“Head Over Heels” by Hannah Orenstein and “Party of Two” by Jasmine Guillory

Head Over HeelsHead Over Heels takes place in an alternate universe. No, it’s not science fiction; it’s a world in which COVID-19 never happened, and the Tokyo Olympics went on as planned. I’m sure that when the publisher was drawing up its marketing plan, June 2020 seemed like it would be the perfect time to capitalize on Olympic fever; now, it’s like a relic of a lost world.

That said, I still really enjoyed the book, though it definitely made me spare a thought for all of the young gymnasts who have spent their whole lives working toward the goal of making it to the Olympics.

Our heroine, Avery Adams, is a former elite gymnast who seemed like a shoo-in to make it onto the American team for the 2012 London games. An injury derailed her plans, and she’s spent seven years trying to figure out what to do next. After her pro football star boyfriend dumps her—he’s tired of her aimlessness and lack of ambition—she is forced to move back in with her parents.

Avery gets a job coaching 16-year-old Olympic hopeful Hallie Conway, a gifted gymnast who just needs to add some artistic flair to her floor routine. Hallie’s main coach is a former Olympian named Ryan, whom Hallie had a crush on back in the day. Romantic sparks fly, but they don’t want anything to distract them from their goal: getting Hallie a slot on the U.S. team.

Head Over Heels doesn’t sugarcoat the downsides of gymnastics at this elite level; there’s a scandal involving a doctor who sexually assaults his young charges (shades of Larry Nassar), and Avery frequently flashes back to the emotionally abusive training she went through, which involved being shamed for her weight and her appearance. Avery is determined to protect Hallie from going through what she endured.

Still, the book eloquently describes the joys of the sport as well: “I’m reminded of one of the many things I loved about gymnastics: if you work hard, you can become a superhuman version of yourself, at least for a time,” muses Avery. “If I were in prime shape, I could spiral like a ballerina, contort myself like a circus performer, catapult myself like a soldier, and defy gravity like a goddess.”

Party of TwoJasmine Guillory’s Party of Two is also set in another dimension… one in which California has a male senator! (Seriously, I’ve lived here for 20 years, and that’s never happened. But sometimes you have to suspend disbelief when you read fiction.) This is the fifth novel in what I’m calling the Jasmine Guillory Literary Universe, since all of the books draw from a large pool of friends and relatives. Olivia Monroe, this novel’s main character, is the sister of The Wedding Date’s Alexa Monroe.

Olivia has just moved from New York to Los Angeles to start a law firm with her friend Ellie. Staying in a hotel while waiting for her house to be move-in ready, Olivia starts chatting with a handsome stranger at the lobby bar. She’s gobsmacked when she turns on the local news after getting back to her room and realizes that she was having a flirty conversation with California’s junior Senator, Max Powell.

Naturally, they run into each other again, and despite Olivia’s insistence that she has to be 100% focused on her career, she and Max begin dating… in secret, since he’s considered one of the most eligible bachelors on Capitol Hill, and while Olivia needs to bring new clients to her firm, she doesn’t want to trade on the fact that she’s getting increasingly cozy with a powerful legislator.

Max and Olivia have very different temperaments—Max is extroverted and spontaneous, while cautious Olivia doesn’t like to make a move without planning every last detail in advance. As a single woman in her 30s, she’s used to making her own way in the world, and the idea of being known primarily as a politician’s wife does not appeal to her. “Would she have to learn how to put a fake smile on her face all day whenever she was in public so she could look pleasant and harmless? Would she be some sort of Max appendage, where people wouldn’t see her as an individual but only as ‘the senator’s wife’? Would the world expect her to nod and smile next to him no matter what he said or did?”

It’s a given that the couple in a Jasmine Guillory book will wind up together in the end, but reaching that destination always makes for an incredibly satisfying journey. Since literary journeys are the only trips I’m taking this year, thank goodness for novels like this one, which provide a few happy and relaxing hours of reading pleasure.

“The Jetsetters” by Amanda Eyre Ward

The JetsettersDuring this staycation summer, I found it oddly appealing to pick up a book about people taking a European cruise on a gigantic ocean liner. Imagine a world where such things were possible!

