Summer selections

Last modified: 7/8/2012 12:00:00 AM
New Hampshire staycationers are spoiled for choice beach-wise. Whether you prefer a no-frills swimming hole or a public beach with nearby arcades, ice cream and fried seafood - river, pond, glacial lake or Seacoast - we've got it all. If you're heading to a beach, any one of the novels I read this month would be a great read.

Massachusetts author Cathi Hanauer's Gone is one you'll have trouble putting down. Eve Adams and her husband, Eric, have been married 14 years. She's supported Eric's art career and adapted her own as a nutritionist through a move and motherhood. He's in a creative slump, but she's just published a book.

Eric takes her out to celebrate and afterward drives the babysitter home. But he doesn't come back. When she sees he's using their credit card on gas and hotels, Eve realizes he's safe but gone. She tries to smooth things over for her kids, keep the family afloat and deal with her own feelings. She also has to care for her clients, including a group of wealthy older women trying not to get fat, a teen mom, and an obese man who is literally eating himself to death.

Gone's hard look at long marriage, parenting adolescents, finding oneself mid-career and perhaps only midway to one's life goals, is all compelling reading. I found Eve's internal monologue on nutrition somewhat distracting from the rest of the story. That said, Gone's probing of midlife as a time to reassess and of imperfection as part of life's messy beauty is worth the occasional rant about processed foods. I admired the way Eve gets on with her life even as everything familiar seems to be changing but would have enjoyed hearing more of Eric's story; what Hanauer does reveal of him makes for a fuller picture of Eve and their family.

Indian adventure

Betsy Woodman is a native of New Hampshire who lived in India as a child. Her debut novel, first in a planned series, will fill you with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of her fictional hill station town, Hamara Nagar, in 1960. Her heroine, Jana Bibi, inherits her grandfather's home, the Jolly Grant House. She's widowed with one grown child living in Scotland, but she feels more Indian than Scottish herself. She decides to go and live in the house with her multilingual parrot, Mr. Ganguly, and her housekeeper, Mary. Soon after they're settled, they learn that much of the town will be underwater if a planned government dam is built.

Along with the local newspaper editor and a shopkeeper from the bazaar, Jana Bibi works to put Hamara Nagar on the map so the dam will be relocated. Among the characters who play a role in this funny, endearing story are the students at a nearby multinational boarding school, an introspective Muslim tailor, his singer nephew who dreams of film-star fame, an American diplomat who is writing a guidebook, a power-tripping police commissioner, and a variety of people who come to work for Jana Bibi, including a Ghurka bagpiper who scares away monkeys and a messenger boy.

Woodman touches on serious topics like Partition (when India and Pakistan were split), political corruption and the challenges of a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse society, but she handles all of this with a light touch. The novel is tender but not treacly; the many characters and plot twists fit together pleasantly but not predictably.

If you like Alexander McCall Smith's quirky, atmospheric novels or you enjoyed the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes will appeal to you with its international charms, multigenerational characters, philosophical bent and gentle intrigue. The book includes discussion questions, a glossary of Hindi, Urdu and Arabic terms, and an interesting essay about Woodman and how she came to write this novel.

A Concord tale

Finally, a friend suggested I read Ben H. Winters's The Last Policeman, set in Concord. I hesitated. Why would I want to read a dystopian mystery by an author who parodied my beloved Jane Austen? Because Det. Hank Palace is a delightfully quirky hero, and Winters's premise is compelling: a giant asteroid is on track to collide with earth, so why solve a murder?

I enjoyed following Palace as he cracked his case. And I loved the detailed references to Concord; Winters did his homework. He's a witty writer, and the minor characters in The Last Policeman are intriguing. A woman key to Palace's investigation works in insurance but is trying to write the perfect villanelle before the world ends.

Nico, Palace's younger sister, seems like a mess but Winters leaves readers wondering if she's smarter and craftier than we realized.

I'm looking forward to the next Hank Palace book.

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