Friday, October 25, 2013

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Advantages. Any reader who spends a little while with Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, will think about advantages and disadvantages in new ways. The conversational narrative style that Gladwell uses so expertly draws readers into the stories he presents, and helps us see an issue more comprehensively that we might have without his help. For me, the counter-intuitive exploration of class size in school was very interesting. The way in which Gladwell described how the shepherd David exploited his own strengths and Goliath’s weaknesses helped me see a familiar story in a new way. I’ve frequently enjoyed the way in which Gladwell can take the research of others and explain it to me and others with simplicity and clarity. That’s a gift to readers who are looking for something to read quickly in small spurts. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase David and Goliath from

The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund

Edge. If Anita Raghavan’s book, The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund, were fiction, I would have set it aside concluding that the behavior of the characters was outside any willing suspension of disbelief. Instead, this is non-fiction, presenting a large cast of characters with a deficit of integrity. Raghavan presents the story of self-dealing business leaders: Raj Rajaratnam, owner of the Galleon Hedge Fund who pushed employees to gain an edge by cultivating insiders and getting non-public information from them; and the downfall of one of Raj’s insiders, Rajat Gupta former CEO McKinsey and former independent director at Goldman Sachs. These and other wealthy, sad and greedy individuals populate over 500 pages of lively reading. Raghavan puts everything in context and the result is a finely written book that any reader with an interest in business, ethics or Wall Street finance will find well worth reading. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Billionaire’s Apprentice from

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Insights. I spent a lot less time reading Dan Pink’s latest book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, than I spent thinking about it. Pink’s insights are targeted to two readers: those who know they are in sales and those who think they aren’t. That covers everybody, and I think every reader will benefit from some aspect of this interesting book. I enjoyed the way Pink presents his insights: he observes what changes are happening (we’re all in sales now); he observes how the best sales people behave; and he offers ways in which each of us can do different things to sway others. Pink’s writing is always lively and accessible, and he refers often to research that has led him, and can lead us, toward greater understanding of ourselves and others. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase To Sell Is Human from

Tamarack County

Mercy. William Kent Krueger is one of those rare fiction writers who chooses a harder path when writing a series of novels: his protagonist becomes deeper and more complex as more is written about him. Many other writers return to themes that are familiar to readers. For Krueger, while each novel is built on what came before, there is new ground tilled with every new novel. The thirteenth novel in his crime series featuring protagonist Cork O’Connor is titled Tamarack County. While O’Connor has spent decades focused on justice, he needs to lean toward mercy in this novel, both for himself and for others. I enjoyed the complexity of the relationships in this novel, the plot suspense, and the depth of character development. Readers who like to read crime fiction should consider reading this book and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Tamarack County from

The Trust

Scheme. If you’re tired of reading non-fiction about financial malfeasance, consider the refreshing change you’ll feel in switching to fiction featuring characters immersed in finance. Norb Vonnegut grabbed my attention from the first pages of his novel, The Trust, and kept me engaged through more than three hundred pages of tense action. Vonnegut’s own experience working at Morgan Stanley helped him bring Wall Street behavior to life in this novel. Protagonist Grove O’Rourke is reprised from the earlier novel, Top Producer, and spends much of this novel in Charleston, helping the family of a deceased client and getting himself in deep trouble. Ample villains are matched by O’Rourke along with another lively character, southern lawyer Biscuit Hughes, who proves himself to be a reliable partner. Readers who like the world of finance and fast-paced fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Trust from

Shine Shine Shine

Spectrum. What I like most about Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine, is the complexity and fullness of her characters. Netzer introduces us to individuals who are at once very much the same as we are, and also very different. The plot required me to suspend my disbelief to a very great extent, and I’m glad I stayed with this novel to the end. Central characters Sunny and Maxon are deeply in love and are drawn into a forced separation as Maxon is in a rocket on the way to the moon. His place on the autism spectrum added even more to the complexity of his character. While Sunny struggles with so many issues common to women in her situation, she is presented as unique and complex. Readers willing to explore a debut novel, especially those who like a good story with complex characters, are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Shine Shine Shine from

