The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

This book comes highly recommended by Jan Forrest, president of the library board of directors and extensive contributor to the Slippery Rock Community Library. It is a historical fiction novel told from the point of view of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She’s an author in her own right, but she’s more famously known as wife of Charles Lindbergh (the first man to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean) and mother of the Lindbergh baby. The book covers the trials of her marriage to Charles Lindbergh–who the reader sees is just as flawed as any other man, regardless of his celebrity–and the difficulty of having her accomplishments constantly overlooked, while being held at the mercy of American press.

The Aviator’s Wife is a remarkably convincing story filled with emotion and a great deal of melancholy. It covers Anne and Charles’ first meeting through their marriage and Charles’ eventual death in 1974. This is not a spoiler because the narrative is told beginning at Charles’ deathbed and works through flashback, with occasional interruptions as Anne and Charles have their final moments together.

Melanie Benjamin does an excellent job of conveying exactly how it must have felt to be in Anne’s various situations–sudden new fame as a celebrity wife, her tumultuous relationship with her husband, bereavement and grief as a young mother, and abrupt revilement from the American press. This book really places the reader in the mind of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and makes it easy to empathize with her–but be aware that her life is not necessarily a happy one, and the reader must experience tragedies with her.

This is also a good book to read if you aren’t very familiar with Anne Morrow Lindbergh. High schools teach students about Charles Lindbergh, but Summer Intern Brynn, who is majoring in literature, wasn’t even aware that his wife was an author and aviator in her own right. The Aviator’s Wife also has compelling feminist themes–one can see in the very title that Anne Morrow was never regarded as a self-made woman, and it’s interesting to realize exactly what she accomplished in her lifetime that went completely unnoticed. Benjamin is extremely dedicated in her task of unveiling the truth to the reader, but in a compelling and readable way.

Resolve by J. J. Hensley

Karen very highly recommended this book, saying that it was excellent–and written by a local author, J. J. Hensley. She said that he had come to the library to do promotional things, and that he is a great supporter of the community library in general. In fact, our copy of Resolve is signed and dated.

Hensley obviously has great experience with his subjects–he describes police behavior in a very interesting way, and he describes the city of Pittsburgh in a way that is immediately familiar and relatable to anyone who has been there. “We have two seasons in this area: Winter and Construction,” he says (16). He discusses the road conditions in western Pennsylvania with affection, and takes the reader through a step-by-step geographical route of the Pittsburgh Marathon, around which the book is centered.

Cyprus Keller admits right off the bat that he knows there will be a murder during the Marathon. He also admits that he will be the one committing it. In the following 26 (.2!) chapters, labeled as miles to mark Cyprus’ progress in the marathon, he explains through the backstory why he has come to this, who will be his victim, and how he’s going to kill him. And it’s fascinating–while reading it, Summer Intern Brynn was telling Karen, “I have a theory!” and “I don’t like the look of this person…” but failed to actually guess who the victim was before Cyprus confronted him. Hensley uses clever writing, with a touch of noir humor, to misdirect the reader and keep them guessing until the end. Read this book very closely–it’s easy to miss Chekhov’s gun here.

Resolve handles very serious topics–justice, guilt, vigilantism, and responsibility. At what point does it become appropriate to take the law into your own hands? Who has the right to decide who and who may not live? What would you kill for? We at the library stamp this book with our seal of approval. Brynn plans to bring it back in on Monday, August 11, 2014, if you want to check it out.

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

Summer intern Brynn is on an urban fantasy kick. Most recently she read Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, in no small part due to mild fascination with the song. The book is set in modern-day London and features protagonist Gabriel Blackstone, a professional hacker with a past in government-sanctioned “remote viewing.” (That’s the official scientific terminology for mind reading, apparently.) He’s content to make a living stealing information from companies with his business partner, Isidore, until an ex-girlfriend shows up on his doorstep one day. Frankie, who may or may not have been the love of Gabriel’s life, is now married to a very wealthy man and unattainable, and she wants to pay Gabriel to find her missing stepson.

This leads Gabriel into investigating the Monk sisters, Morrighan and Minnaloushe (yeah), who are very wealthy, beautiful, and enigmatic. As Gabriel falls deeper into their world of alchemy, magic, and the Art of Memory, he realizes that he may in fact be in love with them both–which is unfortunate because he believes one of them to be a murderer. The question is, which one?

