Ann Patchett’s ‘The Commonwealth’ covers decades, goes nowhere

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, besides crafting thoughtful characters and well-written sentences, there is little good in Ann Patchett’s latest novel. Starting in the mid 1960s, “The Commonwealth” covers five decades in the lives of the Keating and Cousins families.
I enjoyed the manner in which Patchett tells her epic tale and stuck with it hoping to come away with a satisfying finish. However, the few characters with sound judgement get little time in this book. An excess of alcohol at the opening christening party kicks off a slew of poor decisions, starting with the kiss that dissolves marriages, blends families, erects excuses for self-absorbed parents, and molds gun-toting, gin-drinking children. Lives go up in smoke and people die. In the end, nothing much is accomplished.

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Author Chris Cleave makes brave effort but misses the mark

Everyone Brave is ForgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If only everyone were witty in wartime. The characters in Chris Cleave’s latest novel “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven” are far too clever for the novel’s good. Cleave is trying to tell many stories—the brutal efforts of the British to stave off starvation and Nazi invasion in Malta, education and duty in wartime, the fragile relationships between Mary and Hilda, Mary and her mother, Mary and her butler and Tom and Alistair and the little boy Zachary—and never delving deep enough.
The constant stiff upper lip and blithe humor just as the British are joining World War II and when the Nazis destroy much of London comes off as glib. Certainly, the author weaves a visual tapestry that makes London’s dismemberment come alive. However, the forced juxtaposition between white and black, privileged and working class—though an art restorer barely scrapes the surface of 1940s working class—feels condescending.

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Familiarity dominates Petersheim’s 'Alliance'

The AllianceThe Alliance by Jolina Petersheim
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Numerous movies, television shows and novels have explored scenarios where the United States loses power and Americans are forced to rely on their cunning or innate ingenuity to survive. Emily St. John Mandel was successful in her execution of “Station Eleven,” which avoided the preachiness of so many dystopian tales and effectively wrapped the story in a neat little bow without leaving the bitterness of writer’s convenience.

While author Jolina Petersheim’s “The Alliance” also relays a world where electricity ceases, because of war or other means, she conveys her story in an intriguing setting. The story of Leora Ebersole, her family, neighbors, stranded Englischers, and newcomer Moses Hughes takes place in a Mennonite community where modern conveniences already, for the most part, are shunned. The question here isn’t how to survive without electricity, but how to outlast the many people the outsiders suggest may want to enter and steal their hard-wrought supplies. Should this pacifist community take up arms? Should they welcome the sick and the hungry?

Unfortunately, a familiar love triangle overshadows Jolina Petersheim’s story as do the pervading doubtfulness that takes hold of the novel’s primary character and the novel’s unsatisfying cliffhanger ending.

Still, something is to be said for the fact that I want to know what happened to the characters. Perhaps I’ll find out in a made-for-TV movie.

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Alternate reality, alternate identity? Blake Crouch talks "Dark Matter"

Jason Dessen, the protagonist in the new Blake Crouch novel “Dark Matter”, is content. He has a gorgeous wife, a talented son and his career as a physics professor, though not what heDark Matter by Blake Crouch book cover originally pursued, provides a different nature of satisfaction. Perhaps it’s Jason’s ease that another man finds so appealing, or maybe it’s just his wife.

When Jason finds himself being kidnapped at gunpoint and transported to a world much like and altogether unlike his own, he begins questioning both his sanity and their veracity. Is he still the same man in this other realm? Or any other realm?

Having read “Dark Matter” in just two days, I was fascinated by his vivid settings and the depth of his characters. Indeed, Crouch, in a seemingly simple approach, explores our multidimensional nature, sense of belonging, and foundations in his fast-paced read.

The author, known for the “Wayward Pines” trilogy, talks with NPR about how his latest science-fiction novel.

Read the NPR story here.

Listen here:

Read an excerpt of Dark Matter at

Link has curated an anthology of poems about identity, including works by Richard Blanco, Lucille Clifton,  T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich and more. Though labeled an anthology for teachers, the collection may intrigue poetry connoisseurs from myriad backgrounds.

An anthology of poems on Identity for Teachers:

Click here for more from the Wildemere Publishing series on identity.