Thursday, July 22, 2021
Structure. Joan Silber structures her novel titled, Secrets of Happiness, as linked stories and that was a perfect way to engage readers. Six narrators provide readers with deep perspectives as they reveal their part of the total story, and we continually improve our understanding of the “whole” story from these narrators. We never quite get a whole story, which is perfect. We get to observe different lives, some overlapping or connecting, and others oblivious to the world as experienced by other narrators. Happiness is different for these different narrators, and by the end of the novel, we are led to thinking about what happiness means for us. Silber’s prose draws us in, her insights intrigue us, and her ability to show us a wide range of people just like us allows us to connect whatever dots we choose in our own pursuit of happiness. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Secrets of Happiness from amazon.com.
Magnitude. There’s one big takeaway from this book titled, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein: there’s a lot more variability in judgments than you think there is. The authors elaborate in multiple fields how much we are unaware of the extreme variability in those judgments that should be identical. They explain why we are susceptible to noise in making judgments, and what steps individuals and organizations can take to reduce that noise. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Noise from amazon.com.
Unnamed. Perhaps Jane Candas Dorsey chose to withhold the name of the narrator of her novel titled, The Adventures of Isabel, because the narrator would assume that we know who she is. I expect few lukewarm reactions to this novel: most readers will either find this protagonist and narrator exciting or too different to accept. Mystery fans will love the sharp prose, the snarky amateur detective, and the plot’s rapid pace. Having read this first in a planned Epitome Apartments series, I want to get to know this narrator a lot better, and I am prepared to savor the fine writing and laugh at the sharp wit. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Adventures of Isabel from amazon.com.
Infighting. If someone you loved died of covid-19, take a pass on reading a book by journalists Yasmeem Abutaleb and Damian Paletta titled, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History. Your heart will be broken again when you read about chaos, incompetence and infighting as the Trump administration responded to the pandemic. For readers interested in public policy, reading almost five hundred pages on this subject will involve reliving a recent experience with the guidance of journalists. This is the story of a tragedy in how a crisis was mismanaged. Despite my focus on what failed as described in this book, it’s fair to say that the authors also call attention to good things that were done. The running count of deaths as time went on overshadowed what good steps were taken in response to the virus. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nightmare Scenario from amazon.com.
Haydn. For the twenty-first installment of his series featuring Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, a novel titled, The Cellist, Daniel Silva adds music to the arts he includes after focusing on painting in all the earlier novels. Silva focuses on dirty Russian money and how it is being used to cause mischief in the West. There’s an entity called the Haydn group that has a plan to foment violence in the United States, and Allon works on stopping the plot with help from a talented musician whose expertise from working at a dirty bank that launders Russian money helps Allon defeat the enemy. Fans of this series and protagonist are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cellist from amazon.com.
Wild. The baker’s dozen collection of short stories by Whitney Collins in a book titled, Big Bad, are funny, thoughtful, quirky and in each case, deep. Collins’ finely written prose can capture character in a few sentences and reveal with great creativity some aspect of the darkness inside each of us, that thing that gets the best of us from time to time. Collins places characters in ordinary places and reveals the extraordinary depths of human behavior. Each of these stories can be a well-savored treat for those readers who love short fiction and enjoy the breadth of ways to live one’s life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Big Bad from amazon.com.
Tensions. In Odie Lindsay’s debut novel titled, Some Go Home, individual people and particular places stand in for the tension in many families and communities over the past sixty years. The fictional town of Pitchlynn, Mississipi could be any hometown. The tension of race and class can be focused at antebellum Wallis House, now with new owners in contemporary and gentrifying Pitchlynn, but with vivid echoes of a murder there in 1964. Lindsay gives us race, class, memory and a cold hard look at reality. The prose is finely written, the characters complex, and the narrative flows in irregular ways that seep us into a story that we can come to see from many perspectives and time periods. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Some Go Home from amazon.com.
