Following college I worked for IBM for three years, then went to law school, and practiced law from 1967 until retirement in 2002. In retirement I read about 25 books a year. I like fiction with excellent development of characters I grow to care about, plus a strong-enough plot that I want to keep reading to find out what happens to those characters. I read non-fiction that inspires enough interest to warrant reading often-500-plus pages. Here I offer reviews of books I’ve recently read that meet those qualities—excellent reads, though most are not bestsellers.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a good example of a novel I recommend. Janie’s second husband, Jody, rescues her from the old man her grandma married her off to in the 1930s when Janie was 16. Jody buys a home and opens a store and other enterprises as the lead citizen in a Black community in a Central Florida town, but fails to provide the romance Janie craves. Jody dies young leaving Janie rich and holding off money-seeking suitors. As expected, along comes a romantic suitor in the name of “Tea Cakes,” who charms Janie off her front porch and into his arms. For the rest of the novel I’m wondering if and how Tea Cakes will get ahold of Janie’s money. This novel has a lot of dialogue, and the speakers, especially Tea Cakes, use metaphors in their dialogue.
More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez features a woman who marries two different men, one in South Texas, and the other in Mexico where the woman regularly goes on business. Neither knows of the other. We learn early on that husband #1 has killed husband #2 after #2 comes to South Texas to learn more about his wife’s life there. The book also includes the story of a woman who is writing a book about the two-husband woman. The women’s stories overlap in plot, tone, and themes.
Donavan: America’s Master Spy by Richard Dunlop is a biography of a World War I hero, the only person to have received all four of the United States’ highest awards: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. Donavan is a dynamic, charismatic man in civilian life and goes on to found and lead the Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA, in World War II. During the war he makes several around-the-world trips on which he recruits agents and creates strategies and operations in support of our war effort.
Michael Chabon, whose stories I’ve enjoyed, wrote Moonglow, vignettes about fictional Michael Chabon’s fictional grandfather. One vignette covers grandpa’s experience with Wild Bill Donovan in the OSS in World War II. Grandpa and Donovan’s nephew—both bored during Army basic training—decide to see if they can blow up a bridge across the Potomac River. They end up in jail until Donovan gets them both out so they can practice their “skills” in occupied France. The story continues with the grandfather ordered at the end of the war to run down and bring back the German rocket scientist Werner Von Braun.
Speaking of Michael Chabon, he is one of my favorite fiction authors. He wrote Mysteries of Pittsburg when he was 25. The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, about the interactions of the protagonist with comic book heroes. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a murder mystery that inspired me to write a mystery with the corpse appearing on the first page. The novel is based on the assumption that Israel lost its 1948 war against the Arabs, and exists by invitation of the U.S. on Sitka Island off of Alaska. I love when a novel does more than one thing: i.e., a good mystery, along with some history and significance beyond the mystery, as well as a good model for writing a mystery.
:: Andy Greensfelder