The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This novel interweaves the stories of two women in their thirties who are suffering fairly unique forms of heartbreak. Anna is an early onset (age 38) Alzheimer’s patient living in an assisted living residence for the elderly, and Eve is the new cook and housekeeper whose husband just killed himself after being convicted of a massive Ponzi scheme. Throughout the book Anna sadly loses more and more of her memory, but develops a romantic relationship with a man her age who also has early onset dementia. Eve struggles to build a new life for herself and her seven year old daughter, with the help of the handsome gardener who shares her love of organic cooking. The author sensitively portrays the frustration of people who can’t remember what anything is called or which door goes where, as well as the hurt of losing all your friends and living in poverty because of what your husband did. This excellent book will make you sad and yet hopeful, and give you much greater understanding of the experiences of people with dementia and their families.
A Taste for Nightshade by Martine Bailey (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)
This historical novel turned out to be a murder mystery although it took me a while to catch on to it. This is probably deliberate on the part of the author since the main character is an innocent girl who wasn’t expecting all this intrigue either. She accepts an offer of marriage from someone she barely knows, to escape from keeping house for her father, even though she realizes the man is only marrying her for her money and property. It kind of goes downhill from there. But life for women in late 18th century England clearly doesn’t offer a lot of great options. The good news is that the bad guys get their come-uppance and Grace gets her first love in the end. Oh, and the start of every chapter has a recipe for an 18th century dish, drink, or potion. You’ll see why if you read this book.
Everyone brave is forgiven by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
This World War II romance is more realistic than romantic, not leaving to much to the imagination as far as what people really suffered. The story follows a young English woman and a man she met at the start of the war in 1939, and all the awful things that happen to them until they get together again. It is written in a literary style, with an educated vocabulary and sarcastic wit that reflects the upper-class background of the characters (like Jane Austen 150 years on). The way the other characters talk about and treat black children is shocking from a 21st century perspective, but I suspect it mirrors the real attitudes of the time (and at least the main characters don’t share these prejudices). So if you want to know what it was really like (the good, the bad, and the ugly), read this book.
The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett (Penguin Random House 2017)
This is a successful first novel by an accomplished British writer of science fiction short stories. It tells the story of what happens when all but 0.0001 percent of the human race (even those that have colonized distant star systems) is killed off all at once by a deadly virus. The story mainly centers on one young woman and the small group of people she ends up traveling with looking for more survivors. It starts out on a distant colony planet but ends up in England. Like a lot of science fiction written by women, it is fundamentally hopeful about our future and doesn’t devote much space to violent battles and power struggles. Instead it explores themes like religion, love, and survival strategies when the world changes overnight.
No is not enough: resisting Trump’s shock politics and winning the world we need by Naomi Klein (Haymarket Books, 2017)
Like Yes! Magazine, the philosophy behind Naomi Klein’s latest book says that it won’t work to just fight against the increasing number of wrongs in the world: we need to fight for positive alternatives. Not only that, but we need to work together with others who reject Trump’s worldview to create a program of interconnected solutions that solve multiple wrongs. Well-known writer and progressive activist Klein builds on her previous books (particularly No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything) to bring it all together into a Leap Manifesto developed at a forum of concerned Canadians. As always, she does an excellent job of explaining why global capitalism caused climate change and a whole host of other societal ills, and therefore can’t be the way forward. This book was written and published just since the first few horrifying months of the Trump administration, so it’s really up to date.
Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change by Anthony Flaccavento (University Press of Kentucky, 2016)
Anthony Flaccavento is not just another progressive author writing about alternatives to global capitalism; he is an organic farmer and consultant with a lifetime of real world experience in Appalachia. In this book he shares what he has learned about building local economies from his region of the United States and from others all over the country. Flaccavento understands the challenges facing places that have been dependent on a few industries or products for many generations (in Appalachia, coal and tobacco) and need to rebuild their local economy from scratch. His examples are practical and inspiring, his analysis of why some solutions work better than others are evidence based, and his public policy recommendations are spot on.
Flaccavento doesn’t hesitate to call out the global capitalists and their schemes to suck the money out of local communities and strong-arm governments into costly tax incentives. If you’re already on board with the necessity of transition to local economies, this book will provide you with lots of ammunition for your next fight; if you’re open minded but unfamiliar with the topic, this book will convince you.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon and Schuster, 2017)
Although Hoffman has apparently written many Young Adult (teen) novels, which I have not read, this one is for adults. I am not sure how I feel about it. It did have quite a large amount of tragedy, mainly untimely deaths. You might even say that was the theme. The plot concept is clever – how the descendants of witches killed in the Salem witch trials fare in a 20th century world that is not quite as hostile to witches, but doesn’t exactly accept them either. This book takes place in the 1960s, mainly in Manhattan and Boston but also in Paris and San Francisco (I suppose because there is plenty of historical information available on those places in the 1960s). The concept of witches not being able to swim underwater without immediately floating up is not only portrayed as scientific fact, but is a major plot point (because it keeps them from saving others from drowning). So, interesting book, a little weird, lots of death – the main characters spend most of the book trying to avoid the curse that anyone they love gets killed. It doesn’t go that well for them.
Filed under Fantasy, Fiction