Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All

Citizenship. Policy matters. Any citizen interested in public policy should consider reading Oran B. Hesterman’s book, Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All. I notice that I seem to eat better in the summer, when the Farmers’ Market offers lots of choices, and my CSA box arrives with fresh produce every week. In the middle of this bounty, I occasionally think about what food choices are made by others, producers and consumers, and what the consequences of those choices mean for society. Hesterman has been involved in food policy for decades. In this book he describes problems with our current food policies and practices, and proposes ways to change. Foodies and elites are not the audience for this book. Hesterman talks plainly and clearly to all of us and lays our ways in which anyone can become involved in building a healthy food system that works for everybody. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Fair Food from amazon.com.

Mission to Paris

Atmospheric. Alan Furst is back with another World War II spy novel that plunges readers into the place and time with lush descriptive language and sharply drawn heroes and villains. Mission to Paris is set mainly in Paris in 1938 and the protagonist, actor Fredric Stahl has arrived there from Hollywood to make a movie titled, “After the War,” referring to World War I. Furst describes the fears of the √©migr√© community in Paris who experience the organized and diligent work of the Nazis as they prepared to conquer Europe. Stahl finds himself in the thick of things and also falling in love. Readers who like spy novels with lots of descriptive language are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Mission to Paris from amazon.com.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Deceptions. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency has a lot of work to do in the thirteenth installment of the series, a novel by Alexander McCall Smith titled, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. In addition to a large cast of characters familiar to readers of this series, a surprise character appears in this one: Clovis Andersen, author of the reference book The Principles of Private Detection, which Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi refer to when they need guidance about detective work. What Smith does so well in this series and in his other books is present a version of human nature that we recognize and understand. There is evil being done, but the forces of good always prevail, and we understand the reasons for each character’s behavior. Readers looking to read an entertaining novel that proceeds at a relaxed pace with interesting characters should consider this book, series and author. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection from amazon.com.

The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc

Mystic. The story of Joan of Arc is a familiar one to all readers. For those who like historical fiction, a debut novel by Kimberly Cutter titled, The Maid, presents this remarkable character from many different perspectives. Cutter uses vivid imagery to take readers into the troubled mind and courageous life of a young woman. The mystical elements of Joan’s story, from feeling chosen by God to hearing voices, are presented with imagination and some perfectly chosen phrases. Readers who like historical fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Maid from amazon.com.

Snatched

Quick. Crime fiction fans looking for something quick and entertaining to read should consider the Kindle Single from Karin Slaughter titled, Snatched. This novella features Will Trent, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who has appeared in full length Slaughter novels. The action in this book takes place at Atlanta’s airport and kept me absorbed in the fast-paced action from beginning to end. Readers looking for something short and fun to read are those most likely to enjoy this novella. For Slaughter fans, it’s a great appetizer before opening her latest novel. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Snatched from amazon.com.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

Broken. The best preparation for engaged voters ahead of the party conventions and the Fall campaign is to read a sobering book from Thomas W. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein titled It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Mann of the Brookings Institution and Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute are scholars who understand our political systems and processes. When they say that the legislative process is broken, we should listen. In the first part of the book, they present a diagnosis of the current dysfunction, and in the second part they propose some ideas on a remedy. Whether you agree or disagree with their assessment and proposals, if you are interested in public affairs, you should listen to their thoughtful analysis. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase It’s even Worse Than It Looks from amazon.com.

Talulla Rising

Delicious. Were it not for the violence, gore and explicit sex, I think that Glen Duncan’s Talulla Rising would be a perfect selection for high school English students to read to recognize the difference between good writing and bad. Paired against any other horror genre novel, Duncan’s work will stand out. The likeable werewolf protagonist Talulla Demetriou goes to every possible extreme to protect her newborn children from harm. Duncan engages readers from the beginning to the end of this fast moving novel. The opportunity for another installment is clear at the end, so fans can look forward to even more from this fine writer. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Talulla Rising from amazon.com.

Cop to Corpse

Pacing. The eleventh Peter Lovesey crime novel to feature Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond is titled Cop to Corpse. The action opens with the killing of a policeman, the third in the Bath area in past few months. With a moderate pace that never got my heart racing, Diamond slowly follows leads and interviews individuals who might help him solve the crime. While I had guessed the murderer early on, I was still entertained when Diamond solved the puzzle. Fans of detective novels with strong protagonists are those most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Cop to Corpse from amazon.com.

Bring Up the Bodies

Competence. Most readers who liked reading Wolf Hall, including me, looked forward to Hilary Mantel’s continuation of her historical fiction series set in the Tudor period. Her latest novel, Bring Up the Bodies, focuses on the last year of Anne Boleyn’s life, and continues to feature Thomas Cromwell in all his scheming and impressive competence. I don’t know whether the Cromwell in history matches up to Mantel’s depiction, but all that he chooses to do and not to do seems to be carefully calculated. My recollection of Cromwell from history fits a narrower profile that Mantel presents. He is both likeable and complex in her version, and I was enthralled with a story I knew on the margins as I quickly read this entertaining novel. Any reader who likes historical fiction or has any interest in England’s history will find much to like in this book. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Bring Up the Bodies from amazon.com.

