Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, four years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
Once you get past a bit of a distracting conceit in Heartland (Smarsh addresses parts of the book to her unborn, non-existent child) you will be immersed in a clear-eyed and moving account of what it's like to grow up poor, white, and hardworking in the middle of America. Riveting and written without an ounce of self-pity. A well-deserved longlist finalist for the non-fiction National Book Award.
Pat Barker writes about the cost of war better than just about anybody. (Her WW1 Regeneration Trilogy is a classic.) In Silence of the Girls, she retells the story of the Trojan War, mostly from the point of view of Briseis, a queen who becomes Achille's slave and concubine after he kills most of her family and obliterates her town. All the Iliad characters are here and wonderfully wrought -- Achilles, driven mad by bloodlust and desire for revenge, sorrowful Priam who just wants his beloved son's body, Achilles' loyal childhood friend Patroclus. But this story really belongs to the women -- the "spoils" of war, and how they deal with their changes in fortune. This is a powerful, visceral, anti-war novel.
Midsummer is the best time to get away and dive into the murky, intricate and absorbing spy vs. spy world of Daniel Allon, the crack Israeli agent/art restorer, now head of his intelligence agency. This latest one -- 17 have come before -- concerns the search for a Russian mole with a, shall we say, nefarious, pedigree. It's one of his best. Warning: the books in this series are highly addictive.
If you need any more reasons to hate big Pharma, in this case Perdue Pharma, well, here's a book full of them. Beth Macy's (Truevine, Factory Man) Dopesick is a meticulously reported and devastating indictment of the company which relentlessly pushed Oxycontin as a wonder pain drug and simultaneously downplayed (an understatement) its intensely addictive qualities. Macy concentrates mostly on Virginia, a state hit particularly hard. A grim book, for sure, but if you want to understand the opiate crisis (63,000+ died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016; 66% involved a prescription or illicit opioid) you need to read this book.
If these interconnected stories about four young black or mixed race boys growing up in Pawtucket are any indication, JM Holmes is a writer to watch. The stories are honest (sometimes uncomfortably so), urgent, and often funny. In his own way, each of the boys deals with the lure of sex, the power of drugs, and the push and pull of complicated family ties, along the way to becoming adults. Some are successful, some not. Holmes has a definite, dare I say, original voice -- one I look forward to hearing again.
To children, parents can be enigmatic. A parent who happens to be a spy? -- even more so. Lea Carpenter (Eleven Days) has written a gripping, relentlessly smart, and addictive novel about a woman, Anna, whose "banker" father was in fact a spy. After he mysteriously dies, (in an avalanche, no less), the day before her wedding, Anna receives a mysterious interrogation tape of him. She sets out to find out what he did with his life and assets (not in the money sense). You will learn a lot about tradecraft -- who knows, might come in handy some day -- and about the nexus of spydom and human relationships. Love, lies, betrayal, loyalty, and the CIA. What more could you want?
It's hard to pick up the newspaper these days and not find an account of a child being preyed upon by an adult, whether it be a priest, teacher, or parent. HIs Favorites, Walbert’s wonderfully written wrenching book, tells the story of a vulnerable 15-year-old, Jo. Reeling from her culpability in her best friend's death, Jo is enrolled in a prestigious boarding school, where she, among others, is preyed upon by a manipulative sociopath masquerading as a caring teacher. If you've ever wondered, how do these things happen, here's an answer. This slim, powerful book is a case of good fiction illuminating reality better than the facts themselves can.
This grim (but often grimly funny) book is almost a primer on how to mess up your life: drink too much, join military on a whim, go to war, develop PTSD, get addicted to heroin, screw around on your maybe wife, rob banks... And Walker knows whereof he speaks; he'll get out of prison in 2020, in for.....robbing banks. But what a remarkable voice he has for a debut novelist! Direct yet fluid, in a graphic and profane way. He's got a great writing career ahead of him, if he can go straight.
It's no surprise that Where the Crawdads Sing is infused with the flora and fauna of the North Carolina coastland where it's set, as Owens is a wildlife scientist renowned for her nonfiction books about Africa. The story of the "marsh girl" abandoned by her family and left to eke out a living from the marsh that surrounds her, is told in lyrical, evocative prose. It is a coming of age story, a love story, a murder mystery and a study of the effect of isolation on a young soul, all in one! A pretty remarkable (fiction) debut.
