Thursday, May 9, 2019

Working

Process. Along with many fans of Robert Caro’s books about Lyndon Johnson, I look forward to reading the fifth and final book whenever Caro finishes it. In the meantime, it was a real joy to read his latest book titled, Working, that assembles perspectives old and new about his writing process. The conclusions are not unexpected. Caro works very hard. He digs deeper and deeper, turning every page in research, asking more and more questions in multiple interviews. He begins to write after he feels his research is done, and that takes a while. Once he starts to write, he writes quickly, but then rewrites multiple times. He wants to be sure that a reader is brought inside the story: that the reader understands the issues and feels as if one is there with what Caro describes. Caro’s prose reads so well that he makes it seem easy. This book explains how hard it is to make prose seem that easy. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Working from amazon.com.

Blood Oath

Return. The twentieth installment in the Alexandra Cooper crime fiction series by Linda Fairstein is a novel titled, Blood Oath. I always look forward to finding out the NYC landmark that Fairstein describes for readers, and this time out it’s Rockefeller University, one of the country’s finest medical research centers. Fans of the series may recall that we left Alex away from her Assistant DA work on a leave of absence. In this installment, she’s returned to work and her first case is complex and sensitive. Meanwhile, she’s considering whether or not she wants to become the next DA. The familiar cast of recurring characters are tested anew on a case that fans are likely to love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blood Oath from amazon.com.

The Persian Gamble

Stakes. Fans of exciting thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy the second novel by Joel C. Rosenberg to feature former U.S. Secret Service agent Marcus Ryker titled, The Persian Gamble. The cliffhanger from The Kremlin Conspiracy kicks off the new novel and the action never stops. Ryker, assassin Oleg Kraskin and CIA station chief Jenny Morris scramble to get out of Russia alive. Meanwhile, the North Koreans are plotting to sell nuclear weapons to Iran. What could possibly go wrong with that? The action is fast paced from beginning to end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Persian Gamble from amazon.com.

Presidents of War

Sweeping. General readers who appreciate readable and compelling presentations of history are those most likely to enjoy Michael Beschloss’ book titled, Presidents of War. I paced myself while reading this doorstop of a book, reading lots of other things between sections. Beschloss focuses on these United States Presidents: Madison, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, FDR, Truman and LBJ. I found just the right balance between detail and summary. As with other fine writers of American history, Beschloss knows how to draw readers into the setting and the issues through events that are carefully chosen to support the narrative. The war powers of United States Presidents are interesting to explore, and Beschloss is an author who can lead us toward greater understanding of multiple dimensions of the many issues relating to war. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Presidents of War from amazon.com.

Redemption

Infiltration. The fifth novel by David Baldacci to feature memory man Amos Decker is titled, Redemption. While Amos is visiting the graves of his wife and daughter, he is approached by Meryl Hawkins, a very ill man recently released from prison. Hawkins claims that he was innocent of the crime, the first homicide case Decker worked on as a local police detective. After Hawkins is murdered Decker feels duty bound to revisit the old case to see if mistakes were made. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the many plot twists in this novel, and fans of the series will be rooting for Decker at every turn. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Redemption from amazon.com.

The Wall

Other. What makes people require an “other” to frame our own behavior? In his novel titled, The Wall, John Lanchester offers a future that some will consider dystopian and others anticipate as likely. Rising sea levels led an island nation to build a concrete barrier around its territory. Protagonist Joseph Kavanagh works as a defender with one mission: to ensure that the Others don’t breach his section of the wall. Lanchester is a terrific storyteller, and his creativity in this novel captivated me. This novel falls within the long tradition of imaginative fiction and the telling of stories that engage readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Wall from amazon.com.

The Parisian

Nablus. Fiction can help readers understand life in a time and place especially through an intense focus on one character’s life. In her debut novel titled, The Parisian, Isabella Hammad tells us about life in Nablus, Palestine in the early 20th century. Protagonist Midhat Kamal is the son of a wealthy merchant and attains the moniker in the title after his father sent him to study medicine in Paris in 1914. Midhat finds a different Nablus after he returns from Paris: British occupation and activists pressing for nationalism. Midhat’s life doesn’t turn out as he or others expected. Neither has Palestine. Here’s one of my favorite lines from late in the novel: p. 547: “When I look at my life,” he said, “I see a whole list of mistakes. Lovely, beautiful mistakes. I wouldn’t change them.” Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Parisian from amazon.com.

