I wrote a column last fall about how voracious reading was helping me endure the pandemic. Thomas Jefferson’s words — “I cannot live without books” — were a constant refrain in my head.

I’m still reading.

Since Jan. 1, I’ve read 19 adult, middle-grade and young adult books, as well as nine picture books. Sometimes I think I should take a break and just breathe.

Then I think, “Nah.”

One of my favorites was “The Thursday Murder Club,” by Richard Osman, which is both witty and poignant, as well as a solid mystery. Four residents of an upscale English retirement community meet weekly to discuss cold case crimes. When a familiar face is murdered, they spring into action. Elizabeth appears to have a background in intelligence work (but she’d never confirm, would she?). Joyce is a retired nurse; Ibrahim, a psychotherapist. Ron was a prominent union leader. They all bring special skills to the table. As well as plenty of tea and Victoria sponge.

I gave this book to a friend, and she was laughing out loud by page five.

Recommending books to others brings me joy. Well, I am a librarian. I was tickled when a friend told me a member of her book group was reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries because of my previous column. And one of my cousins recently noted on Facebook that he had read the first in Paul Doiron’s Mike Bowditch series, because I’d sung its praises.

A curtsy to both.

George Takei’s powerful graphic novel “They Called Us Enemy” certainly speaks to Americans at this moment in time. Takei, his parents, and two younger siblings were among some 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned in camps during World War II. They lost everything and endured four years of confinement. It was a long road back for the Takei family, but eventually, George went on to become a successful actor, a voice for Asian-Americans, and, I daresay, a cultural icon.

The novel “What Could be Saved,” by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz, was fascinating and compelling. It’s set in two places and times: Bangkok in 1972 and Washington, D.C. in the present. Artist Laura Preston gets an email. A woman says Laura’s brother, Philip, is living in her house in Bangkok and she wants him out. The problem? Philip disappeared nearly 50 years earlier.

The Preston family’s life in Thailand is idyllic, at least on the surface: servants, a swimming pool, lavish parties, tennis lessons. Underneath the façade, passions seethe. This is a family story, with a complex mystery at its core. What happened to Phillip?

Another — real — family with secrets to hide is the subject of Robert Kolker’s masterful “Hidden Valley Road.” Don and Mimi Galvin appeared to be living the American dream with their 12 children in Colorado Springs. But six of their 10 sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia by the mid-1970s. The family story is a powerful read on its own, but the book is also an examination of the disease, its causes and treatments. The Galvins made a perfect case study for researchers.

A fun escape was “Who is Maud Dixon?” by Alexandra Andrews. After Florence loses her job at a literary agency, she’s offered a position as an assistant to the famous but reclusive author Maud Dixon. Florence soon discovers that the author’s real name is Helen Wilcox. Helen is prickly and eccentric, but Florence likes her and her secluded home in upstate New York.

But when Helen decides they need to go to Morocco to do research for her next book, tragedy strikes. There are deaths: Accident? Murder? Identities are mistaken and stolen. Yes, reader, there are twists and turns and an ultimately satisfying ending.

The young adult biography “The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh,” by Candace Fleming, was an eye-opener. The book begins with a rally attended by supporters of “America First,” who shout “throw him out” at a protestor. The speaker has called the press “contemptibles.” But the event was staged by Lindbergh, not Donald Trump. Lindbergh admired the Nazis and opposed American involvement in World War II. He also believed in eugenics — the theory that “superior” humans will produce superior children. The “inferior” should be sterilized.

Lindbergh’s association with a scientist who performed cruel experiments on animals turned my stomach. Oh, and “Lucky Lindy” had two secret families, besides his own very public marriage to Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

A book I will remember for a long time is “This Way, Charlie,” by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso. This picture book is based on the true story of a goat and a horse who become best friends in an animal sanctuary.

Jack the goat has suffered hard times and really doesn’t want to associate with the other critters on the farm. Then Charlie arrives. He’s blind in one eye. After watching the horse walk in circles, Jack decides to help him find his way to the field where the sweet grass grows.

I cried. The power of literature amazes me. And I am grateful to it, now more than ever.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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