Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer, readers can find out about the person who robbed more banks than anyone else, and became a folk hero to his fellow Americans. A reporter and photographer have been sent to pick up Sutton as he leaves prison for an exclusive interview. While Sutton agrees to the interview, he takes charge of leading the young reporter on a tour of special places in New York that meant a lot to Sutton, and this journey provides the setting for Moehringer to lay out the story of Sutton’s life. Unlike a stale biography, the novel structure allows Moehringer to blend historical facts with his own imagination to produce an engaging, entertaining and well told story. Any reader who appreciates well written prose, loves New York, and has an interest in twentieth century stories, is likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Sutton from amazon.com.
Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest Con. If this book were a novel, it would fail because readers would find the behavior of the central character to be unbelievable. Thanks to Lawson, we can read a bizarre and entertaining story about a very strange individual who follows his delusions in many directions. Readers who have an interest in financial markets, crime and bizarre behavior are those most likely to enjoy this book. I found myself thinking throughout, “this guy is nuts,” and by the time I finished the book, I was still shaking my head wondering why I bothered reading it. Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended) Click here to purchase Octopus from amazon.com.
Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby, provides great continuity for this legendary detective fiction. Atkins keeps dialogue and structure consistent with Parker’s model, and if anything he has fleshed out the novel more thoroughly than Parker did in his later novels. I decided to read this novel out of curiosity to see how true Atkins would be to the Parker model. I enjoyed reading this novel, and expect that most Parker and Spenser fans will be pleased to see more of this character in coming years. For me, I’ll probably move on to living authors developing their own characters. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Lullaby from amazon.com.
A Wanted Man. The setup involves Reacher being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s in Nebraska and is hitchhiking to Virginia when he gets picked up and becomes diverted into a very odd adventure. The physical Reacher takes a backseat in this novel to the cerebral Reacher, and should have been an opportunity for richer and deeper character development. Instead, the novel proceeds at a snail’s pace and even long time Reacher fans are likely to be bored, even with the protagonist himself. Readers who are hooked on the series will probably read this novel anyway. Readers who like thrillers will find some action in this one, but could do better with most other novels from this series and others. I endured to the end, and felt mildly entertained. Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended) Click here to purchase A Wanted Man from amazon.com.
Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't. The authors communicate conservative values with clarity and make a case for why the current election matters. They pose many questions throughout the book and provide an answer for each. I find that the advantage of reading political rhetoric over listening is that one can put down the book and cool off. Readers who like politics are those most likely to enjoy this book, whether you agree or disagree with the authors. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Freedom Manifesto from amazon.com.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
The Beautiful Mystery. Any reader who appreciates an intelligent mystery should consider reading this one. I never thought I’d read a mystery that involved Gregorian Chant, which is the reference in the title. A choir director is murdered in a cloistered monastery, and the murderer must be one of the two dozen monks living there. Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec go to the remote monastery to solve the case. There may be harmony in the beautiful music, but it doesn’t take long for Gamache to uncover the personal conflicts and discord within this small community. Fans of the series will feel continuity from prior novels, and anticipation of what comes next, but this novel also stands well on its own for first time readers. Penny draws this setting with such detail and depth that the monastery becomes an additional character. Readers who like a satisfying mystery are likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Three-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase The Beautiful Mystery from amazon.com.
And When She Was Good. Heloise has bounced from one abusive relationship to another, and throughout it all, she has survived. Lippman excels at fleshing out the characters in this novel with great skill so that readers can understand their behavior, both good and bad. Deceptions abound in this novel, and Lippman keeps readers interested and engaged in every twist and turn. The subject matter of prostitution can be dicey for any writer to tackle, and Lippman succeeds in presenting this kind of life with perception and insight. Readers who enjoy character driven fiction, especially when the subject matter involves women’s issues, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase And When She Was Good from amazon.com.
America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy. He describes the crisis he sees in the United States, and proposes concrete reforms that will make us a stronger democracy. He calls for a transformation in some basic aspects of what he calls America’s operating system. In some respects, his case is for a revival of the progressive movement. Speth offers a hopeful vision of what engaged citizens can create when working together. Readers interested in public policy are those most likely to enjoy this book, whether attracted or repelled by the word “manifesto.” Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase America the Possible from amazon.com.
Who Stole the American Dream? He shows through multiple examples over the past four decades how public policies that favor the rich have decimated the economic strength of average workers and enhanced the power of the wealthy. He shows how the United States has changed from a fairly level society to a plutocracy. This has been a transformation of American society that has important consequences. There are multiple predators that Smith exposes in this book, and he proposes ways in which we can turn this situation around, if we want. Readers interested in public policy should consider this required reading, whether one agrees or disagrees with Smith’s views. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Who Stole the American Dream? from amazon.com.
True Believers, is set in the 1960s and the present. Protagonist Karen Hollander has been writing a memoir and trying to recall many of the details of her radical activities in high school and college. She and two close friends in high school were James Bond fans to the extreme. In college, their opposition to the Vietnam War led them to radical activity. Andersen dribbles out this plot in ways that kept me curious and entertained. He develops complex characters a layer at a time and captures the ways in which the past can feel present both in terms of personal bonds and in the impact of action in the past on life today. Trust and belief are explored in how things happened in the past and what that means for today. Readers who are patient with slowly paced stories, and who enjoy intelligent writing are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase True Believers from amazon.com.
