Fiction

  • Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA Posted in: Mysteries and Thrillers

    Who doesn’t enjoy a good spy story? Susan Hasler is a veteran of the counter-intelligence system and captures with chilling realism a terrorist plot as it unfolds at the local ballpark. The daily politics of working for the government are spelled out as only an insider might know them. We meet the team that tries to save the day—and their jobs—while walking the political line. An affair between two 60-somethings is discovered by this group and the angst of the colleagues-turned-lovers is portrayed refreshingly, with both tenderness and realism. The book is a nice change from others in this genre usually written from the male point of view. Read Intelligence for the edge-of-your-seat thrills and applaud Hasler for making her midlife characters dignified and authentic.

  • Turn of Mind Posted in: Mysteries and Thrillers

    Did she or didn’t she? This story of a 64-year-old woman with dementia is a page turner, so deftly written that you are drawn in from the start. Jennifer White is a retired surgeon suspected of killing her best friend, with whom she had a lifelong love-hate relationship. When we meet Jennifer, she is living at home with a full-time caregiver, and her memory is deteriorating quickly. While all clues point to Jennifer as the killer, the complex personalities of her son and daughter make the verdict anything but a slam dunk. Despite the fact that the fingers of the victim were severed with Jennifer’s scalpel—and Jennifer was seen leaving her friend’s home on the day of the murder—reasonable doubt remains. LaPlante allows us to slip into the abyss of dementia with Jennifer, who can no longer say with any certainty if she is, in fact, innocent. Achingly realistic, tragic and haunting, this book will stay with you for a very long time.

  • Instructions for a Heatwave Posted in: Families

    Maggie O’Farrell is a master of creating recognizable, flawed characters, and here she delivers once again. Gretta and Robert are long married with grown children; they have an easy routine to their days. Like their fellow Londoners, the couple are struggling to deal with the summer’s unrelenting heat and drought. But is the oppressive weather what caused Robert to go for a walk one morning and simply vanish without a word? His disappearance brings the children—Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife—back under the same roof for the first time in years to help Gretta find their father. The heat makes things seem too heavy to carry but each family member lightens their load with every weighty secret that is revealed.

  • Emily, Alone Posted in: Widows and Widowers, Women’s Lives

    Stewart O’Nan has a knack for crafting seemingly mundane and minute details into such thoughtful prose that his words become etched in a reader’s mind. In this novel, Emily is a widow in her 80s who has given up driving, resigned to relying on her sister-in-law, Arlene, as chauffeur. When Arlene faints at their regular lunch buffet, Emily drives home. This single moment sparks a renewal of her independence. With an ironic sense that she is reversing her dependence on others at an advanced age, what follows is a year in the life of Emily Maxwell. O’Nan’s depiction is so believable, you may be convinced that he was an older woman in a previous life, and so intimate, it feels like spying. Has O’Nan offered us a look into our own aging, perhaps?

  • Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale Posted in: Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Families, Women’s Lives

    Septuagenarian Faith Bass Darling—once spunky and vibrant, now merely eccentric—has dementia, and her memories are unreliable at best. On the eve of Y2K, acting on a message from God, reclusive Faith puts all of her worldly possessions out on the front lawn to sell for a fraction of their considerable worth. Estranged daughter Claudia returns to find what’s left of her family estate in shambles, a legacy extinguished. Her mother is now virtually unreachable, proving even old money and good health can’t buy a happy ending. The story features well-developed and endearing characters, revealing a history of a privileged family life tinged with sadness and misunderstanding. Author Rutledge ultimately asks us to consider: what is left of who we are if our memories fail and our possessions no longer hold any value? What if we gave them all away?

