Friday, December 27, 2013

King and Maxwell

Preposterous. Readers who like character-based thrillers are those most likely to enjoy reading David Baldacci’s novel, King and Maxwell, the latest in a series featuring former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell who now work together as private investigators. While I’ve read the earlier novels in this series, and find the characters familiar and interesting, they remain for me underdeveloped and not very complex. In the latest novel, Baldacci has outdone himself with a preposterous plot from the first chapter until the end. The actions of major and minor characters required far more suspension of disbelief than I was willing to offer. I kept reading because I began to find the whole plot amusing, and looked forward to the heroic actions that would lead to resolution of a ludicrous case. For light entertainment, this novel works, especially for those who don’t want to be thinking while they are reading. Relax, sit back, and enjoy the fast-paced action while not reflecting on how implausible all this is. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase King and Maxwell from

The Two Hotel Francforts

Stress. David Leavitt sets his novel, The Two Hotel Francforts, in Lisbon in the summer of 1940. Refugees have flocked to Lisbon in the hope of sailing away from the war. Levitt captures the anxiety and stress of this time and place through the relationships that develop between two couples who meet by chance. As befits a time of stress, unusual and unexpected events occur. Leavitt presents these lives and the decisions of each character in ways that never seemed to reduce tension. I finished the novel feeling unsatisfied. I never quite understood these characters. I recommend browsing a sample before you commit to reading the whole novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Two Hotel Francforts from

Bobcat and Other Stories

Dinner. I fed myself with one story every other day from a collection of seven by Rebecca Lee titled, Bobcat and Other Stories. I found that this approach allowed me to savor each one, and not have them run together in my mind. Some of the stories are set at dinner parties, and contain plenty of wit and finely crafted dialogue. Lee structures her stories with great care, and provides just enough description and character development to make each story complete. Any reader who enjoys short stories will find one or more in this collection that will bring great reading pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bobcat from

A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts

Connection. Thanks to the subtitle of Sebastian Faulks’ novel, A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts, something in the back of my mind kept wondering while I read the novel what might connect the parts. Each part describes a life at a particular time and place. Faulks tells each story with care and precision, focusing close attention on the ways in which the characters achieve a level of understanding about themselves and others. That human connection crosses all time periods and defines us all. Loss, pain, love, everything, takes place in the context of relationship. Those readers who love novels that hold up our human condition for examination are most likely to love this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Possible Life from

Critical Mass

Injustice. One of the reading pleasures that I get when I open the latest novel in a series I’ve read for years is that sense of familiarity, as if I’ve been reunited with old friends. The latest V.I. Warshawski novel by Sara Paretsky is titled, Critical Mass, and in this outing, Paretsky leads Vic and readers back and forth between modern and past Chicago into World War II and current Vienna, the development of atomic weapons in Vienna and Chicago, and the secrets of a family that built a business from a creative scientific breakthrough. Fans will enjoy as I did, the broad cast of familiar characters, as well as some interesting new ones. The plot is complex enough to satisfy mystery readers, and engaging enough to retain interest for the complete novel of just under 500 pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Critical Mass from

The Mayan Secrets

Codex. The next stop for world adventurers Sam and Remi Fargo is Central America in Clive Cussler’s latest book in this series titled, The Mayan Secrets. The Fargos find an ancient Mayan codex in Mexico, and that leads them on an exciting adventure. The usual formulaic elements are present: Sam and Remi are skilled and heroic; the villains are worthy adversaries, and most readers will finish the novel feeling well entertained. There’s some satisfaction from reading a formulaic novel, and that’s the kind of comfort this novel delivers. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Mayan Secrets from

Archangels: The Rise of the Jesuits

Ingredients. Janet Tavakoli’s debut novel, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, contains many of the ingredients for a successful thriller. For me, those ingredients weren’t always harmonious. Tavakoli’s previous books have all been non-fiction and in the financial sector. The parts of her novel that relate to money seemed spot on. Her knowledge of the Vatican provided another successful ingredient for this novel. Character development, plot and dialogue fell a little flat for me. For a thriller, I was willing to overlook those distractions, and read through to the end, finding some entertainment, but not enough to highly recommend this book to others. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Archangels from