Why Don't You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother's Suggestions

Gift. Sample a page or two of the book titled, Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother's Suggestions, and you’ll know whether this is the right gift for any mother in your life. Patricia Marx’s text presents things her mother has said over the years, and cartoonist Roz Chast provides terrific illustrations. It’s clear that both women present this short book out of love for their mothers. Whether it resonates with you or the mother in your life depends on the nature of your relationship and how much humor has been in your family dynamics. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why Don’t You Write from amazon.com.

Normal People

Relationship. The protagonists of Sally Rooney’s novel titled, Normal People, are well-developed and interesting characters struggling with relationships in contemporary life. Marianne and Connell are, as the title says, normal people. They come from different backgrounds, fall in love and meander in and out of sync with each other, just as other normal people do. Their dialogue seems familiar. Marianne communicates her truth with clarity. Connell seems reluctant and often regrets not saying what he could have. As readers, we come to know Marianne and Connell better than they seem to know themselves, and we want to shout at them to avert a direction that we know will be perilous. Readers may not like Connell and Marianne, but we recognize them, the ups and downs of their lives and the nature of their relationship. Love endures, but come on people, take the right steps to keep it alive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Normal People from amazon.com.

Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights

Hope. It took decades for the victims of the 1963 bombing at a Birmingham church to get justice. The junior senator from Alabama, Doug Jones, tells this story with vivid prose in his book titled, Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights. Jones was involved in the case in a major way as a US Attorney in 2001 and 2002. Homegrown terrorism is not a recent phenomenon. Jones takes us into life in Alabama in the 1960s and after, and he leads us down the long road that ended with justice. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bending Toward Justice from amazon.com.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Alarm. How ready are you for severe weather events, climate refugees, food shortages and increasing civil unrest? After reading David Wallace-Wells' book titled, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, you’re likely to wish you were more prepared. Packed with loads of data, the book tells a horror story about what scientists predict as likely if average temperatures continue to rise. In summary: a horror show will follow. I don’t know what it will take for the United States and the world to take climate change seriously. This book may have no impact. Any informed citizen open to listening to some evidence should consider reading this book. What each of us decides to do in this area is up to us, but we need to find ways to be better informed, and this book represents one more way to pay attention to this critical topic. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Uninhabitable Earth from amazon.com.

The Heavens

Dreams. Do we change, or is it reality that changes? Where did we come from and where are we going? Protagonist Kate is as confused as the rest of us about life, as described in Sandra Newman’s novel titled, The Heavens. In New York in 2000, Kate meets Ben at a party, and they hit it off. While she sleeps, Kate dreams of 16th century London where she lives as Emilia. After each dream, her return to New York introduces her to an altered reality from the one she left before sleep. While Ben loves Kate, he finds her changes unsettling and disturbing. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Heavens from amazon.com.

Kaddish.com

Birthright. I laughed my way through much of Nathan Englander’s novel titled, Kaddish.com. After all, the premise itself was funny. Protagonist Larry is a secular Jew when his Orthodox father dies. It is Larry’s birthright and responsibility to recite the Kaddish for his late father every day for eleven months so that his father can find his way to heaven. He finds a website, kaddish.com, that allows Larry to outsource his responsibility. Two decades later, Larry has become a rabbi, and is drawn to repair his past action: he needs his birthright back. Underneath the humor, there is a serious story here about purpose and obligations. Englander’s writing is superb, and the tenderness and humanity of these characters will enrich all readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Kaddish from amazon.com.

Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics

Scores. There are some words that easily come to mind when one thinks of Chris Christie: blunt, brassy, cocksure, confident, larger than life. All of that is on display in his memoir titled, Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics. If you think Christie has some scores to settle in this book, you are correct, and he scores with skill. If you expect the book is all “me, me, me,” you are also correct, but after all, this is a memoir. You’ll read about Bridgegate, the relationship between the Christie’s and the Trumps, and come away feeling exactly the same about Christie as you did before opening the book. Readers interested in public affairs are those most likely to enjoy this novel. I assume all the Kushners received signed copies, with the compliments of the author. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Let Me Finish from amazon.com.

