Saturday, May 31, 2014

The City and the City

The City and the City by China Mieville  388 pp.

This novel has a bit of everything: science fiction, parallel dimensions, police procedural, conspiracy theory, murder mystery, together in an intriguing mix. The cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma exist in parallel somewhere in Eastern Europe. Beszel is run down and decaying while Ul Qoma is a modern metropolis. The residents of each city catch glimpses of each other but don't acknowledge it for fear of committing the ultimate crime. Crossing between the cities is only possible with explicit permission and following strict protocol. When the body of a young woman is found in Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlu's investigation takes him in and out of both cities. While a revolution is brewing the investigation delves into the possible existence of a third city existing between the two and conspiracies to either keep it hidden or reveal that it is real. It took me awhile to get into this book. Eventually it grabbed me and I was caught up in seeing how it would end.

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, 328 pages
2014 Printz Honor Winner

When Eleanor gets on the bus that first morning, Park finds he can't stop looking at her. And not in a love-at-first-sight kind of way, but in a grab-the-popcorn-let's-watch-this-train-wreck-about-to-happen kind of way. From her bright red curly hair, to her men's wear wardrobe, to her fatness, Park knows she's destined to be a target for all the mean girls and boys in school. So he's surprised when he finds himself telling her to sit down next to him on the bus after she's been rejected by everyone else. And Eleanor is surprised too. What starts as simply sharing a bus seat becomes something more as Park realizes that Eleanor is surreptitiously reading his comics along with him. Soon, he's sharing his comics, making her mixtapes (it is 1986, after all), looking at her because he can't stop. And Eleanor begins to feel the exact same way - savoring his comics at night while her other siblings in their one tiny bedroom sleep, wearing out whatever batteries she can find listening to his tapes, finding herself smiling and happy whenever she sees him. Soon they're inseparable, despite the fact that her stepdad would kick her out of the house again (or worse) if he found out she had a boyfriend.

I can totally see why lots of people have been fangirling/boying over Rainbow Rowell. I spent the first hundred pages of this book with a goofy grin on my face as I fell in love with Eleanor and Park as they fell in love with each other. I loved the dual narrative, getting a chance to see not only what each of them are going through in their home lives, but to also experience both sides of their time together, the things they think about each other but can't figure out how to say out loud, why they want and need and love each other. And that might sound like sappy, ooey-gooey, typical romance fare, but they're also 16 and everything seems more intense when you're 16. I enjoyed the eighties references (that is, when I knew what the reference was to), especially the comics ones, as the two bonded over each new issue of Watchmen and argued over superpowers and gender dynamics (Eleanor's point that most of the women mutants on the X-men have mind-based mutations, while the guys get physical ones is a good one). I'm looking forward to reading more by Rainbow Rowell, especially Fangirl, and I can't wait to see what she puts out next.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Serpent of Venice

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore  336 pp.

Once again Moore has assaulted Shakespeare, this time in a mash-up of Merchant of Venice and Othello with a little bit of Poe thrown in. Pocket, the fool from Fool returns as an ambassador to Venice and mourning his beloved and deceased Cordelia, daughter of King Lear. He is befriended by the Doge but manages to get on the bad side of everyone else and ends up imprisoned. When near death he is rescued by what he believes to be a mermaid but is, in fact, the title character, which proceeds to protect him through a number of scrapes. The plot is convoluted and includes Shylock, Jessica, Portia, Othello, Desdemona, and Iago among others. What makes this fun is the bawdy humor and outrageous insults. There are jokes about everyone speaking with English accents even though they are Venetian and characters arguing with the chorus. Listening to the audiobook version added to my enjoyment of this book. Hearing Iago with a thick Scottish accent made me laugh every time I heard it. It's probably best if you read Fool before tackling this book. However, if you are a Shakespeare purist, you should avoid this one.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, 272 pages
2014 Pura Belpré Award Winner
A 2014 Top Ten Quick Pick for Young Adults

"Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass."

