Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Throw Me to the Wolves

Chapleton. After every chapter of Patrick McGuinness’ novel titled, Throw Me to the Wolves, I found myself liking it more, thanks to the many ways in which the author succeeds. At the core, this is a crime novel: a dead body, a suspect, two detectives. That only provides the structure in which McGuinness struts his stuff. His prose is finely written, and he allows his characters to surprise readers with humor, psychological insight, and reflections about memory and childhood. The suspect in the murder is a neighbor of the victim, a retired public school teacher. One of the detectives went to that school, Chapleton, and knew the suspect as a teacher. McGuinness exposes the impact of tabloids in contemporary society, and the ways in which anyone who seems different can be held suspect. The action alternates between the present and thirty years earlier at Chapleton. Fans of literary fiction will be delighted by the prose. Readers who love complex characters will revel in this cast. Those who love crime fiction will find a satisfying investigation and engaging mystery. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Throw Me to the Wolves from amazon.com.

The Falconer

Lucy. How does a coming of age debut novel stand out from the many others available to read? Write well and develop interesting and complex characters. That’s exactly what Dana Czapnik has done in her novel titled, The Falconer. Set during a senior year in high school in New York City in 1993, we get to meet Lucy, a talented basketball player who is falling in love with her friend, Percy. Czapnik taps into all the questions and concerns that a seventeen-year-old girl faces, especially one whose talent in sports can alienate from her male and female peers. Readers should never underestimate the interior lives of others, and Czapnik reveals much insight about our human condition as she develops the character of Lucy for us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Falconer from amazon.com.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Wolf. Prolific novelist Alexander McCall Smith kicks off a new series with a novel titled, The Department of Sensitive Crimes. Protagonist Ulf Varg (translated: Wolf Wolf) leads a team of detectives in Malmö, Sweden, whose focus is as the title indicates. Instead of what readers usually experience in Scandinavian crime fiction, with Smith at the helm, readers will laugh and bask in the good parts of human nature. As always, the characters are complex humans and engaging for readers. Before you know it, Smith has gotten you to think deeply about something, once you stop laughing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Department of Sensitive Crimes from amazon.com.

Where Reasons End

Words. Where does a writer go to grieve? After Yiyun Li’s 16-year-old son committed suicide, the writer turned to words. In her novel titled, Where Reasons End, Li imagines conversations between a mother and her dead son. The novel captures grief with all its confusion, sadness and attempts to find a way to stay in touch with a lost loved one. The intensity that Li captures in her writing will resonate for any reader who has experienced deep grief. Every odd conversation is a way of reaching for a connection that can never be made again. The prose is finely written and readers open to falling into the grieving process are those most likely to appreciate this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Where Reasons End from amazon.com.

Big Sky

Trafficking. Fans of the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson will be delighted with the fifth installment, a novel titled, Big Sky. Patient readers will watch Atkinson meander in what seem like unconnected ways and then observe as she loosens some threads and connects others. At the center of the novel there’s crime: a human trafficking ring at work. While the novel can stand alone, readers of the earlier Brodie novels will enjoy the reprised characters, the increased complexity of their development, and the changes in their life situations and behavior, especially protagonist Brodie. Atkinson respects the intelligence of her readers, and feeds us with her humor, insight and clever references. It’s been almost a decade since the last installment, so enjoy the feast now that it’s finally arrived. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Big Sky from amazon.com.

Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward

Optimistic. Valerie Jarrett’s memoir titled, Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward, offers a story of her life that’s so conversational that many readers will feel like they are sharing a meal with the author. Jarrett is both confident and self-aware, so she tells us about her life in ways that will connect to a reader’s own life experiences. Her extraordinary accomplishments in public service and friendship with the Obamas come across as relatable to our own friendships and our accomplishments, no matter what those are. The tone throughout the memoir is optimistic, and it’s clear by the end that anyone who can claim Valerie Jarrett as a friend has lived an enriched life because of her presence. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Finding My Voice from amazon.com.

Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Character. Most observers of the Kushner and Trump families will acknowledge that the pursuit of self-interest is the first priority or overriding value of the members of these families. In her book titled, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, journalist Vicky Ward describes the formative experiences of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and chronicles the ways in which they enrich themselves and their families as they attain positions of great influence in the Trump Administration. Ward presents their actions for readers to come to our own assessment of personal character. While sources are not disclosed, most readers will conclude that Ward talked to lots of people who confirmed her account of their actions. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Kushner Inc from amazon.com.

The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life

Quality. If after a certain number of decades of living, your thoughts haven’t migrated toward death, you’re avoiding the inevitable. Quality of life means different things to different people, and when it comes to the notion of “dying well,” there may be different meanings there as well. In her book titled, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life, Katy Butler encourages thinking about what a good end to life means to an individual reader. She offers a variety of anecdotes and practical and thoughtful ways to engage on this topic. Not everyone dies quietly at home in one’s sleep. This book helps readers think about the choices that are ours to make when it comes to our care at the end of life. If you think you’ve made your wishes clear to your loved ones, read this book and think again and provide them with greater clarity about your choices. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Art of Dying Well from amazon.com.

The Body in the Castle Well

Artworks. Fans of the Bruno Chief of Police series by Martin Walker will enjoy a return to the Dordogne in the fourteenth book in the series, a novel titled, The Body in the Castle Well. You already know from the title that the crime in this installment involves someone found dead in a well. The plot required a lot of building before we finally got to sit down to eat and drink with Bruno and his friends. An authenticator of artworks has a house full of works that he wants to be seen by others after he dies. The Americans descend on Bruno because the deceased belonged to an influential family. The full cast of familiar characters returns for another interesting adventure in a special place. Take a virtual vacation in the mythical French town of St. Denis, and savor everything the region and this novel have to offer. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Body in the Castle Well from amazon.com.

The Conservative Sensibility

Thoughtful. Longtime readers of George Will’s newspaper columns expect his views to be calm, reasoned and thoughtful. He sustains those qualities over the course of more than six hundred pages in his book titled, The Conservative Sensibility. Swimming against a current that distills thoughts to sensational and partisan soundbites, Will lays out principles of conservativism in this book, and a philosophy to which he measures our current state of affairs. He uses Madison, Hamilton and other founders as the touchpoint for his analysis about government. Any reader looking for a greater understanding of what conservatism means will find a persuasive view expressed in this book. I came away from the book with insight about why conservatives want a smaller government and a weaker executive branch. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Conservative Sensibility from amazon.com.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

More than Medicine: The Broken Promise of American Health

Evidence. Any reader interested in the subject of healthcare in the United States should consider reading Robert Kaplan’s book titled, More Than Medicine: The Broken Promise of American Health. Kaplan’s premise is that it’s time to rethink healthcare. Instead of overspending as we do in attacking disease after it arrives, we should invest in reducing the occurrence of disease. He calls on those setting public policy to respect the evidence and take actions that foster health. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase More Than Medicine from amazon.com.

The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris

Lessons. While I was reading Mark Honigsbaum finely written book titled, The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris, there were news stories about people vacationing in the Dominican Republic dying of unknown causes, and a woman who died from a flesh eating bacteria that found an open cut on her leg while she was walking at the beach. Honigsbaum chronicles pathogens most readers have heard about, and the spread of them in well-known events including the deadly 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, and events I knew nothing about, like the 1930 pneumonic plague in Los Angeles and parrot fever. If you think we’ve learned lessons from the twentieth century, you should definitely read this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pandemic Century from amazon.com.

The Gone Dead

Inheritance. Chanelle Benz’ debut novel titled, The Gone Dead, will appeal to any reader who enjoys fiction that presents family stories in the context of particular places over time. After protagonist Billie James inherits a shack in the Mississippi Delta thirty years after she left the place, she leaves Philadelphia to spend some time in the house that once belonged to her father, a black poet who died in the Delta when Billie was four years old. Once on site, Billie stumbles into issues of memory, race and justice and pokes at unhealed wounds until secrets are revealed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Gone Dead from amazon.com.

The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty

Lens. Some companies look for growth from places where consumption can be observed. In their book titled, The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, Clayton Christiansen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon, offer a different lens to consider. They provide loads of examples of looking for situations of non-consumption and providing innovative solutions that provide expanded markets and stable growth. Along that path, underdeveloped communities can escape from poverty and become self-sufficient. Few business writers understand innovation as well as Christensen, and this book will help many business leaders ask and answer questions about market engagement. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Prosperity Paradox from amazon.com.

