The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste 424 pages

It is 1935 and Mussolini’s army is in Ethiopia ready to capture the country. Carlo Fucelli’s troops are fighting a battle they thought they would easily win. However, the natives, led by Kidane are giving their enemy a run for their money. Especially vigilant and brave are Aster, Kidane’s wife, and Hirut, Aster’s female servant. When Aster and Hirut are captured and thrown into an Italian prison, Ettore Navarro, Fucelli’s official photographer, finds he is drawn to Hirut and her suffering.

Short-listed this year for The Man Booker Prize, The Shadow King is an historical novel which describes a time and place I knew nothing about. Mengiste does a fine job of describing Ethiopia and its people, although it is a bit confusing at first and takes a while to become immersed in the war and the characters.

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste 424 pages

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante 322 pages

The author of My Brilliant Friend once again writes a novel mostly taking place in Naples with a young girl as narrator. Giovanna’s father has always told her she is beautiful. Yet, one day she overhears him tell her mother that she is ugly and reminds him of his much hated sister, Vittoria. This shocking disclosure changes Giovanna’s life. She becomes suspicious of everyone, especially her parents, does poorly in school, and is enamored with her aunt, Vittoria. Throughout the novel, she encounters people who are lying, especially adults, but sometimes even Giovanna herself.

Written in the same style as the Neapolitan quartet, Ferrante once again displays her knack for getting into the heart and mind of a young girl. Fans of Ferrante’s other works, will not be disappointed in The Lying Life of Adults.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante 322 pages

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart 430 pages

Stuart’s debut novel is short -listed for both The Booker Prize and The National Book Award, and rightly so. Throughout most of the story, Shuggie(nickname for Hugh) is a nine year old boy living in public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. His father has remarried and never visits Shuggie. His mother is an alcoholic. His older sister, desperate to leave their mercurial, conniving mother, marries and moves to South Africa. His older brother lives with Shuggie and their mom, but works all day, comes home, closes his bedroom door, and ignores his mother’s behavior. Shuggie is an outsider at school and in the neighborhood. He only has his unreliable, selfish, vain mother to comfort him.

Yes, Shuggie Bain is heart breaking, but much like A Little Life it is wonderfully written with a realistically drawn tragic main character.

P.S. Don’t be put off by the Scottish dialect, it becomes easy to understand after a few chapters and adds to the writing.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart 430 pages

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter 352 pages

The Dolan brothers, Gig and Ry (Gregory and Ryan), have reunited in Spokane, Washington. Gig is a part-time hobo, riding freight cars and picking up odd jobs whenever he can. Ry is sixteen, took care of his mother until her death, and then went in search for Gig, his only family member still alive. In Spokane the brothers become involved with a colorful cast of characters including, Ursula the Great, a vaudeville actress who performs with a cougar, Reston Early, a man with many names and faces, Lem Brand who pretty much runs Spokane, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a nineteen year old pregnant girl who crosses the country demanding free speech and other rights to union workers.

The Cold Millions is one of the best works of fiction I have read in awhile. It combines historical fiction with vivid, interesting, empathetic characters and a plot with several twists and turns. However, if you are the type of reader who needs to get involved in a novel from page one, The Cold Millions probably isn’t for you. It took a few chapters for The Cold Millions to grab me. For me it was well worth the wait.

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter 352 pages

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam 241 pages

Amanda and Clay are looking forward to leaving Brooklyn for a weeks vacation with their two children. They have rented a lovely home in rural New York. Imagine their surprise when owners Ruth and GH Washington show up from Manhattan asking if they can spend the night because there has been a huge power outage in the city. Clay and Amanda are skeptical and suspicious of these two until they experience a noise that is louder and eerier than anything they have ever heard.

Leave the World Behind is the buzz book of the month. It is a well-organized page turner that leaves its readers with much to think about, especially now during the pandemic.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam 241 pages

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez 210 pages

The most recent book by Nunez, who won The National Book Award for fiction in 2018, is terse, yet complex and thought provoking. The three main characters are the narrator, her ex husband, and the narrator’s friend. None of the characters are given names. The friend is dying from cancer, wants to end her life before she experiences more pain, and asks the narrator to be in the next room when she decides to swallow the deadly pills.

What Are You Going Through is not for the feint of heart. Death surrounds this novel. However, for me, it was well worth the discomfort. Nunez incorporates so many intriguing ideas throughout that I often wished I was reading her novel along with someone, so we could discuss ideas as they came up.

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez 210 pages

Monogamy by Sue Miller 358 pages

Annie and Graham McFarlane have a wonderful marriage. This is the second marriage for each of them. Graham has a son from his first marriage and they have a daughter together. Annie is a photographer; Graham is the co-owner of a book store. They are a cultured couple in their 60’s with bright, interesting friends. Life is great until Graham dies suddenly, and Annie discovers Graham was unfaithful. Over time she revisits her marriage to try to come to terms with this revelation.

Sue Miller writes a good, easy to read story. Monogamy has strong, complex characters, especially Annie, who can be aggravating and admirable at the same time.

Monogamy by Sue Miller 358 pages

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg 306 pages

Jackie and Dana are best friends until Jackie sets her sights on Floyd. Lupita’s family worked for Dana’s when both were children, and although Lupita now has a successful, satisfying business in Hawaii, she is still haunted by something that happened over forty years ago. Hap becomes a first time father days before his father dies. These events force him to question what type of person he is and how it affects those who love him.

Bill Clegg does a great job of unraveling the thread that ties all these characters together with twists, turns and unexpected occurrences happening along the way.

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg 306 pages

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham 254 pages

Meacham’s newest work of nonfiction covers, in detail, the first three decades of John Lewis’s life. The author explores his young life in rural Alabama, his college years in Nashville, and Lewis’s years of marching, protesting and preaching nonviolence. His Truth Is Marching On describes what happened in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and all the other volatile events John Lewis was involved in that led up to the signing of The Civil Rights Act. Although he survived numerous beatings and arrests, he remained a good man working for a good cause.

If you want to learn more about the Civil Rights movement and Lewis’s role in it, I strongly suggest His Truth Is Marching On.

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham 254 pages

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy 254 pages

Franny Stone can’t stay in one place for very long. Even when she is asleep her body insists on sleepwalking. Her greatest journey will follow the Arctic terns as they migrate from one pole to the other. Franny has convinced the captain of a fishing vessel to follow the terns halfway around the world, certain that the birds will lead them to thousands of fish. As the ship Saghani travels south, we learn of Franny’s tragic life, the lives of others aboard the boat as well as the ecological condition of our planet.

Beautifully written, Migrations is one of the most depressing novels I’ve read in a long time. If you are feeling down about what is happening in our world today, I urge you NOT to read Migration.

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy 254 pages