Welcome to Delightful Reads

Welcome to a community of like-minded readers in search of Delightful Reads—that is, books that are either . . .

  • Light but literate (not too superficial) or
  • Serious but not pedantic (not too difficult)

Click here to find out more about what makes a Delightful Read.

The site has three goals:  (1) To provide a resource: Under “Find Books” (at right), you will find a listing of both light and serious Delightful Reads I’ve discovered over the years.  (2) To encourage interaction: Under “Recommend,” you’ll find a link to share titles you have found Delightful.  (3) To provide occasional updates/musings about books (such as the one posted below) which you can sign up to receive, also at right.

Delightful Delightful Reads
October 2017

As those of you who have perused my website may know, “Delightful Reads” are intelligent, well-written, well plotted novels with convincing characters. They hit that sweet spot between being too superficial and too difficult. Delightful Reads come in two flavors: “Light but Literate” and “Serious but Not Pedantic.”

Although they are hard to find, I have been—well, delighted—to have come across several recently published books that perfectly exemplify my “Light But Literate” genre—truly “Delightful” Reads.

  • Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  A lighthearted and lovely story of a 30-year-old woman, just dumped, who comes home to take care of her father who has Alzheimer’s. Told in diary format, in spare and startling prose, a quirky, heartwarming story of love, loss, and memory.
  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel. A wise and witty tale satirizing the crazy world of Manhattan private schools, competitive parenting, clueless kids, and dealing thoughtfully with how people cope with rejections.
  • They Don’t Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine. An intergenerational comedy of manners about family, loss, aging and resilience. Full of astute psychological perceptions and humor to leaven heartbreaks.  See also . . .
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Rather whimsical story of a Russian aristocrat, who becomes a “Former Person” in the USSR and is sentenced, improbably enough, to house arrest in Moscow’s luxurious Metropol hotel, where, notes an NPR review “he lives out his days decorating the dining room with his bon mots and dashing around like Eloise, if Eloise were set in a twee version of Stalinist Russia.” Towles’ book, Rules of Civility, is even better.
  • Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe. A delightful story of growing up and of growing old, about a young teenager who takes a job in an old folks’ home full of eccentric characters. The book is an “original blend of compassion and dark comedy.” (Irish Times) Stibbe’s previous book, Man at the Helm, is even better. Read more here.
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. As part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series of novels based on the major plays, Anne Tyler has tamed the Bard’s shrewish battle of the sexes into a far more politically correct “screwball comedy of manners that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare.” (NPR)  See also . . .

I would love to hear of any other “Light but Literate” books you can recommend!

 

Capturing the Immigrant Experience
September 2017

As Franklin Roosevelt once famously reminded the DAR: “Remember, remember always that all of us . . . are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Here are some wonderful—but very different kinds of—novels that can help us understand what it is like being an immigrant, ranging from an introspective and highly individualized view to a panoramic and global viewpoint.

  • One person’s story: Chemistry by Weike Wang. Short, intense, and funny memoir-like novel about a Chinese graduate student dealing with intense parental pressure, appreciating the elegance of science, and living with uncertainty and indecision.
  • Four people’s stories: Still Here by Lara Vapnyar. The intertwined lives of four Russian friends who are immigrants in New York facing mid-life, death, the digital age, ambition, and the grass is always greener.  See also…
  • Two families’ stories: Digging to America by Anne Tyler. The story of two Korean orphans adopted by very different American families, exploring themes of home and homesickness, belonging and individual freedom.
  • Panoramic story of Los Angeles: The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar. The story of a Mexican immigrant housekeeper and her rich employers. Grand sweep of Los Angeles and the problems of immigration, somewhat reminiscent of Bonfire of the Vanities.
  • Panoramic story of the U.S.: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color. So many different genres: coming-of-age novel, romance, comic novel of social manners, up-to-the-minute meditation on race, as well as the immigrant saga.  See also…

There are so many good books on this topic.  What are some of your favorites?

And remember to check out delightfulreads.com for many more book recommendations on many more topics.

 

 

The Joy of Jane
August 2017

This year is a special one for Jane Austen fans. She is being thoroughly celebrated in this 200th anniversary of her death—with the release of the Jane Austen £10 pound note (making her the first woman besides the Queen to appear on the country’s currency); an anniversary service at Winchester Cathedral; a 10-day festival in Bath; a huge convention of the Jane Austen Society in California; and the unveiling of a £100,000 pound statue near her childhood home.