Widowed Charlotte is in her early 70s, and her best friend has just died. Feeling lonely and aimless, she longs to spend time with all three of her children. Only one of the trio, Regan, lives nearby, and their relationship is pretty dicey, since Charlotte keeps bugging her to lose weight. Cord lives in New York with his fiancé, but he has yet to come out to his devoutly Catholic mom. And Lee moved across the country to Hollywood years before and never looked back, though her dreams of stardom never panned out the way she’d hoped.

Charlotte enters an essay contest with a luxury cruise on the Splendido Marveloso as the first prize. When she wins, she summons all of her children, who reluctantly agree to join her. Regan’s husband Matt, an abusive jerk, insists on coming along; of course, no one else in the family knows that their relationship is in trouble, since the Perkins clan is dysfunctional in the extreme. Over the course of the novel, the reader learns why they all feel the need to keep their true selves hidden from their family members. On the ship, the first time they’ve all been together in years, those long-buried secrets finally start coming to the surface.

Along the way, we get glimpses of the ports they visit, including Malta, Athens and Marseilles, and plenty of details of shipboard life, from the buffets to the disco to the enforced merriment (a troupe called the Fun Times Dance Squad boogies through the dining room, imploring passengers to do the Dinner Napkin Twirl). Life aboard the Splendido Marveloso, and only being allotted a few scant hours to visit each historic port of call, sounds like pure misery to me, which might have increased my enjoyment of this book; if this had been my dream vacation, I might have been too envious to focus on the Perkins family’s travails. But I would much rather have read The Jetsetters in my suburban backyard than in a deck chair aboard the Splendido Marveloso.

I zoomed through this book, even though all of the characters are pretty awful people (with good reason to be that way, admittedly). Charlotte’s own childhood was so miserable that she seemed destined to screw up her own family, but The Jetsetters does give some hope that perhaps it’s never too late to change and to overcome a painful legacy of secrets and shame.

“Big Summer” by Jennifer Weiner

Big SummerIn an attempt to give myself a slight change of scenery, I mail-ordered an Adirondack chair and put it in my back yard. Now I can sit comfortably amidst my tomato plants while I drink tea and read. Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer seemed like an appropriate book to inaugurate my outdoor space; after last year’s big historical novel Mrs. Everything, Weiner promised her fans that her next book would be lighter, featuring “a girl who gets a happy ending.”

That last part was really important, since I was definitely in the mood to read something where everything turns out just fine. Ordinarily, perhaps that would constitute a spoiler, but Weiner obviously knows what people are hungry for right now, so it was smart of her to make that pledge part of her (virtual) promo tour.

Big Summer is about an Instagram influencer named Daphne Berg, who also works as a Manhattan nanny when she’s not posting pics online of herself wearing trendy clothes (and making sure to hashtag the companies who supplied her with the outfits). As a plus-sized woman, Daphne has finally learned to accept her body, and she has become something of a role model for younger women. It’s been a long road, though; several years back, a humiliating incident caused a rift between Daphne and her best friend, slim and wealthy Drue Cavanaugh, who turned out to be something less than a loyal pal.

Daphne hasn’t seen Drue in years when her frenemy returns, begging Daphne to forgive her and serve as a member of her wedding party. The lavish, well-publicized nuptials—Drue is marrying a reality TV star—will be taking place on Cape Cod. Since Daphne has just scored a new gig as the face of a new clothing line, she figures that if nothing else, the Cape will serve as a scenic backdrop for some primo Instagram content. The weekend turns out to be extremely memorable in ways Daphne couldn’t have imagined, as the story takes a pretty big turn halfway through.

This is a fun book which goes down as easily as a Popsicle on a hot day, though it’s not completely frivolous; there are some poignant musings about social media and the way people with seemingly perfect online lives may not be quite so happy offline.

The only thing that bugged me about this book was that Daphne has both a roommate and a dog named Bingo, and when she goes to Cape Cod, it’s mentioned that her roommate will also be out of town. But who takes care of the dog in their absence? Bingo is in Daphne’s apartment when she returns; was there a dogsitter? I even skimmed back through the first part of the book to see if I had missed something. It might sound silly, but as I alluded to in my review of The Stranger Diaries a couple of weeks ago, I sometimes find myself oddly invested in the fates of animal characters in the books I read.

