Wednesday, August 30, 2017

September

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
The author of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is back and you will not want to miss his latest endeavor. Once again based in Seattle, Ford travels between the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition in 1909 and the World's Fair of 1962, as three delightful characters take us on the journey of their lives. Yung, soon to become Ernest,  escapes starvation and death in China, only to be shuffled between foster homes and state schools, leading to the ultimate humiliation - being a raffle prize at the fair. As the madame of the hottest house of 'ill repute' wins Ernest, he finds his first true home in the red-light district. Here he meets Maisie, the daughter of the madam, an inveterate tomboy and free spirit, and Fahn, a young Japanese housemaid with a sass and vulnerability that will break your heart. Jamie Ford is the master of literary children who are wise without being false, who see the world in deep and meaningful ways, and who show adults the true definition of loyalty and love .  Life in the Tenderloin is not for the faint of heart, and the consequences of their choices last for a lifetime.  Read this book - your heart will be glad you did:)

Lightening Men (Darktown #2) by Thomas Mullen
Take a historical fiction setting, mix in a few young cops, and then sprinkle some social injustice over everything, and a humdinger of a story is created. It is 1950 Atlanta, Georgia and the small unit of black policemen have been patrolling Darktown for two years now.  They are still not allowed to carry guns, drive patrol cars, or earn any respect from white officers.  Lucias Boggs and Tommy Smith, WWII war veterans and partners, are dragged into a complex organization of illegal moonshine and reefer (yep, the old term for marijuana:), leading to crime, death, and a systematic manner of housing segregation that mucks up their community and their ability to act as policemen.  Author Thomas Mullen is a truly brilliant writer, who creates rich and complex characters, as these two young cops battle their inner demons, as well as society's expectations, sometimes act heroically, and sometimes not, making them all the more human. Certain books have the ability to crawl deep inside of a reader, to force one to live in that place amongst the author's vibrant characters, and occasionally to even inhabit one's dreams.  Lightening Men is one of those novels - do not miss reading this book, trust me.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Irish writer John Boyne (author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, as well as other adult books) has written his masterpiece. He tells the story of Cyril Avery from birth to the end of his life, as we see the world change from 1945 through 2015; and my oh  my, how the world changes when one is an Irish-Catholic gay man. Boyne shows us his native land with all its faults and favors: schools and villages run by cruel priests, the sexual repression of an entire nation, and the family ties that are torn apart by religious law. Yet, within these very difficult themes and historical perspective, Boyne also creates some farcical happenings; at times, I felt as if I was reading an Irish-Catholic version of Catch 22, and found myself laughing aloud at the most outrageous conversations.  Cyril is not a perfect hero in the least; he can be cowardly, selfish, and all-around mediocre at times.  However, he has moments of clarity as well as bravery that show the authentic maturing of a boy into a fully developed human being.  We travel with Cyril to Amsterdam and the idea of an open life as a gay man, as well as to NYC as we see the AIDS epidemic explode and the subsequent bigotry towards gay men as thousands die and fear instills itself in the population.  This is a long book - think Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch (yep, the one that won the Pulitzer - this book is equally as good) and A Little Life (more laughter in Heart, but also a few tears).  Brilliant writing, clever use of farce and humor, and a story that tugs deeply at the very essence of what makes us human.  This is a seriously brilliant book.

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise
Considering the last month in America, I felt compelled to gain some further knowledge about race issues in our country; this time around, I chose a memoir written by one of the most reknowned activists on racial awareness. I did not fully realize all the instances of privilege in my own life, but this book opens one's eyes wide. Tim Wise does a masterful job of teaching, but not preaching, using his own life as a palette to display America's issues with race, and the privileges that come with a white skin. As a son of the South, growing up in Nashville and attending college in New Orleans, yet raised by a socially aware and open-minded family, Wise brings a special awareness to the subject.  Moving from his youth, to his college days, to his beginning of an activist life, to raising two young daughters, this writer covers some serious ground. He looks at the rise of white supremacy in the 1990's as he fights against the election of David Duke, the overt racism surrounding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the impact of media on our ingrained beliefs of race, and even touches briefly on the election of America's first black president.  This book, as well as Wise's other writings, are used extensively in colleges across our country and he has some profound and enlightening things to say. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, for people of all color, but yes, particularly people who have lived the life of white privilege.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Having reading multiple award-winning Jesmyn Ward's other books, I was anxious to read her latest novel, due out this September. This is a stunning tale, showing both the beauty and the pain in the Mississippi Delta of today and the decades past. Told through the eyes of multiple narrators, this is a powerful exploration of southern history: Jojo, a thirteen year old boy who lives with his grandparents and baby sister, while his drug-addicted mother passes through his life; Leonie, the mother who sees her murdered brother only when she is high; and Richie, a ghost of a young boy whose complicated friendship with the grandfather provides context for the past. As Leonie goes on an odyssey to retrieve her white boyfriend from prison, we see shades of Greek heroes as obstacles must be overcome and oracles show the path that lies ahead. Surrealism, akin to Toni Morrison's writing, are sprinkled throughout as Jojo, his grandmother, and even his baby sister see the ghosts of times long ago who listen for the songs to be sung. Imbued with truly stunning writing, the tangled tragedies of the past affect all the character's present, highlighting issues with racism, drugs, and parenting choices not only in prison, in our schools and in families.  This is a powerful book; it would be an excellent choice for a book club or a classroom, providing some provocative discussion points.

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Known in the author's family as the 'dead cheerleader book,' it is a pretty apt description. In the small Georgia town of Worthy, football is king and the cheerleaders are the queens. However, after the big game on a fall evening, a terrible car crash occurs, where three girls are killed and the boy who was driving the other car survives. As in all close-knit communities, connections are everywhere and the deaths hit all the members. Told through a variety of viewpoints, we see the aftermath unfold: the mother of a senior cheerleader, trying to find the right way through the tragedy; a young teacher accused of a relationship with a student; a sophomore cheerleader who is left behind and has a terrible secret she keeps; and the mother of the survivor, whose son's life will also be changed forever, yet who has a life to live. Quite often, I wanted some of the characters to be stronger, to be less shallow, to smash the gender stereotypes that they embodied. Yet, some characters did grow, did change, did stand up in the end which satisfied me. I do think, however, that in today's world some of the themes are a bit dated (girls seem valued for their beauty and popularity, sit around and wait to be saved by the men instead of getting oneself out of a dangerous situation, social status reflecting a woman's place in the world). I think, or maybe I just really hope, that society has moved past these stereotypes and gender expectations and I would hope that literature could show the march of time, instead of perpetuating these myths.

Lies She Told by Cate Holahan
I was a bit torn by this latest book on my search for the 'next great thriller.' On one hand, I found the writing to be rather 'meh,' occasionally causing me to roll my eyes or laugh aloud. Yet, it is also quite a unique story line that definitely fulfills the definition of a page-turner. Once again inhabited by wealthy white folks (what is it with the stereotypes?!), Cate Holahan has created a dual plot structure, switching back and forth between the story of an author who is fighting to write another bestseller after some clunkers and the draft of the new book itself. We see the author, Liza, struggle with infertility treatments, a distant husband, and the mysterious disappearance of his best friend, as well as her attraction to her editor. At the same time, Liza's fictional character, Beth, struggling with the newly discovered affair of her husband while she fights the attraction to her therapist for postpartum depression.  Real life begins to merge with the fictional life, as the author begins to wonder what is real and what is make-believe.  This is a solid vacation, beach-read that will definitely keep you guessing.

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