Off the Shelf: Is it lonely in here, or is it just me?

Did you hear that? I think very definitely there’s an echo. That’s what happens when there is one less person in the cubicles. cubicles … cubicles. See? Echoes. To take our minds off of the quiet, maybe you want to hear about the books I (just me, all alone) have been reading.

Having enjoyed Julia Heaberlin’s “Black-Eyed Susans,” when “Paper Ghosts” came out, I knew I wanted to read it. The young female narrator has never gotten over the disappearance of her older sister, Rachel, and since Rachel vanished, she has studied and plotted to figure out what happened. Thoroughly convinced that Carl, a famous photographer, killed Rachel (and others) as evidenced by his photographs of nearby places (to other disappearances), she visits him in his nursing home. Under the guise of being his daughter, she proposes a road trip. Her aim: to goad him into confessing. Carl, in a stage of dementia, is eager to get out. So off they go. Carl has bouts of strange behavior, as well as being unusually canny, and he strangely often seems one step ahead of her, while she is fighting her own demons and doesn’t know how far she’ll have to go to force a confession. This is a mystery wrapped around a road trip inside a psychological drama. The places come alive, the photography descriptions are vivid, the murders are propulsive and each person’s mindset is up for debate. As I raced for the end, I wondered: Will she crack before Carl does? I got completely caught up in these characters and really loved how Heaberlin wove it all together.

I was unexpectedly sucked into “How to Walk Away” by Katherine Center. Maggie is deathly afraid of flying, so, against her better judgment, when her boyfriend wants to take her up in a Cessna, she goes because she thinks he’s going to propose. She steps on the plane, and her life changes when it crashes. Chip walks away without a scratch; Maggie does not. Amid ups and downs in the plot, it is the attitude of the characters that creates the charm of the story. Recovering in the hospital, Maggie has highs and lows but maintains her sense of humor and remains a character that is easy to relate to and admire. Maggie’s sister, Kit, is indefatigable; her future mother-in-law is a piece of work. (Oh my gosh, just wait ’til you get to the ‘goblin’ comment!) And then there is her slightly sullen, attractive, Scottish physical therapist, Ian, who pushes her to her limits. As Maggie negotiates the emotions of grief, regret, hopes and dreams, the story never drags the reader into despair but, rather, shines a light on the resilience of the human spirit with the idea that “There are all kinds of happy endings.” Will Maggie walk again? Will Chip marry her? Check this one out. Although it was all about life-changing events, it was also very definitely a romance. Did I mention that Ian is Scottish? If you are a sucker (like me) for unabashedly, grand romantic moments, this book has one of the best I’ve read in a long time. I still smile when I think about it.

No bones about it: I love Ryan T. Higgins. He is the writer and illustrator of the Mother Bruce picture books, which makes him equally talented and hilarious. His newest picture book is “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” in which we meet Penelope Rex, a little dinosaur heading for her first day of school. She has a new backpack with ponies on it. “Ponies were Penelope’s favorite. Because ponies are delicious.” So you can probably surmise what happens when she meets children at school. (Don’t worry, the teacher makes her spit them out.) Praised as one of the best books of the month, who am I to argue? I think parents and kids will love the newest Ryan T. Higgins book.

One thing’s for certain, even without conversations from the cubicles, I know Kris is still reading (somewhere), and so am I. So from the depths of my lonely cubicle, those are my recommendations this week: one mystery, one romance and one entertaining picture book … book … book. There’s that echo again. Until next time … time … time.