Machines Like Me

Turing. Intelligent and thoughtful readers are those most likely to appreciate Ian McEwan’s novel titled, Machines Like Me. Many of us wonder about how different the world might have been if certain events turned out differently. In the 1980s setting for this novel, among other changes, Great Britain loses the Falklands War, and Alan Turning lives. Protagonist Charlie inherits some money and uses it to purchase Adam, an early automated human life form. McEwan riffs on the Turing test, and allows readers to consider how the full cast of characters measure up to living a good life and being a good human. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Machines Like Me from amazon.com.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Marsh. While I’ve noted that Delia Owens’ debut novel titled, Where the Crawdads Sing, has been on the best seller list for almost a year, I didn’t settle down to read it until a few days ago. Owens offers readers the full life of protagonist Kya Clark, who lived for six decades in the marsh on the coast of North Carolina. The setting is described with such care that most readers will visualize the place where Kya lives. For much of the plot, there’s a mystery to solve, and Owens fills the space around that core with pulling readers deeper into understand all the complexity of this interesting protagonist who battles for survival in a difficult environment. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Where the Crawdads Sing from amazon.com.

Little Faith

Children. After I finished reading Nickolas Butler’s novel titled, Little Faith, I thought a lot about faith and family, and the range of behaviors that take place when there is harmony and when there is discord. Children are at the core of this novel. The death of a son led protagonist Kyle Hovde away from his Lutheran faith in rural Wisconsin. After his adopted daughter, Shiloh, moves in with Kyle and his wife, Peg, Kyle gets a chance to love another child, Shiloh’s son, Isaac. Shiloh is drawn into a religious community and under the influence of a powerful minister. This pastor believes that Isaac has healing powers, and the family enters a period of discord. Butler builds each character with recognizable and relatable complexity and draws readers into this great story of faith and family, centered on the love of children. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Little Faith from amazon.com.

Out of the Dark

Survival. The fourth Orphan X novel by Gregg Hurwitz is titled, Out of the Dark. Someone in government with a lot of power is taking action to eliminate everyone involved in the Orphan Program. Protagonist Evan Smoak, Orphan X, now known as the Nowhere Man, knows exactly who’s behind this effort, and decides to take that person out. This fight involves two opponents with vastly different resources and capabilities. Hurwitz maintains tension throughout a fast-paced plot. Readers who enjoy thrillers are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Out of the Dark from amazon.com.

The Reservoir Tapes

Connected. The quirky exploration of an ordinary place and a missing girl that Jon McGregor began with his novel titled, Reservoir 13, continues with a new book titled, The Reservoir Tapes. McGregor offers fifteen perspectives of members of this small community. In this second novel, McGregor helps readers see how a tragedy can fade into the background life of any community. The village we met in the first novel seems very different in the second. McGregor first presented this narrative on BBC Radio 4, and some readers may want to receive the text in audio rather than print form. I found that hearing helped me appreciate McGregor’s skill in capturing the cadences of everyday speech, while connecting the pieces to allow us to gain insight into how people reveal their inner selves. While this novel stands on its own, when read in conjunction with the earlier novel, a reader can appreciate the breadth of McGregor’s writing expertise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Reservoir Tapes from amazon.com.

Halibut on the Moon

Insight. One reason we read fiction is to gain insight into human nature, to understand people just like us, and people who are very different from us. In his novel titled, Halibut on the Moon, David Vann pulls readers into a family for whom mental illness defined their world. Readers become swept up in the swings from depression to euphoria, and in the sensation of being out of control. Vann captures the pain of mental illness with insight and writes with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Halibut on the Moon from amazon.com.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

Shared. Our isolated social bubbles can reinforce the divisions that cause a breakdown in social order. In his book titled, Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, Eric Klinenberg explores how we can make society stronger by supporting places that bring different people together. Libraries, parks, and welcoming religious and civil organizations can provide places where people can increase interaction and build stronger networks and communities. Through investments in creating these places, we will make our society stronger and more resilient. Any reader interested in public policy and in building a better community and country should consider reading this book and taking action along the lines Klinenberg describes. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Palaces for the People from amazon.com.

