The Book Ballot

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Today the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club discussed The Light Between Oceans, a first novel by M. L. Stedman. But I’m not going to talk about that.

We also received our book ballot for the upcoming 12 month cycle. This process is a uniquely “democratic” means of choosing what we read each year.  Everyone who wants to nominates books to be considered, and our club coordinator, the honorable Sandy Keeney, collects those nominations, puts them in a list, and we all choose 12 we would like to read. The top 12 vote-getters are then chosen for the coming year, and assigned one of the upcoming  12 months.

Some people nominate no books, some nominate several, and a few nominate one or two. I used to nominate many, but have moved to the one or two option.

Via this process we tend to get a fairly good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Some years the list is quite long, this year we have 25 from which to choose our 12.

In past years we have had one author, Sarah A. Hoyt, winner of the Prometheus Award, attend our discussion of her book, Witchfinder, via Skype. We have also looked to find local authors and topics among our works.

Which is why the one work I nominated this year, is by Rob Howell, an Overland Park, KS, author we met when WorldCon took place in Kansas City in 2016. We have talked to him during this summer’s LibertyCon in Chattanooga, during the release party for his new novel Brief is my Flame, and found him very interested and willing to work with his and the club’s schedule to attend our discussion of the book of his I nominated, if we select it for this year’s reading list (preferrably in person, he hopes, though will do Skype, etc. if necessary).

While the book list is distributed across a lot of authors and genres, it does tend to lean heavily to books available in the MidContinent Public Library system, where we borrow most of the books for the club to read. This means that it is highly biased by the preferences of professional librarians, who in turn are highly biased by the bigger publishing houses, and does not reflect the amount of reading material published by smaller independent authors and houses through online outlets and especially via ebook publishing. Both Hoyt, who is a cross-over author (publishing both “traditional” and “indie”) and Howell (totally “indie” published), represent this part of the writing economy, and its success story.

That said, I have decided to vote with an “open ballot” — well, actually I already sent in my “secret ballott”, but am now listing the 12 books, along with their descriptions we were given, in this post. I chose 7 non and 5 fiction books. They are listed in the order they appeared on the ballot, not in any order of my preference. Besides the book by a local author, I also selected the book about the Country Club district of Kansas City.  We seem to favor reading books about our local area when we find them, though it doesn’t mean we are unanimous in enjoying said books.

Here is my ballot:

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann.

New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Lost City of Z) burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative, which revisits a baffling and frightening-and relatively unknown-spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s. From 1921 to 1926, at least two dozen people were murdered by a killer or killers apparently targeting members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered “the wealthiest people per capita in the world” thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their lands. The violent campaign of terror is believed to have begun with the 1921 disappearance of two Osage Indians, Charles Whitehorn and Anna Brown, and the discovery of their corpses soon afterwards, followed by many other murders in the next five years. The outcry over the killings led to the involvement in 1925 of an “obscure” branch of the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation, which eventually charged some surprising figures with the murders. Grann demonstrates how the Osage Murders inquiry helped Hoover to make the case for a “national, more professional, scientifically skilled” police force. Grann’s own dogged detective work reveals another layer to the case that Hoover’s men had never exposed.

 

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, by Mark Obmascik.

In one of the wackiest competitions around, every year hundreds of obsessed bird watchers participate in a contest known as the North American Big Year. Hoping to be the one to spot the most species during the course of the year, each birder spends 365 days racing around the continental U.S. and Canada compiling lists of birds, all for the glory of being recognized by the American Birding Association as the Big Year birding champion of North America. In this entertaining book, Obmascik, a journalist with the Denver Post, tells the stories of the three top contenders in the 1998 American Big Year: a wisecracking industrial roofing contractor from New Jersey who aims to break his previous record and win for a second time; a suave corporate chief executive from Colorado; and a 225-pound nuclear power plant software engineer from Maryland. Obmascik bases his story on post-competition interviews but writes so well that it sounds as if he had been there every step of the way. In a freewheeling style that moves around as fast as his subjects, the author follows each of the three birding fanatics as they travel thousands of miles in search of such hard-to-find species as the crested myna, the pink-footed goose and the fork-tailed flycatcher, spending thousands of dollars and braving rain, sleet, snowstorms, swamps, deserts, mosquitoes and garbage dumps in their attempts to outdo each other. By not revealing the outcome until the end of the book, Obmascik keeps the reader guessing in this fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl who is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. “A coming of age fantasy story that sympathizes with typical teen girl awkwardness and insecurity, highlighting courage, resourcefulness and the importance of family ties as key to overcoming them.” ―Carol Platt Liebau, author, in the New York Post

The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.

