Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bad Monkey

Hilarious. Don’t read Carl Hiaasen’s novel, Bad Monkey, too quickly, or you might miss something really funny. Hiaasen packs every page of this novel with funny characters and situations, both grisly and slapstick. Protagonist Andrew Yancy has done things to get himself thrown off the Miami Police Force, and now finds himself moved from being a detective for the Monroe County Sheriff’s office to a health inspector of restaurants. There’s greed, corruption, fraud and malfeasance throughout the novel, each of which provides fodder for Hiaasen’s fine writing. I laughed throughout the novel and finished reading it with great satisfaction at the entertainment it provided. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Bad Monkey from amazon.com.

Little Green

Rebirth. Whether you’ve read all the Easy Rawlins novels from Walter Mosley, or if Little Green is your introduction, chances are you’ll enjoy reading this book. Los Angeles private detective Easy Rawlins came close to death in a car accident, and as the novel opens he is slowing returning to life. Mosley develops this complex character with precision, and describes the setting, culture and issues of the world in 1967 with an attention to detail that transports readers to that time and place. Racial tension, hippies, drugs and violence provide a backdrop for what is a story of rebirth. Sit back, relax, and let Easy Rawlins entertain you with his kindness, integrity and perseverance. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Little Green from amazon.com.


Medium. Fans of Stephen King novels who expect a supersized tome from this prolific and popular writer might think that Joyland is more appetizer than entrĂ©e. They would be wrong. While it comes in at fewer than 300 pages, this is a complete and satisfying novel that provides enjoyable entertainment and reading pleasure. Protagonist Devon Jones spends a summer college break working at an amusement park while he grieves losing his girlfriend’s affection. King develops Jones with great skill and draws readers into a crime novel plot that tells a great story. A boy suffering from muscular dystrophy serves as a medium for a spirit stuck on a ride in the amusement park. King sells so many books because he tells great stories, and this paperback crime novel is no exception. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Joyland from amazon.com.

The House At Belle Fontaine

Masterful. The ten unique short stories in the collection from Lily Tuck titled after one, The House At Belle Fontaine, showcase this skilled writer’s mastery of the skill of writing short fiction. I felt that each sentence was assembled with care and precision, making its contribution in a critical way to the complete story. This efficient structure can be frustrating to those readers who crave for more, but I found that I ended each of these stories with a feeling of deep satisfaction at the writing skill displayed. Any reader who appreciates literary fiction, especially in the short form, should consider reading this fine collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The House At Belle Fontaine from amazon.com.

The House of Rumour

Puzzled. Readers who like puzzles and have the patience to endure a convoluted prose structure are those who might enjoy Jake Arnott’s The House of Rumour. I was entertained by the ways in which Arnott drew in plot lines involving writers Ian Fleming, L. Ron Hubbard, Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein. Arnott crosses decades and adds a Rudolf Hess suicide to the mix for good measure. Arnott uses the character Larry Zagorski, a pulp fiction writer, as the glue to try to pull all this together. Secrets abound, narrators change frequently, and I found the best way to proceed was to give myself up to wherever Arnott was taking me. Read an excerpt to see if this book is one you might enjoy reading. Rating: Three-star (It’s OK) Click here to purchase The House of Rumour from amazon.com.

The Golden Egg

Cruelty. Fans of Donna Leon’s mystery series set in Venice featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti will savor the latest, The Golden Egg. First-time readers can start here and meet a well-developed and endearing protagonist as well as a finely told story of human compassion and cruelty. I felt right at home at the beginning of the novel at the Brunetti’s dinner table as Paola, Guido and their children engage in a word game. Words and their absence provide a woven motif for this story, which I enjoyed from beginning to end. Readers who like Venice, mysteries, and the complexity of human nature are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Golden Egg from amazon.com.


