As the school year resumes, reading for pleasure is one of the things that can best keep the summer relaxation going. So, for the benefit of avid, casual and lapsed readers alike, here are three brief reviews of some of summer’s fine fiction.
“The Ones Who Matter Most” by Rachel Herron
After her husband dies suddenly, botanist and herbalist Abby Roberts discovers that he’d been married and fathered a son. Grieving and confused, Abby sets out to meet his first family and slowly forges a relationship with his ex-wife Fern Reyes and her 10-year-old son Matty. The plot is predictable, the ending expected, but the characters are believable and complicated. There’s an adorable child, a goofy great dane puppy and lots of information about herbs and flowers and gardening. Worth a quick read, and the well-drawn characters will make me look up Herron’s other books.
“It’s. Nice. Outside.” by Jim Kokoris
Fifty-ish, divorced, kind of burned-out, almost-alcoholic teacher John Nichols is the father of 19-year-old Ethan, who’s severely autistic and exhausting to care for. Complicated circumstances mash up John’s ex-wife and two older daughters on a manic road trip cross country to Maine to investigate a residential placement for Ethan. Along the way, Ethan’s family must confront a lot of realities about their relationships and themselves. They must also face some hard truths about living with Ethan, and what it will mean to live without him. Some truly sad, depressing scenes, with some fun and much love – it is the classic American family road trip with a twist. Ethan is memorable, heartbreaking and hard to forget.
“Lily and the Octopus” by Steven Rowley
Lily is an elderly dachshund and the center of her lonely owner Ted’s life. She shares her observations with him in exuberant, all-caps exhortations, they play Monopoly, go for rides, snuggle and enjoy life. Until one day Ted sees the octopus, a purple, honest-to-god sea creature perched on his beloved pet’s head. Things take a surreal swerve here for Ted and Lily, with Ted trying desperately to rid Lily of the purple menace and Lily just going along being Lily–enjoying ice cream, hating to pee in the rain and loving naps in the sun. A moving, poignant meditation on loving and losing a pet, the book is often hard to read, especially at the inevitable end. I enjoyed Lily’s conversations the most; Rowley captures perfectly Lily’s total dogginess and her astonishing humanity. Two paws up.