Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Terranauts

Ecosphere. Frequent readers of the fine literary fiction by T.C. Boyle are those most likely to enjoy his novel titled, The Terranauts. As Boyle has done in earlier novels, in this book he places fully developed complex characters in closely confined situations and lets them reveal the full range of human behavior. The confinement plot for this novel involves Ecosphere 2, a three-acre sealed biosphere assembled in the Arizona desert in which four men and four women are living for two years under the watchful eyes of mission control. Boyle studied the reports of Biosphere 2, the closed system experiment in the early 1990s, and incorporated many elements of the actual experiment in his novel. The prose is exquisite, both in its descriptive language, perfect word choice, and lively dialogue. The depth of insight here into human nature will delight many readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Terranauts from

The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense

Words. I laughed very often while reading The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense by Daniel Menaker, and laughed again while viewing Roz Chast’s illustrations for the book. Linguistic errors give editors plenty of work to do, and a respite from that chore can be the delight found in the error that works. Any reader who loves words, especially the carefully chosen perfect ones, will find dozens of new darlings to love in this book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The African Svelte from

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Heir. I raced through the four hundred pages of the 19th Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly titled, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. The plot alternates between two story lines. In one line, Harry is working as a private detective and has been retained by a billionaire to find an heir. In another line, Harry’s part-time work as an unpaid detective for the San Fernando PD uses all his skills to track down a serial rapist. Connelly continues to develop Harry and uses this novel to connect the Bosch of today back to his experiences in Vietnam. Both plot lines were entertaining and the mature Bosch gets better with every installment. Fans will be thrilled with the latest novel, and any new reader can start here and find a whole new series to love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wrong Side of Goodbye from

The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear

Campaign. Whether your candidate won or lost the 2016 presidential election doesn’t matter one way or the other when you read Stuart Stevens’ satirical novel titled, The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear. For some readers, politics may be the last topic for a book to consider picking up, especially fiction. Brave readers with an appetite for political humor are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this novel. I loved the dialogue, the colorful characters and the lengths to which those characters would go to win a political campaign. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear from

The Shattered Tree

Recuperation. The eighth novel in the Bess Crawford mystery series by Charles Todd is titled, The Shattered Tree. Set in 1918, Bess is wounded while tending to soldiers on a battlefield in France. She is sent to Paris to recuperate. Instead of resting, Bess investigates something that has been bugging her since shortly before her injury. An officer arrived on a stretcher at her aid station, exhausted and with multiple wounds, wearing a tattered French uniform. When he talked in his sleep, the language he spoke was German. With the help of an American officer in Paris, Bess tries to find the mysterious wounded officer to find out his story and if he might be a spy. Fans of historical mystery novels and of this series are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Shattered Tree from

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Razor Girl

Escapades. We live in an age of specialization. Carl Hiaasen’s specializes in outlandish humor set in Florida. In his new novel titled, Razor Girl, protagonist Merry Mansfield has a specialty as well: her expertise is the unique way in which she performs a car crash scam using a razor. As in earlier novels, Hiaasen packs the action with hilarious escapades by a large cast of unusual characters. Even the huge rats are funny in this novel. Every character seems to specialize in trying to get something, and over the course of the novel, each one gets what he or she deserves. Readers who are looking for something to read with offbeat and ribald humor are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Razor Girl from


Obsession. Beware of first impressions when reading Teddy Wayne’s novel titled, Loner. Narrator and protagonist David Federman introduces himself to readers as a gifted outsider on the brink of becoming accepted by his peers at Harvard. Over the course of just over two hundred pages, Wayne takes us inside David’s mind as his infatuation with another student becomes an obsession. Privilege, class, gender, alienation and inclusion are all explored with great skill and nuance. Readers who enjoy well-written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Loner from

The World According to Star Wars

Fanboy. I imagine that Cass Sunstein had a lot of fun writing The World According to Star Wars. An unabashed Star Wars fanboy, Sunstein is better known as a Harvard law school professor. With enthusiastic glee, Sunstein shares his love of Star Wars with readers in areas that resonate for him, including: law, economics, fatherhood and childhood. He prods readers into viewing the movies again, even the ones we didn’t like the first time around. His enthusiasm is contagious, but another dozen or two pages might have crossed the line for me. Readers looking for something light and fun to read should consider this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The World According to Star Wars from

