Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Legacy of Spies

Return. The return of George Smiley after two and a half decades is reason enough to read John LeCarré's novel titled, A Legacy of Spies. While it is Smiley's colleague, Peter Guillam, who takes center stage in this novel, all that these cold warriors did in the past is now under scrutiny by a new regime, and the blending of past and present in this novel will appeal to most leCarré fans. There is a legacy at stake and both Smiley and Guillam want that legacy protected and preserved. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Legacy of Spies from

Why We Don't Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little Bitches

Acerbic. Denis Leary showers his acerbic wit on everybody in his book titled, Why We Don't Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little Bitches. I laughed when he skewered someone else and winced a few pages later when I realized his shot landed appropriately in my corner. Leary tells some great personal stories in this book, often self-deprecating ones. He calls attention to those among us who do good and who draw people together. Leary wants readers to laugh and to think. Both are great responses to this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why We Don't Suck from

The Lightkeepers

Observations. Every forty pages or so, at the beginning of Abby Geni's novel titled, The Lightkeepers, I took a pause and almost stopped reading. Protagonist Miranda is a nature photographer and she has moved to the Farallon Islands for a year or taking pictures, living with a group of biologists who are observing sea life or birds or the natural environment of this remote location. The setting is depressing, dangerous and ripe for violence. The characters are unappealing and quirky. Since at every juncture, Geni's well-written prose led me to plod along, I stopped those pauses by the middle of the novel, and the plot momentum kept me engaged to the end, and I finished the novel well-satisfied, especially by the exploration of memory and the method of the biologists to observe, but not interfere. Geni makes all the different levels come together and work. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lightkeepers from

The Dark Dark

Imaginative. Every story by Samantha Hunt in her collection titled, The Dark Dark, contains finely written prose structured into well-told stories. Sometimes funny, other times scary, there's always a twist or a stretch of imagination at play. In some stories, it seemed like the shadows had shadows as Hunt built complexity into this efficient form. Any reader comfortable with some weird stuff will enjoy the stories in this finely written collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dark Dark from

Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel

Authentic. My list of the most successful business leaders of the past fifty years would certainly include Sam Zell. In his book titled, Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel, he tells about his life and his consistent approach to business. Zell is the real deal and he speaks bluntly, making the title humorous. Zell talks directly about what brings him joy, and the importance of reputation. He explains why he doesn't take himself too seriously but works hard and analyzes deals deeply. Any reader looking for insight about leading a good business life should consider reading this book and emulating Zell's approach. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Am I Being Too Subtle from

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

Exciting. The first novel in Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust trilogy is titled, La Belle Sauvage. Packed with action from the first pages, fans of Pullman will enjoy eleven-year-old protagonist Malcolm and his competent and exciting care for Lara, the child of Asriel. Pullman fans will be pleased to learn that daemons are back, and the lines between good and evil are drawn very clearly. The adventure in this first novel proceeds at a rapid pace and lays a groundwork for the rest of the trilogy. I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase La Belle Sauvage from


Friendship. Sam Graham-Felson set his debut novel titled, Green, in his Boston hometown in 1992. Protagonist David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at King middle school and puberty is not gentle. Graham explores David's friendship with Marlon Wellings, a young black man from the nearby projects, and their relationship leads to an understanding about privilege. I had some trouble settling into the novel because of Graham's decision to depict the middle school patois in what is either accurate to the time or totally lame; I'm too old to understand which. I was reminded of the challenge I felt on reading Huck Finn for the first time. That said, I enjoyed this novel and its humor, the sensitive and light treatment of race and privilege, and the universal experience of growing up. All the characters are well-developed and multi-dimensional. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Green from

The Wanted

Pursuit. If I've counted correctly, The Wanted is the seventeenth novel by Robert Crais to feature private detective Elvis Cole and his talented sidekick, Joe Pike. After Cole is hired by a concerned mom to find out where her son may be getting cash, Elvis stumbles into burglaries and then murders. It doesn't take us long to learn that the wrong thing was stolen from the wrong person. The pursuit in finding the lost item and certain individuals keeps the action moving quickly from beginning to end. Fans of character-driven crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wanted from

Beau Death

Costume. The seventeenth Peter Diamond mystery by Peter Lovesey provides readers with the usual level of humor, good plotting and an interesting case, supported by familiar characters who are all well-developed. Titled, Beau Death, this novel, set as usual in Bath, features one of the colorful figures from 18th century Bath, Beau Nash, and the contemporary Beau Nash Society in which members wear costumes of that period. When a skeleton is discovered in a building being demolished, there's speculation that it might be Beau Nash himself, since authentic attire was found surrounding the bones. The scene in which Chief Inspector Peter Diamond wears a costume provided great comic relief. Fans of traditional well-structured mysteries are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beau Death from

God: A Human History

Sweeping. After I finished reading Reza Aslan's book titled, God: A Human History, my first thought was to wonder what God thought of the book. My conclusion was that God would be amused, as I expect God usually is when we try to think or write about God. Written for a general audience, this readable book provides a sweeping overview of the author's views of the history of religion and the ways in which humans have strived to understand the divine. Rating: Three-star (It's ok) Click here to purchase God: A Human History from