Those are the words that greet Piddy Sanchez one morning before school begins. New to Daniel Jones High School, Piddy is smart, with an aptitude for physics and a dream to study biology and work with elephants. She has no clue who Yaqui Delgado is, but it doesn't take long for Piddy to find out and to also get an idea of just how much trouble she might be in. Caught between her growing fear of Yaqui and what she might do, and telling a teacher and seeing her reputation tank even more, she retreats into herself, finding ways to skip school and deflect the growing concern of her mother and the other adults in her life. Will Piddy be able to confront her fears and Yaqui, or will it change her into someone she's not?

With a title like that, I knew I had to read this. Meg Medina wrote a really great story about bullying that feels real and true to how young people feel when they have a bully. Piddy's reticence to open up to all the adults who recognize that something's wrong especially rings true to life, as does the fact that we and Piddy never get a solid reason as to why Yaqui wants to kick her ass. While this might sound odd (also, spoiler alert), I also liked that Medina didn't write an ending where everything was finally perfect after Piddy told everyone what was going on, where Yaqui gets her comeuppance and Piddy never has to worry about her again. Bullying is one of those problems where there is no real solution. That's not to say that we shouldn't teach kids to be kind to each other, or to tell someone in charge when they or someone else is being bullied, but we also need to be realistic about what we actually can do to stop bullies. Regardless, Piddy's journey is enlightening to anyone who has never dealt with a bully, and familiar to those who have.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby, 708 pages.
Lazenby provides what appears to be a fair and unbiased portrait of the basket ball legend, but who really knows? Was Michael Jordan an unreasonable bully to many of his teammates? If that is what it takes to be the greatest player of all time, and of be one of the highest paid athletes of his and several succeeding generations, then wasn't that an acceptable trade-off? Anyway, Lazenby starts out with how the Jordan family came to settle in the Cape Fear, North Carolina area, tells some interesting tales about Jordan's grandparents and parents and then tells the story of MJ's life. The legendary story of how Jordan didn't make the cut for his high school varsity team during his sophomore year is re-evaluated (or re-re-re-evaluated) with the author casting no particular stones, and showing the affect the decision not to play the future star may have had on Jordan's high school coach in later years. There is a great section on Jordan's time and North Carolina playing for Dean Smith. But the bulk of this massive bio focuses on Jordan's years as a Chicago Bull. It's a fascinating, multi-layered tale, and in every part, Lazenby gives the differing sides to the story. We hear from friends, family, opponents, teammates and coaches. Some of the stories show Jordan in a good light, others, not so much.
Jordan's life is well-documented and filled with controversy. Lazenby ably shows that little of the tale is settled history

Will and Whit

Will and Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge, 194 pages
A Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for Teens

Living with her aunt next door to the family antique shop, Will likes old things. To her, they have character and a past, and she especially likes taking old things and repurposing them into lamps, a skill that definitely comes in handy for someone who's still afraid of the dark. But she doesn't like talking or thinking about her own past, preferring to push it deep down and acting like nothing's wrong in front of her friends, Autumn and Noel, and her aunt. While she and her friends help put on an arts carnival, Hurricane Whitney hits, knocking out the power, and forcing her to finally confront her fears and hurts.

Will and Whit is a nice little story with great art. Laura Lee Gulledge incorporates hints of what happened to Will with the inclusion of shadows, which is no small feat for a book rendered in black and white. And while you'll probably figure out what happened to Will early on, it doesn't make the reveal and how Will deals with it that less cathartic. While the characters are all kind of cutesy-quirky, it fits the story and doesn't seem too out of the ordinary for a story that revolves around a group of teenagers. Definitely a good next read if you liked Faith Erin Hicks's Friends with Boys.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn, 276 pages
Christa told me that I had to read this book, and I can now see why. The Intern's Handbook is very similar in tone, pacing, and in its disregard for nicety in language and behavior to one of the staff favs of a couple of years ago, Beat the Reaper.
This one is also told from the point of view of a trained assassin, but "John," our protagonist / narrator, has an organization, Human Resources, Inc., behind him, with a large cadre of capable young professionals at its disposal. HR Inc., trains young, bright, violent orphans in all manner of subtle (and not so subtle) mayhem. Their specialty seems to be corporate murder, since their young assassins usually  pose as interns in order to gain access to their intended targets.
There are some big-old plot holes, but disbelief is willingly suspended during this rapid and violent roller coaster of a thriller.
Check our catalog.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, fiction, 307 pages.

