“The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted”
By Robert Hillman
G. P. Putnam, New York
This was a great story to be reading around Father’s Day, since the main character is a loving father who lacks paternity. I love books about bookshops; in this one, the bookshop, while pivotal, relinquishes center stage to life outside the pages.
The titular bookshop is like our own Singing Winds, an intellectual treasure in the Australian outback. The woman who starts it in 1968 is an immigrant: Hannah, a widow, a survivor of Auschwitz. Every book that Hannah has curated into her bookstore — a foolishly vast collection of 7,500 titles — represents hope and defiance in the face of loneliness and pain, untranslated poetry and all. Hannah hires Tom Hope to build her bookshelves.
It’s an impactful illustration of life in rural anywhere. People are both close and far apart; intimate and private; accepting and judgmental; desirous and distrustful of the novel and peculiar. Hillman is tender with his rural characters, reminiscent of Kent Haruf. So many writers highlight either tragedy or pain; this is a novel that's an attempt to portray real life with its balance of both, featuring people we feel we know, friends or family.
Even though we learn Hannah’s story in detail, the book revolves around Tom, a farmer. He’s lost his wife to a cult for the second time, along with Peter, her child who he’s raised as his own from birth. Tom Hope is the stoic and quietly heroic everyman, who may not be articulate or artistic, but who doesn't know how to take his heart back once he's given it.
Each person in the book has experienced tragedy and has come to their own individual way of dealing with it, "healthy" or not; just like life. Hannah and the child, Peter, have both experienced horrific events. Both are scarred and scared and face hard choices. Both want and need Tom as an anchor, and Tom wants that, too. Hillman does a superb job of illustrating the ripple effect of the everyday hero, the redemptive power of love for those who reach to grasp it. Highly recommended!
“Lost and Found In Spain:
Tales of an Ambassador's Wife”
By Susan Lewis Solomont
Packing up and leaving home, family and friends in Massachusetts for more than three years in Spain certainly qualifies as an adventure of a lifetime! And in many ways it was for Susan Solomont when her husband, Alan, was appointed by President Barack Obama to be U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra. From 2010 to mid-2013, the couple made their home in Madrid, representing the United States and coming to know the deep-rooted, big-hearted Iberian people and their lifestyles.
Armed with Ambassador school training in the U.S., Alan quickly comes to relish his busy new role, while Susan — leaving behind her nonprofit fundraising and philanthropic consulting work — faces more of an adjustment as she learns the rules of a diplomatic household and does her best to acquire Spanish language skills and learn the lay of the land.
In this memoir/travelogue, readers get to tag along as Susan explores Madrid's cultural highlights and top restaurants, as well as small Spanish villages, the Costa del Sol, exuberant Barcelona and more. Culinary adventures with some of Spain's greatest chefs, including José Andrés, make for delicious adventures, as do rubbing shoulders with such celebrities as Antonio Banderas.
Tempering those highlights: her extended time away from family in the States, especially the couple's two grown daughters, and the heart-breaking death of Susan's father back in the States. Her occasional trips back home, plus family and friends visiting in Spain, helped, as did her determined efforts to promote more leadership and entrepreneur opportunities for Spanish women.
The couple's discovery and participation in the Madrid Jewish community, immersion in Spanish culture, and friendships developed with embassy staff also round out Susan's efforts to rebalance her life abroad as much as possible. And, once settled back home in Boston and carving out a “new normal” again, her advice is this: “If you have the opportunity to do something different in life, something unusual and unforeseen, go for it. Take the risk, even if it feels scary or uncomfortable. These opportunities are rare, and you must seize them.”
“CODE NAME: Lise:
The True Story of the Woman
Who Became WWII's
Most Highly Decorated Spy”
By Larry Loftis
This is a portrait of true courage, patriotism, and love of two incredibly heroic people who endured unimaginable horrors and degradations. The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing. At first reluctant to become a spy, Odette Sansom decides to follow in her WWI hero father’s footsteps by becoming a Special Operation Executive Program agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Leaving three young children behind in the care of relatives, while her husband is on the allied front lines, Odette volunteered to go behind enemy lines in Occupied France and work on behalf of the resistance. She was born and raised in France and speaks the language fluently without any foreign accent.
After five failed attempts to infiltrate Nazi-occupied France and one plane crash, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. She meets her commanding officer, Capt. Peter Churchill. Though no direct relative of Sir Winston Churchill, the Churchill name becomes an advantage later in the war. As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while they are being hunted by Hugo Bleicher, a cunning German secret police sergeant who finally captures them.
