Thursday, March 24, 2016

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Instability. Matthew Desmond lived among the poor in Milwaukee as an ethnographer during 2008 and 2009. His book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, presents his observations about families and landlords from that time. By presenting the stories about people and their struggles, his puts a face on poverty that most readers will find disturbing. The frequency of eviction leads to great instability, and the cycle seems unrelenting. Desmond’s writing is powerful, and he draws readers into the decisions made by people in a context of multiple bad alternatives. Desmond also presents the perspective of landlords in a nonjudgmental way. Any reader with compassion for the poor or with an interest un public policy must read this book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Evicted from

The Light of the World: A Memoir

Beauty. I kept putting off my reading of Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir titled, The Light of the World. I knew it expressed this poet’s grief at the death of her artist husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus. This book is her wail, her lament and her tribute to Ficre. It is some of the finest writing I’ve read in decades, and I wish I hadn’t put off reading it. Here’s a sample (p. 178): ‘“Oh beauty, you are the light of the world!’ was the quotation we chose for the bench by the side of the grave, from a poem by Derek Walcott my teacher, whose words Ficre and I revered. The exaltation with which we met, and beauty itself, the things we both chased and tried to re-create in our work, that which lights the world and its darkness that he understood so well. The poem says it better than any scripture.” This is a memoir of beauty, both beauty as it is found around us, and beauty as it is created by the artist. Read this book: embrace the beauty. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Light of the World from

All Things Cease to Appear

Psychopath. Readers like me, who enjoy finely written literary fiction, may re-read many of the finely structured sentences in Elizabeth Brundage’s novel titled, All Things Cease to Appear. Based on the characters and plot, I encourage reading this novel on sunny days. One character is a psychopath, and Brundage develops him in ways that are both clever and creepy. Death stays present in the novel throughout all four hundred pages, always lurking in the foreground or background. Again, that was both clever and creepy. The relationships in the novel are complex, to say the least, and readers who like psychological novels will find a lot to enjoy in this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase All Things Cease to Appear from

The Ancient Minstrel

Appetite. Fans of novellas can find three finely written examples in the latest collection by Jim Harrison titled, The Ancient Minstrel. Readers familiar with Harrison’s work will be pleased that he continues to excel at exploring the range of our human appetite, especially for food and sex. In these novellas he explores our relationship with nature and with each other. My appetite was sated after reading each novella written by this excellent author. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Ancient Minstrel from

Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author

Masterful. If you only read one memoir this year, why not make it Herman Wouk’s fine book titled, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author? After all, the competition for centenarian memoirs is thin, and if you want to learn something about life, why not read the reflections of someone now in his eleventh decade of life and still sharp as a tack? The writing is masterful, and the experiences he relates are curated with great wisdom and wit. At about 160 pages, most readers can complete this memoir quickly. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Sailor and Fiddler from

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Sidelined. I’ve not seen the movie adapted from the book by Jean Marie Laskas titled, Concussion, but I can comment on the book which I highly recommend. Laskas presents the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist, who dissected the brain of a fifty-year-old former NFL Hall of Fame player, Mike Webster. Omalu found proof of mental deterioration caused by concussions, a condition widely known today as CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Omalu’s findings led the NFL to marginalize and sideline him in an effort to avoid dealing with the problem. Omalu is an engaging and talented individual and thanks to Laskas, his work and his passion have been presented to the world. I was immersed in this book from beginning to end, anxious to find out what would happen next. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Concussion from

The Drowned Boy

Willful. Karin Fossum’s recurring detective, Inspector Konrad Sejer, proceeds at a slower than usual pace in the eleventh installment of this series, The Drowned Boy. The title refers to sixteen-month-old Tommy Brandt who has drowned in what appears to be a tragic accident in a pond near his home. Sejer conducts his methodical investigation and readers are drawn into a psychological exploration of multiple characters, especially Tommy’s nineteen-year-old mother, Carmen, whose willful behavior catches Sejer’s close notice. The result is a very satisfying novel that can be read quickly by most readers and can provide insights into human nature to those readers who like to reflect on why we do what we do. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Drowned Boy from

