Friday, July 14, 2017

It Takes Courage to Read Joyce Maynard's "The Best of Us"

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Last year I happened to catch Joyce Maynard's essay in the "Modern Love" column of the New York Times. http://nyti.ms/2ui94HD As a person whose life has been touched by pancreatic cancer, my younger brother died over two years ago from this horrific disease, my heart broke for Ms. Maynard and her husband Jim because I knew something about their outcome that they probably refused to believe at the time.

Through the generosity of so many publishers, in this case Bloomsbury, I am given the opportunity to read books of interest to me prior to their publication. "The Best of Us" will be out in September and it will join the pantheon of memoirs dealing with death and dying that will simultaneously debilitate and strengthen you. Think of Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" or "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi.

Joyce Maynard writes with such breathtaking honesty about the joys and disappointments of her life that she has sometimes been the subject of what I see as extremely unfair criticism. This is, after all, what writers do. Their lives are fodder for the page. Fiction writers use stealth tactics but memoirists put it all out there and hope for mercy, for their humanity to be recognized.

Maynard's observations are clear-eyed and psychologically astute. When she and Jim first meet they talk over the phone for four or five hours. They lay out all their past failures and find no judgment from the other. They are adults, in their late fifties, and they are each complete in themselves, the only way to enter a relationship. When Maynard said that Jim was the first man she'd ever trusted to have her back I totally understood. If you've never had a champion in your life, a person who knows you inside and out, you cannot imagine the relief it bestows.

To finally find that kind of bliss and then, one year after their marriage, to be blindsided by a diagnosis of one of the deadliest cancers out there has to be the worst type of irony. No wonder they rebelled against the news, flying from coast to coast seeking better surgeons promising different outcomes, magical concoctions of herbs, special diets and juices, and ultimately the dreaded but longed for whipple procedure.

When and if you read this agonizing but wonderful book you may think to yourself that Maynard is exaggerating. I will attest that she is not. Each detail she shares, from the pain of being touched, to the inability to eat, to the drains and surgeries, fevers and brain fogs, and the lost look in the loved one's eyes is oh, too real. For two years I watched my brother fight, deny, withdraw, and refuse the loving care of hospice until his wife was near to a nervous breakdown herself. Like my sister-in-law, Maynard believed that only she could take the best, most tender care of the patient. They each did.

Learning about Jim through Joyce's loving eyes I once again learned how to die with grace and dignity. You cannot be given this important lesson too often. Would I have the strength to attend a Bob Dylan concert during the last week of my life so that I could say I took my beloved partner on a last date? We will never know until we are faced with these kinds of decisions ourselves. But we can read and be thankful that Joyce Maynard is an author unafraid of sharing her deepest most human thoughts with us. That trait is what separates writers from the rest of us. They should not have to fear reprisal.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Lovers Will Want to Head to Grisham's Camino Island

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I know, I know. John Grisham certainly doesn't need any extra publicity from the likes of me. But this heist caper that takes place on a fictional island off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, is just too much fun not to recommend. Rumor has it that Grisham and his wife were driving to their Florida home from Mississippi and dreamed up the plot along the way.

The crime is executed in the first chapter. Five participants, some who've never been involved in nefarious adventures before, create a diversion that seems oh, so possible, break into the vaults in the basement of the Princeton University library, and make off with five manuscripts, original, handwritten novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their value is incalculable.

A foolish, neophyte's mistake results in evidence being left at the scene and the FBI is all over the case within twenty-four hours. Then the trail grows cold. Grisham introduces us to Bruce Cable, a twenty-something English major with little direction in life, whose estranged father dies and leaves behind something more exciting than a few thousand dollars, signed first editions of classic American novels. Bruce spends a summer on Camino Island reading "War and Peace" and formulating an idea. Bay Books is born and becomes the "go to" place to see and be seen on the island.

Mercer Mann had a successful first novel but is now locked in writers' block hell. Plagued by student debt and losing her adjunct professor's job at Chapel Hill, Mann is ripe for recruitment by an insurance firm that's investigating the Princeton library's loss. Knowing that Mercer inherited a beach house on Camino Island from her grandmother, also understanding that Bruce Cable is an inveterate womanizer with a penchant for budding authors, the agent, Elaine, proposes a deal to Mercer that she simply can't refuse.

What ensues is a rollicking game of cat and mouse in which we're never quite sure which party is actually the guilty one and who's playing whom. Along the way we're taken into the fascinating international world of book collecting and preservation with an added bonus of Provencal antique acquisition. The shady characters are so likeable that we begin to root for them to get away with it, laughing all the way to the bank. Kind of like the author himself.

"Camino Island" can be read - I did - in a day, two max. I needed something light before tackling my two new assignments from "Library Journal," Salman Rushdie's "The Golden House," and Louise Erdrich's "Future Home of the Living God." I may be out of commission for a few weeks.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Anthony Horowitz Channels Agatha Christie in Magpie Murders

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Atticus Pund is an investigator, a likable version of Hercule Poirot, with less ego and more sensitivity. But Atticus has just been given some bad news about his health, and rather than dwell on it obsessively, he prefers to be in the middle of a mystery, a puzzle that needs solving. Unfortunately, when the lovely young woman from Bath arrives at Pund's London office seeking advice on her boyfriend's behalf, Pund just doesn't believe that he can help.

It seems, Joy Sanderling tells Pund, that Robert Blakiston's mother Mary died in a freak accident at Pye Hall, the Somerset mansion where she worked as a cleaning woman. Just because he was overheard arguing with his mother the day before her death (small English towns being what they are), some of the denizens of Saxby-on-Avon are looking at Robert with some trepidation. Joy loves Robert and hopes Pund will help clear his name. Pund puts Joy back on the train with little encouragement.

But the following morning Pund opens his London Times to read that Sir Magnus Pye, Baronet of that very same Pye Hall, has been brutally murdered, beheaded with a sword from his own collection. Pund's eyebrows arch significantly. He summons his trusty assistant James Fraser to pack a bag and bring the car around. Now he has a reason to visit Ms. Sanderling's village and better still, a reason to live a bit longer.

