Monday, November 6, 2017

Crimes of the Father

Victims. Is it too soon for a novel whose subject is the clerical sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church? Thomas Keneally thought not and wrote Crimes of the Father, a novel set in Sydney Australia in two alternating time segments: the 1970s and 1996. Protagonist Father Frank Docherty was born in Australia, joined a religious order there and was ordained a priest. Following his preaching in the 1970s against the Vietnam War, the archbishop wanted him out of the country, so his order transferred him to Canada where he became a psychologist and teacher. He returns to Sydney in 1996 to give a speech to clerics about sexual abuse, and to visit his ill mother. Both victims of abuse and priests aware of the crimes of fellow priests take Frank into their confidence. Keneally develops all the characters with skill, especially the victims, and by setting the time period when he did, we can see the emergence of attention to the abuse scandal. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crimes of the Father from amazon.com.

Little Fires Everywhere

Mothers. Things are not as they appear in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and when secrets are revealed the consequences are dramatic. Celese Ng homes in on the theme of motherhood in her novel titled, Little Fires Everywhere. A variety of birth and adoptive mothers are faced with difficult choices. The children of those mothers are the beneficiaries or the victims of those choices. Differences in class are dramatic, but disaster knows nothing about class. There are many little fires simmering or blazing in the houses of Shaker Heights, and thanks to Ng, readers are drawn into these lives to become singed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Little Fires Everywhere from amazon.com.

Manhattan Beach

Anna. While I’m reading historical fiction, I notice what happens when I recognize how much I am enjoying a novel: my mental images of the past change from black and white to color. From page one of her novel titled, Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan sent vivid color to my brain. Set mostly in and around the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, the novel draws readers into that place and time through a well-developed protagonist, Anna, who overcomes resistance to become a diver. Egan leads us into a world of gangsters, complicated family dynamics and a variety of forms of loss and restoration. Her fine prose and well-told story entertained me thoroughly from beginning to end. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Manhattan Beach from amazon.com.

Dinner at the Center of the Earth

Middle. Our finest artists look at the world and explain it to the rest of us. The talented writer Nathan Englander looks at the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and explains it to us in his novel titled, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. When differences divide us, it can be helpful to understand the other’s point of view, clarify our own position, and find common ground or ways of meeting in the middle. The trope of meeting for a meal in the middle of a tunnel expresses the journey each party must take to come together. A long-held prisoner and his guard illustrate the ways in which different parties are put together and uncover common ground. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dinner at the Center of the Earth from amazon.com.

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

Meditation. Robert Wright offers a secular and not a religious perspective about Buddhism in his book titled, Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Wright is a thoughtful writer who offers his personal perspective about meditation and its place in his life. Readers get to observe Wright and his struggles on silent retreats and with trying to meditate. Each of us is on some path away from suffering and from our delusions, and this book describes the path that Wright has chosen. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why Buddhism Is True from amazon.com.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Origin

Blake. Readers who don’t find Dan Brown’s writing tedious and plodding are those most likely to enjoy reading his latest novel to feature Robert Langdon. Titled, Origin, this novel explores answers that a student of Langdon provides to two perennial questions: where did we come from and where are we going? Brown teases out the student’s answers over the course of 480 pages using quotes from Winston Churchill along the way and aspects of the life and writing of William Blake. The Catholic church is back with a role to play in this novel. Brown has been successful with this formula in earlier novels, and the latest novel will seem very familiar to readers of his earlier books. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Origin from amazon.com.

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History

Unintimidated. NBC News reporter Katy Tur was plucked from a welcome assignment in Europe to cover the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Never suspecting that her assignment would last 500 days and that the candidate she was covering would become President, Tur hit the road and came to understand the scope of Trump’s support. She writes about her personal experience of the campaign and her early life in a memoir titled, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Readers looking for some Teddy White style perspective on the campaign won’t find much new in this book. Readers interested in Tur herself and the ways in which she was never intimidated by Trump or his supporters are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Unbelievable from amazon.com.

IQ

Character. I am a sucker for character-driven crime fiction. A new series by Joe Ide begins with a title, IQ, named for the protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe. Isaiah is a smart guy with a big heart. Ide introduces Isaiah in two time segments in this novel: when he dropped out of high school in 2005 and in 2013 where he and his sidekick, Dodson, are caught up in an exciting and lucrative case. Set in Southern California and rooted in South Central, the crimes and action are presented vividly and by the end of the novel, I knew I was hooked on another crime fiction series, thanks to the interesting central character, Isaiah Quintabe. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase IQ from amazon.com.

The Rooster Bar

Caper. My guess is that John Grisham had a lot of fun writing his novel titled, The Rooster Bar. Readers who can overlook some clunky writing may have fun reading it. Three third-year law students face the reality that their job prospects after getting a degree from a bottom-tier school won’t generate the income they need to repay massive student loans. What follows is a caper to reveal a scam by a wealthy lawyer, to commit felonies, and to change their lives. The more preposterous the behavior of the three protagonists, the more fun their exploits became. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Rooster Bar from amazon.com.

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

Citizenship. Many readers will bristle at Mark Lilla’s book titled, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. That’s a good reason to read it, whether one agrees or disagrees with the author. Lilla proposes that the liberal attention to identity politics in recent years has been a harmful diversion. Over the past four decades the vision of American individualism championed by Reagan and others has become dominant. The problem he sees with that vision is that individualism leads to a lack of interest in discerning the common good and no way of drawing our country’s citizens together. Lilla calls for liberals to focus on citizenship, not identity. Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, reading about this proposed reset will be of interest if you are a citizen interested in making our republic stronger. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Once and Future Liberal from amazon.com.