The Malta Exchange

Conclave. The fourteenth Cotton Malone novel by Steve Berry is titled, The Malta Exchange. Fans of this series are those readers most likely to be patient enough to stick with the complexity in this novel. A pope has died, and there’s a scheme to get a particular person chosen as pope at the conclave. The complexity comes in the form of a secret document kept by the Knights of Malta, purported to go back to Emperor Constantine and containing material threatening to the Catholic church. There’s also evidence about indiscretions by various cardinals that have been documented and are planned to be used to secure votes for the person who wants to be pope. Various secret agents are at work, and Cotton Malone is in the middle of another mess. If you have any questions about how Cotton fares, you’ve never read anything in this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Malta Exchange from amazon.com.

Outside Looking In

Sacrament. I like most of what T.C. Boyle writes. I’ve especially enjoyed his skill in skewering hucksters in his novels. While I was reading his novel titled, Outside Looking In, about Timothy O’Leary, I was remembering his much earlier novel about the Kellogg’s titled, The Road to Wellville. O’Leary convinces disciples to follow him into lives centered around the sacrament: LSD. The tripping is described with great skill, and the commune is filled with a cast of well-drawn characters who behave exactly as most readers would expect. Con men are great characters, and Boyle offers readers O’Leary at his conniving best. Fans of fine writing, especially those with a good sense of humor are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Outside Looking In from amazon.com.

Here and Now and Then

Parenthood. Time flies and stuff happens. That’s one summary of life. Mike Chen’s debut novel titled, Here and Now and Then, presents a typical dad, Kin Stewart, who loves his wife and tries to be a good dad to his daughter, Miranda. Unlike the typical dad, Kin leads two lives. In one, he is a time-traveling secret agent living in 2142. In another, he works in IT in San Francisco where he has been living since the 1990s when he got stranded while on assignment. After his time travel colleagues pull him out of San Francisco, he still tries to be a good parent to Miranda, while breaking all kinds of rules. This is a great book for a dad to read with a teenage daughter and have something in common to talk about. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Here and Now and Then from amazon.com.

The Strange Bird

Perspective. Jeff VanderMeer adds another perspective to the world he created in his novel titled, Borne, in a smaller novel titled, The Strange Bird. Fans of the earlier novel are those readers most likely to enjoy this creative and imaginative addition. The bird was built in a laboratory from a variety of parts: avian, human and who knows what. Where does this creature fit in the world? She knows captivity and searches for the place where she truly belongs. VanderMeer explores captivity and freedom and raises questions about the world we create. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Strange Bird from amazon.com.

Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don't, Can't, and Do Know

Sobering. University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson presents a scholarly approach for general readers in her book titled, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don't, Can't, and Do Know. This is a sobering account of all the who, what, how and why from 2016, along with an assessment of how unprepared we are for waging the ongoing Cyberwar. Whether the Mueller Report answered your questions or not about the 2016 Presidential election, Jamieson’s book will be of interested to all readers concerned about public affairs and our cyber vulnerabilities. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cyberwar from amazon.com.

Early Riser

Winter. Readers who enjoy imaginative dystopian fiction are those most likely to appreciate Jasper Fforde’s novel titled, Early Riser. Set in Wales, this is a story of a population who eat hearty as preparation for sleeping through the harsh winter. Fforde adds clever writing, humor, mystery and mayhem to keep readers turning pages. Levels of meaning enhance the reading experience and improve the entertainment value of this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Early Riser from amazon.com.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Unto Us a Son Is Given

Inheritance. The twenty-ninth installment in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon set in Venice is titled, Unto Us a Son Is Given. For the first time in my memory, we have an extended one on one conversation between Guido and his father-in-law, and a request for help from the older man to the younger. Leon explores in this novel the things we do for love and the essence of inheritance. There’s an adult adoption at the core of the story, and the ebb and flow of friendship across decades. Longtime fans may be surprised by what Guido is reading. Readers who enjoy character-based crime novels with complex and interesting characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Unto Us a Son Is Given from amazon.com.

