Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Her first book in eight years, Sekaran has written a humdinger of a story that is getting tons of buzz out there in the publishing world. Charged with provocative themes of race, class, illegal immigration, and familial rights, this is a winner. You'll need to get past the first 40-50 pages for the characters to gel, but be patient; it is worth it. In this modern day re-telling of King Solomon and the mothers who both claim one child, Sekaran gives us two different mothers: one, a young Mexican girl who has come to America, through the help of coyotes and generous parents, and who experiences horrific tragedy to give herself and her family a better life; the other woman, well educated at Berkeley, with a steady job, Silicon Valley husband, who desperately wants a child but is denied by her biology. Throughout the book, we see the story of Solimar, an illegal immigrant, the fear that forces her to run through sidewalks in case ICE is around, who takes far less pay for her work as a nanny due to fears of IRS issues, and who is imprisoned for a nonsensical reason, in danger of losing the child she bore. However, we also see Kavya, a woman who so longs for a child she can think of nothing else, who is a sincerely loving woman, who bonds deeply with the child in her care. I found myself having to starkly and honestly confront my own embedded of class and race, about what a child needs, or deserves - this is a powerful story that will provoke great conversation.
The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright
Wright's previous book, The Rent Collector, was a favorite of mine a couple years ago, and he writes another interesting, heartwarming book on his second outing. Based on a true story, just like his previous book, this time the focus is on India and its troubling past with illegal adoption practices. We first meet Chellamuthu as a seven year old boy, part of an extremely poor Indian family. While he is sometimes physically abused, due to cultural beliefs in his village, Chellamuthu is loved. However, when his father leaves him on a street corner, unaccompanied for a short time, kidnappers take the small boy and deliver him to an orphanage in the big city. The motives of the head man are questionable and provoke questions: does he know the boy has a loving family? does he care? does he care for the orphans to save them? or does he use the orphanage to fleece American families? It is an intriguing dynamic. As Chellamuthu then transitions to an American boy in his newly adopted family, he becomes Taj and we watch the years go by and his past fade. Eventually, Taj must confront old memories and search for his past. The only problem with this book? At times, it does taste a bit saccharine, occasionally the story line drags a bit, and if you have seen the movie Lion, yep, it is a similar plot. However, it is a heartwarming, multicultural story that would be appropriate for all ages.
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
George Saunders, labeled "one of our greatest living writers" is back after his spectacular book of short stories, The Tenth of December. His latest book will likely win a Pulitzer, American Book Award, etc etc etc. It was an immediate bestseller and raved over in the New York Times and various book blogs. Yet...I must be missing something. On one hand, it is a highly creative plot line. In 1862, President Lincoln visits the tomb of his eleven year old son, Willie, two days after his death of typhoid fever. The book unfolds as various spirits, stuck here on earth in the 'Bardo' (a Tibetan term for the state in-between life and death), share their past lives and their perspectives on the current situation between Willie, who is desperate to see his father one last time, and Lincoln, who cannot let go of his beloved child. Each chapter begins with numerous small tidbits of facts from historical diaries, news tidbits, etc., followed then by back and forth conversations from the spirits. Many of their past lives are fascinating, humorous, terrible, you name it. Admittedly, I had a hard time following all the strings of conversation and keeping characters straight; I also found myself more intrigues by the historical facts, rather than the ghostly tales. I listened to the audio version which had tons of famous actors and has been highly reviewed; perhaps the written version where I could visually see the spirits' names might have been better? I am looking forward to my Village Books bookclub discussion so they can clue me in to all the nuances I am sure I missed!
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
If I were to just scratch the surface, this is not my kind of book. It has guns, and I mean a lot of guns; it begins with a child shooting a gun, chapters about each of the twelve bullet holes placed on Samuel Hawley's body, and minute description of his large gun collection. However, below the surface, this is a powerful story of a wounded man, both physically and emotionally, loyalty to friends and family, and the unending search for love in this world. I honestly did not think this book would be as deep as it became; I was figuring a bang-bang, shoot-em-up thriller, but I was so wrong. The story swerves back and forth in time, spooling out the story of Hawley's life through each of his twelve wounds: his beginning steps into the criminal world, the marriage and loss of his wife, his complicated relationship with his daughter and mother-in-law, and his search for heroism. Tinti is a talented author, who uses the threads of Hercules and his twelve labors, the desire to be heroic when one is riddled with flaws, and the call of not only nature but the wisdom in the stars to show each character the way home, both literally and figuratively. Do not put this book down, do not skim the surface and think it is a thriller - dive deep and swim through this rich and exciting book. It is well worth your time.
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
This book gets lots of buzz, but honestly, I did not find it worth the hype. Premise: young boy named Dusty with a newly adopted fourteen year old foster brother named Russell who is abusive towards him, and oh yeah, spends decades in prison for killing the boy's parents as well as his aunt and uncle. Now that Dusty's wife has died and left him with two teenage sons, brother Russell returns to emotionally abuse the older son. Yep, I stopped reading there. I felt like I needed to take a shower - such ugly characters and a plot line that repulsed me. One star...don't waste your time.