The Burgess Boys
The Burgess Boys is the story of a family: brothers Jim and Bob, and their sister Susan; as well as their respective spouses, exes, and children. When Jim, Bob, and Susan were very young, they were in the car when an accident killed their father. Bob has always believed himself to be responsible. The heavy burden he carries has led him to a solitary life in a small apartment with lots of alcohol. Jim, on the other hand, has become a successful and famous lawyer with a lovely family and a nice house. Unlike her brothers, Susan did not move to New York but stayed in their hometown, where she also has a small, cold life. Her only joy is her son, Zach- until his teenage prank mushrooms into a hate crime against the Somali Muslims that have immigrated to their hometown.
Zach’s legal case forms the framework for The Burgess Boys, but it is not the story: the story is the brothers, Jim and Bob, and their struggle to navigate their relationships with each other and the people around them. This is not a book with lots of action or major plot points, but it is a book with incredible character development. The narration rotates among a handful of main players, allowing the reader to see the characters from both their own and others perspectives.
Yes, The Burgess Boys is about immigration, racism, and the law. It is also about middle-aged marriage, divorce, and falling in love again. But ultimately, it is about family. It is about the narrative of who you are in your family, starting in early childhood, and how it shapes the person you are as an adult. Its about the Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, and the people they love -and hurt- the most.
After I’m Gone
When local big shot and bookie Felix Brewer skipped bail and disappeared, he left behind a wife Bambi, three daughters, and a mistress, Julie. When Julie disappeared ten years later, many people assumed he had sent for her. It was 15 years before her body was discovered.
Private investigator Sandy Sanchez is trying to solve the cold case of Julie’s murder. Digging into the past, he finds layer after layer of secrets and lies. But will he discover the truth?
After I’m Gone uses multiple narrators and weaves together accounts spanning many years. While it initially appears to be a story about Felix, it really the story of all the women he loved and left behind. Each one adds her own unique perspective to this novel.
Part mystery, part family drama, After I’m Gone is all page-turner. Telling a story from so many viewpoints is tricky, but Lippman did an excellent job. Each character has their own distinct voice but they tell one story.
Arabella Godwin is an old lady when her life is shaken, quite literally, by one of San Francisco’s famous earthquakes. The disaster throws her together with a woman who remembers her, not as a rich society widow, but as the most infamous madam on the west coast.
Realizing that she has nothing to lose, Arabella finally sits down to write her own account of her early years. It is this memoir that makes up the bulk of Belle Cora.
Arabella was born into a comfortable merchant family, but the untimely death of her parents scattered the siblings, sending Arabella and her younger brother Lewis to live with relatives in the country. Farm life did not suit Arabella; but it was there she met Jeptha, who may just have been the love of her life.
Circumstances developed (I don’t want to give away the whole plot) that led Arabella to the gold rush town of San Francisco. She quickly worked her way up from being a prostitute to running one of the best brothels in the city. She also became known as the wife of the notorious gambler Charles Cora.
Of course a fast lifestyle came at a cost, and Belle paid that cost. She was still very young when she retired and started another life with a respectable man.
The narrative of Belle Cora- the story development and historical details- is good enough. It is populated with a supporting cast of interesting characters. But what makes it exceptional, in my mind, is the voice of Belle as an old woman looking back over her life. Her perspective, at once unashamed and defensive, really elevates the story.
I had not even finished Belle Cora before I started recommending it to people. I’m recommending it even more now.
The Baby Chase: how surrogacy is transforming the American family
Leslie Morgan Steiner
10-12% of people (or 1 in 8) struggle with infertility. Fortunately, the last 50 years have seen unbelievable advances in the field of assistive reproductive technology (ART.) Unfortunately for some people, all the technology in the world still doesn’t result in being able to conceive or carry a baby to term. They are left with 2 options: adoption or surrogacy.
The Baby Chase details the journey to surrogacy for one couple, Gerry and Rhonda Wile. Steiner weaves together their story with medical and technological facts that are detailed but accessible. For many reasons, a growing number of surrogate mothers are in India, and their history finds its place in the narrative too.
The Baby Chase is part human-interest story and part medical study. All the parts are well drawn and accessible with attention to detail.
The Good Luck of Right Now
Bartholomew Neil is ill-equipped to deal with life in the wake of his mother’s death from brain cancer. He lived with his mother his whole life, and has some serious developmental and social issues. To cope, he starts writing letters to his mom’s favorite actor, Richard Gere. This book is narrated by those letters.
Father McNamee, Bartholomew’s priest and a family friend, does his best to help the floundering younger man. He includes Bartholomew in a grief suppprt group with a foul-mouthed man named Max. He hires a young grief counselor named Wendy. He encourages Bartholomew to talk to the “Girlbrarian” he admires at the library, who turns out to be named Elizabeth.
Bartholomew also develops and interest in Buddhism and the Dali Lama because of Richard Gere.
Eventually Barthlomew, Father McNamee, Elizabeth and Max end up on a road trip to see “cat parliament”, a shelter for homeless cats in Canada.
If The Good Luck of Right Now sounds disjointed and strange…well, it kinda is. But in its own way, its good. It reveals the good in people- even messed up, barely functional people. It also demonstrates the importance of family- no matter if the family is partly fractured biologically related.
The Deepest Secret
Tyler celebrates his 14th birthday in the backyard, after dark. He has a rare disease called “XP” which makes UV light fatal. His mom Eve has done her best to shelter him, and their family life revolves around a series of elaborate protocals to keep Tyler safe. The reality is, tho, he will still probably die before he turns 20. Tyler’s older sister Melissa seems to accept their unusual life, but as she nears 16, she starts to buck against her parents’ rules. Their dad, David, is working in another state and struggling to stay close to his family.
Tyler’s family thinks they are doing ok (fatal disease notwithstanding) until the night Eve’s best friend’s daughter Amy goes missing. The seach for Amy takes over all of their lives. The strain of this tragedy, on top of their daily struggles, might just be too much.
Tyler has a secret: he sneaks out at night with a camera. At first he just took pictures of wildlife and plants, but soon he discovered the irresistable thrill of peering into his neighbors’ lives. Everyone has secrets, and Tyler knows a lot of them. But its the one secret he doesn’t know that could be the hardest for him to face.
The Deepest Secret could be classified as a fairly standard women’s novel. The chapters narrated by Eve and David are like a lot of other chapters about two married, disconnected people. But the chapters from Tyler’s perspective elevate this novel above the ordinary. His character and voice are unique. Its rare to read a novel with a 14 year old boy that has been this well developed.
Everyone has secrets. And The Deepest Secret will keep you turning the pages, wanting to find out all of them.
This Dark Road to Mercy
Easter and Ruby have been living in foster care since the death of their mother. Then one day their father Wade shows up. He had previously relinquished his rights to them, but now he wants to take them from foster care and give them a home. Easter and Ruby are excited but wary, since Wade hasn’t been trustworthy in the past.
Brady Weller is the girls’ guardian ad litem, an advocate for them in the courts. He is a former police detective who was forced to retire after causing a fatal accident. He wants to make sure the girls are safe in a good home. He also would really like to solve a bank robbery cold case.
Pruitt is an enforcer for a local heavy, tryibg to tracking down his missing bank robbery money. Pruitt leaves a trail of bodies behind and his path comes dangerously close to the girls.
All these stories are set against the backdrop of McGuire and Sosa racing to beat the world record in home runs. Baseball forms the backdrop for this novel.
So what is This Dark Road to Mercy about? Is it about family? Is it a detective story? Is it about baseball? Yes, to all of these. In the end it might be about redemption, and finding mercy where you least expect it.