All About Books



In “Take My Hand,” Delon Perkins-Valdez takes us to Montgomery, Alabama, where in 1973 Civil Townsend is fresh out of nursing school and intends to make a difference, especially in her African American community.  At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she hopes to help women shape their destinies, to make their own choices for their lives and bodies.  But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children – just eleven and thirteen years old.  Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control.  As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart.  Until one day she arrives at their door to learn the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.  Decades later, her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace, and to leave the past behind.  But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten, that must not be forgotten, because history repeats what we don’t remember.  This impactful story fictionalizes a real historical case, one link in a chain of the shameful history of state-sanctioned abuses to the health and reproductive rights of Black Americans and other people of color, including the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male that went on for forty years and left hundreds of men untreated, letting them die long after penicillin was available.  It’s a legacy that continues, legally, today.  “Our bodies belonged to us,” Civil insists. “Poor, disabled, it didn’t matter.”   This novel will stay with you.

The Boys,” by Katie Hafner, is a pure treat, with a knockout surprise in the center that will have you rethinking every assumption you’ve made along the way.  When introverted Ethan Fawcett marries outgoing Barb, he has every reason to believe he will be delivered from a lifetime of solitude.  And when Barb brings home two young brothers, Tommy and Sam, to foster in preparation for the couple becoming parents, he feels he finally has the sense of family he lost as a boy.  As the pandemic hits, Ethen becomes obsessed with providing a perfect life for the boys, studying their native Russian, homeschooling them, watching TV with them, barely leaving the house.  But instead of bringing Barb and Ethan closer together, the boys become a wedge in their relationship, as Ethan is unable to share with Barb a secret that has haunted him since childhood.  It’s not until Ethan takes Tommy and Sam on a biking trip in Italy that it becomes clear just how unusual the three of them are – and what it will take for Ethan to repair his marriage.  I’m not going to say more and risk giving away the mind-blowing twist that changes everything in this charming and delightful novel.

The psychological tension that builds throughout Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 debut novel “Strangers on a Train” makes it a dramatic and gripping read. (The story was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1951 film of the same name.) Here we encounter Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, passengers on the same train. While Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him.  “Some people are better off dead,” Bruno remarks, “like your wife and my father, for instance.”  As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith’s perilous world, where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.  Highsmith is a master of depicting the unsettling forces that tremble beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.  I was left feeling greatly relieved never to have run into someone like Bruno in mine.


“In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss,” by Amy Bloom, is one of the most beautifully written and poignant books I have read, filled with love and grief and Bloom’s trademark wit and candor.  Bloom began to notice changes in her husband, Brian, when he retired early from a new job he loved, withdrew from close friendships, and began talking mostly about the past.  Their world was altered forever when an MRI confirmed what they could no longer ignore:  Brian had Alzheimer’s disease.  Forced to confront the truth of the diagnosis and its impact on their lives, Brian was determined to die on his feet, and Brian and Amy made the unimaginably difficult and painful decision to go to Dignitas, an organization based in Switzerland that empowers a person to end his own life with dignity and peace.  Bloom sheds light on a part of life we so often shy away from discussing – its ending – in a multi-layered and wrenching way that will deeply touch every reader’s heart.

Mysteries:  “A Nearly Normal Family,” by M. T. Edvardsson,  had me madly flipping pages toward the end as I eagerly awaited the ending.  Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell, an ordinary teenager from an upstanding local family, stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years her senior. Her father, a pastor, and mother, a criminal defense attorney, find their moral compasses tested as the defend their daughter.  This gripping psychological thriller asks the questions:  How well to you know your own children?  And how far would you go to protect them? As Stella says,One person’s ignorance was another person’s power.”  I’ve enjoyed all of Jane Harper’s engaging mysteries that so effectively evoke their Australian setting.  In “Exiles,” at a busy festival site on a warm spring night, a baby lies alone in her stroller, her mother vanishing into the crowd.  A year later federal investigator Aaron Falk joins a gathering of the mother’s friends and loved ones in the heart of south Australian wine country and begins to suspect this tight-knit group may be more fractured than it seems.  The message in this psychological thriller:  we see what we want to see.  When I thought maybe I wouldn’t read another Louise Penny mystery because of the repetitive phrases and short paragraphs, I started “A World of Curiousities”and was hooked.   As the villagers in Three Pines prepare for a special celebration, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir find themselves increasingly worried because a young man and woman have reappeared in the Surete du Quebec investigators’ lives after many years.  They were young when their troubled mother was murdered, leaving them damaged, and now they’re in Three Pines.  To what end? Ultimately an old enemy is released into the Gamaches’ lives and into the very heart of Armand’s home, revealing puzzles within puzzles. So good.  I loved being back in Greenland in “Girl in Ice,” by Erica Ferencik.  Despite Valerie Chesterfield’s successful career as a linguist in dead Nordic languages (“Languages reveal what it is to be human.  This desire to make ourselves understood is primal.”) she leads a sheltered life and languishes in the shadow of her twin brother, Andy, an accomplished climate scientist trained on a remote island off Greenland’s barren coast.  But Andy is gone, having willfully ventured unprotected into minus 50-weather.  When Wyatt, Andy’s fellow Arctic researcher, discovers a scientific impossibility, a young girl frozen in the ice who thaws out alive speaking a language no one understands, Val is his first call – and her frozen odyssey begins.

On May 14 Danny Westneat wrote a column in the Seattle Times headlined. “Books Unbanned:  Beleaguered Librarians Push Back,” referencing his librarian mom, saying “I’m glad she’s not around to see this.”   He’s referring to how librarians are increasingly being viewed in this country as criminals.  There haven’t been this many book titles scrubbed from shelves and digital collections in as long as the American Library Association has been monitoring censorship, the ALA says.  But now the book-banning movement has pivoted to going after the librarians themselves.  Texas has a slew of bills at its state Capitol that targets librarians and there’s a growing Republican movement to simply skip all this drama and cancel libraries entirely, with one Louisiana U. S. Representative calling them “liberal grooming centers.”   In reaction, Seattle’s librarians recently started up a pushback initiative called “Books Unbanned,” allowing anyone in the U.S., ages 13-26, to get a free Seattle Public Library card and check out anything in the library’s digital collection.  Do read the column, and let’s all pay attention to what a 16-year-old from Ohio wrote to our library – “My school library has been entirely cleared out and locked in a closet . . . I just want to read.”


All About Books



I’m going to lead with one of the best books I’ve read this year, “The Five Wounds,” by Kirstin Valdez Quade, filled with dazzling writing and vivid characters you come to know intimately and care about deeply.  It’s Holy Week in the small town of Las Penas, New Mexico, and thirty-three-year-old unemployed Amadeo Padilla has been given the part of Jesus in the Good Friday procession.  He is preparing feverishly for this role when his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel shows up pregnant on his doorstep and disrupts his plans for personal redemption.  With weeks to go until her due date, tough, ebullient Angel has fled her mother’s house, setting her life on a startling new path.  Vivid, tender, funny (I often laughed out loud), and beautifully rendered, this novel spans the baby’s first year as five generations of the Padilla family converge:  Amadeo’s mother, Yolanda, reeling from a recent discovery; Angel’s mother, Marissa, whom Angel isn’t speaking to; and disapproving Tive, Yolanda’s uncle and keeper of the family’s history.  Each brings expectations that Amadeo, who often solves his problems with a beer in his hand, doesn’t think he can live up to.  This is an amazing debut novel by an author whose characters will linger long after the final page as they struggle to parent children they may not be equipped to save.  Here’s Yolanda, as she contemplates Angel – “Having children is terrifying, the way they become adults and go out into the world with cars and functioning reproductive systems and credit cards, the way, before they’ve developed any sense or fear, they are equipped to make adult-sized mistakes with adult-sized consequences.”  And Amadeo, reflecting on Angel’s newborn – “This baby:  such a massive force with so little actual personality.”  Here’s Amadeo as he scans his family with alarm – “his suddenly frail mother, her hair full-gray at the roots; his daughter, whose bright features have become puffy and pale; his rickety uncle; his sister slumped on the floor, her ridiculous woven scarf hanging from her stooped shoulders.  Even his nieces, homely and intelligent and socially deficient enough to eventually find success in tech or academia, seem doomed.  Connor, the newest and theoretically least doomed among them, can’t even hold his own head up.  Since when did everyone around him become so fragile?”  One of the commenters on the book jacket wrote, “All the fabulous mess of humanity is, somehow, in these pages.” I agree – I loved it. 

