Friday, December 20, 2019

The World Doesn't Require You

Creative. The fictional town of Cross River, Maryland links the short stories in the collection by Rion Amilcar Scott titled, The World Doesn’t Require You. This town was founded by those who led a successful slave revolt, and this alternative history is written with great skill and creativity. There’s some magical realism on these pages, and a lively cast of characters across a long time frame. Each story is told with great care, and Scott provides such depth of understanding about loneliness that it might take your breath away. Readers looking for well written and creative stories should consider reading this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The World Doesn’t Require You from amazon.com.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Kingdom. The second novel in the Legacy of Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi is titled, Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Magic has gone rampant in Orisha with dramatic consequences and changes in which faction dominates. New readers should read the first installment to avoid total confusion. Fans may feel that this novel moves back and forth in ways that may seem unsatisfying, but should keep loyal readers engaged and expecting the next installment. The attempt to unify Orisha has many obstacles, and much of the novel leaves us in a bloody morass as we await what comes next. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Children of Virtue and Vengeance from amazon.com.

Disappearing Earth

Anguish. The debut novel by Julia Phillips titled, Disappearing Earth, opens with the disappearance of two sisters. Set in Kamchatka, Russia, the novel describes that area with finely written prose and draws readers into a year of anguish during which no progress seems to be made on finding the missing girls. Readers who enjoy literary fiction and the exploration of an unfamiliar place are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Disappearing Earth from amazon.com.

Someone Like Me

Place. Most great stories include an element that informs readers that there’s more here than meets the eye. In his novel titled, Someone Like Me, M.R. Carey sets up his story by introducing a cast of interesting and complex characters. Several of the characters are considered weird, and before long an otherworldly component enters and takes control. Several characters are linked by common experiences, and all are rooted in a place that ties them together and may be the locus for the events that drive the thrilling plot. Patient readers who can suspend disbelief will be rewarded with a well-told exciting and interesting story that reminded me of some of Stephen King’s novels. You may not see what others see, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Someone Like Me from amazon.com.

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

Neuroscience. What happens in my brain when I read? That’s the question that led me to opening Maryanne Wolf’s book titled, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Some of my reading is through printed books, some through digital text and some by listening to audiobooks. Wolf describes in this book the impact of screens on our brains and her presentation will cause readers to think about the meaning of deep reading and to assess one’s ability to maintain or increase our intellectual capabilities. Wolf writes for a general audience in a style that’s engaging and interesting. Now that I’ve read this book, I know that my brain achieved positive outcomes from the process, and I am pleased to recommend this book to your brain as well. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Reader Come Home from amazon.com.

Chocolate Cream Pie Murder

Soapy. The twenty-fourth installment in the Hannah Swensen mystery series by Joanne Fluke is a novel titled, Chocolate Cream Pie Murder. Fans of the series will enjoy the reprise of the large Lake Eden cast of characters and the recipes for sweet goodies that are in every chapter. The soap opera feeling of the recent installments ratchets up in this novel, as the recent marriage of Hannah and Ross has fallen apart and melodrama follows. As with the usual formula, there’s a murder and Hannah is in the middle of the action. Perhaps I’ve exhausted my interest in this series, as I found not a single recipe worth trying. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy the time spent with familiar characters and desserts. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Chocolate Cream Pie Murder from amazon.com.

Crisis

Answers. Prolific novelist Felix Francis returns to Newmarket horse racing in his novel titled, Crisis. Protagonist Harrison Foster couldn’t care less about horses, racing or gambling, but after his crisis firm’s client loses a valuable thoroughbred in a fire, Foster is sent to investigate what happened and why. Before long, Foster finds himself in the middle of the dysfunctional Chadwick family and heats up tension as he explores answers to questions about secrets the Chadwicks don’t want revealed. The plot moves briskly, the characters are interesting, and the mystery is satisfying to those readers who enjoy this genre. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crisis from amazon.com.

