Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Shadowbahn

Parallel. I can’t think of ever being so pleased with reading a novel that confused me as much as Steve Erickson’s Shadowbahn. This imaginative book presents a parallel America, a country very different from the one we know. In this parallel country, Elvis wasn’t born. Instead we have his non-singing brother, Jesse. Without Elvis, gospel music survived, and rock never emerged. In this other world, there is a JFK who was never elected president. The Twin Towers have appeared in the South Dakota Badlands. People flock to the site, and some see and hear things that others can’t. A brother and sister are on a road trip listening to a music playlist that was made by their father. This intense novel provides paragraphs in disconnected spurts and that was the key to my confusion. I was always losing my bearings. Adventurous readers with a high tolerance for confusion will find great writing, a dreamlike experience of imagining life in a divided nation absent many familiar cultural markers, and a work of art that riffs on the theme of parallels and twins and all that might have been and that might be. I was exhausted as I rushed through reading this novel. I was confused. I was delighted. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Shadowbahn from amazon.com.

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things

Relatable. Life is messy. Stuff happens. Memoirs can cover the gamut from the exciting lives of celebrities to the ordinary lives of nobodies, and the dysfunctional families that bind them together. Amy Dickenson’s latest memoir titled, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, will be relatable to any reader. That’s not necessarily because her life and ours are a match. I know there is almost nothing she and I have in common when it comes to things like big city versus small town upbringing; intact nuclear families versus single parent environments; or getting married later in life to someone with children. Instead, whether aspects of our lives are similar or different from Amy’s, we recognize her as a real person who has dealt with what life has thrown her in an authentic and genuine way. This memoir tells the story of her return to the place that is home. Each of us finds home somewhere, and this memoir will help every reader think about what home means for us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things from amazon.com.

Among the Ruins

Jewels. The third novel in the series by Asuma Zehanat Khan featuring Canadian detectives Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak may not be the ideal starting point for new readers. Absent the backstory, the action in the new novel titled, Among the Ruins, may not be understood, especially the connections among characters. We’re not in Canada anymore, as Esa is on leave in Iran. The death of a Canadian-Iranian filmmaker puts Esa back to work while in Iran. Khan uses this novel to pull readers into Iran’s history, the country’s crown jewels, and mystery and murder, past and present. Fans of the series are those most likely to enjoy reading the latest installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Among the Ruins from amazon.com.

Lenin's Roller Coaster

Transit. The third Jack McColl novel by David Downing is titled, Lenin’s Roller Coaster. Set in 1917-19, we find British spy Jack McColl and his lover, American journalist Caitlin Handley, in transit throughout the novel, often in separate places. Jack is on a mission to sabotage the Germans in central Asia, while Caitlin is covering the Russian Revolution. Readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially of this time period, are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Readers of the earlier novels will appreciate the depth of relationship of these two characters. I was entertained because I find this time period fascinating, and these characters are compelling. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lenin’s Roller Coaster from amazon.com.

Exit West

Separation. Almost every human longs for a better world, and wants to live a settled life in a community where we can love and be loved. Protagonists Nadia and Saeed are those people, just like us, in Mohsin Hamid’s novel titled, Exit West. They fell in love in a distant city, and when violence reaches their doorstep, they flee, and are separated from their community and loved ones. To ease their passage and to manage the separation, Hamid uses the device of magic doors. Would that these doors exist, given the plight of people like Nadia and Saeed in many parts of the world today. Hamid takes the headlines, and brings them close to everyone’s home in this finely written novel. He captured our situation, in my view, in this excerpt: p. 158 “The news in those days was full of war and migrants and nativists, and it was full of fracturing too, of regions pulling away from nations, and cities pulling away from hinterlands, and it seemed that as everyone was coming together everyone was also moving apart.” All this separation needs to be healed. We need to mend all these fractures. Hamid does some mending with his finely written prose in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Exit West from amazon.com.

The Cutthroat

Swordplay. Isaac Bell is one of my favorite protagonists among the many characters in the multiple Clive Cussler franchises. The 10th Bell novel is titled, The Cutthroat, and fans will enjoy the return of a familiar cast of characters, especially the quirky crew of the Van Dorn Detective Agency. A new skill for Bell in this installment involves swordplay, and as fans would expect, Bell is pretty good at this activity. Novels in this series, and anything with Cussler’s name, can be relied on for some distracting entertainment, packed with tension and action, and a reliable resolution in which the good guys win at the end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cutthroat from amazon.com.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Possibilities. After I read the book jacket of Yuval Harari’s book titled, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, I set it aside and read his earlier book, Sapiens. Before I took a journey with him to explore our possible future, I figured I should have some perspective on how he views our past. With that foundation, which I recommend to any general reader, I started to read the new book and began to think about all the possible future paths that our species might pursue. The pace of change seems to be accelerating, and our capabilities to set a path toward certain different future states seem to be expanding. Any general reader may be shocked by some of Harari’s perspectives, and will likely be encouraged to think more deeply as a result of reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Homo Deus from amazon.com.