Thursday, December 13, 2018

Family Trust

Ensemble. Kathy Wang’s debut novel titled, Family Trust, introduces readers to the very interesting Huang family, building each character with the complexity we find in people we know well. As patriarch Stanley Huang comes close to death, the truth or fiction about his wealth will be revealed. Of course, there is more to inheritance than money, and Stanley’s children, Fred and Kate, his ex-wife, Linda, and current wife, Mary, are all inheritors of Stanley’s love. Each character faces ambitions of one sort or another, with varying levels of achievement. Wang draws readers into a family that becomes more interesting as the novel progresses. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Family Trust from amazon.com.

Evening in Paradise

Alive. There are twenty-two short stories in a collection by Lucia Berlin titled, Evening in Paradise: More Stories. In each story, Berlin brings rich characters to life, and places them in settings that most readers will experience as captured with just the right amount of description to be recognized and understood. The range of settings is wide, and in each one, the places and people come alive for readers. When love is in the air, these stories soar. Berlin places women in some gritty situations and somehow or other, they remain cool, even glamorous. Fans of short stories are those readers most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Evening in Paradise from amazon.com.

First Person

Liberation. Tell me the “real” story. Writers choose fiction, non-fiction or creative non-fiction, and readers judge stories no matter how they are categorized. Inspired, perhaps, by an episode in his own life when he was asked to ghostwrite the autobiography of Australian con man, John Friedrich, Richard Flanagan has written a novel titled, First Person. Protagonist Kif Kehlmann is sorely in need of funds when he is asked to ghostwrite the autobiography of Ziggy Heidl, who is about to head to jail for defrauding banks. The deadline is to complete the project in six weeks. Kif can’t get Ziggy to keep a story straight and fears the project won’t be completed. The writing flows once Kif understands that he can make it all up. Flanagan writes with great skill and structures the novel with inflection points that propel Kif’s liberation. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to appreciate this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase First Person from amazon.com.

The White Darkness

Extreme. Many of us know the story of Ernest Shackleton and his journeys around the South Pole. David Grann tells the story of a Shackleton admirer, Henry Worsley, in a book titled, The White Darkness. Worsley felt connected to Shackleton throughout his life, in part because he was related to someone who went to the South Pole with Shackleton. After retiring from the British army, Worsley teamed up with two other descendants of the Shackleton crew and went off to the South Pole in 2008. Still not satisfied with his obsession, Worsley returned in 2015 to walk alone across Antarctica. I read this book on cold days in Chicago and appreciated in a very small way the extremes that Worley faced on his journeys. Grann is a great writer and presented this story earlier in The New Yorker. I was as captivated on my second reading as I was on the first, at least as engaged as one can be in the warmth of one’s home. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The White Darkness from amazon.com.

House of Names

Murder. What better escape from our violent times than a visit to the Greeks and the violence that envelops the family of Agamemnon. Colm Toibin leads readers from murder to murder in his novel titled, House of Names. Every reader familiar with the stories from Aeschylus and others will feel a freshness with Toibin’s immersion into these myths. He sends readers to ancient Greece in the middle of revenge killings and explores the human psyche with precision. Toibin is speaking to our times through this ancient story told in a fresh way in finely written prose. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase House of Names from amazon.com.

Anatomy of a Miracle

Truth. The clever structure of Jonathan Miles’ novel titled, Anatomy of a Miracle, supports the theme of his story. While fiction, the appearance and structure make the book seem to be a journalist’s report about real people and events. Four years after protagonist Cameron Harris returns to Biloxi, Mississippi as a paraplegic from a war injury, he unexpectedly gets up from his wheelchair and walks. What has happened? Is this a medical recovery or a miracle? Questions follow, along with celebrity and the uncovering of secrets. Miles captures the energy of our time in this novel leading all readers to wonder about the nature of truth, and how we know what is true. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Anatomy of a Miracle from amazon.com.

Long Road to Mercy

Misfire. David Baldacci introduces a new series in a novel titled, Long Road to Mercy. FBI agent Atlee Pine is the protagonist of the series, and she is by no means an ordinary or average character. Her strength is extraordinary, thanks to weightlifting. We expect FBI agents to comply with the chain of command, but Pine doesn’t. In our usual world, agents work in teams, but Pine works solo, albeit with the able assistance of her competent secretary. With that backdrop of disbelief about the central character, Baldacci puts her into a heroic battle with global consequences in a situation while ripped from today’s news headlines came across as totally implausible. The third misfire for me came from the weak dialogue. The way all characters spoke in this novel rang hallow. Baldacci fans may be the readers most likely to enjoy this book. I’ve found him with hits and misses in the past and place this novel in the misfire category. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase Long Road to Mercy from amazon.com.