Book Roundup

Yvonne Zipp welcomes back a lost novelist, ponders the death of chick lit, and giggles over a teen comedy by a writer for 'The Simpsons.'

CONSEQUENCES, BY PENELOPE LIVELY (VIKING)

Penelope Lively's 17th novel follows three generations of British women from the 1930s to the present. Lorna and Matt meet on a park bench, fall in love, and move to an unheated cottage in the country, where Lorna gleefully abandons her upper-class helplessness and learns to garden, use an outside privy, and pluck chickens. Matt, meanwhile, begins building a reputation as a wood engraver, until World War II intervenes. Twenty years later, their daughter, Molly, happens on an ad in a newspaper someone left on a bus, leading to a library job and an affair with a wealthy man. In the present-day, Molly's daughter Ruth, a journalist, starts seeking out her grandparents' past. "Consequences" is a well-done, emotionally thoughtful novel, hampered slightly by the fact that each succeeding generation is less interesting than the one that came before. Grade: B+

DEATH BY CHICK LIT, BY LYNN HARRIS (BERKLEY)

Someone's bumping off bestselling writers of chick lit, and Lola Somerville is frankly a little miffed that she's not successful enough to attract the killer's attention. Lynn Harris's comic mystery defends the maligned genre at the same time she sends up its conventions. (The first victim became famous after a letter to the editor defending the stock gay best friend character was optioned and became her novel, "The Gay Best Friend.") But those of us who enjoy the occasional light comic novel will welcome her response to the assorted "stern reviewers and opinion writers" who decry the genre as "bad for women" – "a charge … that implied, condescendingly, that women can't tell the difference between instruction manuals and entertainment." But after a strong beginning, Harris's story falls prey to a few of the pitfalls common to the pastel-cover set. For example, Lola is so self-centered she can't manage any sympathy for the dead writers (some of whom were friends), and the mystery itself is slackly plotted. Grade: B–

FIVE SKIES, BY RON CARLSON (VIKING)

Three men fleeing grief and guilt meet in Idaho to build a motorcycle stunt ramp across a gorge in Ron Carlson's moving, beautifully written novel. At first, all Arthur Key and Darwin Gallegos agree about is the inherent stupidity of their task, but wary distrust slowly gives way to friendship as the men bond over hard work well done (and the chance to tease the junior member of their crew, ex-thief Ronnie Panelli). Ron Carlson's first novel in 30 years somehow puts into words the thoughts and emotions of quiet men in a way that puts us talkers to shame. Grade: A–

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER, BY LARRY DOYLE (ECCO)

Übernerd Denis Cooverman uses his valedictory address to tell the head cheerleader, her soldier boyfriend, and hundreds of other people how he really feels in this raucous romp of a teen comedy. Told over the course of graduation day, TV writer Larry Doyle's debut novel gets at the agony of adolescence in a way that will have people covering their faces with their hands, reading between their fingers to see what disaster will befall Denis next and snorting with laughter the whole time. But Doyle ("The Simpsons") is deft enough a writer to reveal the nuances to Denis, Beth, and their friends in between the gross-out gags. (The only exception is Kevin, the boyfriend, and his two goons, caricatures I found helpful to think of as zombies, since they've been allotted about that much personality.) There's maybe two too many showdowns between Denis and Kevin near the end, but readers may be laughing too hard to notice. Grade: B+

THE OVERLOOK, BY MICHAEL CONNOLLY (LITTLE, BROWN)

There's radioactive material loose in Los Angeles, and one man has less than a day to track it down. No, not Jack Bauer – LAPD officer Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch. But the "ripped from '24' " setup is just one of the problems with "The Overlook," bestselling author Michael Connolly's 18th novel. (In fairness to Connolly, Harry doesn't stoop to torturing suspects, and the situation plays out very differently than it would in the hands of CTU.) Originally written in serial form for The New York Times magazine, "The Overlook," despite being expanded and revised, still bears the hallmarks of a rush job. Harry's new partner, Ignacio "Iggy" Ferras, gets a nickname in lieu of character development, and, at one point, Connolly manages to wedge three clichés into two sentences. More surprisingly for the usually reliable author of "The Lincoln Lawyer," readers will be two to three steps ahead of Harry. Grade: C+

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