Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Acerbic. I’ve always been attracted to smart-mouthed women. There are eight stories in the latest collection from Lorrie Moore titled, Bark. I was delighted by the acerbic wit and psychological insight presented in these quirky stories. Moore observes our human condition with a mature eye to our foibles and how easy it can be to become caught up in our unusual behaviors. The short story structure demands discipline in narrative and character development, and Moore displays great skill in drawing us into lives quickly, helping us recognize the depth of characters, and enjoy the situations of others. Throughout, we learn about human behavior, thanks to this smart-mouthed and very talented author. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Bark from amazon.com.

The Spinning Heart

Shock. I should pay more attention to tracking a new genre in contemporary fiction: the post-financial crisis novel. One worthy contribution to this category is Donal Ryan’s debut novel, The Spinning Heart. There’s shock among the twenty one narrators of this novel in the aftermath of the severe economic downturn in Ireland. A construction company was the major employer in a small town. The multiple voices contribute individual perspectives on what happened and the impact on all lives in the town. Ryan’s prose captures the unique voices and I found both his dialogue and descriptive language to be entertaining despite the bleak subject matter. Readers willing to try out a debut novelist will find a lot to enjoy in this finely written book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Spinning Heart from amazon.com.

The Invisible Code

Conduct. London detectives Adam Bryant and John May are older and better in the latest novel in the Peculiar Crime Unit series by Christopher Fowler titled, The Invisible Code. The invisible code relates to conduct, which also involves class. Fans of mystery novels and crime fiction will be delighted by this humorous and interesting book. Bryant and May are perfect partners who complement each other, and in this outing they find their special unit at risk of elimination. They end up working on a case for a longtime adversary. The path to resolution is never direct, and that’s part of the pleasure of this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Invisible Code from amazon.com.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

Setbacks. My patience in reading history can be fickle. I often abandon three hundred page books that I find too detailed, while I can read a book with a thousand pages that retains my interest throughout. I was totally engaged by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s lively writing in her book titled, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. She relates stories set at the beginning of the twentieth century in ways that will inform and delight any reader with an interest in politics. She pays particular attention to the journalists of that era, especially those at McClure’s, and the influence of those journalists on public policy. Teddy Roosevelt and Will Taft are presented with both breadth and insight. Both presidents and the journalists accomplish many great outcomes, and also suffer significant setbacks. Goodwin brings understanding about this exciting period to modern readers through her great writing. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Bully Pulpit from amazon.com.

The Realm of Last Chances

Guilt. Leave the past behind and make a fresh start. Can life provide us with second chances? That’s the theme Steve Yarbrough explores in his finely written novel, The Realm of Last Chances. Kristen and Cal have relocated from California to New England. Kristen lost her administrator job at a good California college and gets another chance at a lesser school north of Boston. There’s a lot of mutual detachment, distance and privacy in the relationship between Kristen and Cal. The action in the novel presents behavior by all characters that can lead to the recognition of guilt. From our common condition of being guilty for our own behavior, how will we judge and relate to others? Will we give and get second chances? I found Yarbrough’s characters to be well developed, and the story to be one that offered insight into human behavior. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Realm of Last Chances from amazon.com.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

After I'm Gone

Missing. Fans of crime fiction will find lots of successful elements in Laura Lippman’s latest novel, After I’m Gone. Felix Brewer disappears, rather than face prison. He leaves behind his wife, Bambi, and his daughters, as well as a mistress. Lippman develops the characters, especially the female ones, into fully formed complex people whom any reader would recognize. The plot moves quickly, and provides lots of avenues for exploration by Sandy Sanchez, who has taken on a cold case for investigation. Lippman explores the themes of loyalty, sacrifice and betrayal with great skill. I was thoroughly entertained by this novel. Lippman’s frequent protagonist, Tess Monaghan, makes a brief appearance, and teases readers into thinking about what might be next both for Tess and for Sandy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase After I’m Gone from amazon.com.