The Art of the Wasted Day

Leisure. How unscheduled is your life? How much do you go with the flow? Do you daydream much? Is leisure for you a set of structured recreational activities or is it a period of being totally carefree? In her book titled, The Art of the Wasted Day, Patricia Hampl explores leisure and takes readers into episodes from her life, as well as stories from the lives of Michel Montaigne, Gregor Mendel and others. We can discover a lot about ourselves and others when we get off the beaten path mentally and physically and lose ourselves in thought and in the places we go. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Art of the Wasted Day from amazon.com.

Let Love Have the Last Word

Reflections. The many fans of musical artist and actor Common will provide a natural audience for his book titled, Let Love Have the Last Word. Introspection about his life leads Common to sharing candidly his reflections about life and love. There’s an upbeat message in this book that may be inspiring to those readers who can hear the lessons from another’s life and apply them to one’s own situation. In an age when hate and polarization gets loads of attention, it’s terrific to spend some time basking in messages about love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Let Love Have the Last Word from amazon.com.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

Cutlers. Readers who enjoy history that’s lively and well-written should consider David McCullough’s book titled, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. McCullough focuses on the movement west in the settlement of the Northwest Territory, the place that became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. McCullough tells of the Cutler family, especially Manasseh Cutler, a Massachusetts minister, whose efforts led to the settlement of this region, and whose leadership ensured that three key provisions were included in what Congress approved: freedom of religion, a prohibition of slavery in the territory, and universal education. Cutler’s son, Ephraim embodied these values, and ensured his father’s values would continue. McCullough tells the story of this time in American history through the Cutlers and through a few other significant characters. As a result, readers are brought into the time and place in a very readable narrative. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pioneers from amazon.com.

Exhalation

Possibility. There are nine short stories in a collection by Ted Chiang titled after one of them, Exhalation. Fans of science fiction often enjoy the ways in which this genre allows speculation about what might be possible, and how the big questions in our own lives can be pondered in the context of that conjecture. Some science fiction writers have a few clever ideas and build clunky prose around their concepts. Chiang’s prose is finely written and enhances his clever ideas. From time travel to free will to multiple parallel worlds to living under constant surveillance and recording, Chiang’s speculations will stimulate every reader to think about what is possible and what that means for our lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Exhalation from amazon.com.

The Bride Test

Breakthrough. The protagonists in Helen Hoang’s novel titled, The Bride Test, both need to change their lives. Khai Diep falls on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. He succeeds at work in California and fails at relationships. Esme Tran wants to be more than a hotel maid in Vietnam. After Khai’s mother travels to Vietnam to find a potential bride for Khai, she convinces Esme that the young woman had nothing to lose in coming to America to see if there’s a future there for her. Hoang writes from her personal perspective of what life on the autism spectrum is like and offers in this novel a sweet romantic story about the breakthroughs that are necessary in any life to lead to dramatic change. Readers who finish the novel are likely to close the book with a smile. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Bride Test from amazon.com.

Aug 9 - Fog

Collage. I know I’ve never before read anything like Kathryn Scanlan’s book titled, Aug 9 – Fog, and I’m guessing that most readers haven’t either. Fifteen years ago, Scanlan bought a diary at an estate sale. The diary was written by an octogenarian woman over the course of several years. I was reminded of refrigerator poetry and what impressions can be made from assembling different words. Scanlan doesn’t transcribe the diary; she curates it in pieces, carefully selecting what words and phrases will best reveal the diarist and her life. The result is an odd book that will appeal to adventurous readers. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Aug 9 Fog from amazon.com.

Car Trouble

Himself. In his debut novel titled, Car Trouble, Robert Rorke presents the teenage life of protagonist Nicky Flynn in Brooklyn in the 1970s. The center of much attention throughout the novel is Nicky’s father, Patrick, an alcoholic the family calls, “himself.” One of Patrick’s quirks is to buy beater cars at police auctions and run them into the ground. The descriptions of the cars, life in Brooklyn, and family dynamics are all finely written. My own coming of age in Brooklyn came to mind often as I read this novel, especially when triggered as Rorke describes the sounds of crossing the Marine Parkway Bridge from Brooklyn to Rockaway. One of my fondest memories in the 1960s was driving as a pre-teen with my own father, also known as himself, in a 1953 Mercury with a claw-footed bathtub on the roof, secured by ropes that went through the passenger door handle, leaving me trapped in a death seat should peril occur. Readers with a connection to Brooklyn will find special interest in this book, as will anyone affected in any way by alcohol abuse. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Car Trouble from amazon.com.