In “Aviary,” by Deirdre McNamer, the residents of deteriorating Pheasant Run, a twenty-four unit residence for seniors, keep their secrets and sadnesses locked tight behind closed apartment doors.  Leo Oberti spends quiet days painting abstract landscapes and mourning a long-ago loss.  Rydell Clovis tries desperately to stay fit enough to restart a career in academia.  Cassie McMackin is loosely tethered to the world, having lost her husband and only child, dead within months of each other.  And her friend, Viola Six, is convinced of a criminal conspiracy involving the building’s widely disliked manager, Herbie Bonebright.  Cassie and Viola dream of leaving their unhappy lives behind, but one woman’s plan is interrupted – and the other’s unexpectedly set into motion – when a fire breaks out in Herbie’s apartment.  The city’s chief fire inspector, Lander Maki, finds the fire and the circumstances around it highly suspicious.  Viola and Herbie have both disappeared, and a troubled teen, Clayton Spooner, was glimpsed fleeing the scene.  In fitting together the pieces of this complicated puzzle, Lander finds himself learning more than expected about human nature and about personal and corporate greed as it is visited upon the vulnerable.   This is not an earth-shaking novel, just a charmingly written one, with characters you care about and bad guys (the ones “in the business of ousting old people from their homes, perhaps to make way for other old people who will pay some developer a fortune to live in a retooled version of said home”) that you hope will get their comeuppance.

I am drawn to both fiction and non-fiction about Mt. Everest, where I haven’t been, and Antarctica, where I have, despite my discomfort with being cold (go figure), so was completely caught up in the engrossing “Terra Nova,” a novel by Henriette Lazaridis.  The year is 1910, and two Antarctic explorers, Watts and Heywoud, are racing to be the first to the South Pole.  Back in London, Viola, Heywoud’s wife and a photo-journalist, harbors love for them both.  Lazardis seamlessly ushers the reader back and forth between the austere, forbidding, yet intoxicating polar landscape of Antarctica to the bustle of early-twentieth -century London.  Though anxious for both men, Viola has little time to pine.  She is photographing hunger strikers in the suffrage movement, capturing the female nude in challenging and politically powerful ways.  As she comes into her own as an artist, she’s eager for recognition and to fulfill her ambitions.  And then the men return, eager to share news of their triumph.  But in her darkroom, Viola discovers a lie.  Watts and Heywoud have doctored their photos of the Pole to fake their success.  Viola must now decide whether to betray her husband and her lover, or keep their secret and use their fame to help her pursue her artistic ambitions.  We have love, adventure, ambition, and betrayal all wrapped up in a dramatic and suspenseful package that brings us face to face with the question of what we would do in similar circumstances.  And I’m still wondering exactly how I feel about Viola.  Such a good book.

Elizabeth McCracken’s novel about a writer’s relationship with her larger-than-life mother, “The Hero of This Book,” is a brief thoughtful and compassionate reflection on grief and life’s renewal.  Ten months after her mother’s death, the narrator takes a trip to London and finds herself reflecting on her mother’s life and their relationship.  Thoughts of the past meld with questions of the future.  Back in New England, the family home is now for sale, its considerable contents already winnowed.  The narrator, a writer, recalls all that made her complicated mother extraordinary – her brilliant wit, her generosity, her unbelievable obstinacy, her sheer will in seizing life despite physical difficulties – and finds herself wondering how her mother had endured, leaving the narrator to wonder if making a chronicle of this remarkable life constitutes an act of love or betrayal.  McCracken’s writing is charming and perceptive, with the narrator recalling that her mother moved through the world by foot and cane, never accepting a wheelchair.  “She knew that the moment a porter got her in a wheelchair, she would be turned to luggage. . .  The Little Engine That Could, if you don’t remember, is a woman.”  Why do I write? the narrator asks.  “To try to get human beings on a page without the use of vivisection or preservatives or a spiritualist’s props, to make them seem lively still.”  We have all had mothers – this lovely little book has us thinking about them in completely new ways.


It’s telling that “Open,” Andre Agassi’s terrific autobiography, has a significant library Hold list despite having been written 14 years ago.  It is a no-holds barred, revelatory, candid remembrance of the professional and personal life of a tennis champion who ultimately became the oldest man ever ranked number one.  From early childhood Agassi hated the game.  Coaxed to swing a racket while still in the crib, forced to hit hundreds of balls a day while still in grade school, Agassi resented the constant pressure even as he drove himself to become a prodigy, an inner conflict that would define him.  His life was balanced precariously between self-destruction and perfectionism.  We feel his panic as an undersized seven-year-old in Las Vegas, practicing all day under the obsessive gaze of his violent father.  We feel his loneliness when at thirteen he was banished to a Florida tennis camp that that felt like a prison camp, leading to his becoming a ninth-grade dropout who died his hair, pierced his ears, and dressed like punk rocker.  By the time he turned pro at sixteen, his new look, as well as his lightning-fast return, promised to change tennis forever.  And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggled early on, first losing to the world’s best before starting to win and stumbling to three Grand Slam finals.  He shocked the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon title, overnight becoming a fan favorite and a media target.  Reflecting a near-photographic memory, Agassi gives us vivid portraits of rivals from several generations – Connors, Sampras, Federer, Nadal – plus unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and doomed marriage to Brooke Shields.  He reveals the depression that shattered his confidence and the mistake that nearly cost him everything, and finally the spectacular resurrection that climaxed with his epic run at the 1999 French Open.  We learn about the people who helped him regain his balance and find love at last with Steffi Graf, along with his metamorphosis from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate.  As founder of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, he has raised millions for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, an acclaimed K-12 charter school for underprivileged children in his hometown, Las Vegas, where he lives with his wife and their two children. You don’t have to be a tennis fan to appreciate the raw candor of this captivating memoir from the only male competitor of his day to win a career “Golden Slam” – all four Grand Slam singles plus the Olympic gold medal.  

Mysteries:  Girls from immigrant communities have been disappearing for months in the Colorado town of “Blackwater Falls” (also the name of the book by Ausma Zehanat Khan), but thelocal sheriff is slow to act and the fates of the missing girls are largely disregarded.  When the body of a teenage star student and Syrian refugee is found deliberately positioned in a mosque, Denver detectives Anaya Rahmanand Waqas Seif of the Denver police are recruited and quickly uncover a link to other missing and murdered girls.  This is a timely and thoughtful thriller that tackles complex global issues.  The gripping “The Guilty One,” by Lisa Ballantyne, maintains its suspense from beginning to end.  An eight-year-old boy is found dead on a playground, and his eleven-year-old neighbor, Sebastian, a damaged boy from a troubled home, is accused of the crime.  Leading the defense is London solicitor Daniel Hunter, who is reminded of his own turbulent childhood and the devoted woman whose love saved him before one terrible act irrevocably shattered their bond.  So much childhood trauma, and no easy answers. 

Oprah Winfrey on being young and feeling isolated “It was books that made me feel that I was connected to the world.  And so, in the beginning was the word.  The power of the word to help transform our own emotions and our own belief in what’s possible for us.  I don’t think that anything transcends that.”

All About Books


There are fewer books this month because, while excellent, two of them were long and took more time.  Also, since the Dalai Lama and I were born the same year and I was interested in the trajectory of his extraordinary life, I read “The Dalai Lama,” by Alexander Norman, but decided not to write it up because it’s very detailed and I think is more than most want to know about Tibetan history.  I will say that the Dalai Lama’s exile to India and Tibet’s challenging relationship with China are ongoing and relevant today, so I particularly appreciated that Norman placed his remarkable subject in a thorough and insightful historical context.    


“Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting,” by Clare Pooley, is a gem, a delight from beginning to end.  Every day Iona Iverson, a stylish, opinionated, larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, rides the train to work with her dog, Lulu.  Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname:  Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm and Mr.-Too-Good-to-Be-True.  Of course, as seasoned commuters, they never speak.  Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her.  He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich maneuver.  This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people discovers that talking to strangers can teach you quite a bit about the world around you – and even more about yourself.  This is a truly funny yet insightful and poignant novel about people you’d love to meet whose lives are greatly enriched by the fact they have accidentally met each other – with Iona, of course, as the catalyst.  The advantage of boarding the train at Hampton Court, as she did, was that that it was the end of the line, or the beginning, depending on which way you were traveling.  “There was a life lesson there,” thought Iona.  “In her experience, most endings turned out to be beginnings in disguise.”  This feel-good novel is filled with happy beginnings as well as some well-deserved and  satisfying endings, which fulfilled Iona’s favorite proverb – “If you stand on the bridge for long enough, the body of your enemy will come floating by.”

Barbara Kingsolver’s novels grab you by the first line and don’t let you go until the last.  She’s done it again with “Demon Copperhead,” as she evokes her young hero’s unforgettable journey to maturity in the mountains of southern Appalachia in a close retelling of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield.”  It’s the story of a boy named Demon Copperhead born to a junkie teen-age single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival.  As he says, “This kid, if he wanted a shot at the finer things, should have got himself delivered to some rich or smart or Christian, nonusing type of mother.  Anyone will tell you the born of this world are marked from the get-out, win or lose.”  In a plot relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, drug addiction from pain pills made readily available to injured athletes, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Sounds like a real downer, I know, but that’s not what I felt, due to Demon’s fighting spirit, humor, and determination to survive.  Through it all, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.  In transporting Dickens’ epic novel to her own place and time, Kingsolver has enlisted his anger and compassion and, above all, his faith in the transformative power of a good story.  “Demon Copperfield” speaks for a new generation of lost boys and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.  When Demon talks about having to read books in “the harder English” to which his intelligence got him assigned. he did have his interest held by “the Charles Dickens one, seriously old guy, dead and a foreigner, but Christ Jesus did he get the picture on kids and orphans getting screwed over and nobody giving a rat’s ass.  You’d think he was from around here.”  It breaks your heart.

I finally returned to the close-knit, resilient, hockey-crazed community of Beartown in the north of Sweden for the last of the Beartown trilogy, “The Winners,” by Fredrik Backman, and am so happy to know how the characters I’ve come to care about turned out.  Thanks to Jill Robinson from all of us who have relished this series.  “The Winners” starts with a storm, a death, and two funerals on the same day – one life celebrated by all, another person’s life being forgotten.  Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a life far from the forest town, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest friends.  They can see that there is a fresh sense of optimism and purpose, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.  Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about and everyone has tried to move on, but something about this place prevents it.  The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry that has always been fought through their ice hockey teams.  Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club’s murky finances, and Amat – once the star of the Beartown team – has lost his way after suffering an injury and a failed attempt to get drafter into the NHL.  Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence.  All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death.  He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more than it can stand.  You don’t have to know – or even care – about hockey to become immersed in this series that is both heartwarming and heartwrenching.  It captures all the complexities of daily life as it explores friendship, loyalty, loss, and identity – always with a passion for hockey in the background as a driving force, for better or worse. 

Mysteries:  If there is such a thing as a warm and fuzzy murder mystery, “Funeral Train,” by Laurie Loewenstein, is it.  Already suffering the privations of the 1930s Dust Bowl, the Oklahoma town of Vermillion is further devastated when a passenger train derails, flooding the hospital with the dead and maimed, including Sheriff Temple Jennings’ wife.  The derailment turns into a case of sabotage, and the next night a local recluse is murdered, perhaps connected to the wreck.   Except for the bad guys, the characters in this story are all folks you’d like to know.  

Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.  They are the destination and the journey.  They are home.”  Anna Quindlen, “How Reading Changed My Life

All About Books



My brother Bob told me about “The Rose Code,” by Kate Quinn, a gripping World War II story involving three female codebreakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they would uncover after the war was over.  In 1940, as England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.  Vivacious debutante Osla has everything – beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she is eager to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets.  Imperious Mab, a product of East End London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.  But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.  By 1947, as the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips postwar Britain into a fever, the three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter – the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum.  An enigmatic traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together.  I worried the book might be too long and too “girly,” but neither proved true, and I was caught up to the very end in trying to guess the identity of the traitor.  In an age of instantaneous social media, our jaws drop at the idea that thousands of men and women were simply handed the most incendiary secret of the war and kept it, so much so that Churchill famously referred to them as “the geese that laid the golden eggs, but never cackled.”  There are books and movies that cover the mysterious activities at Bletchley Park, but I’m not aware of another approach like this and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Don’t miss the author’s note at the end.

“Our Missing Hearts,” by Celeste Ng, is stunning – and devastating.  Twelve-year-ole Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library.  Bird knows not to ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far.  For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence.  Too keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic – including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese-American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.  Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder.  But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her.  His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians (those essential people!), into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York Citty, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.  The dystopian (“an imaginary place in which everything is as bad as possible”) world Ng creates hits close to home.  The Three Pillars of PACT, The Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act, a solemn promise to root out any anti-American elements undermining the nation, are not unfamiliar to us (remember McCarthy?) – Outlaws promotion of un-American values and behavior.  Requires all citizens to report potential threats to our society.  Protects children from environments espousing harmful views.   On his quest, Bird wears a hat and sunglasses to hide his Asian features, knowing that “Strangers will be scrutinizing him.  Measuring him with their eyes, gauging whether he is a threat or to be threatened.”  The proponents of PACT insisted it would strengthen and unify the nation, but left unsaid was that unity required a common enemy, which in this story means that anyone who might remotely be mistaken for Chinese was at risk.  “Our Missing Hearts” leaves the reader wondering, who will be next?

I’ve never read anything quite like the brilliantly hilarious “The World’s Wife,” by Carol Ann Duffy, recommended by my daughter Catherine. With wit and imagination, Duffy imagines the voices of (among others) Mrs. Midas, Queen Kong, Mrs. Lazarus, and Frau Freud, to say nothing of the Devil’s Wife herself, in this brief collection of poems written from the perspectives of the wives of famous – and infamous – male personages.  A acclaimed Scottish poet, Duffy is a master at drawing on myth and history and subverting them in a wholly unexpected and surprising way.  To give you an idea, here are two of the shortest ones. 

Mrs. Darwin (7 April 1852)  

Went to the Zoo.

I said to Him –

Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

Mrs. Icarus

I’m not the first or the last

to stand on a hillock,

watching the man she married

prove to the world

he’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.

I’m desperate to include the whole Mrs. Rip Van Winkle poem, but will control myself and let you discover it for yourself in this vivid, outrageous, and very funny rewriting of the world from a feminist viewpoint.         

Catherine also recommended “Lost Children Archive,” by Valeria Luiselli, which is an emotionally resonant, imaginative novel about a family’s road trip across America.  A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer.  Their destination:  Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home.  “Why Apaches?” asks the ten-year-old son.  “Because they were the last of something,” answers the father. In their car, as they play games and sing along to music, the radio has news about an ”immigration crisis:” thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained – or lost in the desert along the way. As the family drives, we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own.  A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel.  They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure – both in the desert landscape and within their own imagination.  This is a richly engaging story of how we document our experiences and how we remember the things that matter to us the most, as we are taken deeply into the lives of one remarkable family as it probes the nature of justice and equality today.  Luiselli, a powerful writer, addresses America’s present as well as its history, including Native American history and the many intersections between American and Mexican history.  Her stories will break your heart even as they give you a deeper understanding of and greater compassion for the children we read about every day who travel alone into a new and dangerous world en route to what they and their families hope will be safer and more fulfilling lives.           

Mysteries:  Oh, what a delight it is to hang out again with the Thursday Murder Club, featured in books by Richard Osman that are variously described as wildly entertaining, hilarious, brilliantly suspenseful, fiendishly clever, touching, and SO MUCH FUN (yes, in all caps).  The setting is Cooper’s Chase, an English 65+ community where every Thursday four resident amateur sleuths gather in the jigsaw room to investigate cases that the Kent police force has failed to prosecute themselves.  In “The Bullet That Missed,” a decade-old cold case – their favorite kind – leads them to a local news legend and a murder with a body and no answers.  When a new foe pays Elizabeth a visit with a mission – kill or be killed – the cold case becomes red hot. As my favorite member, Joyce, says, the lovely thing about investigating a murder is that you can be nosy and call it work. 

