The summer stack: Good reads for lazy days
With Mary Rogers
Summer at last. Travel. A beach. No schedule. It’s time for a good book that’s also a magic carpet ride to other places and other times.
Here are a few new titles I’m considering.
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur: A Novel by Alka Joshi dropped in late June and is generating a happy buzz. It’s the second in the series that began with The Henna Artist, which was a hit in 2020. This story begins in 1969; henna artist Lakshmi is married to Dr. Jay Kumar. She runs the Healing Garden but arranges for her friend and protege, Malik, to intern at the Jaipur palace. It’s clear that power and money comingle easily in the ruling class, and favors are given to those who know how to keep secrets. When a balcony collapses on a newly constructed cinema building, fingers are pointed and blame is assigned, but Malik doesn’t buy it and sets out to expose the lies.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray has caught my interest, too. Published in late June, it is hyped as the “little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene,” the personal librarian of financier J.P. Morgan, a titan of capitalism who dominated Wall Street during the Gilded Age. Belle is only 20 when Morgan hires her to gather a collection of rare books, manuscripts and art for his new Pierpont Morgan Library. She quickly becomes part of the New York social scene, recognized for her exquisite taste, her negotiating skills and her wit. In no time she becomes one of the most powerful players in New York’s books and art world. She enjoys phenomenal success, but through it all she curates her own identity as carefully as she does Morgan’s museum pieces. Belle has a secret and is convinced she must guard it or risk losing everything. She determines that no one will know that she was born Belle Marion Greener, the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a warrior in the fight for equality. She will go to extraordinary lengths to keep passing as white, because she is certain it is the only way to protect her legacy and her family.
All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton (Boy Swallows Universe) comes out in paperback in early July. Dalton is an award-winning Australian journalist and a novelist who is earning his spurs as a screenwriter, too. Set in Australia during WWII, this coming-of-age fable is apparently full of all the hope and optimism youth carries with it. Molly Hooks, 12, is the gravedigger’s daughter, part of a long-cursed family. As the Japanese bomb her town, Molly runs for her life. She is determined to find Longcoat Bob, the Aboriginal leader who she believes is responsible for the curse. A sharp-tongued actress and a Japanese fighter pilot who has abandoned his post join her in the quest. They must survive the desert and the bombings and, in the end, find a treasure of hope.
War on the Border: Villa, Pershing, the Texas Rangers, and an American Invasion by my longtime friend Jeff Guinn will interest historians among you. (Full disclosure: This book is dedicated to me and to my husband, Charles W. Rogers.) Jeff is the former Star-Telegram books editor who hosted so many author events at places such as Bass Performance Hall and Casa Mañana. Since then, he has turned out a long list of well-researched narrative histories. This one touches on one of my favorite chapters in American history. In 1916, Pancho Villa charged across the border and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing pursued Villa into the desert. This “Punitive Expedition” became something of a dress rehearsal for WWI, with the United States sending aircraft into conflict for the first time. Pershing had enormous remudas of horses and mules but traveled in a Dodge touring car with his aide George Patton. Harley-Davidson sent motorcycles to the combat zone. And camera crews showed up to film the battles, which El Paso residents sometimes watched from the U.S. side of the Rio Grande as if they were a spectacle made for entertainment and Villa was a movie star. Pass the iced tea and happy reading.