Population. Dan Brown’s novel Inferno will be less controversial than his earlier ones, and I felt that the fun he had in writing it came across in his prose. He opens the novel with a great device: the loss of memory by protagonist Robert Langdon, whose eidetic memory has been a useful talent in previous novels. Having Langdon deal with this made for pleasurable reading. The issue in this novel involves population control, and the tidbits and factoids that Brown peppers throughout the novel can be both annoying and interesting at the same time. Dante’s work and Florence provide a context for Brown’s exploration of the issue, and the formidable adversaries Langdon encounters make for entertaining tension. I try to read Brown’s novels quickly because the weak prose can wear me down. His creativity and plot are satisfying enough. Rating: Three-star (It’s OK) Click here to purchase Inferno from amazon.com.

The Innocence Game

Justice. Readers who love complicated plots with plenty of twists are those most likely to enjoy the latest crime novel from Michael Harvey, The Innocence Game. Harvey reprises the protagonist from earlier novels, Michael Kelly, to play a secondary and critical role in this one. Journalism students and their teacher all have backstories that add interest to the plot as they try to dig up evidence of a wrongful conviction to ensure that justice is done. I was thoroughly entertained by this novel, which will appeal in a special way to those in Chicago who admire the ways in which Harvey captures the setting and culture so perfectly. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Innocence Game from amazon.com.

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

Practical. Any executive who struggles with strategy should read a practical book by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin titled, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. Lafley spent the bulk of his career at Proctor and Gamble, and Martin assisted him as a consultant. They led the implementation of many of the theories on strategy developed by Harvard’s Michael Porter. In this book, they offer plain speaking about hard thinking, and use their experience to present their view on the do’s and don’ts when it comes to strategy. They provide great examples, and most executives will finish this book with a few very useful and practical ways to improve strategy in their own workplaces. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Playing to Win from amazon.com.

Middle Men

Insight. The debut collection of seven short stories by Jim Gavin titled, Middle Men, offers readers wisdom, humor and insight into the lives of regular guys. I often finish reading a short story with a dissatisfaction that something was missing. Thanks to Gavin’s fine writing, I enjoyed each of these stories, and came away from each one with a perspective about life as it is lived today, especially by men in California. Readers who like short stories should take a look at this collection, as should those fiction readers who are looking for realistic and believable presentation of the lives of men. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Middle Men from amazon.com.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Intimate. When I finished the last page of Colum McCann’s novel, Transatlantic, the first question I asked myself was “how did he do that?” While presenting a sweeping and complicated story across time, he was able to make the novel seem intimate. McCann’s prose soars with perfect word selection, precise descriptive language and compelling creativity. He includes characters that many readers know including Frederick Douglas and George Mitchell, and draws readers into the kind of details that present these great lives as intimate ones. All the plot lines in the novel connect Ireland and the United States, and McCann does that in creative and interesting ways. Any reader who appreciates fine writing should consider reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Transatlantic from amazon.com.


Examined. Good novelists help readers examine life through characters that we recognize as complicated and human, just like us. In his novel Benediction, Kent Haruf places protagonist Dad Lewis in a state of close examination as he faces death from cancer. Just like us, Dad is a flawed creature, along with every other character in the novel. Each makes decisions and deals with life in ways that we recognize and either emulate or reject. Haruf’s fine writing includes precise character development, and language choices that led me to reread many sentences for the sheer pleasure of hearing them again. Readers who like fiction that unveils a slice of the life we all live should consider reading this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Benediction from amazon.com.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Equality. Gender issues and viewpoints are often divisive, no place more than at work. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg expanded her TED talk on gender equality into a readable book on the subject titled, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Whether you are male or female, and no matter what kind of work you perform, you’re likely to find something in this book to engage your attention, draw out your views, and lead you to want to talk about them with someone else. Sandberg has brought fresh attention to this subject, and any reader interested in gender equality should consider reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lean In from amazon.com.