  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Posted in: Love Stories, Widows and Widowers

    Celebrate the agelessness of falling in love with this later-life romance. Widowed from long, happy marriages, retired Major Ernest Pettigrew and Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Jasmina Ali are charming, proper and delightfully quick-witted. In Austen-esque Edgecombe St. Mary, an English country town steeped in tradition, locals are uncomfortable with any change that challenges their conservative way of life. Predictably, this opposites-attract romance is thwarted by both society and family, particularly by the Major’s despicably pretentious son and the righteous Alis. In this stellar debut novel, Simonson depicts an enviable stage in life when one’s happiness trumps the approval of others, but not without a price. Touching on issues of class and cultural bias, at its core, this is a tale of a fortunate second chance at love.

  • The Roots of the Olive Tree: A Novel Posted in: Families

    By Courtney Miller Santo – William Morrow, 2012

    Imagine five generations of first-born women living under one roof. At 112, Anna Keller is the second-oldest person alive: her daughter, Betts, is 90 and great-great-granddaughter, Erin, is in her 20s. Is their longevity due to genetics or to a diet rich in olive oil from the family farm? A curious geneticist aims to use the information he uncovers to help others live extended, healthy lives. His research turns up some long-held family secrets in the process. The women have their unresolved issues and petty grievances, as one might imagine, but the characters are credible and keeping them straight is as easy as ABC—Anna, Betts, Callie, Deb and Erin. To see a centenarian portrayed as a vital, competent, independent woman is a treat, and you may be tempted to add olive oil to your diet and beauty regimen like the age-defying Keller women.

  • So Much for That Posted in: Families

    Only the bravest writer would consider America’s broken health care system fodder for fiction. Lionel Shriver brings us Shep Knacker, a generous, middle-aged everyman who has sacrificed and invested, planning an early retirement in Africa. Plane tickets in hand, he is confronted with news of his wife’s terminal illness. Shep’s relationships with family and friends are tested in the ordeal of his wife’s battle with cancer. His health insurance is inadequate, his job is demoralizing and the caregiving is exhausting. The characters are real; the dialogue, intelligent, cynical and witty; the issue, so relevant but uncomfortable. Chronicled at the start of each chapter is Shep’s rapidly dwindling Merrill Lynch account, begging you to consider: just how much is one life worth? This fictional account that feels all too real shows how the burden of health care is borne by the survivors.

  • Please Look After Mom Posted in: Families

    Do you really know your mother? After reading this story, you may want to think again. Widely acclaimed in her native Korea, Kyung-Sook Shin debuts in the United States with a moving story of a woman who disappears in a train station. As family members search for Park So-nyo, it becomes clear that they know very little about her. The true humanity of the missing woman comes to light, told from four perspectives: her two adult children, her husband and Park So-nyo herself. How will they find someone who has been all but invisible to them while wearing the cloak of wife and mother? As the characters peel away Park So-nyo’s intricate, private layers, we readers may find ourselves looking at the women in our own lives through the lens of their discoveries and realizing that wives and mothers everywhere have hidden worlds we would never think to imagine.

  • Orphan Train Posted in: Friendships

    By Christina Baker Kline – HarperCollins, 2013

    At age 90, Vivian Daly’s serene life doesn’t suggest the challenges she faced after her family perished in a 1920s tenement fire in New York City. Orphan Train reveals a woeful piece of American history and is thorough in its depiction of the terrible truth: Vivian was one of a quarter million orphaned or abandoned children placed on Midwest-bound trains, under the guise of finding them a better life. Decades later, Molly, a rudderless, angst-filled teen from foster care, as penance for a petty crime, does community service wherein she helps neighbor Vivian sort through the detritus of her attic. In the boxes of albums, Molly sees there’s more to Vivian than she expected. Despite the years between them, the two find they have much in common, enough for Molly to believe that her future might hold promise. We love it that the pair can have a meaningful, intergenerational connection.