“Redhead by the Side of the Road” by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the RoadStop me if you’ve heard this one before: a middle-aged man, a resident of Baltimore, leads a strictly regimented and predictable existence, and then a stranger arrives and shakes it up. That character appears in almost every Anne Tyler novel; occasionally it’s a woman, but the fussy gentleman, a creature of habit who seems to have stepped out of a much-earlier decade, is definitely a Tyler staple. And Micah Mortimer, the protagonist of her latest book, Redhead by the Side of the Road, does not break the mold. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone,” she writes in the very first paragraph.

I have confessed before to being somewhat obsessed with Anne Tyler, and everything about her books fascinates me. As someone who lived in Baltimore for many years, I always pay special attention to the locations she mentions—legendary watering hole Swallow at the Hollow makes an appearance in Redhead, and Micah visits a client who lives in one of my old neighborhoods, Rodgers Forge. However, even a Tyler fanatic like myself must begrudgingly admit that Redhead is not one of the superior entries in her canon; it’s rather slight, and doesn’t really offer readers anything she hasn’t already done better in the past.

Still, when you’re living through a global pandemic, maybe you don’t want anything too different or earth-shattering, and here comes Tyler—now 78 years old!—with another novel about Baltimore loners and misfits. I was shocked to learn that the reclusive writer had apparently planned to tour the U.K. in support of Redhead; the trip was canceled due to the coronavirus, and Tyler told the Guardian that she felt relieved, but also culpable: “I remember I used to pray the school would burn down before a math test the next day. Yet if it had actually burned down I would have felt so guilty. So now I’m thinking, ‘Oh dear, be careful what you wish for!’”

In an interview with the BBC, she confessed,  “I always say when I’m starting a book, ‘This one’s gonna be different’. About halfway through, I say, ‘Oh, darn, it’s the same book over again.'” So she is at least self-aware. But there are always some little surprises to be found.

Judging by the title, I assumed that Tyler’s protagonist would encounter a woman with red hair, perhaps stranded due to a flat tire, or waiting for a bus that never came. However, it turns out that Micah goes for his daily jog without wearing his glasses (he “hated to feel them bobbing up and down on his nose”), and a fire hydrant on his route, “faded to the pinkish color of an aged clay flowerpot,” always appears to his myopic eyes to be a child or a petite adult with red hair.

I have stopped wearing my contact lenses—I read somewhere that it’s too dangerous these days to ever risk touching your eyes—and when I walked the dog today, in my non-prescription sunglasses, I almost changed my route when I spotted what I thought was a man lingering on a street corner. Then, as I approached, I realized someone had, incongruously, hung a white button-down shirt on a utility pole, creating a phantom businessman by the side of the road, an illusion of somebody dressed up to go work at an office job that no longer exists. I thought about Micah and his redhead, and then I wondered when I’d feel safe enough to walk right past a fellow pedestrian without worrying about keeping a six-foot distance between us.

“Separation Anxiety” by Laura Zigman

Separation AnxietyA year ago, my husband and I had to make the difficult decision to euthanize our elderly Boston terrier. Afterward, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get another dog; I wanted to be free to travel, my ultimate goal being to divide my time between our home in California and an apartment my family owns in Stockholm, Sweden. However, a couple months ago, the director of the rescue organization from which we got our previous dogs got in touch, gently urging us to consider adopting a seven-month-old Boston puppy, an owner surrender.

My husband fell for him immediately; I was more skeptical, but by the time the coronavirus lockdown came around, I had begun to believe the dog was the only thing keeping me sane. I’d always been skeptical of the concept of emotional support animals, but now I understand.

So I am definitely the target audience for Laura Zigman’s Separation Anxiety, about a middle-aged woman who begins wearing her dog in a baby sling when her life starts falling apart. When I opened the book and saw that Part One is titled “Sheltering In Place,” a phrase I had rarely ever heard until earlier this month, when I started hearing it several times a day, it seemed almost eerie. (The title is actually a punning reference to the dog’s breed—she’s a Sheltie—and not any sort of stay-at-home order.)

The book’s main character, Judy, is technically separated from her anxiety-ridden pothead husband, who has moved into the basement of their home; her 13-year-old son is having trouble fitting in at school; her best friend is dying of cancer. The only thing that gives her comfort is the warm and satisfying feeling of carrying the dog close to her body: “Those hours when the dog is in the sling are restorative for me… wearing Charlotte is helping me get through the end of Teddy’s childhood… instead of turning to my husband with that overwhelming sadness and longing, I’ve turned to my dog.”

