Monday, April 23, 2018

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Context. Fiction is where readers usually find the motif, “things are not as they appear.” Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker spends almost six hundred pages exploring that theme in his book titled, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. We may think world affairs are getting worse, but Pinker shows things are getting better. This optimistic book uses a clear fact base to illustrate and debunk perceptions that need to be placed into context to be interpreted properly. Pinker’s optimism becomes contagious, and he makes a case for renewed support of Enlightenment values and ideals. Sign me up. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Enlightenment Now from

The Overstory

Trees. It was a coincidence that I finished reading Richard Powers finely written novel titled, The Overstory, on Earth Day. Powers tells readers things about trees that most of us never learned in school, and as a result of reading this novel, I will never see trees in the same way again. He finds creative ways of conveying science, the importance of environmentalism, and a view of harmonious living while laying out an interesting cast of characters and their interwoven stories. The structure of this novel will delight close readers because it progresses in ways similar to how trees grow: a ring at a time. After five hundred pages, the whole forest is lush and diverse, and man’s time and place on this planet seems short and small. It takes a long time to realize how the stories are connected, as it may take a while to accept the notion that the lives of people and the lives of trees are similar. It demands a special writer to change our perspective about the world in which we live. Powers did that for me in this epic novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Overstory from

The Italian Teacher

Legacy. Second only to the complexity of mother and daughter relationships is the often fraught relationship between fathers and sons. Pinch is the protagonist of Tom Rachman’s novel titled, The Italian Teacher, and he has lived his life in the shadow of his father, a renowned painter, Bear Bavinsky. Bear has been larger than life for Pinch, and whatever limited attention Pinch gets from Bear becomes magnified in its impact. This novel about artists is finely written, and Rachman moves beyond the dimensions of the father and son relationship into the whole nature of legacy and what that means. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Italian Teacher from

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

Values. If you haven’t heard about James Comey’s book titled, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, you might be living a simpler life than most of your neighbors. The former and fired FBI director offers a reasonable and readable account of ethical leadership as he sees it, using many examples from his life, back to the manager of the grocery store where young Jim had plenty of opportunities to learn. This is a book about values, and a view that truth is the most important value. I encourage any reader to pick up this book and draw your own conclusions about Comey. The interviews on his book tour reveal just a sliver of what the book presents. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Higher Loyalty from

The Knowledge

Taxi. The twenty-fourth novel in the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes is titled, The Knowledge. I’m sad to say that this is the first novel by Grimes that I’ve read, and that has been my misfortune. In this installment, a couple is killed leaving a taxi, and the gunman enters the taxi to make his escape. The driver enlists friends to follow him and then follow the killer who leaves the cab after paying a fare with a good tip. By the time Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Richard Jury gets on the case, the action has moved from England to Africa. I was totally entertained by so many elements in this finely written detective novel. First, the characters are complex, finely developed, and endearing. The plot is complex, interesting, and paced perfectly. The identification of the murderer and motive come late enough in the book to be well-earned by fans of solving mysteries. Finally, the prose is well written and engages readers on every page. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Knowledge from

Going for a Beer

Range. I spent a delightful month reading one short story a day from a collection of thirty stories by Robert Coover, titled after one of the very fine ones, Going for a Beer. Coover’s range is on full display in this collection which supports the perspective of many critics that Coover is a master craftsman in this genre. No subject is too small or too large for Coover to give a take on it that will surprise and interest most readers, with or without the support of a beer or two. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Going for a Beer from

Laura & Emma

Privilege. Novels introduce readers to characters that often live in unfamiliar places and whose behavior can seem exotic until a talented writer reveals something universal about life experience. Kate Greathead’s debut novel titled, Laura & Emma, is set in Manhattan, partly on the Upper East Side, and presents characters whose lives are so immersed in privilege that they can’t recognize it. Protagonist Laura is a single mom and her daughter, Emma, has many people in her life who love her. While Laura conveys an aura of independence, she seems to take for granted all the benefits she receives from her wealthy parents. Greathead’s prose is often very finely written, and the characters are complex and interesting. I kept thinking about everything in my life that I take for granted, and in that way, I found unexpected connections to these characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Laura & Emma from