Change. Bill Bratton’s leadership of police forces in Boston, New York and Los Angeles has given him a front row seat for the significant changes in police work over the past five decades. In his memoir titled, The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America, Bratton talks about the different roles he has performed, and how, in every case, he has assessed the situation, gathered data, and implemented change. His account is thoughtful and authoritative as he relates his perspective on policing. Readers will find it interesting to observe the pace of change, which changes stuck, and how fragile the profession can be to sustain goodwill and effectiveness when rogue cops behave in ways that taint those doing a good job. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Profession from amazon.com.
Haunting. Dennis Mahoney explores the boundaries between life and afterlife in his novel titled, Ghostlove. Protagonist William Rook has moved into a haunted house in upstate New York and revels in the exciting experiences inside the house. After he falls in love with June, who has been dead for a long time, he explores a way in which he can help relieve the pain she experiences while she’s trapped in a limbo state between her past life and what may be ahead. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ghostlove from amazon.com.
Cemetery. Few readers would have imagined that work as a resident cemetery caretaker could be as life affirming and ebullient as it is for Violette Toussaint, protagonist of Valérie Perrin’s debut novel titled, Fresh Water for Flowers. Perrin tones down some of the cheer with dark stories including sexual violence, but we observe Violette create a satisfying life despite obstacles. Violette observes with compassion, listens with empathy, and greets all with hospitality. As we accompany Violette in her life, we feel the depth of relationship and friendship and feel wonderful about life, even as we spend time in a cemetery. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fresh Water for Flowers from amazon.com.
Saturday, July 17, 2021
Twists. Readers who enjoy suspense novels are those most likely to enjoy Laura Lippman’s novel titled, Dream Girl. Protagonist Gerry Andersen moved from New York to Baltimore to care for his elderly mother. Ensconced in the penthouse of a new highrise, Gerry’s mother died, and Gerry has suffered an injury from a fall and now requires help from an assistant during the day and from a nurse during the night. In his drugged condition his dreams are haunting, and he has been contacted by someone who claims to be the character he created in a successful novel. Lippman maintains tension and suspense as she twists the plot in ways that will delight her loyal fans and all readers who enjoy suspense novels. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dream Girl from amazon.com.
Bran. Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, head to the Carpathian Mountains in Laurie R. King’s novel titled, Castle Shade. After the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Queen Marie of Romania, calls for help, Russell and Holmes head to the castle of Bran which Marie has received as a gift from the people. Perched in the mountains on the border of Romania and Transylvania, the setting is described by King with vivid prose, and the mystery will bring joy to fans of this series and the genre. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Castle Shade from amazon.com.
Agroecology. In his book titled, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal, Mark Bittman reviews human history through the lens of food. After over three hundred pages of relating a litany of disasters from slavery to colonialism to famine to genocide to climate change to big food producing unhealthy and addicting junk, many readers may have lost the appetite to read further (or to eat anything processed ever again). But after laying out a sorrowful past when it comes to food, Bittman offers a way we can transform current practices and move toward a better future. He makes a strong case for all the benefits of agroecology. Readers interested in nutrition and public policy will find a lot to chew on after reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Animal Vegetable Junk from amazon.com.
Intensity. Prolific cartoonist Alison Bechdel offers laughs and insight in her graphic memoir titled, The Secret to Superhuman Strength. Bechdel chronicles her lifelong engagement in fitness, following one fad or program after another. Beneath that surface story is a thoughtful examination of our interdependent lives, expressed in multiple ways with sensitivity. For those readers who enjoy the visual stimulation of the graphic form along with the compact text to read will fine this book a delight. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Secret to Superhuman Strength from amazon.com.
Warriors. Maaza Mengiste’s novel titled, The Shadow King, is set in Ethiopia during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion. The novel elaborates on a lesser-known aspect of that episode: the role of women as warriors. The plans and actions of this brave women inspire the Ethiopian military as they face Mussolini’s army. Mengiste’s prose will appeal to readers who enjoy fine writing, and the story is likely to engage all readers who enjoy well-developed characters and historical fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Shadow King from amazon.com.
