Reprinted from the Citizen:
We’ve turned the calendar page to a new year, and that means setting new goals. Reading websites like Goodreads engage their members to set goals for the year and give them tools to do so. I aim to read 100 books annually and usually end up in the 85-90 range. Last year I took advantage of being home most of the year by reading 137 books.
I’m off to a good start this year as well, and today I’ll share three novels that help me forget everything that’s going on in the real world for awhile.
The Queen of Suspense Mary Higgins Clark sadly passed away last year, and her latest collaboration with talented mystery writer Alafair Burke is Piece of My Heart. True crime TV show producer Laurie Moran is preparing for her wedding in the Hamptons when her young nephew Johnny goes missing from the beach.
Did he drown in the ocean or was lured away by someone? Does the fact that Johnny resembles Laurie’s son Timmy mean that Timmy was the target? Laurie’s husband and Timmy’s father was murdered, and Laurie’s job means being involved with dangerous criminals at times, so that possibility had to be considered.
Laurie’s father is a retired high level police officer in the NYPD, and he becomes convinced that a man he put behind bars years ago is behind it. The man has made recent accusations that Laurie’s dad lied about his confession that help lead to his conviction.
Piece of My Heart grabs the reader right away and never lets go, and although we know that Johnny is alive, the puzzle to discover who took him and why is one that will keep the reader guessing until very near the end. The book is part of a series, but you don’t have to have read any of the others to follow this one. It will encourage you to read the others in this excellent series.
Scottish author Douglas Stuart’s debut novel, Shuggie Bain tells the story of a young boy’s life with his alcoholic mother. Shuggie lives with his mother, father, older sister, and brother in his mother’s parents’ home in Scotland.
Shuggie’s mom Agnes left her first husband for her handsome second husband. She soon tires of his cheating, and he tires of her alcoholism. He moves the family to a remote, impoverished neighborhood into a home of their own.
The neighborhood women take an instant dislike to Agnes, with her stylish clothes and good looks. Agnes looks down on them as well. Shuggie’s dad stays away for longer and longer at a time until he finally leaves for good, and Agnes falls deeper into her depression and alcoholism. She spends the money the government gives her for food on alcohol.
Shuggie’s sister leaves to get married as soon as she can, and Agnes throws out his older brother in a fit of anger. Young Shuggie is the only one left to care for his mother and himself.
Shuggie Bain is a lyrical, emotional portrait of a young boy whose life is defined by his mother’s alcoholism. The writing is powerful and beautiful, and Stuart based his book in part on his own life. It also gives the reader a look at how Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies affected everyday people. It deservedly won the prestigious 2020 Booker Prize for fiction.
Julia Claiborne Johnson’s new novel, Better Luck Next Time is a lighter read. She takes us to the Flying Leap, a dude ranch in 1938 Reno where wealthy women go to complete a six week Nevada residency in order to obtain a quick divorce.
Told from the perspective of a handsome young cowboy Ward, we meet some of the women staying there one summer. Nina is an aviatrix who arrives to stay for the third time in order to divorce her latest husband. She is a lively one, always ready with a quip or cutting insult.
Nina takes a shine to Emily, who came from San Francisco to await her divorce from her wealthy husband. Emily misses her teenage daughter terribly, but her husband has left her for a younger woman and she has no choice.
The writing is crisp and very witty; I laughed out loud several times at some of the dialogue between the characters. Ward is such a wonderful character, you can see while some of the women fall in love with him. Better Luck Next Time would make a delightful movie.
Piece of My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke- A
Published by Simon & Schuster
Hardcover, $26.99, 319 pages
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart- A+
Published by Grove Press
Trade paperback, $17, 448 pages
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson- A
Published by Custom House
Hardcover, $28.99, 288 pages