Friday, October 13, 2017

The Wake

Language. The first two times I picked up Paul Kingsnorth novel titled, The Wake, I just couldn’t get into. I’d go five or ten pages, and the language would drag me down. About a year after I thought I set the novel aside for good, I noted that it was the first in a trilogy, and the second installment was coming out. I bit the bullet, and entered the world of green men during the time of the Norman invasion, and settled into a barrage of Saxon fricatives and all manner of the patois of the eleventh century. I slogged my way through to the end, ready to read the second installment. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Wake from amazon.com.

Mr. Splitfoot

Dead. Lots of elements in Samantha Hunt’s novel titled, Mr. Splitfoot, will appeal to readers: orphans, a journey, talking to the dead, religious cults, and two alternating plot lines, one past and one present. Ruth is the protagonist of the historical line, and her niece, Cora, takes the lead in the current plot line. The two lines converge in interesting ways that will delight many readers. Hunt develops characters well, and her prose is finely written. If you like creepy books, consider reading this one. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Mr. Splitfoot from amazon.com.

You Should Have Left

Spooky. Most readers can complete reading Daniel Kehlmann’s novel titled, You Should Have Left, in a single sitting, unless it’s a dark Halloween night, and you’re a little spooked already, or if you are staying in an old house that makes a lot of sounds at night. Then, stop reading and wait for the light of day to finish this finely written story of a family spending seven days in a house rented online. As the title indicates, they have been warned away from this house, and as one would anticipate with horror tales, they do not listen. Don’t read alone. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Should Have Left from amazon.com.

Miss Burma

Ethnicity. Persecuted ethnic minorities suffer around the world today and this situation has a long history. In her finely written novel titled, Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig takes readers into Burma and to the troubles of an ethnic minority, the Karin. Set over the past seventy or so years, we live with one family from life in a British colony through Japanese occupation during World War II and a bloody civil war thereafter. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and poignant family sagas are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Miss Burma from amazon.com.

Forest Dark

Transcendent. Fans of finely written prose are those readers most likely to enjoy Nicole Krause’s novel titled, Forest Dark. Krause weaves two alternating stories featuring two protagonists: one a female writer, and the other a male millionaire. As with each of us, these characters are trying to find their place and purpose in life. Separately, they wind up in Israel, both staying at the Tel Aviv Hilton. Jules Epstein has been giving away his fortune and is becoming detached from his former life, transcending it for something else. The writer has a troubled marriage, and hasn’t been writing. She stumbles onto Kafka writings that had never been published. There’s a transcendental quality to Krause’s prose as she glides from one narrative to another, and as we glimpse into the ways in which these characters find their places in or outside of this world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Forest Dark from amazon.com.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Ninth Hour

Nuns. I challenge any reader of Alice McDermott’s novel titled, The Ninth Hour, to finish it and not love the nuns. Through tightly written lyrical prose, McDermott takes us into the world of Catholic Brooklyn in the early to mid-twentieth century. Like McDermott, I was born into that culture in the middle of the twentieth century and there were nuns everywhere. Don’t expect to find the cheery singing nuns from the movies in McDermott’s world. These are hard-working, pragmatic women who are wise to the ways of the world and the Church, and live close to poor people and care for them with deep love and practical action. McDermott wastes no words in capturing setting and character. Here’s one of my favorite sentences from p.26: “All joy was thin ice to Sister Lucy.” So much explained and understood in just eight words. The rest of the words in this novel are just as perfect as these eight. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Ninth Hour from amazon.com.

Sleeping Beauties

Enchantment. I surrendered a weekend’s reading to the 700 pages of a novel titled, Sleeping Beauties, co-written by father and son, Stephen and Owen King. The core setup is creative: all the women of the world have fallen asleep. What happens next through the King’s collaboration will entertain all fans of well-told stories: great characters, an exciting plot, and insight into the behavior of regular people just like us. There’s a battle of good and evil involving flawed heroes and virtuous villains. My interest in the story never flagged, and I enjoyed living in this story always anxious to find out what happens next. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Sleeping Beauties from amazon.com.