Sing To It

Voice. Amy Hempel presents readers with an eclectic range of fifteen short stories in a collection titled, Sing To It. Some of the stories are very short and still complete. With great economy, she can capture emotion using just the right words. Her voice can come across as odd and a bit quirky, which may distract some readers. You can find laughter and pain in sentences that follow each other and feel that juxtaposition is perfect. The longest story, Cloudland, surrenders economy for taking us to many places and to different emotions with depth and insight. Fans of finely written literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the stories in this collection. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Sing To It from amazon.com.

Mrs.

Connections. Caitlin Macy set her novel titled, Mrs., on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just after the financial crisis, and offers a cast of characters including the old rich and the new rich. One connection among the characters involves their children who attend what all the elites know is the best private school. Backstories and past connections among characters provide depth to the novel in which Macy delivers great insight into the lives of the wealthy in Manhattan. There’s a group of school moms who provide the bitchy equivalent of a Greek chorus. At the core there’s a smaller cast of characters of deep complexity and secrets. Macy uses multiple points of view to draw us into this world. While lots of readers will enjoy this novel, it seems tailor made for book clubs, especially ones with school moms. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mrs from amazon.com.

The Lies That Bind

Identity. Kwame Anthony Appiah offers a framework for thinking about identity in his book titled, The Lies That Bind. Many readers will find assumptions challenged about how identities work. Appiah reveals how our assumptions have been forged, whether as a consequence of conflict, or a result of poor science. Our differences are not as great as we may think they are, no matter how we define “we.” There are great stories and clear thinking on these pages. Any reader who enjoys philosophy written for a general audience will likely appreciate this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lies That Bind from amazon.com.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Complicated. Fans of murder mysteries who are bored with plots that are simple to solve are those most likely to enjoy Stuart Turton’s complicated debut novel titled, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Protagonist Aiden Bishop is trapped inside Blackheath House. He can be released only after he identifies the killer of Evelyn Hardcastle. Aiden has eight days to do this, and over the course of each day he inhabits the body of one house guest. The creativity and twists will delight those mystery readers who can be patient with the complicated exposition. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from amazon.com.

Wrecked

Threats. The third installment in Joe Ide’s IQ series is a novel titled, Wrecked. This time out, Isaiah Quintabe, IQ, seems more established in his private investigator business. That feeling of comfort leaves quickly as IQ gets in trouble, and finds himself in the crosshairs of the man who killed his brother, Marcus. IQ isn’t working alone and has found a new love interest. Readers who enjoy well-written character-based crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Wrecked from amazon.com.

Off Season

Stress. I don’t read many graphic novels and I try to stay on the lookout for ones that I think will be interesting and satisfying to read. I thoroughly enjoyed James Sturm’s novel titled, Off Season. The book covers the stress and strain in a marriage, set during the divisive election year of 2016. The words and images combine to present a well-told story, and the mood is enhanced by the shades of gray throughout the book. For readers who don’t ever think to read graphic novels, consider this one. For fans of the genre, you may find this novel to be very satisfying. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Off Season from amazon.com.

Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts

Subscribe. Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has written a great account of the disruption of the news media, a book titled, Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. She understands this business from the inside and has gained perspective from the outside to assess what all this turmoil means for American life. Many people are losing faith and trust in a free press. Readers who value journalism should read this book and then subscribe to another high-quality newspaper in your town or someplace else. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Merchants of Truth from amazon.com.

Not of this Fold

Immigrants. The fourth installment in the Linda Wallheim series by Mettie Ivie Harrison is a novel titled, Not of this Fold. Linda finds herself caught up in what’s happening in the “Spanish ward” and gets herself and her husband, Kurt, in some hot water with the Mormon power structure. Harrison explores issues of immigration and alienation in this novel and moves along the development of the Wallheim family presented in earlier novels. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this installment. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Not of this Fold from amazon.com.