Women and Power: A Manifesto

Misogyny. Drawn from two lectures by Mary Beard, her book titled, Women and Power: A Manifesto, lays out a clear case for women in leadership taking on power by being women and not defining leadership as a male preserve. Beard lays out succinctly the long history in which women have been silenced and kept out of power and leadership through misogyny. Enough! Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Women and Power from

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Aggregator. The three days I spent reading Michael Wolff's controversial book titled, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, put me in a funk. Daily White House distractions and self-inflicted drama are tough enough to endure. Spending hours in a return to the early months of the Trump administration added to my misery. Wolff spent those early months hanging out in the West Wing, available as a sounding board or an outlet for anyone working there who wanted to vent. He recorded them and took notes, aggregating all he heard from inside with what was written by others from the outside, along with the public statements by all the key players. The result is a gossipy book by a writer with a flair for clever prose. Wolff is not a historian, and as a journalist, let's say he's no Bob Woodward. What we get in this book is his take on what happened, and his judgment of what he believes he heard and observed. Most observers of 2017 in politics would agree that the White House often seemed undisciplined with individuals unaligned among themselves. Wolff's book documents the early months of the administration in ways that will please few readers. Thanks to the President's tweets about the book, it has become a best seller. My guess is that a minority of buyers will read the whole gossipy thing. Rating: Two-star (I didn't like it) Click here to purchase Fire and Fury from

Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit

Connected. Political commentator Chris Matthews has written a love song about the life and times of Bobby Kennedy titled, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit. We know how Kennedy's life was cut short in 1968, and Matthews places that tragedy in the context of the unrealized promise of the Kennedy brother who connected best with regular people. Fifty years later, Matthews reminds readers interested in politics of the spirit of another time, through a leader who was fighting for a vision of the United States that has yet to be realized, leaving some readers mourning about what might have been. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bobby Kennedy from


Vulnerable. Some United States Presidents are so well-known that a contemporary biography can easily be passed over by readers. I thought I knew a lot about U.S. Grant, but thanks to reading Ron Chernow's fine biography titled, Grant, I have a widely expanded base of knowledge and deeper respect for this complicated and complex individual. Thanks to Chernow, I have a new appreciation of how a great military strategist could be conned and taken advantage of. He was vulnerable to the machinations of others off the field of battle. Grant was guileless and that's a rare trait in a successful politician, especially one who won two presidential terms of office. Any reader interested in American history will love reading this complete biography of a great United States President. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Grant from

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Harmony. There were many places in the debut novel titled, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, by Jennifer Ryan where she could have veered into soap opera. Instead, this story of World War II life in an English village stayed focused on developing interesting characters and developing an engaging plot. Part of Ryan's structure involves letters from individual characters, and I found that approach fresh and interesting. There's a harmony in this novel beyond the vocal talents of the choir members in the title. Village life during the Battle of Britain drew me into the story and led me to care about every character. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Chilbury Ladies' Choir from

Friday, January 12, 2018

Ninefox Gambit

Vocabulary. After reading a favorable review of the second novel in the Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee, I had a choice to make: read the first, or plunge into the middle book as a standalone. Since I don’t read much science fiction, I decided to start at the beginning with a novel titled, Ninefox Gambit, and I’m glad I did. It took me fifty or more pages to get comfortable with the vocabulary and in trying to understand the world Lee was creating. Protagonist Kel Cheris is an unconventional math whiz warrior working for an entity called the hexarchate and is sent to a star fortress to quell a heretical rebellion that’s using an unconventional calendar. Cheris teams up with a disgraced general named Shuos Jedao and carries out a complicated mission that ends with a cliffhanger to set up the second book in the series. If any of this appeals to you, leap right in. While I started reading this novel I was skeptical and ready to give up after a few dozen pages. I pushed through and now look forward to the rest of the trilogy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Ninefox Gambit from

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales

Luscious. Mystery lovers are those readers most likely to enjoy the six succinct and luscious short stories in a collection by P. D. James titled, Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales. James wrote with great skill, and in each of these stories, she explores criminality and evil with precision. I savored each of these stories, separating them by a day or two to prolong the experience. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sleep No More from

What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism

Optimism. Dan Rather has written a book of reflective essays titled, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. Often sentimental in tone, Rather reminds readers of what makes us strong. Any reader looking for a primer on good citizenship can look to this book for hope and guidance. Despite all the expressed concerns about divisions in American society, Rather expresses optimism that we continue to share common values and our patriotism can draw us together. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase What Unites Us from

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

Authenticity. Most readers will pick up a copy of the book titled, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, because the author, former Vice President Joe Biden, is a familiar figure. Those readers who finish the book are likely to feel that they spent this reading time in a fruitful way, coming away with a deeper understanding of character, courage, family and the optimism that leads us to hope. Joe Biden is one of the most genuine and authentic individuals in public life, and his emotions appear unvarnished on every page of this book about the last year in the life of his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Promise Me Dad from

