January 2020 Book List

January 2020 Book List

Book lists around Christmas and the New Year are not always typical in terms of content with regard to book lists from the rest of the year. This month you should look for the book lists that offer up the Best Books of 2019. Every site that reviews books usually has such a list. When you look over the offerings from the NYT you will find the suggestions at the beginning of December were quite lengthy. Since books make wonderful gifts for many readers the list is rounded out with appealing suggestions for books as presents. It is now past Christmas but it’s never to late to give a great book to a book lover and you will find some books for art lovers and those who love the dance world

.Amazon

Literature and Fiction

The Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende

Small Days and Nights: A Novel by Tishani Doshi

Show Them a Good Time by Nicole Flattery

Dear Edward: A Novel by Ann Napolitano

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Little Gods: A Novel by Meng Jin

Topics of Conversation: A Novel by Miranda Popkey

The Black Cathedral: A Novel by Marcial Gala and Anna Kushner

Processed Cheese: A Novel by Stephen Wright

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Vanishing (Fogg Lake) by Jayne Ann Krantz

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg

The Missing American (An Emma Djan Investigation) by Kwei Quartey

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones

No Fixed Lines (22) (A Kate Shugak Investigation) by Dana Stabenow

Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg

The Rabbit Hunter by Lars Kepler

House on Fire: A Novel by Joseph Finder

The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

First Cut: A Novel by Judy Melinek, MD, TJ Mitchell

Biographies and Memoirs

Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything was Different by Chuck Palahniuk

Race of Aces: WW II’s Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become Masters of the Sky by John R. Bruning

Father of Lions: One Man’s Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo by Louise Callaghan

Will: A Memoir by Will Self

Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Fremont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War by Steven Inskeep

Building a Life Worth Living: A Memoir by Marsha M Linehan

We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland by Steve Beaven

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener

The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E J Koh

Nonfiction

Hill Women: Finding a Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassidy Chambers

Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual Jocko Willink

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by B J Fogg, PhD

The Third Rainbow: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg

The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-first Century by Peggy Orenstein

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl Wu Dunn

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife by Ada Calhoun

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker

History

999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune Macadam and Caroline Moorehead

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry that Unraveled Culture, Religion, and a Collective Memory in the Middle East by Kim Grattas

Overground Railroad: The Green Book and Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor

Wilmington’s Lies: The Murderous Coup of 1898 by David Zucchino

Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe by Kathy Peiss

Mengele: Unmasking the “Angel of Death” by David G Marwell

Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time by Gaia Vince

Science Fiction

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

The Secret Chapter (The Invisible Library Novel) by Genevieve Cogman

NYT Book Update

12/9/2019

Fiction

Mary Toft: or The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

10 Best Crime Books of 2019

The Bird Boys by Lisa Landlin

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sviestrup

Conviction by Denise Mina

The Good Detective by John McCain

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke

The Never Game by James Deaver

The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

The Old Success by Martha Grimes

Sarah Jane by James Sallis

Nonfiction

Still Here by Alexander Jacobs (Bio of Elaine Stritch)

Listening for America by Rob Kapilow

Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols, as Remembered by 150 of His Closest Friends by Ash Carter and Sam Kashner

A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar (Art)

Art Books

Climbing Rock By Francois Lebeau

Silent Kingdom by Christian Vizl

Light Break – Photos of Ray DeCarava

The Sound I Saw – Photos of Ray Cavara (Harlem Photographer

Nonfiction

Novel Houses by Christina Hardyment

The Seine: The River that Made Paris by Elaine Sciolino

Art Books

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

Nonfiction

The Europeans by Orlando Figes

The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit by Eleanor Fitzsimons

It’s Gary Shandling’s Book edited by Judd Apatow

Irving Berlin by James Kaplan

Texas Flood by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort (Stevie Rae Vaughn)

A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan

I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz, Ed. By Sara J Kramer

Vanity Fair’s Women on Women, Ed. By Radhika Jones with David Friend

Parisian Lives by Deirdre Bair (Beckett and Beauvoir)