Austen’s bicentennial has also been marked by the publication of a slew of new books on the author’s life and afterlife. Various analyses prove beyond doubt that she was a patriarchal conservative, a liberal suffragist, a demure spinster, a social powerhouse with an eventful life; that her writing is gentle, that it’s cruel; that her novels are light-weight chick lit; that they’re formidable, profound masterpieces—and on and on.

Or perhaps you’d prefer to choose from among very large slew of sequels, prequels, or adaptations—including comic books, video games, soft-core pornography, fantasy, and horror (e.g., Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

And, as if that wasn’t enough, how about watching one of the apparently ceaseless movie adaptations of her books.  Personally, I am a purist.  I refuse to see any such movies, preferring to my own visual images of the characters intact. (No doubt Colin Firth is handsome and talented, but in no way does he look like Mr. Darcy!)

As you may have guessed, I would recommend you skip all of the hoo-ha and celebrate in the best way possible: reading or re-reading one (or, indeed, all) of her books. Here’s the line-up, in order of my favorites. All of them are superb comedies of manners, arch and ironic in tone, about love and marriage, with a variety of compelling female protagonists.

  • Pride and Prejudice. Plot: A family with five marriageable daughters, one of whom is particularly lively and has a particularly lively courtship. One of the most popular and best-loved novels in English literature. Heroine: Elizabeth Bennet, the most endearing, engaging, witty, and feisty of Austen’s heroines. In Austen’s words: Elizabeth had “a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.”  Read more here.
  • Emma. Plot: A confident young woman tries to play town matchmaker with surprising results.  Along with Pride and Prejudice, Emma is usually considered one of the greatest English novels.  Heroine:  Emma Woodhouse: witty, charming, egotistical, and used to doing what she wants—with no guidance but her own.  In Austen’s words: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition.”
  • Persuasion. Plot: A formerly engaged couple meets again after having no contact for seven years. Austen’s last work, the book has a more mellow character and autumnal tone than her others. Heroine: At 27, the most mature, perceptive, responsible of Austen’s heroines. In Austen’s words: “Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding.”
  • Sense and Sensibility.  Plot and heroines: The story of loves, romances, heartbreaks, and joys of two sisters—Marianne, overly emotional and romantic, and Elinor, sensible, thoughtful, and exemplary. The most biting and satirical of her novels. In Austen’s words: Marianne: “her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation.” Elinor “had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them.”
  • Mansfield Park. Plot: The story of an impoverished girl living with her wealthy relatives. Heroine: Unlike Austen’s active and spunky heroines, like Lizzy Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, Fanny Price is shy, timid, and either (1) judgmental and self righteous or (2) principled and steadfast—depending on how you choose to view her. In Austen’s words: “extremely timid and shy, shrinking from notice.” (I found it hard to appreciate this book until I read A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz and Lot’s Daughters by Robert Polhemus.) Read more here.
  • Northanger Abbey. Plot: the coming-of-age story of a seventeen year old Gothic novel aficionado as she visits Bath for the first time. The first of Austen’s novels to be completed and a satire of Gothic novels. Heroine: Catherine Morland, the youngest of Austen’s heroines, is hapless, naïve, overly-imaginative, and sometimes a bit ridiculous, yet kind, sweet, sincere, and ethical. In Austen’s words: Catherine “was affectionate” with a “disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation.”

Novels Are the Maine Thing
July 2017

Maine. The land of lobsters and blueberries and moose. The setting for famous children’s books (One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, Miss Rumphius, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) and for even more famous scary and suspenseful page-turners (by Stephen King).

However, I don’t happen writing about charming children’s books or scary thrillers. Instead, I am recommending several wonderful novels and memoirs—all of which are set in Maine and some of which were written by Mainers.

Elizabeth Strout: Elizabeth Strout has very close ties to Maine. The fictional Shirley Falls, Maine (based on her own hometown) serves as the setting of four of her six novels—and the abandonment small-town dwellers feel when their loved ones depart is a common theme. Strout’s style is spare, understated, but bursting with feeling. They are quiet, domestic narratives packed with emotional insight.

My all-time favorite Strout book is by no means her best known: The Burgess Boys is about a fractious family that comes together to defend their nephew, accused of a religious hate crime. The protagonist of Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is the embodiment of the deep-rooted world where Strout grew up. Anything Is Possible, also set in Maine, is more grim than her others, but also full of forgiveness and gentleness. In the words of the NPR reviewer, Strout always finds a “sweet spot in this tangle of emotional wreckage.”

Richard Russo: By far Russo’s best book is set in the decaying blue-collar town of Empire Falls, Maine during the fall of the local logging and textile empire. The book features a set of interweaving and unfolding plots involving interlocking secrets—as well as a large cast of memorable characters. The Pulitzer-Prize winning Empire Falls is told in a lively, comic, affectionate, and uncomplicated style.

