Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Column of FIre

Kingsbridge. I spent about ten glorious days reading the nine hundred pages of Ken Follett’s novel titled, A Column of Fire. Set mostly in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, the cathedral town that Follett built and developed in earlier novels, the action in the new novel takes place in Elizabethan times, and focuses on the turbulence of that period especially with religious persecution. The novel takes readers into the violence and turmoil of that time through the ups and downs in the life of protagonist Ned Willard and a wide cast of interesting characters, some fictional and others real. Follett shifts the action often to the continent or the high seas, covering all the main issues and conflicts of the 16th century, keeping readers anxious to find out what happens next. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase A Column of Fire from amazon.com.

The World of Tomorrow

Brothers. The action in Brendan Matthews debut novel titled, The World of Tomorrow, unfolds over one week in New York City in 1939. I often become impatient with novels over three hundred pages or so, and Matthews never once tested that patience as he kept me captivated for almost six hundred pages. Two brothers flee Ireland with stolen IRA funds, assume fake identities, and arrive in New York City spending the loot lavishly. Their brother, a talented jazz musician, was already in New York. Matthews led me to care deeply about these well-developed characters and a larger interesting cast, while he poked into issues of family relationships, race relations, political power, crime and the shadow of Hitler. The prose is finely written, the story captivating and the underlying human behavior resonant. This is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in years. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The World of Tomorrow from amazon.com.

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions

Politics. The third novel in the Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart is titled, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. Deputy Sheriff Constance Kopp has gotten a gold badge to signify her role, and she continues to listen to the concerns of the women under her custodial care. Many women have been sent to jail without good cause, and Constance fights for them in a variety of ways in this novel. Political machinations are afoot, and the Sheriff can’t run for another term. Stewart explores a variety of views about the behavior of young women, and sisters Constance and Norma face the need to update their views when their sister Fleurette joins a Vaudeville troupe. Stewart bases this series on the lives of real people, and she captures with great skill their experience and life in New Jersey in the early 20th century. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions from amazon.com.

Breaking Cover

Infiltration. Spy novel fans are those readers most likely to applaud the return of protagonist Liz Carlyle in the latest novel by former MI-5 head Stella Rimington titled, Breaking Cover. As with the earlier novels in this series, the characters are well-developed and the plot proceeds at a stately and engaging pace. In this installment, Liz gets information that certain undercover Russian spies in England post a clear and imminent risk to security. I was entertained and well-satisfied by this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Breaking Cover from amazon.com.

Beautiful Animals

Hydra. Using finely written prose, Lawrence Osborne thrilled me with the contrasts he draws in a novel titled, Beautiful Animals. The novel is set mostly during a summer on the Greek island, Hydra, and protagonist Naomi Codrington is both beautiful and animal. When she sets out do something she sees as good for a Syrian migrant, bad things follow. Under the brightness of the summer sun there is darkness. After developing a friendship with a young American girl named Sam, Naomi proceeds to manipulate her. The serpents on Hydra are humans, not snakes, and thanks to Osborne, we see the contrasts in a wide range of human behavior. Readers who like psychological thrillers especially when there’s a moral tilt, are those most likely to enjoy this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beautiful Animals from amazon.com.

Monday, September 25, 2017

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

Empathy. Readers looking for a few good ideas about improving communications are those most likely to enjoy reading Alan Alda’s book titled, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. Alda tells great stories in this book, including personal anecdotes to reinforce the different ways in which we can improve the ways in which we relate to others. The core idea involves empathy, and the different ways in which we can improve our skills at listening to others and seeing things from their point of view. Since this is Alan Alda after all, there’s ample humor in the book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If I Understood You from amazon.com.

The Heart's Invisible Furies

Adopted. The protagonist of John Boyne’s novel titled, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, is Cecil Avery, but as his adopted father always says, he’s not a real Avery. He is an Irish everyman for the sweeping period of the last sixty or seventy years. While there are some gimmicks and schmaltz over the almost six hundred pages of the novel, mostly in the form of chance encounters, the issues that Boyne presents about identity, friendship and family are dealt with through finely written prose. Boyne tells an absorbing story with great skill, using repartee in dialogue and humor that sits alongside tragedy as it does in every life. Every character is drawn with the depth of complexity that is true to life, although the women tend to be far more candid and honest than the men. Whether any part of your identity aligns with Cecil and the other characters, there is depth in this book about human nature and the power of love and redemption. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Heart’s Invisible Furies from amazon.com.

The Golden House

Current. There’s whimsy and wit throughout Salman Rushdie’s novel titled, The Golden House. Set from about 2009 to the present, the protagonist Nero Golden is a fascinating international wealthy character, and he, his wife, his three sons move to an exclusive enclave in New York City in grand style. Rushdie riffs on contemporary life on one page and explores the history of cinema on the next page. He makes the Goldens mysterious and then explains everything through their backstory. Along the way, the prose is beautiful, the humor entertaining, and the entertainment delightful. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Golden House from amazon.com.

