Friday, December 18, 2015


Outsiders. Some of my favorite novels capture our contemporary lives perfectly by setting characters and plot in a different time period and in a place that may be less familiar. David Treuer’s novel titled Prudence, is set in the period during and after World War II, mostly in rural Minnesota. By developing complex characters with great depth, Treuer highlights the ways in which those individuals who are viewed as outsiders cope with their situation in a community. Readers will find in this novel so many of the big themes of fiction: desire, love, loss, and the ways in which we all struggle to find connection as we struggle through life. Readers who enjoy finely written prose are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Prudence from

The Last Bookaneer

Pirates. Readers who enjoy a creative romp that mixes historical with fictional characters may freely indulge in the pleasure of Matthew Pearl’s novel titled, The Last Bookaneer. Bookaneers are pirates, thieves, scoundrels, who roam the globe trying to steal literary works from writers and profit from selling manuscripts to publishers. Robert Louis Stevenson is the target for such theft and the journey from London to Samoa should be worth the effort. Such opportunities are becoming rare at the turn from the nineteenth to twentieth century as copyright laws are restricting the ability to publish literary works without the permission of the author. Avid book lovers are those readers most likely to enjoy this creative novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Bookaneer from

America's Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve

Truce. Informed and patriotic Americans have been divided by certain unresolved tensions and differences for more than two centuries. In his readable book for general audiences titled, America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve, Roger Lowenstein turns to the beginning of the twentieth century and the environment that led to a truce between the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian traditions. One would think that the story of the creation of the Federal Reserve would make for boring reading, but Lowenstein enlivens the narrative with fine writing and insight into the key players who got this done. The differences between those citizens who want a strong central government and those who favor more local control and discretion represent a key element in contemporary politics. Having seen the power of the Federal Reserve during the recent financial crisis, there are critics who would like to see the Fed curtailed or eliminated, and those who support how the Fed helped avoid what could have been a global economic depression. Readers interested in public policy and economics will find a lot to enjoy in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase America’s Bank from

Preparation for the Next Life

Other. Some works of fiction present characters just like us, so we can be entertained by the human condition as we live it everyday. Other works of fiction present characters from the margins of society, and whose lives are very different from our own. Atticus Lish’s debut novel titled, Preparation for the Next Life, revels in the margins as he draws a portrait of characters most of us would consider as the “other.” Protagonist Zou Lei, an ethnic Uigher Muslim from China, was smuggled into the United States, where she now tries to disappear. Protagonist Brad Skinner is a veteran with PTSD who keeps re-living what happened on his last tour in Iraq. They come together in Queens, the melting pot of the world, and Lish draws us into their isolation and the world in which they and we struggle to survive and hope to thrive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Preparation for the Next Life from

Leaving Berlin

Spies. Fans of espionage novels are those readers most likely to enjoy Joseph Kanon’s finely written novel titled, Leaving Berlin. Set in Berlin at the end of the 1940s, there are alliances, connections, betrayals, spies, coffees and a mood that ties everything to that time and that place. Protagonist Alex Meier fled the Nazis for the United States, where he found new trouble, and now returns to Berlin. I was entertained from beginning to end, and thanks to Kanon, Berlin of that time became so vivid, it was almost another character in the novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Leaving Berlin from

Fates and Furies

Structure. Of all the books I’ve read this year, Laruen Groff’s Fates and Furies led me to believe that I am smarter than I really am. While reading this finely written novel, I believed I was understanding her finely crafted wordplay. I thought I understood the components of Greek tragedy at play. The structure of the novel presents versions of a marital relationship: his version in the fates part, and her version in the furies section. As in many marriages, the husband tends to be a bit clueless, while the wife is in command of everything that matters. His version and her version seem like very different relationships. I even thought I “got” the third element of the structure: the equivalent of a Greek chorus which Groff sets off in bracketed text. Things are not as they appear, I’ve considered upon reflection. This novel is not a meditation on marriage, and not necessarily a Greek tragedy. It may be more or less than what I think it is. As of today, I see this novel as a reflection on the consequences of dishonesty. Secrets long held become the means of vengeance. Perhaps the original sins led to a life founded on lies and could become nothing more or less than it was. I marvel at Groff’s prose and the way she structured the novel. I’m confident that I’m not nearly as smart as I thought I was, nor am I clueless. Read this novel for yourself and you may see what I mean. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fates and Furies from