Joe. Not your average Joe is the protagonist of Héctor Tobar’s novel titled, The Last Great Road Bum, While structured as a novel, this story of based on a real person, Joe Sanderson, who grew up in Urbana, Illinois and spent his life roaming the earth. Sanderson’s family entrusted Tobar with Joe’s letters and writings, and from that base, Tobar crafted an engaging story about a fascinating character who lived an extraordinary life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Great Road Bum from amazon.com.
Audition. Catherine Steadman draws readers inside the competitive Hollywood scene for her novel titled, The Disappearing Act, in which we see the lengths to which some actors will go to get a role. After an unexpected relationship breakup, protagonist Mia leaves England and looks for new acting roles in California. The plot takes a noir thriller twist following an audition where she meets an actress named Emily. Emily disappears and Mia becomes focused on finding her, while continuing to audition for parts. Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Disappearing Act from amazon.com.
Scheme. Jon Land has written his first Capital Crimes novel in a series created by the late Margaret Truman. The exciting novel titled, Margaret Truman’s Murder on the Metro, uncovers a scheme at the highest levels of power that will demand the greatest suspension of disbelief by readers. Protagonist Robert Brixton, a private investigator, was on a Washington Metro train when his alertness led him to thwart a terrorist attack. Before long he teams up with an unlikely partner and together, they prevent a much larger plot from being enacted. Fans of crime thrillers will find a lot to enjoy in this novel, provided you can get beyond the incredulity of the plot itself. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Murder on the Metro from amazon.com.
Hands. Take a close look at the image of the hand on the cover of David Diop’s finely written novel titled, At Night All Blood is Black, because you are likely to retain the image of hands as you read this book. Set during World War I, the novel takes readers into the horror of trench warfare where hands will represent the madness that can take over the actions of soldiers, especially protagonist Alfa Ndiaye, who left Senegal to fight with the French. The spare prose leads readers to concentrate attention and receive images that place us in the setting of trauma. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase At Night All Blood Is Black from amazon.com.
Communication. Should we remain silent, or should we speak out? In her novel titled, The Secret Talker, Geling Yan explores the choices we have in communication. Chinese-born protagonist Hongmei and her American husband, Glen, live in California, and their relationship has become disjointed, falling to the level of leaving Post-It notes for each other instead of talking directly. After Hongmei receives an email from an unknown sender, she chooses to reply. The consequences of the reply provide much of the tension throughout this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Secret Talker from amazon.com.
Saturday, July 10, 2021
Hardware. María José Ferrada’s debut novel titled, How to Order the Universe, tells the story of a daughter and her father in Chile during the 1970s. Seven-year-old M loves when her father, D, takes her with him to hardware stores for his work as a salesman. We see the Pinochet era from M’s perspective and feel a sense of wonder as they drive an old Renault from town to town. Even the durability of hardware cannot protect them from the waves of change. It is the lessons about the human heart that M learns during her time on these sales routes, more valuable than what she would have learned in school. The simplicity of hardware contrasts with the complexity of the world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Order the Universe from amazon.com.
Unreliable. In most novels, we can count on at least one character to anchor the story, mostly because we recognize their behavior because of our own life experience. In Alex Michaelides novel titled, The Maidens, it seemed as if every character was unreliable in some form or other. We’re told that protagonist Mariana Andros is a brilliant psychotherapist, but she seems clueless or incompetent in every setting that would draw upon her expertise. A Greek professor at Cambridge does things no contemporary teacher would get away with, and his dialogue was often more suited to a London pub frequented by traveling salesmen than to the heights of the academy. The young female students referenced in the title seem quite different from what we would expect of anyone attending Cambridge. Some readers will delight in the plot twists, but I found some inevitability in how the story ends and was pleased to finish the last page here and turn to something else. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Maidens from amazon.com.
Competition. Here’s a free and important takeaway from Amy Klobuchar’s book titled, Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age, she makes the point that this subject is more pro-competition than antitrust. The trusts were entities one hundred years ago. Today’s challenge is that competition is stifled by large entities that wield too much power and influence. In the book she reviews the past and present and offers concrete ways to move toward a better future. I read this book shortly after Josh Hawley’s The Tyranny of Big Tech, and continue to think that these two politicians and others should find common ground to take action. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Antitrust from amazon.com.
