Tuesday, December 20, 2016
We Are Unprepared while you are sitting at home awaiting the arrival of a superstorm. We usually want fiction to take us away from our own reality, and that’s exactly what Reilly did for me when I read this novel at home under fair skies. A young couple, Pia and Ash, have moved from Brooklyn to a small Vermont town in a quest for a simpler life with greater contact with the land and more self-reliance. Forecasts of a superstorm have divided the community into the preppers who are hunkering down individually and authorities who want to shore up community defenses. Pia joins the preppers and Ash the authorities. Reilly uses the tension of the coming storm to drive the plot while she closely examines the psychological issues at play and explores the relationship between Pia and Ash. Reilly unveils all the ways in which we can be unprepared for what life brings, and readers who enjoy literary fiction and are willing to try out a debut novel are those most likely to appreciate this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We Are Unprepared from amazon.com.
Pirate, and, spoiler alert: there is treasure involved. As fans can safely assume, the Fargos travel to multiple locations, and face a formidable foe in the search for treasure. If you have any doubt about who gets the treasure, you’ve never read a novel in this series. Readers who enjoy action novels that lead toward good feelings by the end are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Pirate from amazon.com.
Why the Right Went Wrong. I read this book before the completion of the 2016 election and am writing this review after Donald J. Trump was elected. Dionne offers readers a clear presentation of his interpretation of the past fifty years. Chances are, in light of the 2016 results, he might want to reconsider the “beyond” portion of his book. Readers interested in politics and open to multiple points of view are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why the Right Went Wrong from amazon.com.
Click here to purchase Here Comes the Sun from amazon.com.
Angel Catbird Volume One was written by Atwood, and the beautiful illustrations are by Johnnie Christmas. Funny and serious at the same time as Atwood can often be, I found the footnotes the perfect touch to address the serious side of this work. I expected a graphic novel to be longer, and found this volume to be closer to my recollection of some comic books from my youth. I loved the story, and am now likely to keep reading the series as additional volumes are produced. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Angel Catbird from amazon.com.
The Adventurist. Protagonist Henry Hurt is an alienated and lonely software engineer prone to great introspection as he grieves the death of his mother. Hipps’ prose is carefully constructed, and his word choices exquisite. There’s psychological insight on these pages, as we get to look beneath an outer monotonous life to see an active and vibrant inner life. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Adventurist from amazon.com.
White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World. In this interesting book of essays, Dyer explores interesting places, and reflects on what makes them what they are. He offers images that convey a unique sense of place, and correlates those to memories that have stayed with him for decades. When we step outside ourselves and our familiar places, we can ask questions different from our normal awareness. In other words, stepping outside can answer larger, inside, important questions about life and meaning. See how Dyer does it, and think about how you could do the same. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase White Sands from amazon.com.
Wedding Cake Murder. Hannah’s ready to marry Ross Barton and that excitement is enhanced by her participation in a cooking show in New York City and Lake Eden. Fluke reprises the full cast of characters, includes loads of new recipes, and plants a great murder for Joanna to solve. While formulaic and predictable, the series is wholesome entertainment and the recipes are mouth-watering. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Wedding Cake Murder from amazon.com.
My Documents, display a wide range of writing skills and exploration of our human condition. Some are funny, others grave, some hopeful, and others full of disillusionment. This Chilean writer has great skill and a unique voice. Any reader who enjoys short stories and has not read his work should consider reading this fine collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Documents from amazon.com.
Cat Out of Hell. Cat lovers will find even more reasons to purr and will jot down quotes from the novel. Cat haters will find lots of support for a thesis that all cats are from a special place in hell Any reader will find something to smile about, laugh at, or purr over, on the pages of this witty novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cat Out of Hell from amazon.com.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Reputations, especially when he is compelled to remember his past and reevaluate its meaning. Javier Mallinaro has spent decades as a political cartoonist whose drawings wielded great power in Colombia. Once he begins to examine his past more closely, and think about whether his drawings represent the truth he has thought it did, he uncovers disturbing things. Vasquez delves into the effects of deep questioning in this novel and the impact of the past on the present especially the reliability of memory, drawing readers into pondering what is real and what is illusory. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Reputations from amazon.com.