This was our choice for the May book group.
I was a little disturbed when I discovered, about halfway through this book featuring a main character with Alzheimer's, that I had read it, but forgotten.

Here is what I wrote about the book when I first read it back in 2011:
Dr. Jennifer White, brilliant orthopedic surgeon, mother of two grown children, and a recent widow, is rapidly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. She is a believable and compelling narrator, she is angry, secretive, and still proud of her skills, her family, and the life that she has made. She has lost a great deal lately, but she still has her secrets; her husband was serially unfaithful, and her son has a drug problem and other difficulties. She may have other secrets as well: the one about her daughter, what her late husband did, and the one that has the police nosing around, who killed her neighbor and best friend, Amanda, and surgically removed the fingers of one of that poor woman's hand.
Well written, and well done, with that forgivable flaw of too few characters to spread the suspicion among, leaving the final revealed truth somewhat expected.
Check our catalog.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Single Man

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood  186 pp.

If you look up this book on Amazon you will see pages of 4 & 5 star reviews. I can only think they read a different book than I did. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad story and it is well written. But I just didn't find it a "beautiful" or "fantastic" "gem." The novel is basically a character study of a gay man named George whose partner, Jim, has died in a car accident. George muddles through a day in his life, having breakfast then going to work, the gym, a dinner with a friend, and finally a drunken visit with one of his students.  Quite frankly, I found it boring.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Best-Kept Secret by Kimberla Lawson Roby

The Best-Kept Secret by Kimberla Lawson Roby p. 264

And the good reverend is back with his new wife, new church, new city. He is now married to Charlotte (last wife was Mariah). This time, Curtis may have met his match because Charlotte is something else. She has her own lies and tricks. As always, when secrets are revealed, people get hurt.
Charlotte is quite the conniver. She keeps so many secrets from Curtis, but you still can't feel sorry for him. Actually, this book just made me dislike them both. Of course now there are more children involved: Curtis's daughter with his first wife and his son with Charlotte, Matthew. Great book. A lot going on but not too much.

Too Much of a Good Thing by Kimberla Lawson Roby

Too Much of a Good Thing By Kimberla Lawson Roby p. 276

This is the sequel to Casting the First Stone and with it we get the return of the Reverend Curtis Black. Curtis has not stopped his cheating, lying and manipulating. He is married and his wife is getting tired of his tired ways. He is greedy; he keeps trying to convince the church that he should be making more money. At the same time he is having affairs with her, her, and her too.
Curtis has not learned anything since book one.  Even worse, he neglects his daughter, Alicia. The man is terrible and you can't help but to hate him. Which means the author, Kimberla Lawson Roby, did a good job with his character. I love these books. They are very interesting. The Curtis Black series will definitely keep you interested. Drama, drama, drama.

Think like a freak

Think like a freak: the authors of Freakonimics offer to retrain your brain / Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner 268 pgs.

Levitt and Dubner are back with some suggestions about how you can think like they do.  If you can get some facts, you can often figure out an answer but don't let your moral compass get in the way.  Often we don't see a problem clearly because we have already decided it is something else. Being open to all ideas goes along with thinking like a child.  Kids are pretty comfortable with not knowing and are curious so they ask questions.  Being worried that you will show you don't know something might prevent you from asking the direct question that can open doors.  Sometimes outsiders can solve a problem because they come in knowing less and thus start at the beginning asking questions. If you want people to do something, figure out what motivates them and be aware it may not be what they say.  Give them an incentive and watch them do what you want them to do. This book is less about economics and more about psychology and it still very fun to read.  I look forward to the next one.

check our catalog

Monday, May 26, 2014

Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, 396 pages
A 2014 YALSA Popular Paperback for Young Adults

A plane carrying the fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant crashes on an island, immediately cutting the competition to fourteen. Faced with the ultimate challenge - surviving while still looking fabulous - they quickly assimilate to island life, channeling their skills and knowledge into building huts, setting up fishing lines, and putting together weapons out of bamboo shoots and liquid foundation. For most of our contestants, island life is what they need to get past the problems in the lives they've left behind. But hidden on the island is a secret base for the Corporation, the sponsors of the pageant, ready to put in motion a plan to expand their business to the Republic of ChaCha, a country led by the dictator MoMo B. ChaCha, who the United States has sanctions against, and the girls find that they just might be caught in the middle.