Disillusionment. The tone of the fifth installment of the Linda Wallheim Mystery Series by Mette Ivie Harrison turns dark. In the novel titled, The Prodigal Daughter, Linda and her Mormon bishop husband, Kurt, have started marriage counseling because with their five sons out of the house, and a bunch of other changes, they are going through a rough patch. Thanks to son Joseph’s request for Linda to find a missing babysitter named Sabrina, Linda gets out of the house, but she retains her disillusionment with her life and with the church. After she finds the missing girl, she learns that Sabrina had been gang raped by a group of good Mormon boys. Linda’s darkness grows deeper as she grapples with the likelihood that justice will not prevail. Harrison presents a more complicated Linda in this novel, and she has become more real and interesting as a result. Fans of the series may feel bummed with the turn in Linda’s life, but hope that the next installment will move in a direction that pulls Linda out of the darkness. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Prodigal Daughter from amazon.com.
Ambition. The protagonist of Annelise Mackintosh’s debut novel titled, Bright and Dangerous Objects, reveals the incredible power of ambition. While she works as a deep-sea diver, Solvig has a larger ambition: she wants to be among the first people to colonize Mars. Her partner, James, wants to have a child with Solvig. Mackintosh allows the competing demands of ambition and obligation fight it out as Solvig, like many women before her, have to make life-changing choices. The prose is well-written, the characters interesting, and the revelation of human behavior insightful. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bright and Dangerous Objects from amazon.com.
Intensity. There’s concentrated intensity in every scene of Willy Vlautin’s novel titled, The Night Always Comes. Set in Portland over the course of a few days, we encounter all the things a person will do to make their dreams come true. Protagonist Lynette works multiple jobs trying to scrape together a way to buy the home where she, her mother and her brother have been renting. Vlautin forces readers to not blink as we observe the lives of people trying their best to stay above water. We feel Lynette’s hunger and anger and cannot look away as we watch mother and daughter come to terms with each other and with the next phase of their lives. The story is riveting, the characters complex, and the intensity captures the struggle of those on the margins to achieve the American dream. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Night Always Comes from amazon.com.
Ratings. Prepare to fall in love with the world as you read John Green’s brief essays in a collection titled, The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. Green’s observations about our world are cogent, quirky, often humorous, and always packed with insight. In addition to presenting his observations, he also provides ratings on a five-star scale. Green exposes his personal weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and past and present insecurities and neuroses. Thanks to his fine writing, and clear-headed observations, most readers will find great pleasure in his ratings about our world and will gently add our own ratings and observations. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Anthropocene Reviewed from amazon.com.
Collective. After I finally read Noah Feldman’s book titled, The Arab Winter: A Tragedy, I realized what I had gleaned about the Arab Spring focused too much on Egypt, not enough on Tunisia, and I didn’t reflect much about the consequences of the collective action of the citizens of multiple countries. Feldman has expanded my perspective on that region and the implications of collective action on what’s likely to come next. Many of us may not have liked how the people in the region exercised their agency, but Feldman proposes that a future Arab Spring is more likely because the subservience of the people in the past to unrepresentative leaders may have changed for good. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Arab Winter from amazon.com.
Artists. What we see in others may not be matched in any respect by what others see in us. The characters in Rachel Cusk’s novel titled, Second Place, seem to bring out the worst in each other. At the least, they desire some reciprocal response from each other and instead find disgust or rejection. Thanks to Cusk’s finely written prose, we bask in the pleasure of observing complex and interesting characters pursue relationships. Writer M invites painter L to come to live and work in the second structure where she and her husband live in the primary house. That setting provides the landscape for this engaging novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Second Place from amazon.com.
Sustainability. Once you’ve seen the image of the doughnut illustrated and explained in Kate Raworth’s book titled, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, you’re likely to remember it as you shake up your thinking about what you think you’ve learned about economics. Without quite saying bullshit or hogwash, Raworth explores a way to think about economics that deviates from where most economists have staked their careers. She offers a way to explore sustainability and reframes a way to think about economics. Her prose is straightforward, often playful, and she presents her views with clarity. In 2021, the city of Amsterdam has adopted Raworth’s framework and other cities are in process of putting her theory into practice. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Doughnut Economics from amazon.com.