Lanny

Interest. There’s a lot of interest in a small village outside London in the eponymous protagonist of Max Porter’s novel titled, Lanny. We learn of Lenny through the viewpoints of multiple characters, but not from Lanny himself. He is recognized as a very special young man by his parents, by an artist neighbor and by a version of the Green Man, a spirit called Dead Papa Toothwort. Porter writes in an unusual way, especially when he tries to let readers hear all that Dead Papa Toothwort is listening to at the same time as village life is being conducted, something unlike hearing snippets of multiple conversations in a busy restaurant. Fans of unusual literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lanny from amazon.com.

Crown Jewel

Schemes. The second novel by Christopher Reich to feature protagonist Simon Riske is titled, Crown Jewel. This time out, Riske accepts a job to investigate unusual losses at a casino in Monte Carlo. A cover story for Riske’s arrival at the scene is a car race in which he gets to drive the car of a billionaire client that returned to Riske’s shop at an opportune time. Following a chance meeting with a German heiress, Riske agrees to help solve her problem as well. Thanks to Reich’s great pacing, the schemes twist and turn, with Riske in the middle of everything. Fans of action thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crown Jewel from amazon.com.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Golden State

Lies. In his novel titled, Golden State, Ben Winters describes a society in which lying is a crime. Protagonist Laszlo Ratesic works for the state in a role called a Speculator, and his job is to investigate anomalies. The surveillance state records everything in multiple ways, so getting to the truth should be based on evidence contained in the record. Laz learns over the course of this novel that if something can be done, it will be done, and his worldview becomes turned upside down when faced with alternate truth. Can records be altered? Wouldn’t that be a lie? How can we discern truth? If any of this sounds interesting to you, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Golden State from amazon.com.

The Sentence is Death

Hawthorne. Anthony Horowitz reprises protagonist Daniel Hawthorne for a second mystery novel titled, The Sentence is Death. As the character Anthony Horowitz in this novel is writing about private eye Daniel Hawthorne, they are investigating the murder of a divorce lawyer in which the weapon was a pricey bottle of French wine. Horowitz gives readers an entertaining cast of interesting characters, a clever mystery, and just enough plot twists to keep a reader’s attention. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Sentence is Death from amazon.com.

America, Compromised

Corruption. Something is rotten in the United States and Lawrence Lessig explores what that might be in a book assembled from the Berlin Family lectures he delivered. Titled, America, Compromised, this book describes the various ways in which some of America’s core institutions have become corrupted. Lessig does not ascribe our current condition to bad apples, but rather to the gradual ways in which compromises have led to a decline in trust and a culture of corruption. Money is the usual cause of a diversion by institutions from their original purpose toward some compromise that leads to corruption. Lessig gives loads of examples. Readers interested in public policy are those most likely to be receptive to Lessig’s concerns. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase America Compromised from amazon.com.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Lessons. One path to improving life around the world is to respect women, listen to them, and support them in improving their local communities. Melinda Gates shares in her book titled, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, snippets of her own life and the lessons she’s learned from philanthropic work. This book is packed with inspiring stories to encourage empathy and enough data to please skeptics. I found the ways in which hard questions and analysis combined with active listening at the ground level lead to contributions that produce great outcomes. This book promotes inclusion, acknowledging the dignity of each person, and acting in ways that nurture all that is good. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Moment of Lift from amazon.com.

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

Paradise. Patient readers looking for escape into a gigantic novel this summer should take a look at Neal Stephenson’s new book titled, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell. While some characters are reprised from an earlier novel, which may appeal to Stephenson fans, new readers can take this standalone novel and be well-entertained. Stephenson explores the afterlife, and presents a contemporary version of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Readers are entertained by adventures in parallel worlds: the world of the flesh, meatspace, and the afterlife, bitworld. Myth lovers and any readers who love a complicated meandering and fantastic story are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Fall from amazon.com.