Alberto Manguel:  “At one magical instant in your early childhood the pages of a book – that string of confused, alien ciphers – shivered into meaning.  Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened.  You became, irrevocably, a readerThanks, Diane Lind!

All About Books



Several people, including Diane Lind and my fellow members of the King County Library System gala committee, said “Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus, was terrific – and it is!  It’s one of the most original and thoroughly entertaining books I have read. Just don’t plan to do anything else the day you pick it up, as you will be immediately hooked.  Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman.  In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman.  But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality.  Except for one:  Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize-nominated grudge holder who falls in love with – of all things – her mind.  True chemistry results.  Like science, though, life is unpredictable.  Which is why a few years later, Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother but also the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show, “Supper at Six.”  Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary.  But as her following grows, not everyone is happy – because, as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook.  She’s daring them to change the status quo.  “Sometimes I think,” she tells a reporter, “that if a man were to spend a day being a woman in America, he wouldn’t make it past noon.” Elizabeth is an original – too uncompromising to endear herself to her peers and superiors at the Institute or to follow rules she feels are ridiculous, but an inspiration to her ever-increasing number of viewers.  Garmus is a fine writer, funny and smart, and I couldn’t agree more with the reviewer who said of her book, “I loved it and am devastated to have finished it.”

Starting a book by Elizabeth Strout is like sitting down with a good friend over a glass of wine or cup of tea while she tells you a moving and compelling story about people you come to care about (in “spare, crystalline prose,” according to one reviewer, with “intimate, fragile, desperate humanness,” according to another).  Who can resist?  In “Lucy by the Sea,” it’s the early days of the pandemic, and as a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband, William.  For the next several months. it’s just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea.  At the heart of the story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we’re apart – the pain of a beloved daughter’s suffering, the emptiness that follows the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.  As the story closes, a thought goes through Lucy’s mind: “We are all in lockdown, all the time.  We just don’[t know it, that’s all.  But we do the best we can.  Most of us are just trying to get through.” I suspect most of us would agree.

So many wonderful books this month!  Teresa Keranen Hughes recommended the sweeping, unforgettable story “Horse,” by Geraldine Brooks, a masterful writer who draws us deeply into the world she creates.   Kentucky, 1850: An enslaved groom and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South.  When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant artist who had made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union.  On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamour of any racetrack. New York City, 1954:  A gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.  Washington, DC, 2019:  A Smithsonian scientist from Australia and a Nigerian American art historian find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse – one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his speed and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.  Inspired by the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, “Horse” is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.  I have no particular relationship with horses – something they sense immediately the few times I have been on them – but Brooks makes us care deeply about her characters, both human and equine, and her book kept me enthralled from beginning to end.   

I was completely caught up in the gripping and imaginative “Afterland,” by Lauren Beukes. Nearly three years after the pandemic known as Manfall, men are nearly extinct, governments still hold and life continues – but a world run by women isn’t always a better place.  Twelve-year-old Miles is one of the last boys alive, and his mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs.  On the run after a horrific act of violence – and pursued by Cole’s ruthless sister, Billie – all Cole wants is to raise her kid somewhere he won’t be preyed on as a reproductive resource or a sex object or a stand-in son.  Someplace like home.  To get there, Cole must journey across a changed America, in disguise as mother and daughter.  From a military base in Seattle to a luxury bunker, from an anarchist commune in Salt Lake City to a roaming cult that’s all too ready to see Miles as the answer to their prayers, the two race to stay ahead at every step … even as Billie and her sinister crew draw closer.  This feminist thriller blends psychological suspense, American noir, and science fiction into a lively adventure.  You get caught up in the plot and can’t imagine what Beukes will do next, but she continues to surprise as she brings this dystopian story to a dramatic conclusion.


“Shy:  The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers,” by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green, is an absolute kick, unlike any memoir I’ve ever read.  “What am I, bologna?” Rodgers (1931-2014) often said, referring to being stuck in the middle of a talent sandwich:  the daughter of one composer and the mother of another.  Her father was Richard Rodgers, perhaps the greatest American melodian; her son, Adam Guettel, a worthy successor.  What that leaves out is Mary herself, also a composer, whose musical, “Once Upon a Mattress,” remains one of he rare revivable Broadway hits written by a woman.  “Shy” is the story of how Mary grew from an angry child, constrained by privilege and a parent’s overwhelming gift, to become not just a theater figure in her own right but also a renowned author of books for young readers (including the classic “Freaky Friday”) and, in a final grand turn, a doyenne of philanthropy and the chairman of the Juilliard School.  But, in telling these stories – with copious annotations, contradictions, and interruptions from Jesse Green, the chief theater critic of The New York Times – “Shy” also tells another, about a woman liberating herself from disapproving parents and pervasive sexism to find art and romance on her own terms.  Whether writing for Judy Holliday or Rin Tin Tin, dating Hal Prince or falling for Stephen Sondheim over a game of chess at thirteen, Rodgers grabbed every chance possible – and then some! – as she sought a meaningful life in the golden age of American musical theater.  We start with her childhood, which, to put it mildly, she did not enjoy.  “Let’s face it, most of childhood is the most boring prison sentence in the world, and you can’t get paroled.  Is it a surprise that I became, as the nursery rhyme says of me, quite contrary?”  She grew up interacting with every famous theater persona in New York, and candidly shares her opinions of them.  Leonard Bernstein’s wife, Felicia, was “tiny, tinkly, delicate, immaculate, charming, and cold, and unintentionally made every other woman in the room feel like a Clydesdale.  How difficult it must have been for someone like that to be married to a gay man who wasn’t at all discreet.  At least there was love between them.” Playing opposite Carol Burnett in “Once Upon a Mattress,” Joe Bova, (an “arrogant, undisciplined little shit”) at one point stopped a rehearsal to ask the director, “What’s my motivation?”  George Abbott snapped back, “Your paycheck.”  This witty and fascinating no-holds-barred memoir will delight and amaze you from beginning to end.

Mysteries:  Tess Gerritsen is a favorite mystery writer whose latest, “Listen to Me,” has intriguing twists and turns that keep you in suspense until the end. Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are plagued by what seems to be the completely senseless murder of Sofia Suarez, a universally liked widow and neighbor, until Jane finally makes a connection between Sofia and the victim of a hit-and-run from months earlier.  It’s a satisfying conclusion to multiple story lines.  In the atmospheric and suspenseful “The Overnight Guest,” by Heather Gudenkauf, the crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book.  Cozy and quiet, it would be perfect if not for the `fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace. When Wylie discovers a small child in the snow just outside it soon becomes clear the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.  Snowstorms can be beautiful and peaceful – and sometimes deadly.  I am fond of Scandinavian mysteries, and really enjoyed “The Shadow Lily,” by Johanna Mo.  Small-town police detective Hanna Duncker and her partner Erik Lindgren are called to Investigate the disappearance of a father and his toddler son from their home while his wife was away on a weekend trip.  As the investigation unfolds, Hanna makes a breakthrough in her ongoing private investigation of her deceased father, who was convicted of murder and arson long ago, a discovery that could change everything she thinks she’s learned so far.  The book’s web of relationships and partial truths makes for a complex and intriguing story.

A book that profoundly moves or thrills you makes you a more sensitive person, and therefore a better one.  That is its moral function.  Patrick Modiano, 2014 Nobel laureate

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I have just finished “Young Mungo,” by Douglas Stuart, and am feeling as devastated as I did when I finished his “Shuggie Bain,” which won the 2020 Booker Prize.  To me, a novel that packs that kind of emotional wallop is one worth reading.  “Young Mungo” is a vivid portrayal of working-class life in Glasgow and a moving and suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men. Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars – Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic – and they should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all.  Yet against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds.  As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere where they belong, while Mungo works hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially his big brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold.  And when, several months later, Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland with two strange men whose drunken banter belies murky pasts, he will need to summon all his inner strength and courage to try to get back to a place of safety, a place where he and James might still have a future.  “Young Mungo” is a gripping and revealing story about the bounds of masculinity, the divisions of sectarianism, the violence faced by many people who are different, and the dangers of loving the “wrong” person. 

