Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Restraint. I was blown away by Alice McDermott’s novel, Someone. In a compact 240 pages, she presents the full and interesting life of an ordinary woman, protagonist Marie Commeford. McDermott presents scenes from childhood, adolescence, marriage, motherhood and old age, to reveal the richness of life, love and family. Through stripping away anything unnecessary, McDermott allows readers to enter into a time period (post World War II) and a place (Brooklyn) that combine to reveal the depth of emotion and human experience that can be found in the most ordinary lives. Readers who lived as Brooklyn Irish Catholics will note that McDermott captures the essence of that life. Any reader who appreciates well-written prose will likely enjoy this superb novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Someone from amazon.com.


Raw. Don’t even think about reading Paul Harding’s excellent novel, Enon, if you are grieving the death of someone close to you. Protagonist Charlie Crosby is overwhelmed by the sudden accidental death of his daughter, Kate. Harding draws readers into Charlie’s first year of loss during which his life spins out of control. The raw emotions and despair overpower Charlie and will touch deeply any empathetic reader. Harding’s earlier novel, Tinkers, won the Pulitzer, and the protagonist of that novel is Charlie’s grandfather, George. Harding writes with great skill and injects every sentence with energy and careful selection of language. Any reader who appreciates fine prose and the exploration of the depths and richness of human behavior will find much to enjoy in this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Enon from amazon.com.

Bad Blood

Serial. Arne Dahl’s second novel to feature Swedish Detective Paul Hjelm is titled Bad Blood. In this book an American serial killer has come to Sweden, and it’s up to Hjelm and others to find him. I liked the way Dahl paces this novel in a measured way, allowing suspense and suspicion to grow. I liked the dialogue and the effective ways in which Dahl presented and developed interesting characters. Readers who like crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bad Blood from amazon.com.

The Childhood of Jesus

Inquiry. The protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s novel, The Childhood of Jesus, is an exceptional boy who was renamed David when he arrived as a refugee. Separated from his mother, a man named Simon takes charge of his care. David’s relentless questions of Simon provided me with pleasure from the richness of the philosophical inquiry that this novel offers. Many readers will want to talk about the novel with other readers to gain perspectives on everything that this novel contains. I found the writing superb and after a while I became comfortable with the allegory. Readers who are comfortable with enigma are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Childhood of Jesus from amazon.com.

Holy Orders

Characters. The seventh novel in John Banville’s series of Dublin novels written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black is titled Holy Orders. Pathologist Garret Quirke continues to dabble into detection as he battles his own demons, including alcohol abuse. Banville captures the 1950s culture and norms with precision while he explores deep psychological themes. Priests and the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland are presented with insight and without mercy. All the complex characters in the novel are presented in the richness of their humanity, and I enjoyed reading this novel as much as I have each one in this finely written series. Readers who like this time period and crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Holy Orders from amazon.com.

Leonardo and the Last Supper

Exhaustive. Readers with an interest in art history or in Leonardo da Vinci are those most likely to enjoy reading Ross King’s book, Leonardo and the Last Supper. King has a lively writing style, and I found myself drawn into the story of Leonardo’s life and how he went about creating this particular work of art. King’s exploration of the subject is comprehensive, and he approaches it from a variety of perspectives. For me, the book was more exhaustive than satisfying. I learned a thing or two, but the path to that outcome was more tedious than I would have liked. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Leonardo and the Last Supper from amazon.com.

Poseidon's Arrow

Acrobatics. Special comfort comes from reading a new episode in a fiction series featuring known and interesting characters. Poseidon’s Arrow by Clive and Dirk Cussler reprise protagonist Dirk Pitt and his trusty and talented sidekick Al Giordino for another thrilling adventure. Old and new submarines provide the backdrop for this novel, in which Dirk and Al engage in enough acrobatics and close calls to stretch a reader’s willing suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking. That, of course, is part of the comfort and fun of this series: the good guys perform heroic feats to defeat the bad guys. Readers who like adventure novels will read this one quickly. I finished it rolling my eyes and feeling slightly entertained. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Poseidon’s Arrow from amazon.com.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles

Messy. Readers who are not put off by a messy and odd structure for a novel can find a lot to enjoy from Ron Currie, Jr.’s Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. Lots of short pieces from snippets to episodes combine to produce something that engages the brain and provides reading satisfaction. I found myself from the beginning placing myself in Currie’s competent hands, and letting the whole thing unfold. When I finished the novel, I thought to myself, “Now that was interesting.” Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles from amazon.com.

Four New Messages

Quirky. Joshua Cohen writes many great sentences in his book Four New Messages. Some of the phrases he turned made me smile, and others pleaded to be read two or three times, which I was happy to do. The four pieces in this collection are all odd and quirky and by the time I finished the book I concluded that I am either too old or too dull witted to appreciate Cohen’s skills. His take on the internet age and my reality may be too far apart to reconcile. Read a sample before you tackle this book. Rating: Three-star (It's ok) Click here to purchase Four New Messages from amazon.com.

The Bankers' New Clothes: Whats Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It

Equity. Readers looking for a primer on the issues involving banking in recent years will find a very readable account in The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig. The authors provide extensive notes and references for those readers who want to dig more deeply into the topic. Admati and Hellwig distill their proposal for reform to beefing up requirements for banks to hold more capital. There’s no doubt that a strong capital cushion would reduce the risk of another banking crisis, but the authors never seem to explore the reality that low returns on excess capital will dissuade investors from this sector. Readers who like a clear and definitive point of view will find one in this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Bankers’ New Clothes from amazon.com.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead

Comprehensive. The bookshelf about the financial crisis continues to grow, and the latest valuable contribution I’ve read comes from Alan S. Blinder titled, After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead. There are so many misunderstandings about what happened during the financial crisis that I was pleased to finally read a book that takes on those perceptions and offers the data that might make things clearer for those readers with an open mind. We are entitled to our different viewpoints, but we should share a common fact base. Blinder does a terrific job in presenting data that provides a clear fact base. He analyzes the responses to the crisis, offering a candid critique of what worked and what didn’t. He lists the things that still need to be done. Whether you agree with Blinder or not, any reader interested in public policy and economics should read this book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase After the Music Stopped from amazon.com.