Now for the fun! This novel, "Magpie Murders," is touted as the ninth in the Atticus Pund series written by fictional author Alan Conway, a man so obnoxious and difficult that even his very successful editor at Cloverleaf Books, Susan Ryeland, refuses to deal with him face to face. "Magpie Murders," you see, is a 213 page novel nestled within a larger novel. The reader hunkers down with Susan on her unmade bed as she spends the gray, rainy weekend scarfing down salty treats and bottles of wine, editing pen hovering over the manuscript.

We encounter the Christie-like characters who populate the village, the antiques dealer with the shady past, the Baronet's disinherited sister Clarissa, the randy minister and his wife, the local physician who can't seem to keep a lock on her drug cabinet, and the recently sacked groundskeeper at the Hall. Seduced by the conundrums and red herrings, we begin to speculate about each person as a potential murderer and just when we believe we're getting warm, like Susan we discover that the final chapters are missing! What a clever trope. With that, Horowitz's second mystery gathers steam as Susan tries to ferret out what Alan Conway was up to and where the lost pages might be hidden.

Anthony Horowitz (http://www.anthonyhorowitz.com/home ) well known in Britain for his work with the BBC, Foyle's War, Midsomer Murders, has been awarded several prestigious awards for his work and you will understand why when you read this engaging, tricky, murder mystery that will especially delight lovers of word games. The narration is sheer perfection, the language oh, so British. And the multiple deaths? To my consternation, I couldn't solve even one. See if you can and do let me know.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Before I left town for ten days, (more on this later), I mentioned that I'd read and wanted to recommend Gabrielle Zevin's new novel "Young Jane Young," which will be out in August. You may remember Ms. Zevin's last book since  I gushed about it not so long ago. http://readaroundtheworld-sallyb.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-weekend-with-j-fikry.html

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If I hadn't heard Gabrielle Zevin speak at the Library Journal Day of Dialog in Chicago I might not have reacted so emotionally to "Young Jane Young," but her conversation about slut-shaming, about sexual choices that women make and about how they are often, no, always treated differently than men's under the same circumstances, really brought me up short. Even though women not supporting women is one of my daily rants - think the 2016 presidential election - I realized that I, too, was guilty during the Lewinsky/Clinton scandal.

Zevin spoke passionately about this paradox and addresses it with pointed humor in her new book about a young woman, Aviva Grossman, who goes to work as an intern in the office of her Florida congressman. A former neighbor and friend of her parents, old enough to be her father, Congressman Levin is not above using his position of power to seduce Aviva. And really folks, let's ask ourselves, how many of us at the ridiculously naïve age of say twenty-one or two, would rise above being bowled over by the sexual attentions of a powerful, good-looking boss?

All the old clichés come to mind; he's unhappily married, he'll leave his wife for me, we'll be the next pair of movers and shakers in D.C. Of course, we know that isn't going to happen. There's an accident, the affair is plastered all over the news, Aviva's "private" blog goes viral, she discovers she's pregnant. What's a girl to do?

How Aviva changes her name and her life, raising her sharp-tongued but delightful daughter in a small town in Maine, is at the heart of this funny, timely, wise look at our national penchant for harsh judgment. "The Scarlet Letter" was written back in 1850 yet I don't feel as though we've come very far. Take a look at the Cosby trial or the judge in the Stanford rape case and you'll likely arrive at the same conclusion. 

Zevin's book is rife with fantastic, not so minor characters. You'll laugh out loud, with, not at, Aviva's stereotypical Jewish mother Rachel. You'll applaud Aviva's political mentor in Maine, and you'll credit the wisdom of Congressman Levin's wife. Wonder Women, each of them. Get on the wait list soon.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Day of Dialog - The Afternoon

Product DetailsAfter the lunch break at Library Journal's Day of Dialog, which was held concurrent with the 2017 Book Expo festival in New York City, the big panelists came out to play. Besides librarian Nancy Pearl and debut author Brendan Mathews who I wrote about yesterday, we also heard from the lovely Tayari Jones whose splendid 2012 novel "Silver Sparrow" pleased readers and reviewers alike. http://readaroundtheworld-sallyb.blogspot.com/2012/01/oh-what-tangled-webs-we-weave.html.
Jones is back with another insightful book about relationships tested to the breaking point with "An American Marriage," the story of a husband falsely accused and sentenced to prison for a crime he didn't commit and a wife asked to wait for the uncertainty of his return. Though he's eventually exonerated, will too much water have passed under that bridge? How long does it take for love to starve? We'll have to wait until February to find out. Watch for it.

Another returning author was Gabrielle Zevin who pleased us mightily with "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry." http://bit.ly/1x1Eixn Zevin is a feisty, funny raconteur and her fiction reflects this. But on the Day of Dialog she was deeply serious when speaking about her new novel loosely based on a Monica Lewinsky-type character, a smart young woman, a political addict, who makes the mistake of falling for the congressman for whom she's working. I've already had the pleasure of reading "Young Jane Young" and I'll tell you, it really prodded me to see myself in a new and unflattering light.


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Zevin spoke eloquently about the nasty habit of slut shaming and about how feminism so often fails when we women fail to protect our own. How is it that the politician always get to walk away from these sexual encounters unscathed while the woman involved is often ruined for life? If you believe that "living well is the best revenge" then you're going to enjoy Zevin's new novel. I did and will be reviewing it soon.

Barbara Hoffert, my editor at Library Journal, told the crowd that she is "messianic about books in translation." I laughed out loud because it's oh, so true. I love her passion for works from other countries and I love that she shares so many with me.
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I've added several of the featured books to my "must read" list including "Three Floors Up" by Israeli novelist Eshkol Nevo. Set in an upscale Tel Aviv apartment building Eshkol creates a microcosm of a splintering Israeli society through the lives of three families on three floors.

Europa Books, which probably produces the most beautiful covers in the publishing world, had two new titles that immediately got my heart pounding. Nicola Langoia, according to Europa, is the new Elena Ferrante! Need I say more? Her latest novel, "Ferocity," is a literary thriller about a family of morally corrupt property developers in southern Italy.

Product DetailsAnd then there's the sweet sounding love story that centers around "The Nakano Thrift Shop," where one man's trash is another man's treasure and found objects acquire deep meaning to new owners. Hiromi Kawakami is the author and this novel is already available for purchase on Amazon. Not sure if it'll be in your libraries yet but ask for it.