They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there, to two different concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten and tortured, never disclosing any information about their comrades and their mission. And in the face of despair, not knowing the fate of each other or the whereabouts of their colleagues, they never give up hope.
Once in a while, a true story is so intense, thrilling and adventurous that reading it, you just might think you're reading fiction. Odette's story is inspiring and fascinating one of war, intrigue, love and great courage! At great personal expense to her family, she acted as a courier for the British SOE, tasked with causing as much difficulty as they could for the Nazis through acts of sabotage. The author seamlessly weaves together the touching romance between Odette and Peter and the thrilling cat and mouse game between them and Nazi Sgt. Bleicher.
This book is well written and researched, and conversations are taken verbatim from the records. I highly recommend it to historians of WWII and readers fascinated with seemingly ordinary people performing extraordinary tasks. It's a great read!
By Fiona Barton
Penguin Random House
Think you know your kid? This latest work by Fiona Barton may have you questioning your familiarity, perhaps like the fictional family in her latest psychological suspense novel.
Journalist Kate Waters alternates roles as concerned mom whose son is “discovering himself” 6,000 miles from home, and as a reporter sniffing out a scoop and watching as a case of two missing teens turns deadly. Tension rises after the recent high school grads leave England for a summer romp in Bangkok and contact from them ceases abruptly shortly following their arrival.
Little is going as planned. The travel companions are only casual friends, and soon realize the challenges of language barriers, and can’t locate their preferred hostel. They find another “guesthouse,” then gradually learn of its sordid reputation.
When it all gets too weird, one of the girls plans to head home but discovers her money is gone. Then there’s a fire. The parents are working with the authorities, trying to sort it all out, hoping their loved ones aren’t involved. Complicating things is a local investigation seemingly bent on writing it off as accidental.
When the possibility arises that her son is linked, Kate suddenly resumes the role of worried parent and then some.
A gripping read for anytime, but maybe especially summer, if your teens are traveling abroad.
By John Sanford
Warning! The flood of profanity in John Sanford’s newest novel may cause many readers to slam the novel down in total disgust. It’s not a book for genteel readers. But none of his other Lucas Davenport novels were written for that audience either. While some of this book’s early action occurs in Louisiana then Los Angeles, most of the plot drags through the gutters of Las Vegas and the surrounding desert.
As a smirking New Noir novel, “Neon Prey: is a perfect example of the genre. This kind of grunge literature harkens back to the hard-boiled cop and detective stories of the 1940s — '50s pulp magazines that seem to have found a surprising new life in today’s novels and movies. This kind of writing takes a strong stomach and a totally off-beat sense of comedy to enjoy.
Having lived parts of three years in Las Vegas, I can attest that Sanford’s depiction of the real city as a grubby, disgusting place to live is spot on. So too with his 29th novel in the Prey series. But the main characters are familiar John Sanford types, running through multiple situations all over the country until they end their trek in Vegas.
Lucas Davenport, a federal marshal working out of Minneapolis, again calls on fellow marshals Bob and Rae, which immediately becomes a hoot with the snide and off-color humor. But it turns out quite a bit more gruesome than Sanford's previous works. Maybe because the killer is a man who not only kills his enemies, but likes to eat parts of their bodies as revenge. And there’s a couple of rapes and several house invasions to spice up the plot, minus the funny banter and kooky situations of previous Sanford novels.
If you’re a reader of neo-Noir novels and you already know about Sanford and his weird but successful marshal, this one won’t satisfy. If it’s your very first John Sanford novel, get ready for a very weird and bawdy read.
“Lubna and Pebble”
By Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus
Dial Books for Young Readers
Lubna and her father landed on the beach in the middle of the night; and after Lubna picked up a smooth, round pebble, she fell asleep in her daddy’s salty arms. The next morning when she awoke to the “World of Tents,” Lubna found a felt-tip pen and drew a happy face on Pebble.
Throughout their extended ordeal, whenever Lubna felt unhappy or scared, she would hold her daddy’s reassuring hand and take comfort in Pebble’s cheerful smile. Then Amir arrived and Lubna had someone to play with. But Pebble remained her best friend and confidant. When Lubna ran to tell Amir her father had found them a home, Amir was heartbroken. He had come to the camp all alone and did not want to lose his best friend. But Lubna found a way to console him and convey hope for the future.
This very timely tale, told with a kind yet honest voice, will enlighten young children to the hardships suffered — both in the journey and the relocation — by those immigrating to this or any other country. Whether used at home or in the classroom, it’s a fantastic teaching tool. I highly recommend.
