Just in the last week: it gets better as you go along:

Not recommended:
This week I broke down and read a used People Magazine about the Nursery of the Stars: Brad and Angelina Pitt-Jolie, or whatever they style themselves.  I predict in 20 to 30 years a rash of tell-alls from the kids:  Bradley Dearest, perhaps?  Although he doesn’t look like the whack job in that relationship.  I don’t know for sure; I don’t want to know, either.

I read The Jane Austen Book Club, insofar as I was able.  Just way too many good-hearted neurotic women in it–and only one dilute-personality man to balance it out.  If I want to read a book where men don’t have any impact, I will just re-read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. 

In much the same manner, I read Greg Iles’ The Footprints of God.  This book mixed politics, suspense, a poor understanding of physics, a poor understanding of law enforcement, testyria (that would be the male equivalent of hysteria) the life of Jesus and New Age religion–an unusual mixture.  However, the next time I want to read about an educated and accomplished female supporting character that acts like a doormat, I will just pick up a Tom Clancy.

Good reads:
At last, a balance between the sexes: I read Angels Fall by Nora Roberts.  Both the hero and heroine have a nice anti-romantic romance going, and seem like real people.  Heroine Reece is trying to rebuild a life after traumatic events; anti-hero Brody doesn’t put up with anything traumatic.  There’s only two bad things: first, the villain’s character was perhaps not emphasized/foreshadowed adequately.  Second, the use of the word “fist” over and over did not work very well, seeing as how it is a stock metaphor for Ms. Roberts as well as part of the name of the town.  I’ll re-read it, I’m sure, but I wish Ms. Roberts had listened to her editor and named the town Angel Falls instead of Angel’s Fist.

I re-read for perhaps the 56th time Joan Wolf’s Lord Richard’s Daughter, which is a Signet Regency Romance about two aristocrats with unconventional, dysfunctional upbringings and a taste for adventure. I love Joan Wolf ‘s Signets because she is understated, calm, and presents daring moral dilemmas.  In one of my favorites of hers, the hero kills off the heroine’s husband and marries her the next week–and it just seems inevitable and right.  These more daring J. Wolf Signets are all out of print.  You’ll have to go to, say, ABE books to get your shabby copy.

Recommended in particular
Then in the literature/mainstream fiction category, I read Ken Haruf’s wonderful novel,  Plainsong.  The title refers to the terrain of Eastern Colorado as well as the life there, the way of speaking–and the elegaic clarity of the prose.  Eight main characters tell the story of a town and way of life that will seem almost foreign to urban dwellers.  The wide-open setting helps show the effort that people must make in order to connect with each other; where they forgive; and where they draw the line.  This alone would take it from the prairie to the universal landscape, but there is much more.  This is the one you should pick up for the weekend.