We Can Save Us All

Princeton. Readers will need to be patient while getting into Adam Nemett’s debut novel titled, We Can Save Us All. The setting is Princeton University, but this is not one of the eating clubs with which you may be familiar. The USV, Unnamed Supersquadron of Vigilantes, is more like a cult, in a climate changed near future, with a plan to make a difference. Our near future might get the superheroes we deserve, and the USV just might be the ones who accomplish what the title demands. I enjoyed the fine writing and the scope of creativity by the author. It’s an odd book that may put off some readers, but I liked this complex story with quirky characters living in a complicated world with conviction and passion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We Can Save Us All from amazon.com.

On Thomas Merton

Writers. Most of my impressions of Thomas Merton were set in place fifty years ago, when I first read his works and read about him. Since that time, I’ve read him from time to time, and even listened to a recording of a retreat he gave to some nuns using “modern” technology: tape recordings he made in the Abbey of Gethsemane and mailed to the nuns. When I saw that the writer Mary Gordon has approached Merton from the perspective of his seven volumes of journals and the totality of his writing, my interest in Merton was renewed. Thanks to Gordon and her finely written book titled, On Thomas Merton, I understand Thomas Merton better as a person, as a writer, and the struggles he faced as a Trappist monk. I found one interesting tidbit that I had not expected to read. Merton’s superiors in the Trappist community pressured him to publish as a source of community revenue, and that pressure didn’t play well with his struggles to reveal himself through his writing. Thanks to Gordon’s empathy with the struggles of a writer, readers can understand Merton’s life in new ways. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase On Thomas Merton from amazon.com.

Only Killers and Thieves

Survival. Paul Howarth’s debut novel, Only Killers and Thieves, takes readers into frontier life in late 19th century Australia. Teenagers Tommy and Billy McBride are forced to grow up quickly when violence and tragedy enters their young lives. Life in an unforgiving landscape is an ongoing battle for survival, and the boys choose to follow different paths in life. Howarth writes with great skill, bringing the setting to life and developing each character with insight into the complexity of human nature and the bonds of relationships. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Only Killers and Thieves from amazon.com.

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Minute to Midnight

Personal. The second installment in the Atlee Pine series by David Baldacci is titled, A Minute to Midnight. The unsolved murder of FBI agent Pine’s twin sister continues to preoccupy her, so she and her assistant take some time off from work to return to Georgia and investigate the old case. Small towns and long held secrets go hand in hand, and Atlee finds herself reliving the trauma of the past as she uses her skills to solve the old case. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Minute to Midnight from amazon.com.

The Scholar

Galway. The second novel in the Cormac Reilly series by Dervla McTiernan is titled, The Scholar. The work lives of Cormac and his girlfriend, Dr. Emma Sweeney, intersect at the beginning of this novel after Emma finds a body at Galway University and calls Cormac who’s the first officer to arrive on the scene. As an investigation and mystery case develops, McTiernan pulls us back to observe her writing with admiration as she taps into the doubts and insecurities faced by many characters. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Scholar from amazon.com.

Find Me

Time. Andre Aciman revisits characters from his 2007 novel titled, Call Me By Your Name, decades later in another finely written novel titled, Find Me. The title plays out in multiple ways in the novel, to the pleasure of readers. I was delighted by Aciman’s exploration of time. Here’s one sample, from page 46: “Basically, we don’t know how to think of time, because time couldn’t care less what we think of time, because time is just a wobbly, unreliable metaphor for how we think about life. Because ultimately it isn’t time that is wrong for us, or we for time. If may be life itself that is wrong. … because there is death. Because death, contrary to what everyone tells you, is not part of life. Death is God’s great blunder, and sunset and dawn are how he blushes for shame and asks our forgiveness each and every day.” Here’s another sample from page 104, ‘“And besides, if I give you an hour now, you’ll want a day. And if I give you a day, you’ll want a year. I know your type.”’ Fans of the earlier novel will love the return of Oliver and Elio. As a last grabber for you: Samuel and Miranda meet on a train. Read the novel to find out what happens next. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Find Me from amazon.com.

