Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Curated. Whenever I read David Sedaris, I find that I laugh and then I think. In his book titled, The Best of Me, readers get a curated collection of what Sedaris considers his best work from the past three decades. Whether you’ve read some of these stories and essays before, or if they are new, you’re likely to find yourself laughing. While a unique voice, Sedaris also presents reflections that reveal our common humanity and the ways in which we live together, warts and all. Many readers will finish this collection with eyes open a little wider to the world around us, and to the members of our families. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Best of Me from amazon.com.
Foley. A few decades ago, in a ploy to get my sons to sit tight as a movie ended to let the crowd clear, I would encourage them to look at the credits and find the names of the Foley artists. We began to recognize some of these artists, and we all came to know what the role of the Foley artist entails. While it was a delight, then, to see Foley artists in the book by Chuck Palaniuk titled, The Invention of Sound, the context involved screams, horror and the usual nausea inducing sensibility that Palaniuk brings to his art. If you are a fan of Palaniuk’s work, and have a strong stomach, you will find in this book a thoughtful exploration of suffering and the power of art. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Invention of Sound from amazon.com.
Formidable. Stacy Abrams drew national interest when she ran for governor of Georgia and was beaten in a close race in 2018 by Brian Kemp, whom she claimed suppressed Democratic votes. In her book titled, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America, she describes her life and the progress she’s made in Georgia to register new voters and build a Democratic force for change. Readers of this book will find the story of a formidable woman whose work over the past decade in Georgia led to the state voting for Biden in 2020, and as I write this, awaiting the results of a runoff election on January 5, 2021 to select two U.S. senators. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Our Time Is Now from amazon.com.
Zimbwabe. Sometimes a novel lets readers go to a place we’ve never been, spend time with people who seem very different from us, and come away with a fresh perspective about our shared human experience. In her novel titled, This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangaremgba writes about the aftermath of the transition in Zimbwabe from colonialism to capitalism through the experiences of protagonist Tambudzai Sigauke. In finely written prose and deep insight into human nature we feel the grief and struggle that Tambu faces as her world changes. Having left her village for a better life, her return home reveals how much has changed and how much has remained the same. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase This Mournable Body from amazon.com.
Fury. Now that I’ve read the crime novel by John Banville titled, Snow, I remain unsure about exactly what the writer is up to. Banville had been writing crime fiction under a pseudonym, Benjamin Black, often imitating the style of Raymond Chandler. He presented a terrific protagonist, pathologist Garrett Quirke, and loyal readers enjoyed a series of novels featuring the increasingly complex Quirke. Banville has dropped the pseudonym and pulled a minor character, St. John Strafford, from one of the Quirke novels and gives him a book of his own. Detective Inspector Strafford has been sent from Dublin to County Wexford to investigate the murder of a priest. What follows is the fury that is a consequence of sexual abuse, both religious and class divisions, and the influence of the Catholic Church in 1957 when the novel is set. Instead of being a well-structured crime novel with a strong protagonist, or a finely written literary novel, we have something of a hybrid which may not satisfy fans of either genre. I was entertained enough but remain a bit bewildered by exactly what Banville was trying to do here. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Snow from amazon.com.
Trauma. Threat looms over protagonist Isabel Dryland in the novel by Julie Cameron titled, Only Truth. Scarred by an event earlier in her life that she cannot remember, Isabel and her husband, Tom, are making a fresh start in the country. Something about their new home doesn’t seem quite right. Cameron structures the novel in two time periods, allowing readers to understand the past trauma to Isabel and the current real threat. Isabel’s nemesis could be any number of men, and Cameron lets each reader consider who in the cast of characters represents the lurking threat. Fans of crime thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this entertaining and creepy novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Only Truth from amazon.com.
Rejuvenation. There’s something fishy about the gentrification in progress in a Brooklyn neighborhood, and Alyssa Cole pulls us into a complicated scheme in her novel titled, When No One Is Watching. Protagonists Sydney and Theo represent the contrasts in the neighborhood as they alternate as narrators: the longtime resident and the newcomer. Both narrators face major challenges that become complicated as they uncover the unsavory and illegal ways in which neighborhood rejuvenation has accelerated. There’s crime and exploitation afoot, and Cole keeps thickening the muck in which the characters find themselves as we watch the scheme unfold. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When No One Is Watching from amazon.com.
