Tuesday, December 19, 2017
As Lie Is to Grin. The narrator and protagonist, David, arrives at college in Vermont doing what all college students eventually do while matriculating: finding answers to important questions. Race and class and fitting in are all in play, with David’s confusion in the present trying to make sense of the past. Marsalis places David as an African American in a predominantly white college. Then he explores the backstory from the prior year that made sense of what led David to Vermont. The prose is finely written, and explores complex ideas with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase As Lie Is to Grin from amazon.com.
A Distant View of Everything. Things are not always, or perhaps often, as they appear to be. It takes perspective and context to interpret behavior and actions. Isabel refreshes herself and readers about the importance of perspective in this charming and engaging novel. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy reading the latest installment. New readers can start here or anywhere and be charmed by this interesting protagonist, her friends and extended family. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Distant View of Everything from amazon.com.
Two Kinds of Truth. I was delighted that even after so many previous novels, Connelly is able to put our familiar Harry in fresh situations and experience new things so that not once did I have the feeling that I had already read this novel. The old detective goes undercover in this novel. At the same time, his half-brother, Mickey Haller, prepares to defend Harry against a claim that Harry planted evidence to secure a conviction on an old case. Harry and Mickey get to the truth in different ways. Fans of the series will enjoy spending more time with these familiar characters and with an engaging plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Two Kinds of Truth from amazon.com.
The Pigeon Tunnel. Every interesting vignette is told as if the reader were sitting at a meal with Cornwell and listening raptly to his war stories and other remembered episodes of a well-lived and interesting life. I found these interesting stories from a fine storyteller engaging and I could not have cared less whether or not they are true. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pigeon Tunnel from amazon.com.
The Romanov Ransom. The current treasure hunt takes the Fargos on a romp from Europe to North Africa to South America, tracked at every turn by a ruthless adversary. Fans of formulaic adventure fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. It’s fast-paced and often highly predictable. Compared with earlier novels, I found less humor and repartee between Sam and Remi, and less fine dining. Nonetheless, I got exactly what I expected: a quick read that didn’t require a lot of mental energy. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Romanov Ransom from amazon.com.
Monday, December 18, 2017
The Story of Arthur Truluv. Three characters. Arthur, Lucille and Maddy, are united in grief and loneliness. Despite a wide age difference, the friendship is real, and the behavior of each character provides a positive example for every reader. True love takes many forms, and the name that Maddy bestows on Arthur perfectly matches the love he has for his late wife, and the love he extends to both Lucille and Maddy. I think Berg’s novels are often popular with book groups, and the discussions about this novel will make for interesting, possible tearful, conversations. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Story of Arthur Truluv from amazon.com.
The Midnight Line. Child knows how to please fans of this series: let Reacher be Reacher, and put him in new and interesting situations. In this outing, Reacher finds himself on a quest to find the owner of a West Point ring. Along the way, he finds himself in the middle of the opioid crisis, doing his part to help a fellow soldier overcome addiction. Fans of the series should find a lot to enjoy in this installment. New readers can meet Reacher here, and roam through the whole series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Midnight Line from amazon.com.
Five-Carat Soul. There’s lots of variety in these stories, from animals to Abraham Lincoln. McBride’s creativity is the common thread in this collection: he grabs attention and engages readers into paying attention to the story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Five-Carat Soul from amazon.com.
Don’t Let Go. Protagonist Napoleon “Nap” Dumas faced trauma as a senior in high school, when his twin brother died and then the love of his young life, Maura, disappeared. Now working as a suburban New Jersey police detective, Nap finds evidence that may lead him to Maura, and to getting answers to questions that have plagued him for over a dozen years. Coben, as always, captures suburban life, creates interesting characters, and offers a plot that keeps readers engaged and entertained from beginning to end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Don’t Let Go from amazon.com.
Overload: Finding the Truth in Today's Deluge of News, Bob Schieffer practices journalism while he opines on the current state of journalism. He conducted about forty interviews with media practitioners and provided context thanks to his decades of experiences in different forms of journalism. The sources of news have proliferated, and the curating role of media leaders has diminished. Rigorous fact-checked stories and reckless unverified stories are listed side by side, minute by minute, leaving the receiver to sort the true from the fake. Schieffer makes a case for the importance of authentic journalism in our society. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Overload from amazon.com.