When she was younger, Judy wrote a wildly successful children’s book that was turned into a PBS series, but after many years of struggling with writer’s block, she now writes brief online posts for “a health and happiness website” called Well/er. (Judy’s story has parallels to Zigman’s own, according to this interview; the author turned to ghostwriting after her successful career as a novelist dried up.) Judy’s attempts to get her groove back include taking an in-person creativity seminar run by an Instagram influencer, which has disastrous results.

A lot of the things that happen to Judy in this book are pretty cringeworthy, especially that ill-fated weekend seminar, but Zigman writes about her with such obvious sympathy and affection that it’s impossible not to root for her. After finishing the book, I Googled “baby slings”—this was just a matter of curiosity; I don’t particularly want to wear my Boston terrier, and I sincerely doubt that my very energetic pup would let me do so—and was surprised to see that a couple of the Google image results showed people toting dogs in slings. Will Zigman’s book start a trend? People need all the comfort they can get at this difficult time, and if carrying your dog helps you through this, I see no reason to resist.

“How to Walk Away” and “What You Wish For” by Katherine Center

How To Walk AwayI downloaded Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away to my e-reader before going on a trip last month—a trip out of town! Ah, the pre-quarantine days; what a world that was!—and decided to save it for later when I realized that it begins with a plane crash. If at all possible, I try to avoid reading about plane crashes when I’m actually flying on an airplane. Sometimes, they pop up halfway through (I’m looking at you, Patty Jane’s House of Curl), but the one in How to Walk Away is right there at the top.

Margaret Jacobsen hates flying, but her boyfriend Chip has been taking lessons, and when he insists on taking her for a spin, she can’t bring herself to say no. After an in-flight marriage proposal, everything seems perfect—until a storm comes up, causing the plane to crash-land. Chip walks away without a scratch, but Margaret is left a paraplegic with serious burns on her neck. Cowardly Chip can’t bear to face her, but as she heads into rehab, Margaret receives an unexpected visitor: her older sister Kitty, who has been estranged from the family for several years. Why did Kitty disappear? And what secret is Margaret’s hunky-but-surly physical therapist hiding?

How to Walk Away reminded me quite a bit of a gender-swapped version of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, though far less tragic (thank goodness; I’m not up for tragedies right now). Unlike Will in Me Before You, Margaret tends toward the cheerful and good-hearted, though she suffers setbacks that (very realistically) grind her down and cause her to lose hope at times. Still, you can always count on Center for a happy ending, and I hope that never changes.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Center’s newest novel, What You Wish For (no relation to Careful What You Wish For!), which will be published in July. I sincerely hope all of the bookstores will have reopened by then.

What You Wish ForSam Casey is the librarian at a progressive and creative elementary school in Galveston, TX. When the principal, who was like a father to Sam (whose own father is long out of the picture), dies unexpectedly, he is replaced by a guy Sam used to work with earlier in her career, when she lived in California. Duncan Carpenter was a zany and imaginative teacher, and Sam was madly in love with him. When he began dating someone else, she quit her job and moved on in an attempt to deal with her heartbreak. So she imagines it’ll be difficult to have to see him again on a daily basis.

However, the fun and wacky Duncan is gone, replaced by a suit-and-tie-wearing stickler for the rules who wants to paint the colorful walls of the school gray. Sam can’t understand what happened, and this is where I really started getting annoyed with this book. Does anyone at the school know about this crazy little invention called Google? Literally two minutes of searching, and they would have known everything about why Duncan changed. That’s what everyone does in the 21st century! And this book is definitely set in the present day.

Despite that rather large caveat, once Duncan’s past finally comes to light, the book really grew on me, and the ending is just amazingly good. I particularly loved this quote, from the widow of the school’s former principal: “Life doesn’t ever give you what you want just the way you want it. Life doesn’t ever make things easy. How dare you demand that happiness should be yours without any sacrifice—without any courage? What an incredibly spoiled idea—that anything should come easy? Love makes you better because it’s hard. Taking risks makes you better because it’s terrifying. That’s how it works. You’ll never get anything that matters without earning it. And even what you get, you won’t get to keep. Joy is fleeting. Nothing lasts. That’s exactly what courage is. Knowing all that going in—and going in anyway.”