I've ready Beauty Queens before, but when I saw that it was on the reading challenge, I knew I had to read it again. I know I say this a lot in my reviews, but I love this book. This book is like Lord of the Flies meets satire with a healthy dose of feminism and anti-globalization added into the mix. For the girls, living on the island gives them the power they need to realize that being pretty is okay, but it's also good to be yourself and to not let others determine your life for you. And then there's the Corporation, which manufactures everything from TV shows to beauty products, in effort to control society as much as they cheaply can (the commercial breaks are probably the most hilarious parts of this, especially the one for Maxi-Pad Pets). It's a crazy story, told at a frenetic pace, but full of humor. It's like the movie Drop Dead Gorgeous, but in book form and even better. If you're looking for something fun and fluffy but with a serious note to it, you can't do better than Beauty Queens.

Duty: memoirs of a secretary at war

Duty: memoirs of a secretary at war / Robert Gates 618 pgs.

Robert Gates was the Secretary of Defense following Donald Rumsfeld...not a real hard act to follow if you want to look competent.  But he comes across as more than competent.  So much so, Obama asked him to stay on after he was elected and he served about 2 and a half years under Obama.  Gates had a long career in government but this book focuses on his time as Secretary of Defense but lessons from history are also included.  I've always admired Gates and he is certainly a straight shooter in his memoir which turned out to be a little more detailed that I really needed.  Very glad I read it but also glad I'm done with it.

check our catalog

Friday, May 23, 2014

Love Letters / Madeleine L'Engle 302 p.

I took this home after a recommendation from a patron.  Our copy is a new edition; the original came out in the 60s, and the writing and subject matter feel dated in a way that many much older books do not.  Charlotte, a beautiful young woman, arrives late on a wet night to an inn in a small town in Portugal.  It's not clear why she fled New York in such haste.  While at the inn she discovers a book, a published version of the letters of a Portuguese nun to a French soldier.  The story alternates between Charlotte's and Maria's stories, and is really an extended reflection on the definitions of love. This sounds icky, but it wasn't; mostly it was just odd, but L'Engle's writing is always vivid and sympathetic.

The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression / Andrew Solomon 571 p.

This was published in 2001 and a National Book Award Winner, but I've only just read it, having loved Solomon's 2012 Far from the Tree.  This was also excellent, examining depression and its many sub-topics - addiction, suicide, treatment, poverty, politics and others, through the lenses of Solomon's own experience with serious illness as well as those of several others whom he came to know well over years of research.  What's so great about this author is that he amasses an enormous amount of scholarship (and more important, understanding) and then assembles it into a narrative that's both personal and comprehensible.  It's daring, too: he reveals some fairly dark things about himself, but these disclosures are illustrative rather than feeling attention-seeking.  I'm looking forward to whatever he does next.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Far Far Away

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal, 384 pages
2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults

Once upon a time, in the small town of Never Better, there lived a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson who could hear ghosts, specifically one ghost, the ghost of Jacob Grimm. While that's not exactly how Far Far Away starts, it could just as easily have, as the story could have been included in the Brothers Grimm's Children's and Household Tales. Jacob has been a near constant presence in Jeremy's life since the death of his grandfather, pushing him to focus on school so that he can go to college and maybe leave Never Better for good. But when sort-of wild child Ginger Boultinghouse invites him out first for Prince Cakes and then later to pull a prank on the baker, he sparks a chain of events that leads them both into a very fairy-tale-like predicament. Except in fairy tales, those killed wrongly manage to come back to life…

This book had me riveted. Jacob's voice, since he's the one narrating, takes a little getting used to, but once you get past it, it's not hard to get pulled into Never Better and into Jeremy's life. I figured out the twist fairly early on, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it - case in point, I hit a moment in the book at about 12:45 am one night when I needed to go to bed but I couldn't stop. I had to reach the next slow moment, no matter how late it was or how early I needed to get up because I literally could not put it down at that moment without knowing what would happen next. While the trend lately is to take fairy tales and put a new spin on it, whether it's modernizing it like Fables or putting well-loved and -known characters into different genres like Cinder, it's great to read a story that takes many of the hallmarks of fairy tales and spins them into something new.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

Straight cut

Straight cut / Madison Smartt Bell 253 pgs.

