Saturday, December 18, 2021
Guide. A cataclysm has happened before the start of Joy Williams novel titled, Harrow, and our guide to what comes next is a teenaged protagonist named Khristen. It’s been two decades since readers have seen a novel from Williams, and there’s experimentation and freshness in this work that will reward her patient fans. Khristen arrives at a lakeside resort and finds the lake has turned black and the area populated with a cast of strange people who had been eco-warriors. I delighted at every word I had to look up as I read this novel, and found my eyes opened to the natural world and decay in new ways. Williams drags us to notice dying and demands us to pay attention and do something. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Harrow from amazon.com.
Community. The suburbia setting in Bethany Ball’s novel titled, The Pessimists, bears little surface resemblance to the world that John Updike mined so often. On closer examination, we do find the banality, white privilege, and moral decline that Updike dissected. Readers with experience of certain expensive private schools will love Ball’s creation of Petra School. The cast of characters present themselves on one level to their community, but beneath that presentation there is something far more interesting. Ball cultivates this landscape with great wit and skill, and fans of fine writing will find a lot to enjoy in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pessimists from amazon.com.
Race. The backdrop for the nineteenth novel to feature Bath detective Peter Diamond, a book titled, The Finisher, is a half marathon race. What Diamond sees among the finishers of the race puts him on full alert. What follows is an entertaining crime novel, in which Lovesey offers twists on multiple finishers as the story unfolds. Fans of this series are those readers most likely to appreciate the return to a familiar character and setting. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Finisher from amazon.com.
Green. As a proud son of Brooklyn, I confess that I had never heard of Andrew Haswell Green, the man responsible for the consolidation of Manhattan and Brooklyn, until I read Jonathan Lee’s engaging novel titled, The Great Mistake. Fans of historical fiction can escape our current era and head to New York in the nineteenth and twenty centuries. Green is a complex and fascinating character at the center of great transformations for New York City. The scenes in this novel are vivid, the story entertaining and enlightening, and the characters memorable. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Great Mistake from amazon.com.
Mothering. There’s pain on every page of Claudia Piñeiro’s novel titled, Elena Knows. Protagonist Elena will not accept that her daughter, Rita, committed suicide. Despite the pain of Parkinson’s, Elena traverses Buenos Aires to solve the mystery of her daughter’s death. We join Elena on this journey as Piñeiro explores the topic of the control of women’s bodies and the relationship between mothers and daughters. Piñeiro leads readers to view the world as it is and to show us who we are whether we want to accept that or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Elena Knows from amazon.com.
Adversaries. The twenty-sixth installment in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is a novel titled, Better Off Dead, co-written with his brother, Andrew Child. The action opens with Reacher walking west in the Arizona desert minding his own business. What follows is his enlistment in the search for a missing person, and his pitting his skills against a very worthy adversary. Fans of the series will enjoy all the ways that Reacher plays the angles, wipes out obstacles, and improvises the best way to prevail. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Better Off Dead from amazon.com.
Manipulation. Plot twists and thrilling action propel Clare Mackintosh’s psychological novel titled, Hostage. Flight attendant Mina Holbrook has volunteered to work on the inaugural flight of nonstop service from London to Sydney, a twenty-hour journey. Mina left unresolved family issues on the ground. It’s what’s in the air that becomes fascinating, a group of terrorists who have been manipulated by someone with a dastardly plan. Book club leaders would ask around the circle what each reader might have done in Mina’s place. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hostage from amazon.com.
Recognition. For the eighth installment in his Quirke series of crime novels, a book titled, April in Spain, John Banville has abandoned pseudonym, Benjamin Black. Perhaps Banville recognized what many readers concluded long ago: the difference between literary fiction and popular fiction is artificial and unnecessary. While on holiday with his wife in Spain, on the coast of San Sebastian, Quirke recognizes a woman who couldn’t be there because she was murdered years earlier. What follows is an engaging and exciting story that fans of this author by whatever name and of this series will appreciate. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase April in Spain from amazon.com.
