The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, 2015)
This novel fleshes out the stories of the Old Testament about David, king of Israel. Brooks does a good job of showing all sides (good and bad) of David’s character, from the point of view of his prophet Nathan. Women are not neglected in this tale. Although overall they are treated very badly by the male characters, their stories are told as fully human beings living in a time when they are not respected. Unfortunately (male or female) in this book everyone’s life is full of violence, blood, and death, which is (as far as we know) how things really were. It’s hard to believe that the psalms that we still sing today came from this man, out of this time period.
The Comet Seekers: a novel by Helen Sedgwick (Harper-Collins, 2016)
Welcome to year 5 of my book blog! I will continue to post less often, but be patient and you will be rewarded.
There is more fiction about scientists than you might expect. Often in these novels, including this one, they are pulled one way by love and the other way by their passion to discover new knowledge about the universe, although I’m not sure that’s such a big problem in real life. This book is unusual in that ghosts play a major role in the plot, despite the scientific bent of the real characters. It takes place in France, Ireland, and (briefly) Antarctica; and comets are of course the plot device everything orbits around. Pay attention to the chapter titles, which indicate a year and a real comet that was visible that year. You’ll know this is a literary novel because of the way that the plot starts at the end and jumps around all over time before returning to the present. Nevertheless the story is told coherently, poetically, and with several hard blows to the gut of the reader before it ends.
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen (Random House, 2016)
Every so often I read one of Quindlen’s new books, and they’re always pretty good. My only complaint is that they describe the characters’ lives so realistically that they’re not very good as escapism. This one, for example takes place in rural Pennsylvania and features a girl who’s good at science and eventually becomes a doctor. The major side plot interwoven around her late 20th century life involves the dam that the federal government wants to expand, which will flood her family’s farm and force them to relocate. This aspect of the book is similar to another novel I read in which residents dealt with fracking in rural Pennsylvania. Although Quindlen does a good job of describing life in Pennsylvania, she can’t have spent much time there because she never mentions Wawa, the iconic convenience store.
Here comes the sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright Publishing, 2016)
This novel illustrates the danger of judging books by their covers. The cover of this book was yellow and orange, very cheerful, talking about the sun coming, etc. The actual book was one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever read. I feel like I need a shower to get clean again after reading it. All three of the main characters were basically terrible women with no redeeming qualities, except maybe for the youngest girl. But the author doesn’t even tell us how her life turns out, instead focusing on the other two sickos. it’s not just that this is the story of a very impoverished Jamaica family – if they were just poor and disadvantaged, the reader could feel some sympathy. No, these are women who make their living as prostitutes, treat their children like dirt, sell them into sexual slavery and rape, and constantly tell them they are worthless because of the color of their skin. The author should not be allowed to make any money for writing this trash.
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (Hogarth, 2016)
This novel has a simple plot with a high impact. It takes place in the winter of 2020, not too long from now, in the UK. The main character leaves London when his mother dies and leaves him a home in a trailer park in northern Scotland. Due to climate change, the winter is much, much colder than normal (even for northern Scotland) – essentially a new Ice Age. He makes friends with his neighbors, a single woman and her transgender teen, and they get through the winter together. That’s it, but it’s worth reading.
Americanah: a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).
This is actually Adichie’s fourth novel; she sounds so young I assumed it was her first. I think her fresh voice will resonate with the college students who are supposed to be reading it for their freshman seminar at my university. I hope they don’t assume it’s like most of the English literature they are required to read, which is usually very hard for students to relate to, and don’t bother to open it. If so they will miss out on the story of two intelligent young Nigerians in their twenties seeking fame, fortune and love – the woman in America (mainly in the Philadelphia area) and the man briefly in England and then back home in Lagos, Nigeria. The social commentary about the United States is spot on, so I expect that Adichie’s commentary about life in Nigeria is equally accurate. There is a whole secondary theme about “identity through hair”, as a co-worker of mine called it, particularly as it relates to women of African descent. Most Americans (college students or not) know very little about life in modern African countries (unless they are fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s books set in Botswana) and will find this novel fascinating and eye-opening.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (Chatto and Windus, 2013)
Oddly this is the second novel by a Swedish author I’ve read recently. I assume it showed up now on the New books shelf because it took a while to get translated and show up in the U.S. The plot starts out similarly, with a single woman moving to a new town by herself, but in this book the small town is in Iowa, not Sweden. This woman, Sara, was pen pals with a woman in Broken Wheel, Iowa, and came for a visit only to find that her friend had died. Since the woman left behind a large book collection and Sara had worked in a bookshop in Sweden, she starts a bookshop with her friend’s books and quickly becomes embedded in the small community, which has very few willing readers. This is an enjoyable novel with quirky characters, unexpected romances, and lots of conversation about books.