Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

Measurement. I never expected to be mesmerized by a book about precision. In his book titled, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, Simon Winchester describes the improvements in technology as a result of doing a better job at measurement. In addition to this being a story about technology, Winchester does a great job in making this a story about people and their obsessions. Those readers who are not engineers or scientists will find this book interesting and readable. Scientists are likely to fine a few ways in which Winchester could have been more precise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perfectionists from amazon.com.

Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces

Minder. There’s not a lot to read in a brief collection of seven essays by Michael Chabon titled, Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, but each essay is finely written. If there is a father in your life who doesn’t read a lot, this book would make an ideal gift. For any father, mother or child, there is thoughtfulness behind each essay, and a grounding in affection and love. I loved the essay about taking his thirteen-year-old son to Paris and having the insight to understand that his role was not necessarily that of “father,” but of “minder,” as his son found other people with whom he connected. Chabon’s closing essay about his own father was loving and moving. I have always enjoyed Chabon’s writing, especially for his skill at choosing the perfect word to add to his finely crafted sentences. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Pops from amazon.com.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Psychedelic. I thought I knew a thing or two about psychedelics, but was disabused of that notion after reading Michael Pollan’s book titled, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Lots of research into psychedelics has been going on for decades, and there are promising findings about the effectiveness of some substances for treating different conditions. Fans of Pollan’s writing about food will find a similar style in his writing about the mind, and about his own experiences with psychedelics. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Change Your Mind from amazon.com.

In the Distance

Journey. I added Hernan Diaz’ debut novel titled, In the Distance, to my reading queue after it was nominated as a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While emigrating from Sweden to the United States with his older brother, protagonist Håkan becomes separated and throughout the novel tries to reunite with that brother. Instead of landing in New York, Håkan debarks in San Francisco, and begins a meandering journey mostly east to try to find his brother. Diaz presents terrific character development in Håkan, and delves deeply into grief, loss and loneliness as he takes readers on this fascinating journey with a great character. The prose is finely written, and most readers who enjoy literary fiction will appreciate this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase In the Distance from amazon.com.

Principles: Life and Work

Discipline. Living and working in a disciplined and methodical way has worked for Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio, so he is giving back by writing a book titled, Principles: Life and Work, about how he’s done it. Dalio starts by telling us his life story, continues by describing the principles by which he led Bridgewater, and wraps up with tools that a reader can use to develop one’s own principles and practices. I thought I was pretty organized and disciplined until I read this book. I even remember developing a list of principles during a time when I was managing lots of people. Dalio is a black belt especially when it comes to leading an idea meritocracy. Radical transparency has lots of consequences, and somehow or other, Dalio became comfortable with that and attracted others who thrived in that environment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Principles from amazon.com.

The Outsider

Satisfaction. I’m writing this review of Stephen King’s novel, The Outsider, three days after completing it, and the smile of satisfaction remains on my face. As fans have come to expect, King tells a captivating story that will engage readers from beginning to end. He presents interesting characters, some of them just like us, and others very, very different. There’s an otherworldly component here and the return of a beloved character from earlier novels. Reading this novel was a very satisfying start to summer. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Outsider from amazon.com.

Theory of Bastards

Impermanence. Audrey Schulman accomplishes so much in her novel titled, Theory of Bastards, that I loved every page. Protagonist Francine Burk (Frankie) is a well-developed, complex character, who resonates differently at the beginning and the end of the novel. Each human and bonobo character comes to life in the novel. Frankie’s observations of bonobos lead her to the theory referenced in the title. The community Schulman describes struggles with limited resources and the effects of climate change. When technology fails, the impermanence of all that is familiar requires dramatic change. There’s a roller coaster of healing, hurting and hope in this novel that will appeal in a special way to those readers who enjoy literary fiction that leads one toward deeper thoughts about life. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Theory of Bastards from amazon.com.

The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies

Cold. Former American spymaster Michael V. Hayden pulls no punches in a book titled, The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies. With cold precision, Hayden dissects the current status of the intelligence community and judges that the current assault inhibits the United States’ capabilities to address global threats. Any reader interest in public affairs should consider reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Assault on Intelligence from amazon.com.

