All posts by Current Picks

The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley (2015)

Political writer Christopher Buckley retreats to the 16th century for this hilarious story as he believed the U.S election of 2016 was sufficiently self-satirizing to demand his attention. In 1517, relic hunting was a good business for Dismas until he conspires with the artist Durer to produce a creditable shroud for sale to an affluent but corrupt noble. The noble was greatly displeased when the fraud was uncovered and Dismas escapes with his life only after agreeing to steal the true shroud for the noble. The reader then journeys with Dismas and Durer to Chambery in hopes of substituting a shroud of equal or better quality (according to Durer) for the true shroud. Many misadventures and missteps occur for the reader to enjoy until the pair of travelers are rewarded for their efforts. The reader should then read again the 2017 news report at the beginning of The Relic Master to see what the author is suggesting.

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom (1999)

This is Mitch Albom’s second nonfiction book since Tuesdays with Morrie. If you enjoyed that one, I think you’ll enjoy Have a Little Faith, possibly even more. It is heartwarming, inspirational, thought-provoking, and, at times, humorous.

Albom’s hometown rabbi asks Albom to deliver his eulogy when he dies. On his quest to learn more about this man, he encounters an African American pastor who, despite a past as a drug dealer and convict, is leading a Christian ministry serving the poor and homeless in Detroit’s inner city. The book alternates between these two very different men, religions, and their worlds. In the process, you learn valuable lessons about the power of faith to bring people together to accomplish great things. Great read for a book club.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova (2015)

In the US, there are 37,000 individuals affected by a neurodegenerative disease called Huntington’s. This number is relatively low compared to the overall population, but make no mistake, it is a death sentence—a diagnosis made worse by it being considered a “family disease” with a high genetic likeliness that more than one generation in a family will be affected.

This is the case with the O’Briens, an Irish Catholic family, comprised of Joe and Rosie and their four children, all in their twenties. Joe is an old school Boston cop who puts a lot into tradition, but his life is changed when he’s diagnosed with Huntington’s and soon can’t control his behavior or keep his body from doing things without his consent. Throughout the novel, we see Joe’s condition worsen, but we also watch each of his children struggle with the choice to be genetically tested to know if they will develop the disease in the future, or remain ignorant.

The book can be heartbreaking at times, but is leavened by clever humor and sweet family moments. Like Lisa Genova’s other novels, Inside the O’Briens puts a very personal face on a relatively unknown or misunderstood neurological disease, educating the reader through a compelling family story.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)

As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes (2016)

If you are missing your Downton Abbey fix, you will be pleased to find Julian Fellowes also has written this serialized novel (as well as two others Snobs and Past Imperfect) featuring the British aristocracy. Belgravia takes the reader from the Duchess of Richmond’s ball just before the battle of Waterloo (yes, the Duke of Wellington attends!) and well into the 19th century to follow the fate of young Charles Pope, conceived just before the ball. Questions of legitimacy are not easily resolved as Pope’s biological father is killed at Waterloo and his mother dies at his birth. Pastor Pope and his barren wife are delighted to adopt Charles and give him their name at the secret request of Pope’s maternal grandparents.

Thus the adventure and suspense begin to protect the name of Pope’s deceased mother and to find a suitable heir for the paternal grandparent’s good family name and estate. Complications arise from the maternal grandfather’s social ambitions, a daughter in law’s affair, and jealousies harbored by husbands and would-be heirs.

A Very Simple Crime by Grant Jerkins (2010)

This first novel from Grant Jerkins grabs you from the very first chapter: Rachel Lee, a mentally ill woman, is brutally murdered; Grant is her grieving husband; and Albert, their mentally handicapped son, has a history of violent outbursts. The police think it is a simple open-and-shut-case.

In A Very Simple Crime, however, things are not always as they appear. Leo Hewitt, a disgraced prosecutor, is determined to keep digging to find out what really happened. If you’re looking for a fun escape, try this great crime thriller.

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (2017)

In this charming romantic comedy, author Elinor Lipman writes lovable characters, smart dialogue, and zany situations. Thirty-something Faith Frankel returned to her small Massachusetts hometown after a stint in New York City. She spends her days writing thank you notes as a fundraiser for a local private school while her fiancé “finds himself” on a walk across America. Faith impulsively buys a semi-decrepit cottage, setting off a hilariously bizarre series of events (including a mystery). On Turpentine Lane is a gem, deserving of a read or listen (narrated beautifully by Mia Barron). I can’t wait to read more by Lipman.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander (2012)

Dr. Eben Alexander was close to death for a week. The memories from that week have changed his life and the way he thinks about life after death. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander pulls the reader into his drama and can cause a life changing shift in perspective. Listening to Alexander’s own voice recount his experiences made it all the more powerful a message.