Brief reviews on recent releases: 'A Life in Men,' by Gina Frangello, and 'In the Blood,' by Lisa Unger.
A Life in Men
By Gina Frangello. (Algonquin Books, 402 pages, $14.95.)
Don’t judge this book by its lively cover and sassy title: It’s no lighthearted beach read. In “A Life in Men,” author Gina Frangello touches on love, sex, terrorism and other violence, terminal illness, grief, adoption and more in a tale of two American girls and a life-changing trip.
In sunny 1988 Mykonos, 20-year-old best friends Mary and Nix (aka Nicole) expect fun and adventure when they meet two handsome pilots. Instead, they find a nightmare their mothers probably warned them about. Frangello intersperses chapters on this episode (which references the disturbing Joyce Carol Oates short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”) with longer chapters from Mary’s subsequent travels, adventurous love life and struggle with cystic fibrosis as she tries to heal from Nix’s death in the Lockerbie explosion.
Alternately sexy, sinister and humorous, “A Life in Men” bogs down a bit as Mary continually makes selfish and self-destructive choices and Frangello shifts points of view. Still, she paints a haunting portrait of feckless, reckless youth and explores the bonds (and limits) of friendship.
Marci Schmitt, multiplatform editor
In the Blood
By Lisa Unger. (Touchstone, 352 pages, $25.99.)
Prepare to be scared. Creepy characters, gripping plot, chilling description — this novel is a perfect weekend read. Psychology student Lana Granger has secrets, big ones, and someone knows what they are. When her best friend disappears, police suspect she is involved. Her life begins to unravel, and she questions her sanity. Who is tormenting her? Is it the troubled boy she baby-sits for? Is it someone from her secret past? Is it she herself?
The chapters alternate between Lana’s narrative and mysterious entries in a diary. It is unclear until near the end who is keeping the diary, which can be a bit confusing and a little frustrating, but it’s a minor point as the plot races along. The novel raises the question: Is there a gene passed through generations that makes one a psychopathic killer?
From the prologue, which describes the night Lana’s mother is murdered, to the surprising finish, it will keep you wondering what will happen next. This is simply a great, scary psychological thriller.
Judy Romanowich Smith, freelance writer