Alternate Side

Fragility. Affluent and privileged people can have troubles too, and even the slightest first world problems can uncover cracks in fragile relationships. Anna Quindlen sets her novel titled, Alternate Side, on a dead-end street in Manhattan. Nora Nolan and her husband Charlie have a great life together until they don’t. Dramatic inequality is evident every day in Manhattan, and Quindlen provides different characters in this novel that describe the consequences of economic differences. Quindlen describes the dream of life in Manhattan grounded in the reality of marriage and neighbors and what can happen to anyone. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Alternate Side from


Journey. From birth, we sentient beings are on a journey toward death, trying along the way to figure out what life is all about. In his novel titled, Census, Jesse Ball uses finely crafted prose and a creative imagination to offer a kind and loving model of our common journey. After an ill widower learns that he does not have long to live, his concern turns toward who will care for his son with Down syndrome. He decides to take a final trip with his son from towns A toward Z while serving as a census taker. Readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Census from

Down the River Unto the Sea

Reconciliation. Prolific novelist Walter Mosley has a gift for fans: a new terrific protagonist. While some of Mosley’s readers can’t help but ask for more Easy Rawlins books, or Leonid McGill novels, those open to new characters will find a complex and well-developed protagonist in Joe King Oliver, introduced in a novel titled, Down the River Unto the Sea. King lost his NYPD job after somebody set him up with an accusation of rape, for which he was convicted and jailed. After release, he becomes a private detective, and, in this novel, he is dealing with a case to release another innocent inmate, while he searches for resolution and justice for those who sent King to prison. While on a journey of redemption, King struggles with achieving reconciliation and with staying alive, especially because of his love for his daughter. Mosley writes with great skill, and most fans of crime fiction will enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Down the River Unto the Sea from

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Female Persuasion

Pathways. I thoroughly enjoyed becoming immersed in the lives of a large cast of interesting characters in Meg Wolitzer’s novel titled, The Female Persuasion. Protagonist Greer Kadetsky follows a path through life that aligns with what most of us experience: highs, lows, and a road that meanders in directions we never imagined. It’s easy to spend time with Wolitzer because her sentences are finely crafted, and her insights into human nature are revealed in every character as they emerge as complex and true to life. Central to the novel are two significant relationships: Greer’s longtime friendship with the smart neighbor boy, Cory; and the ways in which a feminist leader, Faith Frank, becomes a mentor to Greer. Wolitzer allows us to meander forward and backward in time as we get to know the complexity in the lives of Greer, Cory and Faith. As Greer matures and finds her voice, she uses it ways that she never imagined. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Female Persuasion from

The Perfect Nanny

Creepy. If this line doesn’t compel you to read Leila Slimami’s novel titled, The Perfect Nanny, nothing will: “to be happy, someone has to die.” That’s the view of Louise, the nanny in the title. This creepy psychological thriller takes us into the life of Louise, and the families and children whose lives she has entered. It’s a novel of race and class and the ways in which we become part of the lives of others, and they become part of our lives, for better and for worse. Louise is a troubled soul, and we know from the beginning of the novel that something terrible has happened. The rest is finely written prose helping us come to grips with tragedy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perfect Nanny from

Tears of Salt: A Doctor's Story

Lampedusa. The life of Doctor Pietro Bartolo turned upside down and inside out when refugees from fighting in North Africa and the Middle East began to arrive on his native island of Lampedusa. In his book titled, Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story, Bartolo tells us of his life and of this time when how a person feels about the dignity of every life requires the hardest work one has ever done. While much of what Bartolo describes in this book involves suffering, the inspiration comes from his steadiness while facing the unexpected, and how he did all he could to alleviate suffering. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Tears of Salt from

Faith: A Journey for All

Personal. What is faith in your life? In his book titled, Faith: A Journey for All, former President Jimmy Carter explores what faith has meant in his life and offers readers insight and wisdom from his experience. While religious faith occupies much of this book, Carter covers faith and doubt from many different perspectives. As always, Carter speaks with a moral authority and authenticity that for most readers is well worth hearing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Faith from

