Saturday, September 10, 2016

September Books

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
The title alone was enough to pull me in...hillbillies are the largest subculture in our country today and they make an impact.  Vance begins his story by a disclaimer, that as a 31 year old, he's done nothing to warrant a memoir, except that his upbringing and cultural background gives others a much-needed window into a world known only by its residents.  Raised by Mamaw and Papaw, grandparents who moved from the hills of Kentucky to a small, industrial Ohio town, J.D. was faced with an entire litany of familial issues:  a drug-addicted mother who went through men like popsicles on a hot summer day, intense blood-related pride and honor that caused violence and arguments, extended family that helped raise him and mold him, lack of skills with money management and job retention, and a deep-seated sense of fear and mistrust towards government, social workers, anyone in authority.  I roared with laughter over some of Mamaw's salty comments and worldly advice, felt compassion for a way of life I knew nothing about until reading this book, and was utterly enthralled to see how a young, poor kid in the heartland of our country came to write this book.  Definitely a five star!

Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Back in 2006, Mullen wrote a fabulous book called The Last Town on Earth; it won some big awards, including debut book of the year.  I still remember it (story of an Everett, WA logging town during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1916).  His next two novels received solid reviews, but never quite 'caught on.'  Darktown could be a sleeper hit this fall, juxtaposing the reading world's love of a taut mystery along with the racial tension still prevalent today.  The story takes place in Atlanta, Georgia whose police chief has just commissioned the city's first black police officers, eight in total.  Jim Crow is alive and well, even as these ex-soldiers return from fighting in Europe.  The main character, Lucius Bogg, is a Morehouse graduate and son of a prominent preacher, raised in the segregated well-to-do black neighborhood.  His partner has a more realistic view of the issues of race, having been raised in a poor black neighborhood of Atlanta, as well as being part of General Patton's black tank battalion.  As these two new police officers try to maneuver their way through racist white policemen, the unwritten rules of headquarters, the lynch-happy country crowd, and the heroic expectations of their black community, they team up with a decent white officer to try and solve the murder of a young black woman.  This book is a heck of a ride, and I highly recommend it.

Lost and Gone Forever by Alex Grecian
If you read Grecian's first book, The Yard, then you are familiar with his cast of crew in the Scotland Yard murder squad circa 1890's.  He introduces Jack the Ripper in the very first of the series, and yes, Jack is still alive and kicking in his latest.  Jack is, however, not just a slasher of women; he is brilliant sociopath who is able to mesmerize his victims and force them to do his will.  In the latest installment of Jack's mischief, Inspector Walter Day has been missing for over a year, kept in captivity by Jack and searched for by his cast of supporters:  wife Claire, not a shrinking violet but a children's author and loyal wife; Neville Hammersmith, former partner and current private eye who always seems to survive violent attempts on his life; Fioana Kingsley and her father Dr. Kingsley, an early forensic scientist; and Hattie Pitt, an aspiring private eye who has her eye not only on solving a mysterious disappearance but also on Hammersmith himself.  I've read the entire series and I would vote this one as one of the very best - creepy mystery with great characters and a dark, yet somehow freakily likable bad guy.

The Other Half is East by Nadia Hashimi (Published September 2016)
Acclaimed author Nadia Hashimi (The Pearl that Broke Its Shell) has turned her attention to children's literature, and her first creation is beautiful.  Exploring the tradition of bacha posh, dressing your daughter as a boy, the life of Obayda who becomes Obayd unfolds, as does the friendship between two special children.  Obayd finds another 'bacha posh,' and forms a special bond with him.  However, when maturity hits, Obayd's friend must become a wife, shining a glaring light on the harsh world of Afghanistan and their treatment of women, as well as difficult issues of gender and one's identity.  It is a sensitive, thoughtful, inspiring book.