Disney’s Island by Richard Snow

Art Book

Rihanna (Memoir)

Nonfiction

Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell

Life in a Cold Climate by Laura Thompson (Nancy Mitford)

Janis: Her Life and Music by Holly George-Warren

Horror Stories by Liz Phair

Out Loud by Mark Morris

Dance

Love, Icebox: Letters from John Cage to Merce Cunningham by Laura Kuhn

Ballerina Project by Dane Shitogi

The Style of Movement: Fashion and Dance by Ken Brower and Deborah Ory

12/13/2019

Fiction

On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

Find Me by André Aciman

The Shortlist

Walking on the Ceiling: A Novel by Aysegul Savas

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grimes (family saga)

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

Nonfiction

The Man Who Solved the Market by George Zuckerman

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang

Battling Bella by Leandra Ruth Zarnow (Bella Abzug)

Return to the Reich by Eric Lichtblau

The Shadow of Vesuvius by Daisy Dunn (Bio of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger)

12/20/2019

Crime

Just Watch Me by Jeff Lindsay

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

Shatter the Night by Emily Littlejohn

Bryant and May: The Lonely Hour by Christopher Towles

Fiction

The Sacrament by Olaf Olafson

They Will Drown in their Mother’s Tears by Johannes Anyuru

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeeks

Nietzsche and the Burbs by Lars Iyer

The Mutations by Jorge Comensal

Nonfiction

97,196 Words by Emmanuel Carere (essays)

User Friendly by Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant

Busted in New York by Darryl Pinckney (essays)

Essays One by Lydia Davis

They Don’t Represent Us by Lawrence Lessig

The Great Democracy by Ganesh Sitaraman

Of Morsels and Marvels by Maryse Condé

Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey through the Twentieth Century by Sarah Abrevaya Stein

The Cartiers: The Untold Story Behind the Jewelry Empire by Francesca Carter Brickell

12/27/2019

Nonfiction

The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison, Ed by John F Callahan and Marc C Conner

Genius and Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

The Confounding Island by Orlando Patterson

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Memoir)

The Depositions by Thomas Lynch

One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle

Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes

1/2/2020

Crime

A Small Town by Thomas Perry

Naked Came the Florida Man by Tim Dorsey

The Playground by Jane Shemilt

Fiction

The Heap by Sean Adams

10 Minutes, 38 Seconds, in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

The Corner that Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Medieval Bodies by Jack Hartnell

The Revisionaries by A R Moxon

The Heart is a Full-Wild Beast by John L’Heureux

The Bishop’s Bedroom by Piero Chiara

Science Fiction

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Homesick by Nino Cipri (Short stories)

Nonfiction

Uncanny Valley By Anna Wiener (Memoir)

Trump and His Generals by Peter Bergen

A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel

The Shortlist

The Sea Journals: Seafarers Sketchbooks by Huw Lewis-Jones

An Underground Guide to Sewers: Or: Down, Through and Out in Paris, London, New York &c by Stephen Halliday

Expeditions Unpacked: What Great Explorers Took Into the Unknown by Ed Stafford

New and Noteworthy

Crossing the Rubicon: Caesar’s Decision and the Fate of Rome by Luca Fezzi

Yellow Earth by John Sayles

The American People, Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact by Larry Kramer

Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir by Calvin Hennick

Publisher’s Weekly

12/13/2019

I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know by W. Lee Warren, MD – NF

You Were There Too by Colleen Oakley – F

Naked Came the Florida Man by Tim Dorsey – F

Cesare by Jerome Charyn – F

One of Us is Next by Karen M McManus – F

A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy by Jane McAlevey – NF

Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich – F

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry – F

Kill Reply All: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette by Victoria Turk – NF

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala – F

Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything was Different by Chuck Palahniuk – Memoirs

All The Days Past by Mildred D. Taylor – F

Spitfire: A Livy Nash Mystery by M. L. Huie – F

Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino – NF

A Long Time Comin’ by Robin W. Pearson – F

That’s all of the PW Tip sheets that I found in my files this month. You can look for the online.