Permanent Record

Context. Edward Snowden’s memoir titled, Permanent Record, gives readers some context for why he revealed government secrets. By telling his side of the story, Snowden helps readers understand how his conscience was formed, how his assessment of right and wrong influenced his actions, and why the revelations he made became a logical next step despite the personal consequences. Whether you consider Snowden a hero or a criminal, you may want to listen to his side of his story before you close the book on him. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Permanent Record from amazon.com.

To the Land of Long Lost Friends

Tricky. I might have missed it, but there wasn’t time for relaxing with a cup of bush tea in the twentieth installment of Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective series, a novel titled, To the Land of Long Lost Friends. The pace of life in Botswana remains placid, although Mma Ramotswe has to navigate some tricky family issues in this installment. Smith pulls long term fans back into a familiar setting and cast of characters, lays out a storyline slowly, and then wraps it all up in a quick jolt. It’s always comforting and relaxing spending time with Precious Ramotswe and her enduring goodness and kindness to others. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase To the Land of Long Lost Friends from amazon.com.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Comfortable. Find yourself a comfortable chair, and settle in for Bill Bryson’s engaging and entertaining book titled, The Body: A Guide for Occupants. Packed with facts, supported with anecdotes and maintained by good writing, the book examines the human body in all its wonder. Bryson has the ability to take something familiar and bring a fresh look and introduce something mysterious and make it understandable. Get comfortable with and in your body as you read this entertaining book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Body from amazon.com.

The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

Markets. Readers interested in public policy are those most likely to enjoy Binyamin Appelbaum’s finely written book titled, The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society. Appelbaum chronicles the influence of select economists on American life over the past half-century and assesses the outcomes from that influence. Many of the economists and their positions will be familiar to most readers, and some stories may be new. Whether you agree or disagree with Appelbaum, his account is worth reading and his assessment is cogent. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Economists’ Hour from amazon.com.

Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery

Honor. Fed up with partisan politics? Take a busman’s holiday with a non-partisan book by partisan politician Tom Cotton titled, Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery. Cotton tells us about the revered U.S. Army unit known as “The Old Guard,” and the work they do to honor soldiers. During a time period when respect seems scarce, it was a respite to read this account of the honor shown to fallen soldiers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sacred Duty from amazon.com.

The Divers' Game

Uncomfortable. Most readers will feel unsettled while and after reading Jesse Ball’s novel titled, The Divers’ Game. Using fine prose, Ball pulls readers into examining a society in which violence against the other is not only commonplace, it is expected. Is this who we are becoming? Where is compassion? This short book packs a wallop and I can’t say how long it takes for the unsettled feeling to pass, because for me, it remains. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Divers Game from amazon.com.

The Accomplice

Betrayal. There’s a quest for justice at the heart of Joseph Kanon’s novel titled, The Accomplice. Protagonist Aaron Wiley picks up the trail of a Nazi war criminal in South America and faces challenges in achieving justice. Aaron may not be able to proceed the way his Uncle Max desired before he died, and wonders if he is betraying his uncle. The criminal’s daughter faces choices of loyalty and betrayal as well. With fine writing and great psychological insight, Kanon offers readers an engaging and complicated story about human behavior and the choices we make. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Accomplice from amazon.com.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Siberian Dilemma

Bears. The ninth novel by Martin Cruz Smith to feature Moscow investigator Arkady Renko is titled, The Siberian Dilemma. Fans of character driven crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Renko leaves Moscow to find his girlfriend Tatiana who’s been away for over a month and her absence is giving Renko agita. Outside his urban element, Renko encounters new threats, including bears of various types. Smith includes many elements of contemporary Russian life: oligarchs, corrupt politics and the risks to journalists as they do their work. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Siberian Dilemma from amazon.com.

The Man That Got Away

Brighton. Lynne Truss returns to Brighton with the second Constable Twitten novel titled, The Man That Got Away. The humor in this novel exceeds the first installment and will appeal to those readers who enjoy a good spoof of the crime mystery genre. The full cast of characters will amuse most readers and as Twitten settles into Brighton, he becomes even more loveable and perhaps even a bit flexible. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Man That Got Away from amazon.com.

