Archive for September, 2020

Pretty Things

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

By Janelle Brown

The Short Take:

What’s better than one unreliable narrator? Two! Well maybe not better, but certainly more entertaining. One narrator in this novel is a some-what reluctant con artist. The other is a rich heiress. It’s inevitable their paths should cross with a resounding clash.


This tale of revenge, betrayal, and a thirst for money is not the most elegant or witty book around but it is great fun. The story unfolds–and overlaps–through two first-person narratives. One is delivered by Nina, a young woman brought up in poverty who now steals “just some and from those who deserve it” with a male partner. The other narrator, Vanessa, is an heiress who is also a globe-trotting Instagram influencer.

Their family’s paths crossed when the girls were in their teens. That interaction sent both families in a tailspin. Now Nina desperately needs money and Vanessa is one person she does not mind taking for all she is worth.

What makes this book interesting is that it records many of the same scenes from both points of view. Words vary. Emphasis varies. Reactions vary. Noting what is presented differently take you inside these two damaged women, who both present themselves to the world as other than their realities. However, this novel could have been vastly improved if written with a black comedy slant. As the situation develops, the plot becomes more and more ludicrous and really needs that leavening, but you still can’t look away.

A Little Plot:

Nina’s mother needs a fortune to pay for an experimental cancer treatment. Nina, who has long nursed a grudge against the filthy rich Liebling family, thinks their daughter is the ideal mark to obtain that money. She enlists her con artist partner, Lachlan, in her scheme and they head to Lake Tahoe where Vanessa has holed up after experiencing some let downs of her own.

For more about Janelle Brown and her books, click here.


Sunday, September 20th, 2020

By Charlotte McConaghy

The Short Take:

I seldom come across a book that moves me so much. This beautifully written novel about a damaged woman and her passion for the animal victims of our abused planet breaks your heart but also mends it.


In a not-so-distant future most wild animals are extinct, from the great cats to common crows. Franny Stone–who has a passion for water, birds, and personal flight–is determined to trace what is probably the very last Arctic to Antarctic migration of the last arctic terns.

She has no resources to call on but is determined to get from Greenland to Antarctica, even if means never coming back. Her determination is matched only by her low self esteem. Her pain is deep but its many sources are revealed bit by bit over the course of this heart-wrenching story.

However, I don’t want to give anyone the idea this is depressing. You’ll also find great beauty, moments of kindness, and sparks of joy that brighten the read. This is McConaghy’s first book for adults. I hope she stays with us.

A Little Plot:

Franny Stone has been searching for a boat to take her Antarctica–for free. She finally succeeds with the captain of the fishing boat Saghani, convincing him that her tagged arctic terns will also reveal where the last few schools of fish swim. It’s a dangerous journey, and Franny’s past is nothing like she presents it to him.

For more about charlotte McConaghy click here.

Black Bottom Saints

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

By Alice Randall

The Short Take:

This is one of the best books I have read in years. Fact and fiction combine to tell the stories of 52 “saints” associated with Detroit’s famed Black Bottom neighborhood, a wellspring for talent and creativity from the 1920s through the 1940s. The writing is brilliant and I learned so much–not just about these 52 individuals–but about being Black in America


The book is patterned after Catholic books of the saints, with the story of a different saint presented for 52 weeks. The narrator is Ziggy Johnson, who is writing the book from his deathbed. Ziggy Johnson is a genuine historic person who founded a school of theater and dance that not only nurtured talent but taught young Black girls to go out in the world and achieve. Other saints include such famous people as Joe Louis and Dinah Washington but you’ll also find a raft of people you’ve never heard of or barely recall. I finally quit looking up his saints right away and made a list–all that googling took me out of the reading moment.

I learned about Tanya Blanding, a four-year-old cowering under her table during the Detroit riots who was fatally shot by a National Guardsman. I learned about the drag balls of Alfred Finnie, the sculptures of Artis Lane, and the achievements of Bayard Rustin who played key roles in the Civil Rights movement but was sidelined because he was gay.

But the most important thing I learned was how Black entertainers, athletes, and others turned “trauma into transcendence,” overcoming the pain of slavery and Jim Crow to bring their beauty and magic to the world.

Alongside the stories of Ziggy’s saints is the story of Colored Girl, who is clearly a stand-in for author Alice Randall with only some details changed. Her complicated relationship with her mother, who stole her away from an adored father and Ziggy’s godfathering, is her trauma to transcend.

Through her creation of this book she brings the power and perseverance of Black lives to the forefront. Some told her others would steal what she possessed. She replied, “Black girl magic can’t stolen but can be given.”

Alice Randall has gifted the world with a sublime volume of exceptional inspiration and understanding. It is as close as you can get to divine.

A Little Plot:

There really isn’t a plot, though CG’s story is fairly linear and the stories of the saints have their connections, as you would expect in a tight neighborhood like Black Bottom. Each saint’s story also comes with a cocktail recipe that evokes that individuals unique spirit. And, no, I did not try them all.

For more about Alice Randall and her books click here. BTW her website is more interesting than those of most writers.

Make Russia Great Again

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

By Christopher Buckley

The Short Take:

When it comes to political satire, Buckley is one of the best. However, it’s hard to laugh at a book that is so close to our messed up reality. It’s almost depressing.


This is from the author’s notes: Any person finding any resemblance between themselves and person depicted herein should probably be ashamed. True enough. Buckley’s fictional Trump is so well portrayed you hear the real man’s voice while reading. He has also captured his imaginary administration’s revolving door as well as the sycophant senators and other “courtiers.”

But is it funny? The writing is as witty and caustic as ever (I’ve read many of his books) however the subject matter hits too close to what we’re living through. Actually, it’s a lot saner since it only focuses on Trump and Putin’s relationship and the reasons behind it and ignores the many sideshows and even main events (that virus is mentioned in passing once early on and feels like a last minute addition).

An autonomous computer that rigs elections, a Russian oligarch willing to blackmail to get his frozen assets back, sleazy events at a Miss Universe pageant, and other inventions all work hard to prop up the humor. But ultimately it is the fictional Trump that stops everything in its tracks. There’s simply no humor to be found there.

And the ending is almost believable, which is exceptionally depressing.

A Little Plot:

Long time Trump employee Herbert Nutterman is asked by his former boss to come to the White House as his Chief of Staff, even though the man has no government or political experience. But Nutterman is loyal, and that’s what matters. So loyal we learn on page one he is in jail and the book he’s writing describes how he wound up there.

For more about Buckley and his books click here. By the way, my personal favorites are Little Green Men and Thank You for Smoking.


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September 2020