Thursday, June 24, 2021
Exits. The protagonists of Lionel Shriver’s novel titled, Should We Stay or Should We Go, are looking for ways to address the reality of their mortality. Husband and wife Cyril and Kay are medical professionals who have watched the elderly depart the world in ways that are not gentle. While in their fifties, they decide to commit suicide together after their eightieth birthdays. Using humor regularly while exploring a sober topic, Shriver organizes her book into chapters in which Kay and Cyril exit the world in different ways. Readers in long term relationships will recognize the humanity of these characters and their patterns of communication and interaction. We laugh at the ways in which they agree and disagree, and how they deviate from plans in ways that we recognize as fully human. Beyond a certain age, it would be dysfunctional not to think about death. Shriver uses Kay and Cyril as stand-ins for us who will face a wide array of different things that happen as our lives end. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Should We Stay or Should We Go from amazon.com.
Wallace. As Brandon Taylor introduces readers of his debut novel titled, Real Life, to protagonist Wallace, we begin to feel a constant throb of pain along with this complex character as he navigates the world. We observe his anxiety as he leaves small town Alabama and secures a place in a science lab at a Midwestern university. We feel for all the ways in which he keeps others at a distance, as a response to past pain and to his struggle to fit in to his current situation. His father’s death seems to have the same impact on Wallace as the dead worms from a spoiled lab experiment. He desires intimacy and keeps others at a distance. Fans of literary fiction will appreciate Taylor’s finely written prose and will reflect thoughtfully about Wallace and his life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Real Life from amazon.com.
Basketball. While I have no interest in basketball, I have often enjoyed John Grisham’s novels, so I opened a copy of his book titled, Sooley. Before long I was caught up in the story of Samuel Sooleymon, a young man from South Sudan, who gets the chance to play basketball in the United States. Grisham contrasts the break that Sooley gets with the situation in South Sudan. Most readers will become caught up in this moving story and with this charismatic character. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sooley from amazon.com.
Twins. The protagonists of Sally Hepworth’s novel titled, The Good Sister, are fraternal twins Fern and Rose. Hepworth captures readers in just a few pages as we want to learn more about these women. Before long, we feel like we are inside their family and beginning to understand their interpersonal dynamics. After not very long, we realize that there are family secrets that have been long held, and we begin to see Fern and Rose in new ways. Hepworth’s prose is finely written, and her insight into human behavior resonates. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Good Sister from amazon.com.
Legacy. Few couples, upon hearing that one of them has terminal illness, will spend their final months writing a book together. Psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom and feminist author Marilyn Yalom chose that unusual path for their book titled, A Matter of Death and Life, and all readers are beneficiaries of this legacy. Marilyn explores and shares how she tries to pursue what she considers a good death for her, and Irvin explores and shares how he focuses on what it will take to live on without his spouse and companion of many decades. On one level this is a love story, on another level it is a way for readers to see models for living out meaningful lives. We will each face death, for ourselves and for our loved ones. At such times, we need consolation, something this book can help us find. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Matter of Death and Life from amazon.com.
Alchemy. Be prepared to laugh and nod as you read Sanjena Sathian’s debut novel titled, Gold Diggers. Also, be patient with receiving a dose of magical realism. Sathain explores what immigrants are willing to do to make it in America. We meet high school student Neil Narayan who wants to meet his parent’s expectations to be accepted into an Ivy League university. Neil is smitten by neighbor Anita Dayal and discovers that her family has found a way to practice alchemy: converting gold into the means of achievement in the United States. I enjoyed this creative story and look forward to ordering Anita’s special lemonade sometime soon. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Gold Diggers from amazon.com.
