Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs 385 pages

Small Fry is one of the five notable works of nonfiction selected by The New York Times for 2018.  The author’s parents were never married, conceived her when they were very young, and in many ways she paid the price for their irresponsible,  naive life style.  Lisa’s mom is Chrisann Brennan, an artist with an artistic temperament.  Her father was Steve Jobs who denied his paternity for several years and whose presence in her life was sporadic and unpredictable.  Her mother lived hand-to-mouth for most of Lisa’s childhood even though the father of her only child was a multi-millionaire.  Jobs was not generous to his eldest daughter either, even refusing to pay for her senior year at Harvard.

Lisa Brennan-Jobs writes a poignant, fascinating memoir about growing up in northern California with two parents who were selfish and quick to anger but creative and clever.

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Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs 385 pages

November Road by Lou Berney 320 pages

John Kennedy has just been assassinated and Frank Guidry was responsible for the killer’s getaway car.  When plans go awry, the mobster he works for is out to get him, so Frank doesn’t squeal.  Charlotte Roy is a young mother of two girls, living in a small town with an alcoholic husband.  When she gets into her car with her daughters and the family dog and heads towards Los Angeles to escape her life in Oklahoma, she has no idea that she will meet Guidry who is running away from the thug hired to kill him.

November Road is a good, fast-paced read.  Berney’s characters are believable and his plot is simple yet exciting.  It is the perfect airplane book or vacation read.

 

November Road by Lou Berney 320 pages

Prague Spring by Simon Mawer 393 pages

Simon Mawer’s most recent novel is set in Czechoslovakia and takes place in 1968 when most of its citizens want freedom, yet Russian troops are invading the city of Prague.  Mawer presents the reader with two intersecting stories.  English college students James Borthwick and Eleanor Pike are hitchhiking their way through Europe.  Originally their final destination was to be Italy, but they flip a coin, heads wins and they arrive in Prague instead.  Sam Wareham,  First Secretary of the British Embassy in Prague becomes involved in a love affair with Lenka, a Czech student who is protesting the Russian invasion and working for her country’s freedom.  These four main characters come to rely on each other in ways they never would have expected.

Prague Spring is historically accurate with real political figures and their actions interspersed throughout the narrative.  Simon Mawer writes a good story, although Sam and Lenko’s love story evolved too quickly for me to find it believable.

Prague Spring by Simon Mawer 393 pages

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan 332 pages

Washing Black was just awarded Canada’s Giller Prize and is one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018.  It is the story of George Washington Black, born a slave on Faith Plantation in Barbados in 1819 yet he ends up living a rather extraordinary life.  Although the master of the plantation is cruel and sadistic, “Wash” is chosen by the master’s brother, Titch, to help launch a balloon.  Coincidentally, Wash has a talent for numbers as well as drawing.  His skills and his friendship with Titch take him to the Arctic Circle, Virginia, London, Amsterdam and Morocco.  He is forced during his travels to keep his eyes wide open at all times, looking out for a bounty hunter who is eager to capture Wash and return him to Barbados.

While the plot of Washington Black is pretty preposterous, I have to admit I enjoyed Edugyan’s novel, and eagerly looked forward to discovering where and with who Wash would end up.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan 332 pages

The Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown 348 pages

Against the backdrop of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, Brown tells the story of Chaya Shadowsky and her younger brother, Asher.  Their parents are Jewish immigrants who have settled in rural Wisconsin.  When Chaya realizes that her mother has promised her hand in marriage to a man she can hardly bear to look at,  she runs away to Chicago.  Unbeknown to her, Asher has escaped along with her.  They live in poverty.  Chaya works day and night rolling cigars until she meets Gregory Stillman, a wealthy socialist (yes, it is an oxymoron).  Meanwhile, Asher hangs out at the Exposition, thieving when he can.

Brown writes an interesting novel and if you live in Chicago or know it well, the places Chaya and Asher travel to and the people they meet up with, will be familiar.  However, there were parts of The Lake on Fire that I found tedious, and its plot had no surprises.

The Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown 348 pages

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara 352 pages

I loved The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer about murderer Gary Gilmore, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi about the Manson Murders and I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the first nonfiction novel, three times.  So it isn’t surprising that I couldn’t put down Michelle McNamara’s story about the Golden State Killer, a man accused of over 50 rapes and at least ten murders.  Although she died in 2016 and never got to see him captured, much of the work she did on the cases and the interviews she held were instrumental in helping find him.  I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is not a :who done it,: rather it is an in depth study of a criminal’s modus operandi, the unfortunate people he preyed on, and the law enforcement personnel who worked on the case.  Michelle McNamara also describes how she left no stone unturned trying to find this psychopathic criminal.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara 352 pages

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks 272 pages

Hannah is an American scholar who has come to Paris to do research on a paper about the lives of French women during WWII.  She allows a young Algerian boy named Tariq to stay with her at her apartment.  He has come to Paris hoping to find out information about his mother who he barely remembers.  Each chapter is named for a metro stop in Paris, and they alternate from Hannah’s point of view to Tariq’s.  Tariq’s eyes show us, for the most part,  the present day Paris while Hannah’s describe what life was like for several women when the German’s occupied France in the 1940’s.

Paris Echo is not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.  While reading Faulk’s thirteenth novel, I realized how little I knew about France during WWII.  Much of Hannah’s research is based on historical facts and Tariq’s wanderings accurately describe The City of Lights.  Paris Echo reverberates with many ideas about history, reality, identity and acceptance.

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks 272 pages