One reviewer of “The Vixen,” by Francine Prose, wrote, “Can a novel be wildly intelligent, deeply compassionate, politically astute, and utterly absorbing?  Francine Prose accomplishes all of this and more.”  That’s a statement that gets a reader’s attention, and I was thoroughly entertained by the novel’s surprising twists and turns. It’s 1953, and Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate newly hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm, has entered a glittering milieu of three-martini lunches, exclusive literary parties, and old-money aristocrats, a far cry from his loving, middle-class Jewish family on Coney Island.  But Simon’s first assignment – editing “The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic,” a steamy bodice-ripper improbably based on the recent trial and executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, a potboiler intended to shore up the firm’s failing finances – makes him question the cost of admission to his exciting new profession.  Because Simon has a secret that, at the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings, he cannot reveal:  his beloved mother was a childhood friend of Ethel Rosenberg’s. Simon’s dilemma grows thornier when he meets “The Vixen’s’’ author, the startlingly beautiful, reckless, seductive Anya Partridge, ensconced in her opium-scented boudoir in a luxury Hudson River mental asylum.  As mysteries deepen, as the confluence of sex, money, politics, and power spirals out of Simon’s control, he must face what he’s lost by exchanging the safety and comfort of his parents’ Coney Island apartment for the witty, whiskey-soaked orbit of his charismatic boss, the legendary Warren Landry.  Gradually Simon realizes that the people around him are not what they seem, that everyone is keeping secrets, that ordinary events may conceal a diabolical plot – and that these crises may steer him toward a brighter future.  This is a tricky novel, ingenious and suspenseful, written by a master storyteller.

The Anomaly,” by Herve Le Tellier, is a stunning award-winning combination of thriller and serious literature, and I hardly know how to explain it.  In their own way, the passengers of Air France 006 were all living double lives when they boarded the Paris-New York flight.  Blake, a respectable family man who covertly works as a contract killer.  Slimboy, a Nigerian pop star who uses his womanizing image to hide that he’s gay.  Joanna, a Black American lawyer pressured to play the good old boys’ game to succeed with her Big Pharma client.  Victor, a critically acclaimed yet largely obscure writer suddenly on the precipice of global fame.  About to start their descent into JFK, they hit a shockingly violent patch of turbulence, emerging on the other side to a reality both perfectly familiar and utterly strange.  Vivid, compelling, fast-paced, thought-provoking, disturbing, referred to as “a mix of science fiction and metaphysical mystery,” it will grab you and keep you in its clutches as you try to imagine yourself with passengers who face a bizarre situation they – and you – could never have imagined. 


If I asked when you thought it was that the first woman received a medical degree in America, would you go back to 1849?  That’s when Elizabeth Blackwell, who believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” womanhood, graduated as a licensed physician from Geneva Medical College in western New York State.   She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician.  “The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine,” by Janice P. Nimura, is a story of trial and triumph.  In England, from which the Blackwell family had emigrated, the satirical newspaper Punch pounced on the news of her graduation, writing, “She is qualifying herself for that very important duty of a good wife – tending a husband in sickness.”   Together, the Blackwells ultimately founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women.  Both sisters were tenacious and visionary, but their convictions did not always align with the emergence of women’s rights – or with each other.”  Elizabeth had no interest in joining her strength to the emerging women’s movement, writing that the problem was not the tyranny of men, but the disappointing weakness of women, who were ”feeble, narrow, frivolous at present, ignorant of their own capacities, and undeveloped in thought and feeling.”  Once women awoke to their untapped power, she believed, – encouraged by the growing respect of her medical school classmates – men would welcome them as equals.  She felt women must elevate women and help each other, not that the progress of women was the responsibility of men.  As Elizabeth herself predicted, “a hundred years hence, women will not be what they are now.”  I suspect that even she would be amazed to know that today women make up more than one-third of the physician workforce and more than half of medical school students.  From Bristol, Paris, and Edinburgh to the rising cities of antebellum America, this richly researched biography celebrates two complicated pioneers who exploded the limits of possibility for women in medicine. 

Mysteries:  The tension and drama of the climax of Joseph Kanon’sThe Berlin Exchange” kept me turning the last few pages so fast I could hardly see the words. It’s Berlin, 1963, the height of the Cold War, when Martin, a captured American who has spied for the KGB, is returned to East Berlin, needing to know who arranged his release and what they now want from him. He knows they want him for something, which he cannot learn until he arrives in East Berlin, when suddenly the game is afoot.  It’s terrific.   If you like courtroom thrillers with unpredictable endings, pick up “With Prejudice,” by Robin Peguero.  Eight jurors of varying ages and walks of life, whose paths would never have crossed, come together to make one of the most important decisions of their lives.  On the night Melina Mora, a free-spirited young woman, was murdered, she was seen with a young man of Gabriel Soto’s description.  But the criminal justice system is complicated and everyone has a story – especially the jury, whose experiences, biases, and beliefs will ultimately shape the verdict.   I have become very fond of Ann Cleeves’ excellent English mysteries, and was delighted to meet her new detective, Matthew Venn, in “The Long Call.” In North Devon, where Venn left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, a man has been found on the beach nearby, stabbed to death.  The case calls him back to the people and places of his past as deadly secrets are revealed.  It’s an atmospheric, insightful story, filled with finely drawn characters and a puzzling crime you can’t wait to solve.  Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it – nothing else – in the mail.  They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke – until very bad things begin to happen, and they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders.  Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together – or is this the work of a murderous madman?  You’ll have to read Peter Swanson’sNine Lives“ to find out.

The walls of books around me, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its disasters. -Ross Macdonald, novelist (13 Dec 1915-1983)

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After I wrote up “Trio,” by William Boyd last month, I received an email from  Nancy Pearl saying she immediately started reading it based on my review, but “my very favorite William Boyd novel is “Any Human Heart,” which you absolutely must read!  It’s simply marvelous.”  When Nancy says you must read something that is marvelous, that’s what you do!  This masterful historical novel tells the story of Logan Mountstuart–writer, lover, art dealer, spy–as he makes his often precarious way through the twentieth century.  Written entirely in the form of journal entries, it seeks to explore the complexity of an individual human life through college, experiences in 1930s Paris, adventures as a spy for England during World War II, and, finally, his golden years and eventual death.  This fictional novel is completely convincing in its depiction of events, but Boyd also explores the nuances of Mountstuart’s complex interior life:  his youthful ambitions, his yearning for love, and the challenges posed by loss and disappointment.  Because Mountstuart crosses paths with so many famous people, I had to keep reminding myself that the novel is fiction, but actually he remains on the sidelines, mainly focused on his own petty concerns.  On hearing that World War II has ended, he writes, “Hitler is dead, evil vanquished, we have won the war.  Logan Mountstuart’s life can begin again.”  He dismisses Virginia Woolf as a “supercilious shrew” and is a shameless seducer of women.  So, do we like him?  Not really.  But is his story intriguing and thoroughly entertaining?  Definitely.  Thanks, Nancy!

What could be more stimulating on a dreary November afternoon than to pick up a book that takes you from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon nearly five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space?  In “Sea of Tranquility,” by Emily St. John Mandel, Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite English society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party.  He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal, an experience that shakes him to his core.  Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour.  She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty.  Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage:  a man plays his violin for spare change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.  When Gaspery Roberts, a hotel detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to  investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended:  the exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City, who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something that will disrupt the time line of the universe.  Intriguing, right?  “Sea of Tranquility” is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that will keep you turning pages as you try to imagine yourself living on the moon or being able to travel back and forth through time.  It’s a brilliant, virtuoso performance that is hard to shake.