Those words definitely resonated with me this week. Just don’t take any risks that involve gathering in crowds or skipping your hand-washing. Stay indoors and read!

“The Other Family” by Loretta Nyhan

The Other FamilyIt used to be the case that people who were adopted and wished to find their birth parents had to go to extremes—hiring private detectives, requesting records that may or may not be available, or signing up for reunion registries. Today, however, there’s a simpler option, which involves spitting into a vial and sending it to a DNA genealogy service.

Ally Anderson had never considered trying to delve into her past. Her adoptive mom, who raised Ally as a single parent, always made it extremely clear that she was not interested in pursuing the subject: “My origins were barely ever mentioned, as though Mom had conjured me out of thin air. And from what I understood, it was as if she had—my birth mother had never tracked me down, and my adoption was as closed as a locked door.” But Ally’s 10-year-old daughter Kylie suffers from a serious autoimmune disorder, and when her new doctor asks for a family history, Ally wonders if it’s finally time to begin searching.

Through the website Your Past Is a Present, Ally discovers that while her birth mom has since passed away, her sister Micki is alive. Ally’s newfound aunt is the vibrant and charismatic owner of a bridal salon for women over 40, and while she doesn’t have her own kids, she and her husband are fostering a 16-year-old. Micki couldn’t be more thrilled to meet Ally and Kylie, and before long, the two of them are spending more and more time with Micki and her family, while keeping it a secret from Ally’s mom. Meanwhile, Kylie’s new doctor is trying some unconventional treatments, which Ally hopes may finally give her daughter a chance at a less restrictive lifestyle.

Loretta Nyhan deftly tackles weighty subjects in an often-lighthearted manner; The Other Family is a fun read which never gets too heavy-handed. At the end of the book, I felt like I’d gained new insight into what it’s like for people who have to navigate the world while suffering from potentially-deadly allergies, and the families who never stop fighting for them.

“The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' ChoirIn her afterword to The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, Jennifer Ryan writes that she was inspired by her grandmother, who used to tell her “thrilling and often racy” stories about her experiences on the home front during World War II. “Women of all ages faced tragedy and hardship, but they also had opportunities for work and new personal freedoms with fathers, husbands, and sons away at the front… Plus, there was the heady notion that each day might be your last, so you need to make the most of it.”

Ryan captures the spirit of the times beautifully in her debut novel, which takes place during the eventful spring and summer of 1940 in a small town in southeastern England, not far from Dover. The story is told through letters and journal entries written by several of the women and girls in town, including middle-aged widow Mrs. Tilling, whose only child, David, is going off to war; 13-year-old Kitty Winthrop and her older sister Venetia, daughters of the powerful and wealthy Brigadier; and crafty midwife Miss Paltry, who is preoccupied with a get-rich-quick scheme. They are all members of the local Women’s Choir, formed after the men who used to lift their voices in song left Chilbury to fight for their country.

Some male newcomers do arrive in town, such as the mysterious artist Mr. Slater, with whom Venetia quickly becomes infatuated, and a colonel doing war work in the area, who is billeted to stay with Mrs. Tilling, much to her dismay.

By the end of the book, I really felt that I had a sense of what it must have felt like to live during that challenging time period, and how the simplest things, like a group of women gathering to sing together, can provide solace and fellowship during crisis: “Music takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries and tragedies, helps us look into a different world, a bigger picture. All those cadences and beautiful chord changes, every one of them makes you feel a different splendor of life.”

“Your Perfect Year” by Charlotte Lucas

Your Perfect YearA couple of weeks ago, there was a Pearls Before Swine comic that joked about how easy it is to waste an hour browsing through the Netflix menu looking for just the right thing to watch. I sometimes have the same problem when I’m ready to start a new book. I usually have at least a couple of library books, plus my home TBR pile, and then whatever’s piled up on my Kindle…

A few days ago, after reading the first page of at least three or four different books, I finally settled on Your Perfect Year, which is one of those Kindle First titles you can download for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The book is set in Hamburg and was translated from the German; I got a kick out of the copious references to local landmarks and neighborhoods in a city I’ve never visited, plus the fact that the prose sometimes seemed just slightly off-kilter. For instance, when the protagonist encounters some dog poop on the sidewalk, “He wished he could get his hands on the dog-mess miscreants and their damned curs—he’d have a thing or two to say to them!”