Cheer Up Mr. Widdicombe

Class. Readers with an appetite for wit and satire should consider reading Evan James’ debut novel titled, Cheer Up Mr. Widdicombe. The cast of characters face first world problems that apply specifically to the most affluent among us. If Bernie Sanders read this book, he’d be likely to say, “What the hell is wrong with these people?” The title refers to the message to paterfamilias Frank Widdicombe who is bummed that his annual excursion with buddies to France has been scuttled. Readers who are wont to use “summer” as a verb, and you know who you are, are those most likely to see themselves and friends described with pithiness in this novel. Readers who don’t summer in an exclusive setting can pick up this novel and glimpse over the walls of class privilege but might be hard pressed to appreciate the humor. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Cheer Up Mr Widdicombe from amazon.com.

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish

Domestic. Many novels that present dysfunctional family life offer insight into the complexity of our human condition. In her debut novel titled, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, Katya Apekina elegantly presents us with a tragic family saga. Mother Marianne goes to a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. Teenage daughters Edie and Mae leave life with their mother in Louisiana and end up in New York with their father, Dennis, a novelist. Through different narrators, we see tragic lives in different ways. As in many families, different children describe their shared experience in radically different ways, as if they were raised in different places. Greek myths come alive for modern readers on these pages, whether recognized or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Deeper the Water from amazon.com.

The Titanic Secret

Mining. The eleventh installment in the Isaac Bell adventure series by Clive Cussler is a novel titled, The Titanic Secret. Cussler pulls protagonist Dirk Pitt from a different series to start this novel a century after the time when the main action in the novel takes place. Detective Isaac Bell investigates a Colorado mine disaster in 1911 and before long goes on a global adventure to track down the mining of a rare earth element named byzanium. As always, Bell is a terrific investigator who gets into life threatening scrapes with bad guys. Fans of formulaic character-driven fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Titanic Secret from amazon.com.

In My Mind's Eye

Endearing. Jan Morris calls her book titled, In My Mind’s Eye, “a thought diary.” Wherever those thoughts come from, they are finely written, endearing and certainly eclectic. Some of the daily diary entries are short, and others are finely developed essays. Most are quips that will cause readers to smile and become charmed by this talented author who still amazes in her nineties. Could there be something magical in the water in Wales? Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In My Mind’s Eye from amazon.com.

The Cost of Living

Brisk. The short book by Deborah Levy titled, The Cost of Living, allows readers to sample her fine prose while eavesdropping on a few selected episodes from her life. Levy calls this “a working autobiography,” and it is a glimpse into the writer’s observations about living in our world with interesting other people. All of a writer’s life can become source material, and in this book, Levy takes us behind the curtain to spend time with her memories and observations. I finished the book wanting to meet her mother and I smiled when I finally reached the phrase that became the title of this book. Fans of literary prose are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cost of Living from amazon.com.

Severance

Routine. I enjoyed the deep insight into contemporary life on the pages of Ling Ma’s debut novel titled, Severance. Protagonist Candace Chen came to the United States from China as a little girl. Most of the action in this humorous and satiric novel takes place while Candace is working in New York as a young adult following the death of both parents. Her routine is constant: work for a Manhattan publisher monitoring the production of specialty books in China, followed by watching movies in a basement apartment in Brooklyn. A global disease called Shen Fever is killing people everywhere, but Candace seems immune and continues her routine. Readers will recognize Candace as a representative of her age cohort and as the child of immigrants who wanted the best for her. We root for her as she does what’s necessary to survive the Shen Fever. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Severance from amazon.com.

The Water Cure

Protection. Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel is titled, The Water Cure. Some undescribed catastrophe hit the mainland, so parents named King and Mother have taken their daughters, Grace, Lia and Sky, to an island for protection. The daughters are subjected to a variety of therapies to keep them pure, including keeping their hands in frozen water and sweating in a sauna until unconscious. Taught to fear strangers, especially men, the daughters live in isolation with ways of living to which they have become accustomed. This situation can’t endure, so after King disappears, and strangers arrive on the island, the therapies for protection fall aside and unmet needs are confronted. Readers are left to ponder big questions from this novel about gender, cults, and the stories we can be led to believe and the ways we can live when prompted that this is the way things are. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Water Cure from amazon.com.

