Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Half-Known Life: In Search of Paradise by Pico Iyer


Where truly does paradise lie? What does it even mean? Part travelog, part rumination, Iyer visits the most spiritual places in the world – the high plains of Ladakh, Varanasi, in India, Iran, Jerusalem, Sri Lanka, the holy Japanese mountain, Koyasan – to unearth the meaning of paradise. “Paradise could seem the cruelest notion of all if it meant pretending that the real world didn’t exist,” says Iyer in his deeply affecting book. With his signature searching and soothing voice, Iyer proves to be a trusted companion, brilliantly balancing nuggets of philosophy against descriptions of breathtaking and memorable places the world over.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Flight by Lynn Steger Strong

Flighty birds could be the perfect capture of the environmental moment we’re in. They could also symbolize the very human urges to nest, to fly away from home, and to flock in times of crises. A rash of siblings gathers for Christmas, the first after the passing of their mother. Each has emotional challenges as they tiptoe around weighty questions and the support they need from each other. It takes an external crisis to really cement the family together and reframe perspectives. If the characters’ names get jumbled at times, this is still a moving novel about shifting family dynamics.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Based on the life and times of Kate Meyrick, who for many years was the queen of Soho’s clubland, this romp through 1920s London features a riotous ensemble of characters. Central to the story is Nellie Coker, the owner of a popular group of nightclubs, pitted against police officer Frobisher. As the two, through their respective charges, keep an eye on each other, young women are mysteriously killed. Atkinson’s strength in wordplay–an evening with someone needs a drink as a “leavening”--makes up for stop-and-go pacing. A fun adventure into the seedy underbelly of one of the world’s famous cities.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Cyclorama by Adam Langer


Cycling through history, this absorbing novel draws connections between a group of high-school theater kids in 80’s greater Chicago as they take on Anne Frank’s Diary as a play. Their teacher is a volatile and dark presence scarring many of the students in direct or tangential ways. Early parts trace the characters’ stories at the school while later portions show these very same characters as adults, living their ordinary lives. Langer draws remarkable connections between worlds and every character is vividly imagined. At times the parallels between Anne Frank and the current-day MAGA “build-a-wall” movement feel forced. Nevertheless, a stunner.

Friday, April 29, 2022

On Java Road by Lawrence Osborne


Rebecca is an enigma. Born into wealth, she is ready to set all that to fire, joining the anti-China protesters in Hong Kong. Her volatility attracts the scion of a local powerhouse, Jimmy Tang. Journalist Adrian Gyles is an unwitting bystander to the relationship and finds himself in unsavory territory when things go awry. The novel incisively explores the waning days of old-school journalism. It also defines friendship and what one does in the name of loyalty. Osborne’s picturesque imagery of a roiling Hong Kong, combined with his ear for dialog, makes the novel a standout. Osborne delivers another winner.

Friday, April 8, 2022

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad

 Faraz Ali is the illegitimate son of a prostitute and a high-placed Pakistani government official. Without giving the son his name, the father has cared for Faraz, finding him a job as a police officer in Lahore. So when Faraz is called to “clean up” a murder in the city’s red-light district, he knows he has no choice. But returning there dredges up troubling childhood memories. Moving between periods of time, much of the book is set when the Indian subcontinent was undergoing its own violent geopolitical upheaval. A spectacular debut full of empathy and humanity–it moved me to tears.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

To Kill a Troubadour by Martin Walker


The enchanting PĂ©rigord countryside in France makes a fun backdrop for yet another Inspector Bruno adventure. This time around, Les Troubadours, a folk music group has created a hit “Song for Catalonia,” an achievement that makes their lead singer a target of assassination. As Bruno uncovers the plot that is rooted in the Spanish nationalist movement–he also gets involved in helping a town friend with a worrying domestic issue. At times the narrative gets too embroiled in the finer details of the Catalan bid for independence but Bruno’s an endearing protagonist. Besides, who doesn’t love somebody who loves to cook!