FInal Strike

Warning. The third novel in the Sean Falcone series by former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen is titled, Final Strike. Don’t look now, Earthlings, because an asteroid you didn’t see coming is on a collision course with our planet. That exciting plot and warning provides the momentum to the novel and can often be strong enough to overcome clunky writing, weak dialogue and incomplete character development. Fans of thrillers may overlook the weaknesses thanks to a great premise and decent plot. I was mildly entertained, but a bit annoyed by an extra hundred pages or so. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Final Strike from amazon.com.

You Think It, I'll Say It

Variety. I’m a sucker for fiction that respects the intelligence of readers, and I was a bullseye target audience for Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection titled, You Think It, I’ll Say It. Each of the ten short stories in this collection presents a slice in the life of interesting characters facing typical contemporary issues. There were no clunkers in this group of stories, and each story satisfied me, while I deeply wanted to pursue other slices of these interesting lives. Fans of short stories and finely written literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Think It I’ll Say It from amazon.com.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Temptation of Forgiveness

Depth. Longtime readers of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon may wonder, as I did, how Guido continues to grow and change as he matures. In many respects, this beloved protagonist is at his best in the twenty-seventh installment of the series, a novel titled, The Temptation of Forgiveness. While always respectful of the strong females in his life, this time out Guido seems to give them more recognition and appreciation for their skills. The subject of the crime at the center of this novel could lead Guido in many different directions, and his maturity leads him to make the best choice. Many writers lose steam as a series continues, and the pressure to write new and interesting installments must be great. Donna Leon seems to get more energized and more intense with every new book, while remaining consistent with Venice and with the character of Brunetti, both of whom readers love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Temptation of Forgiveness from amazon.com.

The Fallen

Compassion. Protagonist Amos Decker returns in the fourth installment of the Memory Man series by David Baldacci, a novel titled, The Fallen. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this addition to the series. Baldacci continues to deepen the development of this interesting character, in this novel by the compassion and care that Amos provides to a young girl who is dealing with missing her deceased dad. Decker’s own experience gives him the way to provide compassion and help. As always with Baldacci, the plot moves quickly, the story is engaging, and the characters are interesting. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fallen from amazon.com.

The Gunners

Friends. In a novel titled, The Gunners, by Rebecca Kauffman, childhood friends who formed a close-knit group reunite in their early thirties. Through the combination of an intense weekend together when they return to Lackawanna for the funeral of a group member who committed suicide and flashbacks to their childhood, Kauffman develops each character and tells their individual and shared stories, revealing surprises for these friends. Initial impressions of these individuals change during the course of the novel, often in surprising ways, and the power of memories that lasted decades packs a wallop. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Gunners from amazon.com.

In the Midst of Winter

Maturity. Any day is a good day to read about the redemptive power of love. In her novel titled, In the Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende draws three dissimilar characters together to tell each other their personal stories. Experiences in Latin and South America about human trafficking and immigration bring them together, and the care they show each other becomes a driving force in the plot. Allende explores how maturity can deepen the love that can develop between people approaching the sunset of their lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In the Midst of Winter from amazon.com.

Dark at the Crossing

Disoriented. Most elements of Eliot Ackerman’s novel titled, Dark at the Crossing, are disorienting. Protagonist Haris Abadi is a confused man, an Arab American trying to cross the border from Turkey into Syria to fight the regime. His plans are disrupted when he is robbed, and he finds that crossing the border is not that easy after all. His darkness increases after a husband and wife, Amil and Daphne, take him in, and he questions his allegiances. Borders are physical and psychological, and Ackerman explores longing and loss with great skill in this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dark at the Crossing from amazon.com.

Lawn Boy

Class. If you’re looking for a humorous novel about race and class in contemporary America, consider reading Jonathan Evison’s coming of age novel titled, Lawn Boy. Protagonist Mike Muñoz finds himself adrift after losing a landscaping job. While he struggles with work, family, and love life, he deals with class differences and exploitation. Mike is a lovable character, and Evison uses him as an everyman to riff on themes of modern life, especially the obstacles of race and class. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lawn Boy from amazon.com.