The Thief

Pickpocket. I was intrigued by Fuminori Nakamura’s novel, The Thief. Translated from Japanese, the novel presents an image of contemporary society from the perspective of a pickpocket. I kept thinking about skill as I enjoyed the ease with which the thief carries out his work. When a crime goes awry, we are led to see the consequences of an unexamined life. If your preference in fiction tends toward the psychological and thought-provoking, consider reading this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Thief from


Forgiveness. Walter Mosley’s novel, Parishioner, was released exclusively as an ebook. If you’re looking to fill your Kindle with a great story, consider this entertaining novel. Mosley’s theme is forgiveness, and he packs the novel with a cast of characters that need a lot of forgiveness. I was entertained by the pacing of the story, and the ways in which Mosley draws readers into caring about what happens to very interesting characters. Any Mosley fan will find a lot to enjoy in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Parishioner from

Aloha Lady Blue

Setting. I was thoroughly entertained by Charley Memminger’s mystery novel, Aloha Lady Blue. Any reader who’s enjoyed John D. MacDonald’s novels should read this book. While neither a homage nor strict imitation, this novel is in the spirit of MacDonald, and Memminger makes that even clearer when we learn the name of the houseboat on which protagonist Stryker McBride lives: the Travis McGee. The setting in Hawaii comes alive through Memminger’s descriptive language. If you’re looking for something to read on the flight from the mainland to Hawaii, you can’t do better than this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Aloha Lady Blue from

The Striker

Union. I had a new Clive Cussler experience while reading his latest Isaac Bell novel titled, The Striker. I found myself thinking that the pace was too slow. I’ve read enough Cussler novels to anticipate a very quick-moving plot, and in this novel, I realized the pace was pretty tepid. The young Bell, early in his detective career with the Van Dorn agency, faces a situation in which it appears that union activists have sabotaged a coal mining site. Things are not as they appear, and needless to say, young Bell gets to the bottom of things. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel, especially the way in which it fills in the character with more backstory than had been previously revealed. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Striker from

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Lowland

Deception. I loved reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Lowland, for so many reasons. She presents a cast of characters that I came to care about, despite the tragic deceptions that framed their relationships. She describes places, especially Calcutta, in ways that helped me feel I was there. Lahiri presents the lives of individuals who came to the United States from India, as well as the lives of those who remained in Calcutta. Lahiri captures the ways in which love within family can be so strong that even deception cannot overpower it. Readers who like finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Lowland from

How the Light Gets In

Plans. Louise Penny assembles all the perfect ingredients in great crime fiction in her latest installment of the series featuring Quebec’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache titled, How the Light Gets In. First, the characters are compelling and complicated, fully recognizable people who we recognize. Second, the plot momentum is swift and interesting. Finally, the element of surprise provides mystery readers like me with great satisfaction. Penny reveals the plans of both the good and bad guys and kept me on the edge of my chair as the action progressed. Readers who like crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase How the Light Gets In from

Sacrifice Fly

Redemption. The very slow pace of Tim O’Mara’s debut novel, Sacrifice Fly, tested my patience. O’Mara introduces protagonist Raymond Donne in this novel which is intended as the first in a series featuring a New York City schoolteacher. One of Ray’s students, Frankie Rivas, a great baseball player, has gone missing. Slowly, the search for Frankie proceeds at the same pace as the most boring baseball game you’ve ever watched. Some of O’Mara’s dialogue is terrific in this novel, and that was enough to overcome my impatience as I endured to the satisfying end of the novel that became a story of redemption. Patient readers willing to take a risk on a debut novel, as well as those who like to get in on the start of a series, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Sacrifice Fly from