  • The Bird Sisters Posted in: Families, Women’s Lives

    This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of two sisters, now in their 70s, who still live in the house where they grew up. Called the Bird Sisters because they rehabilitate wounded and dying birds, they are eccentrics in a small Wisconsin town of gently quirky inhabitants. Their story is told in chapters that alternate between the present and 1947, when the girls were teenagers trying to fix their parents’ broken marriage. They reflect on a cousin in fragile health whose summer visit changed them all. These charming, naïve sisters thought they knew what their futures held: a secure and predictable married life for sweet Millie and adventure for ornery Twiss. Neither got what she wanted. The Bird Sisters is a tale of secrets, sisterly love and devotion, and of two women you’ll remember long after you close the book.

  • The Leisure Seeker Posted in: Humor, Love Stories, Mortality

    You will wish you owned a roadside stop along Route 66 so you could meet Ella and John Robina, married a half-century, as they run away from home on their final road trip to Disneyland. Against all advice, from medical to familial, the defiant, independent, 80-something Robinas navigate their RV from Detroit to California without regret or apology. Ella, who has refused further treatment for cancer, is stubborn and often in pain. She’s sarcastic and loving, angry and tender. Weaving in and out of coherence and traffic is John, his ability to drive not yet affected by progressing dementia, but not always sure where he is, either on the map or in life. Neither sappy nor morbid, Michael Zadoorian portrays these romantic octogenarians as rich, complex characters. Filled with dark humor and the sense of impending tragedy, The Leisure Seeker remains the love story of a couple determined to live, and end, their lives in their own way.

  • Our Souls at Night Posted in: Fiction, Friendships, Love Stories, Midlife Crossings, Widows and Widowers

    By Kent Haruf – Knopf, 2015

    If you are one of the lucky ones who has read award-winning author Kent Haruf (Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction), you’re familiar with his gift for making the simple profoundly rich. As with his other novels, this one takes place in the small town of Holt, CO. Addie Moore, a widow, and widower Louis Waters, both live alone; they know one another by sight, but not well. It is surprising, then, when Addie knocks on Louis’s door and suggests that, nighttime being so hard to bear alone, they simply sleep together. Sweetly awkward at first, their companionship blooms and they wrestle with and sort out their futures, not without disparaging neighbors and family interference. It’s tender, it’s funny. It’s one of those small novels that lives big in your heart and stays with you. A grand finale, indeed, for Haruf passed away before this gem was published.

  • The Sense of an Ending Posted in: Arts, Fiction, Friendships

    Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, this profound novel is about a man forced to look back at an uncomfortable time in his life and ask himself if he is who he thinks he is. Tony Webster, now in his 60s, considers his life settled. He has a good relationship with his family; he is comfortable and at peace. He is quite surprised to find that a woman he once met only briefly—the mother of an old lover from school—has bequeathed him some money and a diary. Along with this gift reemerges the former lover with her version of that time in their lives. Her account makes Tony question the veracity not only of his memories but his self-image. What other memories has he finessed to the point of distortion? This tale is a provocative, psychological mystery—one might be tempted to read its 160 pages in one sitting. Don’t rush. Barnes has chosen each word thoughtfully for us to savor, and then to read again.

  • Lone Wolf Posted in: Families, Mortality

    By Jodi Picoult – Atria, 2012

    In her 19th novel, New York Times best-selling author Jodi Picoult once again looks at a family in the throes of a moral dilemma. Luke Warren lived in the wild for two years, studying wolves; the experience changed him, and that ultimately tore the Warrens apart. Now, a car accident leaves him dependent on life support. Should his family pull the plug? The question pits Luke’s teenage daughter, Cara, who feels she knows Luke’s wishes, against her older brother, Edward, who has been estranged from the family for six years. Always expect the unexpected with Picoult, who—in her trademark style of giving voice to all who are involved and showing every side of an issue—challenges us to think about end-of-life decisions and to consider who will speak for us when our time comes.

