January 10, 2020 § 1 Comment

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom. This memoir of a black family in New Orleans East is at its core an everyman tale of wants and unmet needs, of dreams and expectations, of joys and disappointments, of high hopes and entropy, and ultimately of disaster and survival. To understand this family one must understand the house in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and the house’s relationship to it, and the relationship they have with each other, and with their neighborhood and city and the culture, and how the family gradually unravelled yet held together as the house decayed and was destroyed. Winner of the 2019 National Book Award. Highly recommended. Non-fiction.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington. Disturbing account of the rise and fall of pathologist Steven Hayne, who improbably performed thousands of autopsies a year, and dentist Michael West, who made a successful career claiming to identify perpetrators by teeth marks, and their impact on the Mississippi criminal justice system. The book principally focuses on the convictions of two men, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, who spent years in prison based on Hayne’s and West’s testimony until their ultimate exoneration. Non-fiction.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. An Englishwoman is charged with murdering her husband and then goes silent. Instead of being convicted, she is declared insane and is institutionalized. A psychotherapist takes on the task of getting her to talk. What has she been hiding with her silence? What does she have to say? The answers come with a surprising twist. An easy, entertaining read and NY Times best-seller. Fiction.

Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. With the American army sweeping inexorably across Luzon in the Philippines toward Manila in 1944, Japanese soldiers burned alive 150 American prisoners of war at a prison camp on Palawan. Fearing a similar execution of 500 survivors of the Bataan death march at the Cabanatuan POW camp, a force of 120 American Rangers was sent deep behind enemy lines on a covert mission to save them. This is the story of the dangerous and daring rescue. The 2005 movie, The Great Raid, was based in part on this book. Non-fiction.

Manila Espionage by Claire Phillips. Medicine and food was smuggled in to the prisoners at Cabanatuan by a mysterious woman code-named “High Pockets.” She was an American, Claire Phillips, who posed as an Italian woman running a night club in Manila that was a favorite hang-out for Japanese military officers, officials, and businessmen from whom she extracted valuable intelligence that she passed on to Americans and Filipino guerillas. She spent much of her profit to help the American prisoners and Filipino guerillas. Later arrested, tortured, and imprisoned, she refused to betray her accomplices. After the war she was awarded the Medal of Freedom and $1.3 million for her services. This is her story. Non-fiction.

The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. Ultra-realist and non-believer Dawkins employs science, facts, and logic to answer questions such as what is magic, when and how did everything begin, and what is a miracle, among others. Not recommended for readers who do not care to have their beliefs and preconceptions challenged. Non-fiction.

The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley. In 1664, after the Restoration of Charles II, Samuel Pepys’s brother-in-law, nicknamed “Balty,” is dispatched to America to hunt down and arrest two of the judges who signed the death warrant for Charles I that resulted in his execution. Balty soon finds himself tangled in intrigues and a larger stratagem that changes the course of history. Based in part on the diaries of Samuel Pepys. Witty and well-written, not just for history nerds. Fiction.

The Mississippi Secession Convention by Timothy R. Smith. Secession was a sure thing when Mississippi delegates convened in Jackson after Lincoln’s 1860 election. But what form would it take? Negotiate for concessions? An ultimatum? Wait and see? Follow other seceding states? The debate and profiles of the delegates are limned out in detail. Anyone who clings to the notion that the Civil War was not about slavery should read this book and Mississippi’s Declaration of the Causes of Secession authored by L.Q.C. Lamar. Non-fiction.

Chasing the Scream by Johann Haari. The story of the drug war, from its earliest days 100 years ago to now, its failure, the corruption and illegal cartels it has spawned, and the human wreckage it has produced. Non-fiction.

A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold. One of the earliest conservationists, professor Leopold chronicled the changing seasons on his farm in Wisconsin in near-poetic prose that reveals the majesty and marvel of nature. Included with his almanac are some of his essays on ecology and conservation. Non-fiction.

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Novel of the WWII siege of Stalingrad through the eyes of several civilians and soldiers. Grossman, who was the first allied journalist to enter and report about a liberated German death camp, intended his novel to be the Soviet War and Peace. Instead, it was banned and all copies, and even the typewriter ribbons on which they were typed, were confiscated by the KGB due to the parallels the book draws between Hitler and Stalin and the two countries’ slave-labor and death camps. But a manuscript was smuggled to the west and published in 1980, 16 years after the author’s death. This book is an immense slog of 871 pages (only about half the length of Tolstoy’s opus, though) in paperback, recommended for the most dedicated of readers only. Fiction.

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