Neshama’s Choices for July 1st

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The Armor of Light by Ken Follett

There’s nothing like Follett to bring a time to life, full bore. This novel takes place at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England when ingenious machines were starting to replace spinners and weavers. We follow the intimate stories of some of the workers, manufacturers, aristocrats, and politicians who were radically affected by this shift, and it brings history to life effortlessly. The War of 1812 plays in, fortunes crash and rise, unions are formed, and laws are changed, at last. Yes, it’s more than 700 pages but each one sings with immediacy, and along the way I learned so much. A triumph.

Burma Sahib by Paul Theroux

This is a historical novel based on a well-known writer.  It follows 19-year-old Eric who reluctantly signs on to train for the British police force in Burma. Educated at Eton, a dreadful disappointment to his parents, and totally unsuited to the job, he stumbles through various postings that reveal the evils of colonialism at each location. He’s socially awkward and gripped by shame when he encounters a relative who married an Indian woman and produced a half-caste daughter. But there are some consolations; he’s adept at languages, appreciates the beauties of the flora and fauna, and spends time writing about his experiences—his true passion. I listened to this on CD and was quite surprised to discover (though I’d come across a few hints) that in real life Eric Blair had a pen name: George Orwell. (Now I’m rereading Orwell’s Burmese Days to compare and contrast.)  A tour de force.

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

At first, there’s a hint that something is off between Evie and her new lover Ryan.  Not the relationship, which seems warm and sweet, but some peculiar actions on her part.  It turns out Evie is on a job, working for a mysterious Mr. Smith, to dig out dirt on Ryan.  We learn how she got into this risky business which involves shifting identities and dirty tricks. She feels trapped, and scary action erupts, but with toughness and ingenuity she manages to turn the tables. Suspenseful and entertaining.

Family Family by Laurie Frankel

India is a TV superstar, a single mother who adopted twins of Korean origin. Very few people know that when she was very young, she had two babies a few years apart and put them up for close adoption. She doesn’t like the direction her show is going in, makes a few scandalous remarks, and her future as an actor is dimming rapidly. Her kids want to fix things, manage to locate their newly discovered siblings, and all parties end up at her expansive house in LA to discover what “family” really means.  It’s a wild story and I periodically had to suspend disbelief. Still, I especially appreciated the underlying message about the complex aspects of adoption and the many misperceptions that need to be addressed.