Friday, March 9, 2018

The Kremlin's Candidate

Recipes. Russian interference in the United States has become a regular headline story. In the finale of the Red Sparrow Trilogy, a novel titled, The Kremlin's Candidate, author Jason Matthews focuses on that interference. Putin orders the murder of the CIA chief to set the stage for his replacement with a Russian mole. Reprised characters Dominika Egorova, the Russian spy secretly working for the US, and her lover, CIA agent Nate Nash, are placed in peril to prevent the mole from becoming the head of the CIA. Fans of spy thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. I especially enjoyed all the references to food throughout the book, and the special reward: recipes for many of the dishes eaten. Bon app├ętit. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Kremlin's Candidate from

How Democracies Die

Norms. Two Harvard professors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, have studied democracies around the world. In their book titled, How Democracies Die, they present a clinical assessment of the ways in which countries can lose democracy slowly following a number of different events and actions. I expected to read a Chicken Little diatribe about the crisis presented to the United States by President Trump. Instead, the book presents a dispassionate assessment of where we stand in relation to what has happened elsewhere. Any reader who dismisses the importance of norms should read this book and reconsider how important unwritten standards are to the maintenance of a free and democratic society. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How Democracies Die from

Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic

Echo. After I finished reading David Frum's book titled, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, I started to wonder who else was reading it. I admit that I knew I would like the book because I was confident that Frum would provide a cogent and incisive case against President Trump. As a conservative and Republican, I wonder if Frum still maintains a receptive audience among those readers. I wonder how many Trump supporters will read this book. As we become comfortable in our respective partisan alliances, I wonder if there's a chance for the messages in one echo chamber to break into another. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Trumpocracy from


Plans. Crime fiction impresario Laura Lippman gives readers a memorable protagonist and a complex plot in her novel titled, Sunburn. My insight and understanding about Polly changed about every fifty pages. Like most of us, Polly looks out for number one, but the ways in which her planning and long-term patience accomplishes her goals were astounding. Lippman throws a wrench into Polly's plans when she meets Adam in a bar. One thing leads to another and twists and revelations abound. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this entertaining novel and will close the book feeling pretty good that someone like Polly has not been part of our life, so far. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sunburn from

Fire Sermon

Fidelity. Clear out a book club evening to discuss Jamie Quatro's debut novel titled, Fire Sermon. Protagonist Maggie is struggling with being faithful to her husband, Thomas, as she desires to deepen her relationship with a colleague, James. If Maggie's growing desire for James were the dominant theme, this novel would have been unmemorable. Quatro adds Maggie's spirituality to the mix and places her behavior with James on a collision course with her desire to do what God wants her to do. Quatro maintains tension between Maggie's head and heart and conveys her deep longing. Falling in love turns life upside down, and Quatro spins readers with finely written prose as she presents interesting and complex characters struggling with making the right choices. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fire Sermon from

Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir

Memory. Amy Tan's memoir titled, Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir, was all I expected and more. Tan shares memories of her life and focuses particular attention on writing. Readers are Tan's companions as she draws us into the process by which she uncovers deeply buried memories and uses her fine writing skills to describe those recollections in prose that is engaging and with the insight of a long life well-lived. I found the exchanges with her editor were an added delight in this book. Fans of Tan and readers who enjoy well-written memoirs are those most likely to appreciate this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Where the Past Begins from


Lear. The Hogarth Shakespeare series selected Edward St. Aubyn to offer readers a contemporary take on King Lear, which he does with great success in a novel titled, Dunbar. All the rage and family dynamics of the play are on display and power and money are given a modern and realistic focus, with the Lear figure, Dunbar, being the wealthy head of a global media conglomerate on the verge of being pushed out of his leadership role by the avarice of two of his daughters. I was well entertained by this novel and I will now reread the Shakespeare play as a treat. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dunbar from

Stay With Me

Children. The emotional range of the characters presented in Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel titled, Stay with Me, will penetrate the defenses of the hardest hearted reader. There are losses and joys that reach the depths and heights of human experience. The centrality of children to the narrative will make this novel an ideal choice for a book club comprised of parents. The power of cultural expectations can be overwhelming, and Adebayo draws us into Nigeria and the expectations of that culture on those who live there. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Stay with Me from

A Casualty of War

Guns. The mother-son writing team named Charles Todd have brought nurse Bess Crawford back for the ninth installment in this series set during World War I. In the novel titled, A Casualty of War, Bess has met Captain Alan Travis, and she becomes caught up in a predicament as World War I comes to a close. Guns are involved. Most of the action in the novel takes place in England where Bess has returned on leave before returning to France to tend to soldiers who are still at or near the battlefields. The plot is interesting and complex, the characters are finely drawn, and the story is engaging. Fans of the series will be delighted to join the competent Bess in her latest exploits, and new readers can start here or anywhere to enjoy this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Casualty of War from

Typhoon Fury

Pills. All the formulaic elements of the Oregon Series of novels by Clive Cussler appear in the twelfth installment titled, Typhoon Fury. Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon perform heroic exploits against formidable adversaries, the cool technology works, and by the end of the novel, the good guys prevail, and the bad guys are defeated. Along the way, there's a thrilling plot about powerful pills from World War II and the discovery of artwork from an infamous theft. Another reliable action novel for those readers who enjoy a familiar formula. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Typhoon Fury from