Loyalty. Loyal readers who have come this close to the end of the alphabetic detective novels by Sue Grafton will read to the end no matter what. Private detective Kinsey Millhone returns in the 24th installment of the series a novel titled, X. Unlike the earlier novels, for which the letter was “for” something, the current title is just a letter. There’s a serial killer in this novel, and Kinsey could be the next victim. This novel may have an extra hundred pages or so than what was necessary to solve the case, but like a long goodbye, I didn’t mind the extra pages, as I will miss Kinsey when Grafton wraps up the series. Had this been the first novel, I might have never read another. Having come this far, I found myself entertained, and willing to cut Grafton plenty of slack. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase X from

Career of Evil

Grisly. The latest Cormoran Strike novel from J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith is titled, Career of Evil. Fans of the series will enjoy the continued character development of protagonist Strike and his work partner, Robin Ellacott. The plot momentum is exciting, and the twists are crime fiction candy to those of us who are always on the lookout for the identity of the bad guys. There’s one caution for readers with queasy stomachs: there’s a lot of grisly gore in this novel. Try not to read after a heavy meal when digestion may be challenged, or just before bedtime when the images may lead to a long agitated night of recurring tosses and turns. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Career of Evil from


Formula. One benefit of formulaic series fiction is the expectation that familiar characters will behave in expected ways. The latest Oregon Files novel from the Clive Cussler franchise is titled, Piranha, and the familiar characters were true to fan expectations. One downside to a familiar formula is a reader’s confidence that the plot will proceed in an expected way and that can lead to boredom. Readers who like formulaic thrillers are those likely to enjoy this novel, especially if one reads fast enough to stave off looming boredom from a clear sense of what’s likely to happen next as the plot develops according to the formula. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Piranha from

The Promise

Maggie. Protagonists Elvis Cole and Joe Pike take second billing in a novel by Robert Crais titled, The Promise. The hero of the novel is a dog named Maggie. Along with her LAPD K-9 officer Scott James, Maggie takes center stage in this entertaining crime novel in which the good guys tackle a villain who presents himself as a very worthy adversary. Readers who like crime fiction, especially dog lovers, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Promise from


Biologics. Fiction demands that readers suspend disbelief and surrender to the world and characters created by the author. This demand is stretched to the absolute limit in Robin Cook’s latest medical thriller titled, Host. A pair of dopey medical students are the unlikely heroes in uncovering a major and implausible breach of medical ethics at a hospital center. Their curiosity leads into a medical world of the sleaziest criminal activity imaginable. Cook gets to educate readers a little about biologics in this novel, but the price a reader must pay to be informed and entertained may be too high for most readers. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Host from

The Crossing

Brothers. Some readers who enjoy novels with recurring characters will be delighted that Michael Connelly has joined brothers from two of his crime fiction series in a novel titled, The Crossing. Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller are half-brothers, the former now a forcibly retired LAPD detective, and the latter a criminal defense lawyer. Mickey convinces Harry to help him defend a client arrested for murder and for whom the DNA evidence in the case seems ironclad. While reluctant to cross from the prosecution to the defense side (hence the title), Harry becomes convinced that Mickey’s client is innocent. Fans of crime fiction will find a lot to enjoy while reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Crossing from

Friday, December 4, 2015

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

Destiny. I came very close to putting down Lydia Netzer’s novel titled, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky. On one level, this is a quirky love story about fate. On another level, it’s a weird family saga packed with dysfunction. Once I reconciled myself to the unevenness of the prose and my reactions to what I was reading, I let Netzer take control, and take me where she wanted. Once I surrendered, the book seemed to improve, and by the end, I found it enjoyable, even funny. Readers who enjoy eclectic writing are those most likely to enjoy reading this unusual novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky from

