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.

Golden Hill

Fortune. Fans of lively and exciting historical fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy Francis Spufford’s debut novel titled, 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

Bumbling. Not many thrillers make me laugh. The plot and characters in Joseph Finder’s novel titled, 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

Mortality. Readers born before the middle of the twentieth century are those most likely to relate to and enjoy Margaret Drabble’s novel titled, 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

Horror. I can be entertained for hours reading a scary Stephen King novel, so I was disappointed when reading Gina Wohlsdorf’s novel titled, 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

Understanding. I think that a big chunk of my reading, both fiction and non-fiction, involves a search for understanding, especially understanding myself and the broad spectrum of people who surprise me by what they think, say and do. Reading Anne Lamott’s book titled, 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

Sitcom. There’s something to be said for reading a book when the time and setting for is optimal. To prepare yourself for Elinor Lipman’s novel titled, 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

Tension. Fans of Clive Cussler’s NUMA series featuring protagonists Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala are those readers most likely to enjoy reading 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

Alexsi. I had low expectations when I picked up a copy of William Christie’s novel titled, 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

Continuation. Kevin Kwan continues his humorous depiction of the super-rich Young, Leong and Cheng families in a novel titled, 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

Solid. Other than one short story that I had read as a Kindle single, the dozen Jack Reacher stories by Lee Child in the collection titled, 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

Context. There’s a great new book by New York Times reporter Jack Ewing about Volkswagen’s use of a defeat device to hide the true emissions from their “clean” diesel cars. Titled, 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

Depth. The more pages I read in Patricia Lockwood’s memoir titled, 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.

Indulgence. I find that Summer is the perfect time to indulge in a doorstopper-sized novel. Just in time for a July vacation, I hefted a whopper of a novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland titled, 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

Commitment. I ached with empathy for the anxiety suffered by the unnamed protagonist in Weike Wang’s debut novel titled, 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

Reading. I love to read. Peter Orner loves to read. Orner shares his love of reading in a book titled, 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.