Freedom. The story of Libertie Sampson in Kaitlyn Greenidge’s novel titled, Libertie, will encourage readers to stand taller and to pursue the life we desire. The core question in the novel involves where we find freedom. Libertie’s mother works as a physician in Brooklyn in a free Black community just after the Civil War. Libertie wants to escape her mother’s vision that she train as a doctor to work alongside her and instead pursue her interest in music. After a man from Haiti promises her a life of freedom married to him, she finds his expectation of her subordination to be another form of bondage. She searches again for freedom in motherhood, and wonders where a Black woman can find freedom. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this finely written novel and become entranced by Libertie and root for her freedom. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Libertie from amazon.com.
Lost. Through her prose in a novel titled, Whereabouts, Jhumpa Lahiri found a way for me to feel the vertigo faced by her protagonist. This unnamed narrator has lost her bearings, and we join her disequilibrium as she wanders in search of what she has lost. The mood Lahiri creates joins readers to the loneliness of the narrator, and every fragment adds to our hope that she will find her way. Before long, we find ourselves becoming observant with the narrator and rooted as ourselves in a time and in a place. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this finely crafted novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Wherabouts from amazon.com.
Reforms. I’m always on the lookout for ways to achieve progress in solving national problems that bring together allies across the complete spectrum from left to right. I was delighted to find a glimmer of hope in Josh Hawley’s book titled, The Tyranny of Big Tech. I can imagine legislation that Hawley, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren could co-sponsor to reform the way the United States deals with companies that dominate sectors of the economy. I encourage readers to keep an open mind to hear the views Hawley raises in this book, and then to read Klobuchar’s book titled, Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Tyranny of Big Tech from amazon.com.
Classic. Fans of murder mysteries are those readers most likely to enjoy a classic closed room mystery by Seishi Yokomiso titled, The Inugami Curse. Detective Kosuke Kindaichi unravels the mystery with great skill as he reveals secrets of the Inugami family and uncovers hidden identities. If you love red herrings and blind alleys, there are plenty in this finely written novel. The setting of the novel is the 1940s, and Yokomiso’s work has finally been translated into English so that more mystery fans can appreciate the talent of a master of this genre. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Inugami Curse from amazon.com.
Saturday, June 19, 2021
Memory. Lovers of language will relish Cynthis Ozick’s novel titled, Antiquities. Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie struggles to write a memoir and encounters challenging aspects of his fading memory. Ozick reveals the pervasive aspects of anti-Semitism that defined the culture of Temple Academy for Boys, where Petrie had been a trustee. Ozick does more in writing a short phrase than many writers achieve in dozens of pages. The result is a story rich in irony and packed with insight. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Antiquities from amazon.com.
Center. In his book titled, The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, Henry Louis Gates describes the myriad ways in which the Black Church in the United States has been the center of life for Black Americans. The form of that centrality has varied across time and place. Sometimes the church was a needed source of refuge. Other times, it was the place to go to mobilize with others for change. Always, it was a place for expression in words and songs the joy and pain of the people in the community. Whatever issues needed to be faced, the place for the community to come together has been the church. Readers of this book are treated to Gates’ own story, the stories of many others, and a clear-eyed examination of this important part of American life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Black Church from amazon.com.
Hockey. Angeline Boulley’s debut novel titled, Firekeeper’s Daughter, introduces a strong female protagonist who will delight readers of this book. Daunis Fontaine plays hockey with great skill as she’s ready to leave home for college out of town in hope that she will find her place in the world. Family tragedy keeps her closer to home as meth plagues the community and the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis’ knowledge of Ojibwe traditional medicine gets put to the test as she’s called on to do things beyond her eighteen years. The plot is engaging, the characters complex, and Daunis a heroine to be remembered. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Firekeeper’s Daughter from amazon.com.
Hope. Most readers will finish Robert D. Putnam’s book titled, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, with hope that better times can be ahead. Through alternating storytelling and presentation of statistics, Putnam describes a century-long transformation from I to We and back to I. Putnam proposes that we are capable of moving again to We. He makes a strong case that a society based on community can be achieved. We’ve done it before and we can do it again, and we should. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Upswing from amazon.com.
