Friday, August 26, 2016


Clever. Who thought that a novel about a Wall Street and Washington conspiracy involving political fixing and easy treatment for executives during the financial crisis would be entertaining? I was thoroughly entertained by Michael Thomas’s novel titled, Fixers. Thomas is a former Lehman Brothers partner (way back) and he knows more than enough about finance and Wall Street to present lots of accurate information while not diminishing the entertainment value of the novel. He used great name changes, often humorous ones, to thinly disguise some individuals on whom certain characters were based. While the diary form of the prose can be tedious and a bit didactic, this led to more exposition than dialogue and worked fine for the author’s purposes. If you’re far enough past the financial crisis for you to imagine being entertained by events from that time, be sure to read this novel. Anyone still angry might be more enraged than entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fixers from

The Portable Veblen

Unconventional. I ended up enjoying the quirkiness of Elizabeth McKenzie’s novel titled, The Portable Veblen. Readers who enjoy the unconventional are those most likely to enjoy this novel. What might that mean? Well, if you consider talking to squirrels as unconventional, when that happens in the novel, you will not be surprised. There’s a large cast of oddball characters and interesting relationships. McKenzie’s prose is finely written, and her dialogue is always realistic. There’s an exploration of modern striving and consumption in this novel that adds pleasure for those readers who understand Veblen’s writing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Portable Veblen from

Fool Me Once

Twists. Some readers choose Summer as a time to indulge in guilty pleasures. For those who are overdue for a plot-heavy thriller packed with surprising twists, consider reading Harlan Coben’s novel titled, Fool Me Once. Chances are you’ll be fooled more than once. Guilt is one of the themes in this novel, and pleasure comes from the sheer joy of riding the plot waves wherever they went. By the time I finished the novel, my credulity was stretched to its limit, I was still waiting for more character development, and I remained totally entertained by a plot that keep wending and weaving. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fool Me Once from

Hunters in the Dark

Borders. Lawrence Osborne’s novel, Hunters in the Dark, takes readers across many different borders. Protagonist Robert Grieve is a disillusioned twenty-eight-year-old teacher from England, on the border between late adolescence and adulthood. His chosen profession is nothing like what he expected. He leaves Sussex on holiday for Thailand. Running out of money, he crosses the border in Cambodia where he thinks his funds will stretch further. He wins money at roulette, and what seemed like a path of decline and destruction seems to turn in his favor. Osborne keeps Grieve off balance, and the clouding of identity creates a new kind of border that needs to be crossed. Osborne’s descriptive language makes every scene come alive. If sunny days lead you to a dark novel, consider reading this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hunters in the Dark from


Spoiled. Have you ever had high expectations about a meal, and while eating, kept building the impression that those expectations would not be met? That’s how I felt while reading Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter, set mostly in a New York City high end restaurant. I read some reviews that raised my expectations, but as I read, I found the prose over-seasoned, the characters under-baked, and the action usually unappealing. On one level this is a coming of age story, involving naiveté and the chance to make many mistakes with drugs, drinking and sex. I just never cared enough about the protagonist to enjoy her experiences. Life is often sweet and bitter, but in this novel I kept thinking it was just all spoiled. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase Sweetbitter from

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Queue

Authority. The pain of living under political repression builds on every page of Abdel Aziz’ novel, The Queue. A populist uprising failed, and the authoritarian regime has installed a bureaucracy that presents citizens with the absurdity of their harsh reality. The pain Aziz describes is both physical and psychological. This examination of power and control contains deep insight and understanding. Readers looking to understand better our complex human condition, especially when under the stress of authoritarian rule, will find insights from this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Queue from

In Other Words

Creativity. Language, identity and culture are all elements that combine into making one feel at home. Our creative artists help us understand those elements, and Jhumpa Lahiri does that extremely well in her book titled, In Other Words. Raised speaking Bengali, Lahiri has won prestigious awards for her writing in English. Living in Italy, she chose to immerse herself in Italian, and wrote this book in Italian. She had someone else provide the English translation, which is side-by-side with the Italian in this book. Being in a new place can create feelings of exile, and for a creative writer, it is words that tie one to a place. Lahiri offers to all exiles a chance to reflect on the words in our lives and in this book she shares her love of languages in ways that any reader can appreciate. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In Other Words from

The Sellout

Re-segregation. After reading just a few pages of Paul Beatty’s novel, The Sellout, I knew I was reading something special, and I slowed down my reading pace to enjoy his satire. Beatty’s humor is well honed and his uses that along with superb writing skills to turn readers’ minds inside out. It’s tricky business to offer satire on race and identity in America, and Beatty navigates that landscape with dexterity. The narrator’s scheme to reinstate slavery and re-segregate schools is presented with such aplomb that I found myself absorbed in the community and aligned with the people in the fictional town of Dickens on the southern edge of Los Angeles. Readers who like satire and sharp humor are those most likely to enjoy reading this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Sellout from

