Entertainment » Highlights » Vol 63

Leap into spring with these books

Kimberly Dunbar

The sign of a good book is its ability to make you feel. The sign of a great author is his or her ability to, through words, make you ugly cry.

Lisa Genova, neuroscientist and author, has a track record of producing novels that single-handedly keep Kleenex in business. This month, Genova releases her latest book, Every Note Played (Scout Press), in which she introduces us to Richard, a world-renowned pianist whose life falls apart when he is diagnosed with ALS. Richard seems to love the piano more than anything, including his ex-wife and daughter, so when ALS quickly begins to ravage Richard’s body, he is robbed not just of his ability to play the piano, but also of his identity. At the end of his life, Richard is forced to re-evaluate and come to terms with his past and present. Through Richard, Genova is able to give readers a glimpse of the struggles, as well as the emotional and physical effects of ALS, as she has done other neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, The Great Alone (St. Martin’s Press), is a powerful tale of resilience, survival and the human spirit. Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam War POW, is a changed man when he returns home, and his constant nightmares, drinking and inability to hold a job makes him a mean man. After a fellow POW leaves Ernt his land in Alaska, the Allbrights — Ernt, Cora and their 13-year-old daughter Leni — head north in search of a new beginning. The Allbrights learn to live off the grid with the help of a tight-knit community; the isolation and simplicity of Alaska seems to serve the family well. However, when winter approaches, Ernt’s behavior worsens and Cora and Leni must not only learn to survive the Alaskan wilderness, but the darkness of their own home. As Leni grows into an independent woman, she must balance her burdens with the life she longs to live. Hannah’s novel is a page-turner and will keep you up (I saw 3 a.m. one night) as you join the Allbrights in their adventures in love, loss and survival.

You might learn a lot about Alaska after reading Hannah’s book, but Mark Bailey’s Nine Irish Lives: The Thinkers, Fighters and Artists Who Helped Build America (Algonquin) is a stroll through American history. This book is a compilation of essays — written by famous Irish Americans like Pierce Brosnan, Rosie O’Donnell and Michael Moore — that examine the lives of lesser-known Irish immigrants who had a positive impact on the United States. Learn about the original muckraker, Samuel McClure, whose honest journalism helped inspire political reform; Margaret Haughery, whose love of children earned her the nickname the “Mother of the Orphans”; and Albert Cashier, a transgender Civil War soldier. So raise a glass for these nine Irish men and women who were living proof that immigrants can be an asset to the United States.

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