From Germany's Jenny Erpenbeck comes "Go, Went, Gone," which is billed as a scathing indictment of western reaction to the refugee crisis. (though I'd say Germany has nothing to be ashamed of!) It sounds like a tough one, in which a retired classics professor whose wife has just died takes an interest in an African refugee family he spots on the street and then becomes wrapped up in their lives. The question is probably who changes whom the most.

And now, because I may be taking up too much of your reading time, I'll just say that the final panel of the day was made up of authors who are publishing their sophomore efforts after big, startling first novels. Look for Chloe Benjamin's "The Immortalists" about siblings who know when they are each going to die and how they live with that knowledge. Celeste Ng writes a fictional take on her upbringing in Shaker Heights, Ohio, with the big issues of race/class tension and interracial adoption in "Little Fires Everywhere."

Marie Benedict follows "Einstein's Wife" with "Carnegie's Maid," set in 1800's Pittsburgh and based upon an actual family member of Benedict's large Irish clan who lived and worked in what's now one of the Carnegie museums. Georgia's Eleanor Henderson spoke about her new novel, "The Twelve Mile Straight," which takes place in the 1930's Jim Crow south where a young woman gives birth to twins, one white and one black. You can imagine the trauma that ensues. Sounds like a future book discussion pick for sure.

I hope this helps you think about what you should purchase for your libraries this fall and what titles you might want to personally place on hold before the world finds out about them. There's plenty to be excited about and maybe you'll think about joining the librarians at next year's Book Expo in New York.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Expo 2017 and Library Journal's Day of Dialog

My best reading buddy and I didn't go to New York City this year for Book Expo but through the glories of the internet I was able to spend an entire day with a front row seat to the Day of Dialog sponsored by Library Journal. It's the hottest day in publishing where agents, editors, and authors meet to tout their forthcoming fall and winter titles and there are always free copies for everyone. OK, admittedly, that part I did sorely miss!

I have five pages of notes but don't fear. I will just give you the highlights and especially give a shout out to the kind of books that you come to my blog to read about. If you still can't get enough of Gillian Flynn's novels St. Martin's Press has a November offering, "Poison" by Gary Niederhoffer. It's set in Seattle and involves a marriage that resembles the union in "Gone Girl." The publisher calls it a "swiftly moving, literary, women's thriller." Enough said?

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I went crazy for mortician Caitlyn Doughty's first book, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." http://bit.ly/1xw9mnE It was a modern day Jessica Mitford clone about the gouging that families take from the funeral industry when they are least able to resist spending more than necessary. She is smart, funny, empathetic, and a pleasure to spend time with. Norton has Doughty's latest, which sounds like a mashup of anthropology and travel guide. "From Here to Eternity, Traveling the World to Find a Good Death." The title says it all. Look for it in October.
 
 

 Product DetailsBerkeley author Adam Braver - http://www.adambraver.com/ - is examining the aftermath of a San Bernardino-style terrorist attack in his new novel, "The Disappeared." The same publisher, Outpost Books, is issuing a new book by "The Atlantic" essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates that takes a look at the Obama years with poignancy and regret at all that has yet to be accomplished. "We Were Eight Years in Power, An American Tragedy," will also be released in early October.
 
There was an all female panel of SciFi, Fantasy, and Dystopian novelists who did Wonder Woman proud. Though it's not usually my cup of tea I did derive great satisfaction from seeing all these bright, young women embracing the genre. If it's your thing keep an eye out for Jordanna Max Brodsky ("Olympus Bound" Trilogy), S. A. Chakraborty ("City of Brass" set in 18th century Egypt), Holly Goddard Jones ("The Salt Line" involving an especially nasty plague), and Annalee Newitz whose "Autonomous" introduces robots who are slowly gaining their humanity.
 
And that was just the morning session!
 
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I would have loved to meet Brendan Matthews whose debut novel, "The World of Tomorrow," sounded like this year's answer to "The Nix." He told the audience that he spent eight years writing this big fat historical about the Irish in New York City from 1939 to the present day. He really got my attention when he said that most of his research and writing was conducted at the Lenox and Stockbridge (Massachusetts) public libraries! Born and raised in the Berkshires, I've spent my share of time in both of those libraries - most likely getting chastised for being too loud and giggly.
 
 
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And then there was a rowdy welcome for librarian and action figure Nancy Pearl, long time reviewer and once my inspiration, she is now a novel writer. Though "George and Lizzie" sounds at first glance like just another story about a marriage, commitment, and forgiveness, you know I'm going to have to take a chance on it and so will you. Though Pearl can be effusive when discussing another writer's book she seemed reticent to toot her own horn. I'll check it out in September and let you know the verdict.
 
Enough reading for one day? Take notes and I'll be back tomorrow with my favorite panel - international literature and books in translation.
 
 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Spend a Little Time in Europe This Summer, It Will Do You Good

If you feel the need for a break from the chaos that seems to be infecting the United States right now, why not take a little book break and head to Europe. I've spent the last few week in Rome and Paris with these wonderful travel companions. They made my heart sing.

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Before he won the Pulitzer for his amazing novel, "All The Light We Cannot See," Anthony Doerr won a fellowship to begin researching his future book in Rome. He and his wife had just become parents to twin boys but, young and brave, they took on the task of relocating to Rome with the bambinos in tow and their adventures resulted in this delightful, loving memoir/parenting guide/travel brochure.

The Doerr's "Four Seasons in Rome" will renew your love for the eternal city if you've been, and whet your whistle if you have not. There's nothing like strolling the alleys and markets of Trastevere with twins in the carriage to bring out the best in the Italians, swiftly breaking down cultural and language barriers.

The Doerr's trust their gut instincts in choosing a babysitter, a young immigrant who soon becomes part of the family, and manage to escape their tiny apartment for a quiet morning in the Sistine Chapel. Weekends involve train excursions out to the hill towns of Umbria - ahhh, Orvieto! And when his wife is felled by a bout of exhaustion and dehydration, they manage the healthcare system with aplomb and, by the way, without paying a dime.

I listened to the audio book of this story which was read by the author, a thoroughly engaging young man whose love for his family and his joy in the use of language shine through on every page.

From Rome I went to Paris where I spent a day with author Antoine Lauraine whose little gem of a novel, only 159 pages, introduces readers to bookshop owner Laurent Letellier and Le Cahier Rouge or "The Red Notebook."
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Called a piece of Gallic whimsy by one reviewer, I found this book to be a charming romance and an uplifting, yes, whimsical novel about finding love in the most unusual of places, think "Love Actually" with some "Sleepless in Seattle" thrown in.
 