I also liked Russo’s Bridge of Sighs, partially set in a town much like Empire Falls, this one located in upstate New York, where Russo was born and Elsewhere, a memoir about his crazy OCD mother. But, I have to admit I don’t like all of Russo’s books: Risk Pool and Nobody’s Fool are among my least favorite.

Monica Wood: Monica Wood is a Maine author who deserves to be better known. When We Were the Kennedys is the slightly misleading title of her memoir, set in another failing Maine small town. Her father dies suddenly when she is nine years old, but the novel focuses on the family, not the grief. It’s also a record of a vanished way of life. Wood explores not only her family’s mourning with the national end of innocence and the “one brief shining moment” of Camelot.

As she describes in her memoir, Wood grew up in Mexico, Maine, to a family of devout Irish Catholic paper mill workers. The theme of family infuses her work, which includes four other novels, plus numerous books for teachers and writers.

John Irving: Although he’s not a Mainiac himself, the plots of his earlier books tend to be quite maniacal. However, I wouldn’t put these three in the maniacal category! One of Irving’s most moving books, The Cider House Rules, is an epic set in a Maine orphanage and dealing with the theme of abortion. Another great Irving book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, is also a New England family epic, partially set in a New England boarding school, dealing with the consequences of the Vietnam War. A third favorite of mine is his most recent, Avenue of Mysteries, a dreamy back-and-forth story of a Mexican “dump kid” turned successful American writer. All of his books move easily back and forth from drama to comedy to tragedy.

Irving has written 15 novels over the last 50 years. Irving’s novels are big books, with big themes and plots and characters; in the words of EditorEric, they are “outrageously funny, emotionally affecting, grotesquely shocking and ferociously affirming.” Much as I love Strout and Russo, it seems odd to me that they have won Pulitzers, and John Irving has not even been nominated for one.

Amster, Amster, Dam Dam Dam
June 2017

 

Despite the alleged destination of the “three jolly fishermen,” most of us would not find much in the capital of the Netherlands to “dam dam dam.” The canals! The gabled houses! The tulips! Rembrandt! Van Gogh! Rijsttafel! What’s not to love about Amsterdam?

And, as is only appropriate for such a wonderful city, there are many wonderful histories and novels written about it.

  • Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto. In this engaging history, Shorto convinces me, at least, that Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses: tolerance for free thinking and free love, but also the birth of political and economic freedom. (His equally fascinating book, The Island at the Center of the World, argues that the Dutch founding of Manhattan seeded America’s melting pot.)
  • The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age by Simon Schama. In this easy to read analysis, Schama examines why the Dutch seem so embarrassed about their wealthy past during the seventeenth century Golden Age.
  • Tulipmania by Mike Dash. This history focuses in on the tulip frenzy in the mid-1600s. For not only was Amsterdam home to the first stock market and first transnational corporation, it was also home to the first futures market and the original market bust.
  • Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. For a fictional view of Tulipmania, try this novel of a love-triangle drama. Not great writing, but entertaining.
  • The Dinner by Herman Koch. A darkly suspenseful story of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal for dinner in a high-end restaurant in Amsterdam. Very creepy story about creepy narrator with creepy plot. But nonetheless a good book!
  • The Light of Amsterdam by David Park. Thoughtful and lovely intertwining stories about three parent/child and husband/wife relationships, on weekend trip to Amsterdam.

What are your favorite books about Amsterdam?

  • Readers’ Responses to last month’s post on “One Hit Wonders”: (1) To Kill a Mockingbird was a suggested addition, since Harper Lee didn’t actually publish To Set a Watchman herself. (2) And it turns out that Wuthering Heights is more interesting than I knew: there is some possibility that Charlotte might have destroyed a second novel by her sister Emily.

 

One-Hit Wonders
May 2017

I fondly remember a section in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame devoted to “One-Hit Wonders”: explosively popular hit songs performed by artists who are never to be heard of again—such as “My Sharona,” “Spirit in the Sky,” “Macarena,” “Gangnam Style,” and “Call Me Maybe.”

Perhaps even better examples come from classical music. Pachelbel’s “Canon” and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio,” like the books listed below, are wonderful pieces, but most of us couldn’t name anything else either composer has written.

Here, then, are some novels that I absolutely loved, some of my very favorite books ever. However, when I eagerly read other books by these authors, I found them entirely disappointing.