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide

Olmstead. Renowned American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead spent over a year traveling through the South before the Civil War and wrote about his observations for a New York newspaper. In his book titled, Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide, Tony Horwitz followed Olmstead’s route, connecting divisions from the past with current polarization. People and places, past and present, come alive in this book, thanks to Horwitz’ fine writing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Spying on the South from amazon.com.

The Moroccan Girl

Recruited. In a novel titled, The Moroccan Girl, Charles Cumming presents protagonist Kit Carradine, a writer who is recruited by MI6. Kit takes to the work quite well in his novice outing, and Cumming may reprise him, as he has done when writing other novels. Fans of espionage novels will find all the usual elements here: intrigue, deception, danger, betrayal and uncertainty about who is friend and who is foe. Thanks to Cumming’s fine writing, the suspense is taut, the characters interesting, and the story captivating. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Moroccan Girl from amazon.com.

Cape May

Desire. Chip Cheek’s debut novel titled, Cape May, pulls readers into the honeymoon of virgins Henry and Effie in 1957. The couple arrive in Cape May from Georgia at the end of September and see that the resort town has pretty much closed down for the season. Cheek presents their innocence and reveals their desire for sexual intimacy. They cross paths with Clara, who had teased Effie years earlier. Clara is staying in Cape May with her lover, Max, and Max’s sister, Alma. Before long, the extended cast are eating, drinking and sailing together. Desire among the characters is like electricity in the air, and Cheek takes the action one step at a time during the rest of the honeymoon, with consequences for the tenure of Henry and Effie’s marriage. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cape May from amazon.com.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Moses. Readers who enjoy finely written history and biography are those most likely to enjoy the terrific book by David W. Blight titled, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Blight brings all of Douglass to these pages: the man and the myth. The prophet Moses and the prophet Jeremiah. The slave and the freeman. The patriot and the critic. Whether you know a little or a lot about the life of the great Frederick Douglass, you’re likely to learn new things from this book, thanks to private sources that Blight used to inform his writing. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Frederick Douglass from amazon.com.

Red Birds

Weary. The darkly comic war satire titled, Red Birds, by Mohammed Hanif uses multiple narrators to move the story along quickly. Readers weary of our seeming never-ending wars may become even wearier after reading this novel. Major Ellie is an American bomber pilot who bailed out of his plane, parachuted to the desert where he is wandering and lost for eight days. His narration speaks to the foibles of American military intervention. Ellie is found by another narrator, the dog named Mutt, whose observations are the most cogent and philosophical in the novel. It is Mutt who gives us the title, as he observes the last blood drops of those killed in war turning into birds as they die. A teenage boy named Momo narrates the many personas he tries on from his refugee camp as he strives to become an entrepreneur, especially where he sees the most to gain: from warfare and refugee aid. Hanif’s prose is skewering, and those readers who can appreciate finely written satire are the readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Red Birds from amazon.com.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Lost and Wanted

Friendship. In her novel titled, Lost and Wanted, Nell Freudenberger gives readers one of the most interesting protagonists in fiction. Helen Clapp is a tenured physics professor at MIT. Her longtime friend and Harvard roommate, Charlotte (Charlie) Boyce, a Hollywood screenwriter, has just died. After Helen receives phone calls from Charlie’s phone, the rational persona of Helen becomes a bit shaken. Packed with science and insight, the novel is a story of friendship and love set around a strong and accomplished woman. The prose is finely written and fans of literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lost and Wanted from amazon.com.

The Italian Party

Siena. Christina Lynch takes readers to Tuscany in her novel titled, The Italian Party. Set in the 1950s, protagonists Scottie and her husband, Michael, have moved to Siena as newlyweds, bringing along their respective secrets and hiding new ones in plain sight. Lynch explores truth and lies, while we vicariously eat, drink, watch the Palio and can’t wait to see what happens next to this cast of interesting characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Italian Party from amazon.com.

Killing Commendatore

Painting. One reading of Haruki Murakami’s novel titled, Killing Commendatore, may lead to one or two more for devoted fans. For me, once through was more than enough. An unnamed painter leaves a relationship and moves to the home of a famous artist where he finds a painting in the attic. What follows is a detachment from the world and a journey of discovery into ideas and metaphors and a search for understanding. Loneliness drags on for dozens of pages in this long novel, and ghostly and otherworldly figures become commonplace. Patient readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Killing Commendatore from amazon.com.

