Saturday, August 12, 2017
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Golden Hill. Set in New York City in 1746, the action begins when a stranger gets off the boat from England. Protagonist Richard Smith presents a note to a merchant that requires paying a fortune, 1,000 pounds, to Smith. The merchant suspects a con, delays payment, and Smith finds himself well-known in the city almost overnight. Spufford keeps readers guessing about Smith’s legitimacy and the finely written descriptive prose makes NYC of the mid-eighteenth century come alive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Golden Hill from amazon.com.
The Switch, delivered great amusement to this reader. When smart people do stupid things, I am never surprised and often amused. Protagonist Michael Tanner picks up the wrong laptop at security and takes every possible action that did nothing to rectify the error. The owner of the laptop he took is a United States Senator, and she and her staff also did everything in such a bumbling manner that created all the thrilling tension in the novel. I wanted to yell at several characters to do the simple thing, not the bumbling thing. Readers with high tolerance for implausible plot lines are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel, as are those readers, like me, who enjoy a laugh even from a thriller. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Switch from amazon.com.
The Dark Flood Rises. As the end of a normal lifespan comes closer to one, like a flood water rising slowly, standing still is not usually an option. Protagonist Francesca Stubbs rarely stands still, and through her we are introduced to an ensemble cast of elderly people and those who care for them. For a group on the Canary Islands, the flood also involves the migrants finding a place to survive. Drabble leads readers through a meandering plot dealing a lot with the places where we end up dying. Readers with the patience needed whenever one spends time with the elderly are those who are likely to be rewarded with finely written prose and wise perspectives about the end of life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dark Flood Rises from amazon.com.
Security. Manderley Resort is a newly built hotel with state-of-the-art security preparing for its grand opening. Wohlsdorf brings readers into the resort through the security cameras and multiple narrators. I enjoyed the structure and some of the character development. What overwhelmed me was the sheer amount of violence and gore. While I stuck with the novel until the end, the blood and guts became too much for me and I can’t recommend this novel to any reader with low tolerance for violence. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase Security from amazon.com.
Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, was like receiving a kind and unexpected gift. Much of mercy involves letting go and most readers of this book will let go of something, especially something causing pain to self or others, after reading it. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hallelujah Anyway from amazon.com.
Friday, August 4, 2017
On Turpentine Lane, choose a weekend, the beach or a vacation flight as the best time and setting. This romantic situation comedy could fall flat if read on the way to and from work, for example, or just before falling asleep. If you’re truly in vacation mode, chances are you’ll laugh as much as I did as protagonist Faith Frankel finds a house on Turpentine Lane, and then finds love. Lipman presents an interesting cast of characters, and situations that are close to laugh-out-loud funny. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase On Turpentine Lane from amazon.com.
Nighthawk, the latest novel in this series. An advanced aircraft vanishes, and NUMA is on the search, not knowing much about the dangerous cargo onboard and the efforts of Russia and China to beat the US to finding the plane. The plot tension carries this novel along, and the full cast of characters adds to the overall spectacle. This novel provides reliable entertainment that should align with the expectations of readers of this series. Novels like this remind me of potato chips: you usually get exactly what you buy: salt, fat, crunch. This is not a gourmet meal; it’s a reliable snack. Dig in if it matches your appetite. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nighthawk from amazon.com.
A Single Spy. There have been plenty of great espionage novels, and would there be anything fresh in yet one more set during World War II? In a word: absolutely. Christie gives readers an interesting and complex character in an orphan, Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnov. Filled with raw intelligence, this resourceful young man finds ways to survive against all odds throughout the novel. The action is set in Russia, Germany and England. I was thoroughly entertained by the classic espionage plot and delighted by the character Alexsi whose exploits, risk taking and changing allegiances were exciting. Readers who enjoy character driven fiction, especially spy novels, are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase A Single Spy from amazon.com.