Sulfur Springs

Arizona. The action in the sixteenth novel in the Cork O’Connor mystery series by William Kent Kruger moves from the familiar home base in Minnesota to rural Arizona. In the novel titled, Sulfur Springs, Cork and his new bride Rainy Bisonette fly in haste to Arizona after she receives a hard-to-interpret message from her son Peter about a murder. Fans of the series will enjoy the well-developed characters, great storytelling, and a good mystery. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sulfur Springs from amazon.com.

Stephen Florida

Winning. After I finished racing through Gabe Habash’s novel titled, Stephen Florida, the one word that came to mind was “wow.” The first-person narrator, Stephen, is a college wrestler and the novel is set mostly in the final season of senior year that culminates in a championship match. Habash’s finely written prose draws readers into the complicated and troubled mind of Stephen as he focuses obsessively on winning. What appears on one level to be a common coming of age story shifts to a study of a person’s descent into madness. At another level, it is a story of loneliness and love. On one level this is a character study of a loner; on another level, it as an exposition of the complexity and depth inside each of us. On one page Stephen is a jerk and on the next page Stephen is you and me. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Stephen Florida from amazon.com.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Culture. Lots of readers will love the many things that Robin Sloan does so well in his novel titled, Sourdough. Techies will love protagonist Lois Clary, a software engineer specializing in robotics who is recruited from Detroit to San Francisco. Foodies will love the ways in which Lois becomes enamored by the mysteries of bread baking and what happens after she joins an elite farmers market. Bakers will recognize her relationship with the sourdough starter, the culture that she was given by two brothers who cooked great food and bread out of their apartment in her SF neighborhood. People who have moved from one part of the country to another will love the experience of Lois as she finds her place in a new setting. The Lois club introduces her to other women named Lois which was a great laugh. By assembling all those ingredients together, Sloan makes readers care about Lois, about good bread, and about all that it takes to maintain culture in its many forms. This reader loved the fine prose, creative plot and engaging characters. After reading it, I bought some fresh bread at the farmers market. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Sourdough from amazon.com.

The Burning Girl

Friendship. Some long-term friendships endure and others dissolve. Claire Messud explores the friendship between Julia and Cassie in a novel titled, The Burning Girl. Following a summer during which the adolescent girls were inseparable, they return to school and drift apart. Using finely written prose, vividly descriptive language and mood setting narrative, Messud explores this change and the ways in which secrets and what is not known can be what is essential. The novel explores alienation and does so with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Burning Girl from amazon.com.

Unraveling Oliver

Evil. The debut novel by Liz Nugent titled, Unraveling Oliver, presents multiple narrators helping us understand protagonist Oliver Ryan, and what led him to do what he did. From each narrator we learn a point of view about Oliver, and receive a building block relating to understanding this person. We learn about him being unwanted as a child, feeling envy, and mastering the arts of deception and manipulation. The psychological profile that Nugent assembles comes to define her view on the nature of evil. The structure and prose are finely developed in this promising author’s debut novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Unraveling Oliver from amazon.com.


Fake. The protagonist of Robin Cook’s novel, Charlatans, is one of those characters to whom readers want to shout some warning as he is about to do something stupid again. Noah Rothauser may be a smart chief resident but he become clueless and gullible so often, it became something of a distraction to the thrilling plot of the novel. As the title indicates, Cook is exploring fakery in this novel, and he does this in ways that seem pulled from the headlines. This is a quick novel to read, and it will entertain those readers who like thrillers and can overlook some problems in plot and character development. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Charlatans from amazon.com.

The Reason You're Alive

Portrait. Far along in Matthew Quick’s novel titled, The Reason You’re Alive, readers learn that the title of the book is also the title of a painting. By the time we learn that fact, we’ve come to know protagonist David Granger quite well. This sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam vet becomes obsessed with finding a Native American soldier from his past. Granger is struggling with the meaning of his life, and trying to understand why the country he loves has changed so much. The novel is a portrait of a person and of our society. Quick explores the ways in which it becomes necessary to reconcile ourselves with the past and let go of burdens that have been carried far too long. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Reason You’re Alive from amazon.com.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Glass Houses

Conscience. There are loads of reasons why I loved reading, Glass Houses, the 13th installment in the series by Louis Penny featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. For fans of the series, spending time with the familiar cast of complex characters is always a pleasure, and in this novel, all the familiar ones are back and Penny adds to the depth of development of almost each one. Gamache, in particular, is a well-developed character already, and in this installment, he grapples with a serious matter of conscience that leads him to take actions that involve great risks to him professionally and personally. The structure of the novel, moving forward and backward in time, added to the tension and helped exposition. Gamache’s ability to influence others with his views, especially when they entail taking great risks while being patient, is on full display in this novel. The dramatic action in Three Pines, Quebec will thrill every reader. I highly recommend this novel and this series. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Glass Houses from amazon.com.

