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.
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.
A Tangled Mercy: a novel by Joy Jordan-Lake (Lake Union Publishing, 2017)
This is a fairly long novel but that’s because it’s really two books in one. One is the story of a 1822 slave revolt in Charleston, and the other the story of a Harvard grad student in history trying to get a handle on her own family’s history in Charleston and how it connects to the events of 1822. It’s a fascinating book with many surprises that makes the reader feel like they’re wandering the city (in both times) too. Racism is a major theme of the plot, including the terrible church shooting of 2015. It conveniently comes with reading group questions; I imagine both because of the topic and the author’s previous successful books. But even if you don’t belong to a book group, it’s an excellent book which you should read.
The Far Away Brothers by Lauren Markham (Penguin Random House LLC, 2017)
I thought this was going to be a novel but in fact it is not, though it reads like one. It is the true story of two young immigrants who came to the U.S. from El Salvador. The author is a teacher at a California high school for immigrants and also a journalist who writes about the immigration system. The young men, who are twins, agreed to let their story be told. It is not sugar-coated to bring out sympathy in the reader, but it does so anyway. While I feel that the United States has a very violent culture, it’s safe compared to El Salvador, where the teenage gangs have literally taken over the country and murder people with impunity to hold their power.
The book answers a lot of questions I had about immigrants and helps me understand their situation better. The only unanswered question is why people always migrate to the U.S. instead of heading south to South American countries that share their language and culture. Maybe someone will write that book next. The author did mention that since 2014, some immigrants are settling in Mexico rather than trying to get all the way to the United States.
The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)
I have no idea where Anita Shreve came up with the title, other than the fact that a huge wildfire is a major part of the plot. The main character saves her two young children from the fire that decimates her Maine town in the mid-1940s, but it leaves her with a bitter and disabled husband and some decisions to make. I associate wildfires with the West, but I suppose Maine was, and is, a heavily wooded rural state. This novel was an interesting “period piece” about post-war America, with plenty of descriptions of typical clothes and furnishings of the period. Apparently you could get a 3-course lunch for 25 cents, for instance. It was a mildly interesting story but not really anything special.
Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon (Delacorte Books, 2017)
This new book by the author of the best-selling (and my personal favorite) Outlander series is not a full-length novel, but instead a collection of seven novellas. That’s what the “seven stones” refers to, and the “stand or fall” part, according to Gabaldon, refers to “people’s responses to grief and adversity.” Each novella tells a story that takes place in the universe of the series, with characters from the series. Most involve secondary characters (although several are about Lord John) and flesh out a situation referred to only briefly in the novels, for example, how Joan (Claire’s step-daughter) came to be a nun. Diana Gabaldon’s writing style makes all of the stories worth reading; readers will finish each one satisfied that a loose end has been tied up. I recommend this new book for all Outlander fans, although it will mean more to you if you’ve read the whole series and not just watched the tv show.
The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard (Penguin Books, 2017)
Although this book sounds like it might be science fiction from the title, it isn’t really. It’s just that a small piece of alternative history involving a tattoo machine that puts “epiphanies” onto people’s forearms has been inserted into ordinary 21st century New York City life. These messages are chosen by the machine, or possibly the machine’s operator, it’s not clear; not by the person who asks for a tattoo. The messages declare in a sentence or phrase some fundamental truth about the person’s character.
The protagonist of this novel is a man whose whole life revolves around the stories of people who get these tattoos (his parents, to start with) and what happens to them as a result. Said main character is basically a lazy person who spends most of his time thinking about or having sex, so writing about the epiphany machine (in a story-within-the story) is a great excuse for not accomplishing anything with his life. If you’re like me and instinctively dislike people like that, you will probably not enjoy this book. I didn’t. Your mileage may differ.