Tuesday, December 19, 2017

As Lie Is to Grin

Matriculation. One of the best debut novels I’ve read in a long time is the compact book by Simeon Marsalis titled, As Lie Is to Grin. The narrator and protagonist, David, arrives at college in Vermont doing what all college students eventually do while matriculating: finding answers to important questions. Race and class and fitting in are all in play, with David’s confusion in the present trying to make sense of the past. Marsalis places David as an African American in a predominantly white college. Then he explores the backstory from the prior year that made sense of what led David to Vermont. The prose is finely written, and explores complex ideas with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase As Lie Is to Grin from amazon.com.

A Distant View of Everything

Interpretations. The eleventh installment in the series by Alexander McCall Smith featuring Isabel Dalhousie is titled, A Distant View of Everything. Things are not always, or perhaps often, as they appear to be. It takes perspective and context to interpret behavior and actions. Isabel refreshes herself and readers about the importance of perspective in this charming and engaging novel. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy reading the latest installment. New readers can start here or anywhere and be charmed by this interesting protagonist, her friends and extended family. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Distant View of Everything from amazon.com.

Two Kinds of Truth

Fresh. Sometimes when I’m reading serial fiction, I get the feeling that I’ve already read the novel. With caution, I opened the twentieth installment in the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly, a novel titled, Two Kinds of Truth. I was delighted that even after so many previous novels, Connelly is able to put our familiar Harry in fresh situations and experience new things so that not once did I have the feeling that I had already read this novel. The old detective goes undercover in this novel. At the same time, his half-brother, Mickey Haller, prepares to defend Harry against a claim that Harry planted evidence to secure a conviction on an old case. Harry and Mickey get to the truth in different ways. Fans of the series will enjoy spending more time with these familiar characters and with an engaging plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Two Kinds of Truth from amazon.com.

The Pigeon Tunnel

Vignettes. The author David Cornwell uses the penname John le Carré even for the memoir titled, The Pigeon Tunnel. Every interesting vignette is told as if the reader were sitting at a meal with Cornwell and listening raptly to his war stories and other remembered episodes of a well-lived and interesting life. I found these interesting stories from a fine storyteller engaging and I could not have cared less whether or not they are true. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pigeon Tunnel from amazon.com.

The Romanov Ransom

Romp. The ninth novel in the Sam and Remi Fargo series by Clive Cussler is titled, The Romanov Ransom. The current treasure hunt takes the Fargos on a romp from Europe to North Africa to South America, tracked at every turn by a ruthless adversary. Fans of formulaic adventure fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. It’s fast-paced and often highly predictable. Compared with earlier novels, I found less humor and repartee between Sam and Remi, and less fine dining. Nonetheless, I got exactly what I expected: a quick read that didn’t require a lot of mental energy. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Romanov Ransom from amazon.com.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv

Grief. Any reader looking for an uplift in spirits should consider reading Elizabeth Berg’s latest finely written novel titled, The Story of Arthur Truluv. Three characters. Arthur, Lucille and Maddy, are united in grief and loneliness. Despite a wide age difference, the friendship is real, and the behavior of each character provides a positive example for every reader. True love takes many forms, and the name that Maddy bestows on Arthur perfectly matches the love he has for his late wife, and the love he extends to both Lucille and Maddy. I think Berg’s novels are often popular with book groups, and the discussions about this novel will make for interesting, possible tearful, conversations. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Story of Arthur Truluv from amazon.com.

The Midnight Line

Opioids. The twenty-second Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child it titled, The Midnight Line. Child knows how to please fans of this series: let Reacher be Reacher, and put him in new and interesting situations. In this outing, Reacher finds himself on a quest to find the owner of a West Point ring. Along the way, he finds himself in the middle of the opioid crisis, doing his part to help a fellow soldier overcome addiction. Fans of the series should find a lot to enjoy in this installment. New readers can meet Reacher here, and roam through the whole series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Midnight Line from amazon.com.

Five-Carat Soul

Variety. Readers who enjoy fine storytelling in small does are those most likely to enjoy reading the new short story collection by James McBride titled, Five-Carat Soul. There’s lots of variety in these stories, from animals to Abraham Lincoln. McBride’s creativity is the common thread in this collection: he grabs attention and engages readers into paying attention to the story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Five-Carat Soul from amazon.com.