Drought. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I laughed a lot while reading Alexanda Kleeman’s dystopian climate change novel titled, Something New Under the Sun. She makes a catastrophic drought humorous. Writer Patrick Hamlin leaves his wife, daughter, and the east coast for California where his novel is being made into a film. His self-absorption provides a reliable motif throughout the novel. Cassidy Carter is a Hollywood starlet cast for the film, so why would she not be self-obsessed? Tinseltown satire is always funny, especially when done as well as Kleeman does here. Along with the characters, readers adapt to the looming menace of fires and the water shortage. We don’t think twice as some characters shift to drinking WAT-R, a commercial substitute for the water that is no longer available. Kleeman plays with absurdity in this novel, and her sentences are so finely crafted that their beauty can distract readers from the overall story and I found that to be a refreshing pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Something New Under the Sun from amazon.com.
Dissipation. Journalist Anderson Cooper and historian Katherine Howe collaborated to write an account of the Vanderbilt family in a book titled, Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty. Cooper is the great-great-great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who built a family fortune in shipping and railroads. We see the gilded age from a family perspective in this book and watch the dissipation of the dynasty through family dysfunction and overspending. The individual family members are presented with insight and sensitivity. Readers interested in history and family dynamics will find a lot to enjoy in this entertaining and interesting book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Vanderbilt from amazon.com.
Monday, December 13, 2021
Glow. If you’ve ever found yourself standing before a portrait painting and wondering what the subject’s life was like, you’re likely to enjoy the compact yet sweeping story of protagonist Zorrie Underwood in Laird Hunt’s novel titled, Zorrie. We find Zorrie in Depression-era rural Indiana, orphaned first when her parents died, and abandoned again when the aunt who took her in also died. We watch her scrap together a life, finding her place in the world, glowing for real when dusted with radium from the plant where she finds a job. Laird gives us a complete life to ponder in this novel, and the resulting portrait is a masterpiece. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Zorrie from amazon.com.
Questions. In her debut novel titled, Super Host, Kate Russo tells the story of a painter and three women in his life. At age fifty-five artist Bennett Driscoll’s life seems rudderless. Among the questions he addresses in this novel is what does he want? The three women that come into his life open him to new possibilities. Russo will make many readers laugh and the portrait she draws will lead to questions of our own as we consider what’s next in our lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Super Host from amazon.com.
Spectacle. Have you ever wondered what the place where you live was like when people first settled there? In his larger-than-life story of the origins of Cleveland, Ohio, a novel titled, Cuyahoga, Pete Beatty presents a rowdy spectacle on which contemporary readers can gaze agog. Set in 1837, we meet an eclectic cast of characters on the dirt streets of twin towns vying to become the greatest city of the Western Reserve. Their rivalry takes expression in the form of building a bridge across the Cuyahoga River. Readers will laugh at the farce as the plot unfolds, enjoy the exploits of interesting characters, and admire the whole scenic spectacle that Beatty describes with enthusiasm and joy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cuyahoga from amazon.com.
Family. Sure if it weren’t for the secrets held close to the heart in Irish families, there’d be nothing left to hold us together. In her debut novel titled, We Are the Brennans, Tracey Lange explores the ways in which tightly knit families can be wounded, and what it takes for all members of the family to heal. Readers who love interesting stories packed with family drama are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We Are the Brennans from amazon.com.
Sherlock. The first time I encountered the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, was in the film version set in the 1940s and featuring Basil Rathbone as Holmes. Robert J. Harris chose 1942 London as the setting for his own Sherlock tribute, a novel titled, A Study in Crimson. Scotland Yard is stumped by a killer who is murdering women on the same dates that Jake the Ripper killed in 1888, so they turn to Sherlock Holmes for help. Fans of crime fiction homage are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Study in Crimson from amazon.com.
Betrayal. Chris Offutt’s novel titled, The Killing Hills, appeals to fans of thrillers in multiple ways. Protagonist Mick Hardin is a complex and compelling character who reveals himself as skilled investigator, supportive brother, insubordinate employee, and distracted husband. The rural setting and a suspicious death allow Offutt to riff on the alliances and secrets among families in the Kentucky hollers. Mick’s sister is a local sheriff who asks her brother to help her out on her first murder case. The intensity builds on every page, and the tight prose and clear dialogue propels readers at a quick pace toward a satisfying conclusion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Killing Hills from amazon.com.
Ballet. In her novel titled, The Turnout, Megan Abbott choreographs a complex story about three characters twirling around each other at the Durant School of Dance. Sisters Dara and Marie have danced forever at the ballet school founded by their mother, and prize student Charlie married Dara. The balance in their lives pirouettes out of control as the story develops. Readers who enjoy dark novels with interesting characters and complex plots are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Turnout from amazon.com.
