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.