Monday, March 18, 2019

An Orchestra of Minorities

Sorrow. The omniscient narrator of Chigozie Obioma’s novel titled, An Orchestra of Minorities, is the guardian spirit of protagonist Chinonso. Obioma allows this chi to weave slowly the life story of Chinonso, a naïve chicken farmer, whose life choices toward joy lead to sorrow and pain. Nonso falls in love with a woman named Ndali, who is from a very wealthy family who consider Nonso too far beneath them in station to be worthy enough for the lovers to marry. I was delighted by all the twists and turns in Nonso’s life, and the ways in which Obioma uncovers the dimensions of good and evil in the world and in ourselves. Many pages explore the process of forgiveness. For those readers who find that some of the sections of the novel seem to move too slowly, I encourage you at those times to focus on the fine descriptive language throughout the novel and wait for momentum to resume. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase An Orchestra of Minorities from amazon.com.

Enemy of the People: Trump's War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy

Sobering. Journalist Marvin Kalb has written a sober and passionate book about the importance of a free press in his book titled, Enemy of the People: Trump's War on the Press, the New McCarthyism, and the Threat to American Democracy. Kalb calls Trump, not the press, the real enemy of the people. Using his personal experience as a foreign correspondent in Russia, and his experience during the McCarthy investigations, Kalb reinforces that a free press is the best guarantor of a free society, and efforts to suppress the press are despotic acts, not the signs of a thriving democratic system. Words matter and leadership can influence public views for better or for worse. Readers interested in public policy and the state of our democracy and its threats should consider reading this measured comparison of our current situation to the ideals we hold. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Enemy of the People from amazon.com.

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope

Empathy. Have you ever wondered what people write in letters to the President of the United States? Are you curious about how those letters are handled, and what responses are made? If so, you’re the reader most likely to enjoy Jeanne Marie Laskas’ book titled, To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope. Laskas reprints selected letters sent to President Obama during his term in office. She focuses on the process used to select ten letters to the President that were selected every day from the huge amount of incoming mail and given to him so he had one more way of keeping in touch with everyday people and their concerns. The individual voices of the letter writers tell great stories about these people, often in just a few sentences. The responses consistently convey the message that the letter writer had been heard. This empathy lifted my spirits as I read this engaging and interesting book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase To Obama from amazon.com.

I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff

Anxieties. Fans of Comedy Central’s series, Broad Street, are those readers most likely to enjoy reading co-star Abbi Jacobson’s book titled, I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff. This creative artist writes with humor and quirkiness, revealing lots of her anxieties and issues. Failing to sleep in hotel rooms during a roadtrip, bagels she’s loved, and love woes are all fodder for Jacobson’s reflections. She even includes some of her artwork. Whether she regrets making herself vulnerable through this work is something left unaddressed, as the title indicates. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase I Might Regret This from amazon.com.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future

Refreshing. I’m continuing my reading journey through books by the various aspirants for becoming the next President of the United States. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigeig offers a refreshing life story in his book titled, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future. Born in South Bend in 1982, this Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar worked at McKinsey, is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, has served as mayor of his hometown since 2012 and married a guy in 2018. He makes a case for leadership by individuals like him from an age cohort with a lot at stake about the next few decades. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Shortest Way Home from amazon.com.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive

Poverty. Most readers don’t have a clue about what it is like to be poor in the United States today. Thanks to Stephanie Land’s finely written memoir titled, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, there’s no excuse for not gaining an understanding about people usually out of sight and out of mind. Life is a daily peril, one illness or accident leading toward financial catastrophe. The amount of time Land spent proving her need to social service providers took away from her time spent working hard as a maid for minimum wage. Making too much money as a maid could lead to the loss of more valuable housing or nutritional support payment. I feel much better informed about one aspect of poverty in contemporary American life, and I’m thinking again about the advantages of a universal basic income. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Maid from amazon.com.

Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison—Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took to Get Me Out

Harrowing. A memoir can introduce readers to individuals similar to us in some ways and different in others. In his book titled, Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison—Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took to Get Me Out, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezian tells us the harrowing story of his ordeal in Iran during 2014 and 2015. While he writes from the perspective of his life after he returned home to the United States, I marveled at his description of how he dealt with imprisonment in Iran. He seemed to maintain hope humor and discipline while being anguished at his predicament. There’s a love story here, lots of humor, and a clear view of life from the inside of Iran. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Prisoner from amazon.com.

The Undressing

Contemplation. When was the last time you read a poem? How about a collection of poems? Every time I open a collection of poems, I vow to read more poetry. A fine collection I can recommend to any reader is Li-Young Lee’s book titled, The Undressing. These poems are grounded in God, love and spirituality, although the words may not always convey that. This book can be a source for well-spent contemplation. These are words of love, peace, and passion in the context of the refugee experience and violence around the world. We want to understand why we are here, and these poems can lead us toward such understanding. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Undressing from amazon.com.

Little

Wax. Readers who love historical fiction are those most likely to be delighted by Edward Carey’s novel titled, Little, the story of the orphan who became Madame Tussaud. After the death of tiny Marie’s parents, she is apprenticed to a man who makes sculptures out of wax. Marie learns this art from him, and they find themselves living in Revolutionary Paris and exhibiting wax heads. We all know what happened to heads during the French Revolution, and Carey places Marie in the middle of the action. If you’ve ever wondered how Madame Tussaud got started, you’re likely to love this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Little from amazon.com.

Notes from the Fog

Mordant. In each of the baker’s dozen of stories in a collection by Ben Marcus titled, Notes from the Fog, readers are likely to wince or laugh and experience a focused barb at contemporary life. Few readers will finish these stories feeling that they’ve read it all before. Marcus’ originality comes across as fresh and alert to the consequences of trends in modern life. Fans of literary fiction who appreciate fine writing are those readers most likely to appreciate these short stories. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Notes from the Fog from amazon.com.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Perfect Liar

Chilling. Fans of thrillers will enjoy the characters and plot of the latest novel by Thomas Christopher Greene titled, The Perfect Liar. Protagonists Susannah and Max have moved from Manhattan to rural Vermont with her fifteen-year-old son. There are secrets that Susannah and Max keep from each other, and someone seems on the brink of revealing a secret to the world. Greene keeps the tension taut throughout the fewer than three hundred pages of this novel. I’m not often surprised by the time the climax occurs, but this one caught me, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perfect Liar from amazon.com.

Once Upon a River

Thames. A river is both constant and changing. Close your eyes for just a moment while meandering down a river and you may lose a sense of where you are. From the beginning to the end of Diane Setterfield’s novel titled, Once Upon a River, the Thames is present, constant and changing. The action starts dramatically at the Swan, an inn on the Thames that’s the locus for community storytelling, on the longest night of the year, when a drenched stranger barges through the door of the inn carrying what looks like a doll and he collapses to the floor. What looked like a doll then appears to be a dead girl who then revives despite not registering a heartbeat when checked. No one knows who she is. After that dramatic opening, Setterfield calms readers down and sets us on a meandering journey forward and backward in time as three different families believe they know the identity of the girl. Impatient readers may find the diversions tedious, but for those readers who are patient with a large cast of characters and who have plenty of time to let the tale spin out, there’s a well-told story here and some entertaining hours spent by the Thames. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Once Upon a River from amazon.com.

The Coronation

Abduction. I like to read entertaining mystery novels, especially those that keep me guessing long into the narrative. The first novel I’ve read by Boris Akunin is titled, The Coronation, and features a recurring protagonist and private investigator, Erast Petrovich Fandorin. The four-year-old son of a Grand Duke has been abducted shortly before the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. Ransom requests for royal jewels, including ones that would be visible at the coronation add to the urgency of finding the boy. Fandorin uses great skills at disguise and assimilation with criminals to try to solve the crime. Akunin develops the characters with skill and keeps the plot momentum at a fast pace. Readers who enjoy mysteries, especially in a historical setting, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Coronation from amazon.com.

