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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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People PICK

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman |

REVIEWED BY KIM HUBBARD

NOVEL

Reading Gaiman’s new novel, his first for adults since 2005’s The Anansi Boys, is like listening to that rare friend whose dreams you actually want to hear about at breakfast. The narrator, an unnamed Brit, has returned to his hometown for a funeral. Drawn to a farm he dimly recalls from his youth, he’s flooded with strange memories: of a suicide, the malign forces it unleashed and the three otherworldly females who helped him survive a terrifying odyssey. Gaiman’s at his fantasy-master best here—the struggle between a boy and a shape-shifter with “rotting-cloth eyes” moves at a speedy, chilling clip. What distinguishes the book, though, is its evocation of the powerlessness and wonder of childhood, a time when magic seems as likely as any other answer and good stories help us through. “Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and … dangerous fairies?” the hero wonders. Sometimes, they do.

The Why of Things

by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

NOVEL

The suicide of their 17-year-old daughter Sophie has opened a rift between Joan and Anders Jacobs, threatening their marriage and the well-being of their two younger daughters. Hoping for a healing change of scene, Joan, a novelist, and Anders, a teacher, relocate the family to their summer home on Cape Cod, only to face another tragedy within moments of their arrival. Author Winthrop (Fireworks) details what follows in the alternating voices of the grieving parents and their daughters Eve and Eloise. Although the four voices are confusingly indistinct at times, Winthrop has crafted a fast-paced, entertaining summer read.

Till Human Voices Wake Us

by Patti Davis |

REVIEWED BY JOANNA POWELL

NOVEL

Since her biting 1986 novel Home Front, which didn’t please parents Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Davis has never shied away from controversy. Now she’s written a saga about wealthy L.A. sisters-in-law who fall in love, leave their comfort zones to begin a lesbian partnership and cause a society scandal. It’s not all shock value, though. One of the lovers is a mother devastated after her child’s death. And Davis, an engaging storyteller, immerses us in her fractured families’ world, where sorrow and joy play out with gut-wrenching realism. This isn’t a book about sexual orientation; it’s a book about being human.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO KIM HUBBARD: bookseditor@peoplemag.com