Authenticity. Readers who enjoy finely written short stories are those most likely to enjoy the collection by Randall Kenan titled, If I Had Two Wings. Set mostly in a fictional North Carolina town, the ten stories present interesting and complex characters, full of life, and behaving in ways that are totally true to themselves. Over the course of just a few pages, Kenan enlivens his prose with finely chosen words, and pulls readers into authentic lives with great efficiency and skill. There’s humor, invention, and overall empathy for how we make our way in the world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If I Had Two Wings from amazon.com.
Inspirational. The memoir by the late Congressman Elijah Cummings titled, We're Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy, provides an inspirational call to action for those readers who want to make our country better. After we read of his life of serving others, most of us will want to be of some form of service to others. This is the story of an honorable man, rooted in faith, who did his best in building a stronger society. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We’re Better Than This from amazon.com.
Resolute. Whatever you think you know about President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., you’re likely to learn something new if you read Evan Osnos’ brief book titled, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now. I always look for Evan Osnos’ writing in The New Yorker, and in this book, he draws on extensive interviews with Biden and many others. While I found ample examples of Biden’s leadership, strategy, empathy and morality throughout this book, I finished reading it with a deeper understanding of how resolute this man is, and in what good hands the United States Presidency will be in during his tenure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Joe Biden from amazon.com.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Range. The title of Colin Jost’s memoir, A Very Punchable Face, leads a reader to anticipate self-deprecating humor, and the narrative delivers that and more. From Staten Island to Harvard to Saturday Night Live, Jost delivers readers a range of vignettes and life lessons that will appeal to many readers, whether fans of Jost and SNL or not. It takes vulnerability to succeed in comedy, and Jost finds lots of ways to express that in this entertaining book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Very Punchable Face from amazon.com.
Tokyo. Nick Bradley’s versatility shines in his book titled, The Cat and the City. Set in Tokyo, we follow a cat in a changing landscape through tattoos, manga, footnotes and other unusual locations. We find ourselves connected at one section and estranged in another. We long to belong and then we desire an escape. There’s always more to city life than a casual observer can ever see, and Bradley takes us to places in Tokyo that we might have never imagined, let alone visited. Along this journey, the vignettes explore many aspects of living at its best and worst. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cat and the City from amazon.com.
Humor. I laughed a lot as I read Adam Smyer’s book titled, You Can Keep That to Yourself: A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say to Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor. I quickly thought of the gift possibilities for this book to a lot of different people. I can imagine a large number of corporate training sessions in which this book could be used to facilitate conversations about race relations. I am one of the well-intentioned people of pallor for whom this book should find a receptive audience. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Can Keep That to Yourself from amazon.com.
Compromise. With a nod to Roland Barthes, Xiaolu Guo writes about modern marriage and compromise in her novel titled, A Lover’s Discourse. Through dialogue, we see differences in culture and how to live together in places that require each individual to give up something for the sake of the other. Guo explores what it means to belong in the context of the area in which we live, our domicile, and our family unit. Guo lays out a host of questions for readers to ponder as we listen to the fragments of dialogue between a husband and wife. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Lover’s Discourse from amazon.com.
Snoop. Any reader who has attended a corporate offsite retreat will find delight while reading the murder mystery by Ruth Ware titled, One by One. Alcohol, entitlement, and secret agendas provide the ingredients for mischief, and the rustic chalet in the French Alps may take your breath away, literally. By the time an avalanche strikes, most readers will be hooked on this exciting novel, even if it seems like a very familiar plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase One by One from amazon.com.
Body. I selected Eduardo Corral’s poetry collection titled, Guillotine, from the longlist of the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry. His descriptions of the Sonoran Desert, tragedy, and grief are breathtaking. He selects words that form the body and presents the human condition with poignant insight. I realized after spending time with this collection that I just don’t read enough poetry and will continue to add more poems to my reading queue. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Guillotine from amazon.com.
Preparation. End of life care in the United States takes many different forms based on where one lives. In her book titled, When My Time Comes: Conversations About Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End, Diane Rehm interviews lots of people about the issue and presents support for her position, medical help in dying, while allowing space for those who have other views. We do all kinds of preparation in our lives, and end of life planning is just one more consideration for each of us to make. Any reader interested in gathering information on this topic can find a strong case for the author’s viewpoint as well as a wide enough range of alternatives to assist in making personal decisions or advocate changes in laws. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When My Time Comes from amazon.com.