(a bestseller in Europe) reaches the U.S. three years after its Swedish publication, in Bradbury’s pitch-perfect translation. The intricately plotted saga of Allan Karlsson begins when he escapes his retirement home on his 100th birthday by climbing out his bedroom window. After stealing a young punk’s money-filled suitcase, he embarks on a wild adventure, and through a combination of wits, luck, and circumstance, ends up on the lam from both a smalltime criminal syndicate and the police. Jonasson moves deftly through Karlsson’s life-from present to past and back again-recounting the fugitive centenarian’s career as a demolitions expert and the myriad critical junctures of history, including the Spanish Civil War and the Manhattan Project, wherein Karlsson found himself an unwitting (and often influential) participant. Historical figures like Mao’s third wife, Vice President Truman, and Stalin appear, to great comic effect. Other characters-most notably Albert Einstein’s hapless half-brother-are cleverly spun into the raucous yarn, and all help drive this gentle lampoon of procedurals and thrillers.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.

In the near future, scarce fossil fuels have ended America’s era of prosperity, sent small-town Americans to precarious vertical trailer parks at urban fringes, and the entire population into the OASIS, an immersive virtual reality, for education and escape. A possibly autistic genius obsessed with the geek side of 1980s pop culture had designed OASIS, and he leaves his entire fortune, including control of OASIS, to whoever can complete a quest he designed within it. Our heroes, sympathetic nerds with a lot of free time, go after it, as do the Sixers, unscrupulous corporate drones who want to monetize OASIS. SF fans will recognize the book’s tone as Dream Park meets Snow Crash, but readers won’t need any sf background to get it. More useful would be a crash course in the 1980s-while the novel’s preoccupation with dated culture is plausible in context, it may leave Millennials confused and baby boomers cold. Cline’s world-building raises some questions about how economics and politics works, but it doesn’t matter to the story. The conclusion is perhaps a bit predictable and the tacked-on moral a bit pat, but it’s a feel-good ending all around.

Three Sisters, Three Queens, by Phillipa Gregory.

Actor Amato, who has read three of Gregory’s previous titles as audio editions, is terrific in Gregory’s latest historical novel set in Tudor England. She deftly portrays the passions, ambitions, and catastrophes of three sisters from childhood through adolescence to queen-hood. She takes listeners along on the roller-coaster ride from ecstasy to agony and back again for the three 16th-century royals: Queen Katherine (first wife of Henry VIII), Queen Margaret (sister of Henry, married off at 16 to James IV of Scotland) and Queen Mary (sister of Henry and third wife of Louis XII of France). Amato’s portrayal of protagonist Margaret is vivid and compelling. She also creates captivating voices and personalities for their husbands and lovers, as well as their infamous brother, Henry. Gregory’s historical novels are sheer entertainment; the combination of Gregory and Amato is pure pleasure.

An Hour Before Daylight, by Jimmy Carter.

In this brief but revealing volume, former US president Jimmy Carter traces his not-quite-hardscrabble rural boyhood in Plains, Georgia. He discusses the strong ties that bound his family together, points to the influence of his stern father and loving mother, and notes that tobacco and cancer cost the lives of several of those closest to him. From his father, Carter acquired a work ethic and an attention to detail that later encumbered his presidency; from his mother, he received lessons in treating all people–both white and black, rich and poor–with respect and dignity. Poignant moments arise when Carter recounts friendships with African American residents in the community where he was raised. But repeatedly, he unflinchingly acknowledges that Jim Crow strictures, such as those involving railroad cars, movie theaters, or schools, long remained uncontested. In one of the more telling moments, Carter indicates that a point arrived when it became clear that lifelong friendships would be altered due to racial considerations. Carter’s horizons broadened as he attended the US Naval Academy and lived outside his native South for several years.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. Suggested by LaVerne Pulliam. (MCPL has 7 print copies, 2 e-books, 3 audiobooks)