Stay Hidden is the ninth in Doiron's series featuring New England game warden Mike Bowditch. (You don't have to read them in order -- The Poacher's Son is the first -- but the series does follow Bowditch's career.) This one takes place on an imaginary fogbound island off the coast of Maine. A young woman has been killed in a hunting "accident" and Mike is dispatched to find out what happened. There are suspects galore: feuding lobstermen, betrayed wives, local hangabouts, and a wealthy hermit. Well-written and steeped in local culture, with its rural setting, Stay Hidden is a good mystery for those looking for a respite from city grit.
This brilliant debut novel follows the lives of twelve mixed race and full Native Americans whose fortunes (and mostly, misfortunes) converge at a powwow in Oakland. The writing is direct yet often poetic, and flawlessly paced. Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, is full of urgent despair. He writes as if to say, "Don't you dare look away. This is how it is." Not to be missed.
Sedaris is up to his old tricks in this new collection of essays. Funny stories about family dynamics (on which he is superb), shopping in Japan, other people's eating habits, beach life, his sister's suicide, and mortality. While the tales make you laugh out loud, or at least snicker in private recognition, there is both a poignancy and a little more bite than in previous books. That said, Sedaris' prodigious powers of observation have not flagged in the least.
This is Ondaatje's first novel since the estimable The Cat's Table (2011) and, boy, is it worth the wait. The story follows two siblings who have been mysteriously abandoned by their parents in the aftermath of the Blitz in London. It has all the trademark Ondaatje themes: what parents owe their children (and vice versa), the seduction and destruction of war, memory and the "ravine" of childhood, what one does with the history and traits one inherits, and of course the endlessly fascinating elements of love. Ondaatje is an artist who paints with words and woven into this intricate puzzle of a book, are indelible images. Just read the first sentence and try to resist.
Macbeth is part of the Hogarth Series — Shakespearean plays reimagined by modern writers. Jo Nesbo is an inspired choice for one of the bard’s bloodiest tragedies. He sets his version in a contemporary Scottish police department, in a society rife with drugs, deception, murder and ambition, in which Macbeth becomes top dog. As with Shakespeare, it may take a while for you to tell who has the knife out for whom, but you’ll figure it out. It’s an old story.
Prison literature is by definition claustrophobic, surreal, and sad. Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room is all that, but it's also funny, sometimes in a brutal kind of way, and so moving. Romy, a single mother and stripper, is in a California prison serving two consecutive life sentences for killing a creepy customer who stalked her. (Terrible defense attorney.) Kushner writes about Romy's daily life in prison, her fellow prisoners, and intersperses that with the story of how she ended up there. Forever. While this book can be difficult to read, it is also necessary. And the writing...
Texas is a humungo state and there are many reasons to both love and hate it, but you cannot deny the oversize influence it has on America. Wright has written a seamless and fascinating cultural and political travelogue of sorts of his native state, going back and forth into history and out, discussing issues such as Texana, snakes, school shootings, oil and energy, and the sausage making legislature. Not to mention the cowboy culture. One reviewer said God Save Texas is both an "apologia and an indictment." True, but to put it more plainly, it's a hell of a book!
Cy Bellman is a widowed mule breeder who believes that mammoths still roam the West. So he sets out to find them, accompanied by a young Indian guide, and leaves his 11-year-old daughter at home in Pennsylvania. The West is a mesmerizing story of obsession, a parable about the lure of the West and the unknown, and a coming of age story about the daughter. At less than 150 pages, you can read it in one sitting, but the writing and images resonate. It's Moby Dick writ small, and that's not such a bad thing.
Know anybody who likes to open water kayak? Don't give them this book -- or better yet, DO give it to them so they can better understand the perils. The Cove tells of a man in a kayak at sea who is caught in a sudden storm and struck by lightning. Coming to later, he finds he's partially paralyzed, mentally foggy and desperate to reach the shore and safety. Exquisitely written, gripping and terrifying. And if you are wondering about the impact of such a short book....the night after I read it, I woke up in the middle of the night -- 3:32am to be exact -- searching for land.
I am a total sucker for the “We-ditched-our-desk-jobs-bought-a-ramshackle-farm,-and-after-
ten-years-of-back-breaking-work,-made-a-go-of-it’ memoirs. There's something appealingly pioneer-y and American about them. (Just nevermind that this particular farm is in Canada. It's close to America...) Preston is a former journalist so this memoir of learning to farm successfully AND sustainably and organically, is particularly well-written. Informative, honest, inspiring and passionate.
