Swing by Philip Beard 317 pages

Swing moves back and forth from the time its main character, Henry Graham, is 10 to when he is in his 40’s.  Grown up Henry has traded the life of a lawyer for that of a college professor in a small town in upstate New York.  His wife is a cancer survivor, his chances of getting tenure are slim and he has just learned that a man who was an important figure during his tenth year has died.  Henry Graham grew up in Pittsburgh.  In 9171 the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.  Henry’s father had walked out on his family,  and the boy found a father figure in an avid Pirate’s fan with no legs named John Kostka.

Beard tells a good story with relatable characters and an easy to follow plot.  If you’re a baseball fan, Swing should prove an enjoyable read.

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Swing by Philip Beard 317 pages

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See 384 pages

Lisa See’s tenth novel is the story of Young-sook and her friendship with Mi-ja.  Both women are part of an all female deep sea diving group on the Korean island of Jeju.  These women are their family’s breadwinners who are trying to survive in a somewhat matriarchal society.  Young-sook and Mi-jan’s lives are recounted from when they first met in 1938 up to the present day.  Their stories are told in conjunction with the history of Korea during that time.

I learned a lot about Korea in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Unfortunately, the story of  Young-sook and Mi-ja was not as interesting as what took place around them.  The Island of  Sea Women is not one of Lisa See’s best.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See 384 pages

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard 308 pages

Little known president James Garfield is the main character in this work of nonfiction.  Although he was reluctant to be elected president, Garfield was the ideal leader for The United States in 1881.  He was smart, empathetic and unselfish.  Four months after taking office he was shot twice by a delusional man.  While he clung to life,  with one bullet still embedded in him, Garfield was under the care of a less than stellar doctor.  Also involved in this drama was Alexander Graham Bell, who was hastily inventing a machine that could locate the bullet that was making the president sicker and sicker.

Destiny of the Republic is one of the books I’ve been meaning to read since it was published eight years ago.  It is interesting, informative, and at times exciting.  A lot of the politics occurring in 1881 can be compared to what is going on in our country today.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard 308 pages

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum 352 pages

A Woman Is No Man is narrated in three voices by three generations of Palestinian women living in Brooklyn, New York.  Fareed, the grandmother, spent her childhood in a camp in Israel, suffered at the hands of her abusive husband, yet still wholeheartedly believes that women are inferior to men.  Isra, her daughter-in-law, came to Brooklyn from Palestine only days after meeting her husband at the age of seventeen.  Isra feels inferior in every way because she has only been able to give her husband daughters.  Deya, her eldest daughter, wants to break away from the restrictive restraints of her culture and religion but is afraid of taking that first step.

Ms. Rum presents a grim picture of life for Palestinian/Muslim women.  What these women had to endure, especially Isra, is painful to read about.  Nonetheless,  as difficult as A Woman Is No Man is, I found I had to continue reading because I wanted to find out what happened to Fareed, Isra and Deya.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum 352 pages

An American Summer: Life and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz 304 pages

Much like his earlier work of nonfiction, There Are No Children Here, Alex Kotlowitz writes about individuals in Chicago coping with crime, violence and poverty.  An American Summer is divided into chapters, and each chapter is a date in the summer  of 2012.  On each of these dates, the reader learns of a crime committed in Chicago, the victim(s) and sometimes the perpetrators and others, such as family, friends and neighbors who are effected by the crime.  There is Marcelo who has committed armed robbery but believes he can escape his crime ridden world through education, Eddie who murdered a rival gang member when he was twenty but at fifty wants to give back to his community, and Gerald who has spent twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

An American Summer is a difficult read emotionally.  Kotlowitz does a great job of getting into the hearts and minds of people living on the south and west side of Chicago whose lives are filled with fear and anger.  An American Summer illustrates why there is no easy answer for the violence our country is experiencing.

An American Summer: Life and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz 304 pages

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo 384 pages

Set in Malaysia in the 1930’s, The Night Tiger presents a number of diverse characters, but the central focus is on Ji Lin, a young woman who secretly becomes a dance hall girl to pay off her mother’s gambling debts, and Ren, an eleven year old houseboy who has forty nine days to fulfill his dead master’s final wish.  Ren is a twin whose brother died when they were eight years old, and Ji Lin has a step brother who was born on the same day and year as she was.  As Ren gets close to the forty ninth day, there are several mysterious deaths that will effect Ren, Ji Lin and other individuals in the novel.

The Night Tiger is an interesting, sometime exciting novel.  It will probably not appeal to everyone because much is written about Ren and Ji Lin’s realistic dreams as well as descriptions of Malaysian superstitions and symbols.

 

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo 384 pages

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken 384 pages

Bowlaway is the saga of three generations of Truitt’s told against the setting of a candle pin bowling alley.  Bertha Truitt, the matriarch of the family, wakes up in a cemetery in Salford, Massachusetts and goes on to marry, have a child late in life and build Bowlaway, the town’s candle pin bowling alley.  As the family evolves, so do the lanes,  eventually becoming  a modernized place with automated pin spotters and arcade games.  Bertha’s heirs are a colorful group of individuals ranging from a born again Christian to a biracial jazz chanteuse.

Bowlaway is one of those novels that requires a lot of reading before there is satisfaction.  However,  those willing to give it about 100 pages will be rewarded.  McCracken’s prose is delightful, her descriptions are vivid, and her characters are whimsical and tragic.

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken 384 pages