The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine 258 pages

Daphne and Laurel Wolfe are identical twins with bright red hair.  They are as close as any two people can be.  They are best friends, they have a secret language that only they understand and are intrigued and passionate about the English language.  Cathleen Schine describes Laurel and Daphne’s lives from childhood to middle age.  Along the way, she introduces us to their husbands, children, parents and other relatives and employers.  Most of them are as interesting, bright and quirky as the twins.

If you love taking apart words and thinking about the complexities of our language, The Grammarians will charm you.  Schine writes a good story, and it’s easy to read with engaging characters.

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The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine 258 pages

A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldm pages

Parveen Shamsa is an anthropology major at California Berkeley.  Her parents fled Afghanistan and settled in Northern California before she was born.  After reading a book titled Mother Afghanistan,  an American man’s memoir about building a clinic in a remote village in that country,  Parveen decides to interrupt her studies and travel to that village.  She hopes to study the lives of the women in that area.  What she expects and what she experiences are vastly different.

Waldman’s first novel, The Submission, told a so so story but hit on several controversial issues.  A Door in the Earth is the same in that respect.  The characters are rather flat, the plot, at times, is a bit didactic, but the novel brings up many issues worth discussing.

A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldm pages

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller 240 pages

In her fourth memoir about her family’s life in Africa, Fuller begins with a death and ends with another.  Ironically her father, Tim Fuller, the first of her family’s deaths, passed away in a Budapest hospital, although he spent almost his entire adult life in parts of Africa.  Through recollections of her parents lives, we learn that her father is a hard worker and a hard drinker with a ton of pithy rules to live by.  Her mother is a tough adventuress who loves animals more than humans.

I love Alexandra Fuller’s writing; it is sharp and clear.  In the final chapters of Travel Light, Move Fast her description of her grief after losing family members, threw me into her world of bottomless sorrow.  For me, her family was interesting, but her prose was sensational.

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller 240 pages

Inland by Tea Obreht 367 pages

The setting, for the most part, is Arizona in 1893.  Nora is the wife of Emmett who runs a newspaper that is going bust.  She also lives with two grown sons, her husband’s niece, and a young son who has suffered a head injury that has affected his vision and possibly his thinking process.  Nora’s husband and older sons have not returned home for several days, and her water supply is gone and there is very little to eat.  Lurie is on the lam for killing a young man.  He becomes part of a group of men riding The Arizona Territory on camels.  Inland alternates between Nora and Lurie’s life that year:  each dangerous and brutal.

Inland is not an easy read, but I felt it was worthwhile.  Sometimes it takes a few chapters to realize what is actually happening.  For instance, it took me at least 75 pages to realize that Lurie is narrating his tale to his camel named Burke.  For those who need to be drawn into a novel immediately,  don’t read Inland. For others who can wait it out and enjoy the language and originality of Obreht’s second novel, give it a try.

Inland by Tea Obreht 367 pages

Chances Are… by Richard Russo 301 pages

Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey became friends in the early 70’s when they attended college and had a meal job at the Theta House.  While working at the sorority, they all met and fell in love with Jacy.  After graduation, with the Viet Nam war making for an uncertain future, the four plan a last weekend of fun on Martha’s Vineyard.  On their final morning together, Jacy has disappeared and Mickey has taken off to Canada.  Forty years later, the three men meet again at the same home on the Vineyard.  Lincoln and Teddy spend much of the weekend trying to figure out what happened to Jacy and why Mickey went to Canada.

If you usually enjoy Richard Russo, you will not be disappointed in Chances Are . . .Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey are likeable characters, and just like them, the reader wants to discover what happened to Jacy.

Chances Are… by Richard Russo 301 pages

Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan

I was so fond of Henry, Himself that I wanted to read O’Nan’s other two books about the Maxwell family.  Wish You Were Here describes the family’s visit to their house in Chautauqua the year after Henry’s death.  Emily, Henry’s wife, wants to sell the home which has been a summer haven for the Maxwell’s for three generations.  We see the same characters and learn what has happened to them several years after Henry, Himself.  Emily, Alone occurs about eight years after Wish You Were Here.  O’Nan presents us with the same family members, but Emily is the focal point of the plot..

I thoroughly enjoyed all three novels. Although I missed Henry in these last two books(he is a lovable, genuine, realistic character), it was a joy to read more about this family and discover how each member was getting on.

Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead 210 pages

Nickel Academy is a reform school for boys in Florida.  It is segregated-white boys on the west side of the institution, black boys on the east side.  While Nickel calls itself an academy, it really is a house of torture.  The Nickel Boys focuses on the life of Elwood Curtis.  Elwood is a black youngster raised by his grandmother.  He is bright, motivated and takes the inspirational words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to heart.  Unfortunately, he is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was not enthralled with Whitehead’s, The Underground Railroad, although the rest of the world found it superb.  For me, The Nickel Boys is a much finer novel.  The characters, the plot, its presentation, and its historical significance make for an exceptional, thought-provoking work with a terrific ending.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead 210 pages