Rich People Problems, the third in this series. Set mostly in Singapore, the extended families are gathered in and around the great house called Tyersall Park in which matriarch Sun Yi has fallen ill. While the novel stands on its own, fans of the earlier books will be familiar with most of the characters. I found this novel more interesting that the previous one because of the deeper character development. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rich People Problems from amazon.com.
No Middle Name, were new to me, and I enjoyed every one. Child does a great job in all his Reacher fiction, especially in how he keeps core elements of this character consistent, while continuing to develop depth, to this and other readers’ pleasure. Short form or long form, the Reacher stories provide great reading entertainment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase No Middle Name from amazon.com.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal, Ewing’s book provides a great context for this scandal; he describes the corporate culture and leadership that promoted an environment in which such a scandal could take place. The total resolution of this scandal is still underway, so the final words aren’t in this book. Whether you’ve read a lot or a little about the Volkswagen case, this book conveys much to any reader with an interest in corporate culture and leadership. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Faster Higher Farther from amazon.com.
Priestdaddy, the more I wanted to read. Her prose is wonderful. I don’t know how long it took her to compose each sentence, but the result is terrific. She can be hilarious at the beginning of a paragraph, and by the end, can leave a reader with a deep insight into human nature. Her father, Greg Lockwood, is a Catholic priest. Her home life was unusual, and she mines her father’s quirkiness and the family situation for all she can find and share. She can be raunchy on one page, slapstick hilarious on the next, and then offer deep insight. Lockwood does all this with such ease and grace that I finished the book hungry for more. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Priestdaddy from amazon.com.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.. For readers with the luxury of time to delve into a huge novel, this one contains real treasure. There’s magic, time travel, witches, and a great government agency, the Department of Diachronic Operations (D.O.D.O.), with a very interesting mission. I feasted through the multiple characters and narrators, the complexity of the science, and the warmth of the human relationships among interesting characters. My relaxing vacation was enhanced by reading this indulgent novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. from amazon.com.
Chemistry. The narrator faces key coming of age questions about commitment in her personal and work life. After years of diligent study in chemistry, she realizes that she doesn’t like the work. When her scientist boyfriend proposes marriage, she cannot commit herself to what that means. Wang explores different meanings of chemistry and the ways in which family and commitments become part of who we are. This is a funny and well-written novel that will appeal to intelligent readers who understand the nature of expectations and anxiety that life choices can bring. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Chemistry from amazon.com.
Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live. This memoir discloses the ways in which literature has helped Orner during the most difficult times of his life. Orner’s reflections about life are engaging and interesting. His vulnerability and personal disclosure becomes a way to encourage readers into Orner’s world of reading, in hope that readers will find enhancement to living through reading. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Am I Alone Here from amazon.com.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Modern Gods, I am impressed by his fine writing and with how much he achieved in a little more than 300 pages. Laird interweaves the similarities and differences between different pairs. Sisters Liz and Alison are one of the pairs. Another is Ulster, Northern Ireland and New Ulster, New Guinea. Laird explores the nature of belief and the impact of history on the present. The rituals of community life are under Laird’s microscope as are the reactions of people to their neighbors, to suffering and to grief. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Modern Gods from amazon.com.
The Marsh King’s Daughter. She was raised in isolation in remote Upper Michigan where her father had kidnapped her mother, kept her in captivity, and conceived Helena. Alternating chapters in the past and present balance the exposition and allow Dionne to develop the characters deeply and build psychological tension. Readers who like fast-paced thrillers are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Marsh King’s Daughter from amazon.com.
The Templars’ Last Secret. Fans will be pleased to be back in St. Denis and the Dordogne as Walker continues to describe the beauty of the area, its long history and its archeological treasures. The large and familiar cast of characters from the previous novels is back, and no big leaps in relationships or character development happen in this novel. The surprise is that terrorists have come to this bucolic area to wreak havoc, and Bruno and friends are in the middle of everything. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Templars’ Last Secret from amazon.com.