The Lost Order. As the formula demands, something secret from the past requires the skills of Cotton Malone to uncover and resolve. This time out, the setting involves the Smithsonian Institution, and the secret involves a lost treasure from the Confederacy and a group called The Knights of the Golden Circle. Readers looking for some escapist action reading are those most likely to enjoy this novel, especially those who like a blend of actual and made-up history. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Lost Order from amazon.com.
The House of Unexpected Sisters. We all have weaknesses, and that should lead us to understand and forgive the weaknesses of others that can cause us distress. There’s a case in this novel that causes Mma Ramotswe to change her mind, and she makes a discovery that changes her life. Fans of the series will zip through this installment and await the next. Any reader looking for a feel-good reading experience should consider this novel and this series. I always feel better about all people after reading one of Smith’s books. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The House of Unexpected Sisters from amazon.com.
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, and it was a real joy to be spending time again with the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is a kick ass protagonist whose position as an outsider makes her even more powerful. Salander solves mysteries about her own past in this installment while she secures and inflicts justice for others. Fans of the series will enjoy the return of the ensemble of well-developed characters led by Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye from amazon.com.
Elmet, a father, daughter and son live in a rural area in a house built by hand on land owned by someone else. The landlord represents evil and encourages violence. This is a novel about outcasts and the bonds of family love, under which one does what is necessary to survive. Mozley’s prose is finely written, and readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Elmet from amazon.com.
Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich explores a society in which evolution has gone into reverse with dramatic consequences. Protagonist Cedar Hawk Songmaker is twenty-six years old and pregnant. Erdrich places her in conflict with society and on a journey toward community, love and self-determination. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Future Home of the Living God from amazon.com.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Sing, Unburied, Sing, will break your heart. An ensemble of characters sing their part in a chorus of racism, drug addiction, poverty, incarceration, child neglect and love. Ward’s prose unveils places and people with perfect language and deep sentiment. A reader’s empathy builds on every page. Even the ghosts sing in this chorus because they remain attached to the people and places. This novel is on many of the best of the year lists and won the National Book Award for fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sing Unburied Sing from amazon.com.
Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance, is a homage to the resistance movement in the form of a fable. Independent and smaller is presented as better than dependent and larger. This short and playful book brought me a welcome break from the news of the day and the struggles of life. McKibben draws interesting characters, provides an engaging story and brings some laughs along the way. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Radio Free Vermont from amazon.com.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. “America was the dreamworld creation of fantasists, some religious and some out to get rich quick, all with a freakish appetite for the amazing.” (p.427). Readers with strong religious beliefs will feel somewhat dismissed in those beliefs when they read Andersen’s categorization of them as fantasists. Readers who share Andersen’s worldview will find almost five hundred pages of statistics, anecdotes, and selective stories of American life to show that over a long period of time, fertile ground in America provided the soil in which fantasy and reality blurred and became widespread. Truth has become a matter of feeling, not fact, and that didn’t happen overnight. Whether offended or vindicated by Andersen’s book, every reader can understand our contemporary society better by reading about our past and seeing in that past the foundations of modern life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fantasyland from amazon.com.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. A combination of sexism and secrecy made her significant role in the 20th century invisible. Thanks to Fagone, long overdue credit for her significant achievements can be learned by any reader interested in codes, espionage, and recent history. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Woman Who Smashed Codes from amazon.com.
The Vanity Fair Diaries, will delight even those readers with little interest in the New York media world of the 1980s and 1990s. Her trenchant observations about people are peppered throughout the book, while she pulls readers into her workaholic life. In this account, Tina never stops pushing, pressing, trying new things, working constantly. For readers who know the New York world she describes, this book will be required reading, at least about people one knows, and whose entries are easy to find, thanks to the index. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Vanity Fair Diaries from amazon.com.
Three Days and a Life, is a character study and morality tale. The novel is set in two time periods in the life of protagonist Antoine Courtin. At age 12, Antoine accidently kills a young neighbor, and then hides the body rather than face the consequences of his action. Lemaitre explores the ways in which guilt and remorse affect Antoine. More than a decade later, Antoine returns to his home town and carries out his self-inflicted punishment. The inner and outer storms of this novel and the surprising twists will delight most readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Three Days and a Life from amazon.com.
