If you insist on sticking to one genre of reading, please, I entreat, make it the flood of important writings on climate change. I read the doomsayers, the exhorters, the science/history heroes, the activists, but it’s rare to find someone non-academic able to talk about policy. Mark Jaccard, economist and environmentalist both, an academic but with longstanding roots in policy formulation advice, is one such. And with “The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress,” he has fashioned a truly essential book for the 2020s. Shaping his honed, practical viewpoint, he dissects ten “myths,” delusions he believes are held by both the deniers and the activists. A few of them are priceless, and helped to shift my views, such as: “all countries will agree on climate fairness”; “we must price carbon emissions” (in this and other chapters he provides one of the most lucid explanations of a carbon tax or equivalent mechanism that I have seen); “peak oil will get us first anyway”; “energy efficiency is profitable” (a topic still undecided in my mind); and “renewables have won” (oh, I know they haven’t). Particularly pernicious is the view that “we must change our behavior,” a stalling tactic that diverts responsibility onto the largely powerless individual. A final chapter is a call to organized political action, focusing on finding the political leaders of the future, and here Jaccard offers, slightly tongue in cheek but actually deadly serious, a flowchart for judging the climate action credentials of all our politicians. “The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success” is superbly written and life-changing and mandatory. Hear that: mandatory.
Half siblings, one a wastrel, the other an opportunist; a stunning hotel unreachable on an island; a Ponzi scheme merchant; and the tumbling years after it all falls apart. “The Glass Hotel” is a time-shifting puzzle of a plot formed from a number of characters questing through the world. Emily St. John Mandel is a smooth, hypnotic stylist and this novel melts through the hours like one of E. L. Doctorow’s masterpieces. It’s an ambiguous, almost moral fable about bonds and unforeseen consequences, about fate and luck, about wealth and greed. For all of its many strengths, I had a sense as the end, the climax if you like, approached, that the foundational plot lacked drama. All the scenes of “The Glass Hotel” reeked of tension, yet the ker-chink of plot completion never came. Most enjoyable, nonetheless.
A muscular masterpiece, “Weather” features Lizzie the New York librarian, acutely observing her customers even as she tends to her young son, patient husband, and ex-addict brother, Henry. When her former mentor, now a climate change nihilistic podcast star, ropes Sylvia in to answer nutcase questions, and Henry overreaches by marrying, Sylvia’s world careens between end-of-the-world anxiety and ultimate-carer anxiety. Told in pithy, lurching fragments as sharp as bullets, “Weather” elicits miniature laughs while the overall arc approaches Armageddon. This novel will surely divide readers, requiring as it does keen word-by-word attentiveness and obliqueness, but for this reader, it perfectly captured the ever escalating Trump-era dread percolating today’s world. Lizzie is a character begging for movie treatment, and even though the book is slim, the supporting cast of characters is huge and precisely observed. Under the pen of a lesser experimentalist, the style would surely be cute to the point of cringing; instead, Jenny Offill nails a voice that spoke to me and has echoed ever since. Brilliant.
“Modern Love” sounds too twee to work: based on a New York Times’ column of the same name, bittersweet Big Apple-based parables illustrate that concept. But the eight episodes form a mosaic of gentle narratives crafted exquisitely. Although written and directed by a flotilla, a sense of unity pervades, no doubt instilled by the affectionate cinematography of Yaron Orbach, which casts the metropolis as its own character. The stories, too, ring genuinely true: a doorman cares for a young pregnant woman; two older folks meet while jogging; a gay couple and a nomadic mum carrying their baby; a near-broken marriage and what keeps it together; and so on. Predictably, the ensemble cast is strong but many of the actors transcend their short roles, notably Dev Patel and Anne Hathaway. Yes, “Modern Love” is sentimental, but it is unashamedly so, and the result is a gentle series that leaves a firm mark.