Escape. Gabriel Bump’s debut novel titled, Everywhere You Don’t Belong, tells the coming-of-age story of protagonist Claude McKay. Claude is an ordinary kid trying to find his place in the world. Bump draws the South Side of Chicago with care and love, not flinching at describing the troubled places. Claude seeks to escape from his Chicago home and redefine himself at a college far away from what he’s known to this time in his life. Bump gives us an Everyman story of struggle and hope, filled with well-developed characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Everywhere You Don’t Belong from amazon.com.
Fathers. Try to take a break during those few moments while reading S.A. Cosby’s novel titled, Razorblade Tears, when the tension pauses. Catch your breath, smile at the finely written prose, and then get back to the story. Two ex-cons team up to track down whoever killed their sons. The complex characters are well developed in this story, and Cosby explores violence, prejudice, and love with great insight and skill. Fans of crime fiction will love this story and may well end up quoting some lines from Cosby that are just plain superb. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Razorblade Tears from amazon.com.
Hamburg. Fans of thrilling plots are those readers most likely to enjoy Dan Fesperman’s novel titled, The Cover Wife. Set in Hamburg in 1999, this is a fictional take on the terrorist cell that a few years later participated in the 9/11 attacks. Protagonist Claire Saylor is a CIA agent who is sent undercover to try to find out what the terrorists are up to. We observe Clair’s incredulity at her assignment, and we come to appreciate how frustrating life as a spy can be. Character development takes second place to plot momentum. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cover Wife from amazon.com.
Monday, December 6, 2021
Separations. Linda Rui Feng’s debut novel titled, Swimming Back to Trout River, uses the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution in China to pull readers into the stories of three generations in a family separated by the upheavals in society. Feng pulls readers into caring for each member of this family. Momo leaves wife, Cassia, and daughter, Junie, to stay with his parents in the small town where he was raised while he heads to American for a better life. Cassie also separates from Junie and her in-laws as she, too, leaves for America. A musician named Dawn from Momo’s college days has also moved to the United States. Feng explores all these separations, the trauma and pain, with insight and understanding. The result is a finely told story that will resonate in special ways for all immigrants. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Swimming Back to Trout River from amazon.com.
Confinement. Two time periods and two characters link in the finely written novel by Sunjeev Sahota titled, China Room. We meet Mehar in 1929 as a young bride in Punjab, confined with two other brides, who were wed to three brothers in a single ceremony. Around them, the Indian independence movement searches for recruits. Seventy years later in the same Punjab setting, we meet Mehar’s great-grandson sent here from England to recover from drug addiction. Sahota explores all the tension between individuals and those with power over them. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the finely written prose and the deft exploration of human resistance and resiliency. Readers who just like a good story will find one here that’s memorable and well-told. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase China Room from amazon.com.
Generations. I found more threads of unresolved thought as I kept reading Teresa K. Miller’s poems in a collection titled, Borderline Fortune. I began to think about what we owe our parents and grandparents, and what we have inherited from them, for better and for worse. I think of the changes to places across generations and whether our course is toward healing or disaster. I think about restoring ravaged land and doing something to heal the planet. I observe extinction and grieve loss. If the stimulation of thinking is why you read poetry, be sure to explore this finely written collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Borderline Fortune from amazon.com.
Trauma. In his novel titled, A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragsam explores life in Sri Lanka after three decades of civil war. Through finely written prose we are absorbed into the atmosphere of the setting, influenced by the trauma and suffering of the characters, and see everyday life transformed. One aspect of this novel comes across as a love song to people and places, while another reveals grief for what those people and places have experienced. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Passage North from amazon.com.
Immortal. Readers can approach Natashia Deón’s novel titled, The Perishing, from a variety of perspectives. For those who enjoy historical fiction, this novel brings to life 1930s Los Angeles. Readers who enjoy science fiction elements will enjoy how a character who is immortal ties together the past, the present, and the future. And those readers who can’t read enough about strong Black female characters, this novel will be a perfect fit. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perishing from amazon.com.
Mortality. Ever since she won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, I’ve been meaning to read Louise Glück’s poetry. I finally took the time to do that in the form of her new collection titled, Winter Recipes from the Collective. This collection did exactly what I want poetry to do for me. I slowed down and listened. The images launched me toward deeper thoughts about important stuff. Throughout this collection, I was drawn into the fragility and vulnerability of life, our certain mortality, and the uncertainty we feel about the changes we know we will face. If you’re ready for some intensity and seriousness, consider reading these finely crafted poems. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Winter Recipes from the Collective from amazon.com.
