Monday, April 16, 2018

The Female Persuasion

Pathways. I thoroughly enjoyed becoming immersed in the lives of a large cast of interesting characters in Meg Wolitzer’s novel titled, The Female Persuasion. Protagonist Greer Kadetsky follows a path through life that aligns with what most of us experience: highs, lows, and a road that meanders in directions we never imagined. It’s easy to spend time with Wolitzer because her sentences are finely crafted, and her insights into human nature are revealed in every character as they emerge as complex and true to life. Central to the novel are two significant relationships: Greer’s longtime friendship with the smart neighbor boy, Cory; and the ways in which a feminist leader, Faith Frank, becomes a mentor to Greer. Wolitzer allows us to meander forward and backward in time as we get to know the complexity in the lives of Greer, Cory and Faith. As Greer matures and finds her voice, she uses it ways that she never imagined. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Female Persuasion from amazon.com.

The Perfect Nanny

Creepy. If this line doesn’t compel you to read Leila Slimami’s novel titled, The Perfect Nanny, nothing will: “to be happy, someone has to die.” That’s the view of Louise, the nanny in the title. This creepy psychological thriller takes us into the life of Louise, and the families and children whose lives she has entered. It’s a novel of race and class and the ways in which we become part of the lives of others, and they become part of our lives, for better and for worse. Louise is a troubled soul, and we know from the beginning of the novel that something terrible has happened. The rest is finely written prose helping us come to grips with tragedy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perfect Nanny from amazon.com.

Tears of Salt: A Doctor's Story

Lampedusa. The life of Doctor Pietro Bartolo turned upside down and inside out when refugees from fighting in North Africa and the Middle East began to arrive on his native island of Lampedusa. In his book titled, Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story, Bartolo tells us of his life and of this time when how a person feels about the dignity of every life requires the hardest work one has ever done. While much of what Bartolo describes in this book involves suffering, the inspiration comes from his steadiness while facing the unexpected, and how he did all he could to alleviate suffering. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Tears of Salt from amazon.com.

Faith: A Journey for All

Personal. What is faith in your life? In his book titled, Faith: A Journey for All, former President Jimmy Carter explores what faith has meant in his life and offers readers insight and wisdom from his experience. While religious faith occupies much of this book, Carter covers faith and doubt from many different perspectives. As always, Carter speaks with a moral authority and authenticity that for most readers is well worth hearing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Faith from amazon.com.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Naps. I have the same thought with every new book by Daniel H. Pink: what new and interesting insights is he sharing this time? In his latest book titled, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink has scoured scientific journals to uncover stimulating information that could change one’s beliefs. The big theme in this book is that timing really is everything. Using lots of examples, Pink reinforces this in multiple ways. My favorite was about naps. Like me, Pink was not a napper. Based on research, Pink now believes in the value of the short nap taken at the right time for the right period of time, following a cup of coffee. Any reader open to changing beliefs based on new scientific evidence will find much to enjoy in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When from amazon.com.

Speak No Evil

Silence. Be prepared to receive an emotional wallop while reading Uzodinma Iweala’s finely written novel titled, Speak No Evil. One could say this is a novel about a family that could be any family. There is love, similarities, differences. Then, there is cruelty, violence, tragedy. One could describe this novel as a gay coming of age story. None of those descriptions matter because of what this novel is: a finely written story that will engage every reader. The characters in this novel are drawn well and are developed with complexity and care as we understand them better every time the plot moves forward. The finely written prose drew me in to the story from the opening, and some sentences increased my heartrate or perhaps the prose served as a kind of pacemaker. If a consequence of speaking no evil involves silence, that may be an outcome that turns out to be unbearable. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Speak No Evil from amazon.com.

The Bishop's Pawn

King. The thirteenth novel in the Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry takes an approach different from the first dozen books in the series. In the novel titled, The Bishop’s Pawn, Berry presents Cotton Malone’s link to Martin Luther King in the past and in the present. The past involves backstory: the first work that Malone did for Stephanie Nelle. Fans of action novels will find plenty to enjoy in this book, and those readers who have enjoyed the series are those most likely to appreciate the latest installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Bishop’s Pawn from amazon.com.

Chicago

Dialogue. Life in Chicago in the 1920s provided a backdrop to showcase David Mamet’s fine writing in his novel titled, Chicago. Mamet uses dialogue to draw readers into that time and place. This is not always the dialogue Mamet would write in a screenplay, but he uses dialogue as a way to combine both character development and plot in a meandering way, requiring a reader to give oneself over to eavesdropping and to letting the plot take care of itself. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Chicago from amazon.com.

Feel Free

Observant. I’ve read many of Zadie Smith’s essays and reviews in the past, and when I completed her new collection titled, Feel Free, I realized what great range and variety of skills this fine writer exhibits. Her observation skills inform finely crafted sentences when she writes as a critic or reviewer. She is a close reader of the works of others, and her insights are both informed and interesting. Her perspectives on any number of topics brought me pleasure, even when I realized that I had read an essay before. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Feel Free from amazon.com.

