Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?

Progressive. Conflict and imbalance between labor and capital isn’t new, but Robert Kuttner proposes what he views as a clear path toward a contemporary model for balance. In his book titled, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?, Kuttner looks at the United States and other countries as he surveys the current state of labor and capital and the consequences of the current state of affairs. He proposes a progressive populism as a way to put some constraints on capitalism so that labor can thrive, communities be sustained, and countries maintain democracy. Whether you agree with his analysis and solutions or not, his writing is clear, and is likely to stimulate the thinking of anyone interested in the health of society and the state of our current world. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism from


Hockey. I’ve never lived in a small town, and have no interest in hockey, but I recognized the range of familiar behavior in a large cast of characters in Fredrik Backman’s novel titled, Beartown. Set in a rural town in Sweden, the lives of many inhabitants revolve around their hockey team, and their plans for a community renewal after their junior team wins a championship. Along the way, Backman injects class conflict and an accusation of rape on the eve of the big game. Every character in the novel is complex and well-drawn. After a few dozen pages, most readers will feel as if we are living in Beartown and will root for our favorite characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beartown from


Independence. Seymour M. Hersh admits often in his memoir titled, Reporter, that he’s not much of a team player. He also conveys that he has never been uncomfortable in being independent, and in not ingratiating himself as a way to join the “in” crowd. Those traits have served him well during a long career as a successful investigative journalist. Throughout the memoir, Hersh explains journalism, and reveals his hard work as a reporter. Powerful people in government have lied to him over many decades, but sooner or later, Hersh has brought their lies to the attention of all citizens, supported by evidence that has been irrefutable. Imagine my interest, and perhaps yours, as you read that he has material for a book on Dick Cheney but has to wait a while since some of his sources would be too exposed. Any reader interested in public policy will find something of interest in this finely written memoir. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Reporter from

Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

Optimism. Readers looking for stress relief from the divisive and tense partisan shouting may want to read an optimistic view of the health of the United States in a book by James and Deborah Fallows titled, Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America. The couple describe their immersion into multiple towns across the country for enough time to get a real feel for those places that are undergoing transformation and renewal. There’s lots of good news about our future in this book, given all that is happening all over the United States. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Our Towns from

The Restless Wave

Farewell. Most readers will finish reading John McCain’s memoir titled, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations, and anticipate how much his values and character will be missed in Washington. This patriot delivers a heartfelt farewell in this book, expressing positive views about our future and how much appreciation he has for all the opportunities he’s had during his life, and how much he appreciates what others have done for him. If you’re expecting this maverick to speak out of school and take a shot or three at some people he disagrees with, you will get what you expect, and more. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Restless Wave from


Driven. I braced myself when I saw that the Hogarth Shakespeare assignment for the Scottish play went to Jo Nesbø. Usually, I don’t like contemporary staging of Shakespeare in offbeat ways, but this Hogarth series has been terrific. Nesbø’s Macbeth provided the perfect blend: Shakespeare’s core story in the form of a dark crime story set during the 1970’s drug wars. Macbeth takes drugs and is the head of a police SWAT team. His ambitious wife runs a casino and is called, “Lady.” All the elements of love, ambition, guilt, crime and greed are present, and fans of Nesbø and Shakespeare alike should be pleased by this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Macbeth from

The Night Market

Memories. Ross Carver is confused and keeps struggling to remember what happened. Jonathan Moore’s novel titled, The Night Market, keeps readers confused as well, which is very tolerable since the pace of this thriller has two settings: fast and faster. Readers who enjoy an offbeat and not necessarily reality-baked novel are those most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Night Market from

The Dark Clouds Shining

Alliances. The fourth novel in the Jack McColl series by David Downing is titled, The Dark Clouds Shining. The fast-paced actions starts in England in 1921 when Jack’s former spymaster offers him an early release from prison in exchange for carrying out a risky and unofficial assignment. Happy to be sprung, Jack finds himself in Moscow and back into the life of the woman he loves, Caitlin Hanley. There are tenuous alliances throughout the novel, as Jack travels as far as India on this assignment. Fans of the series are those readers who are most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dark Clouds Shining from

The Take

Riske. Fans of thriller novels are those readers most likely to enjoy the latest from Christopher Reich titled, The Take. Simon Riske is a well-developed and interesting protagonist, full of skills and an interesting backstory. The fast-paced plot twists entertained me thoroughly. Riske faces some worthy adversaries as he tries to settle some scores of his own while carrying out a clandestine job. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Take from

The Young Widower's Handbook

Desolation. In his debut novel titled, The Young Widower’s Handbook, Tom McAllister reveals wisdom far beyond his years. Following the sudden death of his wife, Kait, protagonist Hunter Cady’s grief makes him numb and desolate. Kait’s Philadelphia family overwhelm Hunter, and he flees them, taking Kait’s ashes on a journey west, a trip they should have taken when she was alive. McAllister uses humor to great effect, adds a great cast of characters, especially in the road trip, and develops Hunter with insight into the process of grief. I enjoyed the finely written prose and reveled in the love between Kait and Hunter. The journey from desolation to consolation is well-traveled and this portrait of a marriage is finely drawn. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Young Widower’s Handbook from

