Max on my lap, where he pretty much lives.
Drake, in a RARE moment of calm and contemplation.

The shape of my life right now doesn’t allow for sharing it with an animal companion. So, much in the way I never had children of my own but was (am?) Uncle Charlie (or, Uncle Pottymouth) to the offspring of many others along the way, so too, now, in this phase of my surprising life, I am temporary guardian to many, many dear animals in many homes. I love pet-sitting and house-sitting for lots of reasons, not least of which is the silence. During my stays in the homes of others, loving and nurturing their animal family members, I rarely turn on a television or radio or go on-line (to which, in truth, I am giving less and less energy in general), and I spend the majority of my time petting animals and reading books and enjoying the uninterrupted quiet. In the few days I have been at this new gig, my first time with Max and Drake, I have read four books. I’m catching up with that library hold list. Here they are.

Right Behind You (Quincy & Rainie #7), Lisa Gardner, Hardcover, 400pp, January 2017, Dutton

This is my first Lisa Gardner. If you’ve read my book-blogging before, you know I am always on the lookout for another reliable mystery-thriller or mystery-cozy writer with a backlist to which I can turn when I need the predictability of a genre read. Another of my go-to authors mentioned enjoying Lisa Gardner’s work and so I thought I’d give her a whirl.

Right Behind You is the seventh in a series. Obviously I’ve not read the first six. But, this book was fine as a standalone. I felt I understood Quincy and Rainie well enough without being fed a huge amount of expositional backstory; rather, there were details about their pasts woven into the narrative in an unobtrusive way.

In this, Quincy and Rainie are about to adopt their 13-year-old foster child, Sharlah, who at age 5 witnessed her 9-year-old brother, Telly, beat to death with a baseball bat their drunken father who had just stabbed their mother with a butcher knife and meant to kill his children as well. Now, eight years later, it seems Telly — who Sharlah has not had contact with since the night he saved her life by bludgeoning their father — has murdered his foster parents and started on a killing spree in which he means to make Sharlah his final victim.

The story is told in a combination of omniscient close third narration and the voices of both Sharlah and Telly, the switching back and forth between which might have been jarring in less able hands, but Lisa Gardner is quite the master here, building suspense, inserting twists and turns and surprises — sort of; if you read a lot of mystery-thrillers you’ll see one or two of the curves and wrenches coming, but, so what? Isn’t that why we love genre? So we can predict the outcome and work out the puzzles on our own along with the detectives?

This is a well constructed piece of fiction without the over-the-top child-in-peril graphic fear mongering of some recent reads. I appreciate that. I want to be lost in a compelling story without being disgusted by the vile amorality of the villains. Real life has enough of that, I appreciate it being a bit subdued in my novels.

Shadowbahn, Steve Erickson, Hardcover, 320pp, February 2017, Blue Rider Press

This was different. Like Lincoln In The Bardo in that its structure is itself provocative, nudgingly so, like the hipster coffee shop performer whose songs are interesting enough but made annoying by the constant need to draw attention to how relevant and layered with knowingness they are. Just sing. Just write.

That said, there is much relevance in this novel about a road trip along the yellow brick road of slouching toward dystopian American culture and history. Lost and confused identities abound, recovered memories, the possibility of mass psychosis, playlists of portentous heft, all sorts of loss of signal and senses — from cellphone to sight, people standing right next to each other but inhabiting entirely different realities: in short, America now.

I got it and I get why it’s loved by Lethem and the serious literary in-crowd, and it was intriguing and inventive and insightful in its pilgrimage toward the apocalypse, but, for me, reading it was a trifle more effortful than its rewards warranted. I love writing which makes some demands of me, inspires me to think and observe in new ways, but when it becomes so arduously demanding in a way that seems deliberately obtuse — as if it has something to prove about just how rigorous is the mind creating it — it loses me.

Twelve Angry Librarians (Cat in the Stacks #8), Miranda James, Hardcover, 288pp, February 2017, Berkley Books

I could have sworn I’d read earlier books in this series when I reserved it at library, but I haven’t. It’s about small town Mississippian librarian, Charlie Harris (great name) and his perceptive cat, Diesel. There is a gathering of librarians being held at the university where Charlie works and in attendance an old enemy of his — and many of the other attendees — who gets murdered. Charlie gets involved in the case and, well, if you’ve read any book lover cozies or cat cozies, you pretty much know what follows: local police force less than happy with Charlie, lots of suspects who Charlie knows must be innocent, a second murder, and all of it tied up in the last few pages. It makes for a nice afternoon’s read.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg, Hardcover, 197pp, March 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I LOVED Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie. Five starred it, here in July of 2015 [click here for link to my write-up] and pressed it into the hands of many a friend. It was a book full of a-ha moments and insights, beautiful, thoughtful prose, and a rip roaring story. All Grown Up is an entirely different sort of experience. It is also beautifully written, sculpted almost, and there are a-ha moments and insights aplenty, and it is especially eloquent in speaking to those of us who have chosen to live our lives by rules all our own. Jami Attenberg creates a real person in Andrea Bern who enjoys sex, indulges in drugs, suffers bad men and pushy, judgey relatives, doesn’t much like her job, mourns the her she might have been, and makes some bad choices along the way, while being both fantastic and maddening to be around — like all of us. I read this in an afternoon, and maybe should have savored it longer, but there it is.

There you go. Now, despite my promise to myself I would not read ANYTHING but library holds until my list was cleared, I have dived into a non-library book because I just couldn’t wait one minute longer to get to it — I’ve been waiting for months, since first I read an excerpt on-line — and I want to enjoy it in my current silent, solitary atmosphere. Already I am losing myself in the haze of beautiful prose and compelling storyline. So, back to the comfy reading room here, with Max on my lap, and the two of us luxuriating in the silence and Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast Is An Animal.