Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rather Be the Devil

Energized. For a retired detective with health issues, John Rebus seems highly energized as he’s back on the job, of sorts, in the twenty-first novel in this series by Ian Rankin. In the book titled, Rather Be the Devil, Rebus reopens a cold case and issues from the past converge through multiple plot lines with lots of criminal action in the present. Big Ger Cafferty is back as well, along with detectives Clarke and Fox. Cafferty is no more retired than Rebus, and the spring in Big Ger’s step may lead to more adventures. Fans of character-driven crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this entertaining novel and the entire series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rather Be the Devil from

Norse Mythology

Hammer. I think the only time I’ve read Norse myths was in my childhood in comic books. The image of Thor’s hammer on the cover of Neil Gaiman’s book titled, Norse Mythology, bore no resemblance to the comic versions. These tales did match some from my youth, and each story that Gaiman presents brought great satisfaction, especially the ones that I remembered more about that I expected. These myths are terrific stories, and Gaiman’s version will appeal to any reader who enjoys fine story telling. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Norse Mythology from

Bright, Precious Days

Loss. Fans of Jay McInerney’s novels will be pleased that he has reprised protagonists Corrine and Russell Calloway in a new novel titled, Bright, Precious Days. The Calloway marriage has been under strain since 9/11 and the financial crisis upends their lives. A sense of loss permeates their lives alongside their deep love for New York City. The city is changing and touchstones that kept them steady can no longer be relied upon. Even their summer rental in the Hamptons is changing. Through all these losses, there’s still love and humor, some of it slapstick. McInerney loves NYC and these characters who fit into the city one way or another, no matter how seriously they take themselves, and how little the city could care. McInerney’s prose captures his observations with fine language and presents these characters, their story, and the city in ways that will please many readers, especially those who love New York. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bright Precious Days from

The Believer

Suspense. I expected to read an escapist thriller when I opened Joakim Zander’s novel titled, The Believer. Instead of escaping from the daily headlines, I found myself reading about characters dealing with global current events in ways both individual and communal. Zander offers the perspective of three main characters. Fadi is a young Swede who became radicalized and joins the Isis forces in Syria. His sister, Yasmine, works in New York for a company that helps spot trends and exploit them for clients. Zander reprises Kara Waldeen from an earlier novel. She now works as a researcher for a human rights organization. Zander draws us into the current and backstories of these characters and pulls us into a world in which manipulators are nudging consequential actions. I enjoyed the suspense and the ways in which Zander brings topics of terror and manipulation into human relationships. Readers who like thrillers are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Believer from

The Vanished

Twists. I find winter to be an ideal time to be entertained by Scandinavian crime fiction. I picked up a novel titled, The Vanished, by Lotte and Soren Hammer, and was delighted by the plot twists and depth of character development. Detective Chief Superintendent Konrad Simonsen gets a new case when he returns to work following recovery from a heart attack. The pace of the novel may be more plodding than crime readers are accustomed to, but that rhythm gives readers ample time to get to know the protagonist and see his complexity. The mystery is interesting and involves enough twists to satisfy most crime fiction readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Vanished from

The Glorious Heresies

Salvific. The debut novel titled, The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney, packs a wallop. Set in Ireland after the financial meltdown, she presents the dark lives of troubled characters sorely in need of redemption. The ways in which characters use each other while rationalizing that they do what they do for those others, can define dysfunction. The feelings of remorse and guilt are often misplaced, whether about drugs, sex or violence, all of which are on frequent display. The motif of flames burning out the abuses of the past is offered with skill and precision, arising at just the right point in the narrative. Salvation for the main characters comes from unlikely places, and the bonds of family are strained from the beginning of the novel to the end. Readers who enjoy superb writing are those most likely to enjoy this unusual, quirky, and finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Glorious Heresies from

Where My Heart Used to Beat

Loneliness. Robert Hendricks, the protagonist and narrator of Sebastian Faulks’ novel titled, Where My Heart Used to Beat, fought in World War II and at age 60 has reached a time when he wants to reflect on the meaning of his life and come to grips with his loneliness. He accepts an invitation from an elderly man who knew Hendricks’ father in World War I, and their conversations provide the bulk of the narrative. Faulks explores the scars of war, mental health and the ways in which love and memory endure. How do the wounds from atrocities heal? Faulks explores that question and others in this finely written novel. Readers who enjoy psychological fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Where My Heart Used to Beat from

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

Memories. Most readers of Frederik Backman’s novella titled, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, will be moved by an endearing story of the loss of memory. Many readers will be brought to tears. This is a story of a farewell between a grandfather who is losing his memory and his grandson, Noah. It’s a wonderful story of love and finding ways to let go. Pack a hankie for when you read this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase And Every Morning from

