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Origin by Dan Brown

Title: Origin
Author: Dan Brown
Series: Robert Langdon, #5
Publish Date: October 3, 2017 by Doubleday Books
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

I had quite given up on Dan Brown books after not enjoying The Lost Symbol. In fact, I never even read Inferno, but for some reason, I picked up Origin, probably because the cover had a chambered nautilus on it.

It turns out that’s fitting because, in my opinion, it was the best thing about the book. Not only did the nautilus represent a specific piece of artwork in the Guggenheim museum in Barcelona, Spain, but also the golden ration and the idea of infinite love and the perfection of the universe.

I know, that’s deep, but I think that is what Dan Brown has done with this book. It didn’t feel like an action thriller in the same way that DaVinci Code and Digital Fortress did. It was more like Brown’s commentary on religion versus science. Dan Brown is obviously on the side of science, but very strongly included in that is Love. One of the beautiful quotes in the book is a prayer that the character Edmond Kirsch wrote:

May our philosophies keep pace with our technologies.
May our compassion keep pace with our powers.
And may love, not fear, be the engine of change.

I  like that Robert Langdon is starting to show his age and had a harder time keeping up with the “damsel in distress,” Ambra Vidal, who is a decade or two his junior. There were some very tender moments when Langdon feels a closeness to Vidal that is more fatherly than romantic. That’s a nice change from the typical action hero lover persona that is a part of so many thrillers today. In fact, Ambra Vidal even says to herself towards the end of the story,

“[She] suddenly understood what Edmond had been saying about the energy of love and light… blossoming outward infinitely to fill the universe. Love is not a finite emotion. We don’t have only so much to share. Our hearts create love as we need it… Love truly is not a finite emotion. It can be generated spontaneously out of nothing at all.”

I give this book 4 stars because Dan Brown found a way to use an action-packed thriller to convey the message that Love is Universal. I also really enjoyed learning more about the art and architecture in Spain. I found myself looking things up on the internet and trying to see pictures of these amazing buildings and works of art. I hope the publishers create an edition that has hyperlinks or references or color illustrations like they did with DaVinci Code.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might try any other book by Dan Brown, The Art Forger by BA Shapiro, The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor, or Guernica by Dave Boling.

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As Good As True by Cheryl Reid

A powerful and haunting novel of a woman’s broken past and the painful choices she must make to keep her family and her home.

Title: As Good As True
Author: Cheryl Reid
Publish Date: February 1, 2018, Lake Union
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: August 1956. After a night of rage and terror, Anna Nassad wakes to find her abusive husband dead and instinctively hides her bruises and her relief. As the daughter of Syrian immigrants living in segregated Alabama, Anna has never belonged, and now her world is about to erupt.

Days before, Anna set in motion an explosive chain of events by allowing the first black postman to deliver the mail to her house. But it’s her impulsive act of inviting him inside for a glass of water that raises doubts about Anna’s role in her husband’s death.

As threats and suspicions arise in the angry community, Anna must confront her secrets in the face of devastating turmoil and reconcile her anguished relationship with her daughter. Will she discover the strength to fight for those she loves most, even if it means losing all she’s ever known?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

I enjoyed this story since it offered a glimpse into a little-known part of US history. I’ve never thought about how Arab immigrants would have fit into the Jim Crow South and the unique struggles the families would have as to their status in society.

I was drawn to the main character, Anna, who struggled with being different her whole life. I also thought the author did a great job explaining what caused Anna to make certain choices and why those choices had so much impact on those around her. The loss of her mother at an early age affected Anna and created far-reaching implications that will still be felt in the generations yet to be born.

I give this book 4 stars. I wanted to give it 5 stars, but there were just a few editing errors that were noticeable enough to cause me to “fall out of the story” and take notice, but not enough to keep me from recommending it to others.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, I recommend The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal, or Mudbound by Hilary Jordan.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

An intellectual and emotional jigsaw puzzle of a novel for readers of A. S. Byatt’s Possession and Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book.

Title: The Weight of Ink
Author: Rachel Kadish
Publish Date: June 6, 2017, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.