Inside a Silver Box

Salvation. Whenever Walter Mosley departs from his usual character-driven fiction, readers know he is having a good time letting his imagination soar and bringing loyal readers along for a fascinating ride. In his novel titled, Inside a Silver Box, Mosley explores the proximity of death, and how salvation can come from unlikely sources. Things are never as they appear in Mosley’s world: the silver box contains the most powerful force in the universe, and means peril and death to all of us. Readers who enjoy imaginative fiction that takes us outside the world we think we live in are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Inside a Silver Box from

The Last Word

Artists. Many complex dynamics are at play in Hanif Kureishi’s novel titled, The Last Word. A young writer has been selected to write a biography of a writer in his seventies. The publisher who set this in motion wants to stimulate sales of the older writer’s backlist. The relationship between the two writers provides tension and wit as young Harry and old Mamoon circle each other as artists and try to exploit the situation for themselves. I enjoyed Kureishi’s prose, but my patience was often close to its limit as I read on not observing much character development. Read a sample before you plunge into this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Word from

Essays After Eighty

Mortality. I imagine that if by the time of one’s eightieth birthday, thoughts of death haven’t become frequent, the individual may be out of touch with reality. Donald Hall remains in full grasp of reality, as his prose shows in a new book titled, Essays After Eighty. The parts about smoking, drinking and driving are so finely written that I reread some sentences multiple times. Fans of Hall’s poetry may see some threads in these essays. Any reader who enjoys fine writing will find something to like in this short collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Essays After Eighty from

Bitter Remedy

Leave. Protagonist Alec Blume leaves Rome and his comfort zone in Conor Fitzgerald’s latest novel of this series. In this novel titled, Bitter Remedy, Blume is ill and his treatment is reflected in the title. Fans of the series are likely to enjoy seeing new dimensions of Blume’s character, while first time readers may not fully appreciate this interesting personality. Readers who like crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bitter Remedy from

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures

Enthusiasm. I set aside Maureen Corrigan’s book about The Great Gatsby titled, So We Read On, while I dug up an old copy of Fitzgerald’s novel. I decided to read the novel again as a refresher, since I last read it fifty years ago. After some procrastination, I ended up reading Gatsby in an afternoon, after which I picked up Corrigan’s book. Her enthusiasm for the book comes across powerfully, and her skill as a teacher transcends the classroom and enlivens the printed page. Having read her loving account of this favorite novel, I decided to give Fitzgerald one more reading before I set the novel aside. I was more enthusiastic having had Corrigan’s love rub off on me. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase So We Read On from

The Last Taxi Ride

Links. A.X. Ahmad’s novel titled, The Last Taxi Ride entertained me on many levels. As crime fiction, the plot moved quickly and kept me engaged. As a description of the life of immigrants in Manhattan, I was enriched as I entered a world usually unnoticed. For pure creativity, Ahmad kept me interested as he linked the protagonist taxi driver with a Bollywood actress, an old Army buddy, and showed connections between criminals in South Asia with people in Manhattan. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Last Taxi Ride from

Circling the Sun

Pluck. Fictional accounts of true historical characters can be a bit hit and miss. I find myself wondering which parts are true and which are contrived. While reading Paula McLain’s novel titled, Circling the Sun, I barely gave a thought to that distinction. Beryl Markham lived a full and exciting life in Kenya in the early part of the twentieth century, both as a horse trainer and a pilot. Thanks to McLain’s fine writing, the drama of Markham’s relationships provides momentum for the plot. Fans of The Paris Wife will be drawn to this book, and many book clubs will find this to be a selection that will lead to animated conversation. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Circling the Sun from

Friday, November 20, 2015

Shaky Ground: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants

Stall. Readers with an interest in housing finance should consider Bethany McLean’s short book titled, Shaky Ground, to be required reading. Using the finely honed investigative skills she developed at Fortune, especially on examining Enron, McLean looks into the stalled resolution of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These government sponsored entities have been in conservatorship since 2008, and there seems to be no progress on resolving what to do with them next. The result is a housing finance system that rests on shaky ground because of the dominant reliance on these companies to support homeownership. McLean views the situation from multiple perspectives and explains the stalemate and stall in resolution with pragmatic empathy. She joins many others in not seeing a way to get off this shaky ground. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Shaky Ground from