The Bootlegger

Explosive. The seventh Isaac Bell adventure novel by Clive Cussler titled, The Bootlegger, begins and ends with dramatic action. Isaac’s boss, Joseph VanDorn, head of the Van Dorn Detective Agency, has been shot, and Isaac directs agents to follow every lead and find the perpetrator. It’s the time of Prohibition in the United States, and rum runners are supplying alcohol to a thirsty nation. Small operators are being edged out of the business by organized criminal elements, including some Russians who have a particular use for their illegal earnings. While Isaac is often a step or two behind the bad guys, it’s no spoiler to say that after many pages of exciting action, Isaac saves the day. Fans of this series and this prolific author are those most likely to enjoy this latest installment. If you’re new to the series, you can start here or anywhere else and get a good sample of what’s in the series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Bootlegger from amazon.com.

Every Day Is for the Thief

Observations. I enjoyed the ways in which Teju Cole’s lean prose in Every Day Is for the Thief, describes Lagos and the observations of the narrator in just the right amount of detail to be both atmospheric and vivid. In this finely written novel, Cole presents the story of a writer who returns to Nigeria for a visit after fifteen years living in the United States. From the time he first approaches the consulate, he enters into a culture in which almost every person is asking for some money in exchange for doing something or nothing. The protagonist often complies, although he does so with reluctance. Photographs by Cole are inserted throughout the novel and they add to the vivid imagery of the life he describes. Readers who enjoy literary fiction will find a lot of entertainment in this short novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Every Day Is for the Thief from amazon.com.

The Shanghai Factor

Counter. Readers who enjoy spy novels in which things are not as they appear to be are those most likely to enjoy reading Charles McCarry’s novel, The Shanghai Factor. The unnamed protagonist has been recruited by HQ to go to Shanghai, learn the language well, and see what develops. The senior spymasters play a long game, and McCarry keeps the plot moving while placing the characters in situations that leave a reader wondering whether it’s counterintelligence or other factors that are driving the action. I found this novel to be entertaining, and enjoyed the complexity. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Shanghai Factor from amazon.com.

Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books

Conversational. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read. I’ve experienced pleasure in reading an eclectic mix of books throughout my life. When I read Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, it felt like I was having a conversation with another intelligent reader, one who is far better informed than I am. I finished reading this book with a heightened sense of awareness of the pleasure I receive from what I read and wherein that pleasure is derived. Any voracious reader is likely to find a soulmate in Wendy Lesser. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why I Read from amazon.com.

The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France

Passion. Many entrepreneurs credit success to hard work, luck, and the kindness of others. An engaging story of the way one individual followed his passion and dream toward success can be found in Ray Walker’s book, The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France. Whether you’re a wine lover or not, chances are you’ll be entertained by this inspiring story of a young man who leaves security behind to follow his dream of becoming a winemaker. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Road to Burgundy from amazon.com.

The Wolves of Midwinter

Christmastime. The second entertaining novel in Anne Rice’s Wolf Gift series is titled The Wolves of Midwinter. Fans of Rice will find two strong elements in this novel: the development of interesting characters, and an engaging plot. Rice slowly coveys more information about the man wolf, or morphenkind. Many characters are reprised from the first novel, and readers may be more satisfied with this installment if the earlier book is read first. For fans of Rice’s vampire novels, this new type of immortal beings will be both familiar and different. This novel is set at Christmastime, and the nature of family and children is explored in a gentle way. Most satisfied readers will await what happens in the next installment in this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wolves of Midwinter from amazon.com.

Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way

Triad. Three experts in leadership collaborated on a book titled, Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way. Consultant Ram Charan, headhunter Dennis Carey and academic Michael Useem presented me with three key takeaways from this quick-to-read book. First, their experience with many companies and boards informed their perspective in offering general guidance about leadership and corporate governance. Second, they provide examples of success (where they name names) and failures (where they disguise names). Such examples are described adequately enough for readers to understand the situation. Third, the authors present checklists that can be a quick way to organize thinking and action. While I found many examples of them missing the mark, or providing very shallow insight, most of the book will provide executives and directors with something to think about and consider applying to a particular company. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Boards That Lead from amazon.com.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Absorbed. The protagonist of Adele Waldman’s debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is a type. Harvard-educated Nate Piven has just made the transition from freelance writing to having a quality book recognized and published. He’s intellectual and self-absorbed. Waldman draws readers into Nate’s life through his shallow relationships with women, each of whom must be smart enough to be worthy of his attention. Waldman skewers Nate throughout the book, providing readers with often witty and scathing prose. Readers in their mid-thirties and younger may recognize these relationships as common. Those of at and beyond middle age may find this description of relationships somewhat foreign and more sad than comic. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P from amazon.com.