Sugary. If you haven’t packed on extra covid weight in 2020, consider baking from the recipes as you read the 26th installment in Joanne Fluke’s mystery series featuring baker Hannah Swensen, a novel titled, Christmas Cupcake Murder. While I find almost every recipe far too sugary for my taste (as are the recurring characters), you might find something here that matches your taste. In a departure from the formula in earlier novels in this series, Hannah doesn’t find herself in peril, there’s no murder, and the setting moves to a much earlier time period than most of the recent novels in the series. Longtime fans will have a hard time figuring out just what time period this is, since there are continuity problems that may distract close readers. If you like to spend time with nice small town people who eat a lot of sweets, this book and this series will be a delight for you to read. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Christmas Cupcake Murder from amazon.com.
Balm. Readers looking for a balm to sooth one’s soul during troubled times should consider reading Bishop Michael Curry’s book titled, Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church reached a wide global audience when he preached about love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In this book, he tells his personal story, and preaches to all of us that the path of love is the one that will lead us toward solving our personal and communal problems and challenges. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Love Is the Way from amazon.com.
Hope. In his novel titled, Three Flames, Alan Lightman develops a half-dozen characters in three generations of rural Cambodians over the past fifty years. Their lives are a struggle, and each individual is strengthened by hope. Cruelty requires a response. Children are assets that can be used to repay debts. The modern world challenges the culture of the past. Redemption is possible. We must endure what we face in the present to be here for a better future. If any of that sounds interesting to you, you’re likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Three Flames from amazon.com.
Monday, November 9, 2020
Legacy. Where have we come from and where are we going? In his novel titled, Greenwood, Michael Christie displays four generations of the Greenwood family and the island and forest legacy that connects the family members. We find love, loss, success, failure, and climate change. We find wealth and poverty, exploitation and stewardship. Christie plumbs the many different ways that we care for each other and our environment, and the ways we hurt each other and squander our inheritances. The prose is finely written, and the novel will appeal to those readers who are patient with frequent shifts in time periods, and a meandering way of getting to know the people and places. I was enchanted by this novel, the complexity of the characters, and the vivid life of the forest. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Greenwood from amazon.com.
Origin. The twelfth installment of the Sam and Remi Fargo series by Clive Cussler is a novel titled, Wrath of Poseidon. Fans of the series finally get to hear the story of how Sam and Remi met and fell in love and adventure. To deliver this backstory, the usual Cussler structure wraps around the Fargos telling the story to another recurring character in the Cussler family of action novels. Readers who enjoy the structure of these escapist novels are likely to enjoy this installment, boosted by the sweet origin story of these charming protagonists. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Wrath of Poseidon from amazon.com.
Revived. Olen Steinhauer introduced readers to protagonist Milo Weaver and a CIA assassination squad called The Department of Tourism in a trilogy that ended in 2012. In a novel titled, The Last Tourist, Steinhauer has more to say about the tourists. Information is the lifeblood of spy craft. Milo Weaver has been running an enterprise called The Library which his father started within the United Nations. The Library provides client countries with sensitive information. Corporations are the real repositories of power in contemporary life, and Weaver finds himself challenged by a worthy corporate adversary. The action moves quickly in the novel, and by the time we arrive in Davos, all the pieces are coming together. Readers who enjoy thrillers are likely to enjoy this novel, whether familiar with the earlier ones or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Tourist from amazon.com.
Alive. For many readers, 2020 has been a challenging year that has narrowed our travels and offered such repetition that days and weeks can seem indistinct. We can become attuned to things in our environment that in a “normal” year we might easily overlook. In the 59 poems in his collection titled, Whale Day and Other Poems, Billy Collins draws our attention to what seems ordinary and familiar. Thanks to him, we can laugh or wince as we look more closely at our surroundings. Fans will know that some of the poems will lead to laughter, while others celebrate the sheer joy of being alive in the places where we find ourselves at any given moment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Whale Day from amazon.com.
Survival. There are nine well-crafted short stories in the collection by Daniel Mason titled, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth. Each story involves characters who find ways to survive in response to struggles. Mason excels at revealing a character’s state of mind that provides the roadmap to satisfying our curiosity about the lives of others. Mason takes readers to time periods and places that provide a vivid backdrop for his exploration of the core of what it takes for each of us to survive and thrive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Registry of My Passage from amazon.com.
Endless. For an immersive mediation on war, read Salar Abdoh’s novel titled, Out of Mesopotamia. From the perspective of protagonist Saleh, a journalist, we struggle to make sense of those who are engaged in what seems like endless war. With great skill, Abdoh can be poetic and authentic in the same sentence. We’re led into the darkness of war where we find some form of enlightenment about why we do what we do. Most readers will finish this novel somewhat weakened by proximity to the fragility of life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Out of Mesopotamia from amazon.com.
