Friday, August 17, 2018

A Spy Named Orphan

Treachery. I’ve been interested in British spies since I first heard of Kim Philby when I was a teenager. In a new book titled, A Spy Named Orphan, Roland Phillips tells the story of another one of the infamous Cambridge Five, Donald Maclean. This comprehensive book covers the full range of Maclean’s life and his treachery. Phillips tells this story with gusto: lots of information in a readable and exciting narrative. Any reader who enjoys history or espionage will find a lot to enjoy from this finely written book. For some readers, Russian spies are not relegated to the past, and there may be readers who are concerned with contemporary issues and can find insight in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Spy Named Orphan from amazon.com.

In Praise of Wasting Time

Ideas. If you allow your mind to wander, it might take two sittings, not one, to read the short book by Alan Lightman titled, In Praise of Wasting Time. Based on a TED talk, this is a book of ideas, and the title discloses the key message. Out of respect for the author, I set the book aside for a few hours instead of reading it all at once. During the gap, I let my mind wander a bit, and might have wasted a bit of time. It felt good. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase In Praise of Wasting Time from amazon.com.

Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear

Brief. For a funny few minutes, consider reading the brief humor book by Carl Hiaasen and Roz Chast titled, Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear. Structured as advice to individuals graduating from college, there are plenty of real-world reality checks that will generate smiles or laughs. This is a book that a kindly uncle or aunt would buy for a niece or nephew, and it would never be read. I think many copies will be read while standing in a bookstore, but not purchased. If that’s your method, at least buy a coffee, but don’t spit it out while you’re laughing. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Assume the Worst from amazon.com.

The Kiss Quotient

Romance. The protagonist of Helen Hoang’s debut novel titled, The Kiss Quotient, falls under the Asperger’s end of the autism spectrum. She’s an endearing and complex character, great with algorithms, not so good when it comes to interpersonal skills. After her parents press her toward getting married, she decides she needs to learn how to be successful in a physical relationship, so she hires an escort to develop the necessary skills. At this point, the exposition takes a porny turn that quickly became more boring than erotic. After the physical relationship with escort Michael Phan becomes established, lessons and all, a romance develops, and that part of the novel is sweet. I’m not a romance reader, so I’m sure I don’t appreciate this genre, but I expect loads of readers will enjoy this novel. I didn’t. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase The Kiss Quotient from amazon.com.

The Glitch

Priorities. The protagonist of Elizabeth Cohen’s debut novel titled, The Glitch, is not an everywoman. Shelley Stone is a Silicon Valley CEO who seems to have mastered the elements of a successful life. As CEO, she is ready to travel around the globe at any time. As wife, she schedules sex for efficiency. As mother, she gets her daughter the best care possible. Sounds like a normal life, right? Cohen uses tension and humor to shake up Shelley’s life, including introducing a younger woman with the same name, and injecting a corporate crisis that tests Shelley’s mettle. Shelley has to reset her priorities and decide what is most important in her life. If Bernie Sanders reads novels, he would have a lot to say about this portrayal of the top 1% of the 1%. The rest of us can read and enjoy this clever and funny novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Glitch from amazon.com.

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

Inquiry. Lots of individuals over the past five or six centuries have written about the reconciliation of science and religion. Physicist Alan Lightman describes his inquiry into this subject in a book titled, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. The title refers to the author’s sensation while on his boat that he was part of some unity much larger than himself. Any reader who thinks about meaning and truth will find this book worthwhile. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine from amazon.com.

There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story

Maturity. I expected to skim, but not complete, Pamela Druckerman’s book titled, There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story. Once I settled into her lively writing, self-deprecating humor and overall cleverness, I laughed through to the end. In the midst of the humor, there’s an exploration of the meaning of maturity in contemporary life. Personally, I didn’t consider turning 40 to be as big a deal as Druckerman did, but when my older son turned 40, that caught my attention about maturity and mortality. I still laughed with Druckerman and her foibles. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase There Are No Grown-ups from amazon.com.