This beautifully written autobiography brings us the remarkable life story of Beryl Markham, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Brought up on a farm in Kenya, Markham chose to stay in Africa when, at seventeen, her father lost their farm and went to Peru. She began an apprenticeship as a racehorse trainer which turned into a highly successful career. In her twenties, Markham gave up horses for airplanes and became the first woman in East Africa to be granted a commercial pilot’s license, piloting passengers and supplies in a small plane to remote corners of Africa.

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people’s stories, are absolutely true . . . I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.” ―Ernest Hemingway

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes. Suggested by Sandy Keeney. (MCPL has 16 copies)

Through personal anecdotes and interviews with fellow cast and crew members, actor Elwes tracks the journey of 1987’s The Princess Bride from director Rob Reiner’s initial bid through its production and up to the film’s 25th anniversary. Elwes’s attempt at a conversational narrative feels clunky at times, often getting bogged down in figures, actor resumes, and even a plot summary of the film-the last of which is certainly unnecessary for the dedicated fan base that will be reading this memoir. However, the complete and unabashed adoration that the author and the cast have for the cult classic shines in stories about the famous sword fight between Elwes as Westley and Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, the many takes ruined by uncontrollable laughter during Billy Crystal’s time on the set performing as Miracle Max, and the fond reminiscences of the late Andre the Giant.

I Am a Wondrous Thing (The Kreisens Book 1), by Rob Howell. Recommended by Jonathan and Betsy Lightfoot. (MCPL has no copies)

War looms in the west as sword, axe, and flame sweep the Kreisens and threaten to drag all of the neighboring realms, including Periaslavl, into the maelstrom. Irina Ivanovna, ruler of Periaslavl, knows that war would destroy much of her land. Even though magic has kept her body young, she is tired and sees that she is not the one to lead her land through the upcoming storm. She steps down in favor of her heir, as tradition dictates, and disappears from sight. She heads to the Kreisens to see if her magic can halt the bloodshed and pain. But the storm was orchestrated by foes she does not know she has. They stalk her, knowing her magic is the key. She must elude the hunters so she can discover what is truly threatening not just Periaslavl, but all of Shijuren. Where will the lightning strike?

“Nominating this book by our friend author Rob Howell. I really enjoyed reading this book, and Rob has a fantastic way putting in excellent, sometimes misleading but totally accurate foreshadowing.  If we select his book he is more than willing to come to the discussion when we talk about his book. He promotes himself and sells his books through a fairly active working of the Con circuit, and gets put on a lot of panels at those conventions as an excellent panelist for panels on how to write, and the philosophies of how best to write, publish, etc. Eminently approachable and understandable with a deep philosophical underpinning.” – Jonathan Lightfoot

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford. Suggested by Sandy Keeney. (MCPL has 12 copies)

What would Christmas be without the yearly viewing or reading of A Christmas Carol? It is a classic of the season–perhaps the most memorable Christmas tale of all time–that captures the spirit of the holiday. Thriller and nonfiction writer Standiford (Bone Key: A John Deal Novel; Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America) attempts to address what prompted Dickens to write this much-loved tale in this affectionate portrait of a once-successful writer trying desperately to revive his career. After a triumphant beginning, Dickens struggled as his later works failed to gain any critical or monetary success. Verging on bankruptcy and looking for inspiration, Dickens agreed to speak at a fund-raiser for the Manchester Athenaeum. Dickens left the event inspired and walked around Manchester until he had the fully formed Carol in his head. Standiford deftly traces the many influences in Dickens’s life that lead to and followed that momentous event, weaving an entertaining tale that will delight Dickens and Christmas lovers alike.