A Marker to Measure Drift

Hunger. Alexander Maksik writes so well that I felt in my gut the hunger being experienced by protagonist Jacqueline, a Liberian refugee in his novel, A Marker to Measure Drift. Her trauma, PTSD and suffering permeate the novel. Having escaped Liberia, she is trying to eke out enough of a living to feed herself in a resort setting in Greece. Maksik contrasts wealth and poverty with this setup, and uses beautiful prose to reveal deep and enduring suffering. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Marker to Measure Drift from

This Will Be Difficult to Explain: And Other Stories

Pacing. I parceled out the nine stories in the collection from Johanna Skibsrud titled, This Will Be Difficult to Explain: And Other Stories. Over the course of a year, I read each story twice, spacing them out by reading only one in a given month. I found something to like in each story, but had to work harder than I’d like to appreciate her talent. I selected this book because it won the Giller prize. Once again, I found myself being unable to discover what led the judges to select this book. Readers should sample her prose before purchasing this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase This Will Be Difficult to Explain from

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Stale. I finished reading the latest collection of essays by David Sedaris and had a strange feeling: I may be growing weary of this talented and funny writer. I laughed often enough during Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and I admired his trenchant observations. When I reflected on what I had read, I realized that so much of it had become familiar that it was no longer fresh to me. I’m still likely to read his next essays individually and as collected, but I will be even more alert to the ways in which my expectations of him have grown, but much of his writing has remained the same. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls from

Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Essays. I had read some of the 22 essays in Ann Patchett’s collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, when they were originally published in various periodicals. It was only after reading them all again in the context of this collection that I realized how much self-disclosure Patchett has presented to her loyal readers. This prolific writer excels at both fiction and nonfiction, and this volume highlights how fine her prose is in whichever form she chooses. Any reader looking to sample very fine writing that celebrates hard work and the joy of living will find much to enjoy from these pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage from


Predators. Fans of noir crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy Ken Bruen’s novel, Purgatory, the tenth of his books to feature protagonist Jack Taylor. Galway has two predators with whom Taylor needs to engage. There’s a serial killer taunting Jack as that person delivers vigilante justice to individuals the system failed to punish for misdeeds. Then there’s Reardon, an expat American billionaire buying up all the Galway depressed property he can acquire. Bruen’s great selection of language provides a lot of reading pleasure. The Oscar Wilde motif was a special gift to readers. Taylor is a complex character, developed well over the course of many novels, but first-time readers can savor his complexity when reading this novel on its own. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Purgatory from

The Tooth Tattoo

Music. The crime novels by Peter Lovesey featuring the head of Bath’s Criminal Investigation Division, Peter Diamond, are packed with wit, great characters and engaging plots. Readers who enjoy mysteries should consider Lovesey’s latest novel titled, The Tooth Tattoo. A world-renowned classical music quartet provides fascinating characters and an interesting plot, along with a challenge for Diamond. I was thoroughly entertained by Lovesey’s pacing and found myself engaged in trying to piece together a solution from carefully placed clues. It was almost as if I were trying to master a complicated musical composition. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Tooth Tattoo from

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World

Foundation. Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History series offers general readers a quick way to explore a pivotal era in the past and see the ways in which what happened then helped form our present society. The latest installment, Heretics and Heroes, picks up where the prior book, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, left off. Cahill draws readers into the Renaissance and the Reformation. The Borgias, Martin Luther, Michelangelo and Botticelli are all part of what Cahill presents. Readers who don’t usually like history will find Cahill’s prose delightful. Serious readers of history will be distracted by how simple Cahill makes the past seem, and will not always agree with Cahill’s point of view. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Heretics and Heroes from


Revenge. I almost put aside Pierre Lemaitre’s novel, Alex, because I found too many of the images disturbing. I reverted from nighttime to daytime reading, and all was a bit better. Readers who like crime fiction with complex and twisting plots are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Two narrators present the story: Alex, whom we meet as she is kidnapped and tortured; and Commandant Camille Verhoeven, a widower who avoids kidnapping cases because of what happened to his wife. Lemaitre unfolds the plot through these voices, and rewards readers with unexpected twists. Revenge is a complicated subject, and in Lemaitre’s capable hands, it is expertly explored. Once I got over the gruesome details, I was entertained by the complicated plot and well-drawn characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Alex from