End Game. Robie and Jessica Reel are sent on a search and rescue mission. Fans of the series will enjoy the ways in which Will and Jessica’s skills are deployed in this story. New readers who enjoy action thrillers will find some pleasure here. This is a formulaic novel that had few surprises, but lots of implausible action. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase End Game from amazon.com.
Reservoir 13, Ian McGregor explores lots of ripples in a community after a girl goes missing. The exploration involves observations, glimpses of life, telling us that life has gone on after the disappearance. This novel is an exploration of the ordinary and an examination of the progression of time in the natural environment and among the people living in a particular place. Readers who expect a novel to offer a plot that can be followed will be impatient with this book. Readers who are open to fictional experimentation will love this novel. The prose is finely written, and the descriptions of the environment are lyrical. Once I stopped trying to figure out what was going on, I enjoyed every page. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Reservoir 13 from amazon.com.
Ungrateful Mammals, I thought triple threat. Some performers are called a triple threat when they can sing, dance and act. Eggers is a talented writer. The illustrations he offers in this collection exhibit his drawing talent. What comes together with the pairing of phrases, including bible verses, with his illustrations is his skill at humor and poignancy. This is an eccentric and unusual book, and I enjoyed it, both times I paged through. I’ve liked Eggers’ writing, and now understand better the extent of this artist’s versatile talents. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ungrateful Mammals from amazon.com.
Listen to Me. Protagonists Mark and Maggie have started their annual drive from Chicago to Virginia to visit his parents later than planned, and a severe storm is forecast for their route. Their relationship is tense for many reasons, and the ways in which they are disconnected increase as the story develops. The darkness of the storm and power outage mirrors the darkness entering their relationship, a growing estrangement. Pittard’s prose is taut to match the tension in the story, and readers who love literary fiction will enjoy her fine writing, no matter how bleak the characters become or how dire their situation. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Listen to Me from amazon.com.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
The Power, for three reasons. First, she draws readers into a creative and engaging story. Second, her prose is finely written. Third, she explores a fundamental question about human nature and behavior: if women had a physical trait that provided them with the means to dominate men, what might be different in human relations? It was especially timely to read this novel when each day’s news provides a report about another prominent male exercising power through some form of inappropriate behavior. Any book club that skips this title will lose an opportunity to discuss gender similarities and differences. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Power from amazon.com.
Smile, memories and what really happened may also be different. Protagonist Victor Forde remembers lots of vivid things, include abuse while at school, but he doesn’t quite recall a fellow student named Eddie whom he meets decades later. Doyle offers readers crisp dialogue, humor, and great uncertainty about the reliability of memory. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Smile from amazon.com.
At the Strangers’ Gate, Gopnik uses polished prose to sing a love song to Manhattan and to the incredible luck he has experienced from the time he first arrived. On every page, he entices readers with the places, people and feelings that have given him an enchanted life in New York City. Readers who love Manhattan and who have enjoyed Gopnik’s writing are those most likely to appreciate reading about his ongoing romance with Manhattan. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase At the Strangers' Gate from amazon.com.
Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat. This is a story about growing up poor and black in America. While she says, “Everybody’s got a struggle. Nobody gets through this life easy.”(p. 211), her life was never easy, and her struggle was very hard. While much of her story is sad, this memoir is all about the transformative power of love, and about how our lives can change. If you think you know a thing or two about growing up poor and black in America, or if you don’t, read this fine book and be inspired by one person’s story, and be angry about the conditions that create such a hard struggle to survive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rabbit from amazon.com.
This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class, she conveys that clarity by drawing a line with corporations and the wealthy on one side and middle class working people on the other. Her main theme is that corporations and wealthy donors benefit from policies to increase their rewards, while the average worker falls further behind every year. Readers interested in public policy, whether agreeing with Warren or opposed, will benefit from hearing the clarion sound of her voice and passion about our current state of affairs. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase This Fight Is Our Fight from amazon.com.
The Relive Box. Any reader who enjoys short fiction will see a master of the genre at his finest in these well-crafted stories. Many of the stories contain humor that gave me a long-lasting grin. I had already read a few of the stories when published in periodicals and found a multiplier effect of reading pleasure in recalling those stories in the midst of ones fresh to me. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Relive Box from amazon.com.