  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Fascinating look at women’s lives in pre-Communist China, including foot binding and secret messages to one another hidden in the folds of a fan. Alas, I was quite disappointed with See’s other books (including Shanghai Girls, China Dolls, and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane).
  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. A compelling Pulitzer-prize winning modern retelling of King Lear, in which an Iowa farmer decides to divide his thousand-acre farm among his three daughters. His youngest daughter, through whom the story is told, objects and is cut out of his will. Smiley’s next book, Moo, was ok, but the many she has written since have all left me cold.
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. This lovely fictional account of Vermeer, his painting, and his model, is set in seventeenth-century Delft. What I loved about this book was the way the author’s pellucid, closely observed writing style reflects Vermeer’s style of painting and how the restraint in their relationship reflects the restraint in his art. Chevalier’s subsequent books—including The Lady and the Unicorn and At the Orchard—sorely disappointed.

In addition, I can think of several other fantastic One-Hit Wonders, by necessity, because the authors wrote only wrote one novel!

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is a stunning and sensuous family saga, forbidden love story, and political drama, set in Kerala, India.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden tells the haunting, evocative story of a young girl who is sold to a geisha house in Kyoto where she learns the complicated arts of a geisha.
  • Both Roy and Golden are in good company—along with one-note wonders Emily Brontë, Boris Pasternack, and John Kennedy O’Toole!

And, for anyone who might be wondering, the rock & roll one-note wonders were performed by: The Knack, Norman Greenbaum, Los del Rio, Psy, and Carly Rae Jespen.

God-fearing and Growing Up
March 2017

Emma and David Copperfield in the nineteenth century. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye in the twentieth. Persepolis and The Goldfinch in the twenty-first. It’s not surprising to come across the perpetually popular coming-of-age plot quite frequently.

What has surprised me, however, is having found an unexpected number of wonderful coming-of-age novels that happen to take place in highly religious families. Here are some really good ones:

  • A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. Darkly funny coming-of-age story about an appealing teenager trapped in a loving but shattered family in a fundamentalist Mennonite community in Manitoba.
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. An exquisite coming-of-age novel about a teenaged Nigerian girl with a fanatic Catholic father in a disintegrating family.
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Set in a black community in Oceanside, a coming-of-age and love-triangle story about a grief-stricken teenager. Narrated (sort of) by a group of old gossipy church ladies. Lyrical prose.
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. An intricate family chronicle of a missionary family in the Congo—where their faith in Jesus, democracy, and civilization is severely challenged.  Alternating chapters are narrated through different daughters’ points of view.

What are some of your favorite coming-of-age novels, not necessarily of the God-fearing variety?

Thank you for your book suggestions following last month’s posting on l-o-n-g novels. I totally agree about the following wonderful books that people sent in: Middlemarch, Bleak House, Vanity Fair, and Anna Karenina. Another suggestion was for My Name Is Red and other novels of Orhan Pamuk, an author I haven’t read yet.

And don’t forget: there’s a compilation of my all-time favorite books under “Find Books,” at the top of the column at right.

 

 

 

 

Nice and Long
February 2017

“Why do readers,” wonders Laura Miller in Salon, “in defiance of conventional wisdom about shortened attention spans, small-screen devices, and pinched schedules — persist in loving long, long novels?”

Part of the allure is simple gluttony: If you’re loving a book, it’s delightful to know that there’s plenty of it. You can be swallowed up by a long novel, immersed in the world its author has created in a fashion that no other medium can rival.

Another thing we love about big novels is that you can get really comfortable with them. A big page count usually equals a big chunk of time, meaning you need to be a serious reader without a fear of commitment.

But perhaps it just boils down to this: if you have extremely well developed characters and a compelling plot, you want it to last forever.

Here are some of my favorites—great plots, great characters, easy to read, and very well written:

  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. A mother trying to find a husband for her daughter in post-Partition India. Centers around four family and the surrounding social environment. Read more here.
  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. Long, Victorian-style novel that includes the seamier side of Victorian life; depicts what it was like to be a woman during that time, in both the lowest and the higher classes.  Read more here.
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. A missionary family in Africa, chapters alternating through different daughters’ perspectives.  Read more here.
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. A drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980’s New York City.
  • Purity by Jonathan Franzen. A long set of intertwining back-stories set in Oakland, the Santa Cruz mountains, East Germany, and Bolivia. Unknown father, hidden fortunes, murder, and bizarre sex.

What are some of your favorite l-o-n-g novels?

Thank you for your book suggestions following last month’s posting on art. The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean, is a lovely and touching book about a Hermitage docent, trying to survive the siege of Leningrad during WW2.