Downhill from Here: Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality

Reality. There’s no shortage of big issues to worry about from global climate change to terrorism. For a sober reality check on the inability of most Americans to ever stop working before death, read Katherine S. Newman’s book titled, Downhill from Here: Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality. Most Americans over age 55 have no retirement savings. The financial crisis wiped out home equity for many. Social Security will cover a little over a third of pre-retirement income. Pensions have either been diminished or eliminated. What’s at the bottom of the hill of aging? Poverty. Newman tells a lot of personal stories that pack a wallop in this book, especially of those people who thought they were doing the right things and now face the reality that promises made to them have been broken. Readers interested in public policy, especially those who would like to retire one day should consider reading this book and gaining a sober reality check about the future. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Downhill from Here from amazon.com.

Leadership: In Turbulent Times

Context. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin knows how to present history to general readers: tell great stories to support key points and provide context for the time periods and people. She’s spent decades of her life researching and writing about four American Presidents who she calls “her guys:” Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. In her book titled, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, she uses the lens of leadership to examine the context in which these four men acquired the ability to help the country achieve great things. The presidents come alive through her writing and we understand their humanity and complexity. Their formative experiences in life, especially their struggles, provide them with the mettle to do a great job at leading a country through crisis. Readers who love history that’s entertaining to read should consider reading this terrific book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Leadership in Turbulent Times from amazon.com.

The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump

Service. Chances are that any reader will come to Andrew McCabe’s book titled, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, with positive or negative views about the former acting FBI director. I opened the book expecting him to tell his side of a story that plastered the news and to attack President Trump. Instead, I read a finely written account of a life of government service and how the Federal Bureau of Investigation does its job. He describes the well-controlled processes followed by the Bureau and takes readers inside the investigative process. Any reader interested in public policy should read this book and reflect on the state of our government and its institutions. He spends very little time promoting himself and many pages talking about the investigative process and the importance of doing things by the book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Threat from amazon.com.

Sea of Greed

Energy. Kurt Austin and the team from NUMA are back for the fourteenth installment in the NUMA Files series by Clive Cussler in a novel titled, Sea of Greed. A terrific female villain, Tessa Franco, has invested in a method to eliminate reliance on oil as a source of energy. As with all the novels in this series, the technology is intriguing, the action is fast-paced, and the heroes always beat the bad guys. Despite that predictability, this novel and the series can provide satisfying entertainment that doesn’t demand much thought. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Sea of Greed from amazon.com.

A Shot in the Dark

Clever. Lynn Truss kicks off a new crime fiction series set in the 1950s featuring Brighton Police Constable Twitten with a novel titled, A Shot in the Dark. Constable Twitten is a delightfully annoying smart aleck who rubs his colleagues the wrong way. Truss combines humor and satire with a traditional police procedural plot and produces a novel that was very entertaining to this reader. The more you know about Brighton and crime novels, the funnier this book will be for you. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Shot in the Dark from amazon.com.

No Sunscreen for the Dead

Vengeance. Readers who have laughed through the Serge Storms series by Tim Dorsey are those most likely to enjoy the 22nd installment, a novel titled, No Sunscreen for the Dead. The current stop for Serge and Coleman’s Florida escapade is The Villages where the guys want to observe seniors in their natural habitat. As Serge gets to know some residents, he becomes a man with a mission: exact vengeance on behalf of those of the greatest generation who have been exploited by others. He recovers their swindled funds and delivers creative justice to the bad guys. If you like wacky humor and can tolerate a lot of violence, this novel will be a funny and entertaining treat. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase No Sunscreen for the Dead from amazon.com.

The Night Agent

Mole. Fans of spy fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy a novel by Matthew Quirk titled, The Night Agent. Protagonist Peter Sutherland is an FBI agent whose latest assignment is a special desk in the White House Situation Room. Before long, Peter is in the middle of a spy network that includes a highly placed Russian mole. Peter’s late father was suspected of being a Russian spy, so the FBI has never fully trusted Peter. The characters are interesting, the plot twists exciting and the resolution very satisfying. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Night Agent from amazon.com.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age

Cyberwar. Any reader interested in public affairs should consider reading David Sanger’s book titled, The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age. Sanger is the national security correspondent for The New York Times, and he offers not a word of fake news in this finely written book. The threat of cyberwarfare is real, and America and its citizens are vulnerable. You may not sleep well after reading this book, but you will be better informed about a serious threat to our lives. Be afraid. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Perfect Weapon from amazon.com.