Aerogrammes: and Other Stories

Yearning. Reading short stories in the Summer can be ideal. A reader can relax into a single story for a little while and then do something else. Fans of short stories will love Tania James’ collection, Aerogrammes: and Other Stories, during the Summer or anytime. James presents recognizable characters who are yearning for something out of reach. Her skill in developing these characters and structuring each story is impressive. James presents life and truth to readers in ways that made me laugh and also induced a sense of empathy and longing. If you like short stories, consider reading this finely written collection. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Aerogrammes from amazon.com.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Confession

Identity. While The Confession is the fourteenth novel in a series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge by Charles Todd and his mother, Caroline Todd, it was my first. I was hooked. The protagonist is well-drawn, the plot required my mental engagement, and the setting in post-World War I England seemed atmospheric. The puzzle in this case involves identity, and Rutledge proceeds with diligence and sensitivity to get to the bottom of things. Readers who like crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase The Confession from amazon.com.

The Year of the Gadfly

Fresh. I opened Jennifer Miller’s debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, with the expectation that I would quickly lose interest. Instead, I found her writing to be engaging, and the characters, setting and plot imaginative and absorbing. Set in a Massachusetts prep school named Mariana Academy, Miller alternates between the present and 1999. She uses multiple narrators to build perspective. Several of the characters don’t blend easily into the high school environment, and Miller explores the consequences of being different. Readers who like discovering a fresh fictional voice are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Year of the Gadfly from amazon.com.

As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda

Anthropological. New York Times columnist Gail Collins approached her study of Texas the way an anthropologist would study an unfamiliar culture in a foreign country. She observed the behavior of the people there, mainly politicians, and drew sweeping conclusions, which she presents in a book titled, As Texas Goes…: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. In the current divisive political environment, we can expect that liberals will love this book and conservatives will hate it. Citizens of any political leaning will find her writing lively, and the stories she tells about the public policies in Texas are engaging to read. This book is unlikely to change any minds, but it’s great political writing and I enjoyed reading it. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase As Texas Goes from amazon.com.

Stay Close

Serial. Harlan Coben’s latest crime novel, Stay Close, offers readers who like this genre some reliable entertainment. There’s a cast of intriguing and interesting characters dealing with a variety of life’s challenges from the past and the present. There’s serial murder at the core of the story, and gradual revelation of who has been doing what over a long time period. The pace of the novel suits a hot summer: one can read this novel at a slow simmer and remain refreshed. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase Stay Close from amazon.com.

The Innocent

Plot. The complicated plot kept me entertained throughout David Baldacci’s novel, The Innocent. The protagonist is Will Robie who works as a professional assassin for the United States. Baldacci often pairs a male protagonist with a female collaborator, and in this novel, it’s a fourteen year old runaway. These two characters are smart and competent, and the twisting plot keeps them moving from the beginning of the novel to the end. Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Innocent from amazon.com.

Pulse

Dialogue. Fans of short stories will find mastery of dialogue in the collection from Julian Barnes titled, Pulse. Some of the stories are presented entirely in dialogue. Some stories are connected, some set in the present, and others are set in the past. In each story, Barnes’ writing skill proceeds with confidence, and he brings complete and complex people and places to life for readers. I paced myself by reading a story a day, and found myself satisfied and wanting more at the same time. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase Pulse from amazon.com.

Micro

Tedious. Buried inside the 400+ pages of Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston, there’s a 200 page fast-paced thriller. The challenge for readers is that the extra pages make it very tedious to read. There’s the usual Crichton scientific framework providing the basis for the action: in this case, nanotechnology. There’s a villain to make the plot interesting. Somehow the pace flagged almost from the start, and I found myself caring less about what was happening, and just wanting to get it over with. Readers looking for something to help the time pass like during an airport delay, are those most likely to overlook the faults of this book and actually enjoy it. For most readers, this book will be tedious or annoying. Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended) Click here to purchase Micro from amazon.com.

There But For The

Wordplay. The virtuoso wordplay in Ali Smith’s novel, There But For The, mesmerized me at times. I found myself having to pause, and find the connection from one part to another, if there was one. I’d plow ahead, and delight in her choice of words, and get lost again. Smith presents a story from four viewpoints, and explores the notion of our separation from each other with glee. What plot there is involves a dinner guest leaving the table and locking himself in an upstairs room of the hosts, who are strangers to him. We learn something about him and the other characters from this core action. Readers who love wordplay are those most likely to enjoy this creative, unusual, and finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended) Click here to purchase There But For The from amazon.com.

The Red House

Holiday. Fans of literary fiction with a high tolerance for confusion and frustration are those most likely to enjoy Mark Haddon’s novel, The Red House. An extended and estranged family gathers for a holiday and Haddon unpacks their personal baggage with a mix of descriptive prose, witty dialogue and serial interior reflection by each of the eight characters. At times, I found myself re-reading a sentence to figure out what Haddon was describing. While his prose is often beautiful, it isn’t always obvious. Each character is struggling with something, and the change in location for a holiday along with new characters for interaction provide fresh ways for the struggles to be exposed. Read an excerpt before buying the book. Chances are the excerpt will test your tolerance and lead you to proceed or quit. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Red House from amazon.com.

The Gift of Fire / On the Head of a Pin: Two Short Novels from Crosstown to Oblivion


Imaginative. I often find myself becoming comfortable with the writing style of a favorite author and I set my expectations on opening a new work based on what I’ve read before. Walter Mosley departs from his crime fiction in a new book presenting two novellas titled, The Gift of Fire/On the Head of a Pin: Two Short Novels from Crosstown to Oblivion. While a departure and an upset to my expectations, Mosley’s fine writing and imaginative exposition delighted me. Both novellas tackle an exploration of our humanity using great story telling and some twisting of perceptions of reality. Readers looking for fiction that’s clever, imaginative and brief are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (Recommended) Click here to purchase The Gift of Fire from amazon.com.