Laurent's daily routine is thrown for a loop when he finds a gorgeous mauve handbag carelessly thrown on a garbage heap. The quality of the purse leads him to believe that it should not have been discarded and, upon opening it, he realizes that the owner's belongings are all intact, except of course for the money that was taken.
 
After an attempt to get the local constabulary involved - they are all too busy for a purse theft - Laurent takes the bag home and empties the contents hoping to find a clue to the owner. And here is where the author raises the level of his book far above the ordinary. In intricate detail he describes each item that Laurent retrieves from the bag, large and small. From a tube of lipstick to an autographed novel by the reclusive writer Patrick Modiano, Laurent begins to fall in love with the woman he comes to know through the things she finds important enough to keep in her purse.
 
As Laurent, with the help of his equally romantically inclined daughter, search Paris for the owner of the mauve bag we readers become completely invested in the outcome. If someone hasn't purchased the movie rights to this delightful little novel about knowing and being known then they have missed the boat. 
 
 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Women in the Castle

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Author Jessica Shattuck has been getting plenty of great press for her latest novel "The Women in the Castle." Many reviewers have compared it to Kristin Hannah's "The Nightingale," likely because both novels explore the power of resistance during war time, specifically during and after World War II. It wasn't until I had finished this book that I discovered that Shattuck actually had a personal reason for writing. Her grandmother was a member of the Nazi party in Germany. http://nyti.ms/2mB7Vb6

While "The Nightingale" was a true tearjerker, the story of the women in the castle is much less emotional but more nuanced and thought-provoking. The castle is the home of Marianne and Albrecht von Lingenfels, wealthy, connected Germans who see the rise of Hitler as a threat to their country and the life they hold dear. In Albrecht's office in the castle, a group of concerned citizens hatch a plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. One of the members of that plan is Connie Flederman, Marianne's childhood friend and dear companion, who tasks her with taking care of his wife should anything happen to him.

We know from history that this attempt on Hilter (Valkyrie) did fail and that the men involved were condemned to death as traitors. Now, as she tries to sort through the aftermath of her husband's execution while raising her three children, Marianne, true to her word, uses her connections to track down the wives and children of the other perpetrators and bring them to the castle. As women on their own in a country now overrun with Russian prisoners of war and American troops, Marianne believes they will find some semblance of safety if they band together.

Through flashbacks we learn about the lives of the other two women. Benita, wife of Connie, is a naïve, small-town girl whose happy-go-lucky nature kept her from thinking deeply about politics and her husband's place in history. Separated from her beloved son Martin, Benita loses the will to live until Marianne rescues both her and Martin, installing them at the castle.

Ania is the single mother of two boys. Not much is known about the fate of her husband but she is tough and practical, joining forces with Marianne to cultivate the land around the castle, providing sustenance for their improvised family and matching Marianne's grit and determination with her own strong will.

How these women form an unbreakable bond is the ostensible storyline but the crux of the novel lies in their back stories. Each has secrets, each has been forced to make morally repugnant decisions. Why they did so and how they chose to live with their pasts and with themselves are the questions at the heart of Shattuck's book. One senses, after reading her own essay about her grandmother, that she is using fiction as a means of working through her own questions about right and wrong and the ambiguous nature of decisions made during wartime.

Spanning three generations and two continents, Shattuck's novel would be a good choice for book groups that aren't afraid of going deep. After all, it's not such a stretch to consider that resistance may once again be necessary to save our way of life. Who will have the courage to step up?


Friday, May 26, 2017

Here I Am, An Understatement by Jonathan Safran Foer

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It's been a year this week since I picked up my free copy of "Here I Am" by Jonathan Safran Foer in Chicago at Book Expo. I've been lugging it back and forth from Maryland to Florida and back again and I may not have gotten to it at all if I hadn't just reviewed "Forest Dark," the much awaited new novel by Nicole Krauss who just happens to be Foer's former wife.

I was surprised and a bit disappointed that Krauss felt she had to address her failed relationship with Foer in her new work - a work of fiction, I might add. So imagine my shock when I dipped into Foer's novel and discovered that he had mined the same territory but on steroids!

I had a love/hate relationship with this book. I have a tendency to believe that the generation behind mine is just too damn open for their own good. Yes, yes, common wisdom says you should write what you know, but really? If you want your readers to get that deep inside your marriage then pen a memoir, but don't couch your story in a novel and pass it off as fiction. It's as if both Foer and Krauss were analyzing their failures and expecting the readers to act as psychologists. Too much work!

Nevertheless, the writing itself is brilliant, insightful, and though painfully personal, spot on. Foer is not afraid to say out loud what most of us probably think but would never utter. The action takes place over just four weeks in the household of the Blochs, Julia, Jacob, and their three delightfully precocious boys. In fact, spending time with Sam, Max, and Benji is the height of reading pleasure.

The Blochs are planning Sam's bar mitzvah, a ceremony that they feel is  important for their families even though Sam is vocally against it and appears to have no deep feeling for his Jewish heritage. This is a boy who keeps his emotions closely guarded and is more himself when hiding behind an avatar in the computer world of Second Life.

A tech savvy nerd, Sam has discovered that his dad keeps a second cell phone, one that Sam easily breaks into, only to find that his father is in a sexting relationship with a woman from work. Sam decides to make sure that his mom finds the phone and sets in motion the dissolution of a marriage in which the parties have only been going through the motions for a long time.

As Jacob works through his sense of loss and guilt, he reflects on his life as a son, grandson, father, husband, and Jew. How, he wonders, can allegiances be spread so thin? How does a man pursue his own career while juggling life's enormous responsibilities and tentacles? Of course, this is the existential question. Some of us just buck up and do it. We don't have the luxury of time or money that's required to delve too deeply into unanswerable questions.

With Tamir, a cousin visiting from Israel, Jacob has long, endless, discussions about the hypocrisy of American Jews who talk fondly of the homeland they've never visited, sending money for a tree to be planted in memoriam, but afraid of getting too close. There's much truth and ironic humor in these chapters but some readers may decide that they go on for just a little too long.