The Dakota Winters

Charmed. The protagonist of Tom Barbash’s novel titled, The Dakota Winters, has returned from the peace corps in 1979 at age twenty-three to his childhood home in New York City at the famous Dakota. Anton Winter lives a charmed life as he tries to help his father, Buddy, revive his career as a late-night television host. The neighbors at the Dakota include John Lennon, of course, and Lennon behaves like a regular guy, takes Anton to sea with him and on other adventures. This is a coming of age story, a family tale, and the erratic ways in which our lives play out. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dakota Winters from amazon.com.

A Terrible Country

Moscow. I was thoroughly entertained by Keith Gessen’s novel titled, A Terrible Country. Andrei Kaplan’s prospects for work and love in New York have diminished, so he jumps at the chance to spend a few months in the city of his birth, Moscow, caring for his grandmother. Gradually, he understands why his grandmother refers to Russia with the phrase that is the title of the novel. There’s hockey, activists, and a great novel here for your reading pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Terrible Country from amazon.com.

Nine Perfect Strangers

Spa. One recipe for a novel: conjure up some interesting people and put them in an unusual place. In her novel titled, Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty puts a cast of very interesting characters in a wellness spa called Tranquillum House. All is not as it appears at this health resort, and the lives of the characters have levels of depth that take a while to reveal. Over the course of more than 450 pages, Moriarty reveals who these people are and what is really going on at Tranquillam House. You may never go to a spa again. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nine Perfect Strangers from amazon.com.

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World

Excitement. I remember in college that there were two introductory physics classes: the one for physics majors met for three hours starting at 8am on Saturday mornings; the other was called “physics for poets” and met after lunch for about an hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I took neither but realized decades later that the majors spent their Saturday mornings in the late 1960s learning things that were later disproven. For them, and for any reader with eyes open to the world, there’s a great book to consider by Stefan Klein. Titled, How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World, this book offers great images, well-written prose and an attitude of excitement about the world. It’s never too late to learn a thing or two about particle physics, even if you think you already know it all. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Love the Universe from amazon.com.

Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence

Evidence. Chances are your mind is made up on the topic of legalization of marijuana. Whether it is made up or not, consider reading Alex Berenson’s finely written book titled, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. Berenson makes the case that there is ample scientific evidence that marijuana can cause psychosis. There is also a link between psychosis and violence, and there is evidence that crime is increasing among marijuana users in the states that have legalized marijuana use. We are generally poor at estimating personal risks, and on a topic that seems as settled for individuals as marijuana use, how can we assess personal risks? Start by reading this book that offers proof of legitimate health concerns. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Tell Your Children from amazon.com.

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

Unity. We’re in that time cycle when anyone thinking of or actually running for President of the United States has a book to make a pitch to a small segment of the electorate who read such books. Since I’m one of those readers, and open to hearing a pitch, I read Kamala Harris’ book titled, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Over the course of over three hundred pages, Harris tells her of her childhood as the daughter of immigrants, her lifelong passion for justice, and the many ways in which she has served the public through various roles. Her pitch is that she is the person who can lead us toward unity through a focus on what we share in common. Even if you are cautious when faced with someone telling you what truth is, consider reading this novel to get to know one of the candidates running for President in 2020. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Truths We Hold from amazon.com.

In a House of Lies

Consequences. The twenty-second installment in the John Rebus crime series by Ian Rankin is a novel titled, In a House of Lies. All the familiar characters are back for this novel, the fifth since Rebus was forced to retire from the Edinburgh police. After the remains of a private detective who disappeared a decade ago are uncovered, Siobhan Clarke thinks her mentor, John Rebus, might help her solve this cold case. Some events from the past have serious consequences in the present if they come to light, and Rebus, aware of the risks, tries to use the case to press his own agenda. Fans know that that agenda includes Big Ger Cafferty. If none of this makes sense to you, consider reading this novel or this series anyway. The writing is great, especially for those readers who like crime fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In a House of Lies from amazon.com.