Mostert takes a very interesting approach to the urban fantasy by combining it with elements of history and science fiction. The sisters are descendants of John Dee, a real-life occultist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. The Monks also practice the Art of Memory, a real collection of techniques used to improve recall and inspire creativity. The sisters use it to great effect.

However, their “memory palace”–properly called an architectural mnemonic, an imaginary house filled with rooms of objects that trigger their memory, not unheard of in today’s media–is amplified by the practice of remote viewing. While there are psychics who claim to be remote viewers today, Mostert admits in the afternote that her characters’ abilities are exaggerated beyond any claims that real remote viewers make. Such is the artistic license of fiction. Furthermore, she also creates a British organization similar to the American Project STARGATE, in which the CIA investigated psychics as possible agents for military and domestic uses (this was the inspiration for the film The Men Who Stare at Goats, by the way). Skeptics may find it baffling to know that the project was real, although it ended in 1995 when no useful application was found.

A very interesting, very investing book that crosses genres easily and requires no great suspension of disbelief. Recommended for fans of urban fantasy and those who like mysteries or thrillers with a slight element of horror.

 

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Summer intern Brynn just read Lisa Genova’s Left Neglected, a very interesting book featuring a character with the rather confusing condition called Left Neglect. The brain actually fails to register the concept of ‘left,’ so the narrator is under the impression that she’s seeing everything, but actually she can’t see anything to her left. Or read the left side of a page, or sometimes the left halves of the words on it. Or find the left half of her plate, or put makeup on the left side of her face. Believe it or not, this is a real condition. It’s interesting because much of narrator Sarah’s treatment for the condition focuses on trying to make the left half of her body “noticeable” to her brain, using shiny jewelry on her wrist and hand or brightly colored socks on her left foot. Sarah’s brain just doesn’t register anything to her left as important, and redirects its attention elsewhere.

Genova treats a number of mental conditions with great sensitivity–she herself holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard, and her previous book, Still Alice, also focused on a neurological condition. Because it’s so difficult to imagine missing half of your field of vision and not realizing it, Sarah’s explanations to her family help the reader to understand an almost inexplicable problem. She explains her inability to “just turn her head to the left” as her husband urges her by asking him, if she told him there was a whole half of his field of vision he was missing, “where would you look?” Her husband is stumped to answer, and this helps the reader to understand how alien the concept is. In this situation, the people surrounding Sarah act as something of an avatar for the reader. The narrative also includes several scenes from Sarah’s physical therapy, including her very realistic frustration with her progress. She also describes her internal conflict about her new identity as a disabled person, as well as her anxieties about recovery.

In addition to Left Neglect, the novel also refers to depression and ADHD. The narrator and her husband Bob are the parents of a young child being screened for ADHD, and the techniques that they use to cope with his issues were extremely realistic, being real treatments for children with ADD and ADHD. (Reading about the checklist of chores on the wall and the process of Charlie doing his homework with assistance reminded Brynn of some of the things her parents used to do for her brother, who has ADD, that she had forgotten over the years.) The narrator experiences some apprehension about giving medication to her son–he is, after all, only in the third grade–but eventually comes to accept that treatment for mental and medical conditions is completely warranted. Furthermore, Sarah’s mother Helen suffers from clinical depression triggered by the traumatic loss of a child. The narrative discusses the differences in generational mindsets about mental illness and medication—at the time that the loss occurred, there was less public understanding about mental illness, and Helen was unaware that she could seek help to cope with her grief. Her use of antidepressants is portrayed as casually as her laundry habits, and Genova ensures the reader doesn’t see it as too big a deal. Sarah’s growing acceptance of support for disability, mental illness, and neurological conditions is a great part of her character arc.

Before the character’s accident, Genova sets up a character enduring a great deal of stress while juggling motherhood and a career, as well as managing her relationships with her husband and her mother. Fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy the portrayal of the modern working mom and the struggle to “have it all.” Also like Picoult, much of the novel’s focus is on interpersonal relationships. Sarah’s Left Neglect is a parallel to the tumultuous relationship she has with her mother, who became emotionally unavailable after her little brother drowned in a swimming pool many years ago. This is the source of the title—Sarah was “left neglected” when Helen was unable to surface from her grief.

We recommend this story to fans of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, which is her first novel (Karen also highly recommends Still Alice, by the way, and we plan on doing a review of that novel too). Also fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy the focus on familial relationships, career women with families, and life-changing experiences. In fact, Picoult supplies the cover quote–“Remember how you couldn’t put down Still Alice? Well, clear your schedule–because you’re going to feel the same way.”

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