Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng 325 pages

Ng’s third novel takes place somewhere in the near future. Our country is run by a group called PACT which, among other things, stresses allegiance to the United States while at the same time promoting anti-Asian feelings. Twelve year old Bird lives with his father in a Harvard dorm. His father used to be an etymologist, but due to the way the country is heading, he now shelves books at the school library. Bird’s mother left the family three years ago because her parents were from China, and she felt Bird and her husband were safer if she disappeared. Recently, Bird has discovered scraps of paper that he thinks if he is able to decipher their meaning, will help him find his mother.

At first glance, all of Celeste Ng’s novels seem very different, but all three have the theme of prejudice running throughout them. Like Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, Our Missing Hearts is very well written with characters readers will empathize with.

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Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng 325 pages

Ancestry by Simon Mawer 414 pages

Simon Mawer has traced his roots back five generations. Emphasizing his family that was formed around the 1850’s, Ancestry describes relatives such as, Abraham Black who leaves home to become an apprentice seaman at the age of fifteen and Annie Mawer, nee Scanlon, an illiterate Irish girl who finds ways to keep her family fed and housed after her husband is sent off to fight in the Crimean War.

Perhaps because these and other characters in Ancestry are real yet ordinary people, I was captivate by this work of nonfiction. Mawer is a fine writer who not only keenly depicts the hardships his ancestors endured, but also what life was like for so many during those times.

Warning: Mawer’s descriptions of the Crimean war are difficult to read. The most horrific rendering of war that I’ve read in a long time.

Ancestry by Simon Mawer 414 pages

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson 416 pages

In 1926 Nellie Coker, mother of six who owns several night clubs in London, has just been let out of prison. Meanwhile, Inspector John Frobisher is looking for a reason to send Nellie back to prison while also hunting down missing girls, discovering several drowned young women and taking care of his French wife who is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He distrusts most of the policemen he works with, so he employs Gwendolen Kelling, and ex librarian from York, to dig up dirt on the Coker family. The results are a sometimes fun, sometimes dark romp through post war London.

I usually enjoy Kate Atkinson. She has a knack of being lighthearted yet serious at the same time-not easy to do. There’s a lot going on in Shrines of Gaiety, and it may be confusing at first, but if you’re an Atkinson fan, stick with it.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson 416 pages

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li 348 pages

Fabienne and Agnes are best friends who live in a small, poor, rural town in France. Fabienne is the dominant one in the relationship. One day she decides she will dictate a creative work of fiction to Agnes, and Agnes will take full credit as the author. The retired postman who lives in their village edits it and then sends it on to a publisher in Paris. It is printed and Agnes becomes famous when she is fourteen years old.

I have read several of Yiyun Li’s books, and although she is a fine writer, there is always an element of discomfort in them. The Book of Goose is mainly a book about friendship, but there are also themes of death, poverty and deception.

The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li 348 pages

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout 285 pages

Elizabeth Strout’s newest work focuses on Lucy Barton, her ex husband, William, and the pandemic. It is March of 2020 and William, because he is a scientist, knows before most that the world will be turned upside down very soon. He finds a house in rural Maine and strongly urges Lucy to leave her New York City apartment and move with him. Lucy by the Sea describes Lucy’s experiences, thoughts, insights and flashbacks during this traumatic time.

I know that Elizabeth Strout’s writing style and characters are not for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed most of her novels. For me, reading Lucy by the Sea felt like chatting with a good friend. Like a good friend, Lucy Barton is caring, thoughtful and honest.

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout 285 pages

Lessons by Ian McEwan 431 pages

Lessons is the story of Roland Baines – from his childhood in Africa to his time in an English boarding school to his life in London when he is in his 70’s. During these years he is seduced by his piano teacher, marries a German woman who deserts him leaving him to care for their young son, and eventually happily remarries. His life is nothing special, he never worked at anything with a passion, but in some ways he is satisfied. Roland Baines is an ordinary man living an ordinary life.

Ian McEwan’s most recent novel is one of his best. Perhaps because the main character is my age, has lived through many of the historical events that I have, and reacted to friends and family as I probably would, I identified with him Lessons is a fine story about a multi-dimensional man. It is my favorite book so far this year.

Lessons by Ian McEwan 431 pages

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell 432 pages

Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici was born in Florence to Italian nobility in 1545. When she was fifteen she married an Italian duke, a man she had only seen once when he was engaged to her late sister. Lucrezia was a bright, stubborn, talented girl who was an expert at making herself almost invisible and listening in on conversations. After being married for almost a year and not producing an heir, her husband takes Lucrezia to a remote fortress-like country estate where she believes he will murder her.

This is an interesting well-written book of historical fiction, but not O’Farrell’s best work,. I found The Marriage Portrait overly descriptive, sacrificing plot for ornate, unnecessary details. Also, it is a novel that jumps around in time and settings and can get a bit confusing.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell 432 pages

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark 576 pages

Agnes and Polly have been friends forever. Both are Quakers in their early 80’s who spend their winters in Philadelphia and summers on Fellowship Point in Maine. Agnes is single, head strong, independent and earns a living as an author. Polly is married to a domineering husband, the mother of three sons and tries her hardest to get along with everyone. When money hungry relatives want to develop Fellowship Point, Polly and Agnes work together to try to stop them.

Alice Elliott Dark’s work of fiction is a great read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Agnes and Polly (it’s about time someone wrote a novel about friendships among the elderly). Fellowship Point is well-written, yet an easy read. After finishing it, I wanted to go to rural Maine, take a look at the beautiful scenery and meet the wonderful cast of characters.

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark 576 pages

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra 408 pages

Maria Lagana is an Italian immigrant working for one of the owners of Mercury Pictures during the 1940’s. She arrived in Hollywood with her mother and her three eccentric aunts. For a while she receives censored letters from her father who is still in Italy, but eventually she hears nothing from him. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, Mercury Pictures must change the type of movies it produces, and Maria and a group working for the company are forced to adapt.

There’s a lot going on in Mercury Pictures Presents. Marra introduces many characters, several subplots and a variety of settings. However, if you are willing to take your time, concentrate and read it through to the end, it is definitely worth the effort.

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra 408 pages

A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang 387 pages

Tang Yitian is a college professor at a prestigious university in America. He was brought up in a rural Chinese village. One day he receives a call from his mother who he hasn’t seen in seven years. His elderly father has disappeared, and his mother needs Yitian’s help finding him. His return to China brings back memories of his father, his deceased brother and the girl he loved who helped him get to America.

Tang’s debut novel is a winner. She clearly describes the China of the 1970’s compared to the country in 1990. Her characters a well-drawn, and although the novel goes back and forth in time, it is never confusing.

A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang 387 pages