The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates 401 pages

Coates’ first work of fiction centers on Hiram Walker.  His mother is a slave and his father is the master of a tobacco plantation in Virginia.  His mother disappears when Hiram is a young boy, and he is then cared for by Thena, an old slave whose children have all been sold off.  As he gets older, Hiram is a servant to his half brother, Maynard, the son of his father and the father’s wife.  Eventually it becomes evident that Hiram has a “gift” and because of this, he becomes part of the underground railroad.

I’m not sure why I finished The Water Dancer.  It was confusing, the sentences sometimes made no sense, and Coates’ characterization of Hiram was flat.   I think because I admired the author’s first book, Between the World and Me, I thought The Water Dancer would get better.  It never did.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates 401 pages

The Library Book by Susan Orlean 309 pages

It might seem hard to imagine that a book about The Los Angeles Public Library would be fascinating, but it truly is.  Susan Orlean begins her book describing the fire in the library on April 29, 1986, and she then moves back and forth taking her reader to the beginning of the city’s first public library to what the library has evolved into.  Interspersed within these chapters are scenes of the aftermath of the fire, and the story of the man who might have started the catastrophic blaze.

Of course, The Library Book is not for everyone,  However, if you are a book lover, have ever worked in a library and/or believe that free access to books and other forms of information is important, The Library Book is a must read.

 

 

The Library Book by Susan Orlean 309 pages

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett 352 pages

Cyril Conroy, through wise real estate investments, is able to purchase the home of his dreams.  However, his wife, who thought she wanted to be a nun until Cyril pulled her out of the convent, despises everything about the Dutch house.  Her son, Danny, is a baby and her daughter, Maeve, has just started school when she leaves the Dutch house forever.  Danny, the narrator of the novel, describes what happens to the family after her departure.

The Dutch House is a good story.  The characters are realistic except for the evil step mother and even the family home has a singular personality.  I think Ann Patchett has written another best seller, although I felt the ending was a bit abrupt.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett 352 pages

The World that We Knew by Alice Hoffman 384 pages

It is 1941 in Berlin, and Hanni, a widow, desperately wants her only child, Lea, to flee the city and the Nazi’s.  Her last hope is to have the rabbi’s daughter produce a golem, a statue made of clay that magically comes to life.  The golem will protect Lea and get her safely to Paris where, hopefully, Hanni’s cousins will take them in.  The cousins, mathematician Andre Levi, his wife and two sons allow Lea and the golem to stay temporarily.  The World That We Knew follows these characters and several others as they travel and hide throughout France for the next three years.

If you are not a fan of Alice Hoffman, especially when her novels have a strong sense of magic, The World That We Knew is going to be a disappointment.  On the other hand, if you’re willing to suspend belief and learn about golems and the angel of death, you will find The World That We Knew full of delightful characters woven into a tense plot.

The World that We Knew by Alice Hoffman 384 pages

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell 400 pages

In the newest of Malcolm Gladwell’s observations of modern day behavior, he explores why we so often misinterpret people we don’t know.  His basic premise he names defaulted truth which, in essence, means that we form conclusions about strangers based on our own perceptions and experiences.  The master of examples, Gladwell uses individuals such as, Sylvia Plath, Adolph Hitler, Bernie Madoff and Jerry Sandusky to illustrate his theories.  His book begins and ends with Sandra Bland, the woman who was imprisoned in Texas for failing to use her turn signal and three days later committed suicide in her jail cell.  In each of these cases and several more, Gladwell demonstrates how their outcomes would have been different if we talked and interpreted strangers in another way.

Talking to Strangers is typical Malcolm Gladwell – part history, part sociology and part psychology.  His examples are clear-cut, well-explained and easy to understand.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell 400 pages

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine 258 pages

Daphne and Laurel Wolfe are identical twins with bright red hair.  They are as close as any two people can be.  They are best friends, they have a secret language that only they understand and are intrigued and passionate about the English language.  Cathleen Schine describes Laurel and Daphne’s lives from childhood to middle age.  Along the way, she introduces us to their husbands, children, parents and other relatives and employers.  Most of them are as interesting, bright and quirky as the twins.

If you love taking apart words and thinking about the complexities of our language, The Grammarians will charm you.  Schine writes a good story, and it’s easy to read with engaging characters.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine 258 pages

A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldm pages

Parveen Shamsa is an anthropology major at California Berkeley.  Her parents fled Afghanistan and settled in Northern California before she was born.  After reading a book titled Mother Afghanistan,  an American man’s memoir about building a clinic in a remote village in that country,  Parveen decides to interrupt her studies and travel to that village.  She hopes to study the lives of the women in that area.  What she expects and what she experiences are vastly different.

Waldman’s first novel, The Submission, told a so so story but hit on several controversial issues.  A Door in the Earth is the same in that respect.  The characters are rather flat, the plot, at times, is a bit didactic, but the novel brings up many issues worth discussing.

A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldm pages