Theodore Roosevelt and the American Century
July 9, 2019
Reinterpreting Islam law
July 10, 2019

Best novels to read this summer

Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand, Little, Brown and Company, US $28.00, Pp 432, June 2019, ISBN 978-0316420013
Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman, Simon & Schuster, US $24.00, Pp 120, May 2019, ISBN 978-1501197307
Deception Cove by Owen Laukkanen, Mulholland Books, US $28.00, Pp 384, May 2019, ISBN 978-0316448703

Set in the summer of 1969, the most tumultuous summer for the Levin family. Like in Elin Hilderbrand’s other novels, the story revolves around several members of the same family — Foley-Levin. Exalta, aka Nonny, is the mother of Kate Levin. Exalta lives in Nantucket where her house is named ‘All’s Fair.’ Kate has three children from her first husband Wilder Foley — Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, who is a war veteran. Wilder Foley later shot himself. Kate has one girl child — Jessie — from her second husband. For the Levins, times don’t change. Children want to go and spend every summer with their grandmother who lives in the historic downtown of Nantucket. The Levins may think the time is static but, in reality, everything is changing. Oldest sister Blair is pregnant with twins and is staying put in Boston. Her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive and deceitful that affects Blair’s health in a bad way. Angus works at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Middle sister Kirby has taken a summer job on Martha’s Vineyard. Independent-minded middle sister Kirby is also taking part in the civil rights protests. Kirby’s romantic encounters are complex, she first has an affair with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother hates Kirby for being white. Tiger, the brother of the two sisters and an infantry soldier, has recently been drafted and deployed in Vietnam from where he continues to write to Jessie. Thirteen-year-old Jessie feels as if she is the only child. Jessie also feels marooned in the house with her mother and her grandmother whom she has never seen. It looks like all of them has their secrets they are trying to hide. 1969 is a year when a lot of things happened one after the other like Ted Kennedy sank a car in Chappaquiddick and the Apollo 2 landed on the moon. All the characters have real-life complications that are typical of the era. Kate has been drinking heavily after Tiger is deployed in the war zone in Vietnam. Moreover, there is anti-Semitism. Summer of ’69 is packed with drama, intrigue, and history. 1969 was an important year in American history as many important events took place in that year that shaped our history. Elin Hilderbrand has skillfully weaved the story of a family and history together. Summer of ’69 evokes nostalgia. It is a highly enjoyable and entertaining novel.

About the author

Elin Hilderbrand was born on July 17, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts. She has used her 50 years to write 23 novels and raise three children on Nantucket Island.

*****

When The Holding Pen, the prison literary journal, published a controversial poem, nobody expected it would incite riots and the mob would barricade the prison. The novel starts with the mob barricading the prison, a Sri Lankan inmate known as MF is reminiscing about himself and life. He is known by his prison moniker, “MF.” MF is highly educated. As he is an educated person, he is made the editor of The Holding Pen. He is an immigrant from Sri Lanka whose previous job was working as a doorman in New York City. Sitting in the prison computer lab, he writes his final Editor’s Letter, which is his confession — An official accounting of events, as they happened. As he waits in the prison computer lab for the mob to burst into violence, he tells his life story — raising questions and answering them. Could he escape ending up in prison if he had quietly kept working as Park Avenue doorman or if he had continued his rise in the black markets of postwar Sri Lanka? He wants to understand what mistake he had made. MF also reminisces about Betsy Pankhurst, his ex-girlfriend. MF is actually used as a cipher by Ryan Chapman to draw several conclusions about the role of literature in our society. The first is that literature is imprisoned in our society. Chapman also shows the cruel side of society. The novel is written in the form of a frenzied monologue by someone who loves literature and wants to free it from the shackles of society. Many readers will find the prose a bit messy but it is done on purpose to relate it to pop culture and the real-time events on social media such as Instagram and Reddit. As the editor of The Holding Pen, MF has access to these media. Ryan Chapman is a pop-culture writer. The novel follows the American tradition of satire. It is dark satire and humor. It is important for the reader to give full attention in order to enjoy it.

About the author

Ryan Chapman is a Sri Lankan American novelist originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has written online and in print for The New Yorker, GQ, Longreads, Guernica, Bookforum, BOMB, and The Believer, and received residency fellowships from The Millay Colony and Vermont Studio Center. He is a well-versed pop-culture writer (Conversation Sparks, 2015) and this is his debut novel. He lives in Kingston, New York.

*****

Deception Cove is the story of a rescue dog, an ex-Marine and an ex-convict who are being targeted by a ruthlessly brutal gang of Washington-based criminals. As somebody who recently lost her husband, former US Marine Jesse Winslow comes back to civilian life. She was also recently discharged after being treated for PTSD. All she owns is a falling house and a loyal dog –Lucy. Obviously, she cares for the dog more than the falling house. Lucy is a black-and-white pit bull mix who helps her cope with the devastating memories of her time in Afghanistan. Lucy was trained by Mason Burke as a service dog while he was serving a sentence in Prison. Mason Burke has spent half his life behind bars in Michigan Prison. He has no skills to make a living. All he owns is a set of clothes, a wallet and a photo of Lucy he trained while he was in prison. Although Mason and Lucy were not supposed to bond, it just happened without their intentions. Out of prison, he is now planning to start his life all over. He goes to Deception Cove, Washington, where is dog now lives with Jesse Winslow. But, as soon as Mason knocks on Jesse’s door, he is shocked to find himself in the middle of a standoff between Jesse and the deputy sheriff of the county. Before dying, Jesse’s husband Ty had stolen and stashed a pricy package from his drug dealer associates. Strangely, the package went missing after his death and Jesse seems to have no idea what it had happened to it. Sheriff’s office has taken Lucy in custody. They want Jesse to turn in the package or forget Lucy. They may kill Lucy. Deputy Sheriff has a grudge against Lucy as he had bitten him on the butt when he had tried to give trouble to Jesse. Mason does not want to go back to the world of crime. Neither does he trust a stranger. But he is not ready to leave Lucy in danger either. Jesse and Mason make an unlikely alliance to save Lucy. To save themselves and Lucy, they have to fight back and learn to overcome their doubts and fears. When a gifted storyteller like Owen Laukkanen tells a story, the results are dazzling. Deception Cove is a compulsive readable thriller of the highest order.

About the author

Owen Laukkanen’s Stevens and Windermere novels have been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Edgar and Thriller Awards. A graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing program, Laukkanen spent three years in the world of professional poker reporting before turning to fiction. He currently lives in Vancouver with his dog, Lucy.

Most of the biographical notes in our reviews are provided by the publishers.

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