Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips 255 pages

One day in August on the Kamchatka Peninsula, a remote area in northeastern Russia, two young sisters are kidnapped by a man with a round face and a well taken care of dark sedan.  Disappearing Earth depicts, in twelve vignettes characters from the region whose lives are closely or loosely tied to the missing girls.  There is Alla, whose youngest daughter has been missing for four years, Oksana, who thinks she saw the girls get into the kidnapper’s car, Marina the mother of the missing sisters, as well as others.

I thought Phillips’ debut novel was fantastic.  First of all, I love learning about people and places I never knew existed.  Also, all the characters are finely drawn with just enough tension in their lives for me to remember them and want to continue reading.  Don’t worry about their foreign names;  Phillips describes the cast of characters at the beginning of Disappearing Earth.

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Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips 255 pages

Biloxi by Mary Miller 256 pages

Louis McDonald Jr. is about to turn 64.  He is divorced and  has a daughter and granddaughter he rarely sees although they only live twenty minutes away.  His father recently died and Louis, because he is his only living child, expects to inherit everything.  He recently retired and spends most of his days sitting alone at home watching television and eating unhealthy food and drinking too much.  One day he is driving by a house with a sign out front that announces, “Free Dogs.”  Louis turns into the driveway and becomes the proud owner of Layla, a mutt who gags for no apparent reason.

Biloxi is an enjoyable novel.  Louis is a wonderful character-sometimes insightful, sometimes pathetic, but always entertaining.  And if you don’t fall in love with Layla,  you’re not a dog lover!

Biloxi by Mary Miller 256 pages

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep 279 pages

Reverend Willie Maxwell was never found guilty but most of the people in his home town were certain he murdered five family members.  He took out insurance on all of them shortly before their mysterious deaths and collected thousand of dollars soon after they died.  Tom Radney is the lawyer who got Maxwell off each time, but after the Reverend’s death, wanted the world to know Maxwell had murdered all five relatives.  Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, after years of publishing nothing, wanted to tell the story of Willie Maxwell and the attorney who defended him.

In some ways Furious Hours is three separate books-Maxwell’s story, Radney’s and Harper Lee’s.   While Cep is a descriptive writer, she never took enough time bringing all of their experiences together.  My guess is she really didn’t have enough information to do that.  Also, I expected and wanted Furious Hours to be more of a true crime story than a biography of Harper Lee.

 

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep 279 pages

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake 480 pages

Sarah Blake’s saga describes three generations of a successful WASP family.  Ogden Milton, the patriarch, owns a business that survives the Great Depression and World War II.  He and his beautiful, charming wife Kitty raise three children who give them five grandchildren. The family’s summer home is on an island in Maine, a place where the family relaxes and throws parties.  In 1959 Ogden and Kitty are hosting an engagement party for their younger daughter when a Jew and a Black man appear.  After that date, the Milton’s lives are never quite the same.

The Guest Book bounces back and forth in time, and with two characters named Evelyn, the beginning is a bit confusing.  Also, although the Miltons encounter tragedies in their lives, for me it was a little difficult to sympathize with such a privileged family that never wanted to face any of their problems.

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake 480 pages

Normal People by Sally Rooney 272 pages

It is the first month of 2011, and Marianne and Connell are in high school in a small town in Ireland.  Connell is popular, attractive and good looking.  Marianne is average looking, intelligent but friendless.  Connell’s mother is Marianne’s family’s cleaning lady.  Connell’s mom is loving and rational while Marianne’s mother and older brother are abusive and cold.  Normal People is the story of their relationship over the next four years.  Connell and Marianne sleep together, stop sleeping together, go to college at Trinity in Dublin together, find other people to date there, sleep with each other again, and break off again.

The plot of Normal People may sound trite and dull, but is interesting, emotional and fulfilling.  Connell and Marianne are multi-dimensional characters, realistically portrayed.  Throughout the four years of their on again, off again affair,  the reader slowly begins to understand why they need each other even if the characters do not.

Normal People by Sally Rooney 272 pages

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan 352 pages

It is 1982 in London, and Charlie has used his inheritance to purchase the newest most amazing robot.  Only 25 have been manufactured, 13 Eves and 12 Adams, and they can do almost anything humans can, only quicker and better.  Charlie is pursuing Miranda who lives above him and Adam falls in love with her, too.  Throw into the plot an abandoned child and a secret Miranda has kept to herself for years, and you have an entertaining, thought-provoking novel.

Even when Ian McEwan is not at his best, he’s still better than most authors.  In Machines Like Me, he changes history, rearranges dates, and invents things that were unheard of in 1982.  McEwan leaves his reader with much to think about in terms of artificial intelligence, love, revenge and truth vs. lies.  The subtitle of Machines Like Me is And People Like You.  Read the book and try to guess what that means!!

 

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan 352 pages

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer 548 pages

I had never heard of Varian Fry, but after reading over 500 pages about him, I still wanted to know more.  Mr. Fry came from an upper-middle class Protestant family, attended Harvard and went on to save thousands of artists, philosophers and authors from the Nazi’s.  In 1940 he was head of the Emergency Rescue Committee that was established in Marseille.  His tireless efforts are described in The Flight Portfolio.  However, this is not just a novel about a brave hero, it portrays Fry as a bisexual who must decide if he wants to keep his personal life a secret.  Furthermore, this historic novel poses the question, is it more important to save someone with talent than someone without?

I didn’t think Orringer could do better than her first novel, Invisible Bridge, but she has.  The Flight Portfolio is exciting, frightening and very well-written.

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer 548 pages