The Paris Diversion

Plans. The action in Chris Pavone’s novel titled, The Paris Diversion, takes place on a single day. Multiple characters have big plans for the day and the expectation of receiving significant financial rewards when those plans are executed. Pavone lays out the action sequentially, draws readers to a point of tension, then shifts from one setting to another to layer on the complexity of what’s happening among multiple characters. The scheming is complicated, the characters competent and interesting, and the plot thrilling. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Paris Diversion from amazon.com.

The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation

Pragmatist. John Delaney announced his campaign for the United States Presidency at the end of July 2017. I’ve just read his book titled, The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation, and it reflects a pragmatism that seems refreshing in our polarized political environment. With experience as an entrepreneur and a member of Congress, Delaney brings experience in solving problems and in dealing with frustration. Despite the long tenure of his candidacy, his name doesn’t pop up in polls. He may or may not gain traction after debates and early primaries. Whether he does or not, his positive approach to working together and finding solutions to serious problems is worth a fair hearing by those readers and voters interested in public policy and politics. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Right Answer from amazon.com.

The Kingdom of Copper

Siblings. The second installment in S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy is a novel titled, The Kingdom of Copper. Readers who have not read The City of Brass will lose the context for the conflicts in this book. Political conflict is building in Daevabad and sets of siblings are in the middle of the action along with powerful parents. The destruction and violence along with fantasy elements will appeal to those readers who enjoy action and imagination. These six hundred pages provide a transition to next year’s finale, a novel titled, The Empire of Gold. Readers like me who’ve invested time to enter into this imaginary world anxiously await the conclusion of this story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Kingdom of Copper from amazon.com.

The Missing Corpse

Belon. The fourth installment in the Brittany Mystery Series by Jean-Luc Bannalec is titled, The Missing Corpse. There’s no rushing Commissaire Georges Dupin as he connects the dots to solve a murder mystery. Much of the action in this installment takes place alongside the Belon River with its prized oyster beds. There’s also a connection to Scotland and Celtic heritage in Brittany through shared cultivation of bagpipes and oysters. This novel is a mystery lover’s treat, with an added bonus for gastronomes. I savored the engaging mystery and will now search for a dozen oysters to pair with a French white wine with just the right level of minerality. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Missing Corpse from amazon.com.

The Lost Man

Desolate. The outback of Queensland Australia can be a desolate place. In her novel titled, The Lost Man, Jane Harper draws readers into the setting with fine descriptive language, then hooks us with her psychological insights into the family dynamics of three brothers raised in that harsh and unforgiving place. The story involves the mysterious death of one of the brothers. Readers who enjoy surprise endings are those most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lost Man from amazon.com.

The Border

Conclusion. Don Winslow wraps up his Power of the Dog trilogy with a doorstopper of a novel titled, The Border. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to feel that this is a great conclusion to a thrilling series. Some political partisans may find that certain fictional characters Winslow presents in the novel portray President Trump and members of his extended family in ways that are biased. Less sensitive readers will find an exciting thriller packed with action centered around the war on drugs. Fans of the series will see consistency in the reprised characters and stories of new characters that will resonate for most readers. Winslow also brings to life the struggles of those addicted to drugs as well as those fleeing violence in Central America. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Border from amazon.com.

The Winter Soldier

Atmospheric. Readers who enjoy descriptive historical fiction are those most likely to enjoy Daniel Mason’s novel titled, The Winter Soldier. Set during World War I in Austria and Poland, the novel tells a story of war and medicine. The protagonist is a twenty-two-year-old medical student named Lucius Krzelewski, whose limited training has not prepared him for the field medicine he is called on to practice. Thanks to the expertise of Sister Margarete at the field hospital to which he is assigned, Lucius learns quickly how to care for wounded soldiers. Mason’s finely written prose makes every setting atmospheric, appropriate to the time and place described. Mason presents the condition of PTSD with insight and wisdom. Mason’s prose brings beauty to grim settings. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Winter Soldier from amazon.com.