Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln

Fathers. It was on Lincoln’s birthday that I finished reading Richard Brookhiser’s book titled, Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln. I find that every book I read about Lincoln can be both interesting and illuminating, and this book provides a lot of both interest and insight. Brookhiser focuses on Lincoln’s perspective that he was a true son of the founding fathers of the United States. Some of his political opponents disagreed and saw themselves as the inheritors of that legacy. Readers who enjoy history and especially that of the nineteenth century in the United States are those most likely to enjoy reading this finely written book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Founder’s Son from amazon.com.

The Boston Girl

Warmth. Readers can feel the warmth of housebound Bostonians in this winter of great snowfall when reading a novel by Anita Diamant titled, The Boston Girl. Protagonist and narrator Addie Baum tells the story of her life to her granddaughter. Spanning most of the twentieth century, Addie’s life has been packed with experience that will delight most readers. I enjoyed the time spent listening to an entertaining account of an interesting life during tumultuous times. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Boston Girl from amazon.com.

The First Bad Man

Uncomfortable. Fiction can introduce readers to characters and situations that are unlike our own experience, and we can become uncomfortable with the unusual. That was my reaction while reading Miranda July’s debut novel titled, The First Bad Man. While the characters and situations were unfamiliar to me, the universal themes resonated, and July’s finely written prose made me enjoy this novel very much. The odd but stable world of protagonist Cheryl Gluckman turns upside down when Clee moves in and a child is born. There’s a love story here that July handles with great skill. I was pleased to overcome my discomfort and enjoy this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The First Bad Man from amazon.com.

The Rosie Effect

Pregnant. Most readers of The Rosie Project will love the sequel by Graeme Simsion titled, The Rosie Effect. Don and Rosie are now married and living in New York City. Rosie is pregnant and she and Don are approaching the birth of a child as fans would expect each character to behave. While the sequel reprises the cast of characters, introduces new ones, and remains funny, the overall tone is more serious in this novel, as Don gets into some serious trouble, and he and Rosie experience true difficulty. New readers to the series may want to read these books in the order written. While the sequel is a little less funny than the first novel, I enjoy these characters so much that the new novel was also a pleasure to read. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Rosie Effect from amazon.com.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Heroines. Civil war buffs are those readers who will relish Karen Abbott’s book titled, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. General readers, especially those who like books that provide fine prose about interesting characters, will also enjoy reading this interesting book. Abbott describes the actives of four courageous women during the Civil War: Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds, Rose O'Neal Greenhow and Elizabeth Van Lew. Belle was a successful spy for the Confederacy. Emma disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union soldier. Rose used her contacts with Northern politicians to send information to Confederate generals, and represented the Confederacy abroad. Elizabeth was a Richmond abolitionist who ran a spy ring under the noses of the enemy. Abbott’s prose draws readers into the stories of these heroic women, and is likely to keep readers interested and engaged. I came away from this book both entertained and informed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Liar Temptress Soldier Spy from amazon.com.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry

Smiles. I cracked more than a few smiles while reading Dave Barry’s latest book titled, Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry. I never laughed out loud, nor did I chuckle, but I found most of the book amusing. The long piece on Russia became a bit tedious, while the letter to his grandson was among the best. For fans of Dave Barry, this book is probably required reading. For any reader looking for a few smiles, there are ample opportunities in this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Live Right from amazon.com.

Black River

Redemption. S.M. Hulse did so many things so well in her novel titled, Black River, that I am blown away that this is a debut novel. Protagonist Wes Carver is a complex character and Hulse presents him with all the appropriate contradictions and consistencies. The Montana setting is presented with descriptive, often lyrical, prose. The relationships are often tense and Hulse gives just enough of the backstory to explain the dynamics. Finally, she offers a story about forgiveness and redemption that will touch many readers deeply. And she accomplishes all this in fewer than 250 pages. Readers who enjoy fiction with well developed complex characters are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Black River from amazon.com.