The Country Club District of Kansas City, by LaDene Morton. Suggested by Sandy Keeney. (MCPL has 27 copies)

One of the grand experiments of American urban planning lies tucked within the heart of Kansas City. J.C. Nichols prized the Country Club District as his life’s work, and the scope of his vision required fifty years of careful development. Begun in 1905 and extending over a swath of six thousand acres, the project attracted national attention to a city still forging its identity. While the district is home to many of Kansas City’s most exclusive residential areas and commercial properties, its boundaries remain unmarked and its story largely unknown. Follow LaDene Morton along the well-appointed boulevards of this model community’s rich legacy.

 

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Reading between the Lines/Lions

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Decided to do something simple that didn’t take a lot of thought or editing. This is just observations from my daily Bible reading plan. You know you read a passage, and there is so much background context either missing or assumed. It raises questions or makes you mind fill in possibilities.  This is that sort of thing.

  • Exodus 1:9 “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:” — Here we have an example of the danger of non-assimilation. Any population should become a part of your system after a generation or two.
  • Exodus 1:18 — “And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah:” — Okay, Israel is so huge in number and only has two midwives to deliver babies?
  • Exodus 1:14 — “Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee:”  — I almost get the idea that Moses had regular communication back to Egypt. There is something here that feels almost like a clandestine communication system going on.

 

 

 

Book Club Book List

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Looking for a good book to read?  I won’t guarantee the below list are all good to read, but the Avondale United Methodist Church Book Club will be reading one a month over the next year and discussing whether we think it was a good read or not — opinions guaranteed to NOT be unanimous.

The first book in the list we will be reading for our October meeting (regular time and date 10 a.m. the Second Saturday of the month in the church library), but for the rest, the order is still being decided on.

The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough.

The history of civil engineering may sound boring, but in David McCullough’s hands it is, well, riveting. His award-winning histories of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal were preceded by this account of the disastrous dam failure that drowned Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889. Written while the last survivors of the flood were still alive, McCullough’s narrative weaves the stories of the town, the wealthy men who owned the dam, and the forces of nature into a seamless whole. His account is unforgettable: “The wave kept on coming straight toward him, heading for the very heart of the city. Stores, houses, trees, everything was going down in front of it, and the closer it came, the bigger it seemed to grow…. The height of the wall of water was at least thirty-six feet at the center…. The drowning and devastation of the city took just about ten minutes.” A powerful, definitive book, and a tribute to the thousands who died in America’s worst inland flood.

The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston.

National Geographic and New Yorker writer and novelist Preston shares the story of his involvement in the search for a historic lost city in the rainforests of Honduras. Preston is one member of a team that managed to use a combination of historical research and state-of-the-art technology to examine the rainforests in the Mosquitia region, an area filled with all manner of dangers, from disease to drug traffickers. Preston’s writing brings the reader along with the team as they discover 500-year-old artifacts, encounter huge and deadly snakes, and face the political and academic fallout the search brings with it. Listeners hear several interesting side stories, such as the discovery of historical fraud in their research and the battle half the team had with a deadly parasite picked up at the ruins. Preston’s journalistic experience is on full display as he gives not only the viewpoint of those in the expedition but also those on the outside. Bill Mumy’s reading is straightforward and engaging. The final disc includes 16 pages of photos. Verdict: A great story with many paths to interest fans of history, archaeology, adventure, environmentalism, South America, or diseases.

Truman, by David McCullough.

McCullough’s life of Harry Truman is a Sandburg’s Lincoln for the 1990s. Biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, historian of the Johnstown flood, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Panama Canal, clearly McCullough found not just a new subject but a hero too when he began research in 1982. As with Roosevelt in Mornings on Horseback ( LJ 5/15/81), he is concerned above all with defining Truman’s character. With poetry and reverence he writes of the farmer, haberdasher, and local official whom accident and ambition raised to unprecedented power, yet who left the White House an American everyman. Skeptics uneasy with McCullough’s Truman in mystic communion with America’s spirit will recall the raw politics described by Richard Miller in Truman: The Rise to Power ( LJ 12/85). For detailed treatment of policy, scholars will often need a specialized monograph. Yet McCullough’s Truman is not quite a saint, and his own scholarship is exhaustive in portraying Truman the man. No biography approaches the richness, depth, or grace of this one.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.