Don't Let Go

Truth. Fans of mysteries will find a lot to enjoy in Harlan Coben’s novel titled, Don’t Let Go. Protagonist Napoleon “Nap” Dumas faced trauma as a senior in high school, when his twin brother died and then the love of his young life, Maura, disappeared. Now working as a suburban New Jersey police detective, Nap finds evidence that may lead him to Maura, and to getting answers to questions that have plagued him for over a dozen years. Coben, as always, captures suburban life, creates interesting characters, and offers a plot that keeps readers engaged and entertained from beginning to end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Don’t Let Go from amazon.com.

Overload: Finding the Truth in Today's Deluge of News

Journalism. In his book titled, Overload: Finding the Truth in Today's Deluge of News, Bob Schieffer practices journalism while he opines on the current state of journalism. He conducted about forty interviews with media practitioners and provided context thanks to his decades of experiences in different forms of journalism. The sources of news have proliferated, and the curating role of media leaders has diminished. Rigorous fact-checked stories and reckless unverified stories are listed side by side, minute by minute, leaving the receiver to sort the true from the fake. Schieffer makes a case for the importance of authentic journalism in our society. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Overload from amazon.com.

The Lost Order

Smithsonian. The twelfth Cotton Malone novel by Steve Berry is titled, The Lost Order. As the formula demands, something secret from the past requires the skills of Cotton Malone to uncover and resolve. This time out, the setting involves the Smithsonian Institution, and the secret involves a lost treasure from the Confederacy and a group called The Knights of the Golden Circle. Readers looking for some escapist action reading are those most likely to enjoy this novel, especially those who like a blend of actual and made-up history. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Lost Order from amazon.com.

The House of Unexpected Sisters

Weaknesses. The full cast of beloved characters are back for the eighteenth installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, a novel titled, The House of Unexpected Sisters. We all have weaknesses, and that should lead us to understand and forgive the weaknesses of others that can cause us distress. There’s a case in this novel that causes Mma Ramotswe to change her mind, and she makes a discovery that changes her life. Fans of the series will zip through this installment and await the next. Any reader looking for a feel-good reading experience should consider this novel and this series. I always feel better about all people after reading one of Smith’s books. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The House of Unexpected Sisters from amazon.com.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

Justice. The fifth Lisbeth Salander novel is titled, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, and it was a real joy to be spending time again with the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is a kick ass protagonist whose position as an outsider makes her even more powerful. Salander solves mysteries about her own past in this installment while she secures and inflicts justice for others. Fans of the series will enjoy the return of the ensemble of well-developed characters led by Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye from amazon.com.


Brutish. The world can be a violent and brutish place, and escape may not be possible. In Fiona Mozley’s debut novel titled, Elmet, a father, daughter and son live in a rural area in a house built by hand on land owned by someone else. The landlord represents evil and encourages violence. This is a novel about outcasts and the bonds of family love, under which one does what is necessary to survive. Mozley’s prose is finely written, and readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Elmet from amazon.com.

Future Home of the Living God

Devolution. What could be more dystopian than devolution, the idea that man has reverted to some more primitive state? In her novel titled, Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich explores a society in which evolution has gone into reverse with dramatic consequences. Protagonist Cedar Hawk Songmaker is twenty-six years old and pregnant. Erdrich places her in conflict with society and on a journey toward community, love and self-determination. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Future Home of the Living God from amazon.com.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Orchestral. The song in Jesmyn Ward’s novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, will break your heart. An ensemble of characters sing their part in a chorus of racism, drug addiction, poverty, incarceration, child neglect and love. Ward’s prose unveils places and people with perfect language and deep sentiment. A reader’s empathy builds on every page. Even the ghosts sing in this chorus because they remain attached to the people and places. This novel is on many of the best of the year lists and won the National Book Award for fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sing Unburied Sing from amazon.com.

Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance

Smaller. Bill McKibben’s novel titled, Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance, is a homage to the resistance movement in the form of a fable. Independent and smaller is presented as better than dependent and larger. This short and playful book brought me a welcome break from the news of the day and the struggles of life. McKibben draws interesting characters, provides an engaging story and brings some laughs along the way. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Radio Free Vermont from amazon.com.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Belief. The blurred line between reality and fantasy isn’t a contemporary development in American life, according to Kurt Andersen in his book titled, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. “America was the dreamworld creation of fantasists, some religious and some out to get rich quick, all with a freakish appetite for the amazing.” (p.427). Readers with strong religious beliefs will feel somewhat dismissed in those beliefs when they read Andersen’s categorization of them as fantasists. Readers who share Andersen’s worldview will find almost five hundred pages of statistics, anecdotes, and selective stories of American life to show that over a long period of time, fertile ground in America provided the soil in which fantasy and reality blurred and became widespread. Truth has become a matter of feeling, not fact, and that didn’t happen overnight. Whether offended or vindicated by Andersen’s book, every reader can understand our contemporary society better by reading about our past and seeing in that past the foundations of modern life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fantasyland from amazon.com.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies

Invisible. One more deficiency in my education was resolved when I read Jason Fagone’s finely written book about the life of codebreaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman titled, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. A combination of sexism and secrecy made her significant role in the 20th century invisible. Thanks to Fagone, long overdue credit for her significant achievements can be learned by any reader interested in codes, espionage, and recent history. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Woman Who Smashed Codes from amazon.com.

The Vanity Fair Diaries

Energetic. The punchy wit that Tina Brown writes in her book titled, The Vanity Fair Diaries, will delight even those readers with little interest in the New York media world of the 1980s and 1990s. Her trenchant observations about people are peppered throughout the book, while she pulls readers into her workaholic life. In this account, Tina never stops pushing, pressing, trying new things, working constantly. For readers who know the New York world she describes, this book will be required reading, at least about people one knows, and whose entries are easy to find, thanks to the index. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Vanity Fair Diaries from amazon.com.

Three Days and a Life

Guilt. Pierre Lemaitre’s novel titled, Three Days and a Life, is a character study and morality tale. The novel is set in two time periods in the life of protagonist Antoine Courtin. At age 12, Antoine accidently kills a young neighbor, and then hides the body rather than face the consequences of his action. Lemaitre explores the ways in which guilt and remorse affect Antoine. More than a decade later, Antoine returns to his home town and carries out his self-inflicted punishment. The inner and outer storms of this novel and the surprising twists will delight most readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Three Days and a Life from amazon.com.

End Game

Rescue. The fifth novel in the Will Robie series by David Baldacci is titled, End Game. Robie and Jessica Reel are sent on a search and rescue mission. Fans of the series will enjoy the ways in which Will and Jessica’s skills are deployed in this story. New readers who enjoy action thrillers will find some pleasure here. This is a formulaic novel that had few surprises, but lots of implausible action. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase End Game from amazon.com.

Reservoir 13

Ripples. Each of has at one time or another tossed a rock into the water and watched the ripples expand from the place where the rock hit the water. In his novel titled, Reservoir 13, Ian McGregor explores lots of ripples in a community after a girl goes missing. The exploration involves observations, glimpses of life, telling us that life has gone on after the disappearance. This novel is an exploration of the ordinary and an examination of the progression of time in the natural environment and among the people living in a particular place. Readers who expect a novel to offer a plot that can be followed will be impatient with this book. Readers who are open to fictional experimentation will love this novel. The prose is finely written, and the descriptions of the environment are lyrical. Once I stopped trying to figure out what was going on, I enjoyed every page. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Reservoir 13 from amazon.com.

Ungrateful Mammals

Artist. While I was turning the pages of Dave Eggers book titled, Ungrateful Mammals, I thought triple threat. Some performers are called a triple threat when they can sing, dance and act. Eggers is a talented writer. The illustrations he offers in this collection exhibit his drawing talent. What comes together with the pairing of phrases, including bible verses, with his illustrations is his skill at humor and poignancy. This is an eccentric and unusual book, and I enjoyed it, both times I paged through. I’ve liked Eggers’ writing, and now understand better the extent of this artist’s versatile talents. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ungrateful Mammals from amazon.com.

Listen to Me

Disconnected. Married readers, especially those who have journeyed together on memorable road trips, are those who will gain an extra wallop from Hannah Pittard’s novel titled, Listen to Me. Protagonists Mark and Maggie have started their annual drive from Chicago to Virginia to visit his parents later than planned, and a severe storm is forecast for their route. Their relationship is tense for many reasons, and the ways in which they are disconnected increase as the story develops. The darkness of the storm and power outage mirrors the darkness entering their relationship, a growing estrangement. Pittard’s prose is taut to match the tension in the story, and readers who love literary fiction will enjoy her fine writing, no matter how bleak the characters become or how dire their situation. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Listen to Me from amazon.com.