The Virgins

Unconsummated. Readers of a plot summary may think they have read the story Pamela Erens relates in her novel, The Virgins, too many times before and would take a pass on this one. They would be wrong. Set in a New Hampshire prep school in 1979, Erens tells of the powerful sexual awakening of protagonists Aviva Rossner and Seung Jung. Narrated from the perspective of a classmate, readers learn quickly that this romantic relationship is not what it appears to be. Alongside love is loss and tragedy. Erens crafts her prose with exquisite skill, and creates perfect tension as she unfolds the narrative. Readers who appreciate finely written literary prose and well-developed complex characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Virgins from amazon.com.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Friendship. Readers who like fiction that tugs at your heartstrings are those most likely to enjoy Mark Slouka’s finely written novel, Brewster. With the efficiency of tightly written prose, Slouka introduces and develops this story of friendship. The novel’s action takes place in 1968 in the small upstate town of Brewster, New York, and is narrated by protagonist Jon Mosher from decades later as he looks back to that year when he was a teenager. In as many ways as this is a novel of friendship and coming of age, it is also a novel of grief, and Slouka pulls all that off in fewer than three hundred pages. Treat yourself to a few well-spent hours reading this well-written novel about a living with love and with loss. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Brewster from amazon.com.

Massacre Pond

Maine. The fourth novel by Paul Doiron to feature Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is titled, Massacre Pond. Readers who enjoy crime fiction will find two successful elements in this novel and this series: an interesting protagonist with a balance of strengths and weaknesses, and a plot that keeps a reader’s interest to the end. Doiron uses the backdrop of conflict between a wealthy philanthropist who wants to preserve land for the public good and the individuals who earn their livelihood from the same land. Bowditch faces many challenges in this novel as he tries to do his job. This series will appeal in a special way to those who love the wild outdoors, especially the beauty of Maine. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Massacre Pond from amazon.com.

The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again)

Boring. I usually enjoy P.J. O’Rourke’s humor, and I anticipated finding plenty of it in his latest book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again). I was surprised at how boring I found this book. His writing was more didactic than usual, and his attempts at being clever fell flat often. Read a sample before committing to this book. Chances are if you find the selection engaging and interesting, you’re likely to enjoy the entire book. I struggled through this short book to the end, hoping that the O’Rourke writing I’ve loved would begin to shine, but kept finding more misfires than bulls-eyes. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase The Baby Boom from amazon.com.

Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing our World

Sings. Every page of George Gilder’s book, Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing our World, sings in celebration of capitalism. The particular lens that Gilder applies involves the intensity of impact from the information revolution on society. Gilder uses a conversational style of writing to express thoughtful and clear views on support for entrepreneurship and unfettered capitalism as key to building and maintaining a world in which all members of society achieve gains. I’ve read Gilder for decades and found much in this book to be so familiar as to seem repetitive. To avoid that becoming boring, Gilder has peppered the text with recent and current examples of the themes he explores. Every capitalist who reads this book will find something to like. Socialists will find the prose of a worthy adversary that requires a cogent response. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Knowledge and Power from amazon.com.

My Mistake

Eloquent. Readers who enjoy fine writing will find plenty in Daniel Menaker’s memoir, My Mistake. His sentences are composed perfectly in what appears effortless. Always choosing just the right word (which I appreciated even more with the half dozen I looked up), Menaker offers a light touch that kept me engaged and entertained from beginning to end. He finds a way to be witty even when discussing illness and death. His introspection comes across as self-deprecating as reflected in the title. Having spent decades working at The New Yorker then at publishing houses, Menaker offers a front row view of aspects of life in literary New York. I found his eloquence delightful to read. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Mistake from amazon.com.