The Sympathizer, I understand why it won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This novel is like a piece of music in which each part contributes a unique element to the whole, and the result is a complexity and harmony that should resonate for most readers. This is a presentation of the Vietnam War from the point of view of a Vietnamese American in which all parties are held accountable. Nguyen presents love and betrayal alongside the defining elements of identity that provides the core theme for the novel. The pleasure of reading a digital version of this work is that I was able to search and discover that Nguyen uses the phrase “crapulent major” seventy six times, and “affectless lieutenant” twenty three times. That repetition became an example for me of the comparison to music: the phrases provided an expected and harmonious rhythm that I came to anticipate as the novel progressed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Sympathizer from amazon.com.
Conclave, entertained me from beginning to end for several reasons. Harris ignores the external images of the conclave process being a somber and deliberative ritual and brings us into the messy human behavior of flawed people, just like us, who are at the conclave and just happen to be cardinals. Harris shows the political jockeying for votes, the regional and doctrinal factions, and some personal issues from the past of these very fallible cardinals who are striving to become Pope. As the balloting went on over many days, I couldn’t put the novel aside because I was so interested in seeing how Harris would wrap things up, especially in what would happen with the surprise cardinal who arrived at the conclave unknown and unexpected. I was delighted by the ending, and entertained throughout. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Conclave from amazon.com.
The Mothers. We meet Nadia, Luke and Aubrey as teens and stay with them for about a decade. Bennett links them to a church community and the mothers of that church provide a motif for how the community reflects on what behaviors are observed. The abundance of mothers in the book and the different forms of mothering call attention to a variety of decisions that are made, some of which lead to deep and lasting regret. Having set the relationship trio as the plot structure for the book, Bennett uses her skills at writing fine prose to keep readers engaged and thinking about these interesting characters and the long-term consequences of youthful decisions. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mothers from amazon.com.
The Rains. Aliens hitchhike on asteroids, land on earth, implant themselves in human shells and begin to invade and occupy Earth and all its inhabitants. A remnant of children survives and Hurwitz develops the plot using their survival as momentum. What’s not to like? For those squeamish readers when it comes to violence and gore, there may be too many pages packed with description meant to forestall any semblance of comfortable sleep at night. For readers who like this genre that it targeted to young readers, there’s some good writing to enjoy in this novel and an exciting story that is just getting started. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Rains from amazon.com.
Friday, December 9, 2016
No Man’s Land, made my eyes roll often. While Baldacci uses dialogue to contribute to exposition, he doesn’t seem to have an ear for the way people really talk. For readers and fans who can set that aside, this action-packed novel will provide a lot of escapist pleasure. There’s a Puller family story at the core of the novel, and a character, Paul Rogers, who has been the subject of a government program gone awry. Rogers’ body and mind were configured as weapons. Uncovering the who and why behind that as well as the Puller family connection, occupy over four hundred meandering pages. Readers who like this author and this series are those most likely to appreciate this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase No Man’s Land from amazon.com.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II, is the script of a play set two decades after the last novel. Harry’s son, Albus, is at Hogwarts, and the play delves into the theme of parents and children, while using the structure of time to move the action. I liked it well enough for what it is: something different in form, structure and time period. I didn’t hate it much for what it isn’t: a big sprawling novel that absorbs one’s total attention like the earlier installments, a book I might have enjoyed more than this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Harry Potter and the Cursed Child from amazon.com.
The Language of Secrets. It’s not often that poetry becomes a key component of a crime novel, but that’s the case in this Canadian detective procedural. Khan continues to develop the characters of these interesting and complex protagonists. The plot pacing will please most readers, and the subject matter is serious and thoughtfully presented. Readers who enjoy intelligent crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Language of Secrets from amazon.com.
Sorrow Road. Fans of the series will enjoy the reprisal of familiar characters, but may find a little less of Bell in this installment than in earlier novels. Keller covers that void with a plot covering two time periods and a broad exploration of the issues of memory and remembrance. Set as always in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, the location comes alive thanks to Keller’s descriptive language. Readers who like mysteries are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel and this series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok like it) Click here to purchase Sorrow Road from amazon.com.
The Eastern Shore. First, he presents readers with a deeply drawn character study of protagonist Ned Ayres, a longtime editor. Second, he sets the contemporary action in a home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and that place provides a physical manifestation of Ned’s inner life. Finally, Just explores the complex issue of privacy, especially in the context of journalism. A formative event in Ned’s early work life relating to privacy has been on his mind for decades, and Just dissects that expertly. That Just achieves this balance in about two hundred pages brought me great reading pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Eastern Shore from amazon.com.
