Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite authors. She can add background material to a scene – mid scene, mind you – without letting you lose track of what’s going on. Her characters, mainly women who live in New York City, are clever, humorous, witty and interesting.
Nora, the protagonist in Alternate Side, loves New York City. She and her husband are the parents of twins, Oliver and Rachel, who are both in college, but Nora’s marriage is getting kind of . . . stale.
The setting for most of the novel is a dead-end street in Manhattan. Alternate sides refers to the two sides of the street. Neighbors know each other well – everyone knows everyone else’s habits, peccadillos, strengths and foibles. Quindlen fleshes out the backstory for each family, even including their pets. Annoying Charlie has no job, but he rescues dogs. Just pugs. He usually has two or three yappy pugs in tow. Charlie thinks he’s king of the street and constantly bombards the other residents with messages and reminders about parking, trash pick-up, pest control, etc. Ricky is the collective handyman for the street. Ricky is a native of the Dominican Republic.
Life is perking along pretty predictably when Jack, one of the neighbors, loses his temper and repeatedly hits Ricky in the leg with a golf club. Charlie and Nora take sides: Charlie thinks Jack had a “momentary lapse” and it’s not a big deal. Nora takes Ricky’s side. She begins to take note of class differences as the situation develops. The story involves money, privilege, class differences, snobbery and more.
Still Me by Jojo Moyes
I loved this book. It was overdue at the library and couldn’t be renewed because other people were waiting for it, but I kept it anyway. Take that, Melvil Dewey!
Louisa Clark and Ambulance Sam (characters from a previous book by Moyes) are separated by distance, but are still in love. He is a paramedic in England. She goes to New York City to work for the Gopniks as a “companion/assistant/friend” to Agnes, the super-rich trophy wife of a super-rich businessman, Leonard. They live in a Manhattan high-rise. Agnes is supposed to travel and attend charity events, lunches, fancy dinners and rich-people events related to Leonard’s business. Agnes hates these events and hates how she has to constantly keep up with New York’s upper crust snobs.
Louisa’s job is to smooth the way for Agnes. The plot resolution was romantic and self-affirming for Louisa and I loved it.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
There are only four basic characters in this novel, plus a big sloppy dog. It takes place in England and Scotland. Ed is a successful self-made man who has just been fired for insider trading; Jess is a cash-strapped separated mother of two –- 10-year-old math whiz, Tanzie, and teenage Goth-inspired stepson, Nicky. The foursome end up on a road trip together in Ed’s expensive car along with their large, drooling, farting dog, Norman. Ed has to lie low because of the investigation into his wrongdoing. Jess is determined to take Tanzie to the math Olympiad in Scotland to compete for what could be enough money for her to enroll in an expensive school. Nicky and Norman are along for the ride.
Things happen, of course. Jess inspires Ed to be more optimistic and Ed bonds with both of the children. Norman causes trouble. It’s a lovely story, if a bit contrived.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
This is – well, I must admit it’s pretty close to what I classify as chick-lit, but I liked it anyway. I had to write down the names of the characters and their relationships to each other at first, since the plot tells three separate stories which, of course, come together in the end.
Characters are: Cecilia and John-Paul Fitzpatrick and their three daughters, Isabel, Esther and Polly; Tess and Will Curtis, their son Liam and Tess’s cousin Felicity; and Rachel, her son Rob, daughter-in-law Lauren and grandson, Jacob.
Rachel’s daughter Jane was murdered some 20 years before and the murder has never been solved. The story begins when Cecilia finds a sealed envelope written in her husband’s handwriting: “To be opened in the event of my death.”
Of course, she opens it and all hell breaks loose.