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!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

All This Could be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews


An hourly rate of $23 at a consulting firm. A rent-paid apartment in Milwaukee. Sneha knows that this is the best job she’s going to find in the heat of the Great Recession. After her Indian parents had to leave the United States in ignominy, Sneha bears the responsibility of doing right by them and can’t afford to be picky. As she falls in love with a charismatic young woman, struggles with coming out to her conservative parents, and navigates the edge of bankruptcy, Sneha finds comfort in friends who are themselves barely making it in the gig economy. A+

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Town of Babylon by Alejandro Varela


As Andres, the gay son of Hispanic immigrants finds out, cookie-cutter suburbia smothers individuality. But in high school, rigid hierarchies twisted into helixes. When his father’s illness brings Andres back to Babylon, the small New York town where he grew up, he has to confront many unresolved issues. These include a lingering crush on a classmate and possible homophobia that mars another’s character. Describing classism and racism, Varela movingly illuminates the evolving suburbs as well. Their embrace of Trumpism while being forced to make room for assimilation over the years, leaves folks like Andres forever on the outside looking in.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Snow by John Banville


Winter is a living breathing presence in this whodunnit set in small-town Ireland and is worth the price of admission for that alone. Detective Strafford must solve the case of the apparent murder of Father Tom. Strafford is convinced that a member of the Osborne family in Ballyglass House has committed the crime but he gets swept up in their internal machinations. The savvy reader can see the sub-plot, which is not for the faint of heart, coming a mile away. Nevertheless, this is a winning portrayal of class and religious divides in Ireland, which even deep snow can’t smother.