Your Perfect Year opens with a stereotypical uptight protagonist, Jonathan, scion of the founder of a storied Hamburg publishing house, who lives a solitary and regimented life. His father, slipping into senility, now lives in a nursing home, and Jonathan doesn’t have much to do with the business—he leaves that to the company’s CEO. His wife left him for his best friend years ago, and he has avoided relationships ever since.

One New Year’s Day, he finds a tote bag containing a Filofax, with the words “Your Perfect Year” handwritten on the first page. Each date features some instructions, ranging from “eat cake until it makes us ill” (March 16) to “rent a camper and drive to the seaside” (August 25). Many of the directives include a mysterious “H” (“Have your breakfast in bed with H., followed by a walk by the Alster”).

Jonathan has no idea who “H” is, but he finds himself following the diary’s orders, and (of course) it disrupts his highly-disciplined life. In alternating chapters, we meet a young woman named Hannah, who is setting up a child-care business with her best friend and waiting for her boyfriend to pop the question. Obviously their lives will intersect at some point, but there are plenty of surprises along the way.

I embraced the oddness of Your Perfect Year, which I enjoyed a lot more than the somewhat similarly-themed French novel Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. It’s all too easy for a book about a cranky, set-in-his-ways middle-aged man finding happiness to become cloying, but since Your Perfect Year also deals with some very sobering topics (you don’t encounter many romantic comedies with plots including suicide, divorce, cancer, alcoholism, dementia and parental estrangement), it never feels trite or sentimental. Dieses Buch ist sehr gut.

“The Whisper Network” by Chandler Baker

The Whisper NetworkA couple years ago, a young female journalist started a Google spreadsheet called “Shitty Media Men,” aimed at warning women about male co-workers with reputations for sexual misconduct. “The anonymous, crowdsourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault,” wrote the spreadsheet’s creator in an article for New York Magazine’s The Cut. “One long-standing partial remedy that women have developed is the whisper network, informal alliances that pass on open secrets and warn women away from serial assaulters.”

The problem with Shitty Media Men, of course, is that unlike old-fashioned whisper networks, it was right there in black & white, ready to be screenshotted and shared. There was a swift backlash once the list went viral, with detractors claiming that it would allow vindictive anonymous accusers to derail the lives and careers of innocent men without granting them due process. However, several prominent males did wind up losing their jobs in the wake of the list, most notably New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier.

It seemed inevitable that a fictionalized version of this juicy story would provide material for a novel. In Chandler Baker’s Whisper Network, it’s the “BAD Men” (Beware of Asshole Dallas Men) list which starts the ball rolling. The action takes place at an athletic apparel company called Truviv (think: Nike), where the general counsel, Ames Garrett, seems like a shoo-in to become CEO after the unexpected death of the current chief executive. Sloane Glover, an in-house lawyer at Truviv, adds Ames to the BAD Men list (“Issues with physical and interpersonal boundaries at the office; pursued sexual relationships with subordinate co-workers; sexist”), hoping to derail his rise to the top, but once the names on the spreadsheet are made public, Ames dies, seemingly of suicide. Suddenly, Ames starts being treated as a victim of what one local newspaper columnist refers to as a “feminist witch hunt.”

Baker smartly adds several complicating factors to the story: for instance, Sloane and Ames had had a sexual relationship at one point. Ames had just hired a new, pretty young female attorney, and Sloane is pretty sure he’s intent on making her his next conquest. In one particularly inspired touch, Sloane and her two best friends at work, Ardie and Grace, conduct clandestine meetings in the legally-mandated private room in which new mom Grace pumps breast milk.

The novel is told in the voice of an omniscient narrator, who makes statements about the general plight of women in modern America which female readers will no doubt find highly relatable: “We had guilt of every flavor: We had working-mom guilt, childless guilt, guilt because we’d turned down a social obligation, guilt because we’d accepted an invitation we knew we didn’t have time for, guilt for turning away work and for not turning it down when we felt we were already being taken advantage of.”

Whisper Network is an honest-to-goodness page turner (I stayed up past my bedtime in order to finish it, because I simply had to find out what would happen next), as well as a book I’d place in a time capsule to show what life was like for women in as the first fifth of the 21st century comes to a close. Would a female reader in 2039 feel satisfied that the lives of working women have improved significantly during the past 20 years? Let’s hope that’s the case.