You Know You Want This

Satisfying. There are twelve finely written short stories in a collection by Kristen Roupenian titled, You Know You Want This. Not all of the stories are as terrific as Cat Person, the story that went viral after it appeared in The New Yorker in 2017. I find the key to many great short stories involves the efficient development of interesting and complex characters. Roupenian wastes few words in sharing characters whose behaviors will draw in readers, whether we recognize ourselves or others in those characters or not. The writing is superb and any reader who likes well-written short stories should consider reading this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Know You Want This from amazon.com.

Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government

Cogent. If you know about Paul Volcker, you will be glad to read his memoir titled, Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government. If you think you’ve heard the name Volcker, but can’t remember much about him, you must read this book. The former chair of the Federal Reserve reflects on his life of service in this memoir, and he highlights three critical principles that he has followed throughout his life: stable prices, sound finance and good government. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Keeping At It from amazon.com.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Adèle

Dismal. Some protagonists provide positive role models for readers: these are lives we want to emulate. Other characters make us glad that people like them are not part of our lives. In her novel titled, Adèle, Leila Slimani introduces readers to the title character whose dismal life is rooted in sex addiction. Lives that can appear enviable from an outside perspective may be miserable to those who know the truth. Addictions often become obsessive and overpowering. Spending even a short time with Adèle, I found my mood descending and I needed to take a pause. The writing and the insights into this desolate character kept me reading to the end. Readers with any interest in troubled characters and the consequences of addiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Adèle from amazon.com.

Pandemic

Plodding. Readers who enjoy medical thrillers might be satisfied with Robin Cook’s novel titled, Pandemic. If you’ve heard anything about gene modification using CRISPR/CAS9, this is the book for you. Frequent Cook protagonists Jack Stapleton and Laurie Montgomery are reprised in this book and their relationship has become rocky since Laurie became Jack’s boss at work. My expectations of recent Cook novels have been low, and this installment gave me the exact level of entertainment I expected. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Pandemic from amazon.com.

The Caregiver

Daughter. Can a child ever truly understand the lives of one’s parents? Samuel Park explores that question and others in a finely written novel titled, The Caregiver. Protagonist Mara Alencar grew up in a Rio de Janeiro flavela knowing some aspects of her mother Ana’s life, but not understanding critical actions during her childhood. Now working as a caregiver in Los Angeles for a woman named Kathryn who suffers with stomach cancer, Mara finds herself being treated as a daughter by her employer and questioning her past and that of her mother. Park moves the action between past and present as we gradually learn about the lives of these fascinating characters. I’m usually skeptical of a man’s ability to write with insight about female characters. In this case, Park seemed to understand the mother-daughter relationship extremely well. He also understood what Kathryn was facing with cancer. Park died of stomach cancer not long after he finished writing this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Caregiver from amazon.com.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Hope. For those readers who look to fiction to explore the scope of human behavior, consider reading Heather Morris’ finely written novel titled, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Protagonist Lale Sokolov arrives at the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Because of his language skills, he is selected to work as a tattooist to mark numbers on prisoners. Morris sets up the contrast between the evil behavior of the Nazis and Lale’s ways of helping others and fostering hope in himself and others. This is a love story between Lale and Gita, a woman he meets in the camp. Based on a true story, Morris draws readers into horror and hope in ways that affirm our ability to express love and survive against all odds. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Tattooist of Auschwitz from amazon.com.

The City of Brass

Adventure. With her debut novel titled, The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty begins a series titled, The Daevabad Trilogy. Fans of adventure fantasy novels will find protagonist Nahri as a delightful character, full of magic and mischief. The world Chakraborty creates has a complicated history and lots of long-held resentments among different groups. Nahri finds herself in the middle of conflicts, and on an exciting adventure at the center of power. She has learned to be a healer, and her special skills are on display in many different contexts. Readers who enjoy big fantasy books with interesting stories should consider starting this trilogy and joining in the ongoing adventure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The City of Brass from amazon.com.

