Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt 353 pages

There are three main characters in Van Pelt’s debut novel. Tova Sullivan works the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. She is about 70 years old, widowed and lost her only child to what she believes is a boating accident. Cameron Cassmore is a 30 year old ne’er do well who comes to Sowell Bay searching for a father he never knew. Marcellus is a four year old octopus at the aquarium who know his days are numbered. How these three characters relate, understand and ultimately love and appreciate each other is the crux of Remarkably Bright Creatures.

This is a nice feel good novel that’s also an easy read. It’s a bit too sweet and predictable for me, but for some it may be the perfect summer read.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt 353 pages

Bad Blood: Secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou 299 pages

John Carreyou, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, describes in Bad Blood the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO of Theranos. After dropping out of Stanford, she convinced a number of bright, wealthy, influential men to invest millions of dollars in her company. She professed that Theranos would be able to run all sorts of laboratory tests on a patient with just a finger prick of blood. However, what Holmes told her investors and the world, was far from true.

I saw the miniseries The Dropout and became fascinated yet appalled by Holmes. How did she think she could get away with all the lies she told? Did she believe her lies? How could she feel no remorse about what she was doing to her investors and the patients who believed the erroneous test results Theranos gave them? While Bad Blood didn’t give me a clear understanding of Elizabeth Holmes’s psychological make up, it is an intriguing story illustrating how fame, wealth and greed can go haywire.

Bad Blood: Secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou 299 pages

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott 525 pages

Elliott’s reporting covers eight years in the life of Dasani, the oldest of eight children living with her mother, Chanel, her step-father, Supreme and her seven siblings. We first meet the family when Dasani is eleven. They are all living in a run-down homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Chanel and Supreme are plagued with addiction, poverty and homelessness. However, Dasani is bright, athletic and charismatic and has several opportunities to better herself and her living conditions. Yet in order to do this she must sever the strong ties she has with her family.

Invisible Child is a remarkable piece of nonfiction. Andrea Elliott has presented her readers with an extraordinary but ordinary family who cannot break the cycle of poverty, partly because of their own flaws and partly because of a flawed system.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott 525 pages

The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin 273 pages

An oldie but goodie by Colm Toibin. The Blackwater Lightship takes place in Ireland in the 1990’s. Helen, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora, are in Dora’s home nursing Helen’s brother, Declan who is dying from AIDS. They have just learned of his situation from his friends Larry and Paul who have been helping Declan since the onset of his illness. As the six characters live together in Dora’s tiny house we learn about their histories and personalities.

Yes, The Blackwater Lightship is depressing and yes, only a few things are resolved at the end the novel, but Toibin is such a fine writer, that, for me, they don’t matter. This rather short work touches on many issues in such a creative, complex and compassionate way.

The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin 273 pages

Violeta by Isabel Allende 317 pages

Violeta, the Chilean narrator, is a hundred years old. She is relating her life to Camilo, her grandson, at the end of her life. Violeta’s life spans two pandemics. She has lovers, husbands, two children and a loyal extended family. Her history parallels the history of the world-wars, politics and natural disasters. Violeta is the tale of an independent, strong-willed woman who refuses to let traumas and crisis stop her from living a very full life.

Isabel Allende’s books are always entertaining, but Violeta is not one of her best. I found the main character unbelievable and the structure of the novel (Violeta telling her life story) sometimes awkward and stilted.

Violeta by Isabel Allende 317 pages

Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard 344 pages

Colleen Hubbard’s debut novel is the story of Del, a young woman from a small town in New England who thought her past was no longer a part of her life. However, when she learns that her greedy cousins want to put a housing development of the land her deceased parents had left her, she decides to disassemble her childhood home piece by piece. In three months, almost single-handedly during a harsh winter, she moves every inch of the house to a new location.

This description of Housebreaking sounds tedious, but trust me, it’s not. The novel has tension-will Del meet the deadline her cousins have set and will she receive the money the cousins promised her. It also has well-drawn characters with Del, a quirky, defiant, strong-willed young woman in every scene.

Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard 344 pages

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart 390 pages

Mungo Hamilton is sixteen years old. He lives with his alcoholic mother, Maureen, his gang leader brother, Hamish and his bright, motivated sister, Jodie, in a tenement building in Glasgow. When there is talk that Mungo has gay tendencies, his mother sends him with two men she has just met at an AA meeting for a weekend of fishing and camping. Her convoluted thinking is that this weekend away will make a man of Mungo. Instead it becomes three horror-filled days.

In many ways Young Mungo is similar to Stuart’s debut novel, The Man Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain. They both have a young, gay main character living in the slums of Glasgow with an alcoholic mother. Both novels are heart breaking, vividly descriptive, achingly uncomfortable with a very sympathetic main character. If you appreciated Shuggie Bain, you will want to read Young Mungo.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart 390 pages

Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan 226 pages

The first sentence of Ocean State reads, “When I was in eighth grade my sister killed another girl.” Set for the most part in 2009 in a town in Rhode Island, the novel tells what leads up to and what happens after the murder from four women’s experiences-the murderer, Angel, the sister of the murderer, Marie, the mother of the murderer, Carol and the murdered girl, Birdy. As we get a clearer picture of each of these characters, we feel anger, shame and empathy for all of them.

This is the perfect book for readers who want to instantly become involved in a book. Although this is not a “typical” O’Nan novel, like most of his works, Ocean State has clear, concise prose, relatable characters and a very well-constructed plot.

Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan 226 pages

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz 236 pages

Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz has written a memoir that is divided into three parts. The first section “Lost” describes her reaction to the death of her father as well as how the concept of loss and grief is experienced historically and psychologically. “Found” zeroes in on Kathryn finding love, how it affects her and some others’ experiences of discovery. The third part is titled “and.” It not only describes Schulz’s life now but also the history of the ampersand and other interesting anecdotes.

This memoir is not for everyone, but I found it fascinating, hugely informative and extremely well-written. Schulz is such a good writer that I would probably read anything she has written, even if the subject didn’t interest me.

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz 236 pages

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler 464 pages

Although John Wilkes Booth is the most well-known member of the Booth family today, some of his relatives were more famous in their day. Karen Joy Fowler writes of his sisters(Rosalie and Asia) and his brothers (June, Edwin and Joe) as well as his parents (Mary and Junius). Rosalie was a spinster while Asia was the feisty and outgoing sister. Junius and Edwin were famous actors, while June, Joe and John’s acting abilities were second rate. Booth delves into the events and psyche of each family member. All were flawed but they cared deeply for each other. Fowler begins each section with a short interlude about Abraham Lincoln that describes his life in comparison to the Booths at that time. The deeper I read into Booth the more I became engrossed with all the members of the Booth family. It takes a while to get the gist of each character, but keep reading. You will not be disappointed. Booth is a great work of historical fiction.

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler 464 pages