The Wrong Heaven

Offbeat. There are ten offbeat and finely written stories in a collection by Amy Bonnefons titled, The Wrong Heaven. The stories are clever, funny, entertaining and packed with insight about what lies beneath the apparent ordinariness of life. If you can’t imagine a world in which plastic statues of Jesus and Mary can talk, you may want to look elsewhere for something to read. If you are at all curious about what those statues have to say, this collection of stories should be right up your alley. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wrong Heaven from amazon.com.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Still Life with Monkey

Quality. Slowly and tenderly Katharine Weber pulls readers into the lives of Duncan and Laura Wheeler. In a novel titled, Still Life with Monkey, Weber explores the balance between the will to live and the desire to die. She taps into questions about the quality of life, and our ability to adapt to change. Duncan is a successful architect who became paralyzed following an auto accident in which one of his assistants died. Duncan is broken physically and mentally by the accident, and Laura, who works as an art conservator, wants to do all she can to repair her husband. She brings a trained monkey helper into the house, a capuchin named Ottoline. With finely written prose and insight into human nature, Weber takes us into the Weber lives and draws us into answering for ourselves key questions about the quality of life. She could have gone from insight to melancholy at any turn, but the quality of the writing keeps the novel crisp and cogent. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Still Life with Monkey from amazon.com.

Bowlaway

Inheritance. A New England bowling alley turns out to be the perfect place to discover identity. In her novel titled, Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken takes readers into a bowling alley and its resident owners and patrons across multiple generations. The inheritance of the bowling alley depends on identity. Protagonist Bertha Truitt may be the most fully formed of the large cast of characters in the novel, and she will come to life for most readers as she brooks no question or objection about her abilities as a woman to do as she pleases. McCracken goes wild in this novel, and readers are enriched as a result, thanks to her fine writing. I had to look up many words while reading this novel because McCracken uses terminology suited to each time period we visit. I also had to learn what candlepin bowling is and saw that it’s available in Chicago. Readers whose taste leans toward the quirky are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Treat your wild side with this novel and leave behind no regrets. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Bowlaway from amazon.com.

Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House

Perspective. How often have you thought about being a fly on the wall in the White House? If once or more, consider reading a book by Cliff Sims titled, Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House. He was that fly on the wall. This inside perspective by a low-level White House staffer doesn’t gossip or attack President Trump. Sims gives his perspective on what he observed and what he thinks it meant. He affirms what most of us already know: many of the people around President Trump fight with each other and pursue individual agendas. The expected dysfunction is supported by many anecdotes, which come across as believable. Political junkies of any stripe are those readers most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Team of Vipers from amazon.com.

The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

Gripping. Investigative journalist Evan Ratliff tells the story of criminal genius Paul Calder Le Roux in a book titled, The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.. Were this fiction, I would have stopped reading after a few pages. Instead, knowing that the story is true, I was engrossed from beginning to end in a tale of terror and chaos. Le Roux’s crimes helped fuel our American opioid crisis, and the book describes how that happened using doctors and pharmacies who were ensnared by Le Roux. The pages flew by as I read Ratliff’s finely written account of a global criminal enterprise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mastermind from amazon.com.

The Dreamers

Sleep. Some writers have the ability to tap into core emotions like fear and write fiction that takes readers from caution to insight about those emotions. In her novel titled, The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker explores what happens when people begin to fall asleep and not wake up. They are alive and dreaming, but they cannot be awakened. It begins in a college community in Santa Lora, California and there is fear about a virus spreading this condition everywhere. It’s easy to become afraid when we’re confused about what happened in the past and what is a premonition about the future. We can wonder how our community would respond to the spread of a virus. We can dream with the characters in this novel and think about what is read and what is imagined. Fans of good creative writing are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dreamers from amazon.com.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Nose. Talented writer Marlon James opens his Dark Star Trilogy with a novel titled, Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Before a reader opens page one, you should consider the consequences of beginning to read what will be three novels: a commitment to lots and lots of pages. Once you start on this reading adventure, James will pull you into stories from African history and mythology while creating a fantasy world that will consume your time and attention for many hours. Once James presented the character, Tracker, whose nose allows him to find people by following their scents, I was hooked. Once on board, the adventure took me to strange and unfamiliar places, to violence and intense sexuality. The bulk of this first novel is the journey of the nose named Tracker and his search for a missing boy. James empties his imagination with the creatures Tracker encounters on this journey. I felt myself in good hands with Marlon James as he made a world in which I became intrigued, interested and eventually caring. James is a master of voice, and while in this installment the world we see if from Tracker’s perspective, the next novel may offer a different voice, another point of view. I look forward to it. After all, I’ve become hooked. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Black Leopard Red Wolf from amazon.com.

