Saturday, November 24, 2018


Weight. I love to read Stephen King’s weighty novels, and I am also delighted when he tells a story in shorter form because he never bloats his prose. I was thoroughly entertained by his novella titled, Elevation. Set in a familiar King setting, Castle Rock, the protagonist, Scott Carey, looks the same on the outside, but he is losing weight no matter how much he eats. Scott confides his situation with his friend, Doctor Bob Ellis, who measures and weighs Scott but can’t figure out why the weight loss is happening. In the meantime, small town life continues, and King tells a story of hope in which people who feel excluded can become “one of us.” Readers won’t spend too long reading this latest Castle Rock story but may think about it long after the last page is turned. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Elevation from


Witness. All the while I was reading Sarah Perry’s novel titled, Melmoth, I felt chilled. Was that because Perry tells a creepy ghost story in this book, or was it the beginning of a seasonal turn from autumn to winter? Melmoth appears in stories and myths as a wanderer who serves as witness as she watches. Protagonist Helen Franklin leaves England for Prague where she works as a translator. She comes across a letter that warns of Melmoth and while Helen thinks this is all fantasy, things happen that shake her views. Fans of atmospheric, gothic novels are those readers most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Melmoth from

The House of Broken Angels

Generations. I felt like one of the revelers celebrating the lives of the extended de La Cruz family as I read the finely written novel by Luis Alberto Urrea titled, The House of Broken Angels. For gringos like me, this novel is a glimpse into the lives of a Mexican American family, crossing borders between Mexico and the United States with consequences. As a universal human story, it’s an insight into the relationships across generations: complex lives well-lived. The prose is finely written, the story engaging, and the characters well developed. Fans of great American stories are those readers most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The House of Broken Angels from

Shadow Tyrants

Colossus. The thirteenth installment in Clive Cussler’s Oregon files series is titled, Shadow Tyrants. Fans of the series will get everything expected from this novel: Chairman Juan Cabrillo and his talented crew at the Corporation zip around the world going after the bad guys. We’re never in doubt about who will prevail. This time out even the villains are fighting other villains. Nine unknown wealthy men lead a secret society that has been passed down to descendants for thousands of years. They are working together on a project named Colossus that will lead to major changes in the world. They are taking the next step in artificial intelligence: creating a biological computer that will learn on its own. What could possibly go wrong? This and other Cussler formulaic fiction franchises provide some reliable entertainment for those readers who enjoy an exciting story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Shadow Tyrants from

The Third Hotel

Unsettled. From the beginning to the end of Laura van den Berg’s novel titled, The Third Hotel, I was unsettled. There’s a fluid movement from reality to the supernatural or surreal. Imagination blends with the physical world. A setting in Havana adds some mystery and an inability to become comfortable. I was propelled and pummeled by van den Berg’s fine writing, leading me to reread some sentences. Marriage, sorrow, love, loss, and grief are all offered on the pages of this novel for readers to sort out. Has protagonist Claire really seen her dead husband, Richard, in Havana at the film festival he had planned to attend? Is our life a horror movie? Readers who enjoy literary fiction and who can become comfortable with being unsettled and ending the book with uncertainty are those most likely to enjoy this finely written novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Third Hotel from


Cooked. If the title of Olivia Laing’s novel, Crudo, refers to things raw, the prose within is cooked with all the finest ingredients of experimental literary fiction. Is the protagonist Kathy the real Kathy Acker, a punk artist who died in 1997? Probably not since the novel says it’s set in 2017. Citations from the index that identify chosen texts show lots of Acker. Maybe Laing is exploring in fiction what difference there is between life and death. Acker comes and goes while protagonist Kathy gets married and basks in the Italian sun in sumptuous luxury. Readers looking for plot and clarity with a beginning, middle and end will find nothing of the sort on these pages. Instead, this short book takes readers on an adventure of words. Every seeming tangent brings a new nugget to lovers of finely written prose. If you’re that kind of adventurous reader, you’re likely to love this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crudo from

Widow's Wreath

Rocco. The fourteenth Martha’s Vineyard mystery by Cynthia Riggs is titled, Widow’s Wreath. Fans of the series will enjoy spending more time with 92-year-old Victoria Trumbull. In this installment, she has agreed to host a wedding reception for her cousin, Penny, who thinks her fiancĂ©e, Rocco, is wealthy. Rocco thinks Penny is wealthy. Both are sorely mistaken. Murder is afoot, and Victoria is in the middle of things, as usual. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this installment. I was pleased to reach the ending and recognize that the case is closed. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Widow’s Wreath from

A Shout in the Ruins

Violence. The first time I visited Richmond, Virginia, a friend living there gave me the right context for understanding the place: the past jumps out from every corner and pokes you. Kevin Powers writes about the past in Virginia in his novel titled, A Shout in the Ruins. The book is set in two time periods: the civil war and its aftermath; and in the 1950s. Powers writes about violence and war with a blend of immediacy and distance: you are there in the gore and you are detached from it. The horrors of slavery and war are presented with unblinking calmness. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Shout in the Ruins from

Life in the Garden

Community. Fans of Penelope Lively’s novels and gardeners are those readers most likely to enjoy her book titled, Life in the Garden. Her reflections about gardening become insights about community, connections to nature, and reflections about different gardens throughout her long life. I think we never have too much beauty in our lives, and the smallest garden can become a place where beauty is found. Lively reflects on her well-spent life using the gardens as our guide in telling that story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Life in the Garden from