Tracey and Kevin have been friends for years but had a falling out.  They are in the movie business, Tracey edits and Kevin produces...and they haven't really made it big.  That means they do some financing by trafficking drugs.  One of their plots went bad and a young associate was killed.  Tracey blames Kevin and that is the basis of their falling out.  But, as the world turns, they end up on another job together but lacking the trust of their earlier life.  Of course there is also the beautiful woman whom they both love that gets plopped into the middle of the mix.  She is a bit of an enigma herself, wandering through life leaving and showing up at random times.

This plot is pretty hard boiled while having a good back story that reveals lots about the characters.  Originally published in 1986 this brings back fond memories of things like writing letters. The book was reprinted in 2006.

check our catalog

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Lexicon by Max Barry, 390 pages
A 2014 Alex Award Winner

Emily Ruff is a teenage runaway, living on the streets and swindling people out of their money through a shell game when she's recruited by the organization. In their school, she's taught about language and its effects on the brain, and how asking a few simple questions can tell you what segment a person belongs to and what words, when heard, will let you control that person. She's a promising talent to the right people (namely, Eliot), but when she becomes romantically entangled with another student and inadvertently kills him, she's sent off to Broken Hill, Australia, to learn how to better control herself.

But all that happened in the past, and now Eliot is looking for Wil Parke, the only survivor of a catastrophic event that killed everyone in Broken Hill. The official story is that the populace of Broken Hill, a mining town, all died due to a fire that released toxic fumes. But the real story is that a bareword, or an ancient word with the power to control anyone and everyone was released in Broken Hill, causing everyone to go after each other until everyone was dead. Now what's left of the organization needs him to retrieve the bareword and to go up against Woolf, who released it in the first place and the person responsible for corrupting the organization.

Lexicon hit all the secret-organization-secretly-controlling-the-world sweet spots for me. There are a lot of layers to this story, some of which you might be able to figure out just from my summary, but there were plenty of times when I thought the story was going to go in one direction and then moved in the opposite way. And it moves fast, jumping between Emily's story in the past and Wil and Eliot's race to stay ahead of Woolf and the other compromised members of the organization en route to the bareword. Despite all the stuff that I loved about the story, sometimes it twists and turns a bit too much, which made it hard to keep track of what was going on and to really stay invested in the characters. But despite its flaws, I still really enjoyed this. If you read my review of Mind MGMT and were like, "that sounds good, but I'm not really into graphic novels," then this will definitely work for you.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, 346 pages
2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults

Josie Moraine doesn't have it easy. The teenaged daughter of a New Orleans prosititute, 1950 seems to start much the same way for her as any other day - help clean at Willie's brothel, stay out of the way of her mother, work at the bookstore she lives above, then go to bed and do it all again the next day. She dreams of heading off to college and leaving her mother, the brothel, and her inauspicious past behind. But when a wealthy tourist who came into her bookstore earlier that day winds up dead mere hours after she hears that Cincinnati, the good-for-nothing low life her mother is still in love with even after he beat her the last time they tangoed, is back in town, she finds herself pulled into the murder investigation. And it definitely doesn't help that she finds the deceased's watch in her mother's room at the brothel.

Out of the Easy reads less like historical fiction and more like pulp fiction, and I love it for it. Josie's world isn't exactly seedy, but there's enough of that element to add a bit of a noir feel to the mystery at hand. But it isn't exactly a mystery, either. While the murder is the thread that runs through the story, the goal isn't necessarily to figure out what exactly happened, but to find out how Josie, her mother, and everyone else in their lives may or may not play a part in it. Meanwhile, she becomes more determined than ever to get into college, finds that her friend and coworker Patrick needs her support more than ever in dealing with his father's dementia, and juggles her potential growing feelings towards him and Jesse, an amateur mechanic with a bit of a bad-boy vibe. Josie might not have had a great start in life, but she's used that to adapt and survive, and the people in her life that love her have all contributed to that. Ruta Sepetys does a fantastic job creating a New Orleans that's vibrant and teeming with lots of great characters.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

Zen Confidential

Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk by Shozan Jack Haubner 269 pp.

