she expected. Maddox, heir to an uncle famous both for his investigations and his honor, intently hunts down the papers but finds much, much more than mere scraps of information.  What he does with what he finds will set off a storm of released memories demanding attention, unanswered injustices clamoring for redress, and family secrets (and not only the Shelleys’) screaming to be unveiled, after being hidden in darkness for so long.

The monster within us, the monster in the mirror, the monster in the past: monsters are everywhere, and suddenly Frankenstein seems almost prophetic.  But will the ending — destroy the monster! – be the necessary remedy?  To be familiar with the novel Frankenstein, the history of the Shelleys, and the poetry of Shelley might help with unraveling the complicated plot of this amazing book but Shepherd does not assume any such prior knowledge on the part of her readers.  She offers a very helpful chart of who was related to whom, and how, and in her final notes she delineates what is based on historical fact in her novel (most of it) and what comes from her own fecund and clever imagination.

Shepherd invents just enough to tie all the open questions, undeniable facts, and potent possibilities together in a wholly believable and chilling story of love, deceit, heartbreak, revenge, and loss.  She also manages to conjure up England in the 1800s, along with a cast of characters so richly developed I could see each and every one of them before me as I read, while also incorporating the poetry of Shelley into her text, both in hidden ways and in direct quotations (and in letters!).  She’s inspired in me a whole new appreciation for Shelley, and a renewed desire to read his works, and Frankenstein, all over again. That Shepherd also used letters as clues to a most horrible crime (and the chief instigator to more than one death) sealed the deal for me: Shepherd is a marvel, and A Fatal Likeness is a must-read.

 

 

 

How the Light Gets In


Louise Penny has done it again. Magic. Wonderful, captivating, heart-pumping, edge-of-the-seat magic. In her ninth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, How the Light Gets In, Penny brings us to familiar territory. We are back in the isolated village of Three Pines, where cell phones and internet cannot penetrate but good food, fresh air, and used books are always within reach (my definition of heaven). Characters who have become like old and beloved friends join us across the page: Ruth, foul-mouthed but with a golden pen when it comes to poetry; Clara, talented artist known for her bad hair days and visionary portraits; Myrna, former therapist and current bookstore owner; Gabri and Olivier, owners of the bistro and the B&B, one with the voice of an angel and the other with the heart of a reformed devil; and, representing the police of Quebec Province, Armand Gamache, Isabel Lacoste, Yvette Nichol, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir.

Constance Pineault, an old client and friend of Myrna, comes for a visit to the winter-embraced village of Three Pines. Children happily play hockey across a frozen pond, “joyful” snow blankets the houses and gardens, and villagers eagerly practice the Huron Carol for the upcoming holiday concert. Hot chocolate is never more than a step away, to drink beside a well-stocked fireplace. In such an atmosphere of peace and comfort, Constance cannot help but fall in love with Three Pines. When she leaves, she promises to return, offering an enigmatic message about the hockey games she used to play with her siblings.

How many siblings turns out to be not only the clue to her message, but also to murder. How many murders? How the Light Gets In provides more than the usual number: evil runs deep in this book and this time round, I was never certain that good, in the form of Chief Inspector Gamache, could prevail. The forces against him are more powerful than ever, and worst of all, his friend and fellow inspector, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, has fallen most horribly to the dark side.

How the Light Gets In is a story about crime (against nature and against the rules of society), corruption (personal and political), and murder (both actual and metaphysical). Hope and fear, good and evil, friendship and betrayal, love and hate, innocence and corruption: Penny explores the battling dualities that exist in all of us, and the necessity of battle (and even failure) to create resilience. Her novel about death and decay becomes a book about how to live: everything broken has a crack, but that is how the light gets in. And guided by the light, we live, even thrive. But only if the light gets in.

With a writing style that is a mix of poetry and music (sentences that roll, then break, then roll again) and a commitment to her readers that is as strong and true as Chief Inspector Gamache’s love for his fallen man in arms Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Louise Penny makes magic. In How the Light Gets In, she again conjures up place, people, and plot so vividly that there is no escaping: this is a book, like all her novels, that cannot be put down, and will be read, again and again.

