Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Buried Giant

Mist. I had to catch myself while reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, The Buried Giant. I would keep pausing to ask myself what he was getting at, and what was really going on. Once I surrendered myself to his prose, I found I enjoyed this novel immensely. After finishing it, I am asking myself many reflective questions. Where have we really come from? Have we forgotten what made us who we are? Has a mist clouded over our eyes so that we don’t see our world as it really is? Along with these characters, what is the nature of our journey? Can we count on memory? If reading a finely written literary novel that leads you to these questions and others sounds like something you’d like, by all means surrender yourself to this novel. I’m glad I did. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Buried Giant from

The Big Seven

Violence. Jim Harrison riffs on violence in his novel titled, The Big Seven. Harrison reprises retired police detective Sunderson and alternates between the rampant violence in the family of Sunderson’s Upper Peninsula neighbors and the violent actions of Sunderson. Harrison’s prose is so finely constructed that what might seem offhand has been carefully created and made to seem effortless. While Harrison contrasts Sunderson with the violent Ames family, he carefully leads readers to seeing all the similarities as important and all the differences as irrelevant. If reading about the deadly sins is your cup of tea, there’s plenty to steep and enjoy in this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Big Seven from

Florence Gordon

Funny. I don’t think Brian Morton could have chosen any title other than Florence Gordon for his new novel, since it is all about her. This seventy-five year old knows her own mind, and speaks bluntly to any listener within earshot, filtering not a single syllable out of tact. Florence Gordon is an academic and an icon among feminists. She does not suffer fools gladly. I laughed often at her acerbic dialogue. I can’t recall another novel with such a strong female protagonist of this age. Morton offers readers deep understanding about aspects of human behavior and the wisdom of those who have lived life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Florence Gordon from

Twelve Days

Countdown. I felt that I had read Alex Berenson’s novel, Twelve Days, before. Not only because of the reprised protagonist, John Wells, but because the plot seemed familiar. Maybe John Wells didn’t save the world from this particular crisis before, but he’s the hero again, in the nick of time. No spoiler in that statement: this is the genre of character-based thrillers. How could it go any other way? Ripped from the headlines, the crisis du jour for John Wells involves an imminent American attack on Iran. Could it be that America is being duped? Can John Wells get to the bottom of this in time to avert the crisis? Fans of action thrillers and larger than life protagonists are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Twelve Days from

All the Old Knives

Spies. Two complex characters in Olen Steinhauer’s novel titled, All the Old Knives, are haunted by a past event. The event involved terrorism at the Vienna airport in which over a hundred people died. The characters are spies and new allegations of a CIA mole lead Henry Pelham to interview people in the know. Celia Favreau left the CIA and when Henry, her former lover, interviews her, she is ready. Steinhauer develops these characters with great care, presents the plot with just the right pacing, and leaves readers with an ending that perfectly fits all that has gone before. Fans of spy fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase All the Old Knives from

Hush Hush

Motherhood. Protagonist and private detective Tess Monaghan is not the working mom who has everything tuned to perfection. Her three-year-old daughter, Carla Scout, is both precious and precocious. Tess’ latest case in the novel titled, Hush Hush, causes her to face a woman who killed her own child. The plot is complicated, and for me, Tess seemed off her game throughout this novel. The backdrop of Baltimore remains rich in this novel, but Tess seemed to be more energized during a quick trip to New York City than in her normal life. Maybe it was the illusion of being “off duty” as a mom, even for a short while. That illusion is, of course, broken. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this book. I found others in the series to be more entertaining than this one. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Hush Hush from

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

Contrasts. Economics can make for dismal reading, and sociology can be tedious. Readers who are apprehensive about a book that combines both can relax and enjoy Robert Putnam’s fine writing in his book titled, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Putnam brings to life the inequality in American society through his presentation of data and the personal stories that he injects into the text, including his own life. The combination of data and anecdote can nudge a reader toward Putnam’s own conclusions. Whether one agrees with him or not, this well-written book presents the inequality challenge for every reader’s consideration and reflection. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Our Kids from

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers

Heart. The baker’s dozen cast of characters from Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series are back, led by Bertie Pollock, in a book titled, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers. Serialized in The Scotsman, these short episodes are assembled into books on a regular basis. The big hearts of so many of the characters run through this collection of installments. There’s kindness and love and caring going on amid the routine challenges of life. Those characters who seem to make the lives of others more difficult than is necessary play their roles here, and they can’t drag down the progress of those with heart. Any reader who wants to be uplifted by a feel-good novel that showcases the better parts of human nature and helps us laugh at the lesser parts will likely enjoy this book and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers from