The Argonauts

Voice. The voice of Maggie Nelson is not one that I feel that I’ve heard before from other writers. In her book titled, The Argonauts, she takes a critical look at marriage, gender and child-rearing, while reflecting on these and others issues as they have played out in her own life. This blend of memoir and criticism, combined with her writing skill and thoughtfulness, offer readers a unique voice and insight into issues and a personality that may be different from one’s own experiences. The time I spent reading this short book led me to think about issues and people in new ways. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Argonauts from

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Friendship. I knew that I would have to start reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels from the beginning, so I procrastinated. I kept hearing about how good these novels are, so I finally got underway, and finished the first three over the course of a few weeks. I highly recommend this third installment titled, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, as well as the other three novels that complete the series about the friendship between two fascinating female characters. In this installment, set in the 1970s, the friends are no longer girls and adolescents, and as women they are taking different paths in life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Those Who Leave from

The Whistler

Judge. There may be very few corrupt judges in the United States, but the one John Grisham presents in his novel titled, The Whistler, is a doozie. I found a lot to like in this novel: interesting characters, a complicated and fast-paced plot, and minimal moralizing by Grisham. Readers who like a good story that features a battle between the good guys and the bad guys are those most likely to enjoy reading this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Whistler from


Resolution. Longtime readers of Harlan Coben novels will be pleased with the return of recurring character Myron Bolitar in a novel titled, Home. The thrilling pace of the novel starts on the first page and remains taut until resolution comes four hundred pages later. Two boys went missing a decade ago, and the novel explores what happened back then, and what needs to happen now to bring the boys home. Readers who love thrillers, especially those with well-developed characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Home from

Pretty Girls

Psychopath. Some crime novels should come with trigger warnings. The brutality toward women in Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter may overpower some readers. So why read a novel like this? Slaughter tells a great story that will engage most readers from beginning to end. Her character development is terrific, especially when it comes to the profile of a psychopath. You may be disturbed or shocked or sickened by parts of this book, but chances are you will be held captive to the story until the end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Pretty Girls from

Blood on Snow

Cold. Fans of Jo Nesbo’s crime novels may miss protagonist Harry Hole in the stand alone novella titled, Blood on Snow, but those who like Nesbo’s depth of character development will love the narrator, assassin Olav Johansen. Olav works for crime boss Daniel Hoffman, a cold and ruthless character. After finishing one assignment, Olav is placed in personal jeopardy by the next case he’s assigned by Hoffman. Nesbo handles the tension expertly, and many readers who like crime fiction will enjoy this short novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Blood on Snow from

Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes

Youth. Some readers clamor for more works by a beloved author, and publishers will often reissue early works to meet that demand. In the case of Per Petterson’s short story collection titled, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes: Stories, this is a first English translation of a debut collection published in Norway in 1987. Petterson unveils the complex thoughts of a ten-year-old boy with all the delight and confusion and freshness of youth. I enjoyed each of the ten stories and expect that readers who enjoy both Petterson and the short story genre will find a lot to enjoy from these pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ashes in My Mouth from

Friday, November 18, 2016


Darkness. I let Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel, Eileen, sit in my reading queue for a long time. I heard it was a dark story, and I kept choosing other things to read, especially on cloudy days. Once I started reading the novel, I gave myself over to Moshfegh’s great talent, and I was impressed and delighted by the fine writing and great skill in presenting a memorable character in her 70s reflecting on formative events fifty years earlier. Readers are drawn into Eileen’s mind. The descriptions of Eileen’s life with her alcoholic father were very hard to read. There’s a twist that surprised me and pushed the novel to a higher plane. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it. Fans of finely written literary fiction, especially those with a high tolerance for reading about abuse are those most likely to appreciate this outstanding novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Eileen from

Lady Cop Makes Trouble

Spunky. The last thing I needed in my reading life was to fall in love with another detective protagonist. I loved protagonist Constance Kopp in Amy Stewart’s second novel in the Kopp Sisters series titled, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. The novel is set in New Jersey and New York City in 1915, and you may guess from the title that Constance is the lady cop who makes trouble. Characters, plot, setting and dialogue all combine to provide readers who like crime fiction with good entertainment. I may have to keep reading this series now that I’ve fallen in love with Constance Kopp. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lady Cop Makes Trouble from

