Books

“I’ve always thought that a good book should be either the entry point inward, to learn about yourself, or a door outward, to open you up to new worlds.” ― Taylor Jenkins Reid

Winner of the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

In 1874, in the wake of the War, erasure, trauma, and namelessness haunt civilians and veterans, renegades and wanderers, freedmen and runaways. Twelve-year-old ConaLee, the adult in her family for as long as she can remember, finds herself on a buckboard journey with her mother, Eliza, who hasn’t spoken in more than a year. They arrive at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, delivered to the hospital’s entrance by a war veteran who has forced himself into their world. There, far from family, a beloved neighbor, and the mountain home they knew, they try to reclaim their lives. (Amazon.com)

“This quote falls in line with the major themes Phillips explores throughout the novel: the human cost of war, trauma, PTSD, mental health, and healing.” writes Darren Orf.

A Great Disorder is a bold, urgent work that helps us make sense of today’s culture wars through a brilliant reconsideration of America’s foundational myths and their use in contemporary politics. Famous for his trilogy on the Myth of the Frontier, Richard Slotkin identifies five myths, born of different eras, that have shaped our conception of what it means to be American: the myths of the Frontier, the Founding, the Civil War (which he breaks into two opposing camps, Emancipation, and the Lost Cause), and the Good War, embodied by the multiethnic platoon fighting for freedom. He argues that while Trump and his MAGA followers have played up a frontier-inspired hostility to the federal government and rallied around Confederate symbols to champion a racially exclusive definition of American nationality, Blue America, taking its cue from the protest movements of the 1960s, envisions a limitlessly pluralistic country in which the federal government is the ultimate enforcer of rights and opportunities. American history―and the foundations of our democracy―have become a battleground. It is not clear at this time which vision will prevail. (Amazon.com)

On February 17, 2022, Brittney Griner arrived in Moscow ready to spend the WNBA offseason playing for the Russian women’s basketball team where she had been the centerpiece of previous championship seasons. Instead, a security checkpoint became her gateway to hell when she was arrested for mistakenly carrying under one gram of medically prescribed hash oil. Brittney’s world was violently upended in a crisis she has never spoken in detail about publicly—until now. (Amazon.com)

What amazes me is WNBA players continue to play in Russia during the off-season! I can’t imagine feeling at all safe these days. – Kintsugi

I’m reading The Collector, the 23rd installment of the Gabriel Allon series. As usual, the writing is crisp and the story grabs you from the first chapter. I enjoy Gabriel’s exploits, even though I hold my breath hoping but never quite sure that he will prevail over death one more time. Gabriel has “retired” from spycraft and works as an art restorer in Venice, living with his wife and their twins. Along comes a problem he is uniquely suited to tackle, and he does. The top story is about the missing art, and the base story is about right now geopolitics. Silva has his perspective, which comes through in each book. I am always fascinated by his stories. This book is available on Amazon kindle for free today! The next book in the series, A Death in Cornwall, is due in July 2024. I can’t wait. —WCW

When the enslaved Jim overhears that he is about to be sold to a man in New Orleans, separated from his wife and daughter forever, he decides to hide on nearby Jackson Island until he can formulate a plan. Meanwhile, Huck Finn has faked his own death to escape his violent father, recently returned to town. As all readers of American literature know, thus begins the dangerous and transcendent journey by raft down the Mississippi River toward the elusive and too-often-unreliable promise of the Free States and beyond.

While many narrative set pieces of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remain in place (floods and storms, stumbling across both unexpected death and unexpected treasure in the myriad stopping points along the river’s banks, encountering the scam artists posing as the Duke and Dauphin…), Jim’s agency, intelligence and compassion are shown in a radically new light. (amazon.com)

What I’m Reading in March and April

  • South to America by Imani Perry
  • Attica Locke’s Highway 95 mystery series: Bluebird, Bluebird; Heaven, My Home; Guide Me Home
  • Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
  • Let Us Descend by Jesmyn West
  • Hallelejah Anyhow, Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott
  • James: A Novel by Percival Everett

At a time when the very foundations of democracy seem under threat, the lessons of the past offer a roadmap for navigating a moment of political crisis. In Democracy Awakening, acclaimed historian Heather Cox Richardson delves into the tumultuous journey of American democracy, revealing how the roots of Donald Trump’s “authoritarian experiment” can be traced back through the earliest days of the republic. She examines the historical forces that have led to the current political climate, showing how modern conservatism has preyed upon a disaffected population, weaponizing language and promoting false history to consolidate power. Richardson wrangles a chaotic news feed into a coherent story that singles out what we should pay attention to and what possible paths lie ahead. Her command of history and trademark plainspoken prose allow her to pivot effortlessly from the Founders to the abolitionists to Reconstruction to Nixon to the January 6 insurrection, highlighting the political legacies of the New Deal, the lingering fears of socialism, the death of the liberal consensus, and the birth of “movement conservatism.”  (amazon.com) Worth every minute of reading time.