Summer Reading: An Update

 

My mother is re-reading Barbara Pym this summer! Great books…

Good Novels I’ve read so far this summer:

I just finished The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain, coming out this fall in English from Gallic books. I loved this book for its quirky story, its embracing humanism, its clever reenactment of the 1980s with all those ’80s icons of art and politics, and its wonderful characters. Even Francois Mitterand plays a role, and he plays it beautifully.  A lovely and unforgettable book which made me want to go back to Paris and Venice; eat a platter of sea food with a good bottle of white wine; seek out the paintings of Basquiat; douse myself with perfume; and reconnect with the world, all over again.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane, tells the story of Typhoid Mary, putting a very human face on the somewhat terrifying figure of the cook who killed through spreading disease in food – did she know what she was doing? No, she was just doing the best she could, in world she found herself in. Irish immigrant, woman alone, skilled in cooking, tempered to stand up for herself. Did they blame her “because she was opinionated, and Irish, and unmarried,and didn’t bow to them”? When poor Mary must face the truth, it breaks her, and our, hearts. A wonderful book.

The Comedians by Graham Greene, set in early 1950s Haiti; heartbreaking but also at times very funny. Unforgettable characters and a depiction of Haiti that rings terribly true, still today.

So Big by Edna Ferber, which was so great (and a must-read for all Midwesterners like me) that I’ve set out a plan to read all of Ferber’s novels.  American Beauty is next on my list.

The Good House by Anne Leary, an engaging read and an acute depiction of alcoholism, the vagaries of real estate, and the bumpy path of love.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. I especially loved the first section but all the stories that make up this novel weave together to create a message as forceful as that found in McCann’sLet the Great World Spin: the beautiful mysteries of the universe (the greatest being love) are greater than all our human failures, foibles, and fantasies.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, another book that was built out of different stories (I especially loved all the sections about the relationship between Uncle Nabi and Mr. Suleiman Wahdati), woven together by a master story-teller with a message for all of us: we are all connected through the stories we tell, and even the ones we keep hidden but not destroyed, so that someday the lines can be picked up again, and the connections drawn tight.

I’ve read three great mysteries this summer, all set in wildly different arenas but each one a page turner.

Powder Burn by Mark Chisnell.  Chisnell is a favorite of mine and Powder Burn delivers his usual well-researched, fascinating, and fast-packed thriller novel. The book had me guessing until the last pages, and I couldn’t stop reading!  The end was satisfying but also left me wondering: how long do I have to wait for the next Chisnell?

A Place of Confinement by Anna Dean.  Set in England in the early 1800s, A Place of Confinement demonstrates that human curiosity and human greed co-exist in all locations, times, and social milieus.  The fourth installment in the wonderful Dido Kent series, A Place of Confinement is a must read for Jane Austen lovers and mystery lovers. You know who you are!

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate by Susanna Calkins.  This mystery took me further back in time, to 1600s London.  Filled with fascinating historical detail, this debut mystery is a great read.  I look forward to reading more from Calkins, and more about Lucy Campioin.

 

 

Justified Paranoia


In Paranoia, Victor Martinovich has crafted a novel so real that the government of Belarus banned it two days after it was published in that country. It tells the story of two lovers, Anatoly and Elisaveta, who try to hide their affair in a state where nothing can be hidden; as paranoia sets in – are we or are we not being watched? – the fate of the lovers becomes sealed. We Americans have been given a light dose of surveillance paranoia over the past few months and some of the incidents in this book might sound scarily familiar (as well as the justifications: “the vigilance of one of the listeners made it possible to prevent a terrorist act…I am calm, for I know the right people are watching me”). Yet what we know of surveillance here at home is nothing compared to what is happening in Belarus. Shall we take Martinovich’s book as a warning?

There is paranoia, a clinical diagnosis of fearing the government is watching you, and then there is justified paranoia, when the government is watching your every move and you know it. Even worse, there is little you can do about it. And worst of all, the fear of being watched all the time just might drive you crazy. For those living in Belarus today, justified paranoia is a way of life. It can be dealt with by ignoring it (the government provides entertainments to preoccupy the body and mind), drinking it away (the government makes sure vodka is cheap and easily available), or by writing about it.