The Pharaoh's Secret

Predictable. The eleventh formulaic installment in Clive Cussler’s NUMA series featuring heroic protagonist Kurt Austin is titled, The Pharaoh’s Secret. I’ve noticed that I pick up a predictable Cussler novel when I’m tired, and don’t need to think much while reading. As with the earlier Cussler novels, the heroes win, the bad guys lose, and the action entertains. Readers with clear expectations from this author are those who are most likely to enjoy this and any of the novels in the series. I’m pretty confident that I’ll continue to read novels in this series, and will delay opening them until my brain needs to relax. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Pharaoh’s Secret from

The Son

Intensity. I tend to defer my reading of Scandinavian crime fiction until winter. The atmosphere from the page to the mind seems best traveled on a cold cloudy day. Over the course of a few winter days, I had the pleasure of reading Jo Nesbo’s novel, The Son. The title refers to the protagonist, Sonny Lofthus, one of the most complex and interesting characters Nesbo has created. I found pleasure in reading these 400 intense pages in which Sonny leaves prison and dope addiction behind as he uses all his skills to avenge what happened to his deceased father. Crime fiction fans will find great plot, interesting characters, and even a love story. You may even enjoy reading it in Spring. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Son from

The Diamond Caper

Renovation. Peter Mayle continues his Caper series with another engaging novel titled, The Diamond Caper. A case involving stolen diamonds brings Elena back to Provence to investigate an insurance claim, and before long, she and Sam are reunited. Mayle’s recipe for reading pleasure works well in this novel: interesting characters, a colorful setting, and a plot that maintains interest. The added ingredient in this installment involves a house renovation that adds more than enough new excitement to satisfy most readers. Readers who like crime fiction are likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Diamond Caper from

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

Impact. Can you really read another book about tragedy in the Kennedy family? If so, be sure to read Kate Clifford Larson’s book titled, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter. Larson describes Rosemary Kennedy’s botched birth, her parents’ attempts to make her better, and finally the ways in which her life influenced other family members, especially her sister, Eunice, whose work with Special Olympics has done so much for people with mental disabilities. Thanks to this book, I was able to learn what an influence Rosemary had on channeling the work of so many Kennedy family members in this area. As a parent and grandparent, I cringed at the choices made by Rosemary’s parents, Joe and Rose Kennedy, with what may have been what they considered the best of intentions. Larson described another time and another era, but one with an impact on contemporary society. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rosemary from

Midnight Sun

Hideaway. I was delightfully surprised by Jo Nesbo’s novel titled, Midnight Sun. I expected a crime novel with a high gristle component, and was curious to find a love story and reflection about the problem of God. A good hearted criminal named both Jon and Ulf stole money from his crime boss in Oslo for a good purpose that didn’t work out. Jon fled to rural upper Norway where he finds a hideaway in a small village steeped in Sami culture and in the Laestadian religion. The pursuit to recover the crime boss’s money is expected, but the resolution was both surprising and pleasurable. Nesbo’s range increased quite a lot for me as I finished this novel, and I am looking forward to seeing an even wider range in his next works. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Midnight Sun from

Beneath the Bonfire

Twists. Readers who like short stories will find ten superb examples of the genre in a collection by Nickolas Butler titled, Beneath the Bonfire. Butler uses great efficiency to bring a setting to life, and then presents compelling and complex characters to populate the setting. Through the twists that come into every life, Butler draws readers into the lives of these people in ways that are wholly entertaining and interesting, no matter how similar or different the characters may appear to be. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beneath the Bonfire from

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

Aging. It’s been two decades since Bill Bryson’s hilarious book titled, Notes From a Small Island, about his life as an American living in England. Bryson is back two decades later with his current take on this experience in a book titled, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain. Bryson’s humor remains sharp, and part of the sojourn he describes has him return to places he hasn’t been to in a long time. His aging voice is a bit snarkier than the earlier book, but any reader who likes England and has a sense of humor will find something to like in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Road to Little Dribbling from

The Wolves

Hunting. The tenth John Wells novel by Alex Berenson is titled, The Wolves, and because of the political machinations throughout and the actions of a wealthy character that set up this plot from the previous novel, this may be the least appealing novel to read in a presidential election year. I read it just before Super Tuesday, and was thoroughly entertained. The manic John Wells from more recent novels seems more patient and measured in this installment. He may even be questioning whether he should continue the work he’s been doing. Fans will snap up this novel quickly. Any reader who likes thrillers will be entertained by most of these 400 pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wolves from