Norton, Graham (2018) A Keeper. Hodder & Stoughton. Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother Patricia’s death to sell her childhood home. While searching through her mother’s belongings she finds some letters than send her off to solve the 40 year mystery of her paternity, leading to a little stone house in the shadows of castle ruins. Mirroring the stories of mother and daughter this is a parallel narrative of secrets and dysfunctional relationships, with a psychopath thrown in for good measure. This second Norton novel is an offbeat tale of loneliness and resilience. Rating: 8/10.
McChrystal, Stanley, Eggers, Jeff, Mangone, Jason (2018) Leaders: Myth and Reality. Portfolio. General McChrystal (US Army, retired) et al re-examines notions of leadership by profiling 13 famous leaders, from diverse fields and eras, who followed unconventional pathways. These are distilled from history and mythology. The book uses the stories to challenge the assumptions around leadership and promotes the contention of leaders as cultivators, not decision-makers. Interesting but not a lot new here, especially in models of leadership for women. Rating: 8/10.
Kingsolver, Barbara (2018) Unsheltered. Harper. Although Willa has recently inherited a historic house in Vineland, NJ, it is crumbling away. Willa’s life is beset with worries. Her family is teetering on the brink – her academic husband has lost tenure, and his ailing father is deplorable, her bohemian daughter is heartbroken, and her brilliant son has abrogated fatherhood. Interwoven with the Willa’s story is the tale of Thatcher Greenwood and his family who lived in the house more than a century ago. Teacher Thatcher has befriended his naturalist neighbour, Mary Treat, and is under siege for discussing Darwinism in the classroom, clashing with Vineland’s founder, Charles Landis. The two eras are in juxtaposition fictionalising the Christian utopian dream of post-Civil War Vineland against the stagnating backwater of the Trump era. Both families find themselves ‘unsheltered’ as old comforts and norms are cast out. Socially bleak but challenging. Rating: 9/10.
Oates, Joyce Carol (2018) Hazards of Time Travel. Ecco. A dystopian novel where a young woman questions authority in a grim future totalitarian America and is punished by being sent back in time to 1959, to Wainscotia, Wisconsin. In an amnesiac state she struggles to survive as a freshman at Wainscotia State University, until she falls for a enigmatic psychology professor who she suspects is another time traveller. Aridane/ Mary Ellen doesn’t know what is happening to her and most of the time I didn’t either. Unpredictable, sombre and rambling. Rating: 7.5/10.
Rooney, Sally (2018) Normal People. Faber & Faber. Marianne and Connell grow up in the same small Irish town and begin a special relationship that grows from friendship to love over the the succeeding years as they finish school and go to Trinity College. Fresh and tender story of human connection and contemporary young love. Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker. First-rate. Rating: 9/10.
Woodward, Bob (2018) Fear: Trump in the White House. Simon & Schuster. Pulitzer winning Woodward takes a disturbing insider’s look at the dysfunctional White House. Woodward’s authoritative and objective reporting is based on hundreds of hours of interviews and firsthand sources, gathered during the early presidency, tracking the disputes, debates and decision making on major foreign and domestic policies. Most credible of recent spate of tell-all books on the White House. Crazy drama! Rating: 8.5/10.
Owens, Delia (2018) Where the Crawdads Sing. Putnam. Kya survived alone from childhood in the swamplands off the North Carolina coast, after being abandoned by her family. Her friends are the gulls and she takes solace from nature, but she yearns to be loved. Her life opens up as she forms relationships with two young men, until she becomes the chief suspect in a suspicious death. Haunting, and nature-infused lyrical story. Rating: 8.5/10.
Gentry, Amy (2018) Last Woman Standing. HQ. Dana Diaz has been harassed, abused and assaulted. One night, whilst drowning her sorrows after a depressing comedy open-mic, she meets a stranger, Amanda, who has also been wronged. Amanda has a strategy to address the violence that has befallen them – revenge. As the two women take matters into their own hands retribution becomes addictive. Who can survive the mayhem of this game for two? A dark and satisfying tale of righteous rage. Rating: 8.5/10.