Another One Goes Tonight

Cunning. The sixteenth installment in the Detective Peter Diamond mystery series by Peter Lovesey is titled, Another One Goes Tonight. At this point in the series, surprises should be rare and some tedium is likely to set in. Instead, I was delightfully surprised by this mystery, and Diamond’s cunning was well-matched with that of a murderer. Mystery lovers who like a good puzzle in a novel with strong characters and an intricate plot are those most likely to enjoy this installment and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Another One Goes Tonight from amazon.com.

Shylock Is My Name

Heritage. The contribution of Howard Jacobson to the Hogarth Shakespeare Series is a contemporary take on The Merchant of Venice titled, Shylock Is My Name. Filled with wit and humor, Jacobson explores the issue of living as a Jew in the world today. Shylock’s conversations with his dead wife, Leah, are a highpoint in this book. His conversations with art collector Simon Strulovitch are philosophical and interesting. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Shylock Is My Name from amazon.com.

Magpie Murders

Homage. Fans of classic English crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy reading Anthony Horowitz’ novel titled, Magpie Murders. This fun read is structured as a book within a book, and in many ways, it is a homage to Agatha Christie and her contemporaries as well as to the English people and to their special interest in murder mysteries. Horowitz is clever and witty and respects the intelligence of the reader. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Magpie Murders from amazon.com.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

Pivot. Al Franken is funny again. Having worked hard to be a serious Senator for the people of Minnesota since 2009, he’s now able to place humor side by side with self-deprecation and serious topics in his memoir titled, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. I loved his description of how he struggled to learn the politician’s skill to pivot when asked a question. Franken says he was raised to answer questions asked of him. A politician has to reframe a question or answer the question one wants to answer by pivoting to an area of comfort that’s “on message.” This is a funny and smart book written with clarity and authenticity, and enough humor to bring every reader a laugh or a smile. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Al Franken Giant of the Senate from amazon.com.

Let the Dead Speak

Family. The seventh novel by Jane Casey to feature detective Maeve Kerrigan is titled, Let the Dead Speak. Fans of the series know we can count on Casey to provide unexpected plot twists and interesting characters. The bonds of family are twisted, tightened and frayed as Casey draws readers into a crime investigation and Maeve injects herself into the thick of things. Josh Derwent is also back, along with an up and comer rookie who adds a level of conflict. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Let the Dead Speak from amazon.com.

Found Audio

Dreams. Readers on the lookout for an odd or unusual work of fiction should consider N.J. Campbell’s short debut novel titled, Found Audio. Structured as the transcription of audiotapes, the novel allows readers to eavesdrop. The total experience, including the largest section, involves dreams and trying to separate reality from illusion. The mood is dreamy, packed with intrigue and mystery. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Found Audio from amazon.com.

The Answers

Questions. Spoiler alert on Catherine Lacey’s novel titled, The Answers: there are no answers. While not providing answers, Lacey does help with sorting out the important questions. Literary novels can help readers think about how we live in the world, and this satiric novel demands a lot of complicated thinking about that question. Protagonist Mary Parsons is sick and broke. A friend steers her to healing for her sickness, but the therapy comes with a high cost. The second job that Mary finds to keep her healthy leads her and readers down a rabbit hole of issues relating to identity and intimacy during a time of big data and income disparity. Lacey’s prose can shimmer and readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction that requires patience and attention are those most likely to appreciate this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Answers from amazon.com.

New Boy

Poison. The Hogarth Shakespeare installment that retells Othello is titled, New Boy, and is written by Tracy Chevalier. The action is set in the 1970’s, mostly in a Washington D.C. grade school playground. Chevalier pulls key elements from the tragedy, and condenses the story in ways that prove that the poison of manipulation and racism and sheer evil can find a place even in a playground. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase New Boy from amazon.com.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Column of FIre

Kingsbridge. I spent about ten glorious days reading the nine hundred pages of Ken Follett’s novel titled, A Column of Fire. Set mostly in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, the cathedral town that Follett built and developed in earlier novels, the action in the new novel takes place in Elizabethan times, and focuses on the turbulence of that period especially with religious persecution. The novel takes readers into the violence and turmoil of that time through the ups and downs in the life of protagonist Ned Willard and a wide cast of interesting characters, some fictional and others real. Follett shifts the action often to the continent or the high seas, covering all the main issues and conflicts of the 16th century, keeping readers anxious to find out what happens next. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase A Column of Fire from amazon.com.