Do Not Become Alarmed, while on vacation with children. A normal anxiety level about what could happen to children can become extreme while reading about the perils faced by the children in this novel who have been enjoying a cruise to Central America with their parents. A land excursion during a port stop turns perilous and the unraveling of the children and their parents absorbs every remaining page of the novel. Meloy’s prose is finely written, and her insight into human behavior will please many readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Do Not Become Alarmed from amazon.com.
Trumpet of Death. Fans of the series will enjoy the latest sleuthing by 92-year-old protagonist Victoria Turnbull, and the loads of suspects in the murders on the island. The plant featured in this installment and the title is a mushroom and there is some confusion among characters as to whether it’s a delicacy or a poison. It’s the mushrooming suspects that move the plot along, and Victoria’s clear thinking as a beacon for the cluelessness surrounding her. This is light vacation reading that’s quick to read and easy to forget. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Trumpet of Death from amazon.com.
Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It
Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It, Brookings senior fellow Richard V. Reeves explores the ways in which the top 20% of earners are securing advantages for us and their progeny. Ouch. If you thought economic inequality is because of the earnings of the top small fraction of 1%, Reeves wants you to look in the mirror. Reeves forces upper middle class readers to think about class in the United States, and the consequences of ongoing inequality as the upper middle class solidifies its position across generations. He punches holes in the myth of a meritocracy because of the advantages that come with birth into an upper middle class family. Agree or disagree, this book is worth reading by anyone interested in public policy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dream Hoarders from amazon.com.
The One Eyed Man. Protagonist K becomes both misfit and perfect fit for a society in which everything is relative. Following the death of his wife, K speaks to everyone he encounters with a literalness that disarms and usually offends. His life is presented as alternative highs and lows that revolve around grief, belief, and the meaning of relativity. In the blind world of contemporary life, K is the one who shines a light on everything and everyone. Currie offers humor and psychological insight while never flinching from the satire he delivers with precision. This is an unusual novel with an unconventional protagonist, which is perfect for reading right now and reflecting on what is relative and what is not. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The One Eyed Man from amazon.com.
House of Spies, Silva rips stories from current headlines, even anticipating some, and offers fans a fresh and exciting book. Fans will find a large and familiar cast of characters, and new readers will find an entertaining book packed with tense action. Much of the action takes place in a new setting for Silva: Morocco, and he describes the settings there with vivid prose. Instead of petering out in this series, Silva and Allon may be just finding their stride. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase House of Spies from amazon.com.
The Force, I experienced déjà vu. I felt the same way as I did after seeing a performance of The Book of Mormon. The performers were talented, the music lively and energetic, but I didn’t really like the play because all I could feel was that I spent two hours listening to mockery of the beliefs of millions of people. Winslow’s crime novel is exciting and he creates a clear view of a corrupt justice system from dirty cops to complicit prosecutors to politicians and wealthy and powerful people who exploit the community. I spent a few hours reading about a criminal world and the cops caught up in a corrupt system. Perhaps out of respect to my sister, a retired NYPD detective, I couldn’t like what I read, even as fiction, given the depiction of the police in this novel. The NYPD and justice system Winslow describes in this novel matches exactly what many people think is true among police departments across the country. I just can’t like a novel that adds fuel to that particular fire, especially in relation to the professional NYPD and the thousands who serve with honor and integrity. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase The Force from amazon.com.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, as I had reading it. Skeptical readers who don’t associate mysteries with finely written fiction should consider reading this novel. Protagonist Lydia Smith is a bookstore clerk who receives a legacy from a patron, Joey Molina. Lydia follows the trail that Joey left her as the plot twists and turns making multiple connections between the past and the present. No matter when you solve the mystery during the course of this book, you are likely to enjoy the fine writing, interesting characters and well-constructed plot. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore from amazon.com.