The Long Room

Listeners. Patient readers are those most likely to enjoy reading Francesca Kay’s novel titled, The Long Room. This book is a character study of protagonist Stephen Donaldson who works as a listener for a British spy agency called the Institute. He and his workplace colleagues are divided into units and work in a long room. His obsession with the wife of a subject of his listening breaks him away from his numbing routine and leads him eventually to a radical change in his life. The pacing of the novel is often very slow, and some readers will long for more action and momentum. I found Kay’s insight into the mind of this interesting character brought me satisfaction enough to offset some tedium. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Long Room from

The Year of the Runaways

Desperation. I would have overlooked Sunjeev Sahota’s novel titled, The Year of the Runaways, had it not been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. Thanks to that alert, I enjoyed reading this intense novel about the experience of illegal and legal immigrants from India trying to eke out a living in England. The characters behave in ways that reveal their deep desperation to earn money for families at home, to pay off debts, and to make a new life in a strange country. Whatever your views on immigration, you’re likely to be enthralled by this finely told story of the struggles of people just like us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Year of the Runaways from

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo

Virtuoso. Veteran master of the short story genre, George Saunders, has written a debut novel titled, Lincoln in the Bardo. Lincoln is the President, and the bardo is like purgatory, a transitory state after death. Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son, Willie, has died and sorrow and grief overwhelm the president in 1862 as he is also realizing that the war between the states is likely to be both long and bloody. With that as the context, Saunders structures a delightfully funny and engaging novel, packed with characters, mostly dead souls, and he uses their voices to draw us into the time and place. Saunders displays great writing virtuosity as each voice adds a perspective and insight into who we are and how we deal with everything life can throw at us. Every voice offers some way in which a reader can achieve understanding and empathy. I enjoyed this novel so much, I may read it again. Readers who enjoy literary fiction and are willing to go with Saunders’ flow that can be confusing at times, are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Lincoln in the Bardo from

I See You

Stalked. There were times when I was ready to put aside Clare Mackintosh’s novel titled, I See You. Then Mackintosh did something with the plot or a character to surprise me, so I needed to keep reading. She maintains a level of tension in the novel that will please those readers who enjoy crime thrillers. This is a novel about women who are being stalked and it will chill many readers. Aspects of our surveillance society will be creepy for those readers who are anxious enough about new threats in our connected world. Most readers will be entertained by the fast-paced plot and interesting twists. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase I See You from

Homesick for Another World

Margins. Ottessa Moshfegh gives voice to characters who live on the margins of society in her collection of fourteen short stories titled, Homesick for Another World. I reveled in her wit, especially when the humor is dark. There were many sentences I read more than once, so I could savor them. Readers who enjoy short stories will find very finely crafted stories in this collection. Anyone who gains comfort from the flaws of others will share the glee with Moshfegh as she draws us into lives not very similar to our own, but true to ourselves at our very core. This is our world, like it or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Homesick for Another World from

A Divided Spy

Weary. The third spy novel by Charles Cumming to feature MI6 agent Thomas Kell is titled, A Divided Spy. Fans of the series will understand why Tom seems weary over the course of the latest novel: his twenty years as a spy have been a roller coaster of highs and lows, going from hero to goat. Tom is disillusioned and distraught and grieving over a personal loss. In the latest novel he is drawn back into the action and breaks out of his lethargy. The pace of the novel is quick, the prose well-written, and the continued development of a complex character will reward those readers who enjoy character driven fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Divided Spy from


Ordinary. There’s lots of insight into human nature and behavior in the twenty one short stories in a collection by Tim Gautreaux titled, Signals. With great skill, Gautreaux unveils the ways in which ordinary lives reveal truth about who we are and why we do what we do. Mostly set in Louisiana, the working people in these stories can be found everywhere in the world, and through Gautreaux’ finely written prose and tightly structured stories, we learn about ourselves in the episodes of the authentic lives described in these stories. We live most of lives in very ordinary ways, and there’s always more depth behind what seems on the surface to be all there is. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Signals from

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Universal Harvester

Loss. I never got comfortable while reading John Darnielle’s novel titled, Universal Harvester, and maybe that was the point. Rural Iowa seemed at first an unlikely place for a mood of menace and foreboding. But in every place there is loss to experience, there is grief, there is some form of menace. I remained uncomfortable as Darnielle changed story lines, moved backward and forward in time, and maintained a mood of loss and of being left behind. Darnielle uses the importance of image as key to the novel. From altered VCR tapes, viewers and readers can see for themselves as Darnielle puts it, “…people and places and things that might otherwise go unnoticed.” The images bear witness for those who weren’t left behind. From the title through the conclusion, I felt part of meditation on mortality, and I felt the lingering presence of death of some form or another, always ready to bring in the crops, present company included. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Universal Harvester from