China. Just because you’ve enjoyed reading Ken Follett’s historical fiction, it doesn’t mean you’ll like his take on contemporary global affairs in his eight-hundred-page novel titled, Never. The plot mix involves Islamic terrorists, North Korean misbehavior, and escalating tension between the United States and China. While the plot is thrilling and will engage most readers, the characters are rarely complex and the size of the novel means spending a lot of reading time with shallow individuals. Readers who like a thrilling plot and are patient with incomplete character development are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Never from amazon.com.
Colony. Fans of literary fiction have a feast waiting in the form of Gary Shteyngart’s novel titled, Our Country Friends. The ingredients involve the backdrop of the pandemic, a rural setting in the Hudson River Valley, a cast of eight eclectic characters, all shaken and stirred as they gather for six months of close living. We enjoy the funny and sad, the sweet and sour side by side. Perhaps it is too soon to stand back from our pandemic isolation and precautions to revisit our recent experience, but Shteyngart’s fine writing offsets any concerns about a topic that’s still raw and fresh. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Our Country Friends from amazon.com.
Characters. I enjoyed reading Kevin Barry’s short story collection titled, That Old Country Music, for two reasons. First, Barry’s prose uses finely crafted language and when there’s dialogue, it always suits the character and situation, thereby bringing the story to life. Second, within the efficient structure of the short story, Barry finds ways to present complex and interesting characters, full of the nuance and inconsistency we find in people we know. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase That Old Country Music from amazon.com.
Peace. Fans of thrillers may enjoy Flynn Berry’s novel titled, Northern Spy, because of the fast-paced plot action. Beneath the tension and conflict that provide the backdrop for the novel, there’s an underlying hunger for peace. Berry develops the characters in ways that readers quickly appreciate the familiar humanity in which every person makes compromises and finds a space for love, especially within families. On one page, we are caught up in the turmoil of espionage, while on another, we observe the nurturing of a child. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Northern Spy from amazon.com.
Monday, November 22, 2021
Marriage. The depth of insight about marriage throughout Elizabeth Strout’s novel titled, Oh William!, will arrive to readers like a slowly rising tide. No one moment ratchets up the insight, but before we notice, we are in deep water. Strout reprises her complex protagonist, Lucy Barton, from two previous novels, and places her in a situation involving her first husband, William, as she grieves the death of her beloved second husband. William’s recent losses have been sudden and despite their separation, there is no one else who understands Lucy and William as well as they know each other, for better and for worse. Readers roam in the inner spaces of these characters as we observe the way they present themselves to the world and recognize the disconnections that are familiar to all of us. Readers with experience of marriage are those most likely to savor all the wisdom and insight in this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Oh William from amazon.com.
Diagnosis. Two questions remained unresolved for me after I read Sanjay Gupta’s book titled, World War C: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One. First, is it still too soon in the progression of the pandemic to be able to learn lessons? Second, can lessons be learned in an environment where we don’t share a common fact base? Despite still having those questions, I enjoyed Gupta’s diagnosis and prescription. He writes with clarity for general audiences and offers any reader with an interest in this subject a thoughtful assessment of where we’ve been and where we need to go. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase World War C from amazon.com.
Bombs. Readers willing to place political allegiances aside for a few hours and acknowledge that two women had a ball collaborating on a novel so maybe there’s something to enjoy in the product of their efforts. Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined forces with crime novelist Louise Penny to write a thrilling novel titled, State of Terror. With Penny’s skills at character and plot, and Clinton’s insider view of world affairs, the result is an entertaining novel about bombs ready to devastate three locations in the United States. Penny fans will love the connections in this book to Three Pines, and Clinton fans will love the behavior of the fictional Secretary of State as she interacts with the President and various world leaders. I was thoroughly entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase State of Terror from amazon.com.
