Review: Gateway to the Moon

Mary Morris’ latest novel, Gateway to the Moon, combines a coming of age story with historical fiction to explore ideas of identity and how history echoes across time.  The remote New Mexico community of Entrada de la Luna is rooted in the history of the Spanish inquisition and converesos, or crypto-Jews, who fled from persecution. But the residents have lost touch with their past and don’t remember why they maintain certain rituals, such as shunning pork and lighting candles on Friday.

Gateway to the Moon (Doubleday Books, digital galley) primarily follows Miguel, a poor high school student who discovers some unexpected similarities between his own life and that of the transplanted Jewish family for whom he babysits. The novel alternates between Miguel and his forebearers, who made their way to Entrada along with Spanish explorers.

This unique novel works hard to wed the contemporary with the historical and for the most part succeeds. But the story of Miguel and his relationship with those around him is most captivating. The interludes into the past are brief, fill in the backstory and tie in nicely with a personal discovery Miguel makes at the end of the book.

 

Review: The Sun Does Shine

In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with the death of two men in Birmingham, Alabama. Hinton was certain that because of his rock-solid alibi, everything would be cleared up and he would soon be released. But due to an ineffective and unmotivated defense attorney and a criminal justice system indifferent to the plight of a poor, black man, Hinton was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 30 years behind bars.

Written by Hinton with the help of Lara Love Hardin, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to power of rising above hate and enduring hardship with dignity. Hinton stoically served as a source of hope to those around him on death row, even befriending and changing the beliefs of Henry Hays, a KKK member on death row for lynching a black man in Mobile.

As we read of Hinton’s ordeal we are left infuriated with a system that consistently turned a deaf ear to his appeals. But with the help of a relentless civil rights attorney, Hinton was eventually freed in 2015.

The are usually two or three books each year that I would recommend as must reads. And this inspiring memoir will certainly be among them. The Sun Does Shine (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley) is a powerful story that will serve as inspiration to anyone looking to live a life filled with grace and love.

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Very short reviews of books

A roundup of very short reviews of books I read in March. The Sun Does Shine is one of the books you must read this year. Everything else I read in March was also solid and worth your attention.

The Sun Does Shine: The are usually two or three books each year that I would recommend as must reads. This is first I’ve come across in 2018. In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton is sent to Alabama’s death row for two murders he didn’t commit. This is his story. But it’s not a blow-by-blow account of the injustices done to him, it’s an extraordinary story of rising above hate and stoically serving as a source of light to those around him on death row. (5/5 stars.) Read my full review.

Feast Days: This eloquent novel by Ian MacKenzie offers a look at the social layers of Brazil and expatriate life. It’s a subtle examination of what constitutes a crisis versus what is simply the normal state of affairs. (5/5 stars.) Read my full review.

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond: Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores the possible paths forward for humanity. Kaku explains the nearterm options for traveling to Mars and exploring our own solar system to what might be possible thousands of years from now when our ancestors may be masters of the universe. Especially interesting is the discussion of other intelligent beings in our solar system. (4/5 stars.)

Munich: A conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler unfolds as the leaders of Britain and Germany descent on Munich in 1938 to sign an agreement over Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Robert Harris’ extensively researched historical-thriller follows two ancillary figures drawn into the dramatic events. (4/5 stars.)

The Nightingale: There seems to be an endless stream of WWII fiction. This sweeping novel is the story of two sisters trying to survive, and win their own personal wars, in occupied France. (4/5 stars.)

Sometimes I Lie: In Alice Feeney’s debut thriller, Amber Reynolds lies unresponsive in a hospital bed, seemingly in a coma. But Amber can hear everything around her as she tries to remember the circumstances that put her in the hospital. As the story unfolds the reliability of those around her, and of Amber’s own narrative, come into question. (4/5 stars.) Read my full review.

