Friday, January 23, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Suffering. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a novel about pain and suffering as much as I did Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Set mostly during the building of the Thai-Burma death railway in 1943, the novel explores the range of human behavior from good to evil, often in the same characters. Prisoners of war were used as slaves to build the railway, and the scenes Flanagan describes can be difficult to read. Amid the suffering, there is kindness, courage and support. Flanagan reflects on memory, trauma and the ephemeral nature of life, especially through the life of protagonist Dorrigo Evans. Readers who enjoy finely written intelligent fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Narrow Road to the Deep North from

The Peripheral

Future. My patience was strained during the first few dozen pages of William Gibson’s novel titled, The Peripheral. I found myself constantly asking myself: “What’s going on here?” and receiving no clear answer. After I turned off that questioning in my mind, and just kept reading, the pieces came together and I was both entertained and intrigued by this complicated tale of different connected futures. I was delighted by Gibson’s dialogue, and found myself thinking a little more deeply about the consequences of technological change on our humanity. Here’s my advice: pick this book up, start reading a little. If you think you have the patience to keep at, chances are you’ll be richly rewarded. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Peripheral from

The Wallcreeper

Birds. Nell Zink’s debut novel, The Wallcreeper, is good on so many levels. The title refers to a rare bird whose habitat is Central Europe. Protagonists Tiffany and Stephen are rare birds as well: Americans living in Central Europe, unsure of whether the new habitat is suitable. There’s humor and good writing inside the covers of this novel, but like other rare birds, this will not satisfy readers who prefer chicken over other exotic fowl. I’m sure I’m not hip enough to “get” this novel, but I enjoyed the birdwatching experience, thanks mostly to Zink’s writing skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wallcreeper from

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Start. If you’re starting a business, or trying to accelerate the growth of one, reading Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, won’t make the job any easier, but you’ll probably feel better and more motivated to go full steam ahead. As a serial entrepreneur and successful investor, Thiel has the track record to deserve a listening audience for what he has to say. Take a few minutes to hear his perspective, then get back to work. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Zero to One from

The Escape

Treason. The third novel by David Baldacci in his series featuring protagonist John Puller is titled, The Escape. I’ve enjoyed this series more than some of Baldacci’s earlier novels, and I was thoroughly entertained by this exciting story of the brothers Puller, family ties and treason. Packed with details and tension, this novel will appeal to those readers who enjoy thrillers, especially those that seem to come straight from newspaper headlines. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Escape from

Last Days in Shanghai

Schemes. Casey Walker’s debut novel, Last Days in Shanghai, could have gone off the rails at many different places. Walker’s great skill kept me suspending disbelief, staying interested in protagonist Luke Slade, and being regularly amused by the complicated schemes at play as the plot progressed. The ingredients Walker mixes include a congressional junket, Chinese construction projects, corruption, sex and alcohol. Luke faces issues of identity and morality, and by the time the novel ends, I was prepared for the decisions Luke makes. Readers willing to try out a debut novelist should consider reading this novel. I was well-entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Last Days in Shanghai from

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Collaborative. I had an odd thought after I finished reading Walter Isaacson’s fine book titled, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. I wondered how much Isaacson’s point of view was influenced by Elizabeth Warren’s frequent speeches on “you didn’t build that.” It seemed to me that a theme throughout this expansive inventory of the earliest days of computers to the present focuses on the ways in which contemporaries and predecessors collaborated. Each advancement proceeded because of the work done by others. Readers interested in technology or innovation will fine a lot to enjoy from this finely written book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Innovators from


Mind. There are 56 short and shorter connected stories in a new book by Robert Thomas titled, Bridge. Protagonist Alice shares the details of her life with us and the exposure of her troubled mind was the highlight of the book. Packed with wit, insight, and finely written prose, I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. There can seem to be madness inside Alice’s mind, but then she comes out with a line that takes one back to reassess this character. Readers who don’t have a lot of time to read, and want every word to count are those most likely to enjoy this finely written book in which there are no wasted words. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bridge from

The Strange Library

Alone. I read Haruki Murakami’s novel, The Strange Library, in a single sitting. I surrendered myself to Murakami’s dreamlike narrative as I followed a young boy into a library and became beguiled by everything that happened. I almost felt hypnotized by this story, and I felt as alone as the protagonist facing an odd world. Readers who enjoy novels that have an otherworldly dimension to them and who enjoy myths and fables should find pleasure from reading this short book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Strange Library from

Friday, January 16, 2015

Black Vodka

Stories. Fans of finely written short stories will find ten gems in the collection by Deborah Levy titled, Black Vodka. I restricted myself to one story per day, and was rewarded with the pleasure of savoring her perfectly crafted prose over the course of two weeks. Each story finds a way to capture a life or a situation with great efficiency. Levy’s portraits and observations brought me both insight and pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Black Vodka from

The Golden Hour

Deceptions. Readers who enjoy intelligent political thrillers are those most likely to enjoy Todd Moss’ debut novel titled, The Golden Hour. Protagonist Judd Ryker gets to prove his academic theory of crisis intervention when he is appointed as the State Department’s head of a crisis reaction unit. The theory is that during the first hundred hours, a crisis can be turned around. When a coup happens in Mali, Ryker leads the interagency task force to deal with it. Caught up in turf battles, Ryker races to Mali trying to beat the clock and resolve the crisis. The plot moves quickly, the situation is believable and the perspective on politics and infighting realistic. I was entertained from beginning to end and look forward to reading more from Moss, who had worked at the State Department and is now employed at a Washington think tank. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Golden Hour from

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans

Lively. Any reader who recognizes how lively a place New Orleans has been during our own lifetimes will discover that even more excitement was in that place at the turn of the twentieth century after reading Gary Krist’s fine account of that period titled, Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Krist immerses readers into a world of corruption using vivid details to bring that era to life. The characters Krist offers to readers reveal the full range of human behavior, and I found myself engrossed in their exciting lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Empire of Sin from

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

Personal. Readers who love finely written essays will find lots of them in the collection from Meghan Daum titled, The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion. The opening essay, Matricide, captures the personal voice that Daum brings to each essay: a disclosure that couldn’t care less about the judgment of others about her behavior. Some essays are deadly serious and others are hilarious. Each is well-written and contains at least a kernel or two of wisdom. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Unspeakable from

Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America

Thousand. Jonathan Darman revisits the thousand days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and tracks Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan during that time in his book titled, Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America. Both presidents have legacies packed with positive and negative consequences for American life, and one legacy for both involves the myths about them that permeate today’s Democratic and Republican parties. Darman busts some of those myths with his reporting. Darman offers insight into these two dominant personalities, and tells their stories in ways that draw readers into their lives and times. Any reader interested in politics, especially in the last half of the twentieth century, will likely enjoy this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Landslide from


Machines. Readers who like dystopian fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading the latest novel by John Twelve Hawks titled, Spark. Protagonist Jacob Underwood suffered significant injuries in a motorcycle accident, and because of brain trauma he believes he is dead. In the efficient society in which he lives where machines and government exert significant control over life, the absence of a fear of death makes Jacob an ideal assassin. The plot moves quickly and I was well entertained by reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Spark from