Aphasia. Fans of finely written literary fiction will marvel at the way Jon McGregor finds just the right words in his novel titled, Lean Fall Stand, to draw readers into the life of someone suffering from aphasia. In the opening section, Lean, we find protagonist Robert Wright on an expedition in Antarctica caught in a storm, hanging on a cliff, and suffering a stroke. His stroke has led to aphasia, and the middle section of the novel, Fall, focuses on his wife, Anna, and her role as caregiver. McGregor dissects the ways in which communication obstacles strain love and burden those in relationship. For the final section, Stand, Robert joins a support group and begins to find his voice. All along the way, McGregor’s prose suits each section perfectly, and displays his considerable skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lean Fall Stand from amazon.com.
Patience. Three compelling main characters and a thrilling plot combine into an exciting novel by John Grisham titled, The Judge’s List. Lacy Stoltz was a character in an earlier Grisham novel, and he loves her like a favorite child in putting her at the center of this novel. In her work for the Florida Judicial Review Board, she’s approached anonymously by Jeri Crosby with a shocking accusation: a sitting Florida judge is a serial killer. Jeri’s father was a victim of this judge’s revenge, and Jeri presents Lacy with the results of two decades of dogged investigation presenting her case against the judge. The judge has carefully planned his murders, waiting patiently until the circumstances allow him to act on his own careful terms. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this exciting novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Judge’s List from amazon.com.
Light. When you’re in the mood for a funny and lighthearted relationship novel, consider reading Beth O’Leary’s novel titled, The Road Trip. A funny thing happens on the way to a wedding in remote Scotland: two cars crash, and one is not drivable. Since they were going to the same event, the passengers decide to travel together in the less damaged vehicle. The awkwardness is that two of the passengers broke up two years earlier, and it’s a small car and a long drive for Dylan and Addie. This sweet and messy story develops quickly and ends easily, hitting all the light touches that provide brief, mindless entertainment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Road Trip from amazon.com.
Lessons. How does change happen in society? In his book titled, Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, Steven Johnson explores the reasons for the doubling of life expectancy over the past century. There are lessons from his analysis to apply in our society today, especially since there are changes to life expectancy because of responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Many factors have led to the increase in life expectancy and curious readers may know some of them, but few will be able to list all the ones that Johnson describes in this interesting book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Extra Life from amazon.com.
Keene. Knowing how busy Stacey Abrams has been for years in her day jobs, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up her legal thriller titled, While Justice Sleeps. I was thoroughly entertained by the clever and engaging story, the fascinating characters led by protagonist Avery Keene, and the fine writing. Keene is a law clerk who finds herself appointed as legal guardian for her boss, Justice Howard Wynn who is in a coma. She learns that Wynn has been investigating a case and what he has learned is alarming. Keene must solve a complex puzzle while powerful people are rushing to carry out their plans. I still don’t know how Abrams found the time to write to write this novel, but I’m happy she did. I was hooked and delighted by the story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase While Justice Sleeps from amazon.com.
Schemes. I was truly surprised by some twists in Alexandra Andrews’ debut novel titled, Who Is Maud Dixon?. The plot is engaging, the characters complex and well-developed, and the prose well written. The schemes of the characters are delicious to watch as they unfold, and the dark comedy is entertaining. The pace moves fast, and the clever writing offers frequent rewards to readers as we race to the end of the novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Who Is Maud Dixon from amazon.com.
Surreal. Fans of speculative fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the seven science fiction short stories in a collection titled, Terminal Boredom, by the late Izumi Suzuki. These stories have only recently been translated into English, and most readers may be surprised that they were written four and five decades ago. Suzuki marvels at how we respond to all the weird things that happen. Within the darkness of her stories there’s a resilience or response that makes the dystopia somewhat irrelevant, or perhaps normal. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Terminal Boredom from amazon.com.
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Spectrum. Helen Hoang continues to present characters on the autism spectrum to readers of her novels. In her book titled, The Heart Principle, we find concert violinist Anna facing burnout. After her boyfriend surprises her that he wants to pursue an open relationship before committing to each other, Anna decides she wants an open relationship as well. What follows is a story of finding true love, taking on roles that are difficult, and retaining one’s individuality within a family. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Heart Principle from amazon.com.
Inheritance. Damon Galgut won the 2021 Booker Prize for his novel titled, The Promise. This family saga set in South Africa focuses on a farm, a house and an inheritance, told over the course of time and four funerals. We watch the end of apartheid through the decline in the Swart family. We watch their suffering and loss from a rot at the core of their lives. We watch the progression of moral bankruptcy as they try to hold on to what cannot be. Galgut takes us beneath the surface in every scene to examine what’s really going on whether we want to see it or not. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this award-winning novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Promise from amazon.com.