Review: Feast Days

Written in a brutally honest tone, Feast Days recounts the story of Emma, a young woman who moves with her husband from New York to Brazil, where he works as a financial analyst. While protests rattle the country, Emma tries to find where she fits in, immersing herself in the arts scene, lunching with other expat wives and volunteering to help refugees who are fleeing poverty and war.

Feast Days (Little, Brown and Company, digital galley) is so honest at times it feels like reading a personal diary. As the county boils around her, threatening to break, so does her marriage, and Emma seems adrift and uncertain of her future.

This eloquent novel by Ian MacKenzie offers a look at the social layers of Brazil and expatriate life. It’s a subtle examination of what constitutes a crisis versus what is simply the normal state of affairs.

Review: Sometimes I Lie

Amber Reynolds lies in a hospital bed, unresponsive and seemingly in a coma. But Amber can hear everything that is said around her.  She remembers an accident but has trouble unraveling the exact circumstances that put her in the hospital. As she listens to conversations and slowly begins to remember events, Amber becomes suspicious of her husband and others around her.

Sometimes I Lie (Flatiron Books, digital galley) moves between the present and past as Amber tries to piece together her story. But Amber’s narrative is often unreliable and, as the title suggests, everything she shares may not be the absolute truth.

Sometimes I Lie is author Alice Feeney’s debut and she and has many twists in store for readers of this thriller. Books with multiple twists can often be exhausting and frustrating, but Feeney handles the material adeptly and keeps the story moving to its unexpected conclusion.

Review: The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

Kim Fu’s novel The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley) alternates between the stories of five young women who experienced a traumatic event at camp while girls. Unfortunately it reads as a disparate collection of unrelated stories, with the camp experience being the only thing connecting the women.

While each of the women’s future lives is interesting, it’s not clear what impact that camp event has had on the women, the drama is simply too subdued. Any one of the life stories would have been more compelling if flushed out as a full novel. But by combining the stories, all continuity is lost and just as we’re getting to know each of the characters their story is cut short for a flashback to camp.

Fu is clearly a talented writer and has a lot to say about relationships and how individuals deal with loss. The potential of this novel, however, feels unfulfilled.

Very short reviews of books

A roundup of very short reviews of books I recently read. Lincoln in the Bardo and Panorama are worth your attention.

Lincoln in the Bardo: This inventive, profound and humorous novel by George Saunders unfolds in unexpected ways and concerns the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son, Willie. The audiobook features a cast of 166 narrators who portray the characters, living and dead, and I recommend it for the riveting performances. (5/5 stars.)

Zero Hour (Expeditionary Force Book #5): The adventure continues in this fifth installment of the Expeditionary Force series by Craig Alanson. This is the most entertaining of the last three books, but in the end it’s more of the same. It’s past time for Alanson to reveal some backstory about the artificial intelligence, Skippy, at the center of the books. (4/5 stars.)

Panorama: A life affirming, if heartbreaking, first novel that looks at the effects of a plane crash on survivors. (4/5 stars.) Read full review.

Turtles All the Way Down: The latest by John Greene feels contrived as the heroine, Aza, helps look for a missing billionaire while coping with a serious anxiety disorder. Featuring Greene’s exceedingly well spoken, widely read, clever and tragically brilliant characters.  (3/5 stars.)

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore: Kim Fu’s novel alternates between the stories of five women who experience a traumatic event at camp while young girls. Unfortunately it reads as a disparate collection of unrelated stories, with the shared camp experience the only thing that connects the women. (3/5 stars.) Read full review.

New Rules: In comedian Bill Maher’s 2005 book of musing on politics and culture he comes of as irritable, partisan, pessimistic and sometimes funny. In other words, a lot like cable news. (2/5 stars.)

Review: Panorama

Television news pundit Richard MacMurray is in the middle of examining his life in Washington, D.C., when he finds out his estranged sister was aboard Panorama Airlines Flight 503, which crashed in Dallas with no survivors. Her death leaves MacMurray as the only living relative of her young son, Gabriel, and just another of the characters in Panorama touched by the disaster. Continue reading