I've Been Thinking . . .: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life

Calming. Most days, I will tap the Breathe app on my Apple Watch and calm down for a minute or five. I found the same effect from reading each short chapter in Maria Shriver’s book titled, I've Been Thinking . . .: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. As the subtitle discloses, Shriver offers personal reflections on a wide range of subjects, and prayers and meditations on those subjects. Readers find meaning in many places different from Shriver’s experiences, but her reflections will stimulate one’s own, and lead us toward the next steps to take on our daily journey. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase I’ve Been Thinking from amazon.com.

Barren Island

Losses. One of my fondest childhood memories was driving from our apartment in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn to our bungalow in Roxbury on the Rockaway peninsula. I remember looking to the west from Flatbush Avenue before reaching Floyd Bennett Field and seeing a farmer plowing a field: an unusual site for Brooklyn in the 1950s. So when I read Carol Zoref’s novel titled, Barren Island, and learned about an island in the salt marches off Floyd Bennett Field, I wondered if I should have been looking to the east, especially while crossing the bridge. This finely written novel is full of losses of all sorts from the monumental to the minor. An isolated group of people live and work in the stench of a factory that renders dead horses and other animals into glue and fertilizer. The narrator, Marta Eisenstein, describes at age eighty her memories of these desolate places that have long since been demolished. Life between the world wars of the twentieth century were dominated by the losses of the depression. For Marta, the losses are as real in her memory as they were when they first occurred. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Barren Island from amazon.com.

The River of Consciousness

Essays. Fans of the late scientist Oliver Sacks will enjoy reading a book of his essays titled, The River of Consciousness, that he was working on at the time of his death. Each essay reveals Sacks’ fine writing, his intelligent curiosity, and his ability to tell interesting stories to general readers. I enjoyed every page of this collection, and closed the last page wanting to read more. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The River of Consciousness from amazon.com.

Fast Falls the Night

Overdose. In the sixth installment of the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, a novel titled, Fast Falls the Night, the author turns her focus to the drug problem in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia. Most of the tension in the novel involves trying to track down the source of a batch of tainted heroin that’s killing people. Bell is also considering an offer to leave town and join a law firm. Keller leaves readers with a cliffhanger, so fans will anxiously await another installment to find out what happens. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fast Falls the Night from amazon.com.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Judge Hunter

Pepys. Readers looking for an escape from the present for laughs about the past with a nod toward contemporary life are those most likely to love reading Christopher Buckley’s novel titled, The Judge Hunter. Set in the 17th century, the novel mixes historical figures like Samuel Pepys and Peter Stuyvesant with an interesting cast of fictional characters. The plot and schemes are funny, the prose fast-paced, and the wit smile provoking. Buckley pokes Puritans and Quakers with equal fervor. I was thoroughly entertained by this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Judge Hunter from amazon.com.

My Ex-Life

Ensemble. For those readers who find pleasure in spending time with an ensemble of interesting characters, consider reading Stephen McCauley’s novel titled, My Ex-Life. The central characters are undergoing dramatic changes in their lives and that provides the tension for the plot. Secondary characters provide terrific comic relief and reduce focus on looming deadlines in the lives of the protagonists. Underlying these relationships there is a deep caring for others that shows up in many forms. The setting, a seaside Massachusetts town, is presented with just enough detail to become vivid for readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Ex-Life from amazon.com.

Noir

Perky. I always finish reading a Christopher Moore novel in high spirits. Even when he takes on noir, he does it in a perky way. His latest novel titled, Noir, is set in San Francisco following World War II and the hijinks of a large cast of interesting characters kept me entertained throughout the novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Noir from amazon.com.