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Keys. There are nine stores in the collection by Helen Oyeyemi titled, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Readers who love literary fiction, especially short stories, are those most likely to appreciate each finely written story in this collection. Oyeyemi structures the stories with great skill, and uses many different forms of keys to unlock the essence of the story from the inside and the outside. I paced myself in reading these stories over several weeks, and I savored each one. Oyeyemi uses great efficiency in drawing readers into the setting, the progression of the plot and in developing complex characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase What Is Not Yours from

The Last Days of New Paris

Surreal. I’m as prepared as the next guy to suspend my disbelief willingly when reading fiction. China Mieville tested my willingness severely in his novel titled, The Last Days of New Paris. Mieville sets the novel in Paris during and after World War II, and in his alternative reality, the Nazis are fighting Surrealist phantoms. Some of the demons seem to be real ones straight from hell. Perhaps because I don’t care for surrealism in two dimensions, I can’t appreciate the art when presented in three dimensions. I stuck to the end of this novel for two reasons: it’s brief and I was impressed by the creativity and interesting writing. Readers with a greater appreciation of art than mine are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Last Days of New Paris from


Prison. I was delighted when reading Margaret Atwood’s take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest titled, Hag-Seed. Every few pages I kept thinking about how clever she was and how her structure and prose were perfect. Atwood’s Prospero is a theater director who was forced out of his job. He rebounds by assuming a pseudonym and working in a literacy program at a local prison. Atwood gives just the right homage to the play and makes the story her own in ways that entertained me greatly. Readers who enjoy finely written fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Hag-seed from

Saturday, November 5, 2016

True Grift

Schemes. While I read Jack Bunker’s debut novel titled, True Grift, I kept thinking that the characters were like those in Carl Hiaasen’s Florida novels only relocated to California. A bankrupt shady lawyer meets an insurance company employee at a golf club, and they concoct a scheme to defraud the insurance company. What could possibly go wrong, especially when they use the hapless workers at the golf club to enact the scheme, and then borrow some money from a mob loan shark at the club? I found the implausible story hilarious, the characters zany, and the novel wildly entertaining. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase True Grift from

Before the Fall

Mortality. Readers who enjoy thrillers with fast paced action and plenty of visual imagery to bring every scene to life are those most likely to enjoy reading Noah Hawley’s novel titled, Before the Fall. The action begins with a dramatic crash of a small plane, and the heroic action of protagonist Scott Burroughs to swim a long distance with a four-year old passenger, saving their lives. Scott is a painter whose presence on the plane was a fluke. The backstory of the other passengers made for interesting exposition, and including a larger than life cable news personality added to the dramatic tension. Hawley also uses the story as a way to reflect on mortality, and I thought the title could also refer to life in the Garden of Eden. Wealthy people, shady dealings, 24-hour news, and a mystery of why the plane crashed combine to produce an exciting story that’s quick to read. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Before the Fall from

Pierced by the Sun

Redemption. Readers looking for a short and quirky novel of hope and redemption should consider reading Laura Esquivel’s novel titled, Pierced by the Sun. We get to know about protagonist Lupita in chapters telling us something interesting about her. Esquivel presents Lupita in many dimensions: past struggles and current challenges. The setting also provides a context to think about the struggles of Mexico and its people, also in need of hope and redemption. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Pierced by the Sun from

Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Reality. I had fun reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Jane Austen update titled, Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennet family live in a big old neglected house in Cincinnati. Liz is a magazine writer living in New York City. Chip Bingley is a Cincinnati physician who had appeared on a bachelor reality television show named Eligible, and his claim to fame is that he rejected all potential mates. Mr. Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Sittenfeld loves Austen enough to be true to the core of the original, and is clever enough to make her retelling seem fresh and new. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, if you like a good story that’s well-written, consider spending a few fun hours reading this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Eligible from

Front Runner

Greed. Protagonist and British Racing Authority investigator Jeff Hinkley is back in another mystery novel by Felix Francis titled, Front Runner. The plot gets underway swiftly when a successful jockey wants to discuss with Jeff the touchy matter of losing races deliberately. Before long, Jeff’s life is in jeopardy as he tries to probe what some greedy individuals might be doing to harm horseracing. Fans of the Francis family franchise of novels involving horseracing are those most likely to enjoy this novel and others in the series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Front Runner from