Jack Haubner was raised conservative Catholic, studied philosophy and abandoned Catholicism in college, and went on to become a failed screenwriter/stand up comic/drug abuser before making his way to a Zen Buddhist Monstery to ultimately become an Osho (Teacher). This memoir recounts humorous, touching, and occasionally awful anecdotes about his life as a Zen Buddhist monk. The point of much of this book is to show that, while much of society thinks that because monks are striving for a type of perfection, it doesn't mean that their thoughts, emotions, and actions are all Zen all the time. Flares of temper, relapses into bad habits, and personality quirks that are blatantly un-Zen frequently arise. It is in how these faults are recognized and dealt with that makes the monks different from the "average person."


Casebook / Mona Simpson 317 pgs.

I thought about giving this book the label "spy" because our narrator is a young boy who is trying to find out the family secrets.  He becomes quite the private eye and spies by listening in on phone calls, conversations, and going through his parent's things.  Despite being in what seems like a happy family, his parents split up.  His mom ends up with Eli, a seemingly very good match who is also divorced and is smitten with his mother.  But Eli lives out of town and they don't see him very often.  As time goes on, it seems like some things about Eli just don't add up.  This puts the need for spying into high gear and even leads to some help from a real P.I. who helps him look up some information.  So what is the story with Eli?  I don't want to include any spoilers but this is the kind of book that makes you want to keep reading until things reveal themselves.  I appreciate the way relationships are presented. 

check our catalog

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Flash Boys

Flash boys: A Wall Street revolt / Michael Lewis 274 pgs.

Arbitrage has always been a fact of life but now on Wall Street it has become a many billion dollar business that makes being a tech person a big deal.  It is all a matter of speed.  And we are talking milliseconds, not a measure we can really relate with. What will you do to gain a millisecond?  Lay your own fiber from Chicago to New York, try to locate your server as close to the "trading" computer as possible...even to the point of asking for a place IN THE ROOM that is closest to the door.

What does this mean to you and me?  We don't get the best prices when we buy stock.  I know that shocks always assumed that Wall Street wanted to be fair to the small investor, didn't you?

As always Michael Lewis is a pleasure to read.

check our catalog

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

My great pleasure in immersing myself in this Dickensian novel was somewhat spoiled by the sheer heft of the book.  Even in moderately small type, it is almost 800 pages long and weighs in at close to a pound.  “The Goldfinch” is an actual 17th century Dutch painting.  In the novel, Theo, a thirteen year old boy, is with his mother in the New York museum where the painting is on loan.  A terrorist bomb goes off and Theo’s mother is killed.  He survives and is urged by a dying older man to take the painting away from the destruction.  Once it is in his possession, he finds it hard to part with.  Left parentless, his father having disappeared a year or so earlier, Theo finds himself at the mercy of fate and Children’s Services.  There are so many memorable characters:  the wealthy family he first stays with;  the partner (business?  lover?  we never really know) of the dying man at the museum, who runs an antique store; his father, who resurfaces in Las Vegas with Xander, his somewhat shopworn new girlfriend; and most of all, the Ukrainian Boris, who becomes both his best friend and his nemesis.  Even the doormen at the Park Avenue apartment are memorable.  I didn’t get much done during the days it took me to savor this book.  771 pp.

Alena, by Rachel Pastan

“Last night I dreamed of Nauquesset again.”  So begins Alena, an homage to Daphne Du Maurier’s beloved Rebecca.  Like Rebecca, Alena is dead, leaving a shattered world behind her.  She had been the curator of a quirky and unconventional museum, located in a remote area of Cape Cod.  After her death, Bernard Augustin, the Maxim de Winter-like owner of the museum, meets the young and naïve narrator, who like that of Rebecca, remains nameless, at the Venice Bienniale.  She is only too glad to ditch Louise, the demanding old curator of a Midwestern museum who has brought here there when Bernard offers her the chance to reopen the Nauk.  The character of Mrs. Danvers is well-filled by Agnes, the bookkeeper.  But much of the novel is really about art, what it is, what it isn’t.  Enjoyable even without the echoes.  308 pp.

Bark, by Lorrie Moore

Many memorable phrases, well-written, but a month later not a single story lingers in my mind.  Maybe it’s just me. 209 pp.