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

Measurement. I never expected to be mesmerized by a book about precision. In his book titled, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, Simon Winchester describes the improvements in technology as a result of doing a better job at measurement. In addition to this being a story about technology, Winchester does a great job in making this a story about people and their obsessions. Those readers who are not engineers or scientists will find this book interesting and readable. Scientists are likely to fine a few ways in which Winchester could have been more precise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perfectionists from

Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces

Minder. There’s not a lot to read in a brief collection of seven essays by Michael Chabon titled, Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, but each essay is finely written. If there is a father in your life who doesn’t read a lot, this book would make an ideal gift. For any father, mother or child, there is thoughtfulness behind each essay, and a grounding in affection and love. I loved the essay about taking his thirteen-year-old son to Paris and having the insight to understand that his role was not necessarily that of “father,” but of “minder,” as his son found other people with whom he connected. Chabon’s closing essay about his own father was loving and moving. I have always enjoyed Chabon’s writing, especially for his skill at choosing the perfect word to add to his finely crafted sentences. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Pops from

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Psychedelic. I thought I knew a thing or two about psychedelics, but was disabused of that notion after reading Michael Pollan’s book titled, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Lots of research into psychedelics has been going on for decades, and there are promising findings about the effectiveness of some substances for treating different conditions. Fans of Pollan’s writing about food will find a similar style in his writing about the mind, and about his own experiences with psychedelics. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Change Your Mind from

In the Distance

Journey. I added Hernan Diaz’ debut novel titled, In the Distance, to my reading queue after it was nominated as a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While emigrating from Sweden to the United States with his older brother, protagonist Håkan becomes separated and throughout the novel tries to reunite with that brother. Instead of landing in New York, Håkan debarks in San Francisco, and begins a meandering journey mostly east to try to find his brother. Diaz presents terrific character development in Håkan, and delves deeply into grief, loss and loneliness as he takes readers on this fascinating journey with a great character. The prose is finely written, and most readers who enjoy literary fiction will appreciate this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase In the Distance from

Principles: Life and Work

Discipline. Living and working in a disciplined and methodical way has worked for Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio, so he is giving back by writing a book titled, Principles: Life and Work, about how he’s done it. Dalio starts by telling us his life story, continues by describing the principles by which he led Bridgewater, and wraps up with tools that a reader can use to develop one’s own principles and practices. I thought I was pretty organized and disciplined until I read this book. I even remember developing a list of principles during a time when I was managing lots of people. Dalio is a black belt especially when it comes to leading an idea meritocracy. Radical transparency has lots of consequences, and somehow or other, Dalio became comfortable with that and attracted others who thrived in that environment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Principles from

The Outsider

Satisfaction. I’m writing this review of Stephen King’s novel, The Outsider, three days after completing it, and the smile of satisfaction remains on my face. As fans have come to expect, King tells a captivating story that will engage readers from beginning to end. He presents interesting characters, some of them just like us, and others very, very different. There’s an otherworldly component here and the return of a beloved character from earlier novels. Reading this novel was a very satisfying start to summer. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Outsider from

Theory of Bastards

Impermanence. Audrey Schulman accomplishes so much in her novel titled, Theory of Bastards, that I loved every page. Protagonist Francine Burk (Frankie) is a well-developed, complex character, who resonates differently at the beginning and the end of the novel. Each human and bonobo character comes to life in the novel. Frankie’s observations of bonobos lead her to the theory referenced in the title. The community Schulman describes struggles with limited resources and the effects of climate change. When technology fails, the impermanence of all that is familiar requires dramatic change. There’s a roller coaster of healing, hurting and hope in this novel that will appeal in a special way to those readers who enjoy literary fiction that leads one toward deeper thoughts about life. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Theory of Bastards from

The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies

Cold. Former American spymaster Michael V. Hayden pulls no punches in a book titled, The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies. With cold precision, Hayden dissects the current status of the intelligence community and judges that the current assault inhibits the United States’ capabilities to address global threats. Any reader interest in public affairs should consider reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Assault on Intelligence from

FInal Strike

Warning. The third novel in the Sean Falcone series by former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen is titled, Final Strike. Don’t look now, Earthlings, because an asteroid you didn’t see coming is on a collision course with our planet. That exciting plot and warning provides the momentum to the novel and can often be strong enough to overcome clunky writing, weak dialogue and incomplete character development. Fans of thrillers may overlook the weaknesses thanks to a great premise and decent plot. I was mildly entertained, but a bit annoyed by an extra hundred pages or so. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Final Strike from

You Think It, I'll Say It

Variety. I’m a sucker for fiction that respects the intelligence of readers, and I was a bullseye target audience for Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection titled, You Think It, I’ll Say It. Each of the ten short stories in this collection presents a slice in the life of interesting characters facing typical contemporary issues. There were no clunkers in this group of stories, and each story satisfied me, while I deeply wanted to pursue other slices of these interesting lives. Fans of short stories and finely written literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Think It I’ll Say It from

