Tuesday, April 13, 2021
Values. Readers can learn a lot about national security from former CIA Director John O. Brennan’s memoir titled, Undaunted: My Fight Against America's Enemies, At Home and Abroad. If we are able to set aside our political alignments for a moment to read about the career of a civil servant, we can find values that are likely to be held in common by citizens at all points along a political continuum. Brennan grew up in working class New Jersey, and a thread of integrity connects his upbringing to his most important roles in government service. Brennan is smart and scrappy, and he leans toward candor in this well-written book. I encourage readers to set aside any preconceptions about Brennan and listen to him tell the story of his life and the jobs he performed in the national security interests of the United States. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Undaunted from amazon.com.
Quartet. Four characters form something of a quadrant in helping readers sort out Nina Sadowsky’s novel titled, Convince Me. Justin Childs connects three other characters, and he is not who he seemed to be. Suddenly dead from a car accident, we learn about Justin from three narrators: his wife Annie, his mother Carol, and his friend and business partner, Will. Sadowsky’s fine writing unravels Justin as each of the three narrators comes to terms with the reality and the illusions. We begin to understand how Justin the charmer developed the capability to deceive with great skill. The narrative twists brought me great reading pleasure and I enjoyed spending time with this intriguing quartet. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Convince Me from amazon.com.
Intensity. Protagonist Ari Eden finds his life turned upside down after his family moves from their insular ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood to the fleshpots of Florida, even inside the walls of the Jewish academy where he faces his senior year in high school. The debut novel titled, The Orchard, by David Hopen captures the essence of adolescence and the intensity of life among a small group of smart and privileged friends. Prompted by a charismatic rabbi, the students examine their religion and philosophy in ways that disturb their comfort. Ari’s reinvention in Florida feels nothing like the life he left behind in Brooklyn. Many readers will finish this novel thinking about divine intervention and suffering as well as the resilience of youth. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Orchard from amazon.com.
Astrophysics. Every time I read a good science book, I think fondly of those college friends who, unlike me, majored in physics and were compelled to take the mandatory 8am Saturday class with the head of the department. While I slept in until closer to lunch, these friends were learning laws of physics that have since been disproven, while I continue to enjoy a good night’s sleep. With that fondness, I was enraptured when I read Avi Loeb’s book titled, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. Holy cow! Somehow I did not pay attention to what happened in 2017 when scientists observed an anomaly passing through our solar system that points toward its origin in a distant alien civilization. Was this not a page one story? Did I miss the PBS Newshour story? In case you missed this story as well, Loeb’s book offers critical thinking that supports the view that what was observed has implications and consequences that requires more thought and study. Nerd out. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Extraterrestrial from amazon.com.
Warmth. The fourteenth collection of the 44 Scotland Street serial that Alexander McCall Smith writes for The Scotsman is titled, A Promise of Ankles. Life in Edinburgh for the large cast of characters continues to present opportunities to live life to the fullest: love, loss, anticipation, adventures, and even ankles. I turn to Smith’s writing when I need a good dose of warmth and an affirmation of the best qualities in human nature. Even those characters who can sour aspects of life for those underserving of malice seem to become disinfected of their malevolence by the sunshine of love and caring that comes from others. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Promise of Ankles from amazon.com.
Odile. Janet Skeslien Charles takes the true story of the actions of the librarians of the American Library in Paris during World War II and uses her fine writing skills to present a novel titled, The Paris Library. Protagonist Odile Souchet was a young librarian at the American Library in Paris when the Nazis take Paris. Charles tells us what Odile did at that time, and also draws her in Montana in the 1980s where she lives next door to a young woman named Lily who loves language and books. Charles connects Odile and Lily as she lets readers see how relationships make us who we are, and our relationships with books and authors can also link us together. After I read this novel, I made a list of the libraries that have enriched my life, and each of the ten I selected contributed in significant ways to a life well lived. Everyone who reads this novel will think more about books, about libraries and about the power of relationships. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Paris Library from amazon.com.
Focus. I reflected not long ago that I wasn’t reading as much poetry as I’d like, so considering that April is National Poetry Month, I increased my focus. One of the collections I loved is by Margaret Atwood and is titled, Dearly. The wide range of themes is this collection demanded that I read one poem per sitting, and that worked just fine. It allowed me time to read the same poem two or three times and then think about it before reading another. I will not stake a position on how Atwood’s poetry compares with her longer fiction. I will say with clarity that these poems are a delight and should satisfy every reader who enjoys contemporary poetry. Atwood is a close observer of us and our world, and her focus in these poems captures what is important and essential in who and where we are. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dearly from amazon.com.