The Mars Room

Prison. Rachel Kushner grabbed me in the first few pages of her novel titled, The Mars Room, and didn’t let go until the very end. Protagonist Romy Hall is heading to prison for a long time and we don’t know why for hundreds of pages. But we do get to know life inside prison to such an extent that I started to wonder how much time Kushner spent in prison or whether she ever worked as an exotic dancer as she describes working in the Mars Room. I’m confident that neither is the case, but those thoughts arise because of Kushner’s literary skills and the ways in which she draws us into places and into the lives of people that are deep and rich. Prison society, poverty and justice are all displayed by Kushner as her finely written prose takes readers to places and people we may not typically encounter in our lives. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Mars Room from amazon.com.

Love and Ruin

Independent. Paula McLain continues her fiction about the wives of Ernest Hemingway with a novel about his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, in a novel titled, Love and Ruin. Martha couldn’t be more different from Hemingway’s earlier wives: she’s a courageous and talented journalist with a successful career. Her independence from Hemingway leads her to escape his shadow. Fans of McLain’s historical fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this latest novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Love and Ruin from amazon.com.

Two Steps Forward

Path. In France, it is called Le Chemin de St. Jacques. In Spain, it is called El Camino de Santiago. It is the pilgrim path that ends in Spain in Santiago de Compostela. In their novel titled, Two Steps Forward, Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist, present the journey of a woman named Zoe and a man named Martin who meet on this pilgrim path. Zoe left California for this pilgrimage following the sudden death of her husband. Martin left England following a messy divorce, and his engineering background led him to design and field test a cart for pilgrims to use on this journey. What Zoe and Martin find on the journey will bring smiles to most readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Two Steps Forward from amazon.com.

The Immortalists

Siblings. Would you live differently if you knew the date of your death? Chloe Benjamin explores that question in her finely written novel titled, The Immortalists. After the four Gold siblings visit a fortune teller and are told when they will die, each individual makes choices about life because of what was foretold. Thanks to her finely written prose and deep character development, skeptical readers can overlook the magical dimension of their shared formative experience. Each sibling chooses differently how to incorporate into their lives what they were told in their youth. Benjamin develops each sibling’s life by drawing readers into specific times and places as she steadily maintained the novel’s momentum. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Immortalists from amazon.com.

The Escape Artist

Strained. I tried very hard to suspend disbelief while reading Brad Meltzer’s novel titled, The Escape Artist. Whether it was my failure to cut Meltzer slack or his straining credulity at almost every key plot turn, the outcome was my reading a novel that I never came to enjoy. On the positive side, protagonist Nola Brown was a very interesting character. The Houdini connection was fascinating. Those two elements were not sufficient for me to overcome a plot that strained logical reasoning multiple times. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase The Escape Artist from amazon.com.

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

Uncontrollable. One of my favorite personal foibles involves living under the delusion that I have some control over my life. In a book titled, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, Barbara Ehrenreich explores how our lives and journey toward death are uncontrollable, down to the cellular level, and the extraordinary means taken by medical practitioners to prolong life are often not based in scientific evidence. Ehrenreich faces the certainty of her death with confidence and describes her decision to abandon preventive and diagnostic medical procedures now that she has reached an age (mid-seventies) when death is more probable than long life. Supported by her PhD in cell biology, she uses a long section of this short book to explore how cells behave and misbehave. Readers beyond middle age think about quality of life and certainty of death, or we should, and Ehrenreich may not provide answers to our questions, but she stimulates thinking about what we can control and how much is far beyond anyone’s control. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Natural Causes from amazon.com.

Raspberry Danish Murder

Missing. Prolific writer and baker Joanne Fluke ended the twenty-first novel in her Hannah Swensen mystery series with a cliffhanger, and she inserted another frustrating cliffhanger at the conclusion of the twenty-second installment, a novel titled, Raspberry Danish Murder. Hannah’s husband, Ross, has gone missing, and one of Ross’ associates has been murdered. In this installment, there is less sleuthing by Hannah, even more baking and eating by the ensemble, and a general sense of slow progress with the series plot momentum. With all the health warnings about too much sugar, I think I never salivated while reading any of the twenty-nine recipes for sweet goodies in this installment. I may open the next installment to the end of the book to check for yet another cliffhanger, or go on a Swensen diet, and stop reading the series if it remains smothered in powdered sugar and no nutrition. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase Raspberry Danish Murder from amazon.com.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Let Me Lie

