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.