The Mothers: A Novel by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, 2016)
This is not a terrible book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I guess I thought it would be about young married moms in their twenties and thirties, but it wasn’t. The title seems to refer to two groups of women: the judgmental older women (mostly grandmothers) who keep a black church in Southern California going, and the two young adult best friends who grew up in the church and went on to become very young mothers. Actually one of them did not become a mother, because she had an abortion, but she spends the rest of the book regretting both that choice and the choice to leave her first boyfriend who would have been that baby’s father. The novel is set in a present day African-American community, and promotes the idea that abortion is a mistake.
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2017)
This is a new novel by an accomplished British writer I haven’t run across before, though she has published several previous novels. It is set in 1988 in a run down suburb in England, in a music shop obviously. The main character Frank runs the music shop, which stocks only vinyl records, no CDs. He has a knack for interviewing customers and determining what music would be perfect for their needs. Unfortunately this is not enough to keep his shop in business. The story centers around a mysterious woman customer to whom Frank gives music appreciation lessons, and of course falls in love with. I won’t spoil the plot but it is very sweet.
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.