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Gini in a Bottle: 2018 Summer Book Bag

Summer is almost upon us! That means a change in the seasons, vacation plans, and compiling a list of books to read on the beach, on a plane or just in the backyard. Every summer I offer a few of my favorites for your perusal and consideration. If you don’t like this summer selections check out my “Summer Book Bag” postings and my “Christmas Gift Books” suggestions over the last couple years.


            Read! Enjoy! Have a good summer! See you all in the Fall!

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

This recent best seller is much more than a portrait (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) of a Renaissance painter. This is the story of a true genius whose curiosity lead him to invent weapons of war, a helicopter, and designs for new water ways, cities and improvements in agriculture. This is also a story of a serious scientist who spent years dissecting bodies and eventually discovering how the chambers of the heart functions. This is the story of an observer of life – who spent countless hours meditating on the question “how does a humming bird’s tongue function?” Reading this book is both a celebration of the gifts of the Renaissance and rise of modern science.


Grant by Ron Chernow

This book is too dangerous to read in bed. It’s over 1500 pages and if you fall asleep while reading it, you could break your nose! This book makes it clear that Grant was much more than just the commanding general from the rich northern states. He was also much more than a “butcher” who won battles by over running his opponent with superior man power. Grant may not have been genius, but he had a gift for the art of war. Did he drink? A bit! But he was a man of duty, discipline and determination. He simply out thought and out fought “Bobbie Lee”. As President he was much more than a Civil War hero. He kept the peace. He tried to advance the rights of African-Americans and indigenous American tribes. He himself was a man of virtue and dedication. His only weakness was that he had too much trust in friends who would up being untrustworthy.


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

A noir thriller set between 1933 and just after World War II this book is a complicated saga of the war, the naval docks in New York, the mafia, modern high finance and the influence of established families and old money. It’s full of well crafted, old fashioned characters who live hard and play by tough rules. It’s also a story of one woman’s attempt to be more than a token employee and winds up being the first naval deep sea diver. Egan’s prose are glorious, she is, after all, a Pulitzer Prize winner, but that story line is rich, fascinating, and complex. Warning: once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down!


Defectors by Joseph Kanon

Let me begin by stating: I’m not a big fan of spy novels. To me, they are either too “pop culture” as in James Bond. Or, they are way “too-inside” and written for a very specialized audience, i.e. John Le Carre’s cold war warriors. However, this is the story of two brothers’ commitment to two different sides of post-World War II politics. Both worked for the US during the war, and after the war one defects to Russian. This is a story about espionage, true belief, brothers, family, and the things we do for love, honor and duty. This is a very human and believable spy story!


The Immoralists by Chloe Benjamin 

In 1969, four kids ranging from 7 to 13, go to a fortune teller who doesn’t tell them what they’ll be when they grow up, rather she tells each of them the exact date of their deaths! All of them were shocked and scared by the predictions. But they all pack it away in the far corners of their minds. And, all was well, until the first child dies on the exact date that was predicted! Do I have your attention? This is not a ghost story, but it is a scary one. It is also a very realistic and profound story about the choices one makes in life and how we deal with the choices we make.


The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott  

If you were raised a strict Catholic this story will make you happy, make you sad, make you cry and make you smile. It will remind you of how the culture of Catholicism dominated and directed your lives. This is a story set in Brooklyn before World War II and the “good nuns” who gave their lives and committed themselves to vocation of helping others as nurses/social works for the sick and the poor. It is a story of hard work and devotion to a particular set of beliefs and a way of life. The language is beautiful, the character are believable (whether you’re a Catholic or not) and the story is compelling. But, be warned, the story is a “five star” tear jerker!


Death in Chicago by Dominic J. Grass

This is a book written for fans of private detective mysteries and lovers of Chicago. The main character is Cosmo Grande, an aging child of the 60s who, after he got kicked out of the seminary and couldn’t make it as a cop, became a less than financially successful private eye. Cosmo had three lovers in his life:  His ex-girlfriend Peggy, Jack Daniels, and his old, but rarely practiced, Catholic faith.

Set in the North side of Chicago, Cosmo’s detective skills are called upon when his old teacher from the seminary, the very person who kicked him out of the seminary, comes back into his life and hires him to solve a possible murder. Rather than give anything away, let me say no more about the who, what, and where of the murder. Suffice it to say mayhem ensues on the streets of Chicago. Before it’s all over Cosmo’s got not just one possible homicide but four!

Trust me, this is a great “who, done it!” The plot is complex and intriguing. Grassi knows how to make the streets of Chicago come alive to the reader. And best of all, he knows how to write a solid prose. (Try the following for a fabulous opening line.) “Somebody once said, maybe it was Jerry Garcia, that what we ultimately become is nothing more nor less than a reflection of the choices we have made in life. We don’t get to decide just once who or what we want to be: tinker, tailor, soldier, priest.”

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