This is a novel that one senses was written in despair, laden with angst, and bogged down in selfishness. But ultimately it works as an exercise in catharsis for the writer. For the reader it is a deep dark look into the workings of an author's mind as he tries to move forward by looking back.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Revisiting The Handmaid's Tale

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It's stunning to think that Margaret Atwood published her most famous piece of dystopian literature, "The Handmaid's Tale," over thirty years ago. I don't remember how old I was or what was happening in my life when I first read this book. I do remember how it made me feel, creeped out, frightened, but eventually, dismissive. I knew in my heart that the horrific happenings in the fictional world of Gilead could not happen here. Now? In 2017? I'm not so confident.

The Christian Right holds more sway than ever before in politics. An avowed racist is the Attorney General of the United States. Roe v. Wade is under assault, and women's healthcare issues were the first to fall in the new Republican proposed healthcare bill. In fact, the thirteen member committee formed by congress to address women's healthcare issues consists of thirteen old, white men. Nary a woman in the bunch. If this doesn't worry you, you are not paying attention.

At the very least you should reread or read for the first time, Ms. Atwood's prescient tale. While you're at it, stream the amazingly well executed video that is currently being shown in installments at www.hulu.com

The basic premise, for any of you who swim completely under the radar, is that we humans have made a real cock up of our stewardship of the earth. Radiation and pollution have poisoned our world. Many men are sterile and reproduction is on the wane. An unknown organization, purported to be middle eastern naturally, has overthrown the government and divided up the country into areas for living and for dying.

Women past child bearing years, look out ladies, who refuse to become matrons in the new world of Gilead, are sent to the outer reaches where they toil at toxic waste dumps as the environmental cleanup brigade. Of course, they and we know that it's basically a death sentence. The elite, the commanders and their wives, live in empty, lonely opulence, where they promote rigorous moral codes and host bible readings for their staff. The "marthas" are the lower class of kitchen worker, cooks, servants basically, and the "handmaids," are the fortunate few, chosen for their fertility. As long as they can reproduce they are safe.

In this world sex has been reduced to its cold basics. Procreation is the only goal, pleasure is prohibited, and if you manage to find it outside of the monthly ceremony in which the commander rapes the handmaid, the "eyes" are watching and they will know. Punishment runs the gamut from public shaming to castration to hanging.

But more sinister than the physical violence for transgressions (cattle prods play a prominent role in re-education), is the idea of mind control. Memories are erased through deprivation. Books, magazines, video, telephones are all verboten. Conversation among handmaids is not allowed for fear of subversive influences. There is a memorable scene where the commander tries to tempt his handmaid, Offred, with a contraband magazine. Even as she recalls browsing through this kind of flotsam, think "Glamour," in a doctor's office and breezily throwing it aside, Offred now salivates at the small chance of regaining normalcy if only for a few stolen minutes.

What's most terrifying though is how easily human beings seem to adapt to a new reality. What once was unthinkable, with the slow progression of time and the steady drumbeat of fake news, becomes status quo. The "go along to get along" mentality is inherent in our natures. People say, "why resist? Put your energy to better use. It will only be for a few years." But Margaret Atwood obviously disagrees and so must we.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Waking Lions Will Keep You Awake


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I can't remember if it was the arresting cover or Maureen Corrigan's review on NPR last month that initially drew me to this novel by Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen but between the excellent translation from the Hebrew and the storyline, "Waking Lions" did keep me reading half the night. Gundar-Goshen, in an interview in "The Guardian," admits to her left leaning politics and disgust with the current Israeli leadership. She is also a psychologist who marries her politics and her profession beautifully in this thrilling exploration of Israel's refugee crisis, one you may not be familiar with.

Dr. Eitan Green is still chafing after having been transferred to the barren, dusty city of Beersheba from his sparkling clean neurosurgery suite in a Tel Aviv hospital after having fallen out with his supervisor. Frustrated by the lack of supplies, the long hours, and his feelings of being an inadequate provider for his wife and two boys, Eitan takes off one night in his SUV, music blaring, tires speeding and spinning in an orgy of childishness. The sudden thunk barely registers at first but the full moon cannot hide the fact that Eitan has run down another human being. In scarcely an instant the doctor examines the faceless Eritrean immigrant, concludes that he cannot survive his injuries, and heads home deciding that no one will look for the killer of one more Bedouin immigrant. 

How he could think that the hit and run would not have consequences (his wife, Liat, is a well-respected police investigator) is beyond us as readers. Or, is it? Of course, that is the question that we must ask ourselves. Yes, this plot device has been used before in literature to excellent effect, I'm thinking of Boyle's "Tortilla Curtain," or Lawrence Osborne's "The Forgiven." Gundar-Goshen adds nuance and ambiguity to our reading by painting Eitan as an arrogant physician who often doesn't "see" his patients and Liat as an officer known for being an astute observer.

It's not until the African woman arrives at his door with his wallet in her hand that Eitan realizes he will not easily be let off the hook. Sirkit is the hit and run victim's wife and she wants something that only Eitan has, not his money but medicine and his ability to treat the hundreds of Eritrean immigrants who live in camps outside the city in squalor. He dares not refuse her.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Oh Shakespeare, how well you understand our humanity! As Eitan struggles to do the bidding of his blackmailer, keep up rounds and surgery at the hospital, and avoid awkward questions from Liat who is now investigating the Eritrean's death, he becomes mired in debilitating guilt and shame. Yet he also faces a chance at redemption. Working side by side with Sirkit, once just another anonymous black face but now a person with a life, a past, feelings, losses, grit, Eitan may find a way to become a better, more generous human being. Will he?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Nothing Gentlemanly Happens in Greg Rucka's A Gentleman's Game

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Readers who have been following me for a long time know that I have a penchant for spy thrillers that probably stems from hours of watching those wonderful old cold war TV shows of the sixties like Mission Impossible or my favorite, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Then there was John LeCarre. After that I discovered the British TV show MI-5 and became addicted. So when my friend Don, a graphic novel aficionado, told me about Greg Rucka's Queen and Country series, I had to give it a try.
 
Originally developed as a comic, three books resulted in this series, one of several that Mr. Rucka, who must write 24/7 to keep all the balls in the air, has penned over the past fifteen years. http://www.gregrucka.com/wp/ His versatility and output is phenomenal. But what both Don and I appreciate about him is his ability to craft formidable, believable female characters with guts and heart.
 