The World of Tomorrow

Brothers. The action in Brendan Matthews debut novel titled, The World of Tomorrow, unfolds over one week in New York City in 1939. I often become impatient with novels over three hundred pages or so, and Matthews never once tested that patience as he kept me captivated for almost six hundred pages. Two brothers flee Ireland with stolen IRA funds, assume fake identities, and arrive in New York City spending the loot lavishly. Their brother, a talented jazz musician, was already in New York. Matthews led me to care deeply about these well-developed characters and a larger interesting cast, while he poked into issues of family relationships, race relations, political power, crime and the shadow of Hitler. The prose is finely written, the story captivating and the underlying human behavior resonant. This is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in years. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The World of Tomorrow from amazon.com.

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions

Politics. The third novel in the Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart is titled, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. Deputy Sheriff Constance Kopp has gotten a gold badge to signify her role, and she continues to listen to the concerns of the women under her custodial care. Many women have been sent to jail without good cause, and Constance fights for them in a variety of ways in this novel. Political machinations are afoot, and the Sheriff can’t run for another term. Stewart explores a variety of views about the behavior of young women, and sisters Constance and Norma face the need to update their views when their sister Fleurette joins a Vaudeville troupe. Stewart bases this series on the lives of real people, and she captures with great skill their experience and life in New Jersey in the early 20th century. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions from amazon.com.

Breaking Cover

Infiltration. Spy novel fans are those readers most likely to applaud the return of protagonist Liz Carlyle in the latest novel by former MI-5 head Stella Rimington titled, Breaking Cover. As with the earlier novels in this series, the characters are well-developed and the plot proceeds at a stately and engaging pace. In this installment, Liz gets information that certain undercover Russian spies in England post a clear and imminent risk to security. I was entertained and well-satisfied by this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Breaking Cover from amazon.com.

Beautiful Animals

Hydra. Using finely written prose, Lawrence Osborne thrilled me with the contrasts he draws in a novel titled, Beautiful Animals. The novel is set mostly during a summer on the Greek island, Hydra, and protagonist Naomi Codrington is both beautiful and animal. When she sets out do something she sees as good for a Syrian migrant, bad things follow. Under the brightness of the summer sun there is darkness. After developing a friendship with a young American girl named Sam, Naomi proceeds to manipulate her. The serpents on Hydra are humans, not snakes, and thanks to Osborne, we see the contrasts in a wide range of human behavior. Readers who like psychological thrillers especially when there’s a moral tilt, are those most likely to enjoy this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beautiful Animals from amazon.com.

Monday, September 25, 2017

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

Empathy. Readers looking for a few good ideas about improving communications are those most likely to enjoy reading Alan Alda’s book titled, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. Alda tells great stories in this book, including personal anecdotes to reinforce the different ways in which we can improve the ways in which we relate to others. The core idea involves empathy, and the different ways in which we can improve our skills at listening to others and seeing things from their point of view. Since this is Alan Alda after all, there’s ample humor in the book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If I Understood You from amazon.com.

The Heart's Invisible Furies

Adopted. The protagonist of John Boyne’s novel titled, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, is Cecil Avery, but as his adopted father always says, he’s not a real Avery. He is an Irish everyman for the sweeping period of the last sixty or seventy years. While there are some gimmicks and schmaltz over the almost six hundred pages of the novel, mostly in the form of chance encounters, the issues that Boyne presents about identity, friendship and family are dealt with through finely written prose. Boyne tells an absorbing story with great skill, using repartee in dialogue and humor that sits alongside tragedy as it does in every life. Every character is drawn with the depth of complexity that is true to life, although the women tend to be far more candid and honest than the men. Whether any part of your identity aligns with Cecil and the other characters, there is depth in this book about human nature and the power of love and redemption. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Heart’s Invisible Furies from amazon.com.