Satire. Readers who enjoy both political satire and literature are those most likely to enjoy Ian McEwan’s skewering of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit in a novel titled, The Cockroach. With a nod to Kafka, McEwan spews invective with precision on Johnson and on the gullible people who believe what he says. If you need a good laugh, reading about reverse-flow economics will do the trick. To whatever extent McEwan wrote this novel to help us laugh at these crazy upside-down times, he succeeded with me, especially when his prose was so finely structured that the satire extended beyond politics to overwrought literary facades. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cockroach from amazon.com.
Continuation. In a novel titled, A Thousand Moons, Sebastian Barry continues exploring lives he introduced in his novel titled, Days Without End. The protagonist is Winona Cole, a Lakota Sioux orphan, raised by Thomas McNulty and Thomas Cole, former Union soldiers. The setting is Tennessee after the Civil War. With finely written spare prose, Barry leads readers to fall in love with Winona, who is at the receiving end of terror, cruelty and prejudice. Barry helps readers come to terms with aspects of our past and exposes the reality behind comfortable myths. Winona is a terrific character that this reader and many others will remember for a long time. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Thousand Moons from amazon.com.
Awakening. If very few, if any, citizens consider themselves racist, why are so many individuals treated as less than fully human because of their race? In his book titled, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi helps all citizens examine our social constructs, the power dynamics in society, and our individual and collective mindsets. Close readers will experience an awakening of some sort, leading perhaps to a different way forward for all of us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Be an Antiracist from amazon.com.
Imperfect. I enjoyed the charming celebration of life in all its messiness as I read Tommy Butler’s debut novel titled, Before You Go. Protagonist Eliot Chance becomes everyman as we see him on his journey through a life which could easily be ours. What seemed to be a design flaw in the creation of the human species turns out to be the secret of our survival and the path to a good life. Butler captures our existential longing and the ways in which we try to fill in the holes in our lives. The prose is finely written, and the insight into human behavior is wise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Before You Go from amazon.com.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Fire. The novel by Alex George titled, The Paris Hours, reveals the lives of four characters over the course of one day in Paris in 1927. George moves from one character to another as the day progresses, using each narrative turn to fill in the backstory for these people, primarily through the use of memory. We learn of love, loss, secrets, longing and connection. George pulls reluctant readers along as he adds colorful and well-known people living in that time and place, including Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, and Josephine Baker. A motif involving fire connects the four individuals. Fans of fine writing and intricate plotting are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel, as will those who love both Paris and this time period. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Paris Hours from amazon.com.
Exchange. While some readers may be skeptical of the premise of Beth O’Leary’s novel titled, The Switch, it won’t take long to overcome that and luxuriate in the lives of two women named Eileen Cotton. Younger Eileen Cotton (Leena) works nonstop in London as she grieves the death of her sister, Carla, who died of cancer recently. Leena’s grandmother, Eileen Cotton, the grandmother, faces life changes at age 80, sharing grief at Carla’s death, and adrift following her husband’s departure for another woman. After Leena’s boss demands that she take a two month holiday from work, grandmother and granddaughter decide to switch places, with Leena leaving her flat in London to live in her grandmother’s rural home, and Eileen looking for a chance to love again in the big city. This is a heartwarming story that will satisfy many readers and enliven any book club’s discussion about life’s possibilities at any age. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Switch from amazon.com.
Roommates. Naoise Dolan’s debut novel, Exciting Times, explores contemporary love and relationships. Protagonist Ava has arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin to teach English to privileged children. Before long, a banker named Julian begins a romantic relationship with Ava that is fraught with challenges. While Julian works abroad, Ava meets Edith, a lawyer, and they explore a relationship. Before long, the three characters are roommates trying to sort out what’s next. Dolan finds ways to lead readers to care about what happens to these characters, and to think about modern love and the kinds of personal and financial transactions that can transform our lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Exciting Times from amazon.com.
Versions. Jeff VanderMeer, in his novel titled, Dead Astronauts, continues a riff that he began in his science fiction novel titled, Borne, describing ways in which ruthlessness leads to trying and trying again as multiple versions of life forms attempt progress, whatever that means. There are villains and rebels on these pages, and a creepy world that no matter how parts are remade remains a horror. Fans of literary science fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this strange and imaginative novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Dead Astronauts from amazon.com.