Dick Francis's Refusal

Bully. Felix Francis reprises retired jockey Sid Halley from earlier Dick Francis novels and proceeds to create a crime novel titled, Dick Francis’s Refusal. A violent villain has been scheming successfully to throw horse races by multiple means of extortion. After Sid Halley refuses to cooperate with this bully, Sid’s family is placed in jeopardy, along with his own reputation no matter what decisions he makes. Francis plods along with this plot and leaves readers with a few cliffhangers. Readers who like character based crime novels are those most likely to enjoy this one, as well as those long time Francis fans who may have mixed feelings about the updated Sid Halley. I read this novel quickly and found it to be mildly entertaining. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Dick Francis’s Refusal from

A Prayer Journal

Longing. Even casual readers of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction catch on quickly that her Catholic faith was never far away from her writing. Any reader can now see for oneself O’Connor’s longing for God, as expressed in her recently published work titled, A Prayer Journal. Inside both in typed form and manuscript are the prayers of O’Connor from 1947 and 1948 when she was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. While I felt like I was invading her privacy by reading this journal, I found her prayers full of the same liveliness as her fiction. Any reader interested in either O’Connor or prayer will find something to like in this short book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Prayer Journal from

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Humanity. Prepare yourself to be disoriented if you decide to read Anthony Marra’s finely written debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The beginning of each chapter provides an excellent orientation in time by highlighting the year during which a chapter’s narrative took place. The overall setting is Chechnya during war. Each chapter reveals something new about the characters and their struggles. Marra captures the horrors and injustice of war, while revealing the ways in which our humanity can survive and thrive. I found myself reading this novel quickly, trying to pay attention to time periods so I could piece things together. Marra’s fine prose redeems the structure of the novel, and many critics have considered this among the best books of the year. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Constellation of Vital Phenomena from

The Explanation for Everything

Belief. Fiction often reminds us that people behave in unexpected ways that often seem irrational to others. In her novel, The Explanation for Everything, Lauren Grodstein riffs on the theme of belief in God. Protagonist Andy Waite teaches college biology and is looking for a grant to study the effect of alcohol on the brains of rats. He’s grieving the accidental death of his wife, and struggling to be a better parent. He teaches a course titled “There Is No God,” which has been Andy’s view. Grodstein maintains distance from the subject of belief, siding neither with believers nor with atheists. She presents all characters with flaws and poor behavior. While I felt a stretch in how some characters changed to or away from belief quite quickly, I found the characters interesting and her writing engaging. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Explanation for Everything from

Nine Inches

Suburbia. Tom Perrotta focuses a lens on ordinary suburban life in the ten stories of his collection titled after one of them, Nine Inches. Humor and sadness alternate in these stories, keeping readers interested and involved in these brief glimpses into the way so many of us live today. Several of the stories are in school settings and will resonate for teachers and students alike. Ordinary lives can tend toward what seem like ordinary problems, and Perrotta uses great skill to add just the right twists of disappointment and hope. Readers who like short fiction are those most likely to enjoy this collection. I thoroughly enjoyed eight of the stories, and the two lukewarm contributions were forgotten quickly. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nine Inches from

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Goldfinch

Redemption. I often lose patience while reading a fat novel. I find myself selecting how many hundred pages could be jettisoned without losing much value. While Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch, comes in at just under 800 pages, I never once found myself impatient or wondering which pages could be deleted easily. Tartt’s plot kept me engaged from the opening crisis through the redemptive denouement. The protagonist narrator, Theo Decker, calmly relates his coming of age story from age 13 when an accident kills his mother, until about a dozen years later when his moral compass finds a true course and leads him to face the consequences of his past mistakes. The many other characters are all complex and interesting: fully fleshed out humans whose actions, like ours, are a mix of doing good and choosing a lesser path when expedient. Tartt uses a painting to hold the novel together, and that layer alone made the construction of this novel both interesting and enjoyable. I loved the plot and the characters, as Tartt’s language brought me hours of reading pleasure. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Goldfinch from

The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business

People. Duff McDonald’s book, The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business, appeals to many different readers. Any businessperson who has worked for an organization that used McKinsey & Company as consultants will find in this book a context in which to place that experience, whether positive or negative. Readers who have never heard of this influential consultancy will learn what it is, what it does, and how it has achieved ongoing success. Consultants of all stripes will resonate with the work McDonald describes. The writing is brisk and is full of stories about the people who led the firm and who formed its corporate culture. McDonald accomplishes in this book what most journalists try to achieve: he catches the interest of readers by the way he calls attention to what may be otherwise overlooked. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Firm from

