Friday, May 25, 2012
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Democracy requires that citizens share in common life as we blend in with one another in the course of daily living. How do we want to live together? Do we want a society where everything is for sale? “Are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?” (p.203). Any reader interested in these questions should consider reading this fine book. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase What Money Can’t Buy from amazon.com.
Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, is in a class of its own. Neither memoir nor biography, this book presents Langella’s recollections of encounters he’s had, brief or long, with a host of interesting people. The key in the subtitle is “as I knew them.” Langella intends to tell us his take on these people, which he knows is neither definitive nor complete. The special quality of this book is that reading each chapter is like hearing a guest at table relate a great story. I found Langella’s “take it or leave it” attitude about his experience to be refreshing, and I liked this book a lot. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Dropped Names from amazon.com.
Calico Joe. This is a book about life-changing moments and the nature of forgiveness. A promising rookie, Joe Castle, gets hit in the head by a pitch and his baseball career ends. Grisham uses that event as a way to explore many relationships and how love and forgiveness become the core of a well-lived life. Obviously, readers who love baseball will enjoy the description of the players and the game in this novel. Any reader who likes novels that illuminate our human nature will enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Calico Joe from amazon.com.
Enemies: A History of the FBI, draws on vast amounts of raw material, some recently released (after his three-decade-old FOIA request was approved). Weiner lays out in detail a century-long legacy of surveillance and secret intelligence. The conflict between the need to gather information and the importance of protecting civil liberties remains in tension during the entire history of the FBI. I was enlightened by just how many laws were broken in our name. Readers who are interested in government, power and intelligence are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Enemies from amazon.com.
The Lifeboat, packs a wallop of psychological insight into fewer than three hundred pages. The unlikeable protagonist, Grace Winter, has survived a shipwreck in 1914, and finds herself on trial with others for murder because of what happened on their lifeboat. As readers come to learn her story, the many ways in which she has deceived herself, perhaps as a form of survival, become apparent. Rogan’s prose is taut and her descriptions are vivid. This would be a great selection for a book club to discuss. Readers who like literary fiction and psychological novels are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Lifeboat from amazon.com.
They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? Buckley plucks from the headlines our antipathy about the relationship between the United States and China, the crass behavior of politicians and lobbyists, and imagines each player manipulating others and public opinion. There are key set-ups and funny scenes, but I had the sense that Buckley had to doggedly fill in connecting pieces to make the narrative move along. As a reader, I found myself chuckling now and again, but became a bit bored as I plowed ahead waiting for the action to reach a culmination. In this year’s toxic political environment, this novel provides a relaxing respite and an occasional laugh. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? from amazon.com.
Friday, May 18, 2012
The Cut by George Pelecanos. First, there’s great character development, especially of protagonist Spero Lucas, who receives a cut from recovering stolen property. Second, the geographic description of the area in and around Washington, D.C. makes that area come to life both for those who know it well and those who are unfamiliar with the parts away from the federal buildings. Finally, the schemes that Pelecanos imagines create a plot that will entertain all readers. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Cut from amazon.com.
Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy. Packed with great charts, Bill can engender contagious optimism about the future, and, as usual, there’s no shortage of specific policy details to consider. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Back to Work from amazon.com.
Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Lamarr worked with composer George Antheil and they came up with a technology during World War II that is used today in cell phones: frequency hopping. Thanks to Rhodes’ lively writing, this book will entertain interested readers from beginning to end. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Hedy’s Folly from amazon.com.
Smut: Stories. The two novellas present characters whose behavior, like most of us, represents a blend of good and bad. Their foibles make for interesting reading that is light and entertaining. These stories are a tad risqué but never vulgar. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Smut from amazon.com.
Light Lifting. Each of the seven stories presents characters and life situations that can seem ordinary. With MacLeod’s writing skill, these realistic situations, especially in dealing with adversity, can seem deceptively simple. He tells compact stories that develop the identity of characters quickly and weaves in themes of hope and redemption. He finds ways to plumb the psychological lives of his characters to place them in settings that lead to behavior that brings readers a deeper understanding of human nature. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Light Lifting from amazon.com.
Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation. Readers who enjoy playful approaches to serious subjects are those most likely to enjoy this book. Lightman’s knowledge of physics provides his lens for the subject, and the image of God he presents and the experiment Mr. g conducts, will appeal to those readers who like sharp wit. If you are a believer who acknowledges that any understanding of God we think we have will always be limited, Lightman’s presentation may offend you less than it will those who have a fixed and certain image of a creator. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Mr. g from amazon.com.
The Odds: A Love Story, pulls the reader into a marriage under great stress. Art and Marion Fowler have been married thirty years. Both are now unemployed and their Cleveland home is in foreclosure. They decide to gamble on a last ditch way to try to get out from under their financial woes: wager their remaining cash at Niagara Falls casinos. O’Nan tells this story efficiently, in less than 200 pages. It didn’t take me long to find this odd couple endearing. I closed the book having been entertained and satisfied by O’Nan’s fine storytelling and well-written prose. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Odds from amazon.com.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I put everything else aside until I finished it. Following her mother’s death and her own divorce, Strayed decided to take time off and on something of a whim, decided to hike 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Somewhat unprepared with too much gear and the wrong size shoes, her grit and determination brought me vicarious pleasure as I read about something I would never do. Her reckless behavior and her transformation were compelling to read because of the clarity and candor of her writing. A friend recommended this book, and I pass that recommendation along to any reader who enjoys true stories of the indomitable human spirit. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Wild from amazon.com.
Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People. Over the course of 200 briskly moving pages, Campbell catalogues the ways in which we have placed blame other people over the centuries. I found that reading this during a presidential campaign brought an extra level of entertainment value. I was impressed that Campbell was able to avoid jargon while presenting his narrative. Sample a few pages to see what you think. If you don’t like it, you can blame me. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Scapegoat from amazon.com.
Farther Away. In every essay, speech or book review in this collection, Franzen’s writing skill shines as he chooses the right word or phrase to bring his prose to life. His passion about the world, birds, and his late friend David Foster Wallace, brings out the best of his writing. His strongly formed opinions can be amusing because of that passion that flows from his sentences. Readers who appreciate fine writing are those most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Farther Away from amazon.com.
The Beginner’s Goodbye. Protagonist Aaron Woolcott struggles with the sudden death of his wife, Dorothy. Tyler tells a story of the ways in which his destroyed life becomes rebuilt and how he finds a way to say goodbye to his wife. Readers who like love stories, especially those featuring characters with flaws we recognize as our own, are those most likely to enjoy this book. Book club members may want to consider this as a selection to read and discuss. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Beginner’s Goodbye from amazon.com.
The Fatal Touch. Blume continues to be an outsider who skirts around the established corruption around him as he solves an intriguing case. Readers who like detective fiction and complex characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel. I found the violence in this novel to be more than necessary for the plot, but I enjoyed getting to know Blume better in this novel, and I was entertained from beginning to end. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Fatal Touch from amazon.com.
The Memory of Blood. Mystery readers who have not yet discovered this series can easily start here. Detectives Bryant & May are perfectly matched partners, and the ways in which they unravel this case of murderous revenge will keep most readers engaged alongside them through the 350 finely written pages of the novel. Every reader who likes a good mystery should take a look at this one. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Memory of Blood from amazon.com.
The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin
The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin, may appeal to his most ardent fans. I found the book very quick to read, and a few selected tweets were amusing. Absent the physicality of his visual humor, and without the skill he’s shown in writing fiction, I found this book to be exactly what it purports to be: a collection of tweets. Most readers should take a pass, or page through before buying. Readers who like Martin and are willing to shell out a few bucks for some humor are those most likely to enjoy this short book. Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended) Click here to purchase The Ten Make That Nine from amazon.com.