Tara Chace, a brainiac with a knack for languages, was chosen directly out of college to work for Her Majesty's Secret Service. But there was no way she was going to be satisfied stuck behind a desk interpreting code. She wanted the hand to hand combat training, excelled at rifle and pistol work, and begged to be placed in "special services." Think James Bond without the swagger.
 
By virtue of the job description, trained assassins seldom stay on the job for long, and within eighteen months Tara is the head "minder" of three, people whose lives are expendable to the top brass, who keep a "go bag" with a change of clothes on hand at all times, and who are stealthily parachuted into war zones knowing that if they're caught they will may be acknowledged by their mother country.
 
So it is that after London's underground was attacked by terrorists Chace is called in to get vengeance. The problem is that professionals, especially women, make easy enemies along the way and she has raised the ire of a competing organization. When more than one country is involved in negotiations - in this case the CIA and Israel's Mossad - things get even dicier.
 
It's no surprise that Rucka writes for TV and film as well. His narrative style is rapidly paced. You can read this book in a sit down or two and visualize it all on the big screen at the same time. He attends to every detail with precision and if his characters seem a little jaded, well you get it. You can be pretty sure that all the machinations taking place behind the scenes, the not so secret meetings between various factions of the secret services, the handlers and the government, are all too true.
 
"A Gentleman's Game" is the first of the three Tara Chace novels and I guarantee I'll be squeezing the other two in, between assignments from "Library Journal." It's smart, sexy, and timely, addressing the scourge of jihad without damning Islam.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Book of American Martyrs

Where have I been you might ask (in case you check in every week to see what I'm reading). Insert smiley face emoji here. Well, I have been locked in the head of Joyce Carol Oates, a place that, if you are familiar with her fiction, can be most uncomfortable. "A Book of American Martyrs" comes in at an astounding 755 pages and yet, if you can convince your book group members to buckle down and dig in, this saga would lend itself to a deep discussion.

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I've read many blurbs and reviews of this novel and they all seem to propound that the focus of Oates' book is abortion. That is really a gross oversimplification of a work that has deeply nuanced things to say about pro-choice/pro-life stances, the death penalty, equality in marriage, responsibility in parenting, forgiveness, and oh yes, boxing. Those of us who have met Ms. Oates at various conferences will remember that she has an inordinate interest in the sport of boxing and manages to display her knowledge very credibly in the final third of the book.

It's no secret that the two men at the heart of this novel are deeply devoted to their beliefs. Dr. Gus Voorhees is a surgeon who performs abortions at women's clinics in the poorest parts of the mid-west, Michigan and Ohio, going where he is most needed to help women who are faced with the most gut-wrenching decision they will likely ever have to make. Gus is a husband and a father of three.

Luther Dunphy is a born again Christian, a member of the Army of God, an organization that pickets women's clinics hoping to inhibit the slaughter of innocent babies. He believes that God has personally called to him. Voorhees is the name of a doctor on a hit list. Dunphy has a shotgun. He too is a husband and a father of four.

On November 2, 1999, the two men's paths will cross but the ripples of that fateful meeting will span another decade and a half as Oates pivots between the two families as they cope (or not) with the violence that has upended their lives. To illustrate just how complicated the abortion issue can be, Oates introduces readers to a mother who chose against abortion but ten years later physically abandoned her son. Another mother in China gave her daughter up for adoption. That girl is adopted by the Voorhees family. The widows disappear from their children emotionally, finding solace in work or in religion. The siblings become estranged as they try to distance themselves from their past. There is a ferocious amount of loss in this thought-provoking, weighty tome.

Reading the chapters that address the workings of the death penalty, the stays, the re-trials, the solitary confinement before the final sentence, hammered home for me the reasons why I could never condone capital punishment. Ms. Oates writes as if she'd been on death row herself and one doesn't doubt for a second the authenticity of the thoughts running through the heads of the guards or their prisoners. As I mentioned, there's lots to discuss here.

But ultimately I came to the conclusion that this book is about forgiveness and growth. There were so many times during my reading when I wondered "where is she going with this?" When the "ah ha" moment arrived I was so relieved that I wanted to cry. So, yes, I do think the book could have been whittled down a bit but hey, does anyone get to edit a writer of Oates' reputation? Probably not. And do we really want to excise one word from a writer so capable of taking you along on such a roller coaster ride? Probably not.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Connie May Fowler's Cri de Coeur For the Environment

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Well, my library was taking its own sweet time adding this new book by Florida writer Connie May Fowler to the collection so I got my copy by going to the source. I knew I would want to write about this very important memoir for my radio program, The Florida Book Page. I messaged the author through her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/conniemayfowler?fref=ts) and I had the book in a couple of days. My radio review won't be broadcast until next fall and I sure don't want you to wait that long to put it on your "to read" lists.

Connie May Fowler has a beautiful soul, one that has been tested over the course of her life too many times. She novelized her neglected childhood, the chaos and hopelessness, with the Oprah pick "Before Women Had Wings," and wrote a harrowing memoir of an abusive relationship in "When Katie Wakes." But there is nothing fragile about the Connie May Fowler who resettles at Alligator Point, her own tiny piece of heaven on the pristine shores of Florida's panhandle.

There are many ways to handle grief. Each of us finds our own path. But this book called to me because for her, and for me, nature, our mother earth, has always been the way forward. A writer, a loner, Ms. Fowler lived with her animal family - each dog has his/her own outsize personality - in a beach house on the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that generously deposited daily gifts to her door and offered healing that she would never have found anywhere else.

Fowler's writing is so fluid, so luminous, that every wondrous day of discovery that she describes feels as though it's your own. Each bird, starfish, seahorse, turtle nest is a wonder. Each day with lines written is our accomplishment as well as hers. Love arrives, gains trust, stays. Nature's treasures shared seem twice as precious. And then it happens.

On April 20, 2010, the BP oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the gulf. If you live here in Florida you may remember being glued to the TV as we watched in horror. Scientists worked feverishly to cap the well as months passed and the coasts of five states were despoiled with tar balls and dead sea creatures. In the end, 210 million gallons, an incomprehensible figure, spewed into the turquoise home of our fragile marine life.