The Last Mile

Persistence. David Baldacci reprises his serial character with perfect memory, Amos Decker, for a second novel titled, The Last Mile. Decker has joined a special FBI team and uses that opportunity to pursue a case that has similarities to his own life. Once on the case, Decker doesn’t give up, no matter what. Baldacci riffs on racism and power in this novel, while presenting a fast-paced plot to meet readers’ expectations. Decker’s character development goes deeper in this novel, and as a result what had been a freaky skill becomes a useful tool. With Decker on the case readers don’t need to remember every detail, we just need to relax and enjoy the story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Mile from

Mothering Sunday

Alive. Readers who enjoy finely written prose are those most likely to enjoy reading Graham Swift’s novel titled, Mothering Sunday. The descriptive language brings both the setting and emotions to life. One afternoon, Mothering Sunday 1924, changes protagonist Jane Fairchild’s life forever. This short novel explores what it means to be alive and Swift uses romance as the key to that question. Along the way, Swift explores class, gender, memory and sex. I was entertained and delighted from beginning to end. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Mothering Sunday from

Friday, August 19, 2016

How to Set a Fire and Why

Voice. I can’t get the voice of Lucia Stanton out of my head. This teenage protagonist in Jesse Ball’s novel, How to Set a Fire and Why, is smart, angry, trying hard to find her place in the world, and weighed down by personal loss. Ball’s prose develops this intelligent and complex character with care and precision through journal entries. There’s a place for each of us to fit into the world, and Lucia dreams of finding her place. Fans of literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Set a Fire and Why from

Even the Dead

Recovery. The seventh novel by John Rankin writing as Benjamin Black to feature Irish pathologic Quirke is titled, Even the Dead. The novel opens as Quirke continues his recuperation and recovery from brain injuries that he suffered in a brutal beating in the last novel. Quirke isn’t working, and he isn’t drinking. Within a few pages, he is drawn back to the morgue to examine a body. A large cast of characters, most familiar to fans from the earlier novels, provide Quirke with all the support and antagonism he needs for reengaging with the world, taking on the powers that be, and achieving justice. Quirke is a great character, and the writing in this series continues to be superb. Join the action here, or start from the beginning. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Even the Dead from

Orphan X

Weapon. Readers who love thrillers have a new protagonist to enjoy, Evan Smoak, introduced by Gregg Hurwitz in a novel titled, Orphan X. This first novel in a planned series lays a solid foundation with Evan’s backstory and presents non-stop thrilling action from beginning to end. Evan is Orphan X and also The Nowhere Man (the second novel in the series). As an adolescent orphan, Evan was trained to become a weapon: a government assassin with all the skills to complete assignments successfully and avoid detection. The Orphan Project, of which he was a part, trained others to serve the same purpose. Events cause Evan to go off the grid, and in this novel, his past catches up with him. I was entertained from beginning to end, and I look forward to reading the next installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Orphan X from

Night School

Deduction. Lee Child set his latest Jack Reacher novel titled, Night School, in 1996 when Reacher was in the Army. Fans of the series will be thrilled with this installment in which Reacher’s deductive skills soar, the adversaries are worthy, the action moves quickly, and medals are awarded. Reacher is a complex and interesting character, and while more recent novels have been set in his post-Army days, this novel remains true to the complexity of Reacher’s character while pulling us back to see his ways of conforming to Army discipline and breaking rules at the same time. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Night School from

Murder on Brittany Shores

Islands. The second novel in Jean-Luc Bannalec’s Commissaire Dupin series is titled, Murder on Brittany Shores. Dupin has been outsider enough in his transition from Paris to Breton, but the latest case takes him even further outside his comfort zone: the Glénan Islands, about ten miles off the Brittany coast. Bannalec describes this magical place with enough detail that a reader might smell and taste the sea and its bounty. In this area, time stands still, connecting past and present. When three bodies wash up on shore, Dupin arrives at what he thinks is the result of an accident. Readers ride the waves with Dupin as he unravels a complicated and satisfying case. I especially enjoyed this perspective from page 226: “Bretons had, Dupin found, a special relationship with time, with the past, even the far-distant past. Which above all meant: it didn’t exist for Bretons, the past. It had not passed. Nothing was past. Everything that there had been was also present and would stay that way forever. This didn’t reduce the significance of the present at all, on the contrary: it made it even greater.” Fans of crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Murder on Brittany Shores from

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fatal Pursuit

Bugatti. The latest Bruno, Chief of Police, novel by Martin Walker is titled, Fatal Pursuit. Set as always in the Dordogne town of St. Denis, a new element in this novel involves a car rally event for the annual fête, including a Bugatti. The familiar cast of people and animals and food return with different exposition and development of each. For a relaxing excursion to rural France with comfortable characters, consider reading this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fatal Pursuit from

The 14th Colony

Solo. Certain formulaic novels provide sufficient entertainment to overlook any flaws. Steve Berry continues his formulaic Cotton Malone series with a novel titled, The 14th Colony, and it maintains all the familiar tropes and flaws. I was mildly entertained by the blend of fact and fiction that Berry delights in writing, and strained again in my suspension of disbelief at the plot. The dominance of the big man theory of history seems to require Berry to have both President Daniels and Cotton Malone be so great at what they do, they are often the only ones who can do what needs to be done. My credulity was strained at many plot points in this novel when it made more sense for more participants to be involved in the action, instead of the heroic sole practitioner. Fans of heroic action novels are those most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The 14th Colony from