The Colors of All the Cattle

Politics. The nineteenth installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith is a novel titled, The Colors of All the Cattle. Smith gives readers the familiar gentle pace of a plot filled with familiar characters, while he introduces surprising new developments. This time out, apprentice mechanic, Charlie, does some effective detective work for Mma Ramotswe. Believe it or not, Grace and Phuti have a fight. Most surprising of all, is that Mma Ramotswe is convinced that she should run for the city council on a platform to stop a property from being developed next to a cemetery. Who’s her opponent? Violet Sephotho. If none of that makes sense to you, you haven’t been reading this series, in which case you should treat yourself. Fans will laugh while reading this installment, and finish the book as always, filled with good feelings. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Colors of All the Cattle from amazon.com.

The Verdun Affair

Quest. Fans of finely written historical literary fiction, especially relating to World War I and its aftermath, are likely to enjoy Nick Dybek’s finely written novel titled, The Verdun Affair. Fate brings Tom Combs together with Sarah Hagen in 1921 as she is searching for her missing husband. Dybek uses multiple time periods and finely crafted prose to draw readers into a quest to discover both oneself and a loved one. Truth is, as always, elusive, and subject to multiple interpretations. Dybek’s complex structure adds to the difficulty of the quest to decide whether or not a solider with memory loss is the missing husband, and who will get to decide the truth. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Verdun Affair from amazon.com.

Them: Why We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal

Neighbors. Ben Sasse, junior United States Senator from Nebraska, has written a book titled, Them: Why We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal, that he says is not about politics. Having read the book, I’m willing to take him at his word. His book suggests a solution to our hyper-partisan polarization: love your neighbor. He calls for building community at the local level, and that strong communities will lead to unity and a reduction in hate. He suggests that we root ourselves in some real physical space and find common ground with our neighbors. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Them from amazon.com.

Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance

Movement. In his book titled, Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance, Bernie Sanders does a calendar review of 2017 and 2018 and selects those things that reinforce the progress made on Sanders’ ideas becoming mainstream, and examples of success in opposition to a government that he claims works for the rich instead of all the people. This chronology of what has happened lays out what’s coming next, setting the stage for Bernie to throw his hat in the ring for President in the 2020 election. Fans of Sanders and prolific readers about current events will find all Bernie’s recurrent themes covered in this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Where Do We Go from Here from amazon.com.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

Gripping. Sometimes a difference between fiction and non-fiction is that the real-life version can seem to demand way too much suspension of disbelief. In his true story titled, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, Ben Macintyre tells us about the life of Oleg Gordievsky, a Russian spy and the child of KGB agents. Beginning in 1973 he was working secretly for MI6 and played a key role in defusing cold war tensions. His dramatic extraction from Russia kept my heart beating rapidly as I read of his ordeal. Readers interested in international relations, especially espionage, are those most likely to appreciate this gripping story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Spy and the Traitor from amazon.com.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Your Duck Is My Duck

Words. I don’t know about you, but words flow in and out of my consciousness all day long. Where they came from and where they are going is sometimes clear, and at other times very obscure. Deborah Eisenberg plucks words from whatever her source is, and constructs them into six playful and quirky short stories, a collection titled, Your Duck Is My Duck. Eisenberg taps into the inner and outer lives of eclectic characters and holds a mirror up to our regular and strange ways of being in the world. The characters are compelling, the stories engaging, and the words are chosen with great skill. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Your Duck Is My Duck from amazon.com.

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fea

Independence. From the earliest time I can remember, I would leave our family’s apartment in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, and my parents had only a vague sense of where I might be. Were there days when I got in trouble that could have been avoided? Yes. Did I grow up with self-confidence and independence? Yes. Today’s children and parents assess risks differently, and the “see something, say something” culture has led concerned individuals to contact the police rather than a parent when they are concerned that a child might be in jeopardy. Kim Brooks has written a book titled, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, that uses her own experience with leaving a child in a car for a few minutes, to describe current social expectations and the angst of parents. If selected for your book group conversation, count on hearing lots of stories about child rearing in the past and present. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Small Animals from amazon.com.