The Assassin

Plot. The winning formula for Clive Cussler novels usually contain three elements: strong characters who behave with consistency; a fast-paced plot; and technical or historical accuracy that adds interesting detail. Until reading the latest novel in the Isaac Bell series titled, The Assassin, I found that formula in almost all of Cussler’s novels, and I could count on some reliable reading entertainment from the combination of those elements. In this novel, I found the Isaac Bell character to seem flat despite his escapades. Other characters, especially John D. Rockefeller in this novel, were developed so narrowly or inadequately that they came across as caricature. The plot here was well-paced, and the historical details were interesting, but the weak character development made this a less entertaining novel for me than previous books in this series and in the others from the Cussler franchise. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Assassin from

Funny Girl

Sixties. Nick Hornby gets certain elements exactly right in his novel titled, Funny Girl. First, when describing life in England during the 1960s, he seems to capture a wide range of how much in the society changed during that decade and he uses the transformation in selected characters to reinforce the overall changes. Second, his dialogue always advanced the plot and developed the characters. Finally, the flaws in his characters and their foibles made for great humor, while never coming across as judgmental or nasty. Protagonist Sophie Straw is a memorable and complex character who epitomizes the transformation in the positions of women during that time. The creative talent in every era can bring focused attention to what is really going on in the world. Hornby kept me interested and engaged in the lives of these characters and I loved reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Funny Girl from

The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement

Resourceful. I think the first time I heard the word “beguine,” it was in hearing Cole Porter’s song, “Begin the Beguine.” His reference was to a popular dance in the 1930s, which became even more popular after his terrific song. In 2013, I read a newspaper article about the death of last beguine. So, when I ran across Laura Swan’s book titled, The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement, I picked it up and started to hum the Porter tune. I stopped humming after a page or two and was delighted to read about these resourceful women who gathered in community from medieval times into the 21st century. Spoiler alert: these women were not dancers and they were not nuns. They were laywomen who banded together for their mutual support and for service to their communities. There hasn’t been enough accurate examination about the lives of women in society throughout history, since so much of contemporaneous history has been written by men. Any reader interested in learning something new about interesting women should consider reading this fascinating book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wisdom of the Beguines from

Munich Airport

Examination. The first person narrator of Greg Baxter’s finely written novel titled, Munich Airport, grieves the death of his sister, laments the decline of his elderly father and ruminates about his own life. The psychological problems among the characters in this novel are more than enough for any family. What redeems the gloomy subject is Baxter’s fine writing, and the ways in which he captures the process of introspection and self-examination. Fans of literary fiction will enjoy this prose, and those readers who like psychological fiction will spend much time reflecting about the lives of these characters. By setting the action in an airport, Baxter highlights the existential loneliness that can be felt while physically present with many other people. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Munich Airport from

Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement

Feisty. Labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan has written a feisty and cogent book titled, Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement. Few readers will agree with his argument in whole, but his presentation of the argument about the need for a new labor movement is worth reading by any citizen, manager or worker. Geoghegan’s views are firmly held and are informed by his life experience, especially with the clients he’s represented. I laughed and winced at the cases he describes, and I enjoyed the clarity of his prose and the convictions he presents with passion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Only One Thing Can Save Us from

Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty

Idiosyncratic. There may be a perfect audience for Vikram Chandra’s book titled, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty. I thought I was in that audience, but if am, it’s in the standing room only area at the back. Despite effort, I’m just not geeky enough to “get it.” Chandra is both a fine writer and a good computer programmer. When he writes about coding, I could almost understand the artistry and beauty he described. Other readers who know more about coding might understand. Lacking understanding, I got the geek, but never the sublime. I suggest reading a sample before you decide if you’re a member of the audience for this idiosyncratic book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Geek Sublime from

Spoiled Brats

Clever. The clever, funny and imaginative stories in a collection by Simon Rich titled, Spoiled Brats, kept me amused and entertained from beginning to end. Rich observes our contemporary behavior closely and draws the humor out of our self-absorption. Any reader who needs a good laugh should pick up this collection and read any or all of the humorous stories by this very talented writer. I laughed a lot as I enjoyed and admired Rich’s creativity. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Spoiled Brats from