This is the remarkable story of an African teenager who, by courage, ingenuity, and determination, defeated the odds. Born in 1987 in a drought-ravaged Malawi where hope and opportunity were hard to find, Kamkwamba read about windmills in a library book and dreamed of building one that would bring electricity to his village and improve the lives of his family. At the age of 14, Kamkwamba had to drop out of school and help his family forage for food, but he never let go of his dream. Over a period of several months, using scrap metal, tractor, and bicycle parts, the resourceful young man built a crude yet operable windmill that eventually powered four lights. Soon reports of his “electric wind” project spread beyond the borders of his village, earning him international recognition and, with the help of mentors worldwide, he now attends a high school in South Africa. Verdict: Demonstrating the power of imagination, libraries, and books, Kamkwamba’s heartwarming memoir, with Mealer’s (All Things Must Fight To Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo) contribution, is sure to inspire all readers.

The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore.

Moore (Roses Are Red…) details the tragic stories of dozens of young women employed as dial painters during World War I. Often the daughters of immigrants, these women were lured to these prestigious and well-paying jobs unaware of the dangers of the radioactive paint present in their workplace-which caused their bodies and clothes to glow, even outside of work. With America’s entry into World War I, demand for painted dials and painters skyrocketed. Soon, many employees suffered aching teeth and jaws, sore joints, and sarcomas. As their ailments worsened, many sought answers from their employers. They were met with denials and misinformation even as evidence mounted that radium poisoned these women. After nearly 20 years, several trials, and thousands of dollars in doctor and attorney fees, the women won a small measure of justice, but for some, it was too late. Moore’s well-researched narrative is written with clarity and a sympathetic voice that brings these figures and their struggles to life. Verdict: A must-read for anyone interested in American and women’s history, as well as topics of law, health, and industrial safety.

The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman.

In Stedman’s deftly crafted debut, Tom Sherbourne, seeking constancy after the horrors of WWI, takes a lighthouse keeper’s post on an Australian island, and calls for Isabel, a young woman he met on his travels, to join him there as his wife. In peaceful isolation, their love grows. But four years on the island and several miscarriages bring Isabel’s seemingly boundless spirit to the brink, and leave Tom feeling helpless until a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a living child. Isabel convinces herself-and Tom-that the baby is a gift from God. After two years of maternal bliss for Isabel and alternating waves of joy and guilt for Tom, the family, back on the mainland, is confronted with the mother of their child, very much alive. Stedman grounds what could be a far-fetched premise, setting the stage beautifully to allow for a heart-wrenching moral dilemma to play out, making evident that “Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.” Most impressive is the subtle yet profound maturation of Isabel and Tom as characters.

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, by William Shatner, David Fisher.

Fans of TV shows might wonder if the people who portray the characters are friends in real life. As Shatner explains in this biography of Leonard Nimoy, actors form close bonds when working together and swear their undying friendship when it’s over but more likely never see one another again. That was not the case with Shatner and Nimoy, who starred in three seasons of cult favorite Star Trek as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock respectively, though -Shatner reveals that they were wary of each other at first. He tells stories about the show, such as Nimoy’s creation of the iconic Vulcan salute and nerve pinch, yet also shares little-known personal information, such as Nimoy’s alcoholism and the price of celebrity. However, the heart of this book is Shatner’s description of their friendship that grew from the Star Trek movies and the Trekkie conventions they attended as a pair. Shatner discusses his own life and the parallels in Nimoy’s, but he does not upstage his friend, rather giving him center stage with his usual Shatner self-deprecating humor. Trekkies will want this for the insider stories from Captain Kirk himself, but fans of candid, emotion-filled biographies will adore this account because it’s a treasure trove of information.

The Oregon Trail, by Rinker Buck.