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction

Discipline. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been productive, organized and disciplined. After reading Chris Bailey’s book titled, Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, I understand how and why some of my routine practices have been successful. Readers who have trouble with productivity or with managing distractions will find a lot of practical ideas in this book about ways to get the right things done efficiently and effectively. I especially enjoyed the section of the book about scatterfocus, and the ways in which that approach can lead to creativity. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hyperfocus from amazon.com.

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

Alienation. Many children of immigrants feel alienation not only from their parents who grew up in a different place but also from their peers, whose family lives can seem more homogenous. In the eleven short stories in the collection by Neel Patel titled, If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, the characters struggle with identity and with finding ways to escape dysfunction of many types. There’s loneliness in these stories, anxiety about family expectations, and couples who are out of sync. The intimacy that Patel creates with just a few paragraphs in these stories leads to insights about human behavior that may be enlightening to many readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If You See Me from amazon.com.

The Widows

Mining. In a finely written debut novel by Jess Montgomery titled, The Widows, the protagonists Lily and Marvena are connected through the Sheriff of a small Ohio coal mining town, Daniel Ross. Set in the 1920s, the novel is packed with interesting characters and plot momentum involving violence, greed, loss, and restraint. Lily and Marvena are also connected in a battle for justice, a cause for which these two widows are formidable warriors. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and well-developed complex characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Widows from amazon.com.

The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King

Bully. TR fans will be dee-lighted by Jerome Charyn’s historical novel titled, The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King. We find the raucous Teddy Roosevelt in this novel which takes readers to the time he became President. Charyn excels at dialogue in this novel, and the language seems perfectly suited to the time period covered, and never comes across as awkward or clumsy to this reader. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King from amazon.com.

Bridge of Clay

Dunbars. There are loads of levels of meaning for the bridges in Marcus Zusak’s novel titled, Bridge of Clay. Protagonist Clay Dunbar is building a physical bridge. He also bridges the family relationships and finds identity as a Dunbar boy, one of five brothers. Zusak bridges past and present in erratic ways as he tells the Dunbars’ story in mixed pieces of exposition. The building blocks become clearer over hundreds of pages of what seems unclear or circular while on the reading journey. Patient readers will be rewarded with a finely written family story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bridge of Clay from amazon.com.

The Suspect

Personal. The latest crime novel by Fiona Barton to feature journalist Kate Waters is titled, The Suspect. A story about two young women missing in Thailand lets Kate jump into the lives of the parents worried about their daughters. The story turns personal when Kate learns that her son, Jake, is a suspect in foul play relating to the missing women. The plot twists rapidly with action in both England and Thailand, and family dynamics are dramatic for lots of characters. Children keep secrets from their parents for a variety of reasons, and parents can be in denial about the behavior of children. Barton mines all that with great skill in this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Suspect from amazon.com.

Dark Sacred Night

Partners. Michael Connelly’s novel titled, Dark Sacred Night, features both protagonists Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard. Ballard’s skills are underutilized while she works the night shift at LAPD’s Hollywood station. After she meets Harry in the wee hours at the station, the two hit it off and begin to work as partners on a neglected case. Connelly develops Ballard a lot in this novel, especially her dedication to the job, and the skills she deploys expertly. Harry Bosch is a beloved character and Connelly sets him up here with a gig for more novels to come. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the plot and characters of this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dark Sacred Night from amazon.com.

Harvest of Secrets

Workmanlike. The ninth installment in the Wine Country Mysteries series by Ellen Crosby is a novel titled, Harvest of Secrets. Protagonist Lucie Montgomery faces more than the usual challenges at her winery in Virginia at harvest time. A storm is coming before the grapes have ripened as far as desired; old human bones have been discovered just outside the family winery, and there’s a murder to solve. While part of the structure of the novel is formulaic and the characters are often not fully formed, this novel will appeal to those readers who enjoy mysteries. I finished this book with the same kind of feeling I get after a glass of a moderately priced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: workmanlike, tastes exactly as expected, and not much complexity. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Harvest of Secrets from amazon.com.