Thursday, June 2, 2016

June Books

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (June 7, 2016)
Stunning.  Jaw-dropping. Brilliant. Those are the first words that come to mind with this debut novel of twenty-six year old Yaa Gyasi.  Homegoing has been the talk of the publishing world for months, and should garner all the awards in 2016, and yes, the praise is well-deserved.  The unique subject, plot-line, and writing style contribute to a novel that I will not soon forget.  It begins in the late 1700's, in Ghana, when two sisters who do not know the other exists, have life choices thrust upon them.  Effia marries a white British man who runs the Castle, the coastal prison where the Fante tribe members bring the slaves they purchased from the Asante tribe.  In the dungeon below, bodies piled upon bodies, lies Esi, soon to be shipped to America and a life far different than her sister's. Each chapter follows the bloodline of the two sisters, changing each generation.  We see the wars in Ghana, the colonization by the British, the tribal fighting, and the steps towards modernization.  In America, we see the utter degradation of slavery, the effects of the Fugitive Act, the outcome of the Great Migration, the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and the struggles of the new century.  In each descendant's story, Gyasi creates complex characters, heart-wrenching situations, and deep love for family.  This book is truly a masterpiece.  

Ink and Bone by Lisa Junger (June 2016)
You know those books that call to you throughout the day, and the ones that you say "just one more chapter" laaaate into the night? Yep, this is that kind of book.  From the very first page, I found this story and its characters quite compelling.  Finley Montgomery has come back home to the Hollows, a small hill town outside of New York.  Her grandmother, Eloise, is a world renowned psychic and needs to teach Finley how to control the ghosts she has seen since childhood.  Up until now, Finley has merely inked all these faces onto her body, reminding her of the spirits that need her help. Now it is a young family from NYC, whose daughter disappeared ten months ago and is crying out to Finley for help - it is Finley's turn to work with the private detective to find some answers.  In the negative vortex of the Hollows, ancestors call out to their family everywhere and strange forces unite; this is a spine-tingling mystery that will raise the hair on the back of your neck and yes, keep you reading well past midnight.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Considering what is happening currently in the international news, with the shaming of the parents of the little boy who crawled into the gorilla enclosure, this is a very topical cultural criticism book.  Jon Ronson explores the idea of shaming by society through Twitter, Facebook, 24/7 news shows, and newspapers, not only the rags but established news sources.  He gives examples of stories you will recognize, and shows how one poorly thought out comment completely ruins their lives.  Ronson also examines shaming that is used in the justice system, as well as how people who feel no remorse avoid the public shaming that destroys most people.  I found this to be a fascinating look at the practice of lightening speed condemnation and judgement, thanks to a globally connected world.  This would be a fascinating discussion for any book club.

Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
I am, admittedly, a huge Jennifer Haigh fan; I have read all of her books (Mrs. Kimble, Bakerton Towers, Faith, The Condition, and News from Heaven).  Critically acclaimed and winner of the Pen/Hemingway award, this author has a gift for creating and sustaining complex characters amid the minutia of their lives.  In her latest novel, Haigh goes back to the town of Bakerton, a small Pennsylvania community, dying as the coal business has disappeared and the young people have fled.  The latest 'savior' of their town is the newest energy industry, the one that drills deep, shoots millions of gallons of water into rock, and extracts gas and oil from the shale.  We know it as fracking.  Haigh looks at all sides of this issue:  the impact on the farmers, the economic plusses and minuses, the environment, and the geologists involved with both the testing and the industry itself.  It is a fascinating look at what occurs in a town that just wants to sustain its way of life.  This is not a page-turning thriller, but it is a darn good book that taught me a lot about an industry I hear about, but did not really understand.

Redemption Road by John Hart
Another one of my favorite authors (yep, read all of his books also), John Hart is a master of combining family drama, mystery, bad cops in the South, and even a little bit of love into a page-turner of a book.  This time around the main protagonists are Adrian, an ex-cop recently released from prison after serving thirteen years for murder, and Elizabeth, a veteran detective who was the only cop who believed in Adrian years ago.  Young women are once again being murdered and put on display at the old country church, and again, Adrian is the suspect.  Add in a few crooked prison guards and their warden, an old, wily country lawyer, a motherless boy who wants revenge, and a preacher estranged from his daughter and you've got a humdinger of a story.  This is a great vacation read that will leave you very satisfied.

The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the California by David Dyer
We all know how the Titanic ended the bottom of the ocean.  However, did it really have to happen?  I don't mean the iceberg; it was freezing temperatures in the North Atlantic - icebergs happen.  Yet, when the ship first struck the ice, why did no one come to its rescue?  That is the question author David Dyer attempts to answer, as he looks closely at the sailors on the California, a British steamer that was just five miles away from the accident.  While this is historical fiction, Dyer does a masterful job of research, using transcripts from the actual Senate hearings, as well as the trial in England.  We meet the Second Watch on the California, as well as the captain, the reporter who seeks out the hidden story of the botched rescue, as well as the heartfelt story of an entire family of ten, wiped out by the tragedy.  It is a very different perspective from the norm; if you are a fan of Titanic stories, this would be a good one to add to your mix.

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