Friday, March 20, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Lies. Readers don’t need to think a lot while reading the exciting debut novel by Paula Hawkins titled, The Girl on the Train. Some psychological thrillers require close analysis and present multiple levels of meaning. This novel lets readers relax, listen to the unreliable narrator, and revel in the action, including the twists and lies that permeate the novel. This novel could have been written far better than it is, and might then have been less popular. In its current form, it’s a kick to read and I loved it. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Girl on the Train from

Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God

Eloquent. I was blown away by the breadth and range of perspectives by Will Durant in his book titled, Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God. Unpublished in his lifetime, the manuscript was found more than three decades after his death. The eloquence of his reflections kept me reading with great interest. I realized two key points: he was clearly a person of his time, and his views were consistent with those of an educated man of his era; and his insight about our time can be even more significant when we realize how the seeds of our current world and national situation were visible to a keen observer decades ago. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Fallen Leaves from

A Spool of Blue Thread

Storytelling. I think one reason that Anne Tyler’s fiction pleases so many readers is that so many of us enjoy fine storytelling. In her latest novel titled, A Spool of Blue Thread, Tyler remains in Baltimore and tells readers the story of the Whitshank family and a house that was important to them across generations. This melding of people and place is something Tyler does so well. I gave myself over to her in this novel, and enjoyed every minute listening to the story of this family. While giving myself over to her, I was alert to the many ways in which she uses her characters and their situations to deliver deep insight about our human condition. Fans of Tyler will love this novel, and any reader will likely appreciate and enjoy her fine storytelling skills. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Spool of Blue Thread from

Lucky Alan

Laughter. Jonathan Lethem crafts great sentences, so I laughed out loud when a character in one of his stories (and the title) is called “The King of Sentences.” The stories in a new collection titled, Lucky Alan, are funny and entertaining. Lethem takes the ordinary and removes the mundane in a way that finds the humor in anxiety and quirkiness. I restricted myself to no more than one story per day, and was rewarded by many days of fine reading and satisfying laughter. Readers who like short stories and enjoy reading great sentences are those most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lucky Alan from

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Connections. Emma Hooper muses about memory and identity in her debut novel titled, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, as she takes readers on a journey with octogenarian protagonist Etta who’s walking east from Saskatchewan to see the ocean. It doesn’t take a reader long to consider that Etta may be facing dementia. After her husband, Otto, receives her note about her journey, he cooks from her recipe cards and engages in something new as he awaits her return. Hooper offers their connections across the kilometers and across time in ways that will delight many readers. Neighbor and long-time friend, Russell, decides to track down Etta. James may be the most interesting character of all, since he is presented as a coyote with whom Etta communicates. The prose soars often, and might frustrate those readers who prefer more directness and clarity. I was entranced by Hooper’s prose and found the characters complex and interesting. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Etta and Otto and Russell and James from

The Remedy for Love

Intimacy. This has been a good winter for reading Bill Roorbach’s novel titled, The Remedy for Love. Set in Maine during a major snowstorm, the novel pairs two troubled and dysfunctional protagonists who end up trapped together and have to deal with more intimacy that either expected. This novel may appeal to multiple audiences. I enjoyed reading it for the psychological insight into the struggles of the characters and the nature of rescue. Some readers will enjoy the novel because of the love story. Fans of thrillers will like the plot that pits the characters against nature in a struggle to survive the snow and cold. I recommend reading a sample to see if you’re likely to fall into one of these audiences. Roorbach’s writing is likely to be satisfying for most readers who like to read an entertaining story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Remedy for Love from

The Martini Shot

Language. There are seven gritty and well-written short stories and one entertaining novella in a new collection by George Pelecanos titled, The Martini Shot, after the novella. Pelecanos captures the language of the streets in all his crime writing, and the characters in the collection, their dialogue, and the descriptive prose are all superb. Fans of crime fiction who enjoy compact stories are those who are most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Martini Shot from

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart

Grave. Fans of the entertaining series about the Peculiar Crimes Unit by Christopher Fowler are those readers who will delight in the eleventh installment titled, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart. New readers who like crime fiction should take a look at this novel and the series. Detective John May is disciplined and methodological while Arthur Bryant follows an erratic and indirect path while solving the unusual cases assigned to this unit. There’s a cemetery at the center of the action in this installment, and graves are being opened for nefarious purposes. There’s secrecy, danger, murder, mayhem, and the Peculiar Crimes Unit now reports to a new boss who expects greater bureaucratic compliance. Needless to say, Bryant & May are on the case in their clever and entertaining fashion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart from