The Island of Sea Women

Divers. Clear your calendar to spend as many hours as you need to read Lisa See’s novel titled, The Island of Sea Women. This book tells us the story of the lives of two best friends from the island of Jeju, Mi-ja and Young-sook, who have been trained in the tradition of Haenyeo women from their youth as skilled divers to reap bounty from the sea. While the novel is packed with love and the joys of friendship, the brutality of life in Korea in the 1940s can be challenging to read. Tragedy strikes Mi-ja and Young-sook in different ways and their strengths are tested by the sea and by life’s circumstances. Most readers will want to talk to a friend about this novel or discuss it in a book group. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Island of Sea Women from amazon.com.

Sea Monsters

Quest. Why does a teen run away from home? That’s the question Chloe Aridjis explores in her novel titled, Sea Monsters. Seventeen-year-old Luisa leaves home in Mexico City on a quest to fulfill her obsession. Her decisions and choices are exactly what one would expect to flow from the unformed teenage brain. While Luisa heads to the Pacific on her quest, her father tries to find his missing daughter by using every possible connection he can uncover about her whereabouts. We are all on a search for meaning, and in that way, Aridjis pulls us along on our own quest as she explores what Luisa has to teach us all. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sea Monsters from amazon.com.

Run Away

Secrets. Thanks to Harlan Coben, even family trauma can be thrilling. In his novel titled, Run Away, Coben takes us into the challenges of the Greene family. Simon and Ingrid Greene are disrupted from their successful lives by their daughter, Paige, who has become a drug addict. To what lengths will a parent go for a child? Coben pulls readers into the Greene family situation, then kickstarts a nationwide set of connections to revealing secrets long held. Most readers will become anxious to keep turning the pages to see the next turn in the exciting story. How many secrets will be exposed and with what consequences? Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Run Away from amazon.com.

Judgment

Hardball. Watch out for Judge Julie, the protagonist of a novel by Joseph Finder titled, Judgment. After exercising poor judgment in her personal life, Judge Juliana Brody faces a full court press on her to rule in a certain way concerning a case in her courtroom. Her escapades to avoid being blackmailed demand a reader’s full suspension at disbelief: one must forget that the behavior of this person matches that of a Superior Court judge. Once reconciled to the context that judges are people too, readers can join the brisk plot that races to a very satisfying conclusion. Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Judgment from amazon.com.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Ghost Wall

Abuse. What did you do on your summer vacation? In Sarah Moss’ novel titled, Ghost Wall, protagonist Silvie joins her family in the countryside in the north of England for her father’s favorite leisure activity: an Iron Age reenactment. In addition to her father’s obsession with this unusual activity, he also beats her. In this dark context, Silvie becomes aware that there may be a better way of life outside the ghost wall that her father has built for their family. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this short novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ghost Wall from amazon.com.

The Silent Ones

Justice. The sixth installment in the Father Anselm mystery series by William Brodrick is a novel titled, The Silent Ones. Brodrick tackles the issue of clerical sexual abuse of minors in this novel and offers readers a sensitive and complex plot in which we accompany Father Anselm in figuring out what happened. The title refers to the victims of abuse, and this quote (pp. 100-101) captures part of the treatment of this topic: ‘“If you fail,’ said Littlemore, ‘then it’s not only Harry who’ll suffer. There are many others. They are the Silent Ones. They live and die in their own private hell. You can take the first step that might help them find their voice. They’ve been lied to and cheated. Their goodwill has been exploited. They’ve said yes to a cover-up when they should have said no. You can do something to change all that.’” Readers who enjoy complicated mysteries with well-drawn characters and good writing should consider this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Silent Ones from amazon.com.

Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America

Ripe. If it’s not too soon for you to stand back and examine the 2016 United States Presidential election, consider reading a book titled, Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, by John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck. Using lots of data and charts, the authors describe an electorate ripe with the conditions necessary to elect President Trump. While I think the authors provide a comprehensive view of the conditions at play in that election, it’s still a bit too soon for me to look back at that time, and to think that any valuable perspective can be gained at this time. Political junkies and data nerds are those readers most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Identity Crisis from amazon.com.