Turns. Fans of intricately plotted crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy Clare Mackintosh’s novel titled, Let Me Lie. Protagonist Anna Johnson is a new mom who still grieves the death of both her parents within the past year. After Anna receives a message that “it was not suicide,” she stumbles onto retired detective Murray Mackenzie who now works as a civilian at the desk of a local police station. Murray, Anna and readers are all trying to connect the dots as Mackintosh uses multiple narrators to present the story and to lead us all astray. I gave up counting the number of turns I made while reading this novel. By the end, I was entertained and satisfied, confident that I will do a better job at finding clues next time. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Let Me Lie from amazon.com.

High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing

Portraits. Most readers know something about Cabrini-Green and have formed views and impressions about that place and all public housing. In a finely written book titled, High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing, Ben Austen tells the Cabrini-Green story in ways that will enlighten all readers. Austen excels in the ways he humanizes matters of public policy by telling us about people: by offering portraits of residents and others that enliven the narrative and lead to heightened understanding about people who are mostly just like us. Poverty, race, class, politics and real estate are all lively topics, and Austen explores each of them in this finely written book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase High Risers from amazon.com.

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History

Consciousness. How many things in your life do you go by every day and not really notice? The Confederate statues in New Orleans were outside mayor Mitch Landrieu’s consciousness until he was challenged to look at them from another point of view. Once he examined the statues and history more closely he came to the conclusions that the statues had to be removed from their places of prominence. In his book titled, In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, Landrieu begins and ends with the statues, and fills the middle with his personal story. You already have a view about these statues. Consider reading Landrieu’s book and see if your view matches what he learned and experienced in NOLO. I enjoyed reading this book and it has me paying a bit more attention to those parts of my life in which I would benefit from a bit more consciousness raising. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In the Shadow of Statues from amazon.com.

The Driest Season

Unsubtle. Cielle, the teenage protagonist of Meghan Kenny’s debut novel titled, The Driest Season, lives on a Wisconsin farm in the early 1940s and experiences dramatic loss. There’s nothing subtle in the things that shake up Cielle’s world: her father’s suicide, a tornado that destroys the barn, the backdrop of the World War, a draught that threatens the family’s survival on the farm. What Kenny does well in this novel is make readers believe that Cielle handles everything in stride and finds hope after losses. A dramatic barn raising provides an image of a future during which all will one day be well. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Driest Season from amazon.com.

Tangerine

Cunning. The great strength of protagonist Lucy Mason in Christine Mangan’s debut novel titled, Tangerine, is her cunning. Set mostly in Tangier in the 1950s, the novel’s descriptive prose and dialogue draws readers into the images and lifestyle of that time and place. Mangan delves into close female relationships in this novel and the skills that one can use to manipulate another. Lucy plays a long game, and Mangan unravels the story with skill as readers are lulled and surprised by the plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Tangerine from amazon.com.

Blind Spot

Vision. Fans of both Teju Cole’s writing and his photography get a double treat when these artistic ventures are combined in a book titled, Blind Spot. Readers can linger on the images and absorb the prose that reveals Cole’s memories, the different settings and his reflections. We can see through the eyes of an artist and hear from him about the connections he has made while traveling around the around the world. We can observe with him how a change in his vision altered his photography. I finished reading this book thinking a lot about the art of seeing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blind Spot from amazon.com.

(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump

Targeted. Jonathan Weisman’s sense of his Jewish identity became upended after his role as a New York Times editor gave him visibility in the last presidential election campaign and he found himself targeted and attacked on Twitter in what all can agree is a renewed anti-Semitism in America. In his book titled, (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump, Weisman explores aspects of our current society and the ways in which hate and tolerance influence our politics. Weisman offers ways to leave behind any remaining complacency about hate and targeting of any groups and then aligning ourselves with anyone who is vulnerable in today’s toxic environment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Semitism from amazon.com.