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Bishop's Wife

Close. Members of book clubs should consider selecting Mette Ivie Harrison’s novel, The Bishop’s Wife. It’s a book that is likely to encourage lively conversation about the characters and the situation. Protagonist Linda Wallheim is happily married to a man serving as a Mormon bishop in a Utah town and is the mother of five sons. When a young wife and mother disappears, Linda becomes involved in trying to figure out what happened. Harrison presents issues of gender and domestic abuse within the context of a small community, especially when there are extremists with clear expectations of acceptable behavior. The pace of the novel is slow, and so much of the narrative seems very ordinary. I enjoyed reading it, mostly because it conveyed a point of view about relationships in a close church community that I found both unfamiliar and interesting. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Bishop’s Wife from

We Should All Be Feminists

Inclusion. The structure of a TED talk requires a presenter to convey messages with efficiency and clarity and in a manner that connects to the live audience. In listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk, I found myself laughing with the audience at some of her lines, but losing the thread of her argument. Thanks to an adaption of that talk for print with the same title, We Should All Be Feminists, I got to read the talk twice and appreciate even more her careful word selection and the cogency of her point of view. This is a poignant message that would provide ideal material for a conversation starter about gender in schools and in the workplace. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We Should All Be Feminists from

An Event in Autumn

Retirement. I find that I like to take the Kurt Wallander novels by Henning Mankell in small doses, because I find the gloominess and depression of Wallander to be contagious. The under two hundred pages of An Event in Autumn seemed to me to be just the small dose I could tolerate. I was entertained and felt no contagion from Wallander’s loneliness and overall gloom. In this installment of the series, Wallander is considering retirement from the force, and making a move to the country. Through a colleague, he considers a house that he could afford, and plans to make a purchase offer until he finds the skeletal hand of a corpse in the yard. Retirement plans are placed on pause as Wallander tries to identify the deceased and figure out what happened. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this short addition to the collection, as are those readers who like brief fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase An Event in Autumn from

A Fine Summer's Day

Run-up. Fans of fictional series often clamor for an expanded backstory about the protagonist. In the seventeenth installment of the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd, those readers are rewarded. In a novel titled, A Fine Summer’s Day, Todd presents Rutledge in 1914 and the run-up to World War I. The title refers to the pleasant day in June when Rutledge is poised to propose marriage. Between that day in June and the guns of war in August, Rutledge doggedly pursues a case that will provide great entertainment both to loyal readers and to anyone who loves crime fiction. Themes of coercion and love for others weave in and out of the narrative and provide a backdrop for the duty of Rutledge to his job and to his country. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Fine Summer’s Day from

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas

Memory. The power of the past over the present can be overwhelming, and it is memory that makes the past immediate. I picked up Patrick Modiano’s novellas after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year. Titled, Suspended Sentences, these novellas present meditations and reflections on the Paris of the past, and the ways in which incomplete memories leave gaps in our experience of the present. Readers who like fiction that sets a mood and offers descriptive atmospheric language are likely to enjoy reading this collection, as are those readers who enjoy fiction that leads to personal reflection, especially about memories of the past. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Suspended Sentences from

Panic in a Suitcase

Odessa. I was enthralled while reading Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s debut novel titled, Panic in a Suitcase. I opened the novel expecting to read another version of the immigrant story of adjusting to life in the United States. This novel is that and so much more. Set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and Odessa, Akhtiorskaya uses carefully selected descriptive prose to make each setting come to life. Her character development displays all the richness and complexity of human behavior. I laughed often at the situations and foibles that she presents. She finds a way to present the strange dimensions of how individuals and families behave in relationships, and draw us into familiarity and differences. I was entertained throughout and impressed by the fine writing. Any reader who enjoys good writing will find something to enjoy in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Panic in a Suitcase from

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

Ted. For those people who absorb information more easily by reading versus listening, the folks who put on TED talks publish some of those in the form of short books. I read Pico Iyer’s book titled, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. Iyer explores the benefits of sitting still and doing nothing. We spend so much time connected, he relates how being unplugged can be delightful and beneficial. Most readers will be able to read his message in a single sitting. Then the challenge will be what to do next: something or nothing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Art of Stillness from