Review: The List by Amy Siskind

The “new normal” of American politics is not normal. A week after the 2016 Election, Amy Siskind started The Weekly List – a blog that documents news stories representing eroding norms under the current regime. Now, she’s published the first year of the lists in a book dedicated to “The Resistance.”

The book comes with a forward by Sarah Kendzior, which is worth reading as a stand-alone reminder of the importance of what we do. She writes: “Throughout 2017, the Trump Administration unleashed a firehose of falsehoods designed to prompt Americans to frantically search for the truth, in the hope that they would ultimately stop valuing it…. What is the point of speaking truth to power, citizens would ultimately wonder, if power is the only truth.”

As Kendzior says. “The List is an antidote to the firehose effect of nonstop scandal as well as the gaslighting carried out by the purveyors of alternate facts — and as such it stands as a unique challenge to aspiring autocrats.” The List

Review of 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik

1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m really a 4.5 not a 4-star on this book. It’s not as good as his April 1865. But it is very good. The title somewhat misleads in that the book covers a lot of history before 1944; however, it’s point is the consequences of the decisions made, or avoided, in 1944. A bit repetitive at times: The beginning tries to capture the reader by previewing all to come — not a good technique in my opinion.

I’ve read a lot about FDR and WWII and this covered some new territory for me. If I hadn’t covered the previous territory with authors such as Rick Atkinson and Doris Goodwin, I might have been lost. So, maybe the 4 is just right.

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Review of “As Close to Us as Breathing.”

As Close to Us as BreathingAs Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It takes some mental agility to keep up with the book’s bouncing between decades and characters. I appreciate that style. I would have liked to know a little more of some of the lesser characters’ points of view. I use that word “lesser” with some hesitation because I’m not sure who the main characters are. Perhaps the main character is the family as a whole.
Worth reading.

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Review of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is ForgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

I’ve never read a Chris Cleave novel before. I’ve been missing something good if the rest are like his latest, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven. The main character, Mary North, says her only talent is conversation, but what an outstanding talent that is.
In 1939, Mary leaves finishing school within hours of Britain’s declaration of war and volunteers with the War Office. Her assignment makes sense — teaching elementary students — and provides a new perspective on the evacuation of London’s children (or not) and on the replacement of men who went to the front. Her first lover is not allowed to join the military because his civil job is considered essential while his best friend becomes an officer posted to the worst spots in the first two years of the war. At home, the Blitz torments Mary while her upper-class parents seem immune in their suburban location.
One couldn’t ask for more drama in a World War II setting. The dialogue is flawless and constantly entertaining.  My favorite line (though not from the dialogue that I’ve been raving about above):

When set against the great corruption of the war, his own small rot seemed, if not excusable, then at least unexceptional.

I highly recommend this book, which I purchased at Barefoot Cowgirl Books in Flagstaff, AZ.

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Review of Jane Smiley’s Private Lives

Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The beginning promises a more exciting ending than the book delivers, but that’s life, isn’t it? At least, that’s Smiley’s take on life. In this book, Smiley presents an excellent and, I think, realistic character study of a woman in early 20th Century America. I don’t think the husband is as believable, but his purpose is as a foil to Margaret.

Margaret thinks a lot and talks little. Even when we know she’s engaged in conversation, Smiley often presents it in summary form without actual dialogue. Usually, that makes for a less intriguing book; that’s probably the case here. Yet, the form may be representative of Smiley’s take on the era when women were to be decorative rather than talkative. In that case, the appropriate description would be “literary.”

While, as said above, I think the character study is excellent, I don’t agree that Margaret is representative of women of her era. Indeed, there are plenty of lesser female characters in this novel who prove women can be outspoken and establish lives of their own. Margaret simply failed to do so. Is this innate or due to childhood trauma? That’s left to the reader to conclude.

The fact that it took me a month to read this book should lower my rating, but it could be that I had a busy August. Overall, I found the book pleasant to read and enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the Bay area and costumes of the times.

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Review of Noah Hawley’s “Before the Fall.”

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very special book. The author does 11 or 12 very fine character studies, weaving 2-3 plot lines into the story of ordinary people living their lives. Well, maybe some not so ordinary, like the two billionaires and the psychotic co-pilot.

But it’s the ordinary folks who turn out to be most interesting. Here’s a thought from one of the mothers: “Mothers exist to blunt the existence of loneliness of being a person. If that were true then her biggest maternal responsibility was simply companionship. You bring a child into this fractious chaotic world out of the heat of your womb and then spend the next 10 years working beside them while they figure out how to be a person.”

One plot revolves around the crash investigation: A mystery on par with the best cliff-hangers. The other follows the life of the main character, an unmarried forty-something painter. You drop into his life at a pivotal time for him and jump right into the angst thanks to Hawley’s excellent writing.

Definitely, read this book.

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Review of Swan Huntley’s “We Could Be Beautiful.”

We Could Be BeautifulWe Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book almost hit my Goodreads “abandoned” shelf in the first fifty pages, but I was intrigued enough to stick with it and I’m glad I did. The first person narrator is an early-forties, Manhattan woman living off $80,000 per month (not a typo) from her father’s trust fund. She’s lost and thinks she’s miserable. Then she meets her Mr. Right who turns out to be Mr. Wrong. She grows a bit through the turmoil of discovering he is Mr. Wrong.

The writing is witty and it’s a quick read. I’m torn between 3 stars and 4. I think I’m going with 3 because I don’t like the protagonist, but we’re not supposed to like the protagonist so perhaps that’s an achievement deserving a four-star rating. The other characters are also well done. For example, the depiction of the mother with Alzheimer’s disease seems perfect to me. Been there, done that.

Overall, I’d say read this book.

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More Summer Reading: Review of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where is the ten-star rating option? This is an excellent book. True to historical context (as far as I can tell) and presents a beautiful family story that could have been set elsewhere but fits very dramatically in WW II France. I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction and also to thriller readers.

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Review of The Summer Before The War

I’ve been vacationing a bit this summer and doing more reading than writing. So, here’s another book review:

The Summer Before the War: A NovelThe Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t read Helen Simonson’s first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” but will add it to my list after having read “The Summer Before the War.” The book begins with a quotation from Henry James, which seems so fitting because all the action involves careful strolling about drawing rooms and gardens, at least in the beginning. The setting is incredibly important to the book: The stifling world of the early 20th Century, most fittingly represented by women bound in corsets. But these women, at least the main characters, are fighting to get out. By the end of the Great War, they have at least been relieved of the corsets. The war shatters the setting of the Summer Before the War forever. Beautifully written with characters you’ll love – I did anyway.

This book is classified as historical fiction.  For those not familiar with the period, there is much to learn about women’s history and the status of gay lives. (I won’t mention lesbians, bisexuals, or transgendered lives because they were beyond imagination.)

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Review of Warner’s Green-Light

Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of PublishingGreen-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing by Brooke Warner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another very useful book from Brooke Warner. When I read her “What’s Your Book,” I entered a new world. Since then, I’ve done a lot of reading about publishing, yet I learned a few new things in “Green-Light.”

“Green-Light” would be a great book for someone who knew nothing about the business of publishing. For someone looking for “how to do it,” this is not the book; this book tells you what you need to know about publishing without filling in all the nitty-gritty details of what those things actually are.

Well worth reading for anyone who is hesitating to publish, for people looking to understand the current state of the publishing industry, and for those who may need a little push to get their manuscripts into print.

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