The Monk of Mokha

Journey. Fasten your seatbelt because once you start reading Dave Eggers’ book titled, The Monk of Mokha, you will not want to stop. Eggers introduces us to Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni American whose journey through life changes dramatically after he finds passion about coffee from Yemen. Mokhtar knew nothing about coffee from Yemen when he drifted into this passion, and once he learned all he could, he hustled and bargained and found every way possible to bring the fine coffee from Yemen to the coffee lovers of the world. Along the way, he finds himself in Yemen when Saudi bombs are falling on the country, and he uses every means possible to get out of the country with a hundred pounds of beans to process and present to tasters at a conference in Seattle. Eggers clearly got hooked by Mokhtar’s passion, and uses his finely written prose to tell us all an inspirational story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Monk of Mokha from amazon.com.

Mrs. Osmond

Freedom. Every time I finish reading a novel by John Banville, I think about the delight he must feel in his freedom to have fun by writing the books he wants to write. In his latest novel titled, Mrs. Osmond, Banville takes Isabel Archer, the heroine of Henry James’ novel, The Portrait of a Lady, and twists the story in ways that made me smile. While the prose can be tough slogging at times as Banville writes in the style of James for this homage, the shift in plot made up for any challenges. Isabel returns to Gilbert Osmond in Italy with a surprise and she is admired by the way in which she turns the tables on a bad situation. This novel is all about freedom and Banville’s joy in writing it comes through, especially for those readers who enjoy literary fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mrs Osmond from amazon.com.

Raven Strategem

Middle. The second novel in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy is titled, Raven Strategem. For most of the novel, hero Kel Cheris appears in the form of General Shuos Jedao and his exploits provide the plot momentum as the story continues from the first installment and sets readers up for the finale. While I read the first novel quickly, I slowed down my pace for this one, but the large cast of characters, the complexity of the plot and the special terms Lee uses didn’t become clearer with a slower pace. I’m now prepared for a finale that I hope ends with a satisfying conclusion. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Raven Strategem from amazon.com.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Trick

Reborn. Close readers of Domenico Starnone’s novel titled, Trick, can explore many different levels of meaning, and find pleasure of one sort or another on every page, thanks to Jhumpa Lahiri’s finely written translation from the Italian. Most of us become set in our ways and it takes some change of location, attitude or relationship to lead us away from one set of behaviors and toward another. Protagonist Daniele Mallarico is an artist and grandfather who has been persuaded by his daughter to return to his childhood home in Naples to care for his four-year-old grandson, Mario, for a few days. Mallarico brings a work assignment with him: illustrations for a new edition of a book. Work is the center of Mallarico’s life and he is struggling with this new assignment. The return to his childhood home is jarring, as is his struggle in caring for Mario after the boy’s parents leave the home. The roles of grandparent and grandchild shift, and in a pivotal scene, the grandfather experiences a violent sort of baptism and becomes born anew, thanks in part to Mario’s competence. With newly opened eyes, the grandfather sees his art in a new light, and sees Mario’s skill in drawing as the boy imitates his grandfather. Meanwhile, the time away from the hone leads Mario’s parents to a rebirth of their own, having broken out of their habitual and broken relationship and into a newly found respect and love for each other. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Trick from amazon.com.

Flat Broke with Two Goats

Next. Financial disaster arrived in the lives of Jennifer McGaha and her husband. Her memoir of this time is a finely written book titled, Flat Broke with Two Goats. Some people look backward when they face unwelcome change, but McGaha seemed to always look forward. Along the journey from an ordinary middle class suburban life to living in a neglected one-hundred-year-old cabin, McGaha seems to shift in her perspective of where she finds value in life. As I read this book, I remembered hearing wisdom from Normal Lear about his life lessons, the most important of which were two words: over and next. Whatever happened is over. It’s time for what’s next, so get on with it. What McGaha ended up getting on with was less college teaching and more goat raising. Fans of memoirs will find a lot to enjoy in McGaha’s story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Flat Broke with Two Goats from amazon.com.

The Balcony

Place. The debut novel by Jane Delury titled, The Balcony, keeps a place constant and tells us the stories of some of the people associated with that place over time. The opening vignette grabbed my attention and interest. While I became a bit less focused for some of the middle chapters, the final chapter closed the book with one of the best chapters. The variety of different people Delury presents and their struggles and advantages are all interesting and suited perfectly to the place and to the time period in which they lived. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Balcony from amazon.com.

