Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Selection Day

Cricket. I was a bit concerned that my lack of knowledge about the sport of cricket would diminish my ability to appreciate Aravind Adiga’s novel titled, Selection Day. The plot involves two poor boys who have been set on a path by their father to get out of their slum and become successful cricket players. My ignorance of the game turned out to be no barrier at all, given Adiga’s skill at focusing attention on the human dynamics, not the sporting fine points. As always, Adiga’s prose is outstanding, the characters are complex and well developed, even the buffoons. Adiga’s descriptive language brings the sights and sounds of India to vivid realization. This is a novel about dreams, our own and others, and the ways in which life presents us with opportunities to move toward or away from those dreams. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Selection Day from amazon.com.

Christmas Days

Twelve. Midway through the twelve days of Christmas, I started reading Jeanette Winterson’s book titled, Christmas Days. Fans of Winterson’s prose will discover twelve well-written stories that I found totally entertaining. On top of that are two bonuses: tasty recipes for the season and reflections by Winterson about her Christmases past that are written as finely as her fiction. Whatever time of year you read this book, you will receive a taste of Christmas and be entertained by good stories. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Christmas Days from amazon.com.

The Mistletoe Murder

Feted. I was feted recently by reading four posthumous stories by P.D. James in a collection named after one of them, The Mistletoe Murder. An added bonus is that a young Adam Dalgliesh is featured in two of the stories. I inhaled these storied quickly, and was entertained thoroughly. It felt like running into an old friend after a long time spent apart. I was quite thrilled when I finished the first story with the sense I had felt often from this fine writer: she tricked me again! Fans of P.D. James are those readers most likely to enjoy this new collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mistletoe Murder from amazon.com.

Sleeping on Jupiter

Abuse. Fans of dark fiction can wallow in a few hundred pages of violence and abuse in Anuradha Roy’s novel titled, Sleeping on Jupiter. With a large cast of characters, many of whom are travelers, Roy sets most of the action in a fictional seaside Indian town where many temples draw visitors. She stimulates the interest of readers in a large cast of characters and changes time periods to mix up the momentum. What first appears dark becomes joyful on further development. Violence and abuse are not the final state for any character. If you surrender yourself to Roy to take this journey to India, you are likely to join many characters in uncovering joy in life, no matter what. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sleeping on Jupiter from amazon.com.

Mister Monkey

Disturbed. I was shaken out of my comfort zone from the first few pages of Francine Prose’s novel titled, Mister Monkey. I found myself becoming interested in what was happening on the set of a very terrible children’s musical. Once hooked, Prose had me laughing while watching her draw out the humanity of a wide cast of characters as she examines their lives closely. As I read on, I kept thinking about love, laughing, and wincing. There are millions of stories in the city, and Francine Prose knows how to create characters who may disturb and delight us at the same time. Let’s not even get started about Darwin, or dating. At every turn, Prose kept me with her, asking for more. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mister Monkey from amazon.com.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Invention. Fans of finely written literary fiction can celebrate the latest novel by Michal Chabon titled, Moonglow. With the cleverness I’ve come to anticipate from this fine author, Chabon offers this work as a memoir, structures it as a novel, and uses deep autobiographic resources to bring the characters to vibrant life. The novel’s narrator refers to the protagonist as his grandfather, and much of the plot involves what the grandson learns about his grandfather at the very end of the grandfather’s life. Sex, prison, invading Germany in WWII, secrets, lies, regrets, the Space Race: all these elements flow out in rich detail and fine prose. Chabon maintains energy throughout the novel despite adding layers of complexity. This fine writer tells a great story about storytelling, and does it using such finely crafted prose and such insight into character that at times he took my breath away. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Moonglow from amazon.com.

Thank You for Being Late

Mansplaining. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman offers readers almost five hundred pages of his viewpoints and thoughts in a new book titled, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. Veering very close to mansplaining at times, he pulls back just before crossing that line. The advantage of reading Friedman is that you can read quickly over what seems familiar or what you’ve heard before, and spend a little time in those areas where he has new insight or an interesting synthesis. He offers some remedies for the challenges of living in our accelerated world: extend trust, build community, fight isolation and collaborate. While so many concepts are fundamental, and reflect the world in which many of us were raised (as Friedman himself explores in reflections in this book about his Minnesota youth), it seemed timely for me to spend a few hours being reminded of those fundamentals and what is important. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Thank You for Being Late from amazon.com.

The Fourth Figure

Surprises. The fourth installment in the Pieter Van In detective mystery set in Bruges, Belgium, is titled, The Fourth Figure. I’ve enjoyed each installment better than the one before, and the surprises in this novel were a real pleasure. Van In is that ideal flawed hero: competent and very imperfect. Van In’s wife, District Attorney Hannelore Martens, is pregnant and Van In hasn’t a clue as to how their lives will change. Fans of crime fiction with good writing are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Fourth Figure from amazon.com.