The Body in Question by Jill Ciment – Book

The Body in Question by Jill Ciment – NPR

In Jill Ciment’s new book, The Body in Question, Ciment turns us into judges. We are presented with at least 3, maybe 4 situations that we can’t help but judge. The first involves a court case. Hannah and Graham are at the court house because they have been called for jury duty. Hannah is 52 years old, a former photographer for Rolling Stone. Hannah got tired of rock stars and she became aware of the grief one animal feels when a related animal dies or suffers. She became quite famous for photographing the faces of these sad animals. Graham is a 42 year old anatomy professor. They begin to chat as they wait to be called for questioning. They speak about things we would speak about; how they plan to get out of having to sit on an actual jury, but in the end, they are both chosen to serve on the jury of a murder trial. 

This is the first and most important thing we can’t help but pass judgement on. A young, rich, white girl has been charged with murdering her brother, a toddler. As the details of the case come out we find that a definitive version of what actually happened is not on offer. There are as many questions as answers. A fire happened but it is unclear who set the fire. The baby was trapped and the young lady, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend all said they could not rescue him. We learn that the accused sister has what is perhaps a mild autism. Each child’s testimony seems to contradict the other’s. The trial ends and the jurists are sent to deliberate. When they don’t reach a decision by nightfall they are sent to an Econo Lodge after eating at an Outback Steak House. Jury duty is hardly luxurious. They are cautioned not to speak about the trial.

Hannah is a married woman. She married a man 30 years older than she is and they have had a nice marriage, but he is getting frail and is worried that he is disappointing her. Hannah, jurist C-2 and Graham, jurist F-17 have been flirting with each other. More judgement arises on our part. Will their flirtation turn sexual? Will it affect their ability to make a fair decision about the trial? Will they be able to keep any intimate activities secret? What if Hannah’s newly insecure husband learns about their flirtation? When the jury ends up being sequestered for more than one week, as we follow them to the jury room, to the hotel, to a conjugal weekend visit we can’t help but become more and more judgmental. We worry that there will be a mistrial and the child will have to be retried. We wonder if it might be better if there were a second trial. We begin to wonder if these two jurors will still be interested in each other when the trial ends. We wonder if this child got justice? Lots of judging going on and the reader is the real jury in this new twist on a courtroom tale.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine – Book

From a Google Image Search – Amazon.com

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine appealed to me for a couple of reasons. I am a writer, although I can hardly claim to be a grammarian. I have my weaknesses – commas, semicolons, ‘ei-ie’ words, remembering what letter a schwa sound represents (hint, it varies from word to word). So the title caught my attention right away. Second this book is about twins and we have two sets of twins in our family. Third, it was suggested that the book was humorous and the combination of grammar and humor seemed unlikely, so my curiosity got the better of me. 

Laurel and Daphne are twin redheads born to Arthur and Sally. Laurel is seventeen minutes older. I happen to know from observing our twins that who is older holds great significance between twins. These girls had a secret twin language even as babies. They were precocious in this way. Their parents often felt left out by the close bond between these twins. One set of our twins also had a ‘twin language’ which their mom did claim to be able to interpret. 

Arthur brought home an entire library of books he was left by a friend and it included an enormous, library-worthy dictionary on an oak stand that looked like an altar. Each day the girls poured over this dictionary looking for words that appealed to them, often chosen by unexplainable gut reactions. 

These girls did not seem to require a personal identity. They were so close that they were a self-sufficient society unto themselves all through high school and into their lives after graduation, when they moved to a tenement they called a garret in the East Village. Laurel found a job as a kindergarten teacher, and, one day when she switched with Daphne to see what her job as a receptionist at a newspaper called Downtown was like, she helped Daphne see the potential in being a copy editor. But their careers eventually evolved into writing articles for publication that were even more language and grammar oriented.