Strike Your Heart

Jealousy. Some fiction writers enjoy writing hundreds and hundreds of pages to flesh out stories about our human condition. Amélie Nothomb condenses lots of insight about life into a novel of just over one hundred pages titled, Strike Your Heart. Protagonist Diana is the firstborn child of a beautiful woman named Marie. Their relationship, marked by Marie’s jealousy of Diana, provides the core of this finely written novel. Alienated from Marie, Diana finds relationships with other women and those are fraught with turmoil. I expect that any book club that selects this novel with lead to revelation of one’s own maternal and sibling relationships and an extra glass of wine or two. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Strike Your Heart from amazon.com.

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants

Commission. I relaxed into the flow of Mathias Énard’s novel titled, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants, in which he describes the time that Michelangelo Buonarotti spent in Constantinople designing a bridge for the Sultan that would cross the Golden Horn. This novel is an homage to art and to the artist, and while I read the lyrical English translation, I can only assume that in French the poetry must soar. This is a short and quirky novel which draws from some historical fragments. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Tell Them of Battles from amazon.com.

Sleep of Memory

Places. Life goes on in the small moments just as well as in the great events. Patrick Modiano explores the nature of our recollections in a novel titled, Sleep of Memory. After I finished the book, I thought of the closing line spoken by the nihilist played by Greta Garbo at the end of the tumultuous 1932 movie, Grand Hotel: “people come, people go, nothing ever happens.” That line followed lots of large and small happenings. Modiano takes us into recollections of the small moments from the past, in neighborhoods of Paris, where a person can seem to be departed from the world after moving from one neighborhood to another. This is an atmospheric novel, very focused on place, and a gentle way for readers to think about places and memory. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sleep of Memory from amazon.com.

Go Ask Fannie

Secrets. Each of us is an observer and participant in family dynamics. Sometimes fiction can help us observe family relationships in other people whose nature is just as human as ours and can lead to insight. In her novel titled, Go Ask Fannie, Elizabeth Hyde presents us with a dad, 81-year-old Murray Blaire, and his adult children, Ruth, George and Lizzie gathered together on Murray’s farm for a weekend. Gradually, we learn about two other Blaires: a wife and mom, Lillian, and a son and brother, Daniel. Family secrets are at the core of this novel, and the power of the past to be ever-present. Readers looking for a little distance from one’s own family dynamics can spend a few enjoyable hours with the Blaire family and all of their dysfunction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Go Ask Fannie from amazon.com.

None of My Business

Yuks. The latest humorous commentaries on contemporary American life by P.J. O’Rourke are contained in a new book titled, None of My Business. O’Rourke’s wit and funny observations are often entertaining, and it won’t take a reader very long to zip through these three hundred pages. I found his usual curmudgeon dialed down a bit in this book, and that his stride seemed best on a subject like bitcoin where his writing soars. Readers looking for an entertaining diversion should consider reading this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase None of My Business from amazon.com.

Training School for Negro Girls

Range. I enjoyed the range of experience represented in the characters in each of the stories in the debut collection by Camille Acker titled, Training School for Negro Girls. The situations, mostly set in the District of Columbia, are recognizable and insightful. I especially enjoyed Mambo Sauce, in which a black woman who moved from Brooklyn interacted with the owners and patrons of a neighborhood food joint. The contrast between how Constance and her white boyfriend approached the mambo sauce and the restaurant was perfect. Short stories can leave some readers wanting more exposition, but I found in each of these stories, Acker gets the genre just right: we glimpse into the lives of people we recognize and the ways in which they behave tell us something about human nature. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Training School for Negro Girls from amazon.com.

Pulse

Creepy. Those who have read previous novels by Michael Harvey know that he can really tell a good story. In his novel titled, Pulse, Harvey takes us back to Boston in the 1970s. His prose brings to life the rawness of the Combat Zone and the racial tensions in the city. We get a crime story with murder, bad cops, and enough foul language to last the year. We also get the creepiest protagonist in a long time, sixteen-year-old orphan Daniel Fitzsimmons. His landlord explores with Daniel how the mind can use energy to send pulses to others to push them in desired ways. Daniel tries the technique on his girlfriend with humorous results. The creepy part comes from what seems to be Daniel’s foreknowledge of events. There’s something for any eclectic reader in this novel: fascinating characters, thrilling action, crimes, and an otherworldly something. Maybe Harvey will set his next novel back in Chicago where everything is normal. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Pulse from amazon.com.