Blog Book Marks Life

Fall Into October

It’s still unseasonably warm as I write and it seems as if hurricanes, fires, mass shootings and other natural and man-made disasters loom in our nation’s self conscious, harbingers of a strange time.  These events remind us how little control we truly have over certain aspects of our lives.  And they make me want to escape.

Reading is a wormhole to another land, life or world.  It’s the perfect affordable get-away.  Yes, the stories can transport us, but they also remind us of the commonality of our experiences and emotion.  They bring us face to face with the hard-wired resilience of the human spirit.   So, in that vein, you will find this month’s list of books with which to “escape.”

It’s also in the spirit of resilience that I’m choosing Books & Books, an independent bookstore in Florida http://shop.booksandbookskw.com/ open now after the hurricane and ready for your business.  Just click on the link and shop away for all your bookish needs.

 

Military Theme:

Confusion of Languages, Siobhan Fallon

A good read is like an onion, the layers reveal themselves as you go further.  Fallon’s book is timely.  It’s about a young, naïve military spouse, whose husband is posted to the embassy in Jordan. The novel is a complex and intricate tale of friendship and cultural sensitivities, motherhood and infertility, and the collision that results when we chose not to understand nuance.

Margaret assumes that her geniality and kindness can improve lives for the local Jordanians, and when a more experienced embassy wife is assigned to help her adjust to life, you see the world through both women’s lens.  From the very beginning, events are set in motion which will ripple out with tragic consequences.

Fallon is a beautiful and facile writer.  She is a military wife (which makes her one of my personal heroes) and she captivated me with her first book, “You Know When the Men are Gone.”  I’ve been waiting to see what she would do next and she did not disappoint.


Historical Fiction:

Caroline: Little House Revisited, Sarah Miller

It was almost impossible to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s and not have some working knowledge of “Little House on the Prairie,” even if it was lusting after Michael Landon as “Pa” on the TV show.

What if Ma could pick up a pen and tell the story her way?  What kind of she-ro’s world would be revealed on the prairie? That’s the tack author Sarah Miller has taken in this engrossing read, and while Caroline is outwardly consumed with running a household; churning butter, birthing babies and simply keeping the brood alive, this book offers an imagined keyhole into her interior life.  We get a glimpse of her own childhood, marriage and the independent time she spent teaching.  For such a classic tale, this book is a fresh take on a well-loved story.


Thriller:

Odd Child Out, Gilly Macmillan

Put friendship, race, class divide, sense of duty, grieving parents and deft police work together in a suspense fiction and shake it all up.  The result is this thriller that kept calling me back until I could watch all the puzzle pieces snap into place.

Two best friends at an elite British school share a love of chess and studies.  One is a Somalian refugee on a scholarship, the other is from a privileged family, and is very ill.  When one boy is found dead in the river, the other goes mute.  And that silence has deadly consequences.  The story unwinds to reveal the bones of troubling and very timely questions that strike at the heart of how we see ourselves and our “tribes.”  When the truth is revealed, it’s impossible not to do some personal soul searching about our own preconceptions and prejudices.


Fiction:

Kiss Carlo, Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani has a true fan following, and for good reason.  She first grabbed our attention (and our hearts) with her Big Stone Gap series, taking us back to her hometown in Virginia with a cast of loveable characters based on growing up in an Italian family in coal mining country.  Adri’s latest book is set during the dawn of the golden age of television, and she takes us on a sweeping journey, covering lots of ground and introducing her signature colorful characters as we move through the years.  “Kiss Carlo” moves us from the mountains of Italy to Philly in 1949.  This intergenerational story is classic Adriana, delivering everything from romance, secrets, broken hearts, hope, redemption and the ever-present power of family.


Non fiction:

Alphabet of Grief, Andrea Raynor

At some point in life, each of us will bump into some kind of grief or loss.  Andrea Raynor, minister and graduate of Harvard Divinity School, has been helping us understand this process since she served as the chaplain to the morgue at Ground Zero.  Her beautiful first book, “The Voice that Calls You Home,” was a life raft for anyone attempting to walk through the aftermath of September 11 and other unimaginable tragedies.  From counseling others and dealing with loss, Raynor’s simple, yet profound book uses the letters of the alphabet to offer heartfelt recollections on loss and sorrow that comfort us like poetry.  These aren’t hallmark card platitudes, but rather what she calls “stepping stones across the river of sadness.”

This simple book would make a wonderful gift or daily books of reflection and repose for anyone hoping to not feel so alone.

 

Thriller:

The Child Finder, Rene Denfeld

What if a licensed investigator and journalist wrote a book?  This smart, literary thriller (the best kind) is set in the Pacific Northwest with its haunting winter landscape and prose. A child has gone missing, and in the process of piecing together the truth, the “child finder” will be forced to uncover some of her own grim past as well.  If you like taut writing and beautiful imagery with a brisk story that unfolds without the twists of a roller coaster, this is the mystery ride for you.

 

Paperback:  Fiction

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

This book has been on my list and I when I finally picked it up, I didn’t want to close it.  This generations-spanning novel walks the line between pleasure and pain, reminiscent at times of “The Underground Railroad” with its magical writing.  The tale meanders from the slave castle on the coast of West Africa to the US Civil War, through Jim Crow, the great migration, Harlem and the Jazz Age and oh, so much more up to the present day.  There were moments I had to pause and other moments I could not turn away.

There is so much to love (or loathe) in the richly drawn characters and Gyasi strikes the perfect balance between showing and telling.  Cruelty abounds, as the first scene opens during the slave trade, when warring tribes in Africa sold one another to the British.  But it’s the love, family connection, blood and bone, grounded in history and interwoven with human resilience that gives this story its spine and connective tissue. This book should be required reading in every school.  I didn’t want to leave these characters when I was done.

1 Comment

  1. diane baker

    October 24, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    what can I say, love your writing and choose of books, keep them both coming

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