Heading to the beach (or a lake? your backyard?) to have some socially distanced fun?
Well, you can’t just lie there soaking in the sun the whole time, am I right? You have to read. Something. A magazine, perhaps. Or even the back of a Goldfish bag, as my family and I gleefully watched a sunbathing man do for a good 10 minutes while he emptied said Goldfish bag one summer.
Or a good book.
But which one?
I have a few suggestions for you, from crime to suspense, a bit of horror — even a Pulitzer Prize winner — and they’re all good for whiling away your time in a hammock or on a beach blanket.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay By Michael Chabon
OK, so let’s get the Pulitzer winner out of the way.
I had only read two Pulitzer Prize-winning novels — “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara (both excellent) — before I picked up this one on a whim.
If you love comics books, you’ll love this book. Even if you don’t (hello, me), I feel reasonably sure you’ll like it. It’s a long one — 639 pages — and, yes, at times it feels bloated (I could have lived without the lengthy interlude of Kavalier’s experiences in Antarctica during World War II), but Chabon certainly has a way with words.
It’s about two young Jewish cousins — the awkward Sammy Clay (shortened from Clayman), 17, born in Brooklyn, and Joe Kavalier, who escapes Nazi-occupied Prague at age 19 and heads to Brooklyn to live with his American relatives, Sammy and his mother. (How he escapes is a story in and of itself.)
Both cousins find their connection in comic books. Sammy loves reading them, and Joe is an ace artist. (He’s also a darn good magician and escape artist — see comment in last paragraph.)
Sammy, a wise-cracking hustler, gets Joe a job where he works, a novelty-products company, and convinces the owner to get into the burgeoning comic-book business. The two create their hero, The Escapist (based not a little bit on Joe himself), and earn fame and money (though not as much as they might have) before family (Joe struggles to bring his over from Prague), love and war separate them.
A good read. And you can say you read a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Rating: 3 1/2 bookmarks out of 5
If It Bleeds by Stephen King
Half of this latest collection of four novellas has the king in top form. The other two aren’t bad, either.
The four short novels (the book is 448 pages hardcover) included in the book are, in order, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” “The Life of Chuck,” “If It Bleeds” and “Rat.”
The first two, in my opinion, are among the finest fiction King has published in the last 20 years.
“Phone” is about a lonely 9-year-old boy in the fictional Harlow, Maine, who does yard work for an extremely rich, retired, old man, who repays him with cash and, four times a year, a card with a scratch ticket inside. One year, the boy, Craig, wins $1,000 on a ticket and decides to buy Mr. Harrigan a cellphone, which the old man at first disdains — until Craig shows him the wonders of the internet, including a real-time stock ticker, and that finally wins him over.When Mr. Harrigan dies a short time later, Craig secretly stuffs the phone in his suitcoat pocket before the casket is lowered. Then one night, he finds himself missing his old friend and decides to give him a call.
Let’s just say the man may be dead, but the phone … not so much.
“Chuck” is the best of the bunch — the story, told in reverse, of Chuck Krantz’s life, beginning with the events leading up to his death, followed by the middle part of his life, and then his youth, where things start to come together and we begin to understand what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote, “I contain multitudes.”
The third novella, “If It Bleeds,” is pretty good, but I’m getting kind of sick of the Holly Gibney character, who also appears in the trilogy that includes “Mr. Mercedes,” “Finders Keepers” and “End of Watch,” as well as the more recent “The Outsider.” Oh, and you should probably read that latter book before you read this short piece. I haven’t read “The Outsider” yet, and now I regret it.
Anyway, this one, which takes its name from the old newspaper trope, “If it bleeds, it leads,” finds Holly becoming a tad suspicious of a TV reporter who just happened to be first on the scene just minutes after a bomb explodes inside a school.