Leonardo da Vinci, prior to making an offer on the artwork. I also wonder what Leonardo would have thought of the selling price. Perhaps my curiosity was stimulated by this finely written book in which Isaacson explores Leonardo’s life and work. The artist took great joy in distractions, never flagged in his curiosity, let things marinate for years, and did not finish a lot of what he started. A close observer of many things, Leonardo spent his whole life in continuous improvement. The words and images in this book brought me great pleasure and more questions. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Leonardo da Vinci from amazon.com.
History of Wolves, recalls at age 37 a summer when she was fourteen. At that time she was living with her parents on the site of a former commune in the woods of Northern Minnesota. When a family moves into a house across the lake, she becomes a part-time babysitter to a four-year-old boy. What she fails to observe at that time leads her to reflect on being a guilty bystander to tragedy that might have been averted had she intervened. Fridlund reflects on love in this novel and what we choose to do or not do to those we love to belong to something larger than ourselves or to become accepted by others. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase History of Wolves from amazon.com.
The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories. In each of the fifteen stories, Lively calls attention to some observations about people or situations that might be overlooked, and leads readers to a revelation or understanding. She often uses humor as the path to insight and wisdom, and her prose conveys her joy in our language. Readers who enjoy literary fiction, especially short stories, are those most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Purple Swamp Hen from amazon.com.
Midwinter Break, was that the author was accomplishing lots of things in very few pages, a quality I always appreciate. Things are not they appear as Irish retirees Gerry and Stella Gilmore leave their home in Scotland for a holiday in Amsterdam. MacLaverty captures with great skill the many ways in which long-married couples fall into patterns of behavior and do things that can be concurrently endearing and annoying. Habits and the reaction of a spouse to those habits can become the refining fire of a strong relationship or the consuming flame of a weakening one. Thanks to MacLaverty’s astute character development and finely written prose, we learn a lot about the habits in this marriage, the transforming events of their past, and the uncertainties ahead. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Midwinter Break from amazon.com.
Holding, presented a sense of humor that aligned well with my own. I had low expectations for a novel written by the host of BBC America’s The Graham Norton Show, and his writing was better than I expected. Set in the small Irish town of Duneen where everyone knows everybody and their business, human bones are discovered on a building site. Protagonist Garda sergeant P.J. Collins finds himself at the center of the mystery, despite the case being led by a big city detective. Collins is overweight and endearing. Secrets that have been kept for decades are held no more. Kindness and decency abide throughout Duneen, and spending time in this small town brought me great reading pleasure, and many smiles along the way. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Holding from amazon.com.
Afterlife, Sakey does his usual battle between good and evil, and adds a creative way of thinking about what happens after we die. Protagonists Will Brody and Claire McCoy work together at the FBI and are both killed by the same criminal. They meet again after death in a setting that looks similar to the “real” world only transformed, more like an echo. Sakey leads them into layers of an afterlife, each one more desolate as they search for a malevolent force feeding on fear and death. The temptation to compromise with evil remains present with every good person, and Sakey enlivens the action of this novel with the nuance of what else might have been. Fans of thrillers will love the action of this novel, and anyone who thinks about what comes after death will be presented with a version here that I found interesting and enjoyable. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Afterlife from amazon.com.
Spoonbenders, the strength I found in the book comes from the depth of character development and the humor throughout. This is fine storytelling about an interesting family and the care they have for each other. Some readers may become disoriented from the shifts in time and perspective by different characters, but I found all of that to be another part of enjoying a multi-generational family story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Spoonbenders from amazon.com.
The Children. I don’t know why I waited so long. Over the course of about 250 pages, Leary brings a Connecticut lake house into close focus alongside a large cast of characters connected to that house. Secrets are exposed and many characters become more interesting and complex as an initial perception of quirkiness gives way to understanding and insight. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Children from amazon.com.
The English Teacher. Protagonist Rachel Goldschmitt has been a Mossad agent living in a Muslim country under a false identity and working as a teacher. Following the death of her father, she disappears and the Mossad sends her handler, Ehud, to track her down and help assess whether she presents a risk. Atir tells an interesting story about a complicated individual and explores the question of identity. I was entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The English Teacher from amazon.com.