The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaƫsia

Return. Fans of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle and the Eragon stories are those readers most likely to enjoy the return to AlagaĆ«sia with the three stories collected in a book titled, The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. I especially enjoyed the excerpt from the memoir of Angela the herbalist. For readers who thought Paolini could only write massively long books, here’s an example of the author’s ability to tell great stories efficiently. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fork The Witch and the Worm from amazon.com.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

Process. Investigative journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey describe in their book titled, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, the process they followed in revealing sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein. Most of us are aware of the outline of their story, and this book shows how the story was built one interview at a time, and one research investigation at a time. Whether you think you know a lot or a little about the job of a journalist, this book shows what the work entails, and uses a prominent story as a way to reveal the hard work and diligence it takes to run down a story, as well as the resources required and the willingness to follow the story wherever it goes. In the case of the authors, they had the full support of The New York Times as they carried out their work. I was amazed at the efforts Weinstein took to kill their story. I strongly recommend reading this finely written book and then subscribing to quality periodicals that generate the resources to pursue stories effectively. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase She Said from amazon.com.

Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

Observations. Primatologist Frans de Wall shares insights drawn from decades of observations of animal behavior for his book titled, Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves. He has specialized in comparing human and primate behavior, and the abundant similarities he describes have significant implications. It may be humbling for some readers to accept the evidence that we humans are not as special as we think we are. There’s a heartwarming story at the core of the book, and most readers will finish this book with a greater appreciation of other animals. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mama’s Last Hug from amazon.com.

The Guardians

Innocence. Most readers know that John Grisham can tell one hell of a story that will engage a reader from the beginning to the end of a book. In his legal thrilled titled, The Guardians, the focus is on what it takes to release the innocent from prison. Protagonist Cullen Post is a lawyer working for a group called Guardian Ministries that operates on a shoestring. He’s also an Episcopal priest and uses the dog collar judiciously in his prison work. Guardian accepts just a few cases at a time, and Grisham pulls readers into how Post and the group get prisoners released. As expected with Grisham, there’s tension, action and great satisfaction in the story being told. After you finish reading this novel, consider making a contribution to one of the groups that does this work pro bono. They need help and there are plenty more true stories like the ones made up in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Guardians from amazon.com.

Red at the Bone

Immersive. The novel by Jacqueline Woodson titled, Red at the Bone, packs a wallop inside a compact two hundred pages. Woodson plants us into an extended family and uses their voices and the atmosphere of their lives to explore race, teenage pregnancy, and finding our place in the world. The multiple voices in the novel scramble us in time and focus us on what’s important. Woodson explores love and loss with great insight. The humanity of the characters in the novel will remain with most readers long after the last page is turned. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Red at the Bone from amazon.com.

The Need

Bizarre. Things are not as they appear for both the characters in and readers of Helen Phillips novel titled, The Need. Protagonist Molly is not the only parent who, while at home with young children, hears footsteps in the house. Is she just sleep deprived or is there something more sinister at play? A long day with children can be bizarre for any number of reasons, but Phillips pulls readers into her speculative and thrilling story and demands that we follow her images and story wherever it leads. Patient readers are rewarded with a bizarre and entertaining story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Need from amazon.com.

Mrs. Everything

Choices. The place of women in society from the middle of the twentieth century until now is the subject of Jennifer Weiner’s novel titled, Mrs. Everything. Sisters Jo and Bethie Kaufman grew up in Detroit and Weiner describes key episodes in their lives and the choices they made with intention or out of necessity. Constrained and defined by others, both women survived what life threw at them. Along the way, readers are pulled into people, places and situations that may cause discomfort, but reflect aspects of the times described. The life we imagine for ourselves is often different when reality sets in and choices are made. Weiner’s prose and insight into human nature lead readers toward introspection. Contemporaries of the main characters will want to tell their own stories of this era after reading the book, so for the right book club, this novel will generate robust conversation. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mrs Everything from amazon.com.

Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark

Audience. As I kept reading Cecelia Watson’s book titled, Semicolon: The Past, Present and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, I found myself wondering about her intended audience. After fifty pages or so, I concluded that I wasn’t the target reader, but I slogged through to the end. Are there really enough readers who truly care about punctuation? I expected something a bit jauntier than what’s on offer in this book. I truly didn’t know that the semicolon is controversial. I didn’t know that there have been periods of popularity followed by periods of aversion whether following or violating contemporary rules of grammar. I know some editors who would appreciate this book, but they may be too busy to take the time to read it. Sample a few pages to see if you might be the targeted reader for this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Semicolon from amazon.com.

From a Low and Quiet Sea

Stories. The finely written prose of Donal Ryan in his book titled, From a Low and Quiet Sea, weaves together three stories that will pull empathy out of every reader’s heart and propel us toward recognition of what we need to atone for in our own lives as we journey toward redemption. I love the gentle ways in which Ryan sneaks up on us, pulling us in with our leaning toward compassion for these characters. By the time most readers can see what Ryan has done, he’s finished, and leaves us to marvel at his handiwork. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this well-crafted work of great fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase From a Low and Quiet Sea from amazon.com.

The Clockmaker's Daughter

Voices. Fans of big and complicated historical mysteries are those readers most likely to enjoy Kate Morton’s novel titled, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. Some readers may become unsettled with the pacing of the novel, as Morton shifts voices and time periods just as a reader settles into one of the puzzle pieces. It can feel like starting over with a new voice, and it is. Patient readers will be rewarded by the gradual reveal, and with an engaging mystery packed with interesting characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Clockmaker’s Daughter from amazon.com.

Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying

Candid. Someone I knew while I was in college would sit down at the breakfast table every morning and say, “Here we are one day closer to the grave.” While that may have somewhat morbid and definitely not been a cheery start to the day, it was certainly accurate and reflected an awareness of the certainty of death. That awareness is made candid and useful for every cogent person in a book by Sallie Tisdale titled, Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying. Drawn from her experience in nursing and palliative care, Tisdale explains with clarity what to expect with dying. She includes lots of helpful tools to improve communication about the process of dying and in making one’s wishes well known. Read it today, since you are now one more day closer to your grave and you should be prepared. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Advice for Future Corpses from amazon.com.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Dutch House

Conroys. Fans of finely written prose with deep and complex characters are those most likely to enjoy Ann Patchett’s novel titled, The Dutch House. In addition to the members of the Conroy family, who we get to know over the course of five decades, we also see the depth and richness of their family home. Any reader who has lived in a home that was more than a place to live will delight in the magic of this house and why it attracts some and repels others. There’s a sibling relationship at the center of this novel and Patchett captures the intensity of that special bond with great skill. Each of us has someone in our extended family who does something that we just can’t understand. Many of the characters in this novel do exactly that and we love them all the more because of their behavior. I loved every minute I spent with the Conroy family and imagined living in the house during good times and bad. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Dutch House from amazon.com.

The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light

Decisions. I love to read a short work by a prominent historian that enlightens me about a single topic. In his book titled, The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light, award-winning historian Jean Edward Smith describes the decisions that were made to liberate Paris in 1944 and the consequences of those decisions. Readers who enjoy history, especially those who love Paris, will read in this book how Paris was liberated and what that meant for the city we see today as well as how saving Paris led to a longer war. I closed the book wondering what would have happened to Paris in 1944 if Ike and Mamie Eisenhower hadn’t lived there in the 1920s and 30s. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Liberation of Paris from amazon.com.

Full Throttle

Variety. I love reading a short story collection with a wide range of settings, and the baker’s dozen in the collection titled, Full Throttle, by Joe Hill suited my taste perfectly. There are a few new stories in this collection; most have been published over the past decade or so. Hill succeeds in each of those stories by tapping into some part of human nature and revealing it. Always interesting and imaginative, the stories kept me engaged for almost a fortnight as I doled out one story a day. Any reader who loves short fiction should consider reading this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Full Throttle from amazon.com.