Ghana Must Go

Broken. What I enjoy most about a finely written debut novel is the pleasure in savoring well-written prose from a new voice. Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go, gave me precisely that pleasure. The word choices always seemed perfect, and I found myself rereading some finely constructed sentences. This is the story of family and the life of Kweku Sai, a broken man whose life soared to the pinnacle of becoming a prominent surgeon in the United States and then crashed to his death in poverty in Ghana. We learn of this man in a meandering way through his former wife and his children. There is unconditional love and grief matched with resentment and sadness. Readers who like to experience new fiction voices should consider reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ghana Must Go from

The Maid's Version

Secrets. In fewer than two hundred pages, Daniel Woodrell provides readers with a gripping story about a catastrophe and the secrets kept about its cause. The Maid’s Version is a tightly written compact novel that moves forward and backward in time, from multiple points of view. Because of Woodrell’s skill readers gradually come to understand the mystery. Most readers are likely to read this novel quickly and then consider reading it a second time. Woodrell’s lyrical prose is worth more than a single glance. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Maid’s Version from

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat

Brilliant. There are several great reasons to buy Caroline Smith’s Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat. First of all, this is a beautiful book. The illustrations are finely printed and are beautiful to see. Second, if the only image you have of Dr. Seuss comes from The Cat in the Hat, you are in for a treat. While many of the images from Ted Geisel’s children’s books were familiar to me, I especially enjoyed seeing the midnight paintings, his ads and the political cartoons he drew. Finally, any reader who likes to learn more about a creative individual will discover in this finely written book a comprehensive perspective on Ted Geisel. Treat yourself to this expensive book with a value that far exceeds its cost. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cat Behind the Hat from

Never Go Back

Forward. After a dozen and a half novels featuring Jack Reacher, can author Lee Child still surprise readers with aspects of this complex character? In a word: yes. In Never Go Back, there were a few times I paused to reflect that this is something I didn’t quite expect Reacher to do. With reliable skill, Child moves this character forward in the latest novel, providing fast-paced action, good dialogue and interesting twists. I was entertained by this novel, and recommend it to new and old Reacher fans. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Never Go Back from


Hope. Tom Drury reprises the Grouse County, Iowa setting from his debut novel, The End of Vandalism, and some of those characters for a new novel titled, Pacific. I enjoyed this book as a novel of hope, and appreciated the ways in which Drury contrasted a Midwestern small town with life on the West Coast. Drury’s prose can be captivating, but I found myself pushing myself toward the end of the novel just wanting to finish it, not quite savoring it. Read a sample to see if you think his writing in this novel will appeal to you. For me, it was ok, but not one that I can highly recommend. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Pacific from

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others

Joy. I imagine two significant audiences for Stacy Horn’s delightful book titled, Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others. The first audience comprises all of us who sing regularly in groups, or who have been choir or singing club members in the past. For this group, Horn puts into words the wide range of emotions that we feel but may not possess the words to express. The second audience represents all those who know singers who rehearse and perform and wonder why this is done, especially by amateurs. Horn expresses the pure joy of being part of a community creating art, and expressing deep thoughts and emotions through our vocal instruments. I loved this book, but didn’t skip a choir rehearsal to read it. After all, how can I keep from singing? Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Imperfect Harmony from

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

Rhyme. It takes an unusual writer to even consider writing a novel in verse. It requires a very skilled writer to pull it off, especially in just over one hundred pages. The late David Rakoff accomplished both successfully in his final book, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. I felt compelled to experience this novel in two ways: I read it on paper, and then listened to it being read by Rakoff. With my knowledge that he was dying as he recorded, I found myself listening even more closely to his expression and delivery. This novel does what we want any good novel to do: hold up for us life in all its richness and help us see and feel the wonders of human behavior. I highly recommend that you consider reading this novel, and then consider listening to Rakoff reading it to you. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Love Dishonor from

Swimming Home

Stranger. I added Deborah Levy’s novel, Swimming Home, to my reading list after it was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize. I found this dreamy and short book to be filled with very satisfying prose, but I finished the book feeling that I had just experienced a bad dream. The stranger who shakes up the lives of two vacationing couples never quite became a fully formed character for me. I recommend that any interested reader consider an excerpt before purchasing this book. I’ve concluded not for the first time that the tastes of those who select finalists for literary prizes don’t always align well with what I like. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase Swimming Home from