As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”

Electrifying and ambitious, sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, The Weight of Ink is a sophisticated work of historical fiction about women separated by centuries, and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

I give this book 5 stars. It’s deep, thoughtful, weighty, and has so much to say about women’s role in society both today and in years past.

I thoroughly enjoyed the back and forth between the two female main characters separated by centuries. The tension created by the author to find out what happens to both heroines was done so well that even the last few pages left me breathless. The role love & marriage play in most women’s lives is also a core theme in this book.

This is not a book for when you just need some brain candy. Part of the beauty of the book is the long philosophical treatises on the nature of man and God’s role in humanity’s day to day life.

I enjoyed Esther’s rebellious spirit and how she finds ways to prevent herself from being ensnared in the gender role that society creates for her. One of my favorite moments was when she finds herself about to be married off and recognizes in the other woman’s meddling that the only way forward for that other woman was to “insert herself, for sustenance, into the forming of further matches, whether or not they might serve as traps for the souls thus bound.” This is indicative of the writing style throughout the book that I enjoyed so much; part narrative, part poetry, part philosophical rigor.

I also learned much about the early Jewish community in London during the time of the plague. It was fascinating to read how the Jews that first settled in London were treated and how the plague effected the whole city. In addition, it was interesting to be a part of the letters that were being written in that time that laid the ground work for modern metaphysical thinking.

I highly recommend this book for book groups since there is so much to talk about along the themes of freedom, community, and power.

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.

Title: In the Midst of Winter
Author: Isabel Allende
Publish Date: October 31st 2017 by Atria Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.

Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

I usually try to read anything that Isabel Allende writes because I’ve enjoyed all of her books.  I don’t think this particular book is her strongest.  I enjoyed the characters and the different backgrounds they reveal as the book progresses.  The choices they make to deal with what has happened in their current situation seemed a bit unrealistic.

I also didn’t become as attached to the characters as I have in Allende’s previous works.  I thought the backstories were more interesting than the present day circumstances, and the slow reveal as the characters got to know each other was well done.  I particularly liked the part in which Lucia recognizes that, through the sharing of their stories, what “a strange healing power words had… how important it was to share one’s pain and discover that others, too, had their fair share of it, that lives are often alike and feelings similar.”

I would give this book 3 stars.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might enjoy anything else by Isabel Allende, including her young adult fiction trilogy, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, or The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean.

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small.

Title: Marrow Island
Author: Alexis M. Smith
Publish Date: June 7, 2016, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader– than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

In the company of Station Eleven and California, Marrow Island uses two tense natural disasters to ask tough questions about our choices—large and small. A second novel from a bookseller whose sleeper-hit debut was praised by Karen Russell as “haunted, joyful, beautiful….” it promises to capture and captivate new readers even as it thrills her many existing fans.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

What an interesting and thought provoking-book this was. I really enjoyed the story, and the main character, Lucie, was fascinating. I can’t quite give this book 5 stars because the ending left me unsatisfied. Since I finished the book right after watching the movie Beatriz at Dinner, I was doubly unsatisfied. Both left you wondering, “Well, now what?”

Marrow Island does, however, have many deep themes to explore. I particularly like the book’s environmental emphasis and the mystery that surrounds what happened to the main character. More importantly, I like the exploration of the nature of relationships with childhood friends and relationships one forms as an adult. I was drawn in by the friendship of Lucie and Katie. I particularly like the author’s explanation, in the Q & A at the end of the book, that the relationship between the two of them was to be visceral, murky, and a little bit twisted. There’s no doubt that the relationship is exactly that. I also like the tension Smith is able to create toward the end of the book, as the reader is drawn into Lucie’s ability to rationalize making such a poor decision as to return to an area that is under threat of a wildfire just to prove to herself that she’s not going crazy.

The author writes incredibly well and is able to create such vivid images. A simple example is when Lucie visits a care facility, and the highly polished floors make it difficult for the residents to move quickly. Lucie thinks, “I wonder if this is another trap, like the shiny floors, intended to steal a few minutes here and there from life by slowing a body down.”

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to book groups since there is so much to discuss.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, or Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian.

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