Friday, December 2, 2016
Christmas Caramel Murder. More of a novella that a whole new installment, this book does a flashback from the 19th novel, and contains even fewer recipes than earlier novels. I’ve been entertained by earlier novels in this series because the characters and plot always lead to good feelings, no matter that there’s a murder at the center of the story. Diehard fans will love this novel, but new readers might want to start elsewhere for a full serving of this sweet series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Christmas Caramel Murder from amazon.com.
The Girls. Set in 1960s California, the novel takes an intense look at the relationships among young women in a cult based largely on what we came to think of as the Manson family. I realized that I was sated by too much of a good thing. Emma Cline’s prose is so finely structured that I was receiving it as overwrought and would get tired reading good sentence after good sentence. There was a level of detail and a degree of intensity that I appreciated on many pages, but certainly not on every page. I found myself putting the novel aside to read something a bit less intense and with prose that flowed a bit more smoothly. Readers who appreciate carefully constructed literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Girls from amazon.com.
The North Water, made me shiver for many reasons. The action takes place on a whaling ship heading to the Artic in the 1850s, so the physical setting is frigid. The characters present dark and cold elements from a captain considered unlucky by his crew, to a murderer, to a surgeon brooding over his past. McGuire matches his prose to the setting and the characters: sharp, bitter cold, penetrating language. There’s no nostalgia for the good old days of some idealized past as we find in much historical fiction. McGuire presents a harsh time with hard people fighting for survival. On deeper levels, McGuire injects a notion of resurrection that I found was a pathway to escape the cold and darkness facing readers on every page. Fans of finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this well-crafted novel. A huge bonus was the suspense in the plot which made my heart beat faster, and warm me from the coldness of the page. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The North Water from amazon.com.
Another Brooklyn, may not identify with the experience of coming of age in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction will identify with, enjoy and appreciate the quality of Woodson’s lyrical prose. I may have read too many books this year about female friendship, but the prose in this novel sets it apart and I recommend it to any reader of fine fiction, whether interested in Brooklyn or not. Where you live is very likely to be another Brooklyn, and reading this novel may help you know that. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Another Brooklyn from amazon.com.
The Devils of Cardona. Carr presents lots of characters who he places in a complex plot set in the late 16th century in Spain. With the Inquisition as the backdrop, what’s not to like? Protagonist Bernardo Mendoza is a royal prosecutor and his investigation into the murder of a corrupt priest provides the core of the action. I was highly entertained by this novel, especially the scope of the intrigue that Carr examines without letting up on the plot momentum. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Devils of Cardona from amazon.com.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
The Terranauts. As Boyle has done in earlier novels, in this book he places fully developed complex characters in closely confined situations and lets them reveal the full range of human behavior. The confinement plot for this novel involves Ecosphere 2, a three-acre sealed biosphere assembled in the Arizona desert in which four men and four women are living for two years under the watchful eyes of mission control. Boyle studied the reports of Biosphere 2, the closed system experiment in the early 1990s, and incorporated many elements of the actual experiment in his novel. The prose is exquisite, both in its descriptive language, perfect word choice, and lively dialogue. The depth of insight here into human nature will delight many readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Terranauts from amazon.com.
The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense by Daniel Menaker, and laughed again while viewing Roz Chast’s illustrations for the book. Linguistic errors give editors plenty of work to do, and a respite from that chore can be the delight found in the error that works. Any reader who loves words, especially the carefully chosen perfect ones, will find dozens of new darlings to love in this book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The African Svelte from amazon.com.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye. The plot alternates between two story lines. In one line, Harry is working as a private detective and has been retained by a billionaire to find an heir. In another line, Harry’s part-time work as an unpaid detective for the San Fernando PD uses all his skills to track down a serial rapist. Connelly continues to develop Harry and uses this novel to connect the Bosch of today back to his experiences in Vietnam. Both plot lines were entertaining and the mature Bosch gets better with every installment. Fans will be thrilled with the latest novel, and any new reader can start here and find a whole new series to love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wrong Side of Goodbye from amazon.com.
The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear. For some readers, politics may be the last topic for a book to consider picking up, especially fiction. Brave readers with an appetite for political humor are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this novel. I loved the dialogue, the colorful characters and the lengths to which those characters would go to win a political campaign. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear from amazon.com.