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Temptation of Forgiveness

Depth. Longtime readers of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon may wonder, as I did, how Guido continues to grow and change as he matures. In many respects, this beloved protagonist is at his best in the twenty-seventh installment of the series, a novel titled, The Temptation of Forgiveness. While always respectful of the strong females in his life, this time out Guido seems to give them more recognition and appreciation for their skills. The subject of the crime at the center of this novel could lead Guido in many different directions, and his maturity leads him to make the best choice. Many writers lose steam as a series continues, and the pressure to write new and interesting installments must be great. Donna Leon seems to get more energized and more intense with every new book, while remaining consistent with Venice and with the character of Brunetti, both of whom readers love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Temptation of Forgiveness from

The Fallen

Compassion. Protagonist Amos Decker returns in the fourth installment of the Memory Man series by David Baldacci, a novel titled, The Fallen. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this addition to the series. Baldacci continues to deepen the development of this interesting character, in this novel by the compassion and care that Amos provides to a young girl who is dealing with missing her deceased dad. Decker’s own experience gives him the way to provide compassion and help. As always with Baldacci, the plot moves quickly, the story is engaging, and the characters are interesting. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Fallen from

The Gunners

Friends. In a novel titled, The Gunners, by Rebecca Kauffman, childhood friends who formed a close-knit group reunite in their early thirties. Through the combination of an intense weekend together when they return to Lackawanna for the funeral of a group member who committed suicide and flashbacks to their childhood, Kauffman develops each character and tells their individual and shared stories, revealing surprises for these friends. Initial impressions of these individuals change during the course of the novel, often in surprising ways, and the power of memories that lasted decades packs a wallop. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Gunners from

In the Midst of Winter

Maturity. Any day is a good day to read about the redemptive power of love. In her novel titled, In the Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende draws three dissimilar characters together to tell each other their personal stories. Experiences in Latin and South America about human trafficking and immigration bring them together, and the care they show each other becomes a driving force in the plot. Allende explores how maturity can deepen the love that can develop between people approaching the sunset of their lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In the Midst of Winter from

Dark at the Crossing

Disoriented. Most elements of Eliot Ackerman’s novel titled, Dark at the Crossing, are disorienting. Protagonist Haris Abadi is a confused man, an Arab American trying to cross the border from Turkey into Syria to fight the regime. His plans are disrupted when he is robbed, and he finds that crossing the border is not that easy after all. His darkness increases after a husband and wife, Amil and Daphne, take him in, and he questions his allegiances. Borders are physical and psychological, and Ackerman explores longing and loss with great skill in this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dark at the Crossing from

Lawn Boy

Class. If you’re looking for a humorous novel about race and class in contemporary America, consider reading Jonathan Evison’s coming of age novel titled, Lawn Boy. Protagonist Mike Muñoz finds himself adrift after losing a landscaping job. While he struggles with work, family, and love life, he deals with class differences and exploitation. Mike is a lovable character, and Evison uses him as an everyman to riff on themes of modern life, especially the obstacles of race and class. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lawn Boy from

I've Been Thinking . . .: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life

Calming. Most days, I will tap the Breathe app on my Apple Watch and calm down for a minute or five. I found the same effect from reading each short chapter in Maria Shriver’s book titled, I've Been Thinking . . .: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. As the subtitle discloses, Shriver offers personal reflections on a wide range of subjects, and prayers and meditations on those subjects. Readers find meaning in many places different from Shriver’s experiences, but her reflections will stimulate one’s own, and lead us toward the next steps to take on our daily journey. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase I’ve Been Thinking from

Barren Island

Losses. One of my fondest childhood memories was driving from our apartment in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn to our bungalow in Roxbury on the Rockaway peninsula. I remember looking to the west from Flatbush Avenue before reaching Floyd Bennett Field and seeing a farmer plowing a field: an unusual site for Brooklyn in the 1950s. So when I read Carol Zoref’s novel titled, Barren Island, and learned about an island in the salt marches off Floyd Bennett Field, I wondered if I should have been looking to the east, especially while crossing the bridge. This finely written novel is full of losses of all sorts from the monumental to the minor. An isolated group of people live and work in the stench of a factory that renders dead horses and other animals into glue and fertilizer. The narrator, Marta Eisenstein, describes at age eighty her memories of these desolate places that have long since been demolished. Life between the world wars of the twentieth century were dominated by the losses of the depression. For Marta, the losses are as real in her memory as they were when they first occurred. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Barren Island from

The River of Consciousness

Essays. Fans of the late scientist Oliver Sacks will enjoy reading a book of his essays titled, The River of Consciousness, that he was working on at the time of his death. Each essay reveals Sacks’ fine writing, his intelligent curiosity, and his ability to tell interesting stories to general readers. I enjoyed every page of this collection, and closed the last page wanting to read more. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The River of Consciousness from

Fast Falls the Night

Overdose. In the sixth installment of the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, a novel titled, Fast Falls the Night, the author turns her focus to the drug problem in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia. Most of the tension in the novel involves trying to track down the source of a batch of tainted heroin that’s killing people. Bell is also considering an offer to leave town and join a law firm. Keller leaves readers with a cliffhanger, so fans will anxiously await another installment to find out what happens. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fast Falls the Night from