The Cloister

Héloïse. Intelligent readers of historical fiction are in for a treat while reading James Carroll’s novel titled, The Cloister. Carroll presents two strong female characters in two time periods and the similar work they did in preserving important documents. We see the intensity of the famous relationship between Héloïse and Abelard in France in the 1100s, and how Héloïse preserved writings by Abelard that might have otherwise been destroyed. The other time period moves us to Manhattan after World War II and to Father Michael Kavanagh who meets Rachel Vedette, a Holocaust survivor whose prize possession is a document written by her deceased father about Abelard’s engagement with Jewish scholars. These interwoven stories are finely written, and Carroll moves with ease from one time period to another delving into all kinds of matters of importance. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Cloister from amazon.com.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hotel Silence

Toolbox. The protagonist of Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s novel titled, Hotel Silence, is a man with a plan. Jónas Ebeneser has found his life in Iceland lost all meaning and purpose, so he settles his affairs there and travels to a war-torn country in the Balkans with a toolbox to assist him in committing suicide. After he arrives at a hotel in a small town and plans his demise, he finds that the people in the hotel and the town can use his help and his tools. Before long, he repairs both property and himself, and brightens the lives of the people around him. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hotel Silence from amazon.com.

A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life

Appetite. A posthumous collection of essays by Jim Harrison is titled, A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life. All of these pieces have been published before, and whether I read some before or not, I found I enjoyed this smorgasbord of fine writing about eating and drinking and living a life of culinary abundance. The title refers a thirty-seven course meal that Harrison enjoyed in France and about which he wrote eloquently in the New Yorker. Harrison’s enthusiastic delight in sensual pleasure fills every page of this collection. Lent was the wrong season of the year for me to read this collection. After every essay I realized that I am not eating and drinking nearly enough. Harrison’s wit enlivens every essay and the best tribute would be to read essay and toast the author with a glass or bottle or three of fine wine and great food. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Really Big Lunch from amazon.com.

Sisters

Wives. If each member of your book club has been married more than once, there will be a special resonance for all if you select Lily Tuck’s short novel titled, Sisters. Even the never divorced will understand the special bond between a first wife and a second wife when it comes to understanding infidelity and the secrets that can be part of a relationship. Tuck’s prose is sneaky and wonderful. It creeps into a reader and leaves a mark, perhaps a bruise. If you read it all during one sitting, wine helps. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sisters from amazon.com.

Deadly Cure

Pharma. Lawrence Goldstone grabs readers within the first few pages of his novel titled, Deadly Cure, with an engaging plot and interesting characters. While the novel is set in Brooklyn in 1899, the themes about economic inequality and the actions of drug companies could have been grabbed from today’s headlines. Any reader interested in crime fiction is likely to enjoy this medical thriller. I was thoroughly entertained, especially when Teddy Roosevelt made a brief appearance. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Deadly Cure from amazon.com.

My Darling Detective

Library. Crime fiction fans are those readers most likely to enjoy Howard Norman’s novel titled, My Darling Detective. Protagonist Jacob Rigolet was born in the Halifax Public Library where his mother was head librarian. Jacob’s fiancée is the detective in the title, and a noir drift involves uncovering the truth about Jacob’s father, Robert Emil. The plot moves along at a perfectly paced clip, all the characters are interesting, and any novel in which a library plays a major role is always worth investigating. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Darling Detective from amazon.com.

Pulse

Dogged. Doctor Chris Rankin is the protagonist of Felix Francis’ novel titled, Pulse, and she is alienated from almost everyone around her. Her husband has become exasperated by her anorexia. Her coworkers in the hospital emergency room have questioned her decisions and fitness for work. At her part time work at the racetrack, the jockeys dislike her ability to place them on medical leave. After she deals with an unexpected death at the track, no one, including the police, wants to deal with her incessant questions. Her dogged pursuit of a solution to the mysterious death leads to dramatic consequences. Fans of this series are those readers most likely to enjoy the latest installment. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Pulse from amazon.com.

Beast

Bleak. The middle book of the Buckmaster trilogy by Paul Kingsnorth is set a thousand years after the first. In the novel titled, Beast, we find Edward Buckmaster alone in a bleak landscape, a forest without life, where he has been living for five seasons. He senses the presence of a beast in the forest and searches for it. Many readers will feel adrift by Kingsnorth’s run-on prose, and that’s probably what the author intends. Like Buckmaster, we are adrift in a world that we have ruined. Patient readers will find either clarity or confusion by the end of the novel. This far along, I now await the conclusion of the trilogy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beast from amazon.com.

The Great Questions of Tomorrow

Essay. Readers looking to stimulate or to provoke one’s thoughts should consider reading David Rothkopf’s book titled, The Great Questions of Tomorrow. This short book is an essay presenting the author’s perspective on the questions that we should be asking today and tomorrow. I enjoyed this cogent presentation and realized that it stimulated my own thinking about the “right” questions that I and all should be asking. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Great Questions of Tomorrow from amazon.com.

Dying

Reflections. Preparation for one’s expected death can focus the mind. Cory Taylor’s beautifully written prose in her memoir titled, Dying, offers her focused reflections on disease, her full life and her journey toward death. Some readers will find a resonance with Taylor’s recollections of family life. As her life began to contract, her memories become a constant companion, and these reflections are finely written. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Dying from amazon.com.

The Correspondence

Stress. I’ve always felt that our true selves are revealed to all when we are under stress. Using the structure of six letters in his book titled, The Correspondence, J.D. Daniels, reveals the inner life of interesting characters whose lives are under some form of stress. Daniels’ prose is also under stress: a careful constraint of choosing the perfect words to build good sentences, to compose a well-crafted letter, six times over. There’s skilled craft on display in this book for those readers who appreciate fine writing. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Correspondence from amazon.com.