The Golden House

Current. There’s whimsy and wit throughout Salman Rushdie’s novel titled, The Golden House. Set from about 2009 to the present, the protagonist Nero Golden is a fascinating international wealthy character, and he, his wife, his three sons move to an exclusive enclave in New York City in grand style. Rushdie riffs on contemporary life on one page and explores the history of cinema on the next page. He makes the Goldens mysterious and then explains everything through their backstory. Along the way, the prose is beautiful, the humor entertaining, and the entertainment delightful. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Golden House from amazon.com.

Sulfur Springs

Arizona. The action in the sixteenth novel in the Cork O’Connor mystery series by William Kent Kruger moves from the familiar home base in Minnesota to rural Arizona. In the novel titled, Sulfur Springs, Cork and his new bride Rainy Bisonette fly in haste to Arizona after she receives a hard-to-interpret message from her son Peter about a murder. Fans of the series will enjoy the well-developed characters, great storytelling, and a good mystery. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sulfur Springs from amazon.com.

Stephen Florida

Winning. After I finished racing through Gabe Habash’s novel titled, Stephen Florida, the one word that came to mind was “wow.” The first-person narrator, Stephen, is a college wrestler and the novel is set mostly in the final season of senior year that culminates in a championship match. Habash’s finely written prose draws readers into the complicated and troubled mind of Stephen as he focuses obsessively on winning. What appears on one level to be a common coming of age story shifts to a study of a person’s descent into madness. At another level, it is a story of loneliness and love. On one level this is a character study of a loner; on another level, it as an exposition of the complexity and depth inside each of us. On one page Stephen is a jerk and on the next page Stephen is you and me. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Stephen Florida from amazon.com.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sourdough

Culture. Lots of readers will love the many things that Robin Sloan does so well in his novel titled, Sourdough. Techies will love protagonist Lois Clary, a software engineer specializing in robotics who is recruited from Detroit to San Francisco. Foodies will love the ways in which Lois becomes enamored by the mysteries of bread baking and what happens after she joins an elite farmers market. Bakers will recognize her relationship with the sourdough starter, the culture that she was given by two brothers who cooked great food and bread out of their apartment in her SF neighborhood. People who have moved from one part of the country to another will love the experience of Lois as she finds her place in a new setting. The Lois club introduces her to other women named Lois which was a great laugh. By assembling all those ingredients together, Sloan makes readers care about Lois, about good bread, and about all that it takes to maintain culture in its many forms. This reader loved the fine prose, creative plot and engaging characters. After reading it, I bought some fresh bread at the farmers market. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Sourdough from amazon.com.

The Burning Girl

Friendship. Some long-term friendships endure and others dissolve. Claire Messud explores the friendship between Julia and Cassie in a novel titled, The Burning Girl. Following a summer during which the adolescent girls were inseparable, they return to school and drift apart. Using finely written prose, vividly descriptive language and mood setting narrative, Messud explores this change and the ways in which secrets and what is not known can be what is essential. The novel explores alienation and does so with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Burning Girl from amazon.com.

Unraveling Oliver

Evil. The debut novel by Liz Nugent titled, Unraveling Oliver, presents multiple narrators helping us understand protagonist Oliver Ryan, and what led him to do what he did. From each narrator we learn a point of view about Oliver, and receive a building block relating to understanding this person. We learn about him being unwanted as a child, feeling envy, and mastering the arts of deception and manipulation. The psychological profile that Nugent assembles comes to define her view on the nature of evil. The structure and prose are finely developed in this promising author’s debut novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Unraveling Oliver from amazon.com.

Charlatans

Fake. The protagonist of Robin Cook’s novel, Charlatans, is one of those characters to whom readers want to shout some warning as he is about to do something stupid again. Noah Rothauser may be a smart chief resident but he become clueless and gullible so often, it became something of a distraction to the thrilling plot of the novel. As the title indicates, Cook is exploring fakery in this novel, and he does this in ways that seem pulled from the headlines. This is a quick novel to read, and it will entertain those readers who like thrillers and can overlook some problems in plot and character development. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Charlatans from amazon.com.