Nomadland is about a subset of older, mostly white Americans who, for a variety of reasons, don't have houses or the means to retire. So they take to the road, live in vans and trailers, become "gasoline gypsies," and work where they can -- at seasonal campgrounds, inhumane Amazon distribution centers, and beet processing plants. They are the new pensionless Americans, and Bruder tells their stories well. This book is for fans of Nickel and Dimed, We Are All Fast Food Workers Now, and The Long Haul. At the very least this book will spur you to put a little more into your retirement fund.
The admirable memoir joins the increasing canon of Iraq/Afghanistan war literature. An honest, often funny, more frequently sad, accounting of one man's induction into the Marines at age 19 and his three tours in Iraq. Written in a variety of genres i.e. lists, letters, prose, even graphics, the memoir underscores the idiocy of engaging 20 yr olds in war, and the insanity, monotony, and violence of war itself.
Trump should read this book. He won't, but he should. Francisco Cantu is a young man who worked for the Border Patrol in Arizona and Texas. The migrants he encounters (and sends back south) tell him stories of desperation, of the power and horror of the drug cartels, and of their thwarted desires for a better life and work. All this gives Cantu nightmares and tests his humanity. And it makes the concept of a "wall" utterly laughable. Must reading if you want to understand the border.
Denis Johnson wrote better about miscreants, ne'er-do-well's, inmates and addicts (he had some personal experience there) than just about anybody. These five stories, published after his untimely death, are full of dark humor, poignancy, sadness, surprise, and psychological acuity, sometimes all in the same story. Not only did I want to read them again as soon as I had finished, but I pulled out my old copy of Jesus' Son -- his earlier collection of stories -- and read that again, for the umpteenth time. He will be sorely missed
The four Gold children visit a fortune teller in NYC in 1969 who tells them each the exact date of their deaths. The Immortalists recounts how they live their lives and act on that knowledge. It's an interesting premise backed by wonderful writing, a story of the sometimes rocky, but always loving, relationships of four very different siblings,
and a profound meditation on destiny
A powerful true story about a series of murders in the 1920s of members of the Osage nation in Oklahoma, after oil was discovered under their land. The cases constituted one of the fledgling FBI's first major homicide investigations. A fascinating and compulsively readable look at venality, greed, and outright evil. Soon to be a movie (Scorsese, DiCaprio). From the author (and New Yorker writer) of The Lost City of Z.
Elmet, shortlisted for the Booker last year, is set in rural Yorkshire England and is a strange amalgam of LIttle House on the Prairie and Blood Meridian. Narrated by the gentle 14-year-old son of a loving brute of a father (he fights/boxes for a living), the story is of this boy's family (he has an impressive older sister: mom was a train wreck) and an escalating conflict with their money-grubbing landlord. The writing is often painfully beautiful and lyrical, almost fabulist, but this is "rural noir," and the noir part is black indeed. That said, Mozley conjures up a world that stays in your head.
I've read so many Harry Bosch mysteries (this is the 20th) that I feel he's a definite part of my detective family (Everyone should have one). In this one, Harry goes undercover in one of the two story threads. And the inimitable Micky Haller, Harry's half brother and attorney, has a decisive role. Always good, always learn something about legal (and illegal) procedures.
The Good People, set in 19th Century Ireland, tells the story of three women and a crippled child they all desperately wish were whole. With evocative prose and impeccable pacing, Kent (author of the excellent Burial Rites) illuminates the splits between the Old Ways and the new, folklore and religion, suspicion and knowledge, and delves into the peculiarly human hunger to find something, anything, to explain the inexplicable.
Savage Country, by the author of Coal Black Horse and The Coldest Night, is aptly titled. A new widow, whose husband spent the couple into debt before he died, sets off on a buffalo hunt south of Kansas to save her farm. She's accompanied by her strange and mythic brother in law. In their quest, they encounter thieves, blizzards, floods, wolves, fire, snakes, rabies, and Comanches. The book is intense, propulsive and often remarkably visual in its depiction of one of the great hunts of the late 1800s which decimated the population of 50 million buffalo. This is a literary Western of a pretty high order, in my opinion.
Alice McDermott writes flat-out beautiful books and her latest is no exception. The main character, Sally, grows up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Her father killed himself before her birth. She and her mother live in a convent and work with the Sisters. While on the surface a quiet novel, as many of McDermott's are, moral dilemmas, acute observations and keen character development abound. McDermott writes about the Irish Catholic American experience better than just about anybody. One of the year's best.