Monday, September 17, 2012
The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking that he would rather not be spending much time on this book, and would prefer to be moving ahead to doing something he views as more productive. It may be unexpected for most readers to find a billionaire not to be full of himself. While he presents his success at business and philanthropy through this book, Broad reinforces that he’d rather not dwell on the past, but do something now to making his best years those that are ahead. Any reader interested in business and leadership will finding something to like in this short and engaging book. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Art of Being Unreasonable from amazon.com.
Munster’s Case. When you take the lid off a normal family to see what’s underneath, you may be surprised by what you find. The novel opens with a murder, and the puzzle gives mystery readers an entertaining outing. Fans of the series may be disappointed that Van Veeteren remains in the background. I found that the case kept be interested, and the subplot allowing more development of Munster was an added bonus. If you like crime fiction, give this one a try. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Munster’s Case from amazon.com.
The Quality of Mercy. Set in late 18th century England, Unsworth presents a cast of characters divided on the subject of the abolition of slavery and the property rights of owners. He also presents the lives of those engaged in mining, and the dreams and aspirations they have for themselves and their children. Unsworth takes on big questions and explores answers to those questions through the characters he creates and the ways in which he draws readers into the core of our human condition. I was captivated by Unsworth’s fine writing from the beginning to the end of this finely written novel, especially by the interplay of the concerns of labor and those of management. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase The Quality of Mercy from amazon.com.
This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike.
This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike. I opened the book expecting a funny spoof on self-help books. Instead, I found a witty and clever way of Burroughs providing practical and logical advice. The core of his message is to be yourself and get over it. Burroughs uses his life experience as a backdrop to presenting his advice to readers. I was entertained by his sharp writing, but I was not looking to him to help me with anything. Readers with an interest in his writing should read an excerpt before plunging in. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase This Is How from amazon.com.
The Headmaster’s Wager meanders through Chen’s life and the tragic choices he makes as he gambles on the future of himself and his family. Lam tells the story at a moderate pace, alternating significant events with everyday activity. I found myself distracted by two shortcomings: many characters were inadequately developed, and I found some sections tedious and superfluous. Readers who like fiction that encourages immersion into a historical setting are those most likely to enjoy this novel, as well as those readers willing to give a debut novelist a glance. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Headmaster’s Wager from amazon.com.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. What if Vice President Andrew Johnson had been assassinated instead of Lincoln? Carter answers that question with creativity and heightened imagination in this novel, informed by his knowledge of what actually happened during that time. Instead of making Lincoln the protagonist of the novel, Carter creates an intriguing character, a recent Oberlin graduate, Abigail Canner, who wants to read for the law in Washington, D.C. The plot and many subplots and large cast of characters require an intelligent reader to remain alert throughout the novel, which I found to be a special treat. Readers who like speculative historical fiction, especially set in this period, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln from amazon.com.
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. While he is a product of the meritocracy which he proposes has run its course, Hayes makes a case for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. As American society has become more stratified, and institutions have failed stakeholders, the average American has lost confidence in the way things are. They no longer trust government, Wall Street, the Catholic Church or Major League Baseball, all examples that Hayes explores. Whether a reader agrees or disagrees with Hayes, he speaks with eloquence and persuasively using lots of examples to support his views. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Twilight of the Elites from amazon.com.
The Absolutist. Protagonist Tristan Sadler is a gay teenager thrown out of his home when the scandal of his kissing a male schoolmate becomes known. Tristan lies about his age to join the army, and develops a troubled relationship with Will Bancroft, a vicar’s son. While repressed sexuality provides the context for the story, it is the impact of repression, the effect of keeping secrets, and the ways in which cowardice finds expression that Boyne explores so well in this novel. Readers who like fiction that delves into the essence of human nature and the power of principles to frame behavior, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Absolutist from amazon.com.
A Fatal Debt. While much of the novel’s plot involves the actions of a recently fired bank CEO, Henry Shapiro, financial services represent a backdrop for the novel, not the essence. At its core, this novel explores personal and professional relationships. Protagonist Benjamin Cowper is a psychiatrist who is his own worst enemy. Cowper becomes influenced both by Shapiro’s wife and by the head of the hospital where Cowper is treating Henry, a major donor. I found myself suspending disbelief regularly while Gapper has Cowper behave in ways that kept me asking: “what was he thinking?” The plot moves quickly in the novel, and readers who like story over character depth and who are willing to give a debut novelist a try, should consider this one. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase A Fatal Debt from amazon.com.
Quarantine. Set in 1796 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the action revolves around the arrival in port of a ship carrying disease. The wide cast of characters allows readers to see the consequences of this sickness in many forms. Smolens uses the closeness of family connection to explore the range of behavior from profligacy to diligence and love. When I read historical fiction I want to feel like I can see and smell and hear the vibrancy of the place and time. Smolens brings this place, this time and these characters to life in an engaging and entertaining way. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Quarantine from amazon.com.