The second album from Halifax band The Orielles showcases their off-kilter rhythms and melodies and phrasing. “Disco Volador” sounds like smart, funky style squirrels at work, shifting mid-song from funk to art-rock instrumental asides. Unlike many art-rock aspirants, the constant cleverness seems almost tongue in cheek. Breezy girl-band vocals glisten over the top of the equally commanding arrangements. The ten tracks on “Disco Volador” form a semi-sleepy melange of pop-rock styles that serves equally as work ambience or evening relaxant. Highlights include the jangling, woozy, chorus-rich “Come on down Jupiter,” the dance-cool flurry of “Bobbi’s second world,” and the cheesy cuteness of “Euro Borealis.” A sparkling late summer treat.
Elbow songs possess an instantly recognizable signature, the dense instrumentation and Guy Garvey’s expressive poetic voice, but they always startle by varying the emotional palette. “Giants of All Sizes” is, above all, pissed off, and the effect invigorates the band and Garvey’s lyrics. Gone are the more baroque and chunky experiments of recent releases, here we have nine songs that are recognizably brooding pop songs, if dressed in dark colors. The album plays out as a cohesive reflection on the now of Brexit, Grenfell, death, and so one. Opening track “Dexter and Sinister” has a familiar lurching rhythm with keyboard surges, plus piano twinkles, and Garvey is in fine song. “White Noise White Heat” rushes in a fierce outburst of heartfelt rage and sounds like teenagers. “Weightless” is a smooth lament. Elbow hit the heights but not as ascendant as they should have been, but regardless of the past, “Giants of All Sizes” is a splendid creation.
“A Beginner’s Guide to Bravery,” the debut album of an oh-so-Irish elfin bard, inherits a long lineage of wordy, swooping, fiddle-led music, from perhaps even Van Morrison, certainly through Christy Moore, and especially Luka Bloom. A triumph of atmospheric wordiness, relentlessly eccentric, it often seems to substitute variations of instrumentation and rhythm for melodic variety, but over the course of “Bravery,” the listener (at least this one) sinks into the magic of modern Irish folk-rock. Highlights include the name-dropping “James Dean,” the fevered call to action of “The Healing,” and the long, rambling, feverish “Origin of the World.” Mark my words, David Keenan is one to watch out for.
There is so much space opera sci-fi out there but few authors can sweep you away like Asimov, for example, once did. Frank Kennedy is three books into his “The Impossible Future” series and “The Reversing Tide” doesn’t just sweep you away, it pummels you and spooks your mind and so much more. If the first two books were fast-moving, “The Impossible Future” is a rocket and you’ll need barely a day or two of engrossed reading to relish the latest high-concept thrills and spills as Samantha, part of the Collectorate nobility, and her lover Michael, irreverent loose cannon, battle the seemingly implacable rise of their former friend James, infused with the power of one of the Jewels. The action scenes are knock-me-down, the dialogue is sharp, the vast Collectorate world is astonishing, and Kennedy is a superb stylist. I particularly enjoyed the twisty, treacherous politics, on a par with the machinations in the novels of John Scalzi. Highly recommended.
My first Meg Gardiner serial killer thriller, “The Dark Corners of the Night,” the third in a series featuring FBI behavioral analyst Caitlin Hendrix, lives up to her reputation. This time Caitlin races to catch the Midnight Man, who terrorizes the suburbs of Los Angeles by slaughtering a house’s adults while leaving the children as shattered witnesses. Gardiner has a winner in her protagonist and she is a surefooted writer adept at maintaining pace. The plot journey is murky and fascinating and the extended character set is diverse and well-drawn. If there is a sense of deja vu in the storyline, that seems to matter little over the course of an evening’s breathless reading.
Indiana Jones is alive and well, if more scabrous, and he is in cahoots with two beautiful deadly women … Charlie Newton is one of the most propulsive, immersive thriller writers in town and in “Privateers,” he embraces and updates the mystery quest idea, with wonderful results. Bill Owens, a Chicago hustler of knockdown character and a hidden heart of gold, becomes enmeshed in a quest, using clues from lines of hidden doggerel, to track down a ransom’s fortune of gold looted from Haiti a century ago. A pell-mell plot careens through the Caribbean towards a finale that grows, incredibly, ever more fraught. Newton inhabits his characters, the exotic locales spring to life, and the dialogue is a treat. There is an element of those boys’ own adventures from my childhood but it’s such a pleasure to surrender to the pleasures of “Privateers” for an evening or two. Grab this and hold on for the ride.