Clay Cane’s new book, The Grift, is fascinating and informative. According to Amazon.com, “After the Civil War, the pillars of Black Republicanism were a balanced critique of both political parties, civil rights for all Americans, reinventing an economy based on exploitation, and, most importantly, building thriving Black communities. How did Black Republicanism devolve from revolutionaries like Frederick Douglass to the puppets in the Trump era?” Well done. Get a copy.

Another fascinating book I’m reading now is Simon Shuster’s The Showman. According to Amazon.com, “Time correspondent Simon Shuster chronicles the life and leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky from the dressing rooms of his variety shows to the muddy trenches of Ukraine’s war with Russia. Based on four years of reporting; extensive travels with President Zelensky to the front; and dozens of interviews with him, his wife, his friends and enemies, his advisers, ministers, and military commanders, Shuster tells the intimate and revealing story of the president’s evolution from a slapstick actor to a symbol of resilience.” Excellent writing.

Yellow Wife: A Novel about slavery, and more. Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world. She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice. (amazon.com)

October and November Reads

V.I. Warshawski, the female Chicago PI who solves crimes while putting herself in harm’s way, is the star of the 21st book in Paretsky’s series. The next book in the series is due in spring, 2024. Paretsky pulls the book together quickly while leaving little clues – and big ones – to the miscreants but not their purpose in behaving badly. And they do. Behave badly, that is. This is a fast read and a good one. You may know the who before you know the why, and that’s ok.

This is the 30th book in the Stephanie Plum series, and worth spending a few hours with. Plum, an under-appreciated bounty hunter with 2 protectors/boyfriends, gets to the bottom of the problems with the help of her trusty sidekick Lulu. While Lulu is a stereotypical overweight, ghettoized black former prostitute, she does bring some occasional levity. Grandma Mazur’s role is less prominent here, and we don’t see much of Morelli, Plum’s parents, or any of the usual characters. A fast read, good for a night in front of the fire with an adult beverage.

Lucy Score’s Knockemout series is a real gem. Nothing serious, just beach reading for the fall. The characters are well-drawn, and the dialogue snappy. All are currently available on Amazon Unlimited. I’m not a Colleen Hoover fan, but Hoover fans might find this a pleasant change.

Tananarive Due is an American author and educator who has written several books in the horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres. The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel. A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he’s sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead. (Amazon)

The NIckle Boys won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2020. Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers and “should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation’s best” (Entertainment Weekly). From Amazon.com.

White lies. Dark humor. Deadly consequences… Bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American—in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R.F. Kuang, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel.

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars. But Athena’s a literary darling. June Hayward is literally nobody. Who wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks. So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers during World War I. So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song—complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller is? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree. (Amazon)

In 1838, a group of America’s most prominent Catholic priests sold 272 enslaved people to save their largest mission project, what is now Georgetown University. In this groundbreaking account, journalist, author, and professor Rachel L. Swarns follows one family through nearly two centuries of indentured servitude and enslavement to uncover the harrowing origin story of the Catholic Church in the United States. Through the saga of the Mahoney family, Swarns illustrates how the Church relied on slave labor and slave sales to sustain its operations and to help finance its expansion. Listen to the interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

What’s On My List for Fall

  • The Last Word by Taylor Adams: A thriller novel that follows a young woman who is kidnapped and forced to play a deadly game of survival
  • Our Hideous Progeny by C.E. McGill: A horror novel that explores the life of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein
  • Weyward by Emilia Hart: A fantasy novel that follows a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and must navigate a world of magic and politics (NY Times bestseller)
  • How To Sell A Haunted House by Grady Hendrix: A horror novel about two estranged siblings who have to work together, after their parents die in an accident, to sell their parents’ house (NY Times bestseller)
  • Nightcrawling: A novel by Leila Mottley: A young Black woman walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system (Oprah Book Club, NY Times bestseller)
  • The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride: A novel about small-town secrets and the people who keep them (NY Times bestseller)
  • Trust by Hernan Diaz: A genre-bending, time-skipping story about New York City’s elite in the roaring ’20s and Great Depression. (Pulitzer Prize winner)
  • Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter: An Agatha Christie-style murder mystery
  • Yellowface by R.F. Kuang: Yellowface grapples with questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation, as well as the terrifying alienation of social media. (Reese’s Book Club, NY Times bestseller)

Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead is the story of a boy born to a teenage 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. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities. This book was a co-winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, A New York Times “Ten Best Books of 2022 * An Oprah’s Book Club Selection * An Instant New York Times Bestseller * An Instant Wall Street Journal Bestseller * A #1 Washington Post Bestseller.

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