Three Sisters Three Queens

Independent. Fans of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy her latest novel titled, Three Sisters, Three Queens. The women in the title are the two sisters of King Henry VIII, Margaret and Mary, and their sister-in-law, Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Narrated by Margaret, the novel draws readers into the dramatic ups and downs in the lives of these three sisters and queens. Fiercely independent and preoccupied with precedence, Margaret comes to life on these pages as a strong woman always striving to make the best decisions as the world around her changes dramatically. By writing fiction, Gregory has the luxury of using her imagination, and by doing lots of research, she draws within the lines of what is likely and probable. However she does it, Gregory writes historical fiction in ways that draw many readers, including this one, to whatever she writes. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Three Sisters Three Queens from

Human Acts

Uprising. It is through the stories of the experiences of other people that we can learn about ourselves and can appreciate how much we have in common with others. In her novel titled, Human Acts, Han Kang tells the story of the 1980 uprising in Gwangju, South Korea. Teenager Dong-ho tries to find the body of a missing friend amid the many dead bodies piled up in the street following the uprising. When Dong-ho refuses to go home, he is killed. Kang moves forward and backward in time to explore the uprising from multiple points of view as she explores the range of emotions and reactions to this event. Her lyrical prose contrasts with the story of oppression. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Human Acts from

The Prisoner

Mole. Alex Berenson continues to develop the complexity of protagonist John Wells in the eleventh novel in a series featuring this CIA agent. Just when his life seems to be settling down and his risk-taking diminishing, Wells offers himself as bait to ferret out a mole operating at the highest levels of the CIA. The novel is titled, The Prisoner, because that’s what Wells becomes so he can befriend another prisoner and identify the mole. As with the earlier novels in this series, the action moves quickly, it takes Wells risking his life to get to the bottom of things, and by the end of the novel, the good guys win. Readers who enjoy action novels will find their fill in this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Prisoner from


Indomitable. The twelfth novel in the Martha’s Vineyard mystery series by Cynthia Riggs featuring 92-year-old poet Victoria Trumbull is titled, Bloodroot. Readers who enjoy this series and murder mysteries in general will find plot development at a moderate pace, a variety of red herrings, a robust cast of characters loaded with flaws and distractions, and the indomitable Victoria well equipped to solve the case. I was entertained by this form of a visit to the Vineyard. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Bloodroot from

Days Without End

Adapt. I can’t recall reading a novel with greater contrast between the beauty of the prose and the brutality described. Sebastian Barry’s novel titled, Days Without End, contains some of the finest prose I’ve read. Protagonist Thomas McNulty has left the famine in Ireland as a teenager and has arrived in the United States on a fever ship as the sole survivor ready to adapt to whatever it will take to survive. After serving as “ladies” with fellow teenager and friend, John Cole, the two friends join the Army to fight first in the Indian Wars, and then with the Union in the Civil War. Barry’s descriptive language led me to reread many sentences, and the atmosphere he builds in the narrative made me feel present with the action described. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Days Without End from

The Nowhere Man

Ordeal. The second novel by Gregg Hurwitz to feature Evan Smoak is titled, The Nowhere Man. Smoke is also known as Orphan X, the title of the first novel in this series. I found the pace of this novel to be much slower than the earlier one. Smoak spends a long time in confinement with slow exposition followed by fast-pacing of a quick resolution to his ordeal. While this novel stands on its own, readers will have a more complete view of this interesting protagonist if one reads the novels in sequence. I was entertained well enough by this installment, and look forward to another in the series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Nowhere Man from

The Fortunes

Pearl. Some novels offer readers the opportunity to understand lives different from our own and gain insight into our human condition as a result. Peter Ho Davies offers four lives for our consideration in his novel titled, The Fortunes. Some of the characters are based on real historical figures. I found each of the four figures to be interesting, but concluded that the section titled, Pearl, was my favorite. Davies’ prose is finely written, and his insight into the ways in which we fit in and the ways in which we are “the other” provided some resonant themes with our contemporary political rhetoric. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fortunes from

Triple Crown

Stateside. I quickly read Felix Francis’ novel titled, Triple Crown, on a recent trip. I found the reliability of the formula in this series to be a comfort, and I noticed that I didn’t need to pay close attention because the plot moves slowly and clues to the mystery are often obvious. For the first time in my memory, Francis has the bulk of the action take place in the United States. The comparisons of horse racing in England and the United States show that Francis consistently favors the practices in England. Readers who like this series are those most likely to read this installment. It suited my purpose: a quick read that didn’t strain the brain. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Triple Crown from

But What If We're Wrong?

Questions. For general readers who are open to the possibility of changing one’s mind, there are loads of questions and doubts that arise in Chuck Klosterman’s book titled, But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past. I was entertained by the ways in which Klosterman poses his questions, and found myself putting the book down at several points and taking a walk to think about what I had just read. During a time when many of us are very firm in our views and can be stubborn about what we think we know, this book can open one’s mind to the possibility that we may well we wrong. For a dose of humility, peppered with humor, read this entertaining book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase But What If We’re Wrong from