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Circle

Amazoogle. I knew as soon as I started reading an excerpt from Dave Eggers novel, The Circle, in The New York Times Magazine, that I’d enjoy reading the whole book. Readers who love satire are those most likely to love reading this novel. Protagonist Mae Holland gets to leave her boring job when a friend draws her into a powerful internet company called The Circle. Under the company’s business plan everybody comes together with a single identity that links together all aspects of life. Eggers blends all the ambition and potential of companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and others, to draw out the progression toward a world in which all behavior is transparent all the time. Eggers holds a mirror to the obsession with social media and a 24/7 approach to being connected. Readers who see this future state as desirable or as a nightmare may equally enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Circle from

Bleeding Edge

Conspiracy. Here’s my advice if you decide to read Thomas Pynchon’s novel, Bleeding Edge: sit back, relax, laugh, and let him take you to people and places for amusement and entertainment. Don’t bother trying to keep track or figure things out: this is a plot-free novel. It’s a romp through New York City with protagonist Maxine Tarnow whose investigation provides the action for the novel. Pynchon sets the novel at the end of the bubble, and while we know 9/11 is coming, he handles that with precision. Thoughts about conspiracies abound, and shady characters are found everywhere, even in virtual reality called “DeepArcher.” The writing soars on every page, and the realistic dialogue made me feel like I was in Manhattan. While I caught many of his references, I know I missed more than I caught. I could care less about what I might have missed because I laughed a lot, and enjoyed the time spent reading these 500 pages. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Bleeding Edge from

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

Ambition. It took me almost a year to read the 800 or so pages of David Nasaw’s fine biography of Joe Kennedy titled, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy. I spread out the reading not because this was slow reading, but because I found that the raw ambition and imperious personality of Kennedy was best served in small doses. Nasaw captures the politics, business, family and character with a wide scope and a presentation of episodes and anecdotes that kept my attention throughout. Any reader interested in this era, this person, and this family, will likely enjoy all the time spent in reading this well-written biography. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Patriarch from

The Silent Wife

Cheating. The time I spent reading A.S.A. Harrison’s debut novel, The Silent Wife, sped by as I enjoyed the way the personalities of the main characters were dissected. Any reader who enjoys psychological fiction will likely enjoy this one. Todd and Jodi are an affluent married couple. Todd is a property developer who cheats on his wife. Jodi is a part-time psychologist who chooses to avoid and deny Todd’s infidelity. Their lives appear to be in a state of balance or even satisfaction. Harrison then increases the tension, and readers are in for a fast-paced plot full of twists and insights. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Silent Wife from

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

Therapy. It’s pretty clear to any casual reader of Pat Conroy’s books that he had a tumultuous relationship with his father, Don, also known as The Great Santini, whom Pat featured in an earlier book that also became a movie. Conroy’s latest book, The Death of Santini, reflects on the full range of their relationship from Pat’s childhood to Don’s death. I came away from this memoir with a sense that it was the product of hundreds of hours of therapy. I was reminded that each of us brings a point of view to all our relationships; siblings can seem to have had different childhoods because of one’s unique perceptions of what happened, what it meant, and how one felt. For any reader who enjoys great storytelling, this memoir presents a well-told story of a powerful relationship from one point of view. While I enjoyed the writing, I could have done without this recap of the dynamics of yet another dysfunctional family. Read a sample before deciding if this is a memoir that you’re likely to enjoy reading. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Death of Santini from

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Double

Warrior. Readers who like intelligent crime fiction should consider reading George Pelecanos’ The Double. Pelecanos develops protagonist Spero Lucas in this second novel featuring this DC based Iraq War veteran Marine who works as an investigator and freelances at property recovery for a percentage of the value recovered. What Pelecanos explores with great care is the duality of human nature: goodness and evil coexist in each of us. Spero and his main adversary in this novel tilt slightly toward good or evil and are so much alike, that they are doubles, one level of meaning for the title. The property recovery in this novel involves a painting titled, The Double, providing another level of meaning. The adrenaline rush from Iraq remains powerful in Spero as he continues his warrior behavior at home. The tensions in his life provide great entertainment for those readers who like well-written crime fiction. I can’t wait for the next novel to feature this complex character. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Double from

Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc.