Award-winning journalist and author Buck (Flight of Passage) has ostensibly written a book about his experiences retrekking the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, MO, to Baker City, OR, in a mule-drawn covered wagon with his brother Nick and Nick’s dog Olive Oyl. As romantic as the adventure sounds, this is not a casual summer endeavour-don’t try to imitate it. There’s a second, parallel story, a description of another covered wagon trip he took at age seven in 1958 with his father and siblings. The family set out from central Jersey across the Delaware River to south central Pennsylvania for a monthlong “see America slowly” expedition. This adventure, tamer than the Oregon one, is now as much a part of Buck as his DNA. The Oregon trip is fraught with mishaps, near-death experiences, and plain bad luck. But there were also angels along the way helping them get through and guiding Jake and the other two mules. The parallel story is, at times, more compelling than the contemporary one, and the book could have been cut by a quarter and still be a solid read. It shouldn’t take longer to read the book than to actually cross the Oregon Trail. Recommended for folk interested in the Oregon Trail, pioneer history, or mules.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.

                Growing up in Appalachia may leave a person open to harsh criticism and stereotype, yet Vance delves into his childhood and upbringing to make a clear distinction between perception and reality. Born in Kentucky and shuffling among homes in Ohio, the author ended the cycle of poverty, abuse, and drug use after becoming a U.S. Marine and Yale Law School graduate. His memoir is less about his triumph and more about exposing the gritty truth of how a culture fell into ruin. Using examples from his own life with references to articles and studies throughout, Vance’s intent is to show that what was once the fulfillment of the American Dream-moving to the Rust Belt for a better life-has now left families in peril. His plea is not for sympathy but for understanding. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this memoir is akin to investigative journalism. While some characters seem too caricature  like, it is often those terrifyingly authentic traits that make people memorable. Vance is careful to point out that this is his recollection of events; not everyone is painted in a positive light. A quick and engaging read, this book is well suited to anyone interested in a study of modern America, as Vance’s assertions about Appalachia are far more reaching.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.

Fifty-year-old Jean Perdu is a literary apothecary on his barge bookshop moored on the Seine in Paris. Gifted at prescribing just the right book for what ails his devoted customers, he is unable to cure his own heart, broken two decades earlier when Manon, the married love of his life, vanishes after leaving behind just a letter that Perdu refused to read-that is, until now, with devastating consequences. Walking out on his first tender encounter with a woman in 20 years, Perdu flees south, setting sail with Max, a young, best-selling author with writer’s block, as his uninvited guest. Triumph over tragedy is played out in the beauty of France’s canals, in the quirky goodness of its people, and in Perdu’s determination to seek forgiveness and reclaim joy. Verdict George’s exquisite, multilayered love story enchanted Europe for more than a year, and the U.S. publication of this flawless translation will allow gob-smacked booklovers here to struggle with the age-old dilemma: to race through each page to see what happens next or savor each deliciously enticing phrase. Do both; if ever a book was meant to be read over and over, this gem is it.

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly.

In this debut, Shetterly shines a much-needed light on the bright, talented, and wholly underappreciated geniuses of the institution that would become NASA. Called upon during the labor shortage of World War II, these women were asked to serve their country and put their previously overlooked skills to work-all while being segregated from their white coworkers. The author tells the compelling stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden as they navigated mathematical equations, the space race, and the civil rights movement over three decades of brilliant computing and discoveries. The professional and private lives of the ladies of Langley Research Center are documented through an impassioned and clearly well-researched narrative. Readers will learn how integral these women were to American aeronautics and be saddened by the racism and sexism that kept them from deserved recognition. VERDICT Shetterly’s highly recommended work offers up a crucial history that had previously and unforgivably been lost. We’d do well to put this book into the hands of young women who have long since been told that there’s no room for them at the scientific table.

Deep Down Dark, by Hector Tobar.

                Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries) relates the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped thousands of feet underground for over two months. A significant portion of the narrative portrays the initial, critical days of survival against starvation. Before rescuers could reach the group, the men managed without assistance by rationing what little food was available, drinking water that was meant for their equipment, and depending on one another for support. As their time trapped below ground lengthened, and rescue efforts grew ever more complex, the men became the object of worldwide media attention. Deep Down Dark details that international rescue effort and the perseverance of those above ground, including mining experts from the United States and Chile, scientists from NASA, and family members who lived near the mine in a tent city for the duration of the rescue. A compelling account of a modern miracle for readers interested in survival narratives and contemporary accounts of recent mining disasters.