The Redeemer

Mellow. Harry Hole is the kind of fictional character that I enjoy more thoroughly with each new installment. Jo Nesbo’s latest novel featuring this complex detective is titled The Redeemer. For me, Harry came across as more mellow in this novel that he did in earlier ones. In some ways, that increased my interest in the character. The major appeal for Nesbo’s novels goes beyond the fine character development: the thrilling plots provide great entertainment. This novel’s plot kept my interest from beginning to end, and I read this novel swiftly. Readers who like well-written detective fiction should consider reading this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Redeemer from amazon.com.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Pipeline. Readers who enjoy science writing that’s both humorous and informative should consider reading Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. I enjoyed the way she explored this critical pipeline from one end to the other. The pages flew by as she methodically related what goes on in our digestive processes. Read a sample to see if her wit gives you something tasty to swallow. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Gulp from amazon.com.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Woman Upstairs

Anger. Claire Messud’s gift to readers of her novel, The Woman Upstairs, is that of one of the most expertly developed characters in contemporary literature. Nora Eldridge is not everywoman, but she is a complete woman and Messud creates her with insight and skill. Messud understands emotional depth, and the emotion that fuels Nora is anger. Women are expected to swallow their anger, and be nice at all costs. Unmarried at age 42 and working as a successful and beloved elementary school teacher, Nora seems to be the epitome of what the title refers to: the invisible and unassuming neighbor who is reliable and unthreatening. With great skill, Messud presents the authentic Nora, whose anger envelops her life. Any reader with empathy for the lives of contemporary American middle aged women will want to read and talk about this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Woman Upstairs from amazon.com.

And the Mountains Echoed

Generations. Khaled Hosseini’s novel, And the Mountains Echoed, contains just about everything I like in a novel. There’s a big cast of recognizable, complex characters, who experience the broad range of life: love, heartbreak, hope, loss, success, failure, caring and hurting. Across decades and generations, Hosseini uses multiple narrators in alternating time periods to weave a family story. These characters make choices that we all recognize: we don’t control what will happen, but we try to take the next step that we think is the best thing to do. The prose is well-crafted, and I finished the novel with a great satisfaction that Hosseini presented our human condition with empathy, wisdom and skill. Any reader who enjoys the messiness of family stories and the consequences of life’s choices, will find much to enjoy in this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase And the Mountains Echoed from amazon.com.

A Delicate Truth

Secrecy. The latest novel from David Cornwell writing as John LeCarre is titled A Delicate Truth. Cornwell proceeds without delicacy to yank from the headlines all the problems with the current war on terror and his views on what’s amiss. The novel presents characters who behave in ways that begin with self-interest. Closely held secrets mask the reality of a pivotal event for members of the cast. Cornwell grabbed me with the story from the beginning, and kept me engaged by the clever ways in which he allowed the situation to increase in complexity as the novel progressed. By the end, the outcome seemed frustratingly clear, and was very satisfying. Read an excerpt, and if you’re at all curious, chances are you’ll enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Delicate Truth from amazon.com.


Christmasland. A great horror novel usually requires the kind of creepy character that will cause a reader to feel scared. Joe Hill provides two such creepy characters in his novel, NOS4A2: Charles Talent Manx and his automobile. Manx specializes in transporting victims to a place of amusement he calls “Christmasland,” and the way there involves his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate, NOS4A2 (sound it out: nos-four-ah-tu). Protagonist Vic McQueen is the character for readers to identify with, and Hill develops her and places her in situations that were scary enough for me to set the book aside on a few occasions to take a few breaths. Any reader who likes a big novel, a well-told story, and some fright, should read this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase NOS4A2 from amazon.com.

Flat Water Tuesday

Crew. Certain events transform lives. Novelists can present that transformation with skill or in a clumsy way. In his debut novel, Flat Water Tuesday, Ron Irwin uses great skill to present an engaging story that had me hooked from beginning to end. Set primarily in two time periods, the second senior high school year of protagonist Rob Carrey, and fifteen years later, the action in the novel involves the sport of crew, and the discipline and teamwork required to succeed. Working-class Rob was recruited to a prestigious prep school because of his strong performance rowing a skull. His life became transformed by what happened during that year. Irwin presents a fine cast of well-developed complex characters, especially two strong women in Rob’s life. The glitches one expects in a debut novel are present, but I was not distracted by them because the power of the story propelled me to remain engaged. Readers who like coming of age novels and are willing to take a chance on a first time novelist should consider reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Flat Water Tuesday from amazon.com.