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Naps. I have the same thought with every new book by Daniel H. Pink: what new and interesting insights is he sharing this time? In his latest book titled, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink has scoured scientific journals to uncover stimulating information that could change one’s beliefs. The big theme in this book is that timing really is everything. Using lots of examples, Pink reinforces this in multiple ways. My favorite was about naps. Like me, Pink was not a napper. Based on research, Pink now believes in the value of the short nap taken at the right time for the right period of time, following a cup of coffee. Any reader open to changing beliefs based on new scientific evidence will find much to enjoy in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When from

Speak No Evil

Silence. Be prepared to receive an emotional wallop while reading Uzodinma Iweala’s finely written novel titled, Speak No Evil. One could say this is a novel about a family that could be any family. There is love, similarities, differences. Then, there is cruelty, violence, tragedy. One could describe this novel as a gay coming of age story. None of those descriptions matter because of what this novel is: a finely written story that will engage every reader. The characters in this novel are drawn well and are developed with complexity and care as we understand them better every time the plot moves forward. The finely written prose drew me in to the story from the opening, and some sentences increased my heartrate or perhaps the prose served as a kind of pacemaker. If a consequence of speaking no evil involves silence, that may be an outcome that turns out to be unbearable. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Speak No Evil from

The Bishop's Pawn

King. The thirteenth novel in the Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry takes an approach different from the first dozen books in the series. In the novel titled, The Bishop’s Pawn, Berry presents Cotton Malone’s link to Martin Luther King in the past and in the present. The past involves backstory: the first work that Malone did for Stephanie Nelle. Fans of action novels will find plenty to enjoy in this book, and those readers who have enjoyed the series are those most likely to appreciate the latest installment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Bishop’s Pawn from


Dialogue. Life in Chicago in the 1920s provided a backdrop to showcase David Mamet’s fine writing in his novel titled, Chicago. Mamet uses dialogue to draw readers into that time and place. This is not always the dialogue Mamet would write in a screenplay, but he uses dialogue as a way to combine both character development and plot in a meandering way, requiring a reader to give oneself over to eavesdropping and to letting the plot take care of itself. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Chicago from

Feel Free

Observant. I’ve read many of Zadie Smith’s essays and reviews in the past, and when I completed her new collection titled, Feel Free, I realized what great range and variety of skills this fine writer exhibits. Her observation skills inform finely crafted sentences when she writes as a critic or reviewer. She is a close reader of the works of others, and her insights are both informed and interesting. Her perspectives on any number of topics brought me pleasure, even when I realized that I had read an essay before. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Feel Free from

The Cloister

Héloïse. Intelligent readers of historical fiction are in for a treat while reading James Carroll’s novel titled, The Cloister. Carroll presents two strong female characters in two time periods and the similar work they did in preserving important documents. We see the intensity of the famous relationship between Héloïse and Abelard in France in the 1100s, and how Héloïse preserved writings by Abelard that might have otherwise been destroyed. The other time period moves us to Manhattan after World War II and to Father Michael Kavanagh who meets Rachel Vedette, a Holocaust survivor whose prize possession is a document written by her deceased father about Abelard’s engagement with Jewish scholars. These interwoven stories are finely written, and Carroll moves with ease from one time period to another delving into all kinds of matters of importance. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Cloister from

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hotel Silence

Toolbox. The protagonist of Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s novel titled, Hotel Silence, is a man with a plan. Jónas Ebeneser has found his life in Iceland lost all meaning and purpose, so he settles his affairs there and travels to a war-torn country in the Balkans with a toolbox to assist him in committing suicide. After he arrives at a hotel in a small town and plans his demise, he finds that the people in the hotel and the town can use his help and his tools. Before long, he repairs both property and himself, and brightens the lives of the people around him. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hotel Silence from