The Undertaker's Daughter

Inheritance. The protagonist of Sara Blaedel’s novel titled, The Undertaker’s Daughter, has been living what seems to a contented life in Copenhagen, Denmark. A widow in her forties, Ilka Nichols Jensen works as a school photographer. When she gets the news that her estranged father, whom she hasn’t seen in three decades, has died, she also learns that she has an inheritance: a funeral home in Racine, Wisconsin. With that set up, Blaedel puts Ilka into situations that strain credulity and provide the elements of a good murder mystery. While the novel brings one mystery to a satisfying conclusion, Blaedel leaves a cliffhanger that will please some readers and frustrate others. I assume there will be another novel featuring Ilka as she continues to struggle with what to do with the funeral home she inherited. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Undertaker’s Daughter from amazon.com.

The Woman in the Water

Youth. The refreshing eleventh installment in the Charles Lenox mystery series by Charles Finch is titled, The Woman in the Water. Instead of the mature Victorian detective from recent novels, we enjoy a prequel in this installment: Lenox’ first efforts at detecting. It will be no spoiler for fans that Lenox was a talented sleuth from the start. The writing is well-done, the plot engaging, the characters complex and the pace spot on. A civilized crime novel for intelligent readers is always a treat for those of us who enjoy this genre. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Woman in the Water from amazon.com.

The Common Good

Cogent. Former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich has written a short book titled, The Common Good. Instead of engaging in the latest form of partisan finger pointing, Reich calls for us to consider how the common good is a fundamental element of our society that has been eroding. Reich chronicles the key actions by a variety of individuals and groups that have moved norms of behavior from a focus on “we” to an exclusive focus on “me.” He reminds us about something important that we are veering away from by our own practices and what we are willing to tolerate from others. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Common Good from amazon.com.

Thirty-Seven

Survivor. Readers looking for a compact novel with a heavy dose of unusual behavior should consider reading Peter Stenson’s novel titled, Thirty-Seven. Protagonist Mason Hues is Thirty-Seven, the appellation he received when he joined a cult and was assigned the next membership number. The Survivors believe that making themselves very sick leads to honesty and that honesty will lead to change. Stenson presents Mason to us as the last survivor of the cult, but after Mason’s boss, Talley, learns of his backstory, they reignite the journey from sickness toward honesty and change. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Thirty-Seven from amazon.com.

The Gate Keeper

Restless. The twentieth installment of the Inspector Ian Rutledge series by the mother-son writing team named Charles Todd is titled, The Gate Keeper. After Ian’s sister, Frances, weds and departs on her honeymoon, a restless Rutledge leaves London and takes an aimless drive. On a desolate road in Suffolk, he comes on the scene of a woman standing outside a car in the middle of the road with her bloody hands over a man lying on the ground. Despite having left his Scotland Yard credentials at home and being considered a murder suspect himself, Rutledge injects himself into a complicated investigation that will delight most lovers of crime fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Gate Keeper from amazon.com.

Bring Out the Dog

Field. There are eleven short stories in the debut collection by Will Mackin titled, Bring Out the Dog. Mackin is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and these stories capture Mackin’s perspectives about different aspects of the field of war. Most readers will not have the field experience of these long wars, and Mackin finds ways of making a reader feel that we can understand the people and the places he describes, as well as the feelings of the characters Mackin presents. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bring Out the Dog from amazon.com.

The Rising Sea

Machines. Fans of fast-paced thrillers will enjoy the latest installment in the NUMA Files series by Clive Cussler, a novel titled, The Rising Sea. Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala are back in an escapist novel that pits these heroes against worthy adversaries: machines. Past meets future when one scene has a swordfight, and another has Kurt driving a race car in competition against a self-driving machine. Meanwhile, water levels are rising because a mining operation has released undersea water into the ocean. As with all the installments in this series, it’s no spoiler that by the end, the good guys win. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Rising Sea from amazon.com.