When the twins married at a double wedding their lives suddenly began to move in different directions. Daphne eventually felt that her sister was copying her and they stopped speaking to each other. The twins in my family did not excel at grammar, although they excelled at all things academic. Their language skills evolved into computer languages. They saw each other every day until they married. Their wives did not get along and so those boys rarely see each other these days, although not to the extent that Daphne and Laurel experienced. The Grammarians is an enjoyable book, if you like language or twins, but, although I chuckled in a few places, the claim that it was humorous was somewhat exaggerated. 

Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right by Anne Nelson – Book

From a Google Image Search – McNally Jackson Books

I was attracted to the book Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right by Anne Nelson because I already knew that Evangelicals (white evangelicals in particular) shared Republican ideology, and liked this ideology better as it got more extreme. What I did not know is that Evangelicals, also called Fundamentalists, were prime movers in turning Republican politics into a well-oiled voter turnout machine.

Anne Nelson is on the faculty at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs. She acknowledges the help of colleagues and students in the end notes. Although I have written on these subjects many times Anne Nelson had access to resources I did not. Her work is important to me because it offers proof that my “cheap seats” interpretations of recent events in our government have merit. It would be more satisfying if the truths did not back up the facts that the church has been meddling in our federal government and that they grew from scratch into a very effective organization, using tools both legal and possibly illegal to get Republicans elected. 

Southern Baptists were not leaving the church the way other Americans were. The advent of church on TV had given birth to the megachurch phenomenon. Pastors with large numbers of followers became almost religious rock stars. For decades there had been a strong church presence on the radio, especially across the South and Midwest. Stardom can go to your head, at least that seems to be what happened. At first churches met, “convocated,” held conventions, and church leaders talked about the moral decline which they linked to the decline in religious observance in many parts of America. They felt that religion would cure our moral “slippage.” They were angered that it was no longer legal to pray in school. They began to understand that their numbers and their media network gave them power to change the things they did not like about America. Their natural allies were the Republican Party, even more so with the advent of the Tea Party. 

Evangelicals began to found a series of social organizations which were ostensibly formed to deal with aspects of America’s slippage, things like the disintegration of the nuclear family, abortion, contraception, the exclusion of religious teachings from school, the increasing concentration of power at the federal level when it could benefit the church’s ability to thrive if power was concentrated instead at the state level (small government). 

Evangelicals came to see that if they could get Republican voters to the polls they could get everything they wanted because the Republican agenda matched the Evangelical wish list. They eventually went digital and collected data on a house-by-house basis in places that leaned right. 

One problem with this (among many) is that these groups are classified as 501 c3 (nonprofits for religious reasons) and 501 c4 (nonprofits for social welfare reasons). These groups, in order to keep their tax exempt status, are not supposed to be partisan or participate in getting members of any particular party elected. These groups, in an incestuous relationship with the Republican Party and rich Republican donors like the Koch brothers and the DeVos family, were violating their tax exempt status, not to mention colluding to have an outsized effect on our national, state, and local politics. This story is essentially a political thriller, except its real.

Anne Nelson’s very interesting book may not be to everyone’s taste but should be read by anyone who believes that we should participate in our democracy/republic.

The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts – Book

From a Google Image Search – Goodreads

Although I found fault with the adolescent atmospherics in the second book in Nora Roberts most recent trilogy which began with Year One and continued with Of Blood and Bone, I decided that I enjoyed the first two books enough to want to read The Rise of Magicks, the last volume in the trilogy. (It could just be that, like Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, I am unable to leave something unfinished.) I liked this last volume almost as much as I liked the first volume. Although I don’t believe in magic or even ‘magicks’, there was enough universal cultural commentary relevant to the times to keep me hooked. And I will confess that one of my guilty pleasures when it comes to reading was a love of the romance genre, especially the Regency romances of Barbara Cartland and Amanda Quick. I blame this on (or credit this to) my sister who loved these books so much. Although I rarely crave this particular genre these days, I’m guessing that particular endorphin pathway is still neurologically strong. Nora Roberts trilogy has enough romance to reengage those particular neurons and she does it with all the delicacy some of those Regency romances entailed. 

