Book Briefs: Formula, fresh and familiar

Origin - 11-9-17
Origin – Audible Books – Read by Paul Michael – $35 – 18 hours, 10 minutes – Three out of five stars

Mega-best-selling author Dan Brown (“Angels and Demons,” 2000, “The Da Vinci Code,” 2003, “Inferno,” 2013) once again taps Harvard professor Robert Langdon in his New York Times #1 release, “Origin,” to unravel a high-tech mystery that could impact the world’s great religions.

Langdon is summoned to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain) to attend an event organized by his former student, the brilliant high-tech billionaire Edmond Kirsch.

At the apex of the evening, as Kirsch is about to announce a revolutionary breakthrough, tragedy strikes and it’s up to Langdon to track down the information Kirsch was trying to reveal.

Kirsch had hinted to his former mentor that he had unlocked the secrets to the age-old questions – Where did we come from and Where are we going?

And, in typical Brown fashion, the reader is taken down one rabbit hole after another as Langdon and the beautiful Ambra Vidal, the museum’s director and fiancé of the future King of Spain, chase all over the city and then move on to Barcelona to unlock Kirsch’s secret.

I listened to this book, its characters and action ably brought to life by narrator Paul Michael.

Since its full of scientific references, and since biology/chemistry were not my strong suits, the story might have been more enjoyable if I had read it so I could have flipped back and looked up terms I didn’t know (and certainly couldn’t have spelled without seeing them written down).

I did, however, know how to spell “Guggenheim, Barcelona and unfinished church,” so I could Google photos of the museum and Sagrada Família, the famous Barcelona landmark.

Brown has followed the same formula for so long that I was able to weed out the red herrings and hone in on who was really pulling the strings about a third of the way through, so most of the tension that was supposed to be created by the chase dissipated.


Lincoln in the Bardo - 11-9-17
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Sanders – Random House – 343 pp. – $28 – Feb. 2017 – Five out of five stars

Amarillo-born author George Saunders (“Tenth of December,” 2013) won the 2017 Man Booker Award with “Lincoln in the Bardo,” his brilliant retelling of an evening in a cemetery near Washington, DC, in February of 1862.

During the course of the night, 146 ghosts suspended in the “bardo,” a Tibetan term for “intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth,” gather around a grieving Abraham Lincoln, who has just lost his 11-year old son, Willie, to typhoid fever, as he visits his son’s temporary resting place in the Carroll Mausoleum in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Georgetown.

According to Saunders’ story, the Oak Ridge ghosts and their neighbors died under unhappy circumstances and are tied to this realm until an event they call “matterlightblooming” occurs and it’s possible for the ghosts to move on to their next life.

Three main voices drive Saunders’ plot –  hans vollman, roger bevins iii and the reverend everly thomas.

vollman died before consummating his marriage to a much younger woman.

bevins, a gay man who couldn’t live without his lover, slit his wrists, but at the moment right before death, saw the world as a beautiful place and regretted his decision.

Even though there are hints, we’re never quite sure why rev. thomas is stuck in the bardo, but there he is, taking the lead during the eventful evening.

The ghosts’ bodies take on different physical forms, some comic, some tragic, all meant to be the physical manifestation of their sins or sadness.

Each ghost has the ability to “get inside” a live person, learning everything they know and feeling everything they feel.

Saunders is the second American writer to win the Man Booker in as many years. (Last year, it was Paul Beatty  with the controversial “The Sellout.”) I can certainly understand why the panel chose this book.

It’s completely unique, especially in format – and it’s not for everyone.

It’s written like a screenplay, with each voice getting its own paragraph and credit centered under the dialog.

And, along with the ghosts’ stories and conversations, there are excerpts from historical accounts of the events leading up to Willie’s death, the night he died (the Lincolns went ahead with a lavish party that had been in works for months, despite their child lying critically ill upstairs) and comments on the raging Civil War.

Saunders created some of the first-hand accounts to add to the drama.

Getting into the rhythm of the format takes a few pages, but once I found it, I was completely swept up in the macabre details of each ghost’s story and the overwhelming loss suffered by the 16th president. And I found myself pulling for Willie to make contact with his beloved father one more time.

I look forward to reading more from Saunders. He can really spin a tale.


The Identicals - 11-9-17
The Identicals – Elin Hilderbrand – Little, Brown – 418 pp. – $28 – June 2017 – Two out of five stars

Twins grow up together, but are forced to choose sides when their parents divorce, leading to estrangement.

When their father dies and one twin gets into trouble, while the other one’s teenage daughter rebels, the two switch places to work out their separate issues.

Oh, and they twins live on the fashionable islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, respectively. The author has called Nantucket home for 24 years.

Elin Hildebrand has written 18 other books with titles like “The Beach Club,” “Nantucket Nights,” “Summer People” and “Barefoot,” so you know she’s familiar with her surroundings and the seasonal visitors who frequent the playgrounds of the rich and famous.

In “The Identicals,” Hildebrand has given her fans another light, easy read.

Although the girls and their significant others face grown up dilemmas, they do it in such lush surroundings that you know everything’s going to turn out just fine – and perfectly dressed, manicured and decorated.



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