Looking for a compelling read before you pick up those fun and frivolous beach books? I’ve got one to recommend and another one…well, not so much.
NO SPOILERS AHEAD. Book titles are linked to Amazon.
CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD by Caroline Leavitt Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016. 354 pages.
Caroline Leavitt answers the question, “What could possibly go wrong?” when sixteen year-old Lucy Gold runs off with her charismatic thirty-one year-old English teacher. It’s the Summer of Love, 1969, and the two are fleeing suburban Boston for a ramshackle house in the boonies of rural Pennsylvania.
But what is Lucy escaping exactly? Her older sister, Charlotte, has been Lucy’s BFF and champion ever since their parents were killed in a nightclub fire, and they went to live with elderly, distant relative, Iris.
Charlotte is a senior in high school and the kind of student who works her ass off for every A she earns. She’s Brandeis College-bound come September and plans to study to become a veterinarian. And while Lucy’s disappearance doesn’t derail her plans, it certainly casts a pall over it.
And it’s not as though living with Iris has been a hardship. No one has ever loved children with more ferocity or pureness than this lovely, childless widow for whom taking on two young girls was more a surprise than her late husband’s dark secret.
The world seems to be spinning out of control. The Manson murders have rocked the country…college kids are killed at Kent State…Vietnam is tearing at the fabric of the U.S. Kids are hitchhiking and ending up dead. And free love isn’t always so free.
Leavitt spins several different storylines in Cruel Beautiful World spread over fifty or so years. The interconnectedness between the characters and their stories reveal how, sometimes, the best way to live your life is to make peace with your past and follow your heart into your future.
Part-tragedy, part-history, part-love story, part- mystery, part-family saga, Cruel Beautiful World is a rich, satisfying read that will touch the heart and remind us that the good old days weren’t always so groovy after all.
THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS by Sarah Pekkanen Washington Square Press, 2016. 352 pages.
Think Desperate Housewives without the drama…or much of the dark humor…or much of anything with any substance.
Three women, who happen to live in one of the Twenty Safest Neighborhoods in America, are just a fetching slice of Americana.
Oh-so serious Susan, a former attorney turned entrepreneur has made a mint capitalizing on Baby Boomer’s reticence to put their parents’ in nursing homes. The only problem? Husband Randall becomes a casualty of her work-ethic and dwindling interest in stoking the home fires.
Sure, Susan loves their little boy, Cole, but she’s all business in the bedroom. This, of course, makes Randall look elsewhere. So when he hooks up with a new woman in the neighborhood–a woman Susan has befriended, their marriage implodes.
Daphne and Randall are busy making happily ever after, and Susan is busy stalking them on Facebook and, of course, the random drive-by’s.
Then there’s Gigi, the candidate’s wife. Married to Joe Kennedy who wants to change the face of government, Gigi must navigate marriage in the spotlight, as well as that delicate balancing act required in parenting a gloomy fifteen year old daughter and an, as yet, still sweet younger daughter.
When hunky campaign manager Zach moves in to their home, all bets are off as to whether or not this family will survive the campaign without some casualties.
Kellie has been lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom, but this luxury had not made her happy. With her kids now school-age, Kellie becomes a Realtor, and receives some extra special attention from a co-worker who wants to scratch Kellie’s itch for excitement. This,. of course, threatens her marriage to stable and boring Jason.
And then a new family moves to the neighborhood. A family with a secret past that Tessa and Harry are intent to guard.
I love women’s lit, and I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. It took me a long time to read, which is unusual for me, and the only entertainment in it came from the Newport Cove Listserv Digest entries at the start of each chapter in which various and sundry neighbors respond to posts by the intrepid community manager. Having lived in neighborhoods with HOA’s, this little bit did tickle my funny bone, and also remind me to never again move to a neighborhood with an HOA.
Still, it’s not enough for me to recommend this book–not even to my sister, who is on the board of her neighborhood’s HOA, and has more than enough characters like Tally White in her ‘hood.
Finally, I just don’t know how Kirkus Reviews could call this, “A compelling and suspenseful tale.” It wasn’t a bad book. It just wasn’t a great book.
Yours from the library stacks,
Susan J. Anderson, Foxy Writer Chick