Must-reads and me

Some books just demand to be read. Their characters are so real perhaps, or their concepts so deeply intriguing. They may be non-fiction or fiction, but they draw you in with their questions or situations and invite you to think. They engage the head and heart, maybe even the soul, making you hear your own voice echo in characters or arguments. And you know they'll end with something deep that leaves you deeply fed.

I wish Divide by Zero could be one of those novels. It felt that way as I wrote it. I knew the characters so well I'd walk around the neighborhood talking to them, arguing why and how, and asking them sometimes to change their mind. There's a dark secret in the novel which I didn't even know until I learned it halfway through. Then I had to go back and ask the perpetrator where he was coming from. I had to know more; after which I went forward again, mourning with the community, wondering how it would survive until a small boy, an imaginary boy, looked at a picture in the (imaginary) paper and gave me the answer. Divide by Zero grabbed me so much I had to spend more time after writing it with Sylvia, now the star of Infinite Sum. And I'm learning more about Evie from someone who hardly even appeared in the original novel. But I saw his face. I had to ask.

I hope Divide by Zero might become one of those must-read novels. Meanwhile here are some books that stood out for me recently and demanded to be read:

Fields of Blood, by Karen Armstrong, leads readers through the history of nations, tribes and peoples, tracing the growth and meaning of religion, in answer to that oft-heard complaint that religion causes most of the world's wars. The answer's not a gut-response yes or no, but a nicely nuanced and beautifully researched investigation of what religion means, where faith comes into it, and how easily we choose to destroy life if there's nothing to tell us our neighbor's life has meaning. It's a long read, but it's very well worth the read and I really enjoyed it. Lots of cups of well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored 3-star coffee recommended.

A children's book dealing sweetly and generously with the aftermath of war seems a suitable one for my next review. The Olive Tree, by Elsa Marston, illustrated by Claire Ewart, is a simple picture book, set in Lebanon, telling the tale of a boy whose family stayed, and a girl whose family have just returned after war. Can the two be friends? Can they share the fruit of the olive tree growing between them? Or has too much been lost? It's a beautiful tale, simply told, with a beautiful child's eye view, and it's highly recommended. Enjoy with a well-balanced smooth 3-star coffee.

Next is a book I'd been looking forward to for quite some while, a tale of small-town battles rather than war, set in a small English town where a member of the local council has just died. The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling, introduces a wealth of convincing characters, all of them hurting and flawed. Much like the TV show Broadchurch (or Gracepoint in the US), these very believable people all hide their different secrets, and no one is wholly good. There's an odd sense of redemption as each flaw shows its past, and a deep sorrow in the aftermath, grown wide, of small events. Enjoy this one with a rich, elegant and complex 4-star coffee.

And finally, another book I'd been looking forward to is Aaron Paul Lazar's Devil's Lake. It turned out not to be my favorite of his novels, but it's a powerful story of a woman, kidnapped and abused, and how she might pick up her life when she returns home. For me, the American politics loomed a little large, but there's a valuable lesson in the difference between controlling and protecting; and redemption proves more important than revenge after all. Enjoy this dark tale with a bold dark 5-star coffee.


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