The Abbey: A Story of Discovery

Direction. James Martin is a Jesuit priest whose books about spiritual topics have been best sellers. His debut novel titled, The Abbey, features three main characters: a priest who is an abbot, a divorced single mom grieving the death of her son, and her tenant, an architect who works as a handyman at the abbey. Martin presents their life struggles with compassion, and uses his knowledge of spiritual direction to help guide them all toward hope and healing. Over the course of the 200 pages of this novel, Martin develops just enough about the three main characters to have readers recognize them as fully formed individuals, and offers enough plot momentum to tell a complete story. I was mildly entertained by the novel and think that any reader with an interest in spirituality will find something of interest in this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Abbey from

Avenue of Mysteries

Faith. If you’ve ever thought about the phrase, “the miracle of life,” you can think about it for over 450 pages in John Irving’s fourteenth and latest novel titled, Avenue of Mysteries. Irving presents the life of protagonist Juan Diego by shifting back to the past through dreams and recollections, and in the present through the structure of a journey to fulfill a promise. Juan Diego’s life has been filled with mysteries and miracles, and with love from some unlikely or unexpected sources. One reading of this novel filled me with thoughts about the themes Irving explores including aging, fate, the Catholic church, faith, love and perseverance. If I chose a second reading, I’m sure I would find more themes to think about. Irving can be funny, the characters are often quirky and reality can seem to slip away at times. I’ve read all of Irving’s novels over the past four decades, and I admit to a positive bias toward this novel before I opened the first page. Readers who enjoy fine writing are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Avenue of Mysteries from

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Singer. If Marlon James’ novel titled, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is the short version at over 700 pages, I wonder what a not-brief version would be. For patient readers who can tolerate multiple narrators, keeping track of a huge cast of characters, quick shifts in time and place, and examination of the same event from multiple points of view, there is a lot to like in this finely written novel. James’ use of language will delight fans of the written word. Fans of Jamaica and Bob Marley, called the singer in this novel, will appreciate the exploration of the 1976 assassination attempt on Marley. For many readers, this novel provides insight into long term pain and suffering and into the struggles of people we may not encounter in our day to day lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Brief History of Seven Killings from

Slade House

Souls. For any reader who has found David Mitchell’s longer novels a bit challenging to read, consider his latest novel titled, Slade House. In this finely written haunted house story, Mitchell leaves behind the complexity he usually constructs and offers a compact and simple story that brought me great reading pleasure. Some readers can swallow this 250 page novel in a single sitting. Others may want to savor the suspense over the course of a few days. Any reader who likes ghost stories and the idea of lost souls will find something to like in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Slade House from

Other People's Money: The Real Business of Finance

Vision. Any reader with an interest in finance and a belief in the power of ideas should read John Kay’s finely written book titled, Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance. Kay presents a vision to restructure the finance industry summarized as follows: “It is time to get back to work: the serious and responsible business of managing other people’s money.” Kay’s perspective shows how finance has strayed in recent decades, and he proposes the following: “It is possible to have a smaller, simpler financial services system that is better adapted to the needs of the non-financial economy – to achieve an efficient payment system, effective capital allocation, greater economic stability, security in planning and managing our personal finances and justified confidence in the people who advise us.” (p.290) I enjoyed Kay’s clear thinking and cogent writing. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Other People’s Money from

Emma: A Modern Retelling

Fun. I’d like to imagine that prolific novelist Alexander McCall Smith had fun in writing Emma: A Modern Retelling. There were a few times while reading it that I was somewhat amused. By the end, I confirmed what I knew at the beginning: there’s far less satisfaction in retelling a classic story in a contemporary setting than there is in reading the classic itself or in reading a new contemporary novel. Chances are that if you like Jane Austen, there’s a high likelihood that you won’t enjoy this retelling of her classic novel. Chances are that if you like Smith’s writing and his many serial novels, you will find this diversion less enjoyable than more time with those familiar characters Smith created himself. Readers who are unfamiliar with both Austen and Smith are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase Emma from

The Moor's Account

Language. I added Laila Lalami’s novel, The Moor’s Account, to my bookshelf after it received some award nominations. It languished there for months while I read other books, When I finally read this fine work of historical fiction, I as delighted with how many things Lalami did so well. The point of view Lalami presents of an actual 1527 expedition by conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez to the New World is that of a Moroccan slave. Her descriptive language soars lyrically, and the voice she expresses through the slave is packed with themes of morality, race, religion and exploitation. Readers who like historical fiction and literary prose are those most likely to enjoy this creative and finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Moor’s Account from