All That Is

Episodes. It was well worth the wait. It’s been decades since there’s been a new novel from master craftsman James Salter. His new novel, All That Is, is the best novel I’ve read in a long time. Salter uses disjointed episodes in this life of protagonist Philip Bowman, to reveal the inconsistencies of our human condition. Bowman is a good guy and a bad guy, just like us. You can like him for some things he does, and hate him for others. We first meet Bowman on a ship at the end of World War II. That provides the introduction to Salter’s study of his contemporaries: men of the twentieth century, who came of age during war, and followed that experience with ups and downs, joys and screw-ups. Salter builds each sentence through choosing the perfect word every time. He presents aspects of the emptiness of life with a fullness of language. If there’s one novel you read this year, make it this one. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase All That Is from amazon.com.

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)

Punchy. Read an excerpt from Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains, and chances are good that you’ll want to read the whole book. Through great pacing and punchy prose, Klosterman riffs on our reaction to various types of villains. Before I knew it, he had me thinking about my own, often counterintuitive, reactions to certain behavior. I laughed and I winced at some of what Klosterman had to say. If you like good prose and quirky thinking, give this book a try. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase I Wear the Black Hat from amazon.com.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken

Revenge. India’s Most Private Investigator Vish Puri is back on the job in Tarquin Hall’s novel, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. This series provides classic crime fiction set in India. A strong protagonist, Puri, gets to the bottom of the case after several interesting twists and turns. There is a crime that may be one of revenge, and Puri’s mother is also on the case. Readers who don’t know much about India and the 1947 partition will learn a thing or two while being entertained. I’ve liked this series, and look forward to reading the next installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken from amazon.com.

The Cuckoo's Calling

Detecting. J.K. Rowling does three things extremely well in her crime fiction debut novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, released under the pen name Robert Galbraith. First, she presents compelling complex characters, especially the protagonist, private detective Cormoran Strike, and his sidekick, Robin. Most crime fiction succeeds or fails based on character. Second, she tells a great story. I found that I was interested from the start, and she kept me wanting to find out how everything would get resolved. Finally, she presents dialogue and situations that set just the right tone. If you like crime fiction, and have enjoyed Rowling’s other novels, be sure to read this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cuckoo’s Calling from amazon.com.

Death Angel

Central. I raced through Death Angel, Linda Fairstein’s fifteenth novel in her crime fiction series featuring ADA Alexandra Cooper. One of the things that Fairstein does so well is educate even New Yorkers about aspects of the metropolis. This time, we all learn things about Central Park and the Dakota that I expect few readers already knew. The crimes are interesting, the action is fast-paced, and the characters are familiar and well-developed. Any reader who enjoys crime fiction is likely to savor this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Death Angel from amazon.com.


Bloody. If your taste in historical fiction tends to favor bloody battles, Bernard Cornwell’s 1356 is the novel for you. Packed with lively action, Cornwell relates the Battle of Poitiers, in which the outnumbered English overcame the French army and captured both the city and the king. If you have an appetite for more than 400 pages of action-packed violence, be sure to read this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase 1356 from amazon.com.


Reprise. I set myself up with low expectations for novels by Robin Cook. I usually pick one up after I’ve finished reading a more challenging book. I often find them as annoying as they are entertaining. I finished reading the latest, Nano, and felt less annoyed than usual and pleasantly entertained. Cook reprises a troubled protagonist, Pia Grazdani, from his earlier novel, Death Benefit, and changes the setting from her being a med student in New York, to her working at a nanotechnology company in the Rockies. The plot moves swiftly, characters develop narrowly, dialogue seems off, the technology is interesting, and I finished the book not long after I started it. Readers with the patience to move beyond some flaws are those who are most likely to be entertained by this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nano from amazon.com.

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France

Tastes. I suspect that John Baxter’s book, The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France, will attract a fairly narrow band of readers. Francophiles and those who enjoy fine French cuisine are likely to be drawn to this book. Readers of a certain age (say those born in the first half of the twentieth century, not later) who mourn the loss of traditional foods, will love reading this book. Any reader who remembers with clarity meals eaten many years ago will find a kindred spirit in Baxter. I found his writing lively, and at times I noticed myself salivating at some of his descriptions. Taste can be a very personal thing, so read an excerpt first. If you enjoyed that bit, chances are you’ll be satisfied by the whole book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perfect Meal from amazon.com.


Satire. It takes a great writer to weave together a story that engages readers while at the same delivering a disturbing message about our possible future. Margaret Atwood is such a great writer, and her new novel, MaddAddam, completes a trilogy that presents a vision of the world we may be creating. This satire projects what may happen if some trends continue. In Atwood’s future, genetic engineering has gone amuck, a pandemic devastated humanity, while species have gone extinct. Amid this bleak landscape, there is the development of community and bonds of enduring love. Readers who have read the earlier novels will certainly want to read this one to be able to enjoy a satisfying conclusion. New readers to the series or Atwood can start here, and will likely want to read more. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase MaddAddam from amazon.com.