The Reason You're Alive

Portrait. Far along in Matthew Quick’s novel titled, The Reason You’re Alive, readers learn that the title of the book is also the title of a painting. By the time we learn that fact, we’ve come to know protagonist David Granger quite well. This sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam vet becomes obsessed with finding a Native American soldier from his past. Granger is struggling with the meaning of his life, and trying to understand why the country he loves has changed so much. The novel is a portrait of a person and of our society. Quick explores the ways in which it becomes necessary to reconcile ourselves with the past and let go of burdens that have been carried far too long. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Reason You’re Alive from amazon.com.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Glass Houses

Conscience. There are loads of reasons why I loved reading, Glass Houses, the 13th installment in the series by Louis Penny featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. For fans of the series, spending time with the familiar cast of complex characters is always a pleasure, and in this novel, all the familiar ones are back and Penny adds to the depth of development of almost each one. Gamache, in particular, is a well-developed character already, and in this installment, he grapples with a serious matter of conscience that leads him to take actions that involve great risks to him professionally and personally. The structure of the novel, moving forward and backward in time, added to the tension and helped exposition. Gamache’s ability to influence others with his views, especially when they entail taking great risks while being patient, is on full display in this novel. The dramatic action in Three Pines, Quebec will thrill every reader. I highly recommend this novel and this series. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Glass Houses from amazon.com.

Ghosts of Havana

Treasure. For some reason, I let the third novel by Todd Moss featuring Judd Ryker to sit in queue for almost a year. This action thriller titled, Ghosts of Havana, focuses on manipulation and the compartmentalization of information and action. There are lies at the core of the novel, and some of them are between Judd and his wife, Jessica. Readers who enjoy action thrillers will read this novel quickly and find a lot to enjoy. While I’m sorry to have postponed my pleasure in reading this novel, the time to the fourth installment will now be briefer than usual. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ghosts of Havana from amazon.com.

Eggshells

Lists. The debut novel by Caitriona Lally is titled, Eggshells. Protagonist Vivian falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, and her quirky and unexpected interactions with others provide the plot lines for the novel. In Lally’s capable hands, Vivian becomes an interesting and complex character, and many readers will be moved and charmed by Vivian. The humor can become contagious, especially if there’s someone like Vivian in your life. I loved the lists that Vivian made throughout the novel. Through Vivian’s eyes we can see the world in new ways that are amazing, delightful and alive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Eggshells from amazon.com.

The Emerald Lie

Grammar. Fans of Ken Bruen’s series featuring Galway private investigator Jack Taylor are those readers most likely to enjoy the 12th installment titled, The Emerald Lie. Bruen continues to develop the depth of character of troubled Jack Taylor, and reprises both DS Ridge from earlier novels and Emily from the last installment. While Jack spends his time brooding, reading books, listening to music and drinking, a serial killer has been slaying people for incorrect grammatical usage. Hypocrisy is in Bruen’s crosshairs in this novel, and he targets both the Irish government and the Church. Along the way, there’s fine writing, great characters, puzzles and an undertone of weariness as Jack is beaten down both physically and emotionally. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Emerald Lie from amazon.com.

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

Timing. It was a strange coincidence that I finished reading Joshua Green’s book titled, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, on the day Steve Bannon was fired from his job at the White House. Journalist Green tells a lively story in this book, and thanks to reading it, I was not at all surprised at Bannon’s brief tenure working inside the Trump administration. Readers with a strong interest in politics are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Devil’s Bargain from amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Locals

Power. Sometimes a novelist will just hold a mirror to the way we live now, and on the pages of a book we can see our lives play out. Jonathan Dee’s novel, The Locals, describes post-9/11 life in a small New England town. The power dynamics in the town of Howland, Massachusetts shift after a wealthy New Yorker moves to his summer home in the Berkshires after 9/11 and becomes First Selectman of Howland. He begins to lower taxes for the property owners of the town through paying for services out of his own pocket. Dee describes the cycle of boom to bust, and the foibles of our self-interest turning into selfishness and social unrest. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Locals from amazon.com.