The Shattered Tree. Set in 1918, Bess is wounded while tending to soldiers on a battlefield in France. She is sent to Paris to recuperate. Instead of resting, Bess investigates something that has been bugging her since shortly before her injury. An officer arrived on a stretcher at her aid station, exhausted and with multiple wounds, wearing a tattered French uniform. When he talked in his sleep, the language he spoke was German. With the help of an American officer in Paris, Bess tries to find the mysterious wounded officer to find out his story and if he might be a spy. Fans of historical mystery novels and of this series are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Shattered Tree from amazon.com.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Razor Girl, protagonist Merry Mansfield has a specialty as well: her expertise is the unique way in which she performs a car crash scam using a razor. As in earlier novels, Hiaasen packs the action with hilarious escapades by a large cast of unusual characters. Even the huge rats are funny in this novel. Every character seems to specialize in trying to get something, and over the course of the novel, each one gets what he or she deserves. Readers who are looking for something to read with offbeat and ribald humor are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Razor Girl from amazon.com.
Loner. Narrator and protagonist David Federman introduces himself to readers as a gifted outsider on the brink of becoming accepted by his peers at Harvard. Over the course of just over two hundred pages, Wayne takes us inside David’s mind as his infatuation with another student becomes an obsession. Privilege, class, gender, alienation and inclusion are all explored with great skill and nuance. Readers who enjoy well-written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Loner from amazon.com.
The World According to Star Wars. An unabashed Star Wars fanboy, Sunstein is better known as a Harvard law school professor. With enthusiastic glee, Sunstein shares his love of Star Wars with readers in areas that resonate for him, including: law, economics, fatherhood and childhood. He prods readers into viewing the movies again, even the ones we didn’t like the first time around. His enthusiasm is contagious, but another dozen or two pages might have crossed the line for me. Readers looking for something light and fun to read should consider this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The World According to Star Wars from amazon.com.
The Argonauts, she takes a critical look at marriage, gender and child-rearing, while reflecting on these and others issues as they have played out in her own life. This blend of memoir and criticism, combined with her writing skill and thoughtfulness, offer readers a unique voice and insight into issues and a personality that may be different from one’s own experiences. The time I spent reading this short book led me to think about issues and people in new ways. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Argonauts from amazon.com.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, as well as the other three novels that complete the series about the friendship between two fascinating female characters. In this installment, set in the 1970s, the friends are no longer girls and adolescents, and as women they are taking different paths in life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Those Who Leave from amazon.com.
The Whistler, is a doozie. I found a lot to like in this novel: interesting characters, a complicated and fast-paced plot, and minimal moralizing by Grisham. Readers who like a good story that features a battle between the good guys and the bad guys are those most likely to enjoy reading this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Whistler from amazon.com.
Home. The thrilling pace of the novel starts on the first page and remains taut until resolution comes four hundred pages later. Two boys went missing a decade ago, and the novel explores what happened back then, and what needs to happen now to bring the boys home. Readers who love thrillers, especially those with well-developed characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Home from amazon.com.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter may overpower some readers. So why read a novel like this? Slaughter tells a great story that will engage most readers from beginning to end. Her character development is terrific, especially when it comes to the profile of a psychopath. You may be disturbed or shocked or sickened by parts of this book, but chances are you will be held captive to the story until the end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Pretty Girls from amazon.com.
Blood on Snow, but those who like Nesbo’s depth of character development will love the narrator, assassin Olav Johansen. Olav works for crime boss Daniel Hoffman, a cold and ruthless character. After finishing one assignment, Olav is placed in personal jeopardy by the next case he’s assigned by Hoffman. Nesbo handles the tension expertly, and many readers who like crime fiction will enjoy this short novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Blood on Snow from amazon.com.
Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes: Stories, this is a first English translation of a debut collection published in Norway in 1987. Petterson unveils the complex thoughts of a ten-year-old boy with all the delight and confusion and freshness of youth. I enjoyed each of the ten stories and expect that readers who enjoy both Petterson and the short story genre will find a lot to enjoy from these pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ashes in My Mouth from amazon.com.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Eileen, sit in my reading queue for a long time. I heard it was a dark story, and I kept choosing other things to read, especially on cloudy days. Once I started reading the novel, I gave myself over to Moshfegh’s great talent, and I was impressed and delighted by the fine writing and great skill in presenting a memorable character in her 70s reflecting on formative events fifty years earlier. Readers are drawn into Eileen’s mind. The descriptions of Eileen’s life with her alcoholic father were very hard to read. There’s a twist that surprised me and pushed the novel to a higher plane. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it. Fans of finely written literary fiction, especially those with a high tolerance for reading about abuse are those most likely to appreciate this outstanding novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Eileen from amazon.com.