Monday, November 6, 2017
Crimes of the Father, a novel set in Sydney Australia in two alternating time segments: the 1970s and 1996. Protagonist Father Frank Docherty was born in Australia, joined a religious order there and was ordained a priest. Following his preaching in the 1970s against the Vietnam War, the archbishop wanted him out of the country, so his order transferred him to Canada where he became a psychologist and teacher. He returns to Sydney in 1996 to give a speech to clerics about sexual abuse, and to visit his ill mother. Both victims of abuse and priests aware of the crimes of fellow priests take Frank into their confidence. Keneally develops all the characters with skill, especially the victims, and by setting the time period when he did, we can see the emergence of attention to the abuse scandal. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crimes of the Father from amazon.com.
Little Fires Everywhere. A variety of birth and adoptive mothers are faced with difficult choices. The children of those mothers are the beneficiaries or the victims of those choices. Differences in class are dramatic, but disaster knows nothing about class. There are many little fires simmering or blazing in the houses of Shaker Heights, and thanks to Ng, readers are drawn into these lives to become singed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Little Fires Everywhere from amazon.com.
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan sent vivid color to my brain. Set mostly in and around the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, the novel draws readers into that place and time through a well-developed protagonist, Anna, who overcomes resistance to become a diver. Egan leads us into a world of gangsters, complicated family dynamics and a variety of forms of loss and restoration. Her fine prose and well-told story entertained me thoroughly from beginning to end. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Manhattan Beach from amazon.com.
Dinner at the Center of the Earth. When differences divide us, it can be helpful to understand the other’s point of view, clarify our own position, and find common ground or ways of meeting in the middle. The trope of meeting for a meal in the middle of a tunnel expresses the journey each party must take to come together. A long-held prisoner and his guard illustrate the ways in which different parties are put together and uncover common ground. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dinner at the Center of the Earth from amazon.com.
Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Wright is a thoughtful writer who offers his personal perspective about meditation and its place in his life. Readers get to observe Wright and his struggles on silent retreats and with trying to meditate. Each of us is on some path away from suffering and from our delusions, and this book describes the path that Wright has chosen. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why Buddhism Is True from amazon.com.
Friday, November 3, 2017
Origin, this novel explores answers that a student of Langdon provides to two perennial questions: where did we come from and where are we going? Brown teases out the student’s answers over the course of 480 pages using quotes from Winston Churchill along the way and aspects of the life and writing of William Blake. The Catholic church is back with a role to play in this novel. Brown has been successful with this formula in earlier novels, and the latest novel will seem very familiar to readers of his earlier books. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Origin from amazon.com.
Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Readers looking for some Teddy White style perspective on the campaign won’t find much new in this book. Readers interested in Tur herself and the ways in which she was never intimidated by Trump or his supporters are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Unbelievable from amazon.com.
IQ, named for the protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe. Isaiah is a smart guy with a big heart. Ide introduces Isaiah in two time segments in this novel: when he dropped out of high school in 2005 and in 2013 where he and his sidekick, Dodson, are caught up in an exciting and lucrative case. Set in Southern California and rooted in South Central, the crimes and action are presented vividly and by the end of the novel, I knew I was hooked on another crime fiction series, thanks to the interesting central character, Isaiah Quintabe. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase IQ from amazon.com.
The Rooster Bar. Readers who can overlook some clunky writing may have fun reading it. Three third-year law students face the reality that their job prospects after getting a degree from a bottom-tier school won’t generate the income they need to repay massive student loans. What follows is a caper to reveal a scam by a wealthy lawyer, to commit felonies, and to change their lives. The more preposterous the behavior of the three protagonists, the more fun their exploits became. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Rooster Bar from amazon.com.
The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. That’s a good reason to read it, whether one agrees or disagrees with the author. Lilla proposes that the liberal attention to identity politics in recent years has been a harmful diversion. Over the past four decades the vision of American individualism championed by Reagan and others has become dominant. The problem he sees with that vision is that individualism leads to a lack of interest in discerning the common good and no way of drawing our country’s citizens together. Lilla calls for liberals to focus on citizenship, not identity. Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, reading about this proposed reset will be of interest if you are a citizen interested in making our republic stronger. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Once and Future Liberal from amazon.com.