To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara 701 pages

Although To Paradise is a fascinating book, it is difficult to describe. It is divided into three parts: New York in 1893, Hawaii in 1993 and New York in 2093. The names of many of the characters are the same in each section, yet their roles and circumstances are entirely different. Most of the main characters are gay and on the verge of making a disastrous discovery.

I realize this is a poor summary of To Paradise, but for me it was impossible to give a brief description of this unique work. It is exciting, perplexing, frightening and a true page turner. I believe people will discuss To Paradise for a long time.

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara 701 pages

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King 231 pages

For several reasons, I rarely read short stories, and I’m not sure why I picked up Five Tuesdays in Winter, but I’m glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed all but her final story, “The Man at the Door.” The other nine stories are engrossing and poignant. The characters are realistic and relatable. If you’re in the mood for a sweet love story, read the short story that bears the book’s title.

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King 231 pages

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family by Joshua Cohen 237 pages

The narrator, Ruben Blum, is the only Jewish faculty member at Corbin College in upstate New York in 1959. When he is asked by his superior to entertain Ben Zion Netanyahu(Bibi’s father), who is applying for a professorship at Corbin, Blum has to say yes although he has misgivings. When Netanyahu arrives along with his outspoken wife and his three undisciplined sons in the middle of a snowstorm, chaos, drama and hilarity ensues.

If you have missed the writings of Philip Roth, read The Netanyahus. Like Roth, Cohen writes a funny yet dark work of fiction that also discusses heavy topics such as, Zionism, the history of the Jews and American capitalism.

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family by Joshua Cohen 237 pages

The Trees by Percival Everett 308 pages

Something awful is happening in Money, Mississippi. White bigots are being brutally murdered, and at the scene of the crimes is a dead Black man. When the dead Black man keeps disappearing, Jim Davis and Ed Morgan are brought in from The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to help solve the homicides. Soon these mysterious types of killings are being duplicated all over the country.

With a deft touch of black humor, Everett describes the issues of racism, lynching and revenge. His novel is also a good page-turner mystery. The Trees was a great way to bring in 2022.

The Trees by Percival Everett 308 pages

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki 545 pages

The following is an inadequate summary of Ruth Ozeki’s most recent work. Thirteen year old Benny Oh falls apart after the accidental death of his father. Benny begins hearing voices emanating from inanimate objects. Benny’s mother, Annabelle, becomes a hoarder to alleviate the feeling of emptiness that occurs after her husband’s death. Benny finds solace at his local library and in the company of a troubled girl self-named Aleph; Annabelle feels comforted accumulating more and more useless objects.

Fans of Ozeki will find The Book of Form and Emptiness powerful and thought-provoking. Those who think her books are confusing and odd will feel that way about this novel as well. I felt The Book of Form and Emptiness was creative and engrossing with two well-drawn empathetic main characters.

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki 545 pages

The Promise by Damon Galgut 269 pages

On her deathbed, the matriarch of the Swart family makes her husband promise that he will give their loyal, Black servant, Salome, the dilapidated home she has been living in forever in rural South Africa. Amor, the matriarch’s youngest child and the husband are the only two who have heard the promise, but Amor relates the deathbed wish to everyone. As each family member dies, the promise continues to be ignored.

The 2021 winner of The Man Booker Prize, The Promise, is an extremely satisfying read. It explores South Africa during and after apartheid artistically through character and plot development. There is a lot to be discussed in The Promise-both in writing style and what does and doesn’t happen in the novel.

The Promise by Damon Galgut 269 pages

My Faves of 2021-in alphabetical order

FICTION

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Fantonne Jeffers

Matrix by Lauren Goff

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henken

Night Came with Many Stars by Simon Van Booy

Oh, William by Elizabeth Strout

NONFICTION

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

In Kiltumper by Niall Williams with Christine Breen

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

On Animals by Susan Orlean

Taste by Stanley Tucci

What I Mean by Joan Didion

CHILDREN’S BOOK

Amos McGee Misses the Bus by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead

My Faves of 2021-in alphabetical order

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris 342 pages

Charlie Barnes has had four wives, four children and numerous jobs and occupations. His youngest child, Jake, a fairly well-known author, is writing a biography of Charlie including the good, the bad and the ugly. The opening scene of A Calling for Charlie Barnes describes Charlie waiting for a phone call that will tell him whether or not he has pancreatic cancer.

If you enjoy dark humor(I never laughed out loud but I smiled a lot) and scenes that will pull the rug out from under you, I recommend A Calling for Charlie Barnes. However, if you prefer a work with a chronological plot, sympathetic characters and a reliable narrator, don’t read this novel.

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris 342 pages

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman 378 pages

This is the third and final book in Alice Hoffman’s magic series. It follows three generations of Owens’ women, all of whom are witches. The family has been cursed for 300 years, and it involves a tragedy occurring to any family member who falls in love. When this happens to Kylie Owens, the youngest in the family, she vows to reverse the curse even if it costs her her life.

I usually enjoy Alice Hoffman, but The Book of Magic has too much magic and too little character and plot development. There are six main female characters and three secondary male characters, and none of them were fleshed out-perhaps because there were just too many of them.

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman 378 pages

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich 374 pages

Last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner has written a timely book set in Minneapolis. The main character, Tookie, has served time, arrested by the man she eventually marries. After she is released, she works in Erdrich’s book store where the ghost of an annoying customer has returned to haunt Tookie. With the help of other employees, Tookie tries to find out why this is happening to her. Along with the haunting, Tookie, her friends, family and neighbors are also dealing with the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.

I was not enamored with the ghost story or the Native American lore in The Sentence, but I enjoyed Tookie’s discussions of books, customers, the day to day happenings at a small book store, and its survival during the pandemic. Louse Erdrich’s final acknowledgement reads, “If you are going to buy a book, including this one, please visit your nearest independent book store and support its singular vision.” Love it!!

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich 374 pages