Golden Age

Finale. Jane Smiley completes her trilogy of the Langdon family over the last century with the novel titled, Golden Age. Time flew by as I returned to the huge cast of characters, and the connected storylines of their lives, their land, and their loves and losses. Wiser critics than I can assess the degree to which this saga constitutes a great American novel. I enjoyed the sweeping scope of this series, Smiley’s fine writing, the deeply developed characters and the ways in which the Langdon family story is “our” story. My one minor irritation is that I wish Smiley ended the saga in 2014 or 2015. Instead, she projects the story into the future. Readers who like settling into a big novel and spending lots of time with interesting characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this trilogy. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Golden Age from

When to Rob a Bank: ...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants

Blog. While I’ve read some Freakonomics books by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, I’ve never read their blog. Their latest book titled, When to Rob a Bank, accumulates curated selections from their 8,000 blog entries over the past decade. For readers familiar with their shtick, much of what’s in this collection may seem repetitive. New readers can get a light sampling of their approach from this collection of blog entries. Of course, instead of buying the book, you could just read their blog and curate for yourself. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase When to Rob a Bank from

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Nation Wholly Free: The Elimination of the National Debt in the Age of Jackson

Once. Once upon a time in America, our nation was free of debt. It lasted for two years and ten months. Carl Lane tells the story of how this happened in his book titled, A Nation Wholly Free. You’ll be interested to learn that one consequence of the achievement of this milestone was our polarization into two oppositional political parties, divided on how to deal with surplus government funds, and what the proper role is for our central government. Sound familiar? Any reader interested in American history and economics should consider reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Nation Wholly Free from

Invasion of Privacy

Network. I’ve felt a little apprehensive about all my iDevices after reading Christopher Reich’s novel titled, Invasion of Privacy. This fast-paced suspense novel presents a surveillance system that takes the surrender of liberty to a whole new level. Reich knows how to engage a reader’s interest, and in this novel he explores money and power. If you’ve given any thought at all to cybersecurity, or if you’ve noticed an increase in surveillance cameras, chances are you’ll enjoy how Reich takes pieces of our current situation, and leads us to a very logical and frightening conclusion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Invasion of Privacy from

Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread

Hilarious. I readily admit that I have acquired a taste for Chuck Palahniuk’s bizarre writing. The 21 stories in a collection titled, Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread, display a range of his humor and creativity. The subtitle reveals the artist at work: there’s something in most of these stories that you may wish you had not read, but once your eyes crossed the page, there’s no going back. Readers who like his novels are those most likely to appreciate the humor in his short stories Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Make Something Up from


Untied. If you read Dean Bakopoulos’ novel, Summerlong, you may never again think of the Midwest and Iowa as boring and conservative places. The summer heat leads to the loosening of marriage and relationship ties, and sadness and humor cross each other with every sunrise and sunset. The characters are real and flawed, just like us. Children and parents are both confused as the recklessness of behavior increases. Desire is a powerful thing, and Bakopoulos’ fine writing draws it out with wit and sorrow. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Summerlong from

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Neighbors. I dare you to read $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America and not be moved by the plight of those living in poverty. Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Schaefer found something startling from two decades of research on poverty in America: a growing segment of the population is trying to survive on almost no income. If you think paying a living wage will lead to the loss of jobs, read this book and think about the impact of not paying a living wage. The people described in this book are our neighbors. It’s time we start treating them with respect and with care, just as we want ourselves to be treated. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase $2.00 a Day from

A Cure for Suicide

Consequence. I can’t even begin to pin down exactly what Jesse Ball accomplished in his finely written and unusual novel titled, A Cure for Suicide. What I do know is that I found his prose lyrical and perfectly constructed. At different times, I saw philosophical framing, psychological insight, a search for meaning, and an examination of love and memory. I gave myself over to the discovery of insight from the most ordinary things or events. Here’s an example, “I’ve always felt, said Emma, that people misunderstand consequence. Anything really can be the consequence of something else. That’s our human gift. So, when someone loses a paring knife, well, who is to say what will happen?” Ball presents this human gift for patient readers, and I, for one, unwrapped the gift with great pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Cure for Suicide from

Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories

Range. I’ve been a fan of Elmore Leonard for a long time, so when I saw a posthumous collection of his short stories titled, Charlie Martz and Other Stories, I knew I would read them. Eleven of the fifteen stores are published here for the first time. At the time some of them were written, and in the form presented here, that’s not a surprise. Most of them needed work. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading each story here, and I was impressed by the range of Leonard’s writing. There’s hope for any aspiring writer on these pages: if Leonard went from some of this prose to what he wrote later in life, then there’s a path one can follow that shows how persistence in writing and hard work can lead to considerable improvement. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Charlie Martz and Other Stories from

Undermajordomo Minor

Quirky. A young man coming of age leaves his small town on a search for adventure, love, and to find his place in the world. Thousands of novels fit that description, but none quite as engaging or quirky as Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt. Protagonist Lucien (Lucy) Minor, leaves his home in the village of Bury to work at the castle of Baron Von Aux for the majordomo there, hence becoming undermajordomo Minor. Lucy leads a cast of characters who are funny and interesting. deWitt’s prose smoothly leads readers from a hilarious situation to something dark and imaginative and back again to action that will lead to laughter. Readers who want to be entertained by a novel with a familiar premise and a quirky narrative are those most likely to enjoy reading this finely written book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Undermajordomo Minor from

Rogue Lawyer

Cases. Readers who like crime fiction with interesting characters should find pleasure reading the latest novel by John Grisham titled, Rogue Lawyer. Protagonist Sebastian Rudd is the rogue lawyer in the title, and his behavior and legal cases are not what one would expect. Grisham knows how to tell a story, how to develop interesting characters and how to keep readers entertained. I so enjoyed Rudd that I hope Grisham continues to develop him in future novels. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rogue Lawyer from

The Nature of the Beast

Intermezzo. Armand Gamache, recurring protagonist in a crime series by Louse Penny, finds himself in something like an intermezzo. In the latest novel titled, The Nature of the Beast, Gamache, former head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, has retired to the Quebec village of Three Pines with his wife, Reine-Marie. Some type of work will follow this pause in his career, and Armand and Reine-Marie are considering academia while he has received job offers from the Sûreté as well as from the United Nations. While restoring his spirit in this remote refuge, murder arrives at his doorstep and the burdens carried by many characters in this small town are revealed. Penny writes a great mystery and reveals deep insight into human nature as she explores good and evil and its manifestation within us. Readers who like crime fiction with complex characters and plot should consider this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Nature of the Beast from

Monday, October 26, 2015


Olympic. Twenty outstanding short stories are assembled in a collection titled, Honeydew, by Edith Pearlman. Were I commenting on an Olympic gymnastic performance, I would call attention to the ways in which Pearlman nails every landing. She has great endings to each of these stories, often in the form of a cunning twist. If that were the only skill presented, that would be enough to bring a reader pleasure. Her main achievement, in my view, is the skill with which she presents aspects of human nature with such precision that I was moved by her compassion and insight into the ordinary and its profound beauty and essential liveliness. There’s an authenticity in these stories that will reward most readers with insight and understanding about people like us. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Honeydew from

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

Spycraft. I can find reading pleasure from spy stories, both true and fiction. One of the finest I’ve read in recent years is The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman. Journalist Hoffman presents the story of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet radar specialist, who provided reams of technical military secrets to the CIA. Thanks to Hoffman’s fine writing, we come to understand Tolkachev, his family, his motivations, and the ways in which spycraft was conducted during the height of the cold war. The value of the information received for the compensation paid to Tolkachev will alarm most readers. Any reader interested in the cold war will likely enjoy reading this finely written account. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Billion Dollar Spy from