Martinovich has chosen writing. His book is an encompassing and moving exploration of how an unchecked political leader like Alexander Lukashenko, the permanently elected President of Belarus, can use weapons of surveillance and punishment, and yes, paranoia, to maintain power over a quavering populace. For how better to induce fear than to induce the fear of going crazy and being watched while doing so?

Not all of Belarus quavers however. There are artists, writers, and every day activists exercising their gifts of writing, performing, and demonstrating in order to expose the horrors of life under Lukashenko. Anyone who has seen the productions put on by the Belarus Free Theater will find many aspects of Paranoia reflected in the theater works of that brave (and banned) theater troupe.

Martinovich’s book is a true story mixed into a novel; it is an expose of a horrible regime presented through a love story and a mystery and an incisive, sometimes homely, sometimes funny portrait of a nation (picnics with “cut piles of cucumbers and tomatoes” – as the daughter of a Belarusian refugee, I was raised on such picnics). Martinovich uses the story of the two lovers – their intimate moments and special nicknames and secret meeting places and inside jokes – to show just what a terrifying violation it is when the government watches, listens, and documents every one of those intimate and special moments. The novel made me feel as if I were there; the reality exposed made me glad I am not.

“We’re shaking because they – oh what a terrible pronoun! – because they know everything. Because they can deprive us of our very selves. Because just by narrowing their lips during an interrogation, they can crush us. Because they see right through us and know what we’ll say next…”

The all-powerful dictator Muraviov (aka, Lukashenko) is the ultimate watcher, outdoing any Orwellian nightmare, and ultimate paranoia is the only outcome possible. Martinovich illustrates how subtly the paranoia begins (“the sight of your own reflection in glass behind which you were attempting to find something rational to explain your gut fears”) and then maneuvers into a deeper experience of it, as when the two lovers debate whether a chair was moved or a spoon replaced.

Does the fact that a gadget has gone inexplicably missing mean that someone is watching them? Guess what? It does. Welcome to justified paranoia. The bad news is that the next step is full-fledged insanity: “For everyone of my arguments [that I am not KGB], your paranoia will obligingly find ten counterarguments.” The lovers face off, with paranoia turning them from loyal to suspicious, and the rest is tragedy.

The English translation of Paranoia (with thanks due to Northwestern University Press and translator Diane Nemec Ignashev) includes an excellent introduction into the history of Belarus and the current regime of Lukashenko, making it easier for all readers to understand the story of Anatoly and Elisaveta. I trembled and shook while reading this novel, for I encountered the truth of a regime, and truth is stranger, and even more horrible, than fiction.

Time for Summer Reading

Time to read. Summer means many things — long days, hot weather, kids freed from homework, swimming pools and cool lakes and days at the seashore. Crickets (no locusts for us), fireflies, a rabbit in our front yard. Dinners cooked on the grill, lunches eaten in the yard, making homemade ice cream for dessert. Bike rides and kayak trips and maybe a baseball game.

And time to read. I have good work to do this summer (preparing my book on Letters, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, for its publication next spring and finishing up my book on poets) and housework (it never goes away, does it?) and I want to enjoy every moment I have with my kids. But I also want to read every day this summer for at least an hour a day. I spent a wonderful year reading hours a day, the year I read a book a day, but this summer, setting aside a full hour for reading is the commitment I can make. Days when I can read more, great! But every day I will make the space and find the place to read an hour a day.

I plan on reading some new books – Transatlantic, the new novel by Colum McCann, for sure — and I plan on rereading Brideshead Revisited, The Leopard, and a number of novels by Graham Greene. I will certainly read some mysteries and I know that my monthly book chats at Westport Public Library will inspire me with recommended books to read.

SO wish me luck, fellow book lovers, and I send the wishes back to you. May you find the time and discover all the joys of summer reading! I’ll be reporting back on great stuff I’ve read, and please let me know what’s been good for you. Read on!