By Susan Taylor
February bring us a couple of fun novels, perfect for your February vacation read, whether you are spending it on the slopes, at the beach or snuggled under a blanket drinking hot cocoa at home.
After reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, I had to admit that my prejudice against books narrated by animals was irrational. And yet, running into another good one so soon was still a shock. Dog On It, by Spencer Quinn, is a hard-boiled mystery told from the point of view of Chet, a dog who flunked out of police K-9 school for reasons he can no longer recall. Chet’s memory isn’t very good and he is often distracted from his detective work by interesting smells or tantalizing squirrels, but his devotion to his owner Bernie, a private investigator who has fallen on hard times, is absolute. Due to his divorce, Bernie is having cash flow problems, so when a beautiful woman shows up and asks him to find her missing 15-year-old daughter, he and Chet take the case immediately. What makes this book special is not the plot, which is your basic detective story, but Chet’s immediate, sensory, almost ADD-esque narration. This is a laugh out loud funny, hard-boiled detective story. The book cover calls this “A Chet and Bernie Mystery”; let’s hope that means there are many more to come.
Addition, by Toni Jordan, is reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. Both novels feature protagonists who have mental issues that the everyday world deems unacceptable, and both present their stories in such a way that their abnormalities seem perfectly normal; just another personality quirk.
Grace, the narrator of Addition, is Australian, a currently unemployed teacher and an obsessive-compulsive counter. Her life is ruled by numbers: the number of steps she takes during her morning routine, how long it takes to order her morning coffee at her local caf, the number and types of products she allows herself to buy in the grocery store. For example, the number of bites she takes from her morning muffin is determined by the number of poppyseeds it is topped with. Although Grace’s life seems circumscribed to the casual observer, she is content with her numbers and her hero-worship of Nikola Tesla, in her opinion the greatest genius the world has ever known. Her family, familiar with her oddities, is her sole social outlet. Although she finds most of her relatives banal, she bonds with her niece Larry (Grace’s nickname for Hilary), who doesn’t quite behave the way her conventional mother would prefer. One day, out of the blue, Grace’s carefully ordered world is tilted on its axis when she meets Seamus, who asks her out to dinner. Despite herself, she accepts, knowing that she will have to keep her obsession with numbers hidden. For a time, they are happy enough, until Grace, with Seamus’s encouragement, decides to try therapy to overcome her OCD. Gradually, Grace becomes someone other than herself, gaining weight, spending all her free time in front of the television, and forgetting why numbers were so important. Addition raises important questions about identity: What makes us who we are? Who defines normal? Is conformity the only way to achieve happiness? As Grace works through the answers for herself, she discovers her innate strength and courage and finds her own way to happiness. This is a wonderful, life-affirming novel, with plenty of wit and humor. May this debut be followed by many more.
Just one brief mention of another new book: the fifth book in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series is out this month. The Temptation of the Night Jasmine is just as charming, funny and light as its predecessors; fans are in for a treat!
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another, since 1982. She currently works 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!