Home Fire

Sophocles. Kamila Shamsie’s novel titled, Home Fire, offers readers a contemporary version of Antigone. Siblings are strongly bound together, while tension and conflict pull them in multiple directions. Every character is complex and fully developed, and Shamsie’s prose is finely written. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Home Fire from

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Happiness Curve

Natural. The middle stage of life has often been referred to as a “crisis.” Using lots of data in a book titled, The Happiness Curve, Jonathan Rauch describes this part of life as a natural and essential slump that leads to an incline toward greater happiness. One friend of mine many years ago called his midlife transition a period of “values clarification.” Rauch would agree. If you’re in a midlife slump, relax. It gets better. Read the book and understand how and why. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Happiness Curve from

The Fifth Risk

Mission. Two readers holding different viewpoints should both read Michael Lewis’ book titled, The Fifth Risk. If you believe that the government can’t do anything right, read this book. If you believe that government workers are public servants engaged in carrying out a mission, read this book. Lewis gives readers a peek into three parts of the government within the departments of commerce, energy and agriculture. He explains the real contributions to American life that these parts of the government perform and introduces us to the passion and expertise of people who work for the government and for our citizens. There’s a lot to learn about the good things that the government does, and this book scratches the surface for a few little-appreciated parts of the government. Every citizen, especially those who pay taxes, should consider reading this short book to help reflect on the work being performed for all of us. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Fifth Risk from

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Heroine. The debut novel by Hank Green titled, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, will attract many different readers for lots of good reasons. Those who follow Hank’s YouTube videos with his brother, John, will want to see what fiction from Hank looks like. Fans of science fiction will enjoy the plot in which giant figures appear at the same time in dozens of cities around the world. Readers who enjoy a well-told story will like the ways in which twenty-three-year-old protagonist and heroine April May deals with unexpected fame thanks to social media. Green tells the story with wit, empathy and insight into human behavior. I enjoyed every aspect of this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase An Absolutely Remarkable Thing from

The Kremlin Conspiracy

Headlines. Readers who enjoy political thrillers that seem pulled from newspaper headlines are those most likely to appreciate the novel by Joel C. Rosenberg titled, The Kremlin Conspiracy. A Russian President, not unlike Putin, plots to restore Russian greatness, while deceiving the world with various forms of treachery. Rosenberg’s protagonist is Marcus Ryker who served with distinction as a Marine in Afghanistan, and as a Secret Service agent. The pace of this thriller never lets up, and there are enough twists and surprises to delight most readers. Readers who look to novels for escape may find this fiction too close to reality to provide any welcome comfort. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Kremlin Conspiracy from

Past Tense

Detour. Now that I’ve finished reading the 23rd Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child titled, Past Tense, I feel a certain loss, knowing it will be about another year before the next installment is released. Fans of the series will find lots to enjoy in the latest 400 pages of the life of a finely developed complex character. New readers can start here or anywhere in the series and find a great heroic character: a person who lives by a code of conduct and morality and acts in ways consistent with that code. In this novel, Reacher takes a detour on the way from New England to San Diego to visit the town where his father was born. By the end of the novel, Reacher learns things about his father, Stan, and sees the place where his father was raised. Along this journey toward his roots, there’s lots of malfeasance that Reacher stumbles across and addresses with all his skills and focus. Fans of action thrillers will love this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Past Tense from

Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America

Poet. What words would any of us choose to examine our life? If we were the award-winning poet Gregory Pardlo, we would select words that match our message perfectly. In his book titled, Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America, Pardlo reflects a lot about fatherhood: himself, his father, and his grandfather. To place these complex individuals in context, Pardlo tells us about their work, their choices, the setbacks and advances of lives, like ours, packed with ups and downs. The title refers to the role of Pardlo’s father as an air traffic controller. Family life changed forever after President Reagan fired striking controllers, including union leader Pardlo. Young Gregory was formed during the up and down years and his reflections are introspective and wise in this finely written book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Air Traffic from

Adjustment Day

Satire. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk are those readers most likely to enjoy reading his latest satire, a novel titled, Adjustment Day. Palahniuk has the ability to poke right at the heart of the divisions in society, drawing your brain into twisted ways in which tables are turned. Things don’t have to be the way they are. They could be much, much worse. The novel twists the tension in many of our divisions: race, class, age, sexuality, and describes another cultural model. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Adjustment Day from

A Forgotten Place

Outsiders. The tenth book in the Bess Crawford mystery series by the mother-son writing team called Charles Todd is set in Wales and titled, A Forgotten Place. While the World War has ended, Bess’ nursing work continues. After caring for a group of wounded men from Wales, Bess becomes concerned for their survival and reentry to society, since they may not find jobs. While on leave, she follows up on a letter from Captain Williams, and tracks him down in a remote village in Wales where he is living with his widowed sister-in-law, causing tongue wagging in this secretive community that considers him an unwelcome outsider. Bess finds herself stranded in Wales where there is a murderer at large. Excitement follows. Fans of mysteries and this series are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Forgotten Place from

Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family

Progeny. Put aside whatever you think about President Donald J. Trump, pro or con, as you read Emily Jane Fox’s book titled, Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family. During parts of this book, I felt as if I had already known more than enough about the Trump children, and during other parts, I gained new perspective on what it