Friday, May 6, 2016

April Reads

 All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders

Synopsis: From the editor-in-chief of, a stunning novel about the end of the world--and the beginning of our future

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn't expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one's peers and families.

But now they're both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who's working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world's magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world's every-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together--to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

My take: Life, love, and the apocalypse  pretty much sums it up. This novel combines two things I like almost as much as I like Egypt: technology and magic, and it does it without patronizing or silliness. If you've ever worked in high-tech or done any coven time, you've met the two geeky main characters. They are heartbreakingly real, and their journey into the apocalypse is both engaging and inevitabe. This book captures the feel and language of millenial characters, and while you might sometimes get lost, you'll want to continue the journey.

The Tigress and the Yogi - Shelley Schandfield

Synopsis: A talking tigress.
A wandering yogi.

A young Untouchable's harrowing journey through an ancient land where chaos threatens gods and mortals alike. Shelley Schanfield's novel,  The Tigress and the Yogi, is the first book in the Sadhana Trilogy, novels about the personal and spiritual struggles of women who knew Siddhartha, better known as the Bhudda.

My take: See my review of this book from last Friday's post.

The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks

Synopsis: Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age.

My take: God, I loved this book! I stayed up most of two nights to finish it.

This is no pastel colored Bible story. Geraldine Brooks' prose is almost  always beautiful and engrossing and never more so in the story of David, who comes across so much more complex and beautiful than we ever saw him in Sunday School. Her descriptions of David's music almost make you believe that you were there while he played. This is a David who intrigues and seduces you not in spite of his flaws, but because of them. Even though you know going in that David is man who achieves and loses much, you turn the page to find out what happens next. The twist of the David and Bathsheba story was effective, and its resolution in story of young Solomon was particularly satisfying.

The Run of his Life - Jeffrey Toobin

Synopsis: The definitive account of the O. J. Simpson trial, The Run of His Life is a prodigious feat of reporting that could have been written only by the foremost legal journalist of our time. First published less than a year after the infamous verdict, Jeffrey Toobin’s nonfiction masterpiece tells the whole story, from the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to the ruthless gamesmanship behind the scenes of “the trial of the century.” Rich in character, as propulsive as a legal thriller, this enduring narrative continues to shock and fascinate with its candid depiction of the human drama that upended American life.

My take:  I was a busy single mother during the whole OJ hullabaloo, so I'd catch glimpses of the trial on Nightline between putting my children to bed and nodding off while folding the laundry. I missed the infamous slow-mo chase, except in reruns, and I never understood exactly how he got off scot-free. Just recently, I caught the television mini-series and went back to the book.

This is clearly a "truth is stranger than fiction" story. In no novel would such obvious legal machinations, overt racism cutting in both directions, star power, ego, and incompetence be believed. The distance between the lives OJ and Nicole lived and the jury who condoned her murder by finding him not guilty seems like a particularly American tale.  In the aftermath of Ferguson and Tamir Rice, it recalls  a time and place that now seems both quaint and obscene. If you want a cautionary tale of how the justice system fails on many levels, I suggest this book.

The Mystery of Hollow Places - Rebecca Podos

Synopsis: The Mystery of Hollow Places is a gorgeously written, stunningly original novel of love, loss, and identity, from debut author Rebecca Podos.

All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist; she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed of a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”

My take: The novel hooks you from the beginning with the wonderful line: "The bedtime story my dad used to tell me began with my grandmother’s body." Although billed as both YA and a mystery, it felt like neither, but something much vaster. It is a quest for meaning told in ordinary terms. Imogene is one of those smart, geeky characters that feel so real she could step right off the page. The symbol of the hollow heart works wells, and this is a mystery in the best sense of the word.