When the seal that holds magick away from humans is broken in Scotland and both good and evil magic are loosed on the world they come in the form of a virus. Many die from this virus, millions, and the world is thrown into chaos. Some humans begin to learn that they have morphed into magical beings and some other humans, who have no magic are horrified by these magical humans and see them as abominations. They capture them and put them in containment centers where they devise experiments with various deviant purposes. So we have a culture that is dealing with the ‘others’, aliens, and it is not a proud moment in fictional human history, but which has some parallels in the real world.

Lana and Max, the first generation heroes, are witches who are being hunted by a group called the Purity Warriors, and by magical people who chose the dark side, the Dark Uncanny. They decide to halt their desperate escape at a small town which they, along with other first generation virus survivors, will turn into a community called New Hope. But this final book is the story of Lana and Max’s daughter, Fallon Swift, known far and wide as The One. And she is a refreshingly down-to-earth female heroine even though she is trained by her own Merlin and her path to power resembles the Arthurian legends (but this Arthur is a girl/woman). This final book in the trilogy, The Rise of Magicks is full of war and of love. This time Duncan and Fallon are grown-ups, no longer teens, and if you were frustrated that they each went their own way at the end of Book 2, then you will find it was worth the wait. While these are not the great American novel(s) they are an entertaining and addictive read delivered by a really talented, and very prolific, writer.

December 2019 Book List

December 2019 Book List

I decided not to put together a book list for December, although I may do that later when life slows down. But here are links to lists of the best books of 2019.

New York Times

Amazon

Publisher’s Weekly (You may have. to paste this link into your search space and you may have to subscribe to a newsletter.)

https://best-books.publishersweekly.com/pw/best-books/2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – Book

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, much anticipated (possibly demanded) by fans of the TV series based on Ms. Atwood’s book. By the end of The Handmaid’s Tale we know that there is a resistance movement. It is modeled on the real and desperate escape route for American slaves, the Underground Railroad. This time it is called the “Female Road” and the magic rescue word offered to handmaid’s, who are virtually sex slaves, is May Day. Offred escapes Gilead through this underground route. But what happens after she escapes? Does she die? Does she find a safe place and live out her days in peace? Does she join the resistance?

Margaret Atwood is able to use her words to build scenes from both the past and the future that are vivid and that come to life in our minds. She builds the entire nation of Gilead. She does it like one of those artists who can capture the essence of a person or a place with just a few deft strokes. We find we don’t need every little detail. Because her new nation is similar to things we already know our mind fills in the blanks. The same skill is at work as we follow the resistance movement inside and outside of Gilead, and as a very surprising character engineers the demise of Gilead.

Gilead has besides the handmaids; the Commanders, their wives, the Marthas, the Econowives, the Aunts, the Guardians, and the Eyes. The Aunts are modelled somewhat on nuns. They live regimented lives, ruled by prayers and bells, they are the teachers of handmaids and of the daughters of Commanders, they are the only women in Gilead allowed to keep books and to read and write. Big mistake. In this male-dominated world men believe that women are now powerless, completely reliant on men, and that even the powers of previously educated, professional women such as doctors, lawyers, and judges have been completely defused. In The Testaments we find Commander Judd and Aunt Lydia basically in a respectful/hostile power struggle. Aunt Lydia was a force in The Handmaid’s Tale, but in The Testaments we learn about her secret powers (no magic is involved, just intellect). We learn that what Commander Judd cannot imagine will eventually bring him down.

We also meet a young teen who is living with a couple of resistance fighters who she almost believes are her real parents. We meet the Pearl Girls, missionaries from Gilead who are also unwitting partners in the resistance. When Gilead uncovers “Nicole’s” parents and blows them up Nicole (Baby Nicole was stolen from Gilead) is hurriedly trained to infiltrate Gilead as a captive of the Pearl Girls. Watching her reactions as she is introduced to this repressed culture and watching the reactions of the others to her is part of that charming skill that Margaret Atwood brings to her writing. Atwood successfully, but not exhaustively, wraps up the tale of the handmaids and offers us a new hero, a woman, of course.

Photo Credit – From a Google Image Search