“Winning Armageddon: Curtis LeMay and
Strategic Air Command, 1948-1957”
By Trevor Albertson
Naval Institute Press
Gen. Curtis LeMay has become a mythical figure. As commander of our strategic bombers in the Pacific, he brought Japan to its knees with low level fire-bombing before the atom bombs were dropped. In 1947, LeMay became Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, which ultimately was a key factor in our “winning” the Cold War. His reputation in many circles is that of a madman wanting to launch a nuclear holocaust. Albertson provides a thoroughly researched assessment of LeMay’s SAC years, painting a more rational picture of the man.
LeMay was of the old school and believed “the bomber will always get through” regardless of air defense. Having seen what the atom bombs did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he reasoned that our best defense was a strong offense, and by that, he meant the ability to strike enemy forces before they launched. He did not trust the Soviets and was persistent in his efforts to convince his leaders and his nation of the need for a preemptive strike. He believed such a strike at enemy air forces would save both our cities and the Soviet’s, a more humane approach for both.
LeMay argued his position in a variety of forums, military and civilian. He and others called for a redefinition of “aggression” that would ameliorate the negative perception of preemptive strikes. While engaging in this strategy debate, he built SAC into the backbone of the USAF.
Albertson makes clear the general’s attention to detail, concern for his troops and strong operational know-how. And he shows LeMay’s human side with his interest in auto racing and the outdoors. Albertson’s study is the preface to the Mutual Assured Destruction strategy ultimately adopted. Serious students of the Cold War should not miss “Winning Armageddon.”
“Zucked: Waking Up to
the Facebook Catastrophe”
By Roger McNamee
Author McNamee admits to having been an early supporter of Facebook, excited by the possibilities of creating a global community of people easily being able to communicate with each other in real time. Only in recent years has he come to realize the dark side of Facebook. His book as a wake-up call for those still caught in dangerous social network tech traps, like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter.
Facebook is the social platform he sees as by far the most dangerous, largely because Mark Zuckerberg thinks algorithms can put the genie of fake news, mega data collection, and other dangerous monsters back into sensible control. The reasons algorithms can't fix the problem are numerous. First, the megadata breaches that have spilled supposedly private personal information out into cyberspace cannot be recaptured. It's out there and quite probably being sold to any number of possible thieves.
Supposedly algorithms are neutral, totally lacking in bias, thus fair. This is nonsense as they contain the same biases as their code-writing creators. The turnover is high among those who are hired to monitor the stuff spewing into cyberspace via social media. How long can anyone hold a job trying to censor out child pornography, torture or hate speech or just obviously fake news, before becoming seriously depressed or totally psychotic in the process? Who is so knowledgeable as to immediately be able to detect sometimes subtle fake news? Who can recognize hate speech if it is written in a language the censor has not mastered?
Anything transmitted via the internet might as well be on a public billboard. Every aspect of our lives has become connected by electronic communications that can be used to simplify daily tasks but that can also be hacked into by thieves and killers.
To respond with panic or serious depression is not what is required. McNamee suggests we disconnect our children and ourselves in as many ways as possible. Though he is committed to capitalism, he recognizes the need for informed regulation. He supports duckduckgo.com as an alternative search tool to Google.
Perhaps the best answer is found in his Gertrude Stein quote: "Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense." Common sense should let us know the value of coming up for fresh air more often or we will drown in sensory overload, most of it damaging.
• Come listen, read your own poetry or share a favorite poem during the Poet's Corner informal gathering on Monday, July 8, and Thursday, July 25, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Joyner-Green Valley Library, 601 N. La Cañada Drive. All are welcome.
• A movie screening and director's talk on the film “Bisbee 17” is Friday, July 12, 2 to 4 p.m., at the library.
• Page Turner's Book Club will discuss “An American Tragedy,” by Theodore Dreiser, on Monday, July 15, 2:30 to 4 p.m., at the library.
The 10 most popular books at Joyner-Green Valley Library for the past month:
“Look Alive Twenty-Five,” by Janet Evanovich
“Long Road to Mercy,” by David Baldacci
“The A List: an Ali Reynolds mystery,” by J.A. Jance
“Dark Sacred Night,” by Michael Connelly
“Wolf Pack: A Joe Pickett novel,” by C.J. Box
“Past Tense,” by Lee Child
“Redemption,” by David Baldacci
“Holy Ghost,” by John Sandford
“The Wedding Guest,” by Jonathan Kellerman
“Run Away,” by Harlan Coben