Touch. I rarely tire of finely written novels that offer a view of the world from a perspective unlike my own. Simon Han’s debut novel titled, Nights When Nothing Happened, explores the immigrant experience in the China to Texas version. Han describes the longing to find one’s place in a community that was made for others. The importance of touch as Han presents his story resonated in a special way following many months of pandemic isolation. The tenderness expressed during a sleepwalking motif provided deep understanding of family dynamics. Han’s prose draws readers into the intimacy of family relationships and the impact of past trauma on the challenges of assimilation, feeling safe and finding a new home in a strange land. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nights When Nothing Happened from amazon.com.
Cousins. Multiple narrators collaborate to give readers of Akwaeke Emezi’s novel titled, The Death of Vivek Oji, many facets of the life and death of Vivek Oji. With finely written prose, Emezi discloses secrets and examines close relationships, especially the one between Vivek and his cousin, Osita. With great sensitivity to the complexity of human behavior, Emezi gently explores issues of identity and acceptance alongside the violence of forced alignment with community expectations. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Death of Vivek Oji from amazon.com.
Pursuit. After you read Victoria Gosling’s finely written debut novel titled, Before the Ruins, you can decide whether the complex story, multiple timelines and perspectives about modern life pay off for you. We gradually learn about five key characters, what happened in the past and why one character has now gone missing. A game played by the characters as children involving a lost diamond necklace, fake for the game, and possibly a real one to be discovered, takes form in different ways in the past and in the present. Life is often not what we want it to be, and frequently not at all like the one we dreamed of while young and naïve. Gosling uses this complex structure and interesting characters to help us think about how we became who we are, and how we feel about how our lives have turned out. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Before the Ruins from amazon.com.
Zippity. Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner’s memoir titled, On the House: A Washington Memoir, should delight all but a few readers. Boehner presents himself as a humble guy who grew up in a big family and the family bar, maintained conservative values and lived a consistent and genuine life following a set of Boehnerisms that are listed in the book. Looking beyond the awe shucks, regular guy persona, he displays his political chops in the ways he talks about a lot of people he worked during his time in Washington. Rest assured, Nancy Pelosi can look beyond his words of praise, and Ted Cruz won’t be using any Boehner quotes in his next campaign. This is a cheerful story from the guy who sang Zippity Doo Dah as he bid farewell to public service. Follow his example from the book cover and quaff the tipple of your choice as you listen to what Boehner has to say. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase On the House from amazon.com.
Clues. Jane Smith, protagonist of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel titled, Hummingbird Salamander, finds herself and her family in peril after she’s enticed by clues left for her by a dead ecoterrorist. This is not a spoiler, but the fact that the novel ends with a question was the perfect conclusion to a story in which Jane and us become absorbed in all the large and small questions about ourselves, each other, and our world. With this book, VanderMeer verges into writing a mystery novel, while not relenting in the ways in which he explores big questions with a unique voice. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hummingbird Salamander from amazon.com.
Crib. Good fiction can lead readers to reflect about human nature and help us appreciate the complexity of people just like us. In her novel titled, The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz presents protagonist Jacob Finch Bonner, a young writer whose career trajectory has plunged after showing initial promise. While teaching creative writing in a bottom tier program, a student tells Jacob the plot of a planned novel that Jacob sees could be a real unicorn: an untrod story that would sell plenty of books. After he learns of the student’s death, Jacob decides to crib the student’s plot idea and use it for a novel of his own. Korelitz satirizes the publishing business with skill, and captures the anxiety faced by many writers who try to get their works published. Fans of literary fiction and observers of the publishing world are likely to enjoy that part of the novel. The intricate construction of this novel will also thrill those readers who appreciate such things. She also presents a thriller, and fans of those novels will likely find her efforts too predictable to be satisfying, but nonetheless a page turner. I, for one, was ready for several different final twists at the end of the novel, and closed the book wishing she pursued at least one of them. Fans of psychological fiction will reflect on several characters and how they responded to the challenges of their lives. There’s a great story at the core of this novel, and that is likely to sell a lot of books to be appreciated by different types of readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Plot from amazon.com.