Monday, June 27, 2011

Dreams of Joy

Sacrifice. Lisa See takes readers on a roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs in her new novel, Dreams of Joy, which is a sequel to an earlier work, Shanghai Girls. While Pearl and May were the protagonists of the earlier novel, daughter Joy takes center stage in the sequel. At age 19 in 1957, she impulsively leaves California and heads to China to find her birth father. What follows is a dark story of the hard life in China at that time, and the failed policies of Mao. Pearl also leaves California to find Joy, and her sacrifice of love for her child and Joy’s own sacrifices provide much of the emotional tone of this novel. Readers who love a well-told story and vivid description will find a lot to enjoy on these pages.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase Dreams of Joy from

State of Wonder

Misfit. Ann Patchett accomplishes many feats on the pages of her novel, State of Wonder. Her lyrical prose provides delight to readers who appreciate fine writing. The setting of the novel in the Amazon seems at first to be such a broad canvas, but Patchett creates an isolated setting in which the characters play out the ways in which they seem alienated or misfit for the environment in which they are living and working. She presents a study in relationships, especially a mentoring role, that provides a depth of understanding for readers that can lead to an extra level of enjoyment. Sometimes we need to go to an unfamiliar setting to understand our place in the world, to see where we fit into the scheme of things. Readers can go to that setting in this novel and reflect on life and relationships while enjoying a finely written novel.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase State of Wonder from

The Kingdom

Shangri-La. This summer’s installment of the Fargo series of the Clive Cussler brand of novels is titled The Kingdom. Over the course of a relaxing day or two, readers can travel around the world with Sam and Remi Fargo as they conduct another search to find something important that has been missing. In this case, they are looking for a missing colleague, and then for Shangri-La. As usual, there’s a nemesis trying to thwart them, but the indomitable Fargos can’t be beaten, and their competence gets them out of the most improbable of jams. This escapist novel can be entertaining for those readers who can tolerate weak writing in favor of an interesting plot. I find these novels to be mindless and pleasurable reading experiences that are quick to ingest and are not particularly nourishing.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Kingdom from

SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper

Elite. The professional members of the American military are worthy of the respect and admiration of all citizens, along with our profound thanks for their service. Among the most expert and best trained are the SEALs, and within the SEALs, Team Six is the best of the best. Readers gain a rare look at their training and field actions in a new book by former SEALs Howard Wasdin and Stephen Templin in their book, Seal Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper. I couldn’t put this book down once I started it. The severity of their training, and the manner in which all but the very best are culled from the program, is described in detail. Any reader who wants to learn more about our skilled and brave elite forces will find this book a pleasure to read.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase SEAL Team Six from

Go the F**k to Sleep

Exasperated. It’s the rare parent who has not become exasperated while trying to get a child to sleep. Adam Mansbach captures that experience in his cute new book, Go the F**k to Sleep. I had the pleasure on Father’s Day of listening to the audio version of this book which is read by the talented Samuel L. Jackson. That one note of naughtiness, the use of the f-word, is the core of the humor of the book. I suggest listening to the audio version for your own entertainment, and buying the picture book for any new parents who look a bit sleep deprived. They need a good laugh.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase Go the F**k to Sleep from

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Chuckles. I didn’t laugh enough to piss my pants, but I did chuckle a lot when I read Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants. Her comedic talent works well in print, but not nearly as well as when it’s visual. Any reader who likes Tina Fey will find a lot to enjoy on these pages, and most will come away with the conclusion that this woman is very busy. My favorite description was the weekend where three events had to be accomplished with no room for error: Oprah’s taping of 30 Rock, Tina’s first portrayal of Sarah Palin on SNL, and her daughter’s birthday party. I don’t think I give anything away by saying all were accomplished on that busy weekend.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Bossypants from

Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon

Villain. Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner seethe with anger about the financial crisis and put that anger on the pages of their new book, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon. While the book contains all the familiar characters, practices and companies that are at the heart of the crisis, Morgenson and Rosner call attention to a person rarely mentioned by other journalists: James Johnson, former CEO of Fannie Mae. He becomes the poster child of the behavior that led to disaster: the proponent of programs for the poor that enriched him greatly and placed the most vulnerable at risk. He pocketed $100 million by expanding home ownership through loose credit standards and deft political maneuvering. Put another way: Johnson was the one who set in motion everything that Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide and others did. It’s no surprise that of the hundreds of people they interviewed, Johnson refused their requests. Most readers who pick up this book will come away from it as angry as the authors.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase Reckless Endangerment from