Siblings. Love and competition are often intertwined in sibling relationships. In her novel titled, Sisters, Daisy Johnson haunts readers with the lives of July and September as they face trauma and abuse. Johnson’s prose keeps readers unsettled as she spills out her story in dribs and drabs, building to a surprising twist at the end. On the journey from beginning to end, Johnson’s prose is beguiling and will be appreciated by those readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction and can tolerate meandering. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sisters from amazon.com.
Atmospheric. The ingredients in Lucy Foley’s crime thriller titled, The Guest List, seem familiar: a remote island, multiple characters with reasons to kill, a storm and opportunity. The cast of unlikeable characters allows for an abundance of suspects after the murder takes place. Foley leaves a trail of clues for observant readers as different characters relate their version of events, building to a climax that for some readers will be obvious, and for others a total twist and surprise. Since we can’t travel to a remote location off the coast of Ireland, we can visit in novels like this one, and while social distancing can give us some delight in that we are not in the company of the guests at the wedding that drew them together. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Guest List from amazon.com.
Crowe. The two words in the titled of Tom Cooper’s novel titled, Florida Man, tell you what this book is all about. First is the place, Florida, more specifically Emerald Island, in the central swampy part of the state. Second, a man, protagonist Reed Crowe, who we see from the 1960s to the present, but mostly in the 1980s. Supporting the setting are the businesses Crowe has on Emerald Island: a motel and an attraction featuring amusement and animals. A broader cast of characters are all well described, bringing humor, love and terror in various doses. All of the characters orbit around Crowe, and he is the Florida man in all its eccentric magnificence for those readers who enjoy imaginative character-based fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Florida Man from amazon.com.
Hubris. Having declined interviews with Bob Woodward for his 1998 book, Fear, Donald Trump decided to make himself available to the journalist for a new book titled, Rage. Full of blinding hubris, Trump must have assumed that he could talk his way through whatever Woodward asked and ensure that a favorable view of the American President would follow in the book, unlike the earlier book which made the President look bad. Instead, what we get from Woodward are Trump’s own rambling, disconnected and unhinged words as recorded in seventeen on the record interviews. On topics including the pandemic, racial unrest and international relations, we revisit things we think we know, and learn a little more about the reality behind the statements and stories. We observe denial, combat, bluster and occasional revelations of the difference between what the President knew and what he told the rest of us. In addition to the Trump meetings, Woodward spent hundreds of hours interviewing witnesses to the events related along with their notes, emails, diaries and other documents. He also read twenty-five letters from Kim Jong Un that reveal how manipulation was used to soften up Trump in his dealings with North Korea. Readers interested in public affairs and politics are those most likely to enjoy this enlightening book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Rage from amazon.com.
Doggerel. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to be sure that artists were employed during the Depression because he knew that if left adrift their skills could do damage. In his second book of political satire in verse and line drawings, sheltering-at-home actor John Lithgow displays again his wit as he turns his attention to the despotic tendencies of President Trump. While reading doggerel may not suit a vast audience, I found his book titled, Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown: Verses for a Despotic Age, to be a quick read and a biting indictment of some of the recent highlights (or lowlights) of the Trump administration. Trump supporters will experience raised blood pressure and some fury if they read this book. Readers who can’t wait for the end of the Trump regime may laugh and cry at the sharp wit in the poems and images in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown from amazon.com.
Quest. While I am not the target demographic for a middle school science fiction novel (although some of my grandchildren are), I find that there are times when any adult can be very satisfied by reading a book in this genre. I thoroughly enjoyed Yoon Ha Lee’s novel titled, Dragon Pearl, in which thirteen-year old protagonist Min goes on a quest to find out why her older brother uncharacteristically left his Space Forces battle cruiser. There’s adventure on these pages, ghosts, lots of action and reinforcement of family values. Min uses fox magic and deceit at many turns to complete her quest. Consider reading this fun story as a distraction from whatever place may be calling for your escape. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dragon Pearl from amazon.com.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Prequel. Fans of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series are those readers most likely to enjoy his new novel, a prequel titled, The Evening and the Morning. This is an origin story, in a familiar place where there isn’t a bridge until close to the end of the novel. As usual with this series, there’s a great cast of interesting and complex characters, and loads of details about everyday life during this time period (starting in 997 AD). There’s a builder, a priest and strong women, and every minute a reader spends in their world provides great entertainment. If you’re looking for a big book to settle into, consider this one. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Evening and the Morning from amazon.com.
