Five Unrelated Books to Get Through the Winter

images  As February slams the country with icy winds and snow, my part of the world stays relatively warm, with only rain and wind interrupting the sunshine.  Although most locals welcome the opportunity to wear their sweaters and jeans, the tourists strip down to muscle shirts and shorts, rightfully thinking sixty degree weather is warm compared to the below freezing climes they left.  Suggestions for reading around the fire, sipping hot chocolate are moot here.

I have a list of books helping January blend into February, listing them below before I forget I read them – have you read any?

The Collector’s Apprentice B.A. Shapiro

Another mystery by Shapiro with art suffusing the narrative.  I connected with Shapiro when she wrote The Art Forger, and then The Muralist.  I always look forward to her next thriller.  In this one, I found myself researching the art pieces stolen – from Picassso to Matisse, one of my favorite artists.

Happiness: A Novel by Aminatta Forna

Don’t be fooled by the title, happiness is elusive in this compelling novel of two unlikely connections who collide in London – Jean, an American woman who studies the habits of urban foxes and a Ghanaian psychiatrist, Attila, specializing in refugee trauma. Attila has arrived in London to deliver a keynote speech on trauma and to check up on the daughter of friends who hasn’t called home in a while. He discovers she has been swept up in an immigration crackdown and her young son Tano is missing.

Jean joins him in his search for Tano, mobilizing her network of fox spotters. mostly West African immigrants: security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens. As the search continues, Attila and Jean reveal the true nature of happiness in a world where everything is connected.

The Reckoning by John Grisham

A family secret haunts a small town in post World War II Mississippi, as Grisham addresses race and war trauma in his latest thriller. The story begins with the decorated war hero, Pete Banning shooting the town’s Methodist minister and refusing to explain his motive.  The major clue is his sending his wife to an insane asylum for her nervous breakdown.  The big reveal comes in the last pages. A quick read, and I was tempted to skip to the end.

The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg

In the style of popular books by Patrick (The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper) and Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), this translation of Lundberg’s story focuses on an old character, in this case a 96 year old woman.  Unlike her counterparts in other novels,  who seem to be getting more lively as they get older, Doris is alone and confined to her home, with only a weekly Skype session wit her grandniece, caretakers who come and go, and the memories triggered by the names in her little red address book. Doris is writing her memoir, and each name in the address book creates a short chapter revealing an adventure in her life   Soothing and cozy –  best read with a cup of hot chocolate near a fireplace.

The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin

Prompted by a recent article in the New York Times, I looked for this ten year old book set in the nineteen sixties with one of my favorite healthy eating advocates, Dr. Andrew Weil, as the focus.  This nonfiction narrative explores the relationship of Timothy Leery, Richard Alpert, Andrew Weil and Huston Smith   Full of surprises – Well wrote his undergraduate thesis on “The Use of Nutmeg as a Psychotropic Agent – the book reveals not only the connection of these four men but also witty observations of their influence as they grow from university researchers to future gurus.  In his 2010 review for the New York Times, Dwight Lanier captured my thoughts on the book:

“I’d be lying… if I said I didn’t enjoy just about every page of “The Harvard Psychedelic Club.” This groovy story unfurls — chronicling the lives of men who were brilliant but damaged, soulful but vengeful, zonked-out but optimistic and wry — like a ready-made treatment for a sprawling, elegiac and crisply comic movie, let’s say Robert Altman by way of Wes Anderson.”

The Racketeer

Clever and suspenseful, with surprising twists mimicking Redford and Newman in “The Sting,” John Grisham targets the federal law enforcement system in his latest legal crime thriller – The Racketeer.  

After serving five years of a ten-year sentence, Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer convicted for a crime he did not commit, creates a convoluted scheme to be released from prison.  By revealing the identity of the murderer of a federal judge, Bannister trades information to the FBI for a new face, a stash of new funds, and a new life.  But Grisham has not maintained his place on the bestseller list by creating simple stories, and all is not as it seems.  As the action unfolds, you will not be sure who the real criminals are – until the very end when Grisham reveals all.  A fast-paced thriller not requiring much serious thought, The Racketeer is another fun Grisham ride.

Calico Joe

“Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.” ~Robert Frost

John Grisham’s “Calico Joe” offers a look inside those intervals through the lives of Joe Castle, a young phenom hitter for the Chicago Cubs and Warren Tracey, an arrogant thirty-four year old pitcher for the Mets.

Paul Tracey, the son of the Mets pitcher and a talented eleven year old Little Leaguer when the story begins, has that love of baseball that makes the players into gods. Calico Joe becomes Paul’s hero, but Paul knows his volatile, abusive father too well to award him the same status. The confrontation between the two baseball players is inevitable and you will know what’s coming long before it happens. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying all the baseball stories along the way.

Is the story true? In his author’s note, Grisham claims the prerogative to fictionalize, but he does base the story on the Cubs and Mets in the 1973 season. Famous names sprinkle the narrative. He also refers to the reality of baseball’s “code” – the story’s scary premise – the “ins and outs of protecting one’s teammates, and retaliation, and the complications of ‘throwing inside.'” Baseball can be a dangerous game.

Whether or not you are a fan of the game, “Calico Joe” is an easy read, with a little schmaltz and a lot of heart.

20120530-091648 PM.jpg

New Books Published in April

Whenever I read a promising review – usually in the New York Times or Washington Post – I immediately log onto my library site to order the book.  Inevitably, the library system does not yet have the book catalogued – or maybe even purchased.  So, I add the book to my list and promptly forget about it.

I have a friend who places his list next to his computer and checks into the library every day until he captures a place – usually the first or second in the queue.  By the time I remember to check, I am usually 50 or 60 on the waiting list;  popular “hot picks” sometimes place me at 273.  Of course, I could always buy the book, but what fun is there in that?

April has 4 new books I want to read.  And the library has yet to list them.  Maybe this will help me remember to keep checking.  If you get there first, please read fast and return the book for me.

            

Reading for High Fliers

What do you read on those long flights or while waiting for your next connection? Dominique Browning in her article for the New York Times – High-Brow Lit for High Fliers? Not Me – suggests you forget about catching up on the heavy classics of great literature or “back issues of sobering magazines.”

Instead, she recommends riveting best selling authors like Scott Turow and John Grisham; plot driven mysteries by P.D. James; thrillers by Ruth Rendell. Browning advises…

Next time you are facing a long flight (and predictable delays) swap out those classics for these entertaining paperbacks. At least your trip will feel shorter.”

I still catch up on my pile of New Yorker magazines on my trips, but some of my favorite flying companions are Roald Dahl’s BFG, teen vampires from the Twilight series, and handsome dukes from romances by Catherine Coulter (but I usually hide the steamy cover).

What do you read en route?