Tasty. I noticed that after I read a dozen pages of Delia Ephron’s Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc., I got up to pour myself a drink and prepare a hearty snack. Then, I settled down for ninety minutes of enjoyable reading. The next day, I prepared the snack and drink first, and sat in a comfortable chair to finish reading the book. My reflection is that I found her writing to be both tasty and enjoyable, and led me toward nourishment. Her writing is witty as she calls attention to so many of the absurdities of life. The memories she selects of life with her late sister, Nora, were moving and were a pleasure to read. Readers looking for some good laughs and some wise writing about love are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sister Mother Husband Dog from


Mellow. I love spy thrillers for two main elements: an interesting, complex protagonist and a fast-paced plot. Former CIA spy Valerie Plame teamed up with thriller writer Sarah Lovett and produced a novel titled, Blowback. My expectation was that given Plame’s CIA experience, the protagonist, Vanessa Pierson, would be something of an alter-ego to Plame, and she would bring us inside what life as a CIA spy is like. If that’s what ended up in the novel, my conclusion is that there’s a lot of boredom and infighting in the intelligence world. I found the plot mellow and the main character interesting, but not complex. I finished the novel and came away with no enthusiasm for reading a sequel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Blowback from

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?

Entertaining. Readers looking for some laughs and light entertainment should consider reading Billy Crystal’s memoir, Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?. Crystal is a master storyteller, and the personal and family stories in this book provide a great balance between the downright funny and the heartfelt and moving. If you’re looking for an entertaining book for an airplane trip, consider this one. I zipped through this book on a trip and found myself smiling often and reflecting on the components of a life well-lived. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Still Foolin from

Goat Mountain

Creatures. David Vann pulls no punches as he examines dark dimensions of human behavior in his finely written novel, Goat Mountain. An eleven year old boy anticipates a coming achievement: bagging his first buck on the annual hunting trip he joins with his father, grandfather and a family friend. The setting is the family’s 640 acres of land in rural California. Violence and tragedy follow, as the line blurs between man and beast. All the creatures in this novel suffer. The tightly written prose kept me turning pages despite my revulsion at the story. Written as a recollection decades later, the calmness of the narrator contrasts with the violence among the characters. Readers who appreciate fine prose and are open to contemplating the dark sides of human behavior are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Goat Mountain from

Friday, October 25, 2013

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Advantages. Any reader who spends a little while with Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, will think about advantages and disadvantages in new ways. The conversational narrative style that Gladwell uses so expertly draws readers into the stories he presents, and helps us see an issue more comprehensively that we might have without his help. For me, the counter-intuitive exploration of class size in school was very interesting. The way in which Gladwell described how the shepherd David exploited his own strengths and Goliath’s weaknesses helped me see a familiar story in a new way. I’ve frequently enjoyed the way in which Gladwell can take the research of others and explain it to me and others with simplicity and clarity. That’s a gift to readers who are looking for something to read quickly in small spurts. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase David and Goliath from

The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund

Edge. If Anita Raghavan’s book, The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of The Indian-American Elite and The Fall of The Galleon Hedge Fund, were fiction, I would have set it aside concluding that the behavior of the characters was outside any willing suspension of disbelief. Instead, this is non-fiction, presenting a large cast of characters with a deficit of integrity. Raghavan presents the story of self-dealing business leaders: Raj Rajaratnam, owner of the Galleon Hedge Fund who pushed employees to gain an edge by cultivating insiders and getting non-public information from them; and the downfall of one of Raj’s insiders, Rajat Gupta former CEO McKinsey and former independent director at Goldman Sachs. These and other wealthy, sad and greedy individuals populate over 500 pages of lively reading. Raghavan puts everything in context and the result is a finely written book that any reader with an interest in business, ethics or Wall Street finance will find well worth reading. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Billionaire’s Apprentice from

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Insights. I spent a lot less time reading Dan Pink’s latest book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, than I spent thinking about it. Pink’s insights are targeted to two readers: those who know they are in sales and those who think they aren’t. That covers everybody, and I think every reader will benefit from some aspect of this interesting book. I enjoyed the way Pink presents his insights: he observes what changes are happening (we’re all in sales now); he observes how the best sales people behave; and he offers ways in which each of us can do different things to sway others. Pink’s writing is always lively and accessible, and he refers often to research that has led him, and can lead us, toward greater understanding of ourselves and others. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase To Sell Is Human from