Here are seven others that I haven’t read yet: (1) Stealing the Mystic Lamb (half detective, half art history about the Ghent Altarpiece), (2) The Lost Van Gogh (thriller), (3) The Rafael Affair (mystery), (4) The Girl in Hyacinth Blue (about a newly-discovered Vermeer), (5) The Art Forger (forging a Degas), (6) Spending (an artist supported by a rich muse), and (7) The Flamethrowers (about a contemporary conceptual artist).

Remember, for a compendium of many of my favorite books, both “Light” and “Serious,” visit www.delightfulreads.com.

 

 

Splendid Books and Splendid Art
January 2017

Novels and art—“these are a few of my favorite things.” In the words of Aristotle, they both “represent not only the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance,” or, as Picasso notes, they “wash the dust of daily life off our souls.”

So naturally, one of my favorite genres is that of novels about art.  Here are some of my favorites.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. A beautifully-told tale of Johannes Vermeer’s painting of, and relationship with, a girl in a Turkish headscarf and an oversized pearl earring. Centers on the life of Griet, the artist’s fictional servant, assistant, and model.  The book and the painting are a perfect pair: contained, transcendent, and enigmatic. (The book: A. The painting itself: also an A.)

girl-with-pearlGirl with a Pearl Earring

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This is a sprawling novel of many places and many characters.  The coming-of-age plot through the underworld of the art world follows the life of a boy who almost accidentally steals a painting from the Metropolitan Museum.  An appropriately sprawling painting to match the tone and plot of this book might be a monumental Rubens, like the one shown at right below. However, the book is about a very small and unassuming painting of a chained pet goldfinch by the artist Carl Fabritius, which is actually housed in The Hague. (The book: A. The painting: B.)

goldfinchThe Goldfinch
sprawling-rubensExample of a sprawling Rubens

The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor. A social history of Gustav Klimt’s portrait, originally titled the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, after the rich Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it. This glorious picture was confiscated and renamed by the Nazis and restored to the heirs after a decade of litigation. The book seemed a bit padded and slow moving to me, but the portrait itself is great. (Book: B. Painting: A.)

lady-in-goldPortrait of Adele Block-Bauer

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. A fictionalized story behind the making of the “The Lady and the Unicorn”: a series of medieval tapestries designed in Paris and woven in Flanders (Belgium) in the mille-fleurs (thousand flowers) style. Alas, I found the book somewhat boring and improbable, but the tapestries are magnificent! (Book: B-. Tapestries: A.)

lady-uunicornLa Dame à la licorne

Headlong by Michael Frayne. A hilarious farce about the high jinx that ensue after the discovery of a supposedly long-lost painting by Pieter Bruegel. Interwoven into the comedy is some very interesting scholarship about the painter and his times. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize. (Book: A. Painting: Doesn’t exist, alas.)

supposed-bruegelThe purported Bruegel (from book cover)
real-bruegelExample of a real Bruegel

Reply to this email and let me know some of your favorite, or least favorite, books about art.  Or visit my website www.delightfulreads.com to find a few more of my favorite things.

Gotta Love Those Intertwining Plots
October 2016

I must not be the only reader who enjoys reading “intertwining plots”—because there are so many of them published! I’m thinking of novels with separate story lines and separate points-of-view, told in alternating chapters. The stories don’t become entwined with one another until later in the book.

Here are some of my favorites of this genre.

Capital by John Lanchester. Stories of various families living on the same street in London during the economically troubled time of 2008. In different ways, reminds me of (dare I say it?) Tom Wolff, Dickens, and Trollope.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Heartbreaking intertwining stories of New York in the 70’s, including the tightrope walker between the Twin Towers.

Still Here by Lara Vapnyar. Intertwined lives of four Russian friends who are immigrants in New York facing mid-life, death, the digital age, ambition, and the grass is always greener.

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda. The twists of fate that connect four screwed-up characters in Paris: a starving artist; her shy, aristocratic neighbor; his obnoxious but talented roommate, and a neglected grandmother.

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell. Intertwining plots about a famous actress on the lam, husbands, and children. Different chapters at different times with different characters.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Alternating chapters about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Consists of six stories, each in an extremely different setting, at a different times, told by a different character, in distinctly different styles, arranged in a clever and unusual chronological order. This book is more challenging than any of the others, but well worth the work.

* * * * *

Need airplane reading? Having spent far too much time in airports lately, I am shocked to realize I have had the mixed fortune of having read five books currently on the Best Sellers list. Let me save you some money: The Nightingale (trite, sentimental, predictable), Razor Girl (ridiculous and implausible), The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (boring and un-funny). On the other hand, go for Ian McEwan’s Nutshell (original and clever) and Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning (good plot, kept me guessing!).