The Kill

Secrets. The fifth novel in the series by Jane Casey featuring detective Maeve Kerrigan is titled, The Kill. This novel has all the elements fans love in crime fiction: murder, suspense, well-developed characters, and a mystery to solve Casey proceeds at a pace that may frustrate those who prefer fast-paced thrillers, but will delight those readers who like the gradual presentation of a case to allow a reader time to puzzle out the likely perpetrator. Here’s an example of the prose that delighted me, but might frustrate other readers: “Tea, the answer for every problem. Burglary? Tea. Missing child? Tea. Dead husband? Tea. No one ever seemed to drink it. For us, the cups were a prop, something to do with your hands while gently delivering the bad news and easing yourself back out to the street.” (p.47) There are secrets at the core of this novel, and the relationships are fascinating to observe, given their complexity. Readers who like crime fiction should consider reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Kill from

The Taming of the Queen

Survivor. The narrator and protagonist of Philippa Gregory’s novel, The Taming of the Queen, is Kateryn Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. Gregory presents Parr as a smart and independent woman of significant accomplishments, who survived the plots by the court to remove her as Queen, and who outlived Henry. The taming referenced in the title involves a personal degradation that reveals aspects of Henry that will disgust many readers. Readers who like historical fiction, especially those with strong female protagonists, are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Taming of the Queen from


Money. Readers who enjoy finely written short stories will find a baker’s dozen in a collection by Karen Bender titled, Refund. The structure of the short story requires efficiency by the writer. Bender excels at quick observation, brief description, and deep insight accomplished within a few sentences. These stories fit well together because of a common theme relating to money. Beneath this is the question of value and what something or someone is worth. Bender explores this theme with great skill, and most readers will find something to like in this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Refund from


Magic. I’ve found non-fiction accounts of Richard Nixon to leave me with confusion and questions about his behavior and motivation in his public and private life. I felt much clearer with the alternative fictional Nixon presented by Austin Grossman in his novel titled, Crooked. In this book, Nixon is a hero, and as narrator, he removes his mask to reveal what forces led him to do what he did throughout his life. To whatever extent you’re willing to suspend disbelief and are open to the notion of Nixon as America’s savior, you are likely to love or hate this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crooked from

Secondhand Souls

Bridge. Readers looking to escape with a zany novel should consider reading Christopher Moore’s Secondhand Souls. Reprised characters from A Dirty Job and Coyote Blue enhance the reading pleasure for fans, but a first-time reader may be well-entertained by this novel. Souls of the dead are disappearing in San Francisco, and even stranger things are happening. There’s a banshee having fun trying to marshal forces to act, and the Golden Gate Bridge may never look the same to this reader after ingesting Moore’s spooky images. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Secondhand Souls from

The Fishermen

Folklore. I picked up a copy of Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel, The Fishermen, after it was short listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Obioma draws readers into a Nigerian village in the 1990s and the lives of brothers growing up at that time. A madman predicts tragedy, and the impact of his story on the lives of the brothers provides the action in the novel. I found the prose lyrical, and recommend this novel to any reader who may have in interest in Nigerian life, family dynamics, and the power of belief in our lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fishermen from

The Gap of Time

Winter. Hogarth has initiated a series in which contemporary writers present versions of Shakespeare’s works. The first in the series is by Jeanette Winterson and is titled, The Gap of Time. Based on The Winter’s Tale, I wondered whether Winterson chose that less familiar play because of her name. In any event, while it has been decades since I read the play, I remembered enough to delight in Winterson’s novel. Even readers who don’t know the play will enjoy Winterson’s novel because of her successful development of characters and plot and the brief synopsis she presents of the play. In fewer than three hundred pages, Winterson presents passion, anger, betrayal, child abduction, love and much more using vivid prose that kept me entertained from beginning to end. Readers who like Shakespeare and a ripping good story and those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Gap of Time from

Did You Ever Have a Family

Wedding. I savored so many components of Bill Clegg’s debut novel titled, Did You Ever Have a Family. I enjoyed the absence of a question mark in the title since it caught my attention immediately and made me think. Clegg uses multiple narrators to assemble points of view that reflect a wide range of human behavior, and tease out for a reader a slowly developed understanding of the pivotal action in the novel: a house fire the night before a wedding. I appreciate the tension among multiple characters, insight into small town community, and Clegg’s presentation of the long process of grief and forgiveness. Though finely written restrained prose, Clegg offers insight into how individuals can bear the unbearable. Fans of literary fiction and good writing are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Did You Ever Have a Family from