Reading at 35,000 Feet: Books for the Plane Ride

By Robin Jacobson.

Airplane travel is a miracle of the modern age, but it is not always fun. Flights can be delayed, seating can be claustrophobic, and row mates can be challenging, particularly if you get stuck in a middle seat. Even the CEO of United Airlines has compared airline travel to going to the dentist. How to get through it? If only flight attendants offered not just juice and pretzels, but, like dentists – anesthesia! Thankfully, there are other escape options besides nitrous oxide. One is a suspenseful book that fully captures and holds your attention, ensuring that all you think about are the twists and turn in the storyline. Two new novels that meet that standard are The New Girl by Daniel Silva and A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum. Pick one for your e-reader or pack one of our library copies into your carry-on.

Mossad Chief Meets Saudi Crown Prince

The New Girl is Daniel Silva’s latest installment in the continuing death-defying adventures of Gabriel Allon, director-general of Israel’s secret intelligence service. As fans of the series know, Allon is a multifaceted character – both artist and assassin – hoping for a day when the State of Israel no longer needs him and he can restore Old Master paintings fulltime. Each book in the series stands on its own, although there are benefits to reading the series’ first book (The Killer Artist) before trying one of the others.

In The New Girl, Allon reluctantly agrees to help Crown Prince Khalid bin Mohammed (KBM) recover his kidnapped daughter despite his revulsion at KBM’s murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. KBM is based on the real-life Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Drawing on his expertise and sources as a former journalist, Silva integrates current global affairs into the novel – the Khashoggi murder, Brexit, the French Yellow Vest protesters, President Putin, and more.

As the plot unfolds, Allon and KBM find themselves allied against anti-Israel, anti-West forces seeking to wrest power from KBM. Allon and the Prince embark on a high-octane mission, racing through Europe and the Middle East and developing an uneasy friendship. Indeed, one of the book’s pleasures is the pair’s ongoing acerbic repartee. Allon mocks KBM’s lavish spending and brutal handling of his critics, while KBM takes jabs at Allon for his ascetic lifestyle and mythic, larger-than-life reputation.

A Russian Einstein and his Family

A Bend in the Stars is set in Tsarist Russia in 1914, a time and a place where rampant anti-Semitism and the onset of World War I make life perilous for Jews. The novel focuses on gifted Jewish siblings: Vanya, a physicist, and Miri, a surgeon. Vanya is desperately trying to refine Einstein’s theory of relativity; Harvard University has promised him a faculty position and safety in America for his family if he can produce the necessary equations, supported by photos of an upcoming solar eclipse. Toiling obsessively over his equations, Vanya struggles to understand the connection between gravity, acceleration, and relativity. The novel conveys the excitement and significance of Einstein’s work.

Hoping to join forces with an American physicist who is reportedly bringing photographic equipment to Russia to record the eclipse, Vanya and Miri’s fiancé, Yuri, desert the army for a danger-filled journey across Russia. Before long, Miri, accompanied by a dashing Jewish soldier named Sasha, sets off to find Vanya and Yuri. There are bad guys aplenty, hair-raising escapes, and romance – more than enough to keep you distracted until the plane touches down at your destination.