Her Body and Other Parties

Pick. Pick any reason to read Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of short stories titled, Her Body and Other Parties, but read it. If you’re a man, Machado considers us a different species, and she may well be right. If you’re a woman, Machado articulates a variety of topics relating to women that will either resonate or clash with your views and experiences. If you enjoy finely written prose, Machado provides that in every story. If you are comfortable with post-modern literature, Machado’s experiments here will interest you. I added this book to my reading list because it was a National Book Award finalist. Having read it, I understand why. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Her Body and Other Parties from

Thursday, January 4, 2018


Progress. The second novel by Joe Ide to feature private investigator Isaiah Quintabe is titled, Righteous. As expected, there’s progress in IQ’s personal and professional life and an interesting case that leads IQ and Dodson from East Long Beach to Las Vegas. The gangsters are well developed in this installment, and fans of Ide’s debut novel are those readers most likely to enjoy this installment as we look forward to the next. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Righteous from

Racing the Devil

Complex. Readers who enjoy crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading the 19th Ian Rutledge novel by Charles Todd titled, Racing the Devil. Slow and steady exposition takes the action from a promise made by English officers to meet again if they survive World War I to accidents and murder back home in England. As Inspector Rutledge delves into the complex case, secrets are revealed and the truth is uncovered. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Racing the Devil from

Turtles All the Way Down

Anxiety. Not many books provide an opportunity for conversation about mental illness especially among young adults. John Green tackles the topic of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders in his novel titled, Turtles All the Way Down. Protagonist Aza Holmes is a finely drawn character with OCD. The friendships and resilience that are presented in this novel will resonate with many young readers. While Green tugged at my heartstrings in his earlier writing, this time out I found the sentiments fell a bit flat. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Turtles All the Way Down from

Strange Weather

Compact. Fans of intelligent horror fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the four novellas in a collection by Joe Hill titled, Strange Weather. Each of the four stories in this book is imaginative, and provides the kind of spine tingling sensation that horror readers enjoy. Like the four seasons, these novellas are different but part of a whole. Each is tightly written and the compact form seemed to me to intensify the story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Strange Weather from

The Ghosts of Galway

Revenge. The darkest novel yet to feature protagonist Jack Taylor is titled, The Ghosts of Galway, by Ken Bruen. Having failed suicide and needing cash, Jack takes on a job as a security guard. His boss tempts him into tracking down a heretical book, and Jack yields to the temptation. What stirs Jack in this outing is the pleasure of revenge against all forms of ghosts, and the violence that follows seems to stimulate Jack back to life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Ghosts of Galway from

Fresh Complaint

Unsettled. There are ten short stories in the first collection by Jeffrey Eugenides titled, Fresh Complaint. Eight of the stories have been published before, so may be familiar to some readers. Fans of Eugenides’ novels will recognize both prose style and characters in these stories, along with a mix of humor and quirky behavior. The characters in these stories are often unsettled in their lives as they balk at adjusting to change. Many characters are looking for something beyond the horizon, and Eugenides leads them and us to that other place with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fresh Complaint from

Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy

Essays. Setting, mood and context can change over the course of every few paragraphs in Michael Perry’s finely written book of essays titled, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy. Humor in one sentence leads to poignancy in the next, and on to wisdom in the following paragraph. The mundane becomes meaningful when reflected upon by a good writer with great skill, and that describes Perry to a tee. Philosophy is a worthy pursuit and in this effort it is carried out close to the ground and not in the clouds. Readers looking for a chance to smile, nod and reflect will find plenty of reasons to do each of those while reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Montaigne in Barn Boots from

The Quantum Spy

Ambiguity. A new novel titled, The Quantum Spy, by Washington Post journalist David Ignatius offers fans of espionage novels great reading pleasure. Both China and the United States are funding research into superfast computers that will break any code quickly. The US program has a mole and the CIA is investigating that problem while playing a multilayered game with the Chinese. Like the best spy novels, this one contains high doses of ambiguity and uncertainty, focused on what loyalty means and the fluidity of truth in the world of espionage. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Quantum Spy from

You Can't Spell America Without Me

Overdosed. Anyone who’s entertained by Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Donald Trump should enjoy reading (or listening to) a new book by Baldwin and Kurt Anderson titled, You Can’t Spell America Without Me. I found some humor in this book, but realized pretty quickly than I am entertained better by this impersonation in small doses. Taking it all in at once was less entertaining and more overwhelming. Readers who can pace themselves can avoid such overdosing. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase You Can’t Spell America Without Me from

Going Into Town

Poignant. Fans of Roz Chast’s New Yorker cartoons are those readers most likely to enjoy her poignant and funny love letter to Manhattan titled, Going into Town. Chast grew up in Brooklyn, blossomed after moving to Manhattan, and accepted parenthood after moving to the suburbs. This book began as a guide to New York City for her daughter. As expected, the book is funny and sweet. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Going Into Town from