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bone Music

Origin. I don't know how many books Christopher Rice plans for his Burning Girl series, but the first novel titled, Bone Music, lays a solid foundation on which to build multiple stories. Protagonist Charlotte Rowe is Burning Girl named for a formative event in her childhood. Having been raised by serial killers, her nurturing was minimal to say the least. She has thrown off the power of others to control her and thanks to receiving an experimental drug she has acquired a power that she calls bone music. This opening novel brings us to the moment after she has just used her power to fight evil and leads us to her choice of what to do next. Rating: Three-star (It's ok) Click here to purchase Bone Music from

How to Stop Time

Old. The creative premise that drives the plot of Matt Haig's novel titled, How to Stop Time, is that a small group of people in the world age at a rate much slower than the rest of us. Protagonist Tom Hazard is one such individual, and he's still around although quite old, given that he was born in 1581. Haig draws readers into Tom's long and interesting life including stints as a musician for Shakespeare, a jazz artist in 1920s Paris, and now as a history teacher at a high school. Readers may never again think about time and aging in the same way as before meeting Tom Hazard. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Stop Time from

Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery

Choppy. Astronaut Scott Kelly presents two narratives in his book titled, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery. A main part of the narrative explores the full year that he spent on the International Space Station. The second narrative is a memoir of his full life. Kelly shares all the big and small details of living for a year in space and makes that experience come alive. The memoir has an "aw shucks" quality to it that could lead many readers to think that if he could turn his life around and get one of the toughest and most competitive jobs in the world, so can any one of us. Rating: Three-star (It's ok) Click here to purchase Endurance from

The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It

Clusters. Any readers interested in public policy should consider reading Richard Florida's book titled, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class-and What We Can Do About It. Whether you agree or disagree with his thinking, Florida offers a cogent analysis about modern American cities, and offers possible solutions to the problems he's observed. Those who have read Florida in the past will find familiar themes here. He clearly displays his preference for "urbanism for all" and the benefits of clustering to long term prosperity. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The New Urban Crisis from


Inequality. We seem to be living during a time of great differences and conflicts that can become defining for the prospects and lives of individuals. Lisa Halliday presents several aspects of inequality in her novel titled, Asymmetry. Structured in three sections, the novel opens readers to pondering many different questions throughout the finely written narrative. In this first section, we see the unequal relationship between an elderly renowned male novelist and a young woman in her twenties who works in publishing. Halliday presents these two complex characters in ways that demand a reader question memory and the feelings behind the behaviors described. The second section presents an Iraqi American narrator who has been detained at airport border control in London. The final section presents an interview with the eminent writer after he wins a Nobel. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this finely crafted debut novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Asymmetry from

The Deceivers

Russians. The twelfth thriller novel by Alex Berenson to feature protagonist John Wells is titled, The Deceivers. Pulled away from family for another special assignment, Wells expects one high profile assignment, but receives a different one as President Duto sends Wells into a complicated thicket of plots by Russian operatives to take over the United States government. Fans of the series will enjoy this novel, as will any reader who enjoys thrillers with plot lines grabbed from current headlines. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Deceivers from

Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship

Us. On any given page of Gregory Boyle's book titled, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, readers are likely to laugh, smile or tear up, as he tells the stories of the people he has gotten to know in Los Angeles in his work at Homeboy Industries. The title refers to one of many malaprops that Boyle has heard from in the three decades of work he has done at Homeboy. This book is all about inclusion: we live in mutuality, and there should be no "other." Kinship means that everyone matters, and there is no exclusion from "us." The stories in this book are our stories, and the people are all part of our extended family. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Barking to the Choir from

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years

Wit. I didn't expect to do more than skim a few pages of the book by former Obama speechwriter David Litt titled, Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years. Instead, Litt's fine storytelling and wit carried me through, and before I knew it I had finished over three hundred well-written pages. There's often a "pinch me" quality behind Wit's story of coming of age in the White House. Whatever your politics, consider reading this book for the wit contained on its pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Thanks Obama from

Last Chance

Purpose. The second exciting novel in the Rains Brothers series by Gregg Hurwitz is titled, Last Chance. An alien invasion set off the plot in the first novel and in the current book, brothers Chance and Patrick Rains find out their purpose in life as well as why they were immune from the alien virus from an alien good guy: (p.149) "You and your brother's purpose is to die." No plot spoiler here: the excitement continues for those readers who love creepy and imaginative fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Last Chance from

The Secret Life

Personalities. I am drawn toward finely written stories that bring out elements of interesting personalities and complex characters, whether in fiction or non-fiction. Three long form essays by Andrew O'Hagan have been assembled into a book titled, The Secret Life. One essay describes O'Hagan's relationship with Julian Assange on an assignment to ghostwrite Assange's autobiography. As expected, Assange is a fascinating and complex character, and O'Hagan unveils him to a reader's delight. A second essay explores identity theft and O'Hagan success in constructing for himself a new identity. The third essays involve bitcoin and the identity of its mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. O'Hagan describes the relationship he develops with Craig Wright, an Australian who claims he is Satoshi. Fans of good writing are those most likely to enjoy reading these essays. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Secret Life from