Carla's August Book Reviews
Books for the dog days of August
Heading into the dog days of August, it’s time to put our feet up and read an entertaining novel that will keep our minds off the heat outside and the cost of the air conditioning inside. Here are three books that fit the bill.
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The Double Bind
By Chris Bohjalian
This prolific writer brings us another good read, this one based on real-life circumstances. Bohjalian read about a homeless man who people discovered had been a famous photographer—unfortunately, this happened after his death. This author takes that piece of news and wraps her novel around it. Laurel is a young woman who works as a social worker in a homeless shelter, enjoying her opportunities to change the lives of the clients who come to her for help. A few years earlier, Laurel was the victim of an assault, and she feels she is finally coming to grips with what happened to her, especially since her attackers have been convicted and imprisoned.
Laurel’s life begins to change when her boss gives her a large collection of photographs left behind by one of the shelter’s clients, an old man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Laurel is supposed to organize the pictures, some of which are of very famous people, into a gallery showing to benefit the shelter. In her efforts to find out about the pictures and the man who took them, Laurel makes the acquaintance of the homeless man’s sister, who wants the pictures instead—there is a family secret that must be covered up at all costs.
I don’t want to give away the ending by revealing too much more, but there is definitely a surprising twist that I really did not see coming. I also enjoyed the way Bohjalian used the characters and setting from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby as part of the background of this novel. It always makes me feel so well read when I recognize and understand allusions made to other novels. You’ll keep reading this book to unravel the mystery of the homeless man’s photos and Laurel’s memory of her assault.
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Step on a Crack
By James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
James Patterson, with Alex Cross as his protagonist, has a new hero, a New York police officer who has a large brood of children and a grandfather who has become a priest. Michael Bennett is facing a crisis within his family: his beloved wife is dying of cancer and is in the hospital as Christmas draws near.
As if that isn’t enough, he gets called in as a hostage negotiator when a group of people take over St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the funeral of a former First Lady who has unexpectedly died. Because the First Lady was well loved, many entertainment celebrities are in attendance, as are politicians, family, and friends. After releasing many of the hostages, the kidnappers demand access to the bank accounts of these famous people, something the hostages are more than willing to do.
Michael Bennett is the spokesperson for the police, FBI, and Secret Service in their conversations with the mystery men who are in control in St. Patrick’s. When an attempt to free the hostages through a secret entry fails, it becomes apparent that these criminals may indeed get away with this ingenious plan. Michael is caught between his duty to the public and his need to be with his wife and children—a heartbreaking situation.
This is a good read with an interesting mystery (just exactly who are these well-prepared criminals and why are they doing this?) and the sweet story of a husband and children who are losing their wife and mother, the anchor of their lives.
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Me Talk Pretty One Day
By David Sedaris
The author of this book of essays may be familiar to you as a contributor to This American Life on NPR. I had read a few of these essays, which have been anthologized in English textbooks, and really enjoyed them. I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to read an entire collection, and I was not disappointed.
Sedaris uses his family and friends and his interactions with them as the basis of these essays, some of which had me laughing so hard I had tears running down my cheeks. I read several of them out loud to my daughter and her husband while we were on a road trip and could hardly stop laughing enough so that they could understand me.
Two of my favorite essays are “Go Carolina,” the story of David’s experience with a speech therapist when he was in grade school and “Jesus Shaves,” where David attempts to explain in his limited French the Christian celebration of Easter to a Moroccan immigrant to France who was similarly language challenged. Did you ever think about trying to explain this concept to someone totally unfamiliar with Jesus and the Resurrection and what that has to do with the Easter Bunny? Very funny stuff.
Now that I have read this collection of essays, my intention is to get his other books and use them to get my daily dose of laughter. Enjoy, enjoy.
Published August 1, 2008
Carla Hedstrom, MA
Silver Planet Book Review Columnist