A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life

Appetite. A posthumous collection of essays by Jim Harrison is titled, A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life. All of these pieces have been published before, and whether I read some before or not, I found I enjoyed this smorgasbord of fine writing about eating and drinking and living a life of culinary abundance. The title refers a thirty-seven course meal that Harrison enjoyed in France and about which he wrote eloquently in the New Yorker. Harrison’s enthusiastic delight in sensual pleasure fills every page of this collection. Lent was the wrong season of the year for me to read this collection. After every essay I realized that I am not eating and drinking nearly enough. Harrison’s wit enlivens every essay and the best tribute would be to read essay and toast the author with a glass or bottle or three of fine wine and great food. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Really Big Lunch from


Wives. If each member of your book club has been married more than once, there will be a special resonance for all if you select Lily Tuck’s short novel titled, Sisters. Even the never divorced will understand the special bond between a first wife and a second wife when it comes to understanding infidelity and the secrets that can be part of a relationship. Tuck’s prose is sneaky and wonderful. It creeps into a reader and leaves a mark, perhaps a bruise. If you read it all during one sitting, wine helps. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sisters from

Deadly Cure

Pharma. Lawrence Goldstone grabs readers within the first few pages of his novel titled, Deadly Cure, with an engaging plot and interesting characters. While the novel is set in Brooklyn in 1899, the themes about economic inequality and the actions of drug companies could have been grabbed from today’s headlines. Any reader interested in crime fiction is likely to enjoy this medical thriller. I was thoroughly entertained, especially when Teddy Roosevelt made a brief appearance. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Deadly Cure from

My Darling Detective

Library. Crime fiction fans are those readers most likely to enjoy Howard Norman’s novel titled, My Darling Detective. Protagonist Jacob Rigolet was born in the Halifax Public Library where his mother was head librarian. Jacob’s fiancée is the detective in the title, and a noir drift involves uncovering the truth about Jacob’s father, Robert Emil. The plot moves along at a perfectly paced clip, all the characters are interesting, and any novel in which a library plays a major role is always worth investigating. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Darling Detective from


Dogged. Doctor Chris Rankin is the protagonist of Felix Francis’ novel titled, Pulse, and she is alienated from almost everyone around her. Her husband has become exasperated by her anorexia. Her coworkers in the hospital emergency room have questioned her decisions and fitness for work. At her part time work at the racetrack, the jockeys dislike her ability to place them on medical leave. After she deals with an unexpected death at the track, no one, including the police, wants to deal with her incessant questions. Her dogged pursuit of a solution to the mysterious death leads to dramatic consequences. Fans of this series are those readers most likely to enjoy the latest installment. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Pulse from


Bleak. The middle book of the Buckmaster trilogy by Paul Kingsnorth is set a thousand years after the first. In the novel titled, Beast, we find Edward Buckmaster alone in a bleak landscape, a forest without life, where he has been living for five seasons. He senses the presence of a beast in the forest and searches for it. Many readers will feel adrift by Kingsnorth’s run-on prose, and that’s probably what the author intends. Like Buckmaster, we are adrift in a world that we have ruined. Patient readers will find either clarity or confusion by the end of the novel. This far along, I now await the conclusion of the trilogy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beast from

The Great Questions of Tomorrow

Essay. Readers looking to stimulate or to provoke one’s thoughts should consider reading David Rothkopf’s book titled, The Great Questions of Tomorrow. This short book is an essay presenting the author’s perspective on the questions that we should be asking today and tomorrow. I enjoyed this cogent presentation and realized that it stimulated my own thinking about the “right” questions that I and all should be asking. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Great Questions of Tomorrow from


Reflections. Preparation for one’s expected death can focus the mind. Cory Taylor’s beautifully written prose in her memoir titled, Dying, offers her focused reflections on disease, her full life and her journey toward death. Some readers will find a resonance with Taylor’s recollections of family life. As her life began to contract, her memories become a constant companion, and these reflections are finely written. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Dying from

The Correspondence

Stress. I’ve always felt that our true selves are revealed to all when we are under stress. Using the structure of six letters in his book titled, The Correspondence, J.D. Daniels, reveals the inner life of interesting characters whose lives are under some form of stress. Daniels’ prose is also under stress: a careful constraint of choosing the perfect words to build good sentences, to compose a well-crafted letter, six times over. There’s skilled craft on display in this book for those readers who appreciate fine writing. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Correspondence from