Narrators. Nicola Maye Goldberg structures her novel titled, Nothing Can Hurt You, as different views from characters, each impacted by a single event. After we listen to another’s point of view, can our perspective change? What keeps us bound to some life event and how is it that we can become so intensely focused on a single thing? Can we appreciate that some individuals closer to the event that us can move on? The multiple narrators in this novel provide their points of view in Goldberg’s finely written prose. What we make of each of them and of ourselves when we finish the novel is up to us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nothing Can Hurt You from amazon.com.
Candid. It won’t take readers very long to read the memoir by Chasten Buttigieg titled, I Have Something to Tell You. He writes about his life with candor, humor, and an absence of embarrassment about his naivete and his struggles. There’s kindness and warmth in every chapter, and a cheerful and endearing embrace of the adventures so far in his unexpected life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase I Have Something to Tell You from amazon.com.
Health. I can think of no better time to read a reflection on the fragility of health. Timothy Snyder’s short book titled, Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary, describes the illness he experienced in December 2019 (spoiler: not coronavirus), and how important health is in the context of all our civil liberties, a topic about which the author is an expert. This book makes a compelling case for universal health care being a basic human right and how such a system will help mend some places in which our society has torn apart. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Our Malady from amazon.com.
Bridge. No matter how well we think we know another person, there is always more to their story. In his novel titled, Anxious People, Fredrik Bachman introduces readers to a cast of characters who come together in both planned and unexpected ways and end up becoming a bridge for others to cross from one way of being to another. A physical bridge in the novel also provides a common thread to pull the story together. Most readers will laugh along with these interesting and compelling characters, and empathize with the anxiety that we share in common as we face what the world throws at us. If you’re looking to read a novel that will help you feel good, consider reading this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Anxious People from amazon.com.
Stratford. Readers who enjoy historical fiction are those most likely to enjoy Maggie O’Farrell’s novel titled, Hamnet, based on the lives of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway in Stratford, England. The story focuses on Agnes (Anne) and the love and loss that define her life. O’Farrell’s prose helps place us in the time and place and in the context of the plague. With great skill, O’Farrell draws us into a portrait of marriage in the sixteenth century, and the ways in which an artist acquires inspiration to express in one’s work the most important things in life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hamnet from amazon.com.
Audience. I’ve been a fan of Christopher Buckley’s satire for many years, so I was a key part of the target audience for his book titled, Make Russia Great Again. For many people in 2020, laughter has become a rare commodity. Political partisans are fighting hard this presidential election year, and some readers will perceive this book as another form of anti-Trump propaganda. For those readers who appreciate political satire and are open to laughter even about figures they support, this book is packed with wit and perfectly aimed plausible takes on contemporary American politics. I was entertained once again by this display of Buckley’s humor. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Make Russia Great Again from amazon.com.
Interior. Fans of finely written prose are those most likely to enjoy Margot Livesey’s novel titled, The Boy in the Field. Each character’s depth and interior life becomes revealed over the course of a well-structured plot. Three siblings are coming of age and observing their parents and others in new ways. Even the dog’s interior life plays a part as the story progresses. The siblings are finding their places in the world and in relationships. Livesey draws us into these lives and we find ourselves caring about them deeply. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Boy in the Field from amazon.com.
Princesses. John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, imagines young Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, being sent from London to rural Ireland in 1940 to escape the bombing. In his novel titled, The Secret Guests, Black helps readers see aspects of the personalities of Elizabeth and Margaret as children that resonate with their later lives. The action is set in Clonmillis Hall, the estate of the Duke of Edenmore, who could use funds to keep up the estate which has seen better days. The girls are in the care of a secret agent, Miss Celia Nashe, and an Irish detective. There’s an interesting cast of characters, some drama and tension, and the kind of hijinks and peril that should have prevented such a scheme as hiding the princesses from ever taking place. They may have been safer under the bombing than in Ireland. I think Banville enjoyed writing about something he thinks is plausible, and readers who enjoy imaginative historical fiction may delight in spending time with his imagination. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Secret Guests from amazon.com.
Motivation. Contentment and satisfaction may not help us achieve what we want in life, according to Andreas Elpidorou in his book titled, Propelled: How Boredom, Frustration, and Anticipation Lead Us to the Good Life. Instead, discontent is what leads us toward progress. After you read this book, you’ll be tempted to reply to someone who tells you they’re frustrated or bored with the response, “good.” You may have to give them a copy of the book to explain the reason you said that. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Propelled from amazon.com.