The Zone of Interest

Character. Martin Amis hasn’t finished with the Holocaust yet. In his novel titled, The Zone of Interest, Amis has a lot going on. He is exploring deep moral questions and concerns. He presents the ordinary presence of evil in everyday life. Into that setting, he presents characters who love and laugh. Individual and group psychosis can be a challenge to examine, and Amis is up for the challenge. He presents readers with the questions that we have to keep asking about the Holocaust. He doesn’t offer answers. His finely written prose will appeal to all thoughtful readers who enjoy literary fiction and who appreciate multiple levels of meaning. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Zone of Interest from amazon.com.

The King's Curse

Dissolution. Readers who have enjoyed The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory are those most likely to enjoy devouring the final 600+ pages of the final book titled, The King’s Curse. The plot is set mostly during the reign of Henry VIII, and we learn about this period from the perspective of the protagonist Margaret Pole, whose life is turned upside down multiple times as she falls out of favor or back in based on the whims of the king and the perceptions of her allegiances. Beyond the dissolution of the monasteries during this period, there was an upheaval in all society as old ways were put to rest and new ways required. Through the perspective of Margaret Pole this period comes to life for any reader interested in historical fiction. I was entertained thoroughly from beginning to end. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The King’s Curse from amazon.com.

Problems with People

Spare. There are ten tightly written wonderful stories in a collection from David Guterson titled, Problems with People. This book will appeal to those readers who admire the skills of a writer who can draw a complete character quickly and efficiently. I enjoyed each story and the ways in which Guterson conveyed insight about our human condition as he presented each character. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Problems with People from amazon.com.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves

Aspiration. I so fell under the spell of Matthew Thomas’ fine writing in his debut novel titled, We Are Not Ourselves, that the six hundred plus pages seemed to go by in an instant. The novel is set in Queens and in suburban New York City, which Thomas presents with clarity and insight. Protagonist Eileen Tumulty Leary was born to Irish immigrant parents in 1941. Thomas exposes Eileen’s strong aspirations as he draws readers into the many ups and downs of contemporary life. Eileen’s husband, Ed, has ambitions that differ from hers, and their son, Connell, may or may not live up to the aspirations of himself and his parents. A fine novel presents the truth of our human condition in ways that draw us into the lives of others to help us understand better the reality of our own lives. I rarely award a top rating to a debut novel, and I often feel that long novels could improve by judicious editing, but this well-written book is one of the finest I’ve read in recent years and I enjoyed reading every page. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase We Are Not Ourselves from amazon.com.

Ticket to Childhood

Reflection. Like a birder adding a new sighting to one’s list, I decided that since I’ve not read any Vietnamese novels, I should try out a popular one titled, Ticket to Childhood, by Nguyen Nhat Anh. I read this novel in a single sitting, and enjoyed the nature of the reflection: finding a way to cross the chasm from adulthood back to childhood. I found the introspective narrator interesting and the reflections poignant. If any of that sounds intriguing to you, read a sample before leaping in. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Ticket to Childhood from amazon.com.

All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid

Character. Readers who enjoy books about politics and politicians are those most likely to enjoy reading a fine book by Matt Bai titled, All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. Bai makes a strong case that American politics changed in a dramatic way the week in 1987 when then-Presidential candidate Gary Hart was whiplashed by the media over allegations of marital infidelity. This was the beginning of a period when images and impressions about character began to trump matters of policy and substance among the electorate. Bai’s writing keeps readers engaged, and his insights into Gary Hart and the complexity of character were solid. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase All the Truth Is Out from amazon.com.

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits

Spunky. Four friends had the notion that there might be readers who would enjoy their take on how to live life well, and they found a publisher. Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret and Sophie Max offer their views in a book titled, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits. I thought reading this book would be a pleasure before my next trip to Paris, so I read it to the end and didn’t like it one bit. While I found it spunky, and sometimes witty, I found it to be so self-absorbed that I didn’t like it. Read an excerpt to see if this style is something you’ll enjoy. Rating: Two-star (I didn’t like it) Click here to purchase How to Be Parisian from amazon.com.

Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America

Personal. Former New York Times opinion columnist Bob Herbert, has written about contemporary important issues in his book titled, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. He brings big issues closer to home by using individuals and their stories to support his message. I form my public policy viewpoints from a foundation of values and principles, and then adjust when I gain understanding from particular situations. The people and stories Herbert presents in this finely written book helped me think about some issues more clearly. Readers interested in public policy are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Losing Our Way from amazon.com.