This month I have a mixed bag of books—one chick-lit, one horror story, one companion to a classic and one that I debated including at all—I found it somewhat horrifying, somewhat instructive, mostly appalling, but still I was unable to put it down. The first three will have you turning pages quickly, eager to find out what comes next; the fourth might have you throwing it across the room, cursing my name. It is certain to be a controversial book, so it is worth reviewing. You heard it here first!
The newest Shopaholic book by Sophie Kinsella is out now. The fifth in the series, Shopaholic and Baby ($24—Random House), is another fun, fizzy shop-fest. Becky Brandon, our fearless heroine, is now married, pregnant and happily shopping for two. Of course, Becky’s life never goes as smoothly as planned and her pregnancy is no exception. She and her husband Luke are searching for a house for their new family in the cut-throat world of London real estate. Luke’s business is growing, thanks to a huge corporate client, and he is often distracted by work. And there is the double-edged sword of Becky’s new obstetrician, Venetia Carter. On the plus side, she is the Hollywood A-list celebrity doctor beloved by celebrities, models and Bond girls, so Becky is thrilled to be on her patient roster. On the minus side, she is Luke’s ex-college girlfriend and Becky has a sneaking suspicion that Venetia would like nothing better than to rekindle the old flame. Kinsella spins a charming tale and Becky manages to triumph once again. This is a purely fun read, perfect for your pregnant friend or a recent mom.
Joe Hill is the author of the debut novel Heart-Shaped Box ($24.95—HarperCollins), a modern day horror story. In the interests of full disclosure, I must reveal that the author’s full name is Joe Hill King, as in son of Stephen, and it is clear he has learned some things about writing from his dad. Ordinarily, I avoid horror novels because I hate being scared (no roller coaster for me, thanks!), but I make an exception for new Stephen Kings books, and now I make exceptions for his son’s books. The protagonist of Heart-Shaped Box is Judas Coyne, a death metal rock star in his fifties who is known as a collector of bizarre and occult items—a used hangman’s noose, a cookbook for cannibals, even a snuff film. When he sees a ghost for sale online, he snaps it up, only to discover that this particular spirit won’t rest until he has driven Jude Coyne to his death. Hill’s deft touch with contemporary details and pop culture references is reminiscent of his father’s, but with an updated, edgier feel. As Jude’s family background is revealed (he was born Justin Cowzynski, son of a vicious pig farmer and his beaten-down wife), his reluctance to let anyone get close to him becomes understandable. As the malevolent spirit’s intentions become clearer, it becomes obvious that in order to survive Jude needs the help of his current girlfriend, Marybeth, sometimes known as Georgia. As Jude and Marybeth’s shared danger brings them closer, the ghost becomes more vindictive, until the shattering climax of the book in which good and evil, love and hate, battle it out for Jude’s soul. I couldn’t put it down—I raced through the ending, forgetting to breathe because the suspense was killing me. Do NOT read the end of this book at bedtime. You will either stay up too late reading or be unable to sleep afterwards. Consider yourself warned!
Finn by Jon Clinch ($23.95—Random House) is the background story of the fictional Pap Finn, Huckleberry Finn’s father. Clinch’s portrait of Finn corresponds with his brief appearances in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” He is a man bedeviled by his urges for strong drink and African-American women; his weakness for both leads his father, a respectable, respected and feared circuit court judge, to banish him from the family. Living as a riverman, fishing to make the meager money he needs to keep himself in whisky and food, Finn lives a life unfettered by society’s constraints, much as his son does in Twain’s novel. Unlike Huck, however, Finn seems to be missing a moral compass. Like a child, he sees the world only in terms of what he is owed and what will benefit him. Despite this, his occasional attempts to better himself and win his father’s approval tug at the heartstrings. While Finn is no prize, his father the judge is the true villain; his smug superiority and certainty of his own moral rectitude despite acts of despicable cruelty are breathtaking. Like Twain, Clinch draws a sympathetic portrait of a man who is true to himself despite society’s censure; also like Twain, he takes aim at the hypocrisy embedded in society’s dictums. I think Twain would approve of this companion novel.
On to controversy—The Last American Male by Chad Kultgen ($13.95—HarperCollins) is a morally reprehensible novel. That out of the way, I found it fascinating like a car wreck on the side of the road. It purports to be how all heterosexual American men really think and feel, but if that is true, there are an awful lot of miserable men in this country who think about nothing but sex every minute of every day non-stop. And they are not thinking of love or romance; far from it—women are objects, sex is pornographic and muddying the waters with emotion would ruin the whole thing. I kept reading this book, hoping that the narrator would undergo some character development, but alas, it was not to be. Read this book if you want to know what the lowest common denominator of male is thinking when he’s out at a bar looking to score. Otherwise, hope that the men you know are more evolved than the unnamed narrator.
Until next month—happy reading!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another, since 1982. She recently returned to the Capital District after 14 years in the Boston area (which included stints at the Harvard Bookstore and the Wellesley Booksmith), and is happily re-employed at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!