Friday, July 14, 2017
Perfect Little World. A research project structured as an experiment in child rearing creates a closed environment with an extended family comprised of ten children and nineteen parents, along with a doctor and his researchers. Wilson creates engaging and interesting characters and develops them well as the experiment extends over many years. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Perfect Little World from amazon.com.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. I had known nothing about the Osage prior to reading this book, let alone knowing nothing about the crimes committed against the members of this tribe. Fans of true crime will love reading this book, as will any reader interested in history. If all historical accounts were written this well, everybody will happily learn about our past. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Killers of the Flower Moon from amazon.com.
Camino Island. Set mostly in the quiet town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island, Florida, the novel tells the story of the theft of priceless F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton’s library. Protagonist Mercer Mann had spent time on the island in her youth, and she is now given the chance to return there to work on her unfinished novel. I found a perfect summer breeze, a cold drink, and before I knew it, I fell into reading a moderately paced novel and was well-entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Camino Island from amazon.com.
Wolf on a String,by John Banville writing as Benjamin Black. When I reached page 189, my curiosity was satisfied: “… it is called a wolf on a string. … it occurs … when a particular note played on a particular string matches some resonating frequency in the wood of the instrument, producing a cacophonous howl, not unlike that of the wolf.” The discord for protagonist Christian Stern involves the intrigue he finds in the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague when he arrives there in 1599 to make his fortune. Instead, Stern finds himself in the middle of power struggles and placed in charge of solving a murder. Fans of Banville and Black will expect and receive finely written prose in this novel, providing complex characters and an interesting plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Wolf on a String from amazon.com.
Walkaway, as a logical consequence of growing inequality. I assume Doctorow wants to get readers thinking about the consequences of our current trajectory, consider what could be next, and then engage with others on making improved choices to build a better society. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Walkaway from amazon.com.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
The Child. The long-buried remains of a newborn child are found on a jobsite and Kate and her paper are trying to identify the child. Detective Bob Sparks from the earlier novel makes some brief appearances in this book. Barton again uses multiple narrators. Overall, I found myself less entertained by this novel than the earlier one. I thought the pacing of this novel was pretty slow, and the multiple crimes took a long time to present. By the end of the novel, I thought it was ok, but by then I was ready to move on to something else. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Child from amazon.com.
The Soul of the First Amendment. I especially enjoyed his review of the conflicts, current and historic, between free speech and national security, especially in the form of publication of classified material. Every citizen can benefit from some time thinking more about the first amendment, and I recommend this book as a way to stimulate that thinking. After reading it, you may be willing to accept that even I should be covered by this amendment. I’m almost ready to accept that you deserve the same treatment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Soul of the First Amendment from amazon.com.
A House Among the Trees. Protagonist Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair spent the bulk of her life in the shadow of children’s book artist Mort Lear. Glass explores the ways in which Tommy finds herself as executrix of Mort’s estate and responsible for carrying out his wishes. Glass writes with great skill, develops interesting characters, and offers great insight into what legacy entails. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A House Among the Trees from amazon.com.
Swell. Readers need not share my personal connection to this place to enjoy Eisenstadt’s great writing and her insights into human behavior. She creates a great cast of complex characters in this novel, places them in interesting situations, and allows readers to enter a special place and the ways in which the people in Rockaway live life to its fullest. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Swell from amazon.com.
Theft by Finding. This book is a curated sample of the writer’s voluminous diaries from 1977-2002. Had I read the book I would have followed Sedaris’ advice, and just sampled around here and there. I chose to listen to the audiobook, because hearing the entries in the voice of David Sedaris made them more interesting and more entertaining. Fans of Sedaris are those readers most likely to enjoy reading or listening to this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Theft by Finding from amazon.com.
Saints for All Occasions. Parts of the old sod remain present in the new world. Secrets are kept for decades, as are grudges. There can be extended time periods of alienation among family members. Sullivan does many things very well in this novel: the characters are complex and well-developed; the settings are described in enough detail to bring them to life; and the insights into human behavior are wise. Did I say there’s a nun in the mix? Sure, it’s all here for any reader who enjoys finely written prose and whose family has issues of any sort. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Saints for All Occasions from amazon.com.