Lady Cop Makes Trouble. The novel is set in New Jersey and New York City in 1915, and you may guess from the title that Constance is the lady cop who makes trouble. Characters, plot, setting and dialogue all combine to provide readers who like crime fiction with good entertainment. I may have to keep reading this series now that I’ve fallen in love with Constance Kopp. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lady Cop Makes Trouble from amazon.com.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Readers who love literary fiction, especially short stories, are those most likely to appreciate each finely written story in this collection. Oyeyemi structures the stories with great skill, and uses many different forms of keys to unlock the essence of the story from the inside and the outside. I paced myself in reading these stories over several weeks, and I savored each one. Oyeyemi uses great efficiency in drawing readers into the setting, the progression of the plot and in developing complex characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase What Is Not Yours from amazon.com.
The Last Days of New Paris. Mieville sets the novel in Paris during and after World War II, and in his alternative reality, the Nazis are fighting Surrealist phantoms. Some of the demons seem to be real ones straight from hell. Perhaps because I don’t care for surrealism in two dimensions, I can’t appreciate the art when presented in three dimensions. I stuck to the end of this novel for two reasons: it’s brief and I was impressed by the creativity and interesting writing. Readers with a greater appreciation of art than mine are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Last Days of New Paris from amazon.com.
Hag-Seed. Every few pages I kept thinking about how clever she was and how her structure and prose were perfect. Atwood’s Prospero is a theater director who was forced out of his job. He rebounds by assuming a pseudonym and working in a literacy program at a local prison. Atwood gives just the right homage to the play and makes the story her own in ways that entertained me greatly. Readers who enjoy finely written fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Hag-seed from amazon.com.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
True Grift, I kept thinking that the characters were like those in Carl Hiaasen’s Florida novels only relocated to California. A bankrupt shady lawyer meets an insurance company employee at a golf club, and they concoct a scheme to defraud the insurance company. What could possibly go wrong, especially when they use the hapless workers at the golf club to enact the scheme, and then borrow some money from a mob loan shark at the club? I found the implausible story hilarious, the characters zany, and the novel wildly entertaining. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase True Grift from amazon.com.
Before the Fall. The action begins with a dramatic crash of a small plane, and the heroic action of protagonist Scott Burroughs to swim a long distance with a four-year old passenger, saving their lives. Scott is a painter whose presence on the plane was a fluke. The backstory of the other passengers made for interesting exposition, and including a larger than life cable news personality added to the dramatic tension. Hawley also uses the story as a way to reflect on mortality, and I thought the title could also refer to life in the Garden of Eden. Wealthy people, shady dealings, 24-hour news, and a mystery of why the plane crashed combine to produce an exciting story that’s quick to read. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Before the Fall from amazon.com.
Pierced by the Sun. We get to know about protagonist Lupita in chapters telling us something interesting about her. Esquivel presents Lupita in many dimensions: past struggles and current challenges. The setting also provides a context to think about the struggles of Mexico and its people, also in need of hope and redemption. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Pierced by the Sun from amazon.com.
Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennet family live in a big old neglected house in Cincinnati. Liz is a magazine writer living in New York City. Chip Bingley is a Cincinnati physician who had appeared on a bachelor reality television show named Eligible, and his claim to fame is that he rejected all potential mates. Mr. Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Sittenfeld loves Austen enough to be true to the core of the original, and is clever enough to make her retelling seem fresh and new. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, if you like a good story that’s well-written, consider spending a few fun hours reading this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Eligible from amazon.com.
Front Runner. The plot gets underway swiftly when a successful jockey wants to discuss with Jeff the touchy matter of losing races deliberately. Before long, Jeff’s life is in jeopardy as he tries to probe what some greedy individuals might be doing to harm horseracing. Fans of the Francis family franchise of novels involving horseracing are those most likely to enjoy this novel and others in the series. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Front Runner from amazon.com.