If you want to more fully appreciate the blessings you have in your life, read “Troop 6000,” by Nikita Stewart, the true story of the first Girl Scout Troop founded for and by girls in a shelter in Queens, New York, and the amazing nationwide response it sparked.  Giselle Burgess was a young mother of five trying to provide for her family.  Though she had a full-time job, the demands of ever increasing rent and mounting bills forced her to fall behind, and eviction soon followed.  Giselle and her kids were thrown into New York City’s overburdened shelter system, which housed nearly 60,000 people each day.  They soon found themselves living in at a Sleep Inn temporary shelter in Queens; for nearly a year all six lived in a single room with two beds and one bathroom.  Giselle, fearful for her family’s future, knew that the girls living in the shelter needed to be part of something where they didn’t feel the shame of being homeless and could develop skills and a community to be proud of.  She had worked for the Girl Scouts and had the idea to establish a troop in the shelter, so with the support of a group of dedicated parents, advocates, and remarkable girls, Troop 6000 was born.   Stewart, a New York Times journalist, settled in with them for more than a year, and shares with us the triumphs and challenges of the girls and their families as some make it out of the shelter while others falter, but through it all the girls live for the times they can put on their Girl Scout uniforms and come together.  Experiences of poverty and hardship sparked the political will needed to create the troop that would expand from one shelter to fifteen in New York City, and ultimately inspired the creation of similar troops across the country.  My friends and I were Brownies and Girl Scouts when we were young, and I found it so inspiring to read how in a much different world this hundred-year-old organization was able to be both creative and flexible while dealing with government requirements and people in complex situations doing the best they could to combat poverty and homelessness.  As they say, it takes a village, but it also takes someone like Giselle with vision and determination.  You finish this book wanting to give her both a cheer and a hug.            

Cubans today, most of whom have lived their entire lives under the Castro regime, are hesitantly embracing the future.  In “The Cubans:  Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times,” Anthony DePalma, a veteran reporter with years of experience in Cuba, focuses on a town across the harbor from Old Havana to dramatize the optimism as well as the enormous challenges that Cubans face.  The result is a moving snapshot of Cuba with all its contradictions as the new regime opens the gate to the capitalism that Fidel railed against for so long.  In Guanabacoa, longtime residents prove enterprising in the extreme.  Scrounging materials in the black market, Caridad Luisa Limonta Ewen has started her own small manufacturing business, a surprising turn for a former ranking member of the Communist Party.  Her good friend Lili Durand Hernandez, a loyal communist, heads the town’s watchdog revolutionary committee.  Painter Arturo Montoto, who had long lived and worked in Mexico, moved back to Cuba when he saw improving conditions, but complains about recognition like any artist (I looked up his art online, and it’s beautiful). Jorge Garcia lives in Miami and continues to seek justice for the sinking of a tugboat full of refugees, a tragedy that claimed the lives of fourteen of his family members, a massacre in which the Cuban government denies any role.  Many of these patriots face one new question:  Is their loyalty to the revolution or to their country?  Cuba has become an improvised country, an old machine kept running with equal measures of ingenuity and desperation.  A  new kind of revolutionary spirit thrives beneath the conformity of a half century of totalitarian rule.  And over all of this looms the United States, with its unpredictable policies, which warmed toward its neighbor under one administration, but has now taken on a chill reminiscent of the Cold War.  How can a country not only survive but thrive under these circumstances?  We have been to Cuba twice, once on a Stanford University travel study tour and once with family guided by Sandra Levinson, who founded and runs the Center for Cuban Studies in NYC. Our sympathies have always been with the Cuban citizens who have both struggled with and been punished by our embargo and punitive policies.  Read this revelatory and enlightening book and you will understand why.

Mysteries:  I so love Mick Herron’s witty spy thrillers featuring London’s Slough House, populated by some of MI5’s most embittered demoted agents, and welcomed his terrific new one, “Bad Actors.”  In M15 headquarters a scandal is brewing that could disgrace the entire intelligence community – the Downing Street superforecaster who advises the PM’s office on how policy is likely to be received by the electorate has disappeared, and Claude Whelan, who was once head of MI5, has been tasked with tracking her down.  Herron’s plots are clever and the dialogue snappy, filled with sardonic wit.  (One line in particular – “sociopathy had long been recognized as a handy attribute in politics” – rang eerily true to me.) “Anyone who thought power was about anything than settling scores hadn’t been paying attention” also resonated.  This book is a gem.  “The Sweet Goodbye,” by Ron Corbett, takes us to the North Maine Woods, where a small family-run lumber company should not have more than two hundred million unaccountable dollars on its books.  Money like that comes from moving something other than lumber across the border, and the first agent the FBI sent undercover to look for answers turned up dead.  Danny Barrett, who learned the ways of the wilderness growing up in the woods in Northern Michigan, is the feds’ only hope to bring the killers to justice.  It’s an original plot in an atmospheric setting.

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. Desiderius Erasmus, philosopher, humanist, and theologian (28 Oct 1466-1536) 

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“Remarkably Bright Creatures,” by Shelby Van Pelt, recommended by my brother Bob and many others (there were 541 holds when I placed mine!), is an absolute delight.  After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium north of Seattle, mopping the floors and tidying up.  Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.  Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium.  Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors – until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.  Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared.  And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body (the life span of a giant Pacific octopus is 1,460 days:  we meet Marcellus on day 1,299 of his captivity) can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late.  This charming story is captivating – touching, inspiring, and so very witty. Lucky us – Shelby Van Pelt will be one of the Literary Lions at the KCLS Gala next March.  You’ll want to attend to meet her and to get to know more about her remarkable Marcellus!

 “Trio,” by William Boyd, is a rollicking romp, great fun to read as the plot races along.  A producer.  A novelist.  An actress.  It’s summer 1968 – a time of war and assassinations, protest and riots. While the world is reeling, our trio is involved a making a disaster-plagued, Swingin’ Sixties British movie in sunny Brighton.  All are leading secret lives.  As the movie shoot zigs and zags, these layers of secrets become increasingly more untenable.  Pressures build inexorably.  The FBI and CIA become involved.  Someone is going to crack – or maybe they all will.  I was not familiar with William Boyd, but according to the book jacket he has written “comic novels, thrillers, thoughtful character studies, and fiction that ponders the twentieth century’s great turning points. Now with ‘Trio’ he combines all the above.”   Who needs more?  Enjoy.

It’s 1491 in Samantha Harvey’sThe Western Wind,” set in the small English village of Oakham, where the wealthiest and most industrious resident, Tom Newman, is swept away by the river during the early hours of Shrove Saturday.  Was it murder, suicide, or an accident?  Narrated from the perspective of the local priest John Reve – patient shepherd to his wayward flock – a shadowy portrait of the community comes to light through its residents’ tortured revelations.  As some of their darkest secrets are revealed, the intrigue of the unexplained death ripples through the congregation.  But will Reve, a man with secrets of his own, uncover what happened to Newman?  And what will happen if he can’t?  I think of this as historical fiction rather than a mystery, as Harvey’s evocation of late 15th century England is stark but vivid and the characters so richly reflect the mindset and beliefs of the medieval world.  The whodunnit aspect is a bonus. 

When I finished “Elektra,” by Jennifer Saint, I said “Wow!” – out loud – because I thought it was a stunning story, beautifully written.  When Clytemnestra marries Agamemnon, she ignores the insidious whispers about his family line, the House of Atreus.  But when, on the eve of the Trojan War, Agamemnon betrays Clytemnestra in the most unimaginable way, she must confront the curse that has long ravaged their family.  In Troy, Princess Cassandra has the gift of prophecy but carries a curse of her own:  no one will believe what she sees.  When she is shown what will happen to her beloved city when Agamemnon and his army arrive, she is powerless to stop the tragedy from unfolding.  Elektra, Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s youngest daughter, wants only for her beloved father to return home from war.  But can she escape her family’s bloody history, or is her destiny bound by experience, too?  I was completely absorbed in this skillful retelling of an ancient myth we think we know, filled with drama and passion and unbearable agony.  