Trust. The issues explored in John L’Heureux’ posthumous novel titled, The Beggar’s Pawn, made me think the author possessed a vivid awareness of his own mortality. We find an affluent couple, David and Maggie Holliss, easing into retirement, and navigating the rough terrain of complicated relationships with their three adult children. After they extend trust to a stranger in the form of a small loan, that person seems to become the center of their lives in ways that are frustrating and tragic, allowing L’Heureux to explore the terrain of charity and justice. The strains of a health scare bring all the underlying issues to bear and reveal brittle and fragile bonds even where we believe love is strong. Fans of fine writing are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Beggar’s Pawn from amazon.com.
Manners. Octogenarian novelist Diane Johnson still has a thing or to observe and to say about how some of us live today. In another era, her novel titled, Lorna Mott Comes Home, might be considered a comedy of manners, so perhaps that may be the best summary of this novel. Protagonist Lorna Mott Dumas has left her second husband in France where she’s lived for two decades and returns home to San Francisco. She finds a place far different from the one she left, and her extended family are facing concurrent challenges of coping with the ups and downs of contemporary life. Fascinating characters and fine writing make this diversion a delight to read. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lorna Mott Comes Home from amazon.com.
Plural. Rest assured that Cate Quinn’s novel titled, Black Widows, is not about spiders. Set in rural Utah, the novel explores the lives of a family practicing the tradition of plural marriage. The point of view shifts among three wives of Blake Nelson, and our understanding of these characters changes as the novel progresses. First wife Rachel seems obedient and reticent. Second wife Tina seems rebellious and unmoored. Young wife Emily seems naïve and frightened. Quinn develops each character with empathy and skill and moves them through a plot that will entertain most fiction fans. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Black Widows from amazon.com.
Bloody. The last place I expected to find Denise Mina’s fiction is in a retelling of the bloody 1566 murder of Mary Queen of Scots’ secretary, David Rizzio. In her short novel titled, Rizzio, Mina dramatizes the events leading up to the murder, and uses her skills to build suspense on every page. Readers who know the history will enjoy how Mina provides context and insight. Some readers who enjoy Mina’s fiction may want to learn more about history after reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rizzio from amazon.com.
Imagination. If I were forced to place César Aira’s book titled, The Divorce, into a category, I would create a new one for this author’s imagination and skill: post-magic realism. Within the course of a few pages, we move from one coincidence to another. We think we can separate imagination from reality, and then realize we can’t. When we’re sure we are hearing a mundane story, something magical seeps in. Aira moves readers along as fast as we can read, taking us tighter and tighter into his imagination. This book is short enough to read a second time for a different take, but trust me, multiple readings may not lead to greater understanding, just more questions. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Divorce from amazon.com.
Whiteness. By throwing out any unnecessary words in her debut novel titled, Assembly, Natasha Brown uses just over one hundred pages to assemble and dismantle the stories we tell ourselves and each other about class, race, gender, success, and safety. The Black female narrator examines her life and experiences with clarity. The societal canvas presents Whiteness as the impossible ideal for woman like her. The expectation of obedience and complicity comes from a colonial heritage that remains central to contemporary life in Britain. This incisive novel presents modern life head-on and eyes wide open. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Assembly from amazon.com.
Disturbing. The best essayists challenge our thinking and demand that we look at those things that are important. Dara Horn’s critical essays in a collection titled, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, disturbed me and challenged me. Horn takes on lies and hypocrisy with focus and insight. She uses anger as power to strengthen her prose and succeeds with great skill in making her critical case. If you are open to the notion of structural racism, Horn makes a compelling case for the global prevalence of structural anti-Semitism. Horn’s passion, scholarship, and insight make these essays important reading that leads a reader toward deeper understanding. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase People Love Dead Jews from amazon.com.
Journey. I was so ready to read a hero’s journey, and Amor Towles met all my expectations in his novel titled, The Lincoln Highway. Eighteen-year-old protagonist Emmett Watson has been released from a Nebraska prison where he was serving time for involuntary manslaughter in 1954. His plan to abandon the family farm and head to California with his younger brother to find their estranged mother was amended when two escaped prisoners convince him to join them in New York on his journey to California. The novel captures about ten days with this fascinating cast of characters and allows Emmett to set the course of his life. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Lincoln Highway from amazon.com.