Friday, April 15, 2016
ON MY RADAR (4/15/16 edition): Books that have hit my radar
On the evening of May 3, 1937, Emilie Imhof boards the Hindenburg. As the only female crewmember, Emilie has access to the entire airship, from the lavish dining rooms and passenger suites to the gritty engine cars and control room. She hears everything, but with rumors circulating about bomb threats, Emilie’s focus is on maintaining a professional air…and keeping her own plans under wraps.
What Emilie can’t see is that everyone—from the dynamic vaudeville acrobat to the high-standing German officer—seems to be hiding something.
Giving free rein to countless theories of sabotage, charade, and mishap, Flight of Dreams takes us on the thrilling three-day transatlantic flight through the alternating perspectives of Emilie; Max, the ship’s navigator who is sweet on her; Gertrud, a bold female journalist who’s been blacklisted in her native Germany; Werner, a thirteen-year-old cabin boy with a bad habit of sneaking up on people; and a brash American who’s never without a drink in his hand. Everyone knows more than they initially let on, and as the novel moves inexorably toward its tragic climax, the question of which of the passengers will survive the trip infuses every scene with a deliciously unbearable tension.
With enthralling atmospheric details that immediately transport and spellbinding plotting that would make Agatha Christie proud, Flight of Dreams will keep you guessing till the last page. And, as The New York Times Book Review said of her last novel, “This book is more meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off.”
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.
Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.
Everything I Found On the Beach by Cynan Jones
(Synopsis and brief review from Shelf Awareness): Three unacquainted men on the west coast of Wales aspire to better their respective circumstances, and to that end make a series of decisions that have dire consequences. Patient pacing accompanies a relentless momentum, moving toward an ending that inspires dread.
Hold is a Welsh fisherman, consumed by his sense of responsibility. He is devoted to the wife and son of his recently deceased best friend; Hold made a promise to this friend that worries him constantly. Grzegorz is a Polish immigrant who brought his family to Wales for a better life but found disappointment. He works shifts at a slaughterhouse whose practices offend him. Finally, there is Stringer, Irish and a middleman in a criminal hierarchy that he feels has taken advantage of him for too long. These men find potential solutions to their problems in a scene on the beach: a boat, a dead man and a package.
Jones's writing is deceptively simple, belying his poetic mastery of language: "The first time he ever shot rabbits he was alone and it was with a shotgun and he had been looking for a long time...." His tone is deliberate, resolutely unexcitable despite the extraordinarily high stakes of his story.