One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries

Divided. I learned more about gold than I ever wanted to know when I read James Ledbetter’s book titled, One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries. If you’ve heard about the gold standard, and wonder what that is all about, you’ll learn about that and more in this book. There’s been a strong interest in gold throughout history, our American experience with gold has been fascinating, and Ledbetter tells that story in this book. We are as divided about gold as we are on many other issues, and Ledbetter highlights that part of the story as well, both past and present divisions. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase One Nation Under Gold from amazon.com.

The Lying Game

Truth. By midway through reading Ruth Ware’s psychological crime novel titled, The Lying Game, I was imagining the scenes with such vivid detail that I could have been watching the movie. During one formative year together at boarding school, four girls formed a clique and enjoyed an adolescent diversion that was based on lying. Ruth Ware draws us forward and backward in time as she lays out clues about the truth of what really happened at school. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lying Game from amazon.com.

Deadfall

Recovery. Linda Fairstein picks up the 19th Alexandra Cooper crime novel titled, Deadfall, where the last novel left off. Alex has been on leave, recovering from trauma, and hasn’t quite returned to her old self. She’s drinking too much, and relies heavily on Mike Chapman to see her through this recovery. A dramatic murder opens this novel, and Alex was next to the victim when it happened. Fairstein takes readers into the Bronx Zoo and the nearby railyards as this installment’s lessons about New York City. As always, the crime is interesting, the characters familiar, and the resolution dramatic, leaving readers anxiously awaiting another installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Deadfall from amazon.com.

Less

Fifty. The two hundred and seventy-two pages of Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, Less, move quickly, delivering pleasure to readers on every page. Progatonist Arthur Less is about to turn fifty years old, and he decides to leave the country rather than face this milestone at the same time that his former lover is getting married. Greer’s prose draws us into a deep understanding of Arthur Less, and presents us with a smartly-written, well-told love story. There’s more to Less than first appears. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Less from amazon.com.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ties

Betrayal. If you think there’s nothing new to read in a novel about marriage and family, you should read Domenico Starnone’s novel titled, Ties. Translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, this novel draws readers into the long marriage of Vanda and Aldo, at two critical times. Twelve years after their 1962 marriage, following the birth of two children, Aldo has an affair with Lidia and leaves Vanda for eight years. Starnone opens the novel with Vanda’s reaction to this betrayal. A large middle section picks up decades later following their reconciliation, and the end of the novel features the couple’s middle-aged children and the impact of the long-ago separation on their lives. I can’t comment on the prose in the original Italian, but Lahiri’s English translation was finely written and I enjoyed every page of this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Ties from amazon.com.

Dead on Arrival

Pause. Take a pause from whatever tech diversion has grabbed your attention and read Matt Richtel’s thriller novel titled, Dead on Arrival. I guarantee that you’ll approach your diversions with a little more attention from now on. Richtel uses a great structure and plot to bring readers forward and backward in time as he scares readers about the perils of technology as our devices have become the path of least resistance as we escape and disengage. A Google engineer has found a way to slow the world down to allow for a rebooting of humanity, a big pause. What could possibly go wrong? I needed to read a thriller like this before the end of summer, and I was thoroughly entertained. Readers who love the storytelling of a thrilling novel are those most likely to enjoy reading this one. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Dead on Arrival from amazon.com.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Healing. I found myself enchanted while reading Gail Honeyman’s debut novel titled, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Some novels present characters with whom we readily identify. Protagonist Eleanor Oliphant seems to be unlike most of us as the plot begins. She is obviously troubled and quirky, alienated and lonely. We learn about her gradually, and about the formative experiences of her past that require healing. Through friendship, therapy and relationships, Eleanor becomes completely fine, and this reader and others are all the better from spending time with this great character who separates what’s important from the rest. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine from amazon.com.

