Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult has a magical talent for writing novels that address social issues and concerns while, at the same time, offering readers an involving story with plot, character and a bit of education.
This time the background (and foreground) issue is the Covid epidemic. For some readers, it might still feel too close and they might want to skip reading this title. I would argue against that. In addition to re-experiencing some of the trauma, I was also reminded of how far life has come (at least for those who have been vaccinated). This, of corse, does not mitigate the deep losses that so many experienced in the real world.
The protagonist of this novel is Diana. When the story opens, she is working for Sotheby’s and is in a relationship with a surgical resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Diana is working with a client who seems to be based upon Yoko Ono. Due to Diana’s work, readers are treated to some interesting art and music history. I enjoyably learned a lot about Toulouse Lautrec.
Diana and Finn are planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Finn cannot/chooses not to go because of the emerging pandemic and his need to be at work. He encourages Diana to go on the trip and she does. Finn’s emails to Diana offer all of the horror of Covid, especially the early impotence that medical professionals felt in the wake of this tsunami of an epidemic.
Diana makes it to the Galapagos but is stranded there because travel is cut off. She manages to get settled, leading her to meet with a troubled adolescent, her father and her grandmother. They open Diana up to a new world. It is most likely no coincidence that our main character is living where theories of evolution were formed as she may be adapting and changing too.
The Galapagos are beautifully described and form a contrast to life in New York. Which place is right for Diana? Which relationship? What plot twists will Ms. Picoult bring to this, her latest novel? Read the book to find out. I highly recommend it.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher
The Paris Bookseller is historical fiction about Sylvia Beach, those around her and her iconic bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. This is the story of a part of Sylvia’s life; it moves from when she began living in Paris and on into the 1930s. An author’s note at the end of the novel, gives information about Sylvia’s long life and what happened to her following the events of this story.
Readers learn early on that Sylvia was in a significant relationship with Adrienne. The author portrays great historical acceptance for gay relationships at that time. Adrienne, who owned a bookstore, encouraged Sylvia to open her own shop, one that was to feature books for English speakers. The two had a strong attraction to one another and lived together during the events described in the story.
Sylvia’s store becomes very popular with a number of ex pats, including Hemingway and Henry Miller. However, the author with whom Sylvia was most closely associated was James Joyce. She was instrumental in the initial publication of Ulysses. The struggle around getting the book written and published make up much of the novel.
The characters in the story are real people who are brought to imaginative life. I was especially struck by the way in which Joyce was portrayed. True, he was an iconic author but he was also a difficult, narcissistic and needy man in these pages.
Author, Kerri Maher, does a good job of depicting a place, the people who dwelt there and the importance of books. I also enjoyed the way in which daily life, food and more came into the novel.
Those who enjoy historical fiction are likely to want to read this novel. I rate it at four stars.
The Maid by Nita Prose
The Maid has garnered so much praise both before and after publication. It is a book that is definitely worth reading. Those who enjoy The Thursday Murder Club and Ruth Galloway mysteries are certain to love this novel with it quirky, idiosyncratic and (morally) good protagonist.
Molly sees the world in her own way. She appears to be “on the spectrum,” though I hate to use that term and do not want to make Molly anything other than the unique woman that she is. Molly has trouble reading social cues and people’s facial expressions. This can lead to her being naively trusting. Molly speaks with a beautifully old fashioned syntax and sometimes makes rhymes as, for example, “a tissue for your issue.”
Molly lives with her grandmother who works as a domestic. Molly is herself a maid, working at the Grand Hotel. It is a job that suits her orderly personality and Molly takes great pride in her work. (She will hopefully leave readers with more respect for those who toil in hotels for the benefit of the guests).
Molly becomes involved in a series of events that leave her in over her head. There were times when I wanted to yell “stop” to Molly when she trusted some of the hotel staff and guests but, of course, could not do so. The fact that I wanted to is a tribute to the author’s ability to create characters for whom readers will care.
Who will protect Molly? Will she get out of this mess? Will she or the hotel ever be the same? Read this charming, heartfelt novel to find out. To use one of Molly’s favorite words, it is “delightful.”
I sincerely hope that the author’s next book is published soon. I give this first novel of hers five stars.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
Brown Girls is a novel that is both universal and highly individual in its portrayal of the titular girls growing up over time. When the novel begins, the girls are children and, as it continues, we readers watch them grow up.
The girls are raised in a most specific location, a poor(er) immigrant neighborhood in Queens. These are the children of immigrants who came to America wanting more for their children. However, at the same time, they want their daughters to be “good.” This can, at times, mean compliant and the wish for them to stay close to home.
However, the world beckons, even if that world in their neighborhood, in Manhattan, and beyond can be quite unkind and worse. The author truly understands micro aggression; there teachers who don’t (bother to) know their students’ names and somehow think that they are interchangeable, store clerks who think girls with tiny purses can hide and steal large dresses in them and more difficult experiences of daily life.
The girls always face decisions-leave the neighborhood for a “better” school, go to college from at home or away, what boyfriends to have and more. Their choices are complex.
The unconscious (is it?) racism of the parents of white friends is well portrayed. So is the girls being asked to answer questions for their whole community, even when they cannot know the answers.
How will these girls grow up? Follow along as they move into their adult lives.
It is hard to believe that this is a first novel. It is so descriptively well written. The author writes in the “we” voice and does it well. Each short vignette builds the readers knowledge of the lives of these girls.
I most highly recommend this novel. I so deeply wished for the brown girls-women to have the futures that they want. And, yes, for the world they live in to be different and better.
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes (Hogan)
This is author Ruth Hogan’s second novel. I was quite moved by it and plan to read her debut, The Keeper of Lost Things. She has a talent for describing characters who are fully human, quirky and both struggling and trying their best.
The novel is about two women and those they know, love and/or have lost. Masha is a mother whose child disappeared a number of years ago and, although not found, was presumed to be dead. Masha has grieved for him and has struggled to progress in her life. The reader observes as she moves forward bit by bit, fortified by new and old relationships. Part of Masha’s story takes place at the lido, a favorite locale for me after reading Libby Page’s novel. As in that novel, swimming yields some peace.
Then there is Alice. She is a mother who is overprotective and very attached to her son. Her backstory is told with compassion and the reader comes to understand her struggles and decisions.
Sally, herself, is a elderly woman whose past history becomes known late in the novel. She is eccentric and a source of some of Masha’s healing. She reminds Masha of the importance of continuing to dance, both literally and metaphorically. Other characters include Kitty who has overcome her own tragedy.
While characters in this book have experienced loss, the story is not depressing. Ruth Hogan writes empathically and I was sorry when the novel ended. There is a twist that you might see coming but, even if you know, you can enjoy reading about it.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this e-galley. Ruth Hogan is an author to watch!