  • The Middlesteins: A Novel Posted in: Families

    By Jami Attenberg – Grand Central Publishing, 2012

    When food is a substitute for love, what happens to the family? Richard Middlestein has just left Edie, his wife of 40 years, unwilling to abide any longer her lifelong addiction to food. Overweight since her Holocaust-surviving mother placated her with warm bread, Edie has every health condition associated with obesity. Despite dire admonitions from doctors, she shows no signs of compliance. The grown Middlestein children are distraught over their father’s abandonment. Contemptuous, often-inebriated daughter Robin sees for the first time how devastating her mother’s relationship with food has become. Henpecked son Lenny wants to keep the peace, while his rail-thin wife refuses Richard access to his spoiled grandchildren. Each deals with the fallout in ways that manage to be simultaneously funny and pitiful. The tale of the Middlesteins is fiction, but the message hits a hard note of truth in our weight-conscious culture.

  • A Man Called Ove Posted in: Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Widows and Widowers

    By Fredrik Backman – Atria, 2014

    A Man Called Ove is a debut novel that will charm you like no other. Ove is estranged from his best friend, let go from his job and recently widowed from a wife he adored. He’d kill himself if everyone would just let him be. But that plan is foiled by new neighbors, local rule-breakers and curious children—even the cat interferes. So it could not get any more exasperating for Ove. This is a feel-good story that suggests it’s possible to hit the curve ball life throws at you, if you just get out of your own way. A more loveable curmudgeon may not exist. Fans of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and Olive Kitteridge looking to venture outside familiar American authors, your search is Ove-r. Backman’s Swedish bestseller has been translated into 25 languages. Read it in at least one of them.

  • Florence Gordon Posted in: Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Women’s Lives

    By Brian Morton – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

    Florence Gordon is an aging feminist and academic, an intolerant woman who wants to be left alone to write a memoir she thinks no one will read. Arriving at a restaurant to find a surprise 75th birthday party (her own), she leaves; she’d rather write. Yet solitude eludes her as her daughter-in-law and granddaughter arrive in town, and Florence is sucked into the drama that is her son’s fragile marriage. Her disdain for her son’s wife is met with adoration, although her granddaughter, distant but curious, can’t quite figure her grandmother out. And now, unimaginably, book reviews dub her a national treasure, and she is jettisoned into book tours and speaking engagements. She deals with a health crisis, her ex-husband’s envy of her success, a hip young editor, and her granddaughter as her assistant. Acerbic enough to make you wince, while witty and whip smart, Florence Gordon is a woman you will love, hate and remember.

  • Moving Day: A Thriller Posted in: Mysteries and Thrillers

    By Jonathan Stone – Thomas and Mercer, 2014

    It’s a brilliant scam: uniformed thieves show up with a van, ahead of schedule, and pack up the house. When the actual movers arrive the next day, all possessions are long gone. But this time, the crooks messed with the wrong man. Stanley Peke is a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor who as a child was forced to find his way alone in the woods when the Nazis left him orphaned and homeless. Peke has successfully buried his past: he works hard, lives well and invests wisely. Incensed and refusing to be victimized again, Peke channels that resilient boy to cross the country, humiliate the thief and reclaim a lifetime’s worth of possessions. Moving Day is a psychological thriller with intelligent characters in a harrowing plot that shows just how far a man will go to keep his treasures and his pride.

  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared Posted in: Curmudgeons and Other Eccentric Characters, Humor

    By Jonas Jonasson – Hyperion, 2012

    Impetuous Allan Karlsson dodges his centennial birthday celebration by escaping out the window of his nursing home. Walking in slippers to the nearby bus depot, he picks up a suitcase that a stranger asked him to watch and heads off to begin another chapter in a life already filled with adventures, both good and bad. Hilarity ensues when Allan discovers the suitcase contains a large, ill-gotten fortune and the victim needs to get it back. Allan’s resourcefulness comes from a long life that afforded him the opportunity to see many world events unfold, recalled with Allan himself in the thick of them, not unlike Forrest Gump. His experiences include building a nuclear bomb, fighting in the Spanish-American War and preventing the assassination of Winston Churchill. This is a happy-go-lucky tale with zany characters (Einstein’s brother!), improbable circumstances (an elephant!) and the most outrageous centenarian you’ll likely meet.