Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Gods

Sisters. After reading Nick Laird’s novel titled, 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

The Marsh King's Daughter

Helena. Helena is the narrator and protagonist of Karen Dionne’s novel titled, 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

The Templars' Last Secret

Terrorists. The twelfth crime novel in the Bruno Chief of Police series by Martin Walker is titled, 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

Do Not Become Alarmed

Perils. Don’t read Maile Meloy’s novel titled, 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

Trumpet of Death

Mushrooms. The thirteenth novel by Cynthia Riggs set on Martha’s Vineyard is titled, 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

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

Ouch. All parents want what is best for our children, and we will do everything we can to help them on their journey to become who they want to be. Among several themes in his book titled, 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

The One Eyed Man

Relativity. I find that satire can often disappoint me because over the course of a novel, the prose can become uneven. I was completely engaged while reading Ron Currie, Jr.’s novel titled, 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

House of Spies

Morocco. Some novelists who reprise characters and create a long series for readers can become stale or repetitive. Not so with Daniel Silva and his series featuring Israeli spy Gabriel Allon. In the seventeenth novel titled, 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

The Force

Corrupt. When I finished reading Don Winslow’s novel titled, 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

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Intertwined. I hope Matthew Sullivan had as much fun writing his debut novel titled, 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

Friday, July 14, 2017

Perfect Little World

Experiment. Every parent who has dreamt of time off from child-rearing will find an interesting experiment to consider in Kevin Wilson’s novel titled, 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

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

History. One more gap in my education was filled in after reading David Grann’s finely written book titled, 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

Camino Island

Fitzgerald. John Grisham has stepped out of his usual routine to write a change of pace novel titled, 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

Wolf on a String

Discord. I kept wondering about the meaning of the title of the new novel titled, 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


Inequality. There was a time when science fiction writers told stories of a future world that strained one’s willing suspension of disbelief to the outer limits of plausibility. Today, some writers of science fiction describe a near future that seems to be just a few short choices away from our current society. Cory Doctorow leads readers into his story of the breakdown of civil order titled, 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

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Child

Crimes. Fiona Barton reprises journalist Kate Waters from her debut novel, The Widow, for a new novel titled, 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

The Soul of the First Amendment

Conflicts. In my heart, I really do want the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to protect me. Protecting you, I’m not so sure about. Floyd Abrams has specialized in first amendment issues, and he explores the broad protections of that amendment in a finely written book titled, 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

A House Among the Trees

Legacy. There are two components to the legacy of a creative artist: the life led and the work left behind. Julia Glass explores those elements in her novel titled, 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


Rockaway. I spent most of every April to October in the 1950s and 1960s on the Rockaway peninsula. My parents had a bungalow in Roxbury and most of my childhood memories of Summer are set in that place. When I heard that Jill Eisenstadt was writing again about Rockaway, I knew I had to read her novel titled, 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

Theft by Finding

Voice. I spent several hours in recent days listening to David Sedaris read excerpts from his diaries as assembled in his new book titled, 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

Saints for All Occasions

Secrets. As the Irish Catholic child of immigrants, I recognized the families in J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel titled, 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

The Long Drop

Complexity. Fans of well-written crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy Denise Mina’s novel titled, 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

Broken River

Intelligence. J. Robert Lennon cast his prose hook into me within a few paragraphs of opening his literary thriller titled, 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

Dragon Teeth

Paleontology. Sometime after Michael Crichton’s 2008 death, his wife found an unfinished manuscript that the author worked on for about fifteen years. Readers and fans who miss Crichton will be those most interested in reading the novel titled, 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

Ghachar Ghochar

Wealth. Vivek Shanbhag’s short novel titled, 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