“Rat” is the weakest piece, and yet another in King’s ever-growing list of fiction about writers having a hard time writing. (See “Misery,” “The Dark Half” and “Secret Window.”) The writer in this one has a great idea for his first novel (his last attempt three years before ended pretty badly), so he packs up and heads to the family cabin in the upper reaches of Maine, leaving his wife and kids behind so he can concentrate, just in time for a whopper of a winter storm.While isolated in the cabin (is that ever a good thing in a book?), he dreams (or does he?) of a talking rat who tells him he’ll help him finish his novel, but he’ll have to make one sacrifice.
Let’s just say this last novella is all-rat.
Rating: 4 bookmarks out of 5
A Book of Bones by John Connolly
I recently reviewed another book by this Irish author in his Charlie Parker detective series, which mainly takes place in Maine.
Connolly truly is a writer who has created his own little niche in the fiction world — a PI series that, as the series goes on from book to book, incorporates a large supernatural element, often bordering on horror (if not stepping over that border).
“A Book of Bones” is number 17 in the Parker series, and it’s a doozy — the longest by far and the one that rockets the Parker story line forward.
You really should read the Parker books in order but if you don’t, you really, really should read this one’s immediate predecessor, “The Woman in the Woods,” first, as they are somewhat of a matching set.
“A Book of Bones” takes Parker — and, naturally, his two “associates,” Angel and Louis (no last names) — to London, which may never be the same. They’re on the hunt for the villains from “The Woman in the Woods,” the seemingly immortal Quayle and his henchwoman, the oddly yet perfectly named Pallida Mors, who are on a quest for the missing page to a very valuable, mysterious and quite possible world-ending book.
Parker is a haunted man — literally — whose wife and young daughter were murdered way back in No. 1, “Every Dead Thing,” and whose life since then has been spent fighting the forces of evil. Every book brings him all manner of trouble, and this one is no different.Yes, it’s long, pushing 700 pages, but Parker is never a dull read.
Rating: 4K bookmarks out of 5.
What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan
I am immediately skeptical when folks refer to a new suspense novel (at least those written by a woman) as being the next “Girl on a Train” or “Gone Girl” — mostly because I didn’t think either of those was anything special.
This one came with those types of comments. It’s netter than either of those overhyped books.
“What She Knew” is MacMillan’s debut, and she has set the bar high for herself. It opens with recently divorced Rachel Jenner out for a walk in the woods of Bristol, England, with her son Ben, 8. When Ben asks to go on a head to the swing up ahead along with his dog, Rachel reluctantly lets him. That’s the last she sees of him.
Of course, public opinion turns against her quickly because that’s what we do, right? We immediately think it’s either the parent’s fault or that she should have known better than to let the kid go ahead.
This one is loaded with suspense, even at just shy of 500 pages, as Rachel tries to decide who she can and can’t trust — including herself.
Rating: 4 bookmarks out of 5
Headhunters by Joe Nesbo
This Norwegian author is one of my favorite discoveries of the last five years, and his Harry Hole series of crime novels is top-notch.
“Headhunters,” however, was his foray out of Harry territory, a standalone novel that I was a little leery to read, just because I equate Nesbo with Hole. My hesitance was unwarranted. This is a fun read, more of a caper than Hole’s dark adventures in the criminal underbelly of Norway and elsewhere.
Roger Brown is a corporate headhunter who, because his wife has expensive tastes (as does he), has a side job as an art theft. During interviews with prospective CEOs, he deftly steers the conversation toward their tastes in art. When he finds out a certain candidate owns a piece of art that could turn a nice profit for him, he steals it.
But then he interviews Clas Greve, who rather disinterestedly tells Brown he has inherited a Paul Rubens from a a deceased relative. The game is afoot, and Nesbo’s skills at having the reader believing one thing, and then pulling the rug out, are on full display. It’s an excellent writer who can make you sympathize with a wholly unsympathetic character.
Warning: There is one extremely gross part of this fairly short book (265 pages), one that had me squirming a bit, and I’m not talking about blood and gore. “Headhunters” was made into a movie in Norway, one I haven’t seen yet but plan to, and it will be interesting to see if they kept this rather scatological scene in the adaptation.
Rating: 4 bookmarks out of 5