Is peace an aberration?  The instinct to fight may be innate in human nature, but war – organized violence – comes with organized society.  According to “War:  How Conflict Shaped Us,” by Margaret MacMillan, war has shaped humanity’s history, its social and political institutions, its values and ideas.  Our very language, our public spaces, our private memories, and some of our greatest cultural treasures reflect the glory and the misery of war, which brings out both the vilest and the noblest aspects of humanity.  The capacity to make war and the evolution of human society are part of the same story – as MacMillan says, “the idea that war is not only natural but essential to society, a test of humans and their state, has a long history.”  MacMillan addresses such questions as: When did war first start?  Does human nature doom us to fight one another?  Why has war been described as the most organized of all human activities?  Why are warriors almost always men?  Is war ever within our control?  In light of what is happening in Ukraine and other parts of the world (while the West has enjoyed peace at home the world has seen, depending on how you count them, between 150 and 300 armed conflicts since 1945), this book is timely reading, drawing on lessons from classical history to the present day. Perhaps the final word should go to the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who, as he watched the Union troops make one futile and costly charge after another at Fredericksburg  in 1862, said, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Mysteries:  I always enjoy Martin Cruz Smith’s international thrillers, especially when they’re set in dramatic places.  In “Siberian Dilemma,” the choice is simple for Arkady Renko: plunge into the black and limitless Siberian forest in search of a woman who seems to have scorned him or stay in Moscow working as a senior investigator for the office of the prosecution.  Guess which he chooses?  Jack and I became fans of S. A. Cosby when we read “Razorblade Tears,” and “Blacktop Wasteland” is just as compelling.  Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hardworking dad who thought he’d left his past behind him.  But as money gets tight, and pushed to his limits by poverty, race, and his own former life of crime, Bug finds himself drawn inexorably back into that world.  It is a credit to Cosby’s writing skills that we are on Bug’s side every step of the way.

To read fast is as bad as to eat in a hurry. –   Vilhelm Ekelund, poet (14 Oct. 1880-1949

All About Books



I loved the witty and clever “Olga Dies Dreaming,” by Xochitl Gonzalez, the story of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots, all in the wake of Hurricane Maria.  It is 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York.  Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.  Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy.  Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the one percent, but she can’t seem to find her own . . . until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.  Olga and Prieto’s mother, Bianca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant Puerto Rican political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother.  Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Bianca has come barreling back into their lives and her children have to come to terms with her.  Pedro feels regret, and rage, and despair that “his mother had never wanted to be a mother at all, but an equal weight of his sadness came from the deprivation of life he’d inflicted upon himself in this futile quest for her love.”  Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, “Olga Dies Dreaming” is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the notion of the American dream.   The characters are richly drawn and endearing and the plot an unflinching examination of capitalism, corruption, gentrification, and colonialism and their effects on marginalized people.  It’s a moving and provocative story.

You can count on Anne Tyler to deposit you smoothly into the middle of a family you come to know and understand so well you don’t want to say goodbye.  In “French Braid,” the Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959.  They hardly ever venture beyond Baltimore, but in some ways they have never been farther apart.  Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin.  Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common.  Their youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family’s orbit, for reasons none of them understands.  Yet, as these lives advance across decades, the Garretts’ influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation.  I love the affection and empathy Tyler has for her characters, which the reader comes to share.  And the lines that speak volumes, like “Oh, the lengths this family would go to so as not to spoil the picture of how things were supposed to be!”  Later in the novel, David’s wife reminds him, “This is what families do for each other – hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few self-deceptions.  Little kindnesses.”  David adds,  “And little cruelties.” Tyler continues to be a shrewd observer of us all.

“Mercy Street,” by Jennifer Haigh, is a tense, riveting novel about the disparate lives that intersect at a women’s health clinic in Boston, one that seems to emerge straight from the headlines.  For almost a decade, Claudia Birch has counseled patients at Mercy Street, an embattled clinic in the heart of the city. The work is consuming, the unending dramas of women in crisis.  For its patients, Mercy Street offers more than health care; for many, it is a second chance.  But outside the city, the reality is different.  Anonymous threats are frequent.  A small, determined group of antiabortion demonstrators appears each morning at its door.  As the protests intensify, fear creeps into Claudia’s days, a humming anxiety she manages with frequent visits to Timmy, an affable pot dealer in the midst of his own existential crisis.  At Timmy’s, she encounters a random assortment of customers, including Anthony, a lost soul who spends most of his life online, chatting with the mysterious Excelsior11 – the screen name of Victor Prine, an antiabortion crusader who has set his sights on Mercy Street and is ready to risk it all for his beliefs.  Haigh is a fine writer, and her book is insightful and compassionate about those who hold strikingly different views on a complex issue that is so personal to so many.  It is an eye-opener.


I wasn’t going to write up “Looking for the Good War:  American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness,” by Elizabeth D. Samet, because I felt it was a little too long and detailed in some sections for many to be interested in it, but now I realize that because of it I am thinking about our country and its past wars in totally different ways and maybe some of you would be interested in doing the same.  Samet examines the literature, art, and culture that emerged after WWII, bringing her expertise as a professor of English at West Point to bear on the complexity of the postwar period in national life.  She exposes the confusion about American identity that was expressed during and immediately after the war, and the deep national ambivalence toward war, violence, and veterans – a history that was suppressed in subsequent decades by a dangerously sentimental attitude toward the United States’ supposedly exceptional history and destiny.  Samet discovers the complex legacy of the war in some of its most heavily mythologized figures:  the war correspondent epitomized by Ernie Pyle, the character of the erstwhile G.I. turned either cop or criminal in the pulp fiction and feature films of the late 1940s (I think this part runs a little long, but you can skim it), the disaffected Civil War veteran who looms so large on the screen in the Cold War-era Western, and the resurgent military hero of the post-Vietnam period.  Taken together, these figures reveal key elements of postwar attitudes toward violence, liberty, and nation – attitudes that have shaped domestic and foreign policy.  As the United States reassesses its roles in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the time has come to rethink our national mythology:  the way that WWII shaped our sense of national destiny, our beliefs about the use of American military force throughout the world, and our inability to accept the realities of the 21st century’s decades of devastating conflict.  In her prologue, Samet says she set out to explore the ways in which the meaning and memory of WWII have evolved and periodically intersected with those of the other wars that have punctuated American history – Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, our more recent wars, and retrospectively, the Civil War – ones about which Americans tend to feel far more ambivalence but which actually lie as close as WWII does to the heart of national identity, even if we prefer to think otherwise.  She warns, “To the degree that we allow the undeniable suffering and sacrifice of war somehow to redeem all causes – that we allow our guilt to obscure the realities of devastating, indecisive wars – we increase the likelihood of finding ourselves in a similar predicament once again.”  Perhapsyou can understand why I keep thinking about this book.

“Thinking Inside the Box:  Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them,” by Adrienne Raphel, will probably not draw you in if you’re not a cruciverbalist, but for those who do the NY Times puzzle regularly like me (for fifty years), my daughters, and my brother Bob, it’s a gem.  Invented practically by accident in 1913 when a newspaper editor at the New York World was casting about for something to fill empty column space, it became a roaring commercial success overnight.  Ever since then, the humble puzzle has been an essential ingredient of any newspaper worth its salt.  Today its popularity is greater than ever.  But why, exactly, are the crossword’s satisfactions so sweet that it is a fixture of breakfast tables (including mine), nightstands, and commutes, and has even given rise to competitive crossword tournaments?  There are mysteries behind the clues.  Blending first-person reporting from the world of crosswords with an entertaining telling of its rich literary history, Raphel dives into the secrets of this classic pastime.  At the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, she rubs shoulders with elite solvers of the word (diehard cruciverbalists will recognize many of the names); aboard a crossword-themed cruise, she picks the brains of the enthusiasts whose idea of a good time is a week on the high seas with nothing but crosswords to do; and, visiting the home and office of Will Shortz, New York Times crossword editor and NPR’s official “Puzzlemaster,” she goes behind the scenes to see for herself how America’s gold standard of puzzles is made.  Here’s what Raphel writes in her introduction that rings true for me and my family – “Although the crossword seems engineered for solo consumption, it’s just as important in its social function.  Families, roommates, lovers, soldiers in barracks, anxious hospital waiting room acquaintances – groups of all kinds complete the puzzle together.  The crossword draws already close people still closer together, letting their brains sync as they solve.  It gives people a way to interact who otherwise may have nothing in common.  It helps people pass time that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but desperately needs to be passed.”  Amen to all that.