The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics

Punt. I loved the first fifty or so pages of John Pollack’s entertaining book, The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics. After that, the prose became a bit tedious, and by the end, I concluded that there are two types of readers who are most likely to enjoy this book: those who love language and like reading about it, and those who love to pun, and can use some ammunition to fend off attacks on their skill. Most readers are likely to find more here than you’re likely to want to know about puns.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Pun Also Rises from

Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft

Interests. A memoir by the Microsoft founder who is not Bill Gates comes from Paul Allen, and is titled, Idea Man. Readers interested in technology will find the first third of the book to be required reading. After Allen became ill and left Microsoft, he expanded his horizons beyond technology and used the resources he acquired at Microsoft to spend the rest of his life doing whatever he wants. Most general readers will feel a bit like Walter Mitty when reading about how Allen invested and lost or spent billions on one thing after another. One gets the feeling that Allen really enjoys life, and especially the ways in which the money he gives away is making a difference for society. So often through the book, I reflected how he was so often right, but usually early. About halfway through the book he seems more fallible as he generously describes so many ways in which he was wrong. This is a readable and entertaining memoir about a person with a wide variety of interests and who lives to pursue them all.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Idea Man from

Silent Mercy

Ecumenical. The thirteenth novel by Linda Fairstein to feature Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper is titled Silent Mercy. Fairstein escorts readers on an ecumenical tour of historic New York churches of several denominations, as Alex teams up with detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace solving murders with a religious theme. The excitement builds when the duo board the circus train. Fans of the series will find the characters and their behavior to be familiar and comfortable. The history and feminism always provide interesting exposition. The close partnership between Mike and Alex becomes intense in this novel, and Alex’s relationship with Luke is present, but as a sidebar. Readers who like crime fiction or New York City will find this novel to be interesting and enjoyable.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Silent Mercy from

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Steady. After more than three dozen Spenser novels, the character remains steady and reliable in the last one written by the late Robert B. Parker, Sixkill. The title refers to a character Spenser takes under his wing, Zebulon Sixkill, a Native American bodyguard for a client accused of rape and murder. After getting a whupping from Spenser, Sixkill asks him for help, and as fans would expect, Spenser obliges. Moderate pacing and finely written dialog make reading this novel a pleasure. The publishers plan to continue the franchise with a new writer, but in many ways this is the finale.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Sixkill from


Saved. Jennifer Haigh chose an unlikely situation for her latest novel, Faith, and the result gave me hours of reading satisfaction. She selected the clerical abuse scandal in Boston as her tension, and uses the sister of an accused priest as the narrator of the story. Haigh dives into the ways in which clerical formation programs dehumanized priests, and how a family’s secrets became the principal dynamic in relationships. This is a heartwarming story of family, loyalty, love, doubt, faith, forgiveness and salvation. Thanks to Haigh’s fine writing, the story unravels with care, and is likely to appeal to readers who enjoy the opportunity to think and reflect that a good novel can provide.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Click here to purchase Faith from

Caleb's Crossing

Lament. Historical fiction can provide great reading along with insight: what was life like in the past, and in what ways does the past resonate with our common human experience. In her novel, Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks takes a historical event and period, the matriculation of the first Native American at Harvard in the late 17th century, and imagines the tension and conflict in the characters who deal with the crossing from one culture to another. Brooks brings out the time period with vivid detail, and uses a first person narrator, Bethia Mayfield, to provide the link between the readers and the protagonist, Caleb. The narration is Bethia’s lament, and provides an engaging and entertaining reading experience, especially for those who like that period of American history, or who empathize with the challenges of cultural assimilation.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase Caleb’s Crossing from

The Sixth Man

Brains. My low expectations for David Baldacci’s novel, The Sixth Man, were exceeded. Dynamic duo Sean King and Michelle Maxwell return to face powerful adversaries at the top of the government as they stumble into secrets that many want to keep hidden from scrutiny. While Baldacci’s character development remains shallow, and many plot elements are a bit farfetched, I found myself enjoying the novel, and was engaged after the first third until the end, even finding my brain engaged once in a while. Readers looking for simple escape fiction are those most likely to enjoy this book.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Sixth Man from

The Snowman

Chilling. Jo Nesbo’s detective novel, The Snowman, kept me on edge and engaged from beginning to end. Detective Harry Hole struggles with alcohol, relationships and a serial killer, always thinking and putting the pieces together. Multiple suspects provide the requisite twists and turns to the plot, and give Nesbo the opportunity to allow Hole to relax briefly and then forge ahead rapidly. It was hot weather when I read this novel, and the chill of the story provided welcome refreshment. Fans of detective novels are most likely to enjoy this finely written one.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Snowman from