Last Words

Cave. There are several things I think Michael Koryta does so well in his novel, Last Words, to appeal to those readers who love suspense. Part of the novel takes place in a cavern in Indiana, and it is that place, what it means to several characters, and what happened in the past and the present, that provides the context for the plot, and Koryta describes that place to chilling effect. Second, the characters are complicated, interesting, and often troubled by life changing events. Finally, by use of a hypnotist as a key character, Koryta allows the effect of trance to confuse what is real and what may be imagined. The suspense involves a search for truth, and in a cave called Trapdoor, what could possibly go wrong? Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Last Words from

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

Reconciliation. If the world is getting you down, pick up the novel titled, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, by Alexander McCall Smith. After a few dozen pages, your heart rate and blood pressure will both be lower, and a smile may creep across your face. This novel is the sixteenth installment in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana and featuring Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi. There’s an interesting case, and several forms of reconciliation that occur through the course of these pages. Here’s one of my favorite quotes (p.43): “The trouble with the world today, she thought, was that people were not prepared to stand up to bad behavior. They looked away, they pretended they had not seen anything, and hardly anybody bothered to deal with badly behaved children, with the result that they could run wild, could go on the rampage unchecked.” After you finish the novel, refreshed, perhaps reconciled, you will be better prepared for whatever bad behavior is happening in your part of the world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine from

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty

Identity. Vendela Vida is a very clever writer, and her novel titled The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, is a creative exploration of the theme of identity. The setup is that a traveler arrives in a foreign country and loses identifying documents. Written in the second person singular, an unusual voice that kept my attention, the ability to slip into a different identity was handled by Vida with great skill. The title comes from a Rumi poem. Readers interested in novels that explore questions about who we are will find a lot to enjoy in this short and finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty from

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Black Widow

Saladin. The latest novel by Daniel Silva to feature art restorer and soon-to-be Mossad chief, Gabriel Allon, is titled, The Black Widow. Fans of the series will be delighted by the continued development of this complex protagonist, and will be thrilled that he is still in the field, not behind a desk. ISIS is the enemy Allon pursues in the form of an adversary called Saladin. Allon convinces a Jewish doctor, Leila Hadawi, to infiltrate ISIS, and he and others train her to pull off this feat. Much of the action in this novel takes place in the United States, which adds to the terror and tension that remain taut throughout this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Black Widow from

Cold Barrel Zero

Racing. It didn’t take many paragraphs in his novel titled, Cold Barrel Zero, for Matthew Quirk to get my heart racing. Fans of military thrillers will find plenty of black ops action in this novel. Readers who would like an escape from the terror reports almost every day should avoid this novel. Quirk masters plot momentum in this novel, presents interesting characters, and gives readers entertaining twists that will surprise many who are trying to figure out who are the enemies and who are the allies. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cold Barrel Zero from

The Vegetarian

Dreams. Han Kang’s novel, The Vegetarian, came to my attention after it won the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Having read the book, I now understand why this finely written novel won the prize. Protagonist Yeong-hye has been having dreams of violence and blood, and she attempts to cleanse herself by no longer eating meat. Her refusal to eat meat disrupts many of her relationships as her husband and other family members attempt to control her. Kang explores violence in this novel, from multiple perspectives, as well as the issues of power and control. The images that Kang offers are often disturbing and always powerful. This is an unusual and dark novel, very finely written, and packed with insights about the impact of dreams on reality. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Vegetarian from

The Excellent Lombards

Orchard. As I read Jane Hamilton’s novel, The Excellent Lombards, I felt like I was getting an inside view of two mysterious places: a Wisconsin farm and the mind of a young girl. Hamilton presents an enthusiastic protagonist, Mary Frances “Frankie” Lombard who loves the family orchard, and her extended family. Just as the apples go from blossom to fruit to harvest, Frankie goes from little girl to adolescent to adult. Calling this a coming-of-age novel may not communicate the quality and depth of the finely written prose. Hamilton brings readers to Wisconsin and welcomes us as members of this family, and that happens before we know it, thanks to her great writing skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Excellent Lombards from

Miller's Valley

Mimi. Book club members looking for a novel with a huge cast of characters, interesting family relationships and prose that describes the setting with clarity, should consider Anna Quindlen’s novel, Miller’s Valley. Quindlen presents the life of Mimi Miller, whose family has farmed on low lying ground in Pennsylvania for generations. The small town faces dramatic change as the valley will be flooded by the government after the land is taken by eminent domain. The joining of people and the places where we live can make for great reading, and Quindlen drew me into the lives of these people in this place. I was thoroughly entertained by all the ups and downs of their lives, and found Mimi to be the perfect protagonist for this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Miller’s Valley from