North of Boston

Swimmer. Elisabeth Elo’s debut novel, North of Boston, packs a wallop. The protagonist of this thriller is thirty-year-old Pirio Kasparov, and unlike the heroic characters in most thrillers, she is well-developed and complex. The action starts as she survives a hit and run ship to boat accident in the Atlantic. Her ability to remain in the freezing water for hours made her known to strangers as “the swimmer.” She works as an executive for the perfume company her late mother founded. Elo uses great skill in maintaining the very fast pace of the plot action, while developing multiple interesting characters and varied plot lines. On top of those positive elements, Elo’s prose remains graceful throughout the novel, leading me to wonder whether to classify this as a literary novel rather than a thriller. All readers who like a well-told tale, no matter what genre, will find a lot to like in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase North of Boston from amazon.com.


Glitch. There’s a central idea at the core of the latest medical thriller by Robin Cook titled, Cell. What would happen if we used smartphones and artificial intelligence software to provide improved healthcare? Cook presents iDoc, a smartphone app that provides patients with 24/7 monitoring along with the capability to interact with a digital physician avatar created by the user. What if there is a glitch? What could possibly go wrong? Protagonist George Wilson, a radiology resident reprised from earlier novels, stumbles over mishaps from iDoc and risks his career to investigate what is happening. The dialogue is clunky as usual with Cook, and the prose can be tedious, but the idea and the action here offset those flaws, more in this novel than in many of his earlier books. Read a sample, and if you can be patient with the prose, chances are you’ll like reading this entertaining and frightening story about a possible future of healthcare. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cell from amazon.com.

How About Never--Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons

Bulls-eye. I am at the center of the bulls-eye in the target audience for Bob Mankoff’s memoir, How About Never--Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons. As soon as the latest issue of The New Yorker arrives on my iPad, I hit the link that lets me read the cartoons first. After that immediate gratification, I move on to the rest of the issue. After I’ve finished reading what I want, I remain on the page for the Cartoon Caption Context. I also subscribe to Bob’s weekly Laughter Lovers email newsletter. When a galley copy of this book landed on my desk, I dropped everything else to read this mix of text and cartoons. I was delighted from beginning to end. Chances are that if you enjoy the cartoons in The New Yorker, you’ll like this view on how the sausage gets made from the perspective of Mankoff, both a talented cartoonist whose recognizable work appears often, and the magazine’s current cartoon editor. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase How About Never from amazon.com.

The Black-Eyed Blonde

Melancholy. Let’s be sure we understand what we face in the novel, The Black-Eyed Blonde. John Banville is writing this under his pseudonym for non-literary fiction, Benjamin Black. He’s writing in the style of Raymond Chandler, including the reprisal of Chandler’s famous protagonist, Philip Marlowe. Is this rip off or homage? In my view, it’s a well-written homage that captures all the melancholy of Philip Marlowe. It took great skill by Banville to tackle a presentation of this beloved noir detective, and make him come alive for contemporary readers while not alienating fans of Chandler’s work. On all levels, Banville pulls this off. The character, dialogue, plot and atmosphere are all presented with consistency and at the same time with freshness. Fans of crime fiction, especially of Marlowe and Chandler, will find a lot to enjoy when reading Benjamin Black’s latest novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Black-Eyed Blonde from amazon.com.

The Resistance Man

Inheritance. The sixth novel to feature St. Denis’ chief of police, Bruno Courrèges, is titled, The Resistance Man. Some crime fiction series become repetitive over time, and they can fail to maintain a reader’s interest in the central character, especially when the protagonist remains unchanged. Not this series. Walker seems to increase our knowledge of Bruno in each novel, along with our interest in French food and in the Dordogne region. Walker piles on the plot lines and characters in this novel, beginning with the title, a reference to the death of a World War II resistance fighter. Every plot line was enjoyable and added to my overall interest in the novel. If there’s a single theme, it may be the nature of inheritance. By the end of the novel, I was totally satisfied with time well spent in France. Readers new to the series can easily start here. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Resistance Man from amazon.com.