The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives

Impunity. I admit that there is no current shortage of things that trigger one’s outrage, and looking for fresh trouble seems foolish. That said, many citizens remain outraged and confused about the lack of personal accountability on the part of individuals whose actions led to or deepened the great financial crisis of our time. Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Jesse Eisinger explores that subject in his book titled, The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives. Eisinger provides context, stories and depth about the corrosion of our justice system and the ways in which the current environment provides broad impunity for executives whose wrongdoing led to bad outcomes. My outrage was on a simmer on this subject for long time. Thanks to Eisinger, it reached a boiling point. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Chickenshit Club from amazon.com.

Mrs. Fletcher

Transitions. John Updike might be a bit shocked about the changes in his suburbs over the last half century. Eve Fletcher, a forty-six-year-old divorcee, is the protagonist of Tom Perrotta’s novel titled, Mrs. Fletcher. Her son, Brendan, has headed off to college for his own major transition, and Eve is sorting out what’s next for her. She takes a course at the local community college on Gender and Society that’s taught by a woman who was born male. Eve settles into a habit of exploring pornography, exploring the situation of MILFs like herself. Perrotta uses the empty suburban nest as a way to explore modern life and the ways in which Eve and Brendan are trying to navigate ways to live in our society. I found the characters and plot sweet, funny and enjoyable. This novel won’t be the first selection of a church-sponsored book group, but over a few glasses a wine with a secular suburban cohort of a certain age, peals of laughter are sure to be frequent and sustained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mrs. Fletcher from amazon.com.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Die of Shame

Group. What happens in group therapy stays in group therapy. In his novel titled, Die of Shame, Mark Billingham presents readers with six characters who meet for a weekly group session focused on shame. The members of the group have a history of addiction of one sort or another, and few readers will find any of them appealing or attractive. One member of the group is murdered, and it seems likely that the culprit is a member of the group. But who? Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner has to answer that question and get what she needs to know from people who are ashamed, have secrets, and would prefer lies to the truth. Tanner is the most interesting character of all, and fans of crime fiction will find her approach entertaining. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Die of Shame from amazon.com.

Knife Creek

Feral. The eighth novel by Paul Doiron featuring protagonist Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is titled, Knife Creek. While Mike is assigned to kill feral hogs that have crossed into Maine from New Hampshire, he finds a dead baby in a shallow grave. The case gets more interesting with every page, and Mike finds himself in peril as he carries out his investigation. Fans will enjoy the return of a familiar cast of interesting characters, and new readers will find well-written and entertaining crime fiction that has lots of plot twists and surprises. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Knife Creek from amazon.com.

The Late Show

Indomitable. Fans of Michael Connelly who wish he would stick to Harry Bosch novels are likely to come around after meeting a great female protagonist in his latest novel titled, The Late Show. Renee Ballard is a LAPD detective who works the night shift, known as the late show. She ended up on that beat after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against another detective. As the plot of this novel develops, readers enter into Ballard’s character: grit and determination to never give in or give up when she knows what is right. Ballard is complex, interesting and quirky, and most readers will want many more books featuring this great character. I was highly entertained by the opener. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Late Show from amazon.com.

The Accomplished Guest

Variety. I love the variety in the thirteen short stories in a collection by Ann Beattie titled, The Accomplished Guest. The title is from an Emily Dickinson poem. The stories are set mostly in Maine and Key West, places Beattie knows well. In many of the stories there are visits and guests, celebrations that develop in ways that are unexpected. Beattie draws us into lives that seem disconnected and suffering from loss. Over the course of a few pages, Beattie makes us reflect about aging, friendship, connections, and the way life turns us this way and that as we muddle our way along. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Accomplished Guest from amazon.com.

Lockdown

School. Prolific novelist Laurie R. King offers readers a tense suspense novel titled, Lockdown. Set mostly at Guadalupe Middle School on career day, King uses multiple narrators to increase and release tension and to keep twisting the plot in unexpected ways. There’s a large cast of characters, and flashbacks to fill in some gaps. It becomes clear early on, for some even from the title, that there will be a shooting at the school. The entertainment comes from guessing who will do what as the plot unfolds. Readers who like complicated suspense novels are those most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lockdown from amazon.com.