Ghosts of Havana

Treasure. For some reason, I let the third novel by Todd Moss featuring Judd Ryker to sit in queue for almost a year. This action thriller titled, Ghosts of Havana, focuses on manipulation and the compartmentalization of information and action. There are lies at the core of the novel, and some of them are between Judd and his wife, Jessica. Readers who enjoy action thrillers will read this novel quickly and find a lot to enjoy. While I’m sorry to have postponed my pleasure in reading this novel, the time to the fourth installment will now be briefer than usual. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ghosts of Havana from amazon.com.


Lists. The debut novel by Caitriona Lally is titled, Eggshells. Protagonist Vivian falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, and her quirky and unexpected interactions with others provide the plot lines for the novel. In Lally’s capable hands, Vivian becomes an interesting and complex character, and many readers will be moved and charmed by Vivian. The humor can become contagious, especially if there’s someone like Vivian in your life. I loved the lists that Vivian made throughout the novel. Through Vivian’s eyes we can see the world in new ways that are amazing, delightful and alive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Eggshells from amazon.com.

The Emerald Lie

Grammar. Fans of Ken Bruen’s series featuring Galway private investigator Jack Taylor are those readers most likely to enjoy the 12th installment titled, The Emerald Lie. Bruen continues to develop the depth of character of troubled Jack Taylor, and reprises both DS Ridge from earlier novels and Emily from the last installment. While Jack spends his time brooding, reading books, listening to music and drinking, a serial killer has been slaying people for incorrect grammatical usage. Hypocrisy is in Bruen’s crosshairs in this novel, and he targets both the Irish government and the Church. Along the way, there’s fine writing, great characters, puzzles and an undertone of weariness as Jack is beaten down both physically and emotionally. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Emerald Lie from amazon.com.

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

Timing. It was a strange coincidence that I finished reading Joshua Green’s book titled, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, on the day Steve Bannon was fired from his job at the White House. Journalist Green tells a lively story in this book, and thanks to reading it, I was not at all surprised at Bannon’s brief tenure working inside the Trump administration. Readers with a strong interest in politics are those most likely to enjoy reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Devil’s Bargain from amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Locals

Power. Sometimes a novelist will just hold a mirror to the way we live now, and on the pages of a book we can see our lives play out. Jonathan Dee’s novel, The Locals, describes post-9/11 life in a small New England town. The power dynamics in the town of Howland, Massachusetts shift after a wealthy New Yorker moves to his summer home in the Berkshires after 9/11 and becomes First Selectman of Howland. He begins to lower taxes for the property owners of the town through paying for services out of his own pocket. Dee describes the cycle of boom to bust, and the foibles of our self-interest turning into selfishness and social unrest. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Locals from amazon.com.

One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries

Divided. I learned more about gold than I ever wanted to know when I read James Ledbetter’s book titled, One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries. If you’ve heard about the gold standard, and wonder what that is all about, you’ll learn about that and more in this book. There’s been a strong interest in gold throughout history, our American experience with gold has been fascinating, and Ledbetter tells that story in this book. We are as divided about gold as we are on many other issues, and Ledbetter highlights that part of the story as well, both past and present divisions. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase One Nation Under Gold from amazon.com.

The Lying Game

Truth. By midway through reading Ruth Ware’s psychological crime novel titled, The Lying Game, I was imagining the scenes with such vivid detail that I could have been watching the movie. During one formative year together at boarding school, four girls formed a clique and enjoyed an adolescent diversion that was based on lying. Ruth Ware draws us forward and backward in time as she lays out clues about the truth of what really happened at school. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lying Game from amazon.com.


Recovery. Linda Fairstein picks up the 19th Alexandra Cooper crime novel titled, Deadfall, where the last novel left off. Alex has been on leave, recovering from trauma, and hasn’t quite returned to her old self. She’s drinking too much, and relies heavily on Mike Chapman to see her through this recovery. A dramatic murder opens this novel, and Alex was next to the victim when it happened. Fairstein takes readers into the Bronx Zoo and the nearby railyards as this installment’s lessons about New York City. As always, the crime is interesting, the characters familiar, and the resolution dramatic, leaving readers anxiously awaiting another installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Deadfall from amazon.com.


Fifty. The two hundred and seventy-two pages of Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, Less, move quickly, delivering pleasure to readers on every page. Progatonist Arthur Less is about to turn fifty years old, and he decides to leave the country rather than face this milestone at the same time that his former lover is getting married. Greer’s prose draws us into a deep understanding of Arthur Less, and presents us with a smartly-written, well-told love story. There’s more to Less than first appears. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Less from amazon.com.