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The Dry by Jane Harper

Jane Harper’s first novel is a police procedural set in rural Australia a few hundred miles west of Melbourne in an area that had been beset by a drought of several years duration. The main character is Aaron Falk, returned to the town after 20 years absence for the funerals of his high school friend Luke, his wife, and son. Aaron and his father had moved to Melbourne when he was a teenager...

Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn

It is hard work to read a biography of a liar, a person who works to create myths about themselves. My previous experience of this was with Calamity Jane, that denizen of the Wild West who is buried near Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, S.D. When I read a short academic take on her life, I found it was an unsatisfying effort to separate facts and myth with no charm. This author, by contrast, is...

Here We Are by Graham Swift

I was excited to see that the author of Mothering Sunday (which I loved) and Last Orders, winner of the Booker prize, has recently written a new book. It more than met my high expectations and I am at the moment listening to it for the second time. The story begins with a vaudeville show at the end of a pier in Brighton in the mid-1950s, just before television puts an end to such entertainment...

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

While I was listening to this book, the announcement came that it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. What a good choice they made! The book centers on two stories that intersect. Thomas, a night watchman who succeeds in derailing an effort by a Senator in the early 1950s to abrogate the treaties with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, was based on her grandfather, Patrick Gorneau. The effort...

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

A memoir by the eminent scholar who wrote so impressively about the Hemings family of Monticello is not to be missed. The importance of Juneteenth made it especially appealing to me because a beloved professor I knew organized a Juneteenth celebration every year at our local community college. Gordon-Reed admits to having felt some resentment when celebrations of Juneteenth outside Texas began to...

Monogamy by Sue Miller

This is a close examination of an unusual marriage and those tangentially connected to it. It was billed as the story of a widow who learns that her husband had been unfaithful, so I was surprised to find that I was more than half way through before Annie made her discovery. Besides the chief couple, Graham and Annie, there are other fully active characters. Most important of these is Frieda...

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

I was thunderstruck by this wonderful book and have listened to it again. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. Philyaw brings you into the intimacies of the lives of these black women with just a few words and uses a variety of storytelling approaches to do so. Some are first person narratives. In “Eula” the narrator Caroletta tells of her long-time friendship with Eula...

Tangled Up in Blue by Rosa Brooks

Rosa Brooks is the daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich, the political activist who wrote Nickled and Dimed. Brooks was unable to explain to her mother, her fellow law professors at Georgetown University, and her friends why she became a part-time volunteer police officer in Washington. If she had told them she wanted to write a book about her experience, they would have understood, but that was not...

The Performance by Claire Thomas

This one will be nominated to my list of favorites for the year. For the duration of the performance of the absurdist play “Happy Days” by Samuel Becket we get to know three women. It begins as one of the women is being seated and ends as the women make their way to the parking lot after the play. Somehow within these limits, a novel emerged with characters we come to know well along...

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Finally I’ve listened to this book–it’s been on my list for years, but I was hesitant to take on the 35-hour audiobook commitment. It has been a pleasing undertaking, so many dishes washed and weeds pulled while I heard about Dorothea and her misguided marriage to the dreadful Mr. Casuabon, Mr. Lydgate and his hopes to be a worthy medical man, the beautiful and willful Rosamond...

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