I love novels set in boarding houses, such as Muriel Spark's A Far Cry from Kensington. In places where unrelated adults are forced to live close together, eccentricities and resentments bloom like mold on old wallpaper. Sometimes escaping a fellow boarder is nearly impossible, and if you're British, there's the stiff upper lip to maintain and the manners demanded by civilization to remember. Of course, it's one thing to be irritated beyond all reason or to be bored to death––and another to actually be done to death. For example, Mrs. Bunting lies awake at night straining to hear whether her secretive upstairs boarder will leave the house in Marie Belloc Lowndes's The Lodger, made into a silent movie by Alfred Hitchcock. The lodger is obviously a gentleman despite his shabbiness, but could he be the serial killer terrorizing Victorian London? He's so odd, but his rent comes in so handy!
There's an excess of dark secrets among the six tenants and the unsavory landlord of the seedy bed-sit at 23 Beulah Grove. In Alex Marwood's The Killer Next Door (Penguin, 2014), an incident one stifling London summer night unites the six tenants, who normally are extremely careful to mind their own business. What they don't know––but, we do––is there's a grisly reason for the bed-sit's bad drains. I stayed up much too late reading this weirdly chilling book, chock full of great characters and settings and laced with dark humor. It's perfect tension-filled suspense for a night you're looking to be creeped out.
After that book, I was casting about, looking for another boarding house setting, when I came across the name of Patrick Hamilton, an English writer who lived a hard life and died too young. In Hamilton's Hangover Square, a deteriorating George Harvey Bone resolves to win or kill conniving small-bit actress Netta Longdon in World War II-era London. It's a wonderful, memorable read, so I was thrilled to find a book by Hamilton I hadn't read, The Slaves of Solitude (originally published 1947; NYRB Classics, 2007). It's late 1943, and we move from the larger setting of the World War against fascism to the smaller war set in a suburban London boarding house, where the genteel Miss Roach, and others, have taken refuge from the London Blitz. It's impossible not to identify with this decent woman as she suffers through dinners with the bullying and pompous Mr. Thwaits, a villain worthy of Dickens, and takes tea with a brash American lieutenant. It's a lovely read, especially when accompanied by endless cups of tea and cookies you can choke on when you laugh at the superb dialog.
here). Mark and Doonie investigate a bizarre series of murders set in Chicago's art world (great observations on the valuation and marketing of art), and it can be read as a standalone. As the reader, you're clued in to the bad guys' scheme and watch the cops play catch up, but the twisting plot and fast pace keep you only a bit ahead of the cops. Kleinfeld's writing is original: hip, vivid, and playful. The closest I can come to describing its flavor is to say it's like reading a seriously amped-up Elmore Leonard with an "adults' eyes-only" rating for profanity and sex. Despite the X-rated language and all the characters' cynicism, the cops are very nice guys. I like that a lot.
here), I predicted it would be one of my favorite books in 2014. And it is. The book begins when American astronaut Mark Watney is erroneously presumed dead by his Ares 3 crewmates and abandoned alone on Mars without any ability to communicate––or leave. Mark, who has a great sense of black humor, is determined to survive until the next manned mission to Mars. Unfortunately, that's scheduled for four years from now, and the food, water, and air will run out long before that. Mark is a botanist/mechanical engineer/Mr. Fix-It, and we read journal entries in which he describes a goal (say, creating water), how he means to do it, what went wrong, and how he'll fix it. His scientific explanations are clear, and his jerry-rigging is fascinating. After a few months go by, satellite pictures convince NASA Mark is still alive. Then, the loneliest man in the universe gets a little less lonely, and his goals change. It's hard to beat this book for its combination of inspiring, entertaining, and interesting.
The Three-Body Problem is heavy on the science and tech; however, the scientist-characters drive the plot, and Liu is interested in big questions about the human experience. I don't think physics classes or previous knowledge about the Cultural Revolution are necessary to enjoy this book, but they definitely enhanced my enjoyment. Liu's slowly emerging story is mesmerizing. The second book in the Three Body trilogy, The Dark Forest, will be published by Tor on July 7, 2015, and I can't wait to read it.
Both parents are bruised people who see Lydia as a vehicle to fulfill their dreams: Marilyn wants her to be the doctor she herself had hoped to become, instead of a housewife; James's desire is for Lydia to be popular at school. When Lydia's body is found in a local lake, James and Marilyn fall to pieces. Nathan, their oldest child and bound for Harvard, thinks Jack, a young James Dean type, might have something to do with it, while Hannah, barely registering in the family as the youngest, has another idea. This book takes a sensitive look at the hurts we suffer when we fail to fit in or measure up to expectations. It's also a terrific examination of magical thinking, family dynamics, and human resiliency and must be read to the unexpected end.
I'll be back tomorrow to tell you about my other 2014 favorites.
|I'm fantasizing about reading in the snow. Our high temperature today was 81.|