A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life by George Saunders 390 pages

Every summer I read a classic that I have never read before. This summer is a little different. I read George Saunders’ most recent work which discusses seven Russian short stories: 3 by Chekhov, 2 by Tolstoy, 1 by Gogol and 1 by Turgenev. Saunders’ approach to these authors and their works is humorous, self-effacing and easy to understand. He takes examples from his life as a writer, a teacher and an average human being. After reading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain I had a greater respect for the four Russian authors even though I had already admired them. I also sincerely wished that I could take a class, any class, that George Saunders was teaching.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life by George Saunders 390 pages

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard 464 pages

This is the story of Eleanor. She is orphaned at 16, becomes a semi-famous children’s author at the age of 19, buys a run down house in New Hampshire and then marries Cam, a good looking, loving, free spirit. In the early 80’s they have three children. Life seems almost too good to be true until an accident involving their youngest child triggers trouble between Eleanor and Cam as well as her relationship with her older children.

Count the Ways is an easy, enjoyable, somewhat predictable read. I liked Maynard’s novel; however, there were times when Eleanor’s musings about marriage and parenthood got on my nerves, I wanted the author to keep the plot moving and drop the descriptions of introspection.

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard 464 pages

Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven 304 pages

Catherine Raven is a loner. She lives in rural Montana in a two room home she built with the help of a few friends. She has a Phd in biology, but prefers living alone with nature rather than working at a university or doing research in a city. One day a mangy orange fox arrives on her doorstep. She feeds him egg yolks, and although foxes are known to shun humans, this fox returns to Raven’s home almost daily at about the same time. Her relationship with this creature helps Raven understand herself better and become more of a social animal.

Catherine Raven is a fine writer. Her descriptions of her surroundings, her life and the humans and animals she comes in contact with are detailed and easy to visualize. However, you won’t find Fox & I too enjoyable if nature isn’t your thing.

Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship by Catherine Raven 304 pages

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin 289 pages

Spence Robin is an esteemed English professor at Columbia University. Pru is a student of his from an observant Jewish home in Columbus, Ohio. They fall in love, get married and raise Sarah who plans on becoming a medical doctor. Their family life seems almost picture perfect until in his mid50’s, Spence begins to act odd-forgetting things and losing important items. Morningside Heights follows Spence and Pru as they try to keep their marriage intact as it is falling apart.

Although the theme of Morningside Heights has been told often in plays, novels and movies in the past decade, Henkin makes living with Alzheimer’s seem like a new, fresh topic. His characterizations are realistic and empathetic. I suffered right along with Pru Robin as she desperately tried to meet the numerous challenges she has to face.

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin 289 pages

Night Came wit Many Stars by Simon Van Booy 280 pages

In 1933 in Kentucky, Carol’s despicable father lost her in a card game when she was thirteen years old. Although her early years are filled with violence and anger, eventually she happens upon good people who help her through a terribly difficult time. Night Came with Many Stars tells Carol’s story as well as what happens to her children and grandchildren.

Some of this novel is harsh and heartbreaking, yet Night Came with Many Stars is also a work of hope, love and the strength of the human spirit. Van Booy’s eighth work of fiction presents a group of interesting, somewhat complex characters; however, I wish there was more detail and explanation about some of them.

Night Came wit Many Stars by Simon Van Booy 280 pages

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 338 pages

When a classmate goes missing, Jai, the narrator of the novel, and his friends Faiz, a Muslim boy in a predominantly Hindu neighborhood and Pari, probably the smartest and most ambitious girl in Jai’s class, decide to investigate. As more children disappear from their poverty stricken neighborhood and there is no help from the police or political leaders, the trio decides it is up to them to find the victims and the perpetrators.

Deepa Anappara’s debut novel is not an easy read. It vividly describes the dire poverty in Jai’s community. Also, their are many foreign words interspersed throughout the work, but, fortunately, there is a glossary at the end. However, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is worth the effort. Jai and his two young friends are delightful, facing their dilemmas with humor and passion.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 338 pages

Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann 336 pages

The Briscoes are NOT a model family. Peter, the patriarch, has had two extramarital affairs, resulting in three children. His son March had an affair with his brother’s wife, and his third son is involved in a shooting that results in his sister’s boyfriend’s death. And as if that is not enough for the town of Olympus to gossip about, Peter’s wife is flirting with the visiting veterinarian.

Stacey Swann’s debut novel is entertaining at times, but for all the drama going on in Olympus Texas, I felt no sympathy for any of the Briscoes. Also, Swann goes back and forth in time, and instead of that clarifying major events, it makes most of the major predicaments even more confusing.

Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann 336 pages

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead 589 pages

It is 1909 and Marian Graves and her twin brother, Jamie, are rescued from a sinking ship by their father. Their mother goes down with the ship, and after the rescue, they never see their father again. Living with their Uncle Wallace in Missoula, Montana, Jamie grows up to become an artist and Marian a somewhat famous airplane pilot. In 2015 her life is made into a movie, and the young actress who portrays her learns much about Marian as well as herself.

Great Circle is the kind of novel I thoroughly enjoy. It has great character development, an exciting, intriguing plot, historical relevance and Maggie Shipstead knows how to write.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead 589 pages

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri 157 pages

Whereabouts is much anticipated new novel by The Pulitzer Prize winning author. Lahiri wrote this short, many chaptered book in Italian and then translated it into English. The unnamed narrator is a single, forty-something women working in academia. As we roam with her around the unnamed city she lives and works in, the reader gets glimpses of her childhood, her day to day activities and the nameless people she encounters.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a wonderful writer who presents a very interesting character who describes herself in short snippets, leaving the reader wanting more details about her life, her thoughts and her opinions.

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri 157 pages

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe 442 pages

Keefe describes three generations of the Sackler family and how they acquired their wealth and held on to it. First generation brothers, Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler all became medical doctors, were visibly philanthropic, bought pharmaceutical companies and kept quiet about how they ran their businesses. The second generation gave the world oxycontin, lied about its addictive qualities, and used marketing tactics which, unbeknown to its users, encouraged addiction. The third generation of Sacklers continued down the same immoral path as their ancestors.

The more I read Empire of Pain, the angrier I got. Patrick Radden Keefe writes an easy to read narrative, where with every chapter, the reader hopes this corrupt family will receive just punishments.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe 442 pages