In agonizing prose, Ms. Fowler takes us through the days, weeks, and months that she and her husband Bill activate neighbors, write letters, and battle the Army Corps of Engineers, all the time waiting for the now discolored sea, smelling of death, to disgorge its victims on their front lawn.

"A Million Fragile Bones" is both beautiful and horrible, a desperate cry to the world. Greed, corruption, and money were the motivators behind the oil spill. We may never know the extent of the damage but there's no doubt that it could be decades before mother nature begins to heal herself. If you have ever found solace in the sea, or the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake, the Hudson, the Cape Cod National Shore, then this book is a must read. Add it to your list today.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mark Billingham's Rush of Blood Gave me a Rush

I often forget how much I've always loved murder mysteries. I spend so much time reviewing literary fiction for Library Journal and reading Florida-centered books for WGCU that I've had to practically give up my old genre of choice, favorites since my mom first introduced me to the Mason Library in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A few weeks ago I was browsing some website or another looking for novels set in Florida and discovered a Brit named Mark Billingham. http://www.markbillingham.com/Happy day!

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Set in Sarasota - which I needed - and in the UK - which all great murder mysteries need - this book filled the bill, introduced me to some disagreeably icky tourists, and kept me thinking, though I did suss out the murderer before the denouement.
 
Three couples, Angie and Barry, Sue and Ed, and Dave and Marina are vacationing in Sarasota. All are hanging out at the Pelican Palms pool sipping G and T's, when one of the group overhears the distinctly British accent of another. Conversation ensues and, sure enough, they are all from the same general area of Great Britain just outside of London. Small world.
 
Of course says Ed, the know-it-all of the group, they must all eat together one evening. And that evening turns into every evening, then every day too, and pretty soon they are an inseparable posse, though they have little in common and wouldn't give each other the time of day back home.
 
But on the last full day of vacation, sated with sunshine and beer, the group is suffering from a case of collective guilt. A girl has gone missing. Amber-Marie, born with some obvious learning disabilities, has been enjoying the resort with her mom. For two weeks she's been chatting up the Brits, coloring in her books, and being feted with a little more attention than she'd normally get, an ice cream here, a candy bar there.
 
Now the place is crawling with cops, the Brits have flights to catch and hey, they didn't really know her did they? Just a girl with a big smile and a trusting manner but not their problem, right officer? Cursory statements are given and rental cars returned. Normally they'd never see one another again but they didn't reckon on Angie, a lonely housewife without enough to keep her busy, and with a sullen husband who doesn't like to socialize.
 
Angie straight away decides to entertain the other two couples, keep the friendship going, attempt to stay in vacation mode. Plus, she's an internet fanatic. From across the pond she's been following the investigation into the girl's disappearance and has convinced herself that everyone will want to be apprised of each new bit of scuttlebutt. Maybe, maybe not.
 
Characterization and conversation are Billingham's forte. Each person is annoying in his own way but still sympathetic, insecure, and terribly human. Their conversations are quotidian but their silent musings are delectably interesting. Sarasota's finest, Detective Jeff Gardner is imbued with heart and compassion while his cohort in London, ambitious DCI in training Jenny Quinlan, is a pure delight. The murderer's voice is coldly terrifying.
 
If you're in the market for a smart, suspenseful mystery sprinkled with enough red herrings to keep you guessing then I recommend "Rush of Blood." In fact, I'm placing holds on a few of his other novels the minute I finish typing.
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Springsteen, The People's Poet

Music has a magical power for me. Always has. My dad and his dad before him had music in their bones, played piano by ear, played trumpet, sang in a barbershop quartet. My former husband could make an organ sing, could hear a tune once and recreate it on the Hammond, always adding a little of his own pizzazz. It was probably through raising my step-daughters that I first became acquainted with Bruce Springsteen. He didn't speak to me. Until I was navigating the minefield of divorce. And then he did.

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Springsteen wrote the songs for The Tunnel of Love album while dealing with his own divorce. Unless you've been through it you cannot imagine the feelings of inadequacy and failure that consume you. Almost forty years and unimaginable happiness later, he manages to describe those times so deftly, so poignantly, that the self-doubt is palpable. That's what a poet does.

"Born to Run" is a flat out amazing memoir. Even if you've never listened to a single one of The Boss's songs, you can appreciate it for the thoughtful, straight from the gut piece of literature that it is. Beautifully written, eerily evocative of the five decades covered, it's up there for me with Patti Smith's "Just Kids," and Harry Belafonte's "My Song," as a testament to hope, ambition, luck, and talent in equal measure.

Bruce does not shy away from the fact that it's taken forty years of hard work in therapy to reach the place of equanimity from which he now writes. Blessed with the genetic mess of the Irish/Italian family tree, the poverty of his childhood, the overpowering grandma who did battle with his mother for his soul, and the influence of the Catholic Church on the corner, he had plenty to contend with.
Add to that the manic-depressive father who wasn't diagnosed or helped until he was in his sixties and it should be no surprise that The Boss had issues. What is surprising is how eloquently he deals with this in his book, interspersing family life with the music life in perfect doses so that one never overtakes the other.

Eschewing college for the guitar, loaded with ambition and angst, left behind in New Jersey at the age of seventeen when his folks moved to California to try to improve their lot, he avoided the draft (a very funny chapter) and set out to become famous. The friends he made on the road are still in his life, a remarkable feat for a peripatetic, egotistic troubadour. And then there's the E-street band, together still.

A self-taught and extremely well-read man, Springsteen is a loner, a very interior person. Always cogitating on the human condition, he wrote music that reflected the times and slowly became quite political. I always got chills when I heard War, and I loved reading about the serendipity of the story behind the song, how he was reading "Born on the Fourth of July" when he met the author Ron Kovic at a rundown motel where they were both staying. Then, of course, there was the haunting Streets of Philadelphia, written for the Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington movie about AIDS in the city of brotherly love.

But it wasn't until American Skin, a gut-wrenching ballad about the police attack on Amadou Diallo, (http://bit.ly/1UPGBLg) that Bruce managed to really stir up some controversy, garnering his first boos at a performance, yet soon forgiven with The Rising which he wrote in the aftermath of 9/11.

And then there's Patti. Lover, singer, musician, wife, mother. I can't do her justice, but he does. I've never read such a lyrical, poetic description of childbirth from the father's perspective. Needless to say, this is no celebrity tell-all, no gossip infused blather. This is a deeply personal memoir of musical history, family, struggle, faith and the America we all hope we'll one day live in.

