Books: Best of November 2008

Don’t miss these new books by midlife women.
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Between the Covers: The Book Babes’ Guide to a Woman’s Reading Pleasures by Margo Hammond and Ellen Hetzel (Da Capo)

In this guide, Book Babes Margo Hammond and Ellen Hetzel give expert reading recommendations on books and authors for women of every age. The books deal with a variety of subjects — love, sex, friendship, work, globe-trotting, and everything in between. Some of their best picks, in the next few slides.

Buy Between the Covers: The Book Babes’ Guide to a Woman’s Reading Pleasures

Book Babes Pick:The Summer Before Darkby Doris Lessing (Vintage)

The Nobel Prize winner whose Sixties classic The Golden Notebook made her a feminist icon also wrote this short novel about how a woman’s sexual power evolves as she ages. After decades as an accommodating wife and mother, 45-year-old Kate Brown has a summer of self-discovery, recalling a life of "twitching like a puppet" on the strings of male attention.

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The School on Heart’s Content Road

Carolyn Chute’s new novel, the first in a series of five, follows the lives of a cult-like group of people who live on the outskirts of society in Egypt, Maine: Gordon St. Onge, or The Prophet, is the leader of the Settlement. He has multiple wives and children, and a strong mistrust for organized government. Mickey Gammon is a 15-year-old, who takes up with a local militia and the militia’s leader, and eventually makes his home on the Settlement. "Secret Agent" Jane is a six-year-old living with The Prophet while her mother is in jail. She wears pink, heart-shaped glasses, which she believes have the power to get information out of people (she records her findings in a secret notebook as part of her plan to expose the Settlement). The story is narrated by these characters, as well as others including Gordon’s wives, Mickey’s family and the media. While the book jumps around and can be hard to follow at times, Chute’s in-your-face writing gives readers a reason to sympathize with these societal outcasts in the end; all they really want is to live their own self-sufficient lives. In today’s politically charged atmosphere, Chute’s novel gives readers something to chew on: the state of our economy, the threat of big government, the lies fed to us by the media before heading to the polls. Cheryl Lock

Buy The School on Heart’s Content Road

Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction by Susan Cheever (Simon & Schuster)

Part memoir, part pop psychology, Cheever’s latest book explores love, obsession, and the perils of compulsive sexual behavior. While her approach to the subject is descriptive rather than prescriptive—she speaks from experience-more detail would have made these anecdotes and recollections more poignant. The book’s most affecting passages reveal how alienation and unresolved trauma are driving forces of addiction, and how for Cheever herself, loneliness in midlife (at age 43) made her sexually restless. She’s a gifted storyteller, but the vagueness of her narrative, perhaps to protect privacy, is a bit frustrating. Still, Cheever is a keenly intelligent writer, and her musings on sex and desire raise provocative questions. — Carmela Ciuraru

Buy Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction

Conscience Point by Erica Abeel (Unbridled)

Turmoil in midlife is the subject of Abeel’s novel, described as a "Gothic modern tale, complete with family curses, unquiet spirits, forbidden love." Maddy Shaye seems to have it all: a close relationship with her 19-year-old daughter, Laila, a distinguished career as both a concert pianist and a TV journalist, and a boyfriend, Nick Ashcroft, whom she adores despite his often moody temperament. But life starts to falter when Nick, an editor at a publishing house, hires a sexy Brit as a publicity director. At the same time, Maddy grapples with her daughter’s decision to drop out of college, and the possibility that her high-profile TV job isn’t secure after all. She finds refuge at Conscience Point, the Gatsby-esque estate on Long Island owned by Nick’s family. The novel skips back and forth in time as she writes what she calls her "faux memoir," admitting that she’s chosen to hide behind the third-person voice. "Brings distance, as they say," she explains. "Keeps shame at bay, or makes it easier to be shameless." Over the course of the story, Maddy reveals the "tortuous path" that now binds her—in ways more complex than she could have imagined—to Laila, Nick, and Violet. The Ashcrofts are an old-money family, and with that lineage comes the requisite scandalous family secrets—a "compost of lies," as Maddy calls it. The plot crescendoes to a melodramatic height as those dark secrets are revealed and various betrayals come to light. In the end, Abeel manages to tie together those strands in a way that’s satisfying without being sappy. Maddy, whose ultimate triumphs are quite hard-won, is a highly appealing protagonist. She’s still hungry for drama and passion in midlife, yet yearning for a sense of calm as well. — Carmela Ciuraru

Originally published on, November 2008.

Buy Conscience Point

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