The Long Drop. Set in Glasgow in the 1950s, the novel is a fictional account of serial killer Peter Manuel whose real crimes terrorized the residents of that city. I enjoyed the web of complexity that Mina lays out, and the clever ways she keeps readers off balance and in the dark. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Long Drop from amazon.com.
Broken River, and I remained attached as he played out the plot with great skill. I appreciated the many ways in which Lennon respected the intelligence of a reader throughout the novel. Much of the action is set at a modest home that was the site of a double murder. Lennon creates a consciousness that becomes an omniscient narrator and an observer of what happens in and around the house. Lennon introduces an interesting cast of troubled characters who he treats with humor, violence and great psychological insight. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Broken River from amazon.com.
Dragon Teeth. Set in the late nineteenth century, the story is a fictional account of the real rivalry between two paleontologists of the time: Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope. Protagonist William Johnson is a student who worked for both paleontologists, and Crichton’s story of a fossil hunt includes a cast of familiar characters of the Wild West of that time, especially in the town of Deadwood. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dragon Teeth from amazon.com.
Ghachar Ghochar, will appeal to many readers. Set in India, the focus is on an extended family transformed by wealth. A new bride enters the contented household with a different perspective on the meaning of life and the consequences of wealth in terms of dependent reliance or hard work. Expectations are at the heart of the conflicts in this novel, and the moral questions and issues are handled with delicacy. Readers without a lot of time for pleasure reading may find this novel to be a quick and satisfying break. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ghachar Ghochar from amazon.com.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom. I was curious to see what links Ricks would present to tie these interesting lives together. One of the connections involves their common love of language, and the ways in which their insight and words have an impact into the present. I knew far more about Churchill than Orwell, and thanks to Ricks I have an increased appreciation for Orwell. Readers interested in either individual are those most likely to enjoy this finely written book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Churchill and Orwell from amazon.com.
My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, this is a candid memoir, written with lively prose, that uses the story of her Book of Books (Bob) as a way to talk about her life. I think book clubs might find this selection will stimulate discussion and reminiscence about books read and lives lived. Paul tells a heartfelt and personal story with lightness and humor and I read it quickly, not at all anxious that while I was reading this book I was not reading something else. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Life with Bob from amazon.com.
The Leavers, packs a wallop. Set in New York City and China, the novel tells the story of a mother, Polly, and her son, Deming, from both their perspectives. Polly became an undocumented immigrant who was deported to China, leaving Deming behind in New York where he is adopted and renamed Daniel. Ko presents the stories of Polly and Deming, their separation and reunion, with finely written prose and astute insight into the immigrant experience, especially the travail of the detention of undocumented workers. The emotional depth of the shared loss of years of separation for Polly and Deming is one of the strengths of this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Leavers from amazon.com.
The Best of Adam Sharp. Protagonist Adam Sharp works as a computer consultant and has been in a long-term relationship with Claire, the sale of whose business might entail a move from the UK to the US. Having learned piano from his father, Adam has enjoyed music and piano playing for decades. While working in Australia in his youth, he was playing piano when he met and entered a passionate relationship with an actress, Angelina Brown. Out of the blue, Angelina makes contact, and Adam is drawn into all the possibilities of what might have been and what might still be. As in Simsion’s Rosie novels, the tone is sweet and the characters often endearing. Readers looking for light reading entertainment should consider this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Best of Adam Sharp from amazon.com.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, while I was preparing for a routine colonoscopy. While I flushed away many of the microbes in my body, I learned lots of new things about them, and couldn’t wait for the procedure to end, so I could rebuild my personal microbiome. Whether your gut is filling or emptying, consider filling your mind with some of the latest scientific insight into the invisible world of microbes. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase I Contain Multitudes from amazon.com.