All Adults Here by Emma Straub 368 pages

Astrid Strick is a 70 year old widow with three grown children. She is in love with her hairdresser, a woman named Birdie, but like so many things in her life, she is afraid to let her family see who she really is and how she truly feels. Also, her children have not been forthright with themselves, each other nor Astrid.  The only upfront, honest character in the Strick family is Cecelia, Astrid’s thirteen year old granddaughter who is living with her temporarily.

After reading a number of sad books during these depressing times, I felt it was time to read something lighter and a bit humorous.  All Adults Here filled the bill. It’s not too heavy, yet nor pure fluff, with relatable, engaging characters.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub 368 pages

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker 335 pages

Mimi and Don Galvin married in the early 1940’s and in twenty years had a dozen children-10 boys and 2 girls.  What began as a charmed life-handsome family, ambitious father, caring mother-slowly unraveled into a nightmare.  Eventually it was discovered that six of the Galvin sons suffered from schizophrenia.  Life was not only a living hell for Mimi and Don and the six sons with schizophrenia, it was also unbearable for the healthy siblings.  Although Mimi tried to present to the outside world a perfect family, the Galvin household was filled with violence, abuse and chaos.

I read Hidden Valley Road while I was suffering from the corona virus.  It is such an intense, interesting, alarming work of nonfiction that I couldn’t put it down even when I should have been napping.  Hidden Valley Road is a must read for anyone interested in mental illness and dysfunctional families.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker 335 pages

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry 251 pages

Winona Cole is an orphaned seventeen year old.  She is a Lakota Indian who saw her mother and sister murdered.  Subsequently, she was raised by two men.  Thomas McNulty and John Cole are not your average Tennessee frontiersmen, but they are loving, kind and honest.  A Thousand Moons takes place soon after the Civil War,  Although the north has won in western Tennessee, which is where the novel is set, bigotry and violence against minorities is often accepted, even encouraged.  When Winona is raped and her friend and former slave, Tennyson Bouquereau is beaten to within an inch of his life, Winona decides to search for the culprits and seek justice.

I had never read Sebastian Barry before even though I know many who enjoy him, and he is the recipient of many literary awards.  I hope A Thousand Moons isn’t ranked one of his best.  I couldn’t empathize with the characters nor did I find their situations very realistic.

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry 251 pages

The Sacrament by Olaf Olaffson 292 pages

A French nun is asked to investigate a Catholic school in Iceland that has been anonymously accused of abusing some of its students.  At the center of these allegations is the school’s headmaster.  Coincidentally, while the investigation is going on, the headmaster dies after falling from the church’s bell tower.   Twenty years later, the same nun is asked by the Vatican to return to Iceland to finally decide if these accusations are true.

The Sacrament is a good read and a fine mystery.  However, there is a lot of jumping around in time, which sometimes was confusing.

The Sacrament by Olaf Olaffson 292 pages

This Is Happiness by Niall Williams 380 pages

The small Irish town of Faha is in for a great change.  During a particular dry sun-filled spring, the city is going to get electricity.  It is an event that will change the way of life for all of its citizens.  The seventeen year old narrator of This Is Happiness, Noel Crowe, is spending some time with his grandparents in Faha that spring after the death of his mother.  Into their lives comes Christy. He has come representing the electric company but also to ask forgiveness from the woman he left at the altar 50 years ago.

Noel, his grandparents and Christy are just a few of the charming characters in This Is Happiness.  Williams’ novel is beautifully written-almost every page has a memorable sentence.  If you are fond of Irish literature, This Is Happiness, is a must read.

This Is Happiness by Niall Williams 380 pages

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez 256 pages

Antonia Vega, born in the Dominican Republic and living in Vermont, is a retired English teacher recently widowed.  She is full of self pity when two events force her to stop thinking of herself and try to help others.  Mario works for the farmer next door.  He arrived from Mexico illegally and soon his pregnant girlfriend arrives from Mexico, too.  Since Antonia speaks Spanish, she is put in the uncomfortable situation of helping the young couple.  Antonia is one of four sisters.  The oldest, Izzy, is bipolar and has disappeared.  The sisters feel they must find her before something catastrophic occurs.

Afterlife does not show Julia Alvarez at her best.  Read In the Time of the Butterflies if you want to see what she is capable of writing.

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez 256 pages

Book suggestions for the quarantined

Nonfiction

I selected longer books that make what we are going through a piece of cake!

Say Nothing  by Patrick Radden Keefe

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

 

Fiction

I chose novels that were both easy and difficult, long and average length.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Book suggestions for the quarantined

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich 448 pages

Once again Louise Erdrich writes about her Native American heritage, this time focusing on the life of her grandfather.  Thomas Wazhushk is a night watchman, a farmer and an active member of the Chippewa Council in North Dakota.  When the people who live and work on The Turtle Mountain Reservation learn that a Mormon congressman has introduced a bill that will terminate their land and their identity, they know they must fight this bill.  Interwoven into Thomas’s tale, Erdrich tells the story of Patrice Paranteau.  Patrice is also a Chippewa.  She works at the factory where Thomas is a night watchman and is the sole support for her mother and younger brother.  Patrice has an older sister who has disappeared, so she has to take time off work, travel to Minneapolis and search for her.

The Night Watchman is very good.  It illustrates a small slice of American history with well-defined, complex characters.  However, I did feel it ended abruptly, and all the loose ends were tied together too quickly.

 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich 448 pages

Deacon King Kong by James McBride 384 pages

Deacon King Kong aka Sportcoat is an alcoholic widower in his early 70’s.  He and a number of other characters with colorful nicknames live in The Cause Houses, a housing project in Brooklyn.  One day in 1969, Sportcoat shoots Deems, a young drug dealer who had a promising future in professional baseball.  Although there were a number of witnesses, Sportcoat remains free.  While he eludes the police and the drug dealers who are after him, we meet his friends, enemies, church members as well as his deceased wife Hettie.

I thoroughly enjoyed Deacon King Kong!  Yes, it has a lot of characters with funny names, and yes, there is more than one story line, but James McBride’s use of language and his amusing and heart-warming characters make the work totally worthwhile.

 

Deacon King Kong by James McBride 384 pages