Listen to the book if you can, there's nothing like hearing Bruce read his own words.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Elaine Newton Does it Again

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending Professor Elaine Newton's (http://bit.ly/2mwlu6M) lecture at Artis-Naples on the novel "The Swans of Fifth Avenue." These mornings in Naples have been one of the greatest pleasures of my retirement and I have finally "qualified" as a returning guest. Ms. Newton's book talks sell out years in advance and deservedly so. She has the ability to take the worst book you've ever read and, in just an hour and a half, have you leaving the lecture hall praising it to the heavens. Such was the case for me with this novel by Melanie Benjamin.

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Though the general reading public obviously won't agree with me on this, I think that the genre of fictional biography is being overused. My predilection then, was to discount this book that stars gadabout writer Truman Capote and the wealthy, aimless women who swanned around him, petted him, and indulged him until he finally bit the hands that fed him.

I listened to the book in audio format and I can only conclude that, having met Ms. Benjamin last week and marveled at her stage presence (she has an acting background), her sense of humor, and her spot-on portrayal of Capote during her reading, I would have adored this novel if she had recorded it herself.

I forgot a cardinal rule of book reviewing. You don't have to "like" the characters to appreciate the strength of the writing that brings them to life. In fact it's a testament to an author's talent when he or she can arouse negative feelings as easily as positive ones. Melanie Benjamin's writing chops are on full display here.

She paints what Newton calls "New York café society" of the 1950's and '60's in brilliant colors. The swans, Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Pamela Churchill Harriman, and Slim Keith, are painfully real as wealthy, glamorous, strategically-married ladies of a certain class that is difficult for most of us to comprehend. Their elevation to the highest echelons of the New York social scene is precarious, based only upon the fates of their spouses, where they dine, where they shop, who they secretly love, and oh yes, where they get their plastic surgery.

When the swans adopt Truman Capote he is still a fledgling writer. "In Cold Blood" has yet to be published. Truman ingratiates himself with the group, cleverly convincing each woman that she is his special pet. But it is Babe Paley and her husband Bill, head of CBS television, to whom he is most attracted. Capote recognizes in Babe another soul just as lonely and empty as his own. They share a yearning to fill gaps in their lives that neither can fully express. But Babe's trust in Truman, though profound, eventually proves to be sorely misplaced.

And so, rather than a fluffy, lightweight novel about pretty despicable people, Benjamin, I now see, has written an American tragedy with Shakespearean overtones. Betrayal, waste, and downfall are at the crux of this fictional biography that rings oh so sadly true.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dispelling Fear Through Literature

In these unsettling times, under the forty-fifth president, fear of the "other" is being ratcheted up to the nth degree. Ignorance has become a badge of honor. And yet I cling to the hope that literature can somehow bridge the gap between fear and understanding.

I am exceedingly fortunate in that my milieu at "Library Journal," is international literature. My editor inundates me with glorious novels that rarely make the best seller lists. Sadly, you won't find them reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Yet these books, difficult and tragic as they may be, are windows into the heart of other cultures and would go a long way toward enlightenment if they were only read by more people.

In fact, I just this minute put the finishing touches on a review of "A Good Country," a fantastic novel by Iranian-born author Laleh Khadivi, about a family well assimilated and successfully living in California until the bombing at the Boston Marathon upends the life of the teen-aged son. This is a must-read book, timely, observant, and tragic. It comes out in May.

Already published are my reviews of two other outstanding books that should be on your radar screens. For a Palestinian view of the displacements that began with the Six-Day War of 1967, look for (also in May) Hala Alyan's lovely

Salt Houses

Library Journal
02/15/2017
In what feels like a very personal debut novel, the award-winning poet Alyan, her lyrical skills on full display, traces four generations of the Yacoub family as they are forced into the ranks of the Palestinian diaspora. Constantly uprooted by war, Salma, Hussam, and their children Widad, Alia, and Mustafa make disparate decisions that have ramifications for their offspring over five decades. First fleeing Israeli tanks that bulldoze through their home in Jaffa, later settling in Nablus, only to be routed by the 1967 Six-Day War, Alia and her husband, Atef, relocate with her sister Widad to Kuwait. Salma, now a widow, joins the family in Amman, Jordan, while Mustafa, the rebellious brother who was the light around which his family circled, disappears. The Yacoubs are fortunate. Not relegated to refugee camps, they have the wherewithal to fashion new lives for themselves. Still, Alyan makes it abundantly clear how displaced persons, separated from their culture, their religion, and their homeland, are forever altered. VERDICT This timely historical does for the Palestinians what Khaled Hosseini did for the people of Afghanistan. By placing readers inside the hearts and minds of one Arab family scattered from Paris to Boston to Lebanon, she beautifully illustrates the resilience of the human spirit. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

Then next month go out and grab the latest offering from the Booker-nominated, Pakistani author, Nadeem Aslam.
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Library Journal
★ 02/15/2017
On the day of his death, Massud awoke to the muezzin's call to prayer and the smell of baking bread, a fragrance, he had read, that instills kindness in human beings. There are many acts of generosity in this exquisite novel, though they are equaled by the treachery and corruption common to this Punjab region of northern Pakistan, where Muslims and Christians live warily side by side. Massud's grieving widow, Nargis, refuses to accept blood money from the state in exchange for her absolution of the American who shot her husband, causing the authorities to investigate this difficult woman, who may be harboring a blasphemous secret. Her intransigence draws adverse scrutiny to the Christian family who lives next door, a young woman named Helen and her widowed father, Lily, who is in a forbidden relationship with the imam's daughter. Through the reminiscences of each of these deeply sympathetic characters, Aslam (The Blind Man's Garden; The Wasted Vigil) elucidates the history of occupation and division that has influenced Pakistan's current climate of religious intolerance. VERDICT Man Booker Prize long-listed and Dublin short-listed Aslam uses lush, sensuous prose to create beauty from ugliness, calm from chaos, and love from hatred, offering hope to believers and nonbelievers alike. This thoughtful, thought-provoking read will enthrall lovers of international fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

And if you don't want to wait I'll be thrilled to send out pre-publication copies of any of these titles. Just say the word. Email your address to me at s_bissell@yahoo.com