Stepping Stone/Love Machine

Intervention. The novellas in the Crosstown to Oblivion series by Walter Mosley explore big questions in creative ways. The third and latest, Stepping Stone/Love Machine, explores intervention and redemption. Mosley seems to revel in his speculation about the meaning of life and good and evil. I enjoyed both of these novellas, and as long as this is what Mosley is writing, I’m happy to read them. I recommend that any interested reader consider an excerpt before leaping in, because this writing may not be what you expect. Chances are that is you like the excerpt, you’ll like the complete work. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Stepping Stone Love Machine from

Both Flesh and Not

Words. I found something to like in each of the fifteen essays in the new collection of works by the late David Foster Wallace titled, Both Flesh and Not. His observations are astute, his prose clever and witty. I had the sense that he fine tuned each piece to be sure he selected just the right words and phrases to suit his purpose. Many of these essays were written to pay the bills. Those who paid him received great value. Any reader who likes well-written essays should consider reading this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Both Flesh and Not from

Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table

Yummy. A reader can choose among hundreds of books by and about Winston Churchill to learn about his life and times. Within the past year, several major tomes have been released. Hidden in this vast array of choices is a delightful and enjoyable book by Cita Stelzer titled, Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table. No matter how much or how little a reader knows about Churchill, chances are one has the impression that this man liked to eat and drink. Stelzer explores that theme and debunks many of the myths about Churchill’s excesses. I came away from the book with the perspective that his drinking was moderate while frequent. His dining was with a bias toward plain food and focused conversation: a meal with him was an opportunity to move an agenda forward. During his world travels, he ate on tummy time, not based on the local time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it highly, especially to any reader interested in Churchill or his era. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dinner with Churchill from

W is For Wasted

Waiting. Sue Grafton is coming close to an ending for her long-running detective series featuring Kinsey Millhone. I zipped through the 23rd and latest installment, W Is For Wasted, in a flash, and came away satisfied. Fans like me who’ve been reading this series for decades spend more time waiting for the next release than we do on reading. Perhaps when the series is complete, there will be an e-book version of the whole collection from A to Z for a binge reading extravaganza. In the meantime, the latest installment continues to develop the character of Kinsey Millhone, as readers learn with her about new family connections. Grafton knows how to please readers who like crime fiction and this series and this installment deliver reading satisfaction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase W Is For Wasted from

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Intense. I expected to browse, but not read, Sheri Fink’s book, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. After all, I had read her Pulitzer-winning work in The New York Times on what happened at this New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina. I surprised myself when I started reading because I couldn’t put this book down. Fink provides a comprehensive examination of who did what under crisis. She does a great job at helping readers see the people and the places with great clarity, and provides a thought provoking analysis of how individuals made decisions. Her writing helped me see the place and get to know the people. Any reader interested in medical ethics as well as anyone who enjoys compelling non-fiction, will find much to enjoy in this finely written book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Five Days at Memorial from

Long Lankin

Early. I zipped through the short stories in a collection titled Long Lankin, representing early writing by John Banville. I found it hard to separate my perspective on the recent long fiction, which I loved, from these raw sketches. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy for most readers to see the great skill that Banville displays in these early works. I finished each story somewhat satisfied, but wishing that the characters were more fully developed, as Banville has done in his novels. Some great writers specialize in genre, and I’m clearly biased that Banville’s novels allow him the space to explore life more completely. These short pieces show great skill and insight, but left me longing for more. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Long Lankin from

Blood & Beauty: The Borgias

Alliances. One of the reasons that I like to read historical fiction is that the one or two dimensions of people from the past that settled in my brain can become more fully formed with complete personalities. Sarah Dunant takes on the exploits of the Borgia family in her novel, Blood & Beauty. Her imagination about the personalities of Rodrigo, Cesare, Lucrezia and many others provided me with hours of entertainment as the crafty alliances and maneuvers provided the plot that seemed to me to cover the historical highlights with care. Dunant starts this novel when Rodrigo becomes Pope Alexander VI, and after more than a decade over almost 600 pages, she’s left room for a sequel. Any reader who likes historical fiction or the formed and broken alliances in 16th century Europe will enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blood and Beauty from