Mysteries:  “Razorblade Tears,” by S. A. Cosby, is a rip-roaring crime novel I thought was terrific – the characters are spot on, the dialogue rings true, and you find yourself rooting for the “bad” guys and hoping the “good” guys go down.  Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years with not even a speeding ticket, but a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.  The last thing he expects to hear is that his son, Isiah, has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek.  To his great regret, Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss. Derek’s father, Buddy Lee, was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed of his father’s criminal record.  Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.  And we are off, as these two band together in their desperate desire – which we come to share – for revenge, in this tale of bloody retribution, heartfelt change, and redemption. “Dark August,” by Katie Tallo, is a page turner about Augusta (Gus) Monet, who is living an aimless life with her grifter boyfriend when she learns that her great-grandmother – her last living relative – has just died and left her a dilapidated house and an old dog named Levi.  Ditching her boyfriend, Gus returns to the house she left as a young girl, where she finds an old trunk filled with her long-lost childhood belongings, as well as cold case files that belonged to her mother, a disgraced police detective who died in a car accident when Gus was eight.  They include documents and photographs she remembers her mother obsessing over.  When Gus spots a front-page news story about the unearthing of a body linked to one of the files, she can’t resist following her mother’s clues, and we are with her following plot twists and turns back to one terrible August night ten years earlier when lives were taken and secrets were presumed buried forever.  In “Mecca,Susan Straight examines race, history, family, and destiny through the interlocking stories of a group of native Californians all struggling for air.  Johnny Frias, a descendant of the state’s indigenous people and Mexican settlers, spends his days as a highway patrolman pulling over speeders, ignoring their racist insults, and pushing past the trauma of his rookie year, when he killed a man who was assaulting a young woman named Bunny.  She ran from the scene, leaving Johnny without a witness.  That moment of action twenty years ago sparked a slow-burning chain of connections that unites a vibrant case of characters in ways they never see coming.  This rich, vibrant and complex story of the American West through the eyes of the people who built and continue to sustain it will bring them to life for you and change the way you think about them. 

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” — Jorge Luis Borges

All About Books



Following two families from Pakistan and Iraq in the 1990s to San Francisco in 2016, “The Bad Muslim Discount,” by Syed M. Masood, is an inclusive, comic novel about Muslim immigrants finding their way in modern America.  It is 1995, and Anvar Faris is a restless, rebellious, and sharp-tongued boy doing his best to grow up in Karachi, Pakistan.  As fundamentalism takes root within the social order and the zealots next door attempt to make Islam great again, his family decides, not quite unanimously, to start life over in California.  Ironically, Anvar’s deeply devout mother and his model-Muslim brother adjust easily to life in America, while his fun-loving father can’t find anyone he relates to.  For his part, Anvar fully commits to being a bad Muslim.  At the same time, Safwa, a young girl living in war-torn Baghdad with her grief-stricken, conservative father, will find a very different and far more dangerous path to America.  When Anvar’s and Safwa’s world collide, the contradictory, intertwined fates of these two remarkable, strong-willed adults will rock their community, and families, to their core.  In addition to dealing with national politics and religion, we meet memorable characters like Anvar’s grandmother, Naani Jaan, to whom he loses every time in their regular game of checkers.  “Real life is like checkers,” she says. “You try to make your way to where you need to go and to do it you’ve got to jump over people while they’re trying to jump over you and everyone is in each other’s way. Life requires risk.  You have to have courage to get what you want.”  Many of Anvar’s pointed observations after 9/11 ring true – “That radical Islamists and ‘America First’ nationalists had essentially the same worldview and the same desire to recapture a nostalgia-gilded past glory was proof, in my opinion, that God’s sense of irony was simply divine.” There are many immigrant stories:  this one is insightful and irreverent but very funny, a true delight to read.

“The Fortune Men,” Nadifa Mohamed, is a novel based on the true story of the last man in Cardiff, Wales, to be sentenced to death.  In 1952, Mahmood Mattan, a young Somali sailor, is accused of a crime he did not commit; the brutal killing of Violet Volacki, a shopkeeper from Tiger Bay.  At first, Mahmood believes he can ignore the fingers pointing his way; he may be a gambler and a petty thief, but he is not a murderer.  He is a father of three, secure in his innocence and his belief in British justice.  But as the trial draws closer, his prospect for freedom dwindles,  Now, Mahmood must stage a terrifying fight for his life, with all the chips stacked against him:  a shoddy investigation, an inhumane legal system, and, most evidently, pervasive and deep-rooted racism at every step.  Under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, Mahmood begins to realize that even the truth may not be enough to save him.  His last words from prison resonate – “If only I could set fire to all your walls,” he says, “I would burn this prison down and let everyone go free, whatever their crime, no one should steal their freedom.  Somalis have got the right idea, you wrong someone and you’re forced to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life unless you make amends.  You deal with each other face to face.  Only cowards live by prisons and cold hangings.”   This is a haunting tale of miscarried justice, one Mohamed brilliantly evokes, especially poignant when you learn that Mahmood was exonerated forty years later.       


If you’re an animal lover, you will be completely charmed by “On Animals,” by Susan Orlean.  If you’re not an animal lover, you will be completely charmed by “On Animals.”  See what I did there?  In other words, I cannot imagine anyone who would not savor this book from beginning to end, from “The It Bird” through “Lion Whisperer” to “Farmville.”  “How we interact with animals has preoccupied philosophers, poets, and naturalists for ages,” writes Orlean.  Since the age of six, when she wrote and illustrated a book called “Herbert the Near-Sighted Pigeon,” she’s been drawn to stories about how we live with animals and how they abide with us.  In this book, she examines animal-human relationships through the compelling encounters she’s had over the course of her celebrated career. These tales bring to life a range of creatures – the household pets we dote on, the animals we raise to become meat on our plates, the creatures who could eat us for dinner, the various tamed and untamed animals we share our planet with who are central to human life.  In her own backyard, Orlean discovers the delights of keeping chickens.  In a different backyard, in New Jersey, she meets a woman who has twenty-three pet tigers – something none of her neighbors knew about until one of the tigers escaped.  In Iceland, the world’s most famous whale resists efforts to set him free; in Morocco, the world’s hardest-working donkeys find respite at a special clinic.  We meet a show dog and a lost dog and a pigeon who know exactly how to get home.  As for pandas in China, the number of animals in the large preserves appears to be growing, despite the fact that they hardly tolerate each other’s company (in short, “the panda is the classic mystery wrapped in an enigma, delivered in the most endearing package in the world.”)  In these tales you’ll find out why that’s true, along with savoring other fascinating tidbits about our fellow creatures and lines like “If therapists didn’t charge you and were willing to chase sticks, they would be dogs.”

“Slaves in the Family,” by Edward Ball, a1998 National Book Award winner, is a powerful and poignant book that blends archival research and oral history to create a unique family saga.  The Ball family hails from South Carolina – Charleston and thereabouts – where their plantations were among the oldest and longest-standing in the South.  Between 1698 and 1865, close to four thousand black people were born into slavery under the Balls or were bought by them.  “Slaves in the Family” is an unblinking history of Ball’s own ancestors and a recounting of his efforts to track down and meet the descendants of his family’s slaves.  It is a powerful story, unlike anything I’ve ever read, placing the reader deeply into the center of the complex and interrelated lives of blacks and whites on Southern plantations prior to and during the Civil War.  Here’s how Ball describes the end of that war – “When the Yankees finally arrived, there was real exultation on the slave street, but emancipation brought a simple finale – no glory, merely two days of drunkenness, broken china, and confusion.  Then Northerners were gone, leaving whites and blacks as they had found them, a gulf separating the races, with new rules on paper and nothing at all like them in practice.” It is richly illuminating to join him as he meets with the descendants of both races and reminds us all of our common humanity.    

Mysteries:  Not sure how I missed P. D. James’ captivating 1997 story, “A Certain Justice,” featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, but I was delighted to recently come across it. When distinguished criminal lawyer Venetia Aldridge stands up in court to defend a young man for the brutal murder of his aunt, she is unaware she has four weeks, four hours and fifty minutes left to live. This complex, gripping story, filled with maverick lawyers, a central mysterious death, and a circle of suspects, is one I didn’t want to end.

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.   Anne Herbert