Celestial Bodies

Oman. I picked up a copy of Kokha Alharthi’s novel titled, Celestial Bodies, after it won the Man Booker International Prize. This finely written novel draws readers into the Omani culture and the changes to that society over recent decades, through the lens of three sisters. Oman’s history of slavery can be disturbing, but Alharthi uses that history to explore the many ways in which people are bound and constrained. The women in this novel are complex and interesting characters and the society in which they live demands change and extracts love and loss as time passes. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Celestial Bodies from amazon.com.

How We Fight For Our Lives

Poetic. The memoir titled, How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones describes a young life that may bear no resemblance to the experience of most readers. That’s exactly one of the good reasons to pick up this book and enter into the experience of someone whose life has been different from our own. Another good reason is that Jones’ prose is finely written, influenced by his poetry, and packed with candor. This examination of a life is reflective and disarming. Jones writes about many relationships that are fraught with drama, stress, even danger, but the memoir turns warm when he writes about his mother. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How We Fight for our Lives from amazon.com.

The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator

Deet. After reading Timothy C. Winegard’s book titled, The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, I checked to see if we had mosquito repellent with deet in the house. Have you ever known something but experienced pleasure when someone else plays back to you what you know in a more coherent narrative? That was my experience on reading this book. I already know about how disease killed people over many centuries, and how in some wars there were more casualties from disease than from battle. Thanks to Winegard, I was able to follow a coherent narrative presenting the mosquito as human’s most powerful enemy across many centuries. I also read this book when Eastern equine encephalitis was spreading in the United States. That explains my search for deet. So far, so good. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mosquito from amazon.com.

Lock Every Door

Bartholomew. Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy Riley Sager’s novel titled, Lock Every Door. Protagonist Jules Larsen gets a lucrative job at just the right time as a house sitter for a unit in the Bartholomew, a prestigious and mysterious New York building. While the rules for her residency are strict, the pay is great, and the digs are spectacular. After a fellow house sitter from another apartment disappears, Jules starts to investigate the mysteries of the Bartholomew. Readers are treated with her thrilling adventure. Next time you walk by one of those signature exclusive residences, you may speculate on what’s going on inside. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lock Every Door from amazon.com.

Edison

Prolific. Edmund Morris’ biography titled, Edison, was published after the author’s death. Were he alive, I would have asked him why he chose a structure for the book that was as difficult as its subject. While most biographies procced chronologically, Morris goes backward, mostly, and organizes in the following categories: botany, defense, chemistry, magnetism, light, sound, telegraphy, and natural philosophy. The prolific and talented Edison explored all those areas, and he patented inventions at a great clip throughout his life. Despite the challenging structure, most readers will find Edison a great subject and Morris a fine presenter of the complex and voluminous material of a highly productive life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Edison from amazon.com.

The Topeka School

Language. Ben Lerner demands readers of his novel titled, The Topeka School, to go deep or go home. When Lerner unveils the interior lives of characters, we see the ways in which the forms of language shape ourselves and our environment. As he shifts perspective, Lerner demands our eyes follow his as we look to the past and see the trajectory toward our divisive present from multiple points of view. Words matter and Lerner shows us why. Fans of finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Topeka School from amazon.com.

My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son's Search For Home

Kindred. As he prepared to become a father, Michael Brendan Dougherty freaked out a little about how he would need to tell his daughter who she is and where she comes from. He writes a book titled, My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son's Search For Home, as letters to his father who has been an intermittent presence in Michael’s life. Dougherty’s mother and father ended their relationship in Ireland before he was born. While he was raised in New Jersey, his mother spoke to him in Irish and his father visited from Dublin every few years. Facing fatherhood, he wrote letters to his own father that are heartfelt and moving. At some time in our life we answer identity questions for ourselves about who is kindred. If we are fortunate, we also come to understand the sacrifice that parents have made to improve the lives of their children. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Father Left Me Ireland from amazon.com.