Tamarack County

Mercy. William Kent Krueger is one of those rare fiction writers who chooses a harder path when writing a series of novels: his protagonist becomes deeper and more complex as more is written about him. Many other writers return to themes that are familiar to readers. For Krueger, while each novel is built on what came before, there is new ground tilled with every new novel. The thirteenth novel in his crime series featuring protagonist Cork O’Connor is titled Tamarack County. While O’Connor has spent decades focused on justice, he needs to lean toward mercy in this novel, both for himself and for others. I enjoyed the complexity of the relationships in this novel, the plot suspense, and the depth of character development. Readers who like to read crime fiction should consider reading this book and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Tamarack County from

The Trust

Scheme. If you’re tired of reading non-fiction about financial malfeasance, consider the refreshing change you’ll feel in switching to fiction featuring characters immersed in finance. Norb Vonnegut grabbed my attention from the first pages of his novel, The Trust, and kept me engaged through more than three hundred pages of tense action. Vonnegut’s own experience working at Morgan Stanley helped him bring Wall Street behavior to life in this novel. Protagonist Grove O’Rourke is reprised from the earlier novel, Top Producer, and spends much of this novel in Charleston, helping the family of a deceased client and getting himself in deep trouble. Ample villains are matched by O’Rourke along with another lively character, southern lawyer Biscuit Hughes, who proves himself to be a reliable partner. Readers who like the world of finance and fast-paced fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Trust from

Shine Shine Shine

Spectrum. What I like most about Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine, is the complexity and fullness of her characters. Netzer introduces us to individuals who are at once very much the same as we are, and also very different. The plot required me to suspend my disbelief to a very great extent, and I’m glad I stayed with this novel to the end. Central characters Sunny and Maxon are deeply in love and are drawn into a forced separation as Maxon is in a rocket on the way to the moon. His place on the autism spectrum added even more to the complexity of his character. While Sunny struggles with so many issues common to women in her situation, she is presented as unique and complex. Readers willing to explore a debut novel, especially those who like a good story with complex characters, are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Shine Shine Shine from

The Thief

Pickpocket. I was intrigued by Fuminori Nakamura’s novel, The Thief. Translated from Japanese, the novel presents an image of contemporary society from the perspective of a pickpocket. I kept thinking about skill as I enjoyed the ease with which the thief carries out his work. When a crime goes awry, we are led to see the consequences of an unexamined life. If your preference in fiction tends toward the psychological and thought-provoking, consider reading this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Thief from


Forgiveness. Walter Mosley’s novel, Parishioner, was released exclusively as an ebook. If you’re looking to fill your Kindle with a great story, consider this entertaining novel. Mosley’s theme is forgiveness, and he packs the novel with a cast of characters that need a lot of forgiveness. I was entertained by the pacing of the story, and the ways in which Mosley draws readers into caring about what happens to very interesting characters. Any Mosley fan will find a lot to enjoy in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Parishioner from

Aloha Lady Blue

Setting. I was thoroughly entertained by Charley Memminger’s mystery novel, Aloha Lady Blue. Any reader who’s enjoyed John D. MacDonald’s novels should read this book. While neither a homage nor strict imitation, this novel is in the spirit of MacDonald, and Memminger makes that even clearer when we learn the name of the houseboat on which protagonist Stryker McBride lives: the Travis McGee. The setting in Hawaii comes alive through Memminger’s descriptive language. If you’re looking for something to read on the flight from the mainland to Hawaii, you can’t do better than this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Aloha Lady Blue from

The Striker

Union. I had a new Clive Cussler experience while reading his latest Isaac Bell novel titled, The Striker. I found myself thinking that the pace was too slow. I’ve read enough Cussler novels to anticipate a very quick-moving plot, and in this novel, I realized the pace was pretty tepid. The young Bell, early in his detective career with the Van Dorn agency, faces a situation in which it appears that union activists have sabotaged a coal mining site. Things are not as they appear, and needless to say, young Bell gets to the bottom of things. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel, especially the way in which it fills in the character with more backstory than had been previously revealed. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Striker from