Archive for January 2019

The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer


Jim "Zig" Zigarowski's job is one of great responsibility, honor, and skill. As a mortician at Dover Air Force Base, Zig is the last person to come into contact with fallen soldiers before they're sent to their final resting places. He meticulously prepares the bodies, sometimes performing unbelievable restorations, ensuring each of the deceased gets the honorable treatment they deserve. He's had his fair share of loss, so he works diligently to ensure each family gets one last moment with the person they love.

Zig normally manages to keep a professional distance between himself and the people he prepares. When a group of deceased passengers from a downed military plane arrive at the base, he expects business as usual. One name, however, catches his eye. US Army Artist in Residence Nola Brown was among the group aboard the ill-fated flight. Zig immediately is taken to a time years ago when a girl named Nola Brown saved his daughter's life. Now the heroic girl lays on Zig's cold steel table providing him with one last look at the person who gave him some precious extra time with his only daughter. There's just one small problem. The woman on his table isn't Nola Brown!

The Escape Artist sees Brad Meltzer combine the intrigue of a deeply hidden government conspiracy with a nuanced story of human loyalty and respect to the ones who've passed away. Meltzer alternates between the present day plot of Zig seeking to find the missing Nola with flashback scenes of Nola's unusual childhood. At first, I found myself struggling to connect with the scenes of the past. Nola's childhood seemed to have little to do with the captivating drama surrounding Zig's quest. Fortunately, the past and present narratives soon began to have more and more to do with each other, creating a richly-drawn plot that kept the pages easily turning.

Meltzer weaves a connection between the ongoing fictional conspiracy and the real-life history of famed magician Harry Houdini. These touches of historical fact help to ground the events of the novel in a reality that would be otherwise unbelievable. Each element of the novel adds to the overall appeal, but it is the characters that truly captured my attention. Meltzer writes each of them, from the main characters to supporting cast, with genuine care. Even the candy restocker at the base is given a backstory that adds life to the world of the book. The Escape Artist does everything right, making me eager to dive into another book by Brad Meltzer.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 2)

Becoming by Michelle Obama


"For me, becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as a forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn't end."

Whenever a new president is elected, it is inevitable that the people vacating the White House eventually publish a memoir. I've read Bill Clinton's My Life, George W. Bush's Decision Points, and will no doubt read whatever book Barack Obama eventually publishes. While Hillary Clinton is the only First Lady whose writings I've read, Michelle Obama's book was one of last year's must-reads. I never got around to reading it during 2018, so it was a natural choice to start off my reading in the new year.

Even if she never became First Lady, Michelle Obama's life story would be remarkable. Her family rented out the upper level of a home in the south side of Chicago, laying the foundation for her future and her appreciation of the privilege she would earn later in life. Her parents never had the money to lavish their kids with gifts or vacations, but they did make a marked effort to invest in their children's education. Obama defied the disadvantages of her gender, race, and class to earn a law degree from an Ivy League university and carved out the future that her parents always dreamed she could achieve.

Naturally, a large portion of the book focuses on the Obama family's time in the public eye. Michelle writes about the oft-repeated story of her not wanting her husband to run for office. As he prepared to step into the political limelight, Barack was already stretched thin between his duties as community organizer, author, college professor, father, and husband. Obama writes of the effects of her husband's political and professional obligations in a way that any working wife and mother are sure to relate to.

What struck me most about the aptly titled Becoming, was the ways in which Michelle Obama's story of finding herself and constantly evolving align with the aspirations of the country that her husband was elected to lead. Her trajectory in life was achieved through hard work, humility, and seeking to always learn and grow. At a time when our country is more divided than ever, I think it is vital that we look to stories like Michelle's to find our common humanity. At the end of the day, we are all still 'becoming', and the only certain thing is that each day will offer something new to love, challenge, and hopefully learn from.

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
(2019, 1)

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