A Man Called Ove

Purpose. A friend recommended that I read Fredrik Backman’s debut novel titled, A Man Called Ove, and I am grateful for the introduction to this charming book. Protagonist Ove’s world turned upside down four years earlier when his wife, Sonia, died. Ove’s gruff demeanor and blunt social behavior led most to overlook how much sadness was underneath a rugged exterior. When purpose enters his life, Ove seems to turn around or awaken to a life after Sonia. This memorable and endearing character may cause readers to reflect often about grief and having a purpose in life, as well as that frequent reminder: things are not often as they appear. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase A Man Called Ove from amazon.com.

Swing Time

Dancing. Zadie Smith riffs on multiple themes throughout her novel titled, Swing Time. I found myself mesmerized by her writing rhythm as she explored friendship, class, race and the divergent paths that lives can take. The whole novel felt to me like a dance, as Smith introduced level after level of insight into the lives of these interesting characters and the worlds in which they live. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Swing Time from amazon.com.

A Gambler's Anatomy

Abilities. If you’ve never met a professional backgammon player, Jonathan Lethem is pleased to remedy that situation in his novel titled, A Gambler’s Anatomy. Protagonist Bruno Alexander has great abilities at backgammon, perhaps psychic abilities, that have served him well for years. When his sight fails him because of the presence of what he perceives as a blot, he wins fewer games. Bruno lives behind a mask, and Lethem uses this novel to describe much of the weirdness of our human condition. I was entertained by Lethem’s fine writing, and found the novel odd and enjoyable. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Gambler’s Anatomy from amazon.com.

The Nix

Massive. Readers looking for a big novel to settle into for long while should consider reading Nathan Hill’s debut novel titled, The Nix. Protagonist Samuel Andresen-Anderson has become stuck in an unhappy life as a struggling writer and college professor. An opportunity to reconnect with the mother who abandoned him catapults him from his torpor into an adventure, then toward understanding. Hill’s humor is often a chapter-saver in this novel, as he can go off for a quite a while with his prose. The scope of the novel covers five decades, and Hill doesn’t move quickly. Both the 1960s and contemporary life are presented with great skill, and the journey of mother and child from separation to reunion is offered with insight. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Nix from amazon.com.

The Woman in Cabin 10

Cruise. Fans of suspense novels are those readers most likely to enjoy Ruth Ware’s novel titled, The Woman in Cabin 10. Protagonist Lo Blacklock gets a great assignment from a travel magazine: spend a week on a luxury cruise and write about it. This work becomes not quite a relaxing and stress-free assignment after Lo sees something terrifying and the confinement of the ship becomes overbearing. Lo questions herself and her drinking while Ware keeps readers wondering who and what to believe and twist follows twist. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Woman in Cabin 10 from amazon.com.

The Association of Small Bombs

Survivors. Readers who love finely written prose should consider Karan Mahajan’s novel titled, The Association of Small Bombs. Mahajan draws close attention to a car bomb in New Delhi in 1996 and explores with precision the damage to survivors, including the individuals who were injured but survived the blast, the family of the victims who were killed, those responsible for the bombing, and society overall. All these survivors bear scars. Read this novel for the fine writing, then ponder what Mahajan has to say to us about living in our complicated and conflicted world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Association of Small Bombs from amazon.com.

News of the World

Transport. If you’re a reader without a lot of time for those sweeping novels of historical fiction, consider reading Paulette Jiles’ fine novel titled, News of the World. Set mostly in Texas in 1870, protagonist Jefferson Kidd’s regular job is reading world news to small towns on a traveling circuit where people pay a small fee to be transported by Kidd to lands far and wide. He has supplemented this regular gig with an assignment to return a ten-year-old girl named Johanna from her recent release from captivity by the Kiowa to her relatives far away. Jiles presents the road journey as the plot momentum, while deeply developing the characters and describing the setting and morals of the time period. Within just over 200 pages, Jiles sends readers to this time in Texas and introduces us to fascinating characters whose lives we quickly care about deeply. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase News of the World from amazon.com.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Written in Fire

Finale. Readers who spent time reading the first two books in Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance Trilogy are those most likely to enjoy reading the finale titled, Written in Fire. Sakey brings all the key players to the New Canaan Holdfast or to Washington, D.C. and the showdown progresses at a rapid pace. Sakey brings just enough resolution to the story, while leaving possibilities for what may follow after the last page. Readers who enjoy dystopian novels may find this trilogy interesting reading. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Written in Fire from amazon.com.

The Rain in Portugal

Smile. I defy a reader to read four or five of Billy Collins’ poems and not come away smiling. There are fifty-six witty poems in his new collection titled, The Rain in Portugal. Collins admits he’s not a good rhymer, hence the rain in Portugal, not Spain. Readers who think they don’t like poetry may read a few Collins poems and change that view. Collins takes the ordinary, delivers a few finely written lines, and gives a reader delight. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Rain in Portugal from amazon.com.

Night of the Animals

Restoration. I’m a sucker for reading a debut novel that’s imaginative and unusual. I was continuously entertained by Bill Broun’s novel titled, Night of the Animals. Set in the London Zoo in 2052, the novel features an elderly protagonist, Cuthbert Handley, who can communicate with animals. The night in the title is when Cuthbert decides to release all the zoo animals. Broun places this act in the context of global crisis and societal collapse. Sound like fun to you? Broun makes it a story of restoration and redemption rather than disaster, which he pulls off with great skill. Readers who enjoy odd tales and are willing to explore a debut novel are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Night of the Animals from amazon.com.

The Emperor's Revenge

Grid. The 11th novel in the Oregon Files series by Clive Cussler is titled, The Emperor’s Revenge. Readers who enjoy fast-paced adventure novels, and who can suspend disbelief often, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. The emperor in the title is Napoleon, and that was one of many places where my disbelief was put under severe strain as Cussler’s creativity soared. Protagonist Juan Cabrillo performs with great skill as always. A plot to disrupt the power grid and wreak global financial havoc was delightfully sinister and highly enjoyable. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Emperor’s Revenge from amazon.com.

Six and a Half Deadly Sins

Lured. The tenth novel in Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series is titled, Six and a Half Deadly Sins. This time out, Siri receives a package in the mail: a pha sin, which is a traditional skirt. In the sin’s lining, Siri finds a severed human finger. Convinced that he has received a message that he needs to figure out, Siri heads to the north of Laos and into the middle of violence. Lured into a deadly scavenger hunt, Siri and his friends take loyal readers on a delightful journey packed with clues at every stop. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Six and a Half Deadly Sins from amazon.com.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Mighty Currawongs and Other Stories

Humanity. After I finished reading the 33 short stories in the collection by Brian Doyle titled, The Mighty Currawongs and Other Stories, I found myself feeling very good about our human condition. Doyle captures images of interesting people in delightful settings and invites readers to share in the joys, sorrows and foibles of our human condition. I find that many short stories can leave me wanting more, but there’s a sense of completion in each of Doyle’s stories: he writes just enough, and not a word more than is necessary. One of the stories about an archbishop made me think of Willa Cather, and I thought that aspects of Doyle’s writing mirrors the ways in which Cather presented depth of character with great efficiency. Doyle’s skill brought me great reading pleasure along with a renewed confidence in our resilience. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Mighty Currawongs from amazon.com.

The Fall Guy

Guilt. James Lasdun’s novel titled, The Fall Guy, presents readers with a moral tale for modern times. Each character is culpable for immoral acts. Guilt may or may not be felt for those acts. The relationships are complicated and nuanced, bound by secrets, and formed by events that have long lasting consequences. Lasdun’s writing provides psychological insight into the characters, moves the plot along effectively, and keeps readers in suspense. Readers who like literary thrillers are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fall Guy from amazon.com.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

Makers. Fans of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles will enjoy the twelfth installment titled, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis. Rice has been writing about some of these characters for five decades and she continues to develop them individually and collectively. That means fans will be excited by the return of old friends, and may enjoy seeing them behave in new ways. A whole new group of non-human characters appear in this installment. The Makers of carefully designed creatures sent them on a mission and things haven’t quite worked out as expected. All the backstory and new adventures will provide hours of reading pleasure to fans of this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis from amazon.com.

The Angel of History

Remembering. It was a pleasure for me to begin the year with a very unusual novel by Rabih Alameddine titled, The Angel of History. Protagonist Jacob has arrived at a mental health clinic and is awaiting admission. His mind is flooded by memories of his life, from his childhood growing up in a whorehouse in which his teenage mother was a prostitute, to life with a wealthy father, to memories of life with his deceased lover. He remembers his poetry which he can no longer write, and Alameddine presents two characters active in Jacob’s mind: Satan and Death, and their narratives are often hilarious. Jacob also recalls the fourteen saints who have protected him throughout his life. All this remembering takes place on a single night, and thanks to Alameddine’s fine writing, the night reveals great insight into human nature and the ways in which the past is always present. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Angel of History from amazon.com.

Miss Jane

Vitality. Finely written fiction works or clicks on multiple levels that unite to form an integrated work of art. Brad Watson’s skilled art in his novel titled, Miss Jane, delighted me on many levels. Over the course of fewer than three hundred pages, Watson presents readers with the life of protagonist Miss Jane Chisolm, from birth to death in rural Mississippi through most of the 20th century. Jane was born with a genital birth defect that would prevent her from following the typical path of a woman of her time toward marriage and childbearing. Instead, her vitality takes other forms as she finds an authentic life true to her own nature. Watson’s prose matches the setting that he describes in vivid detail. His insight into love and nature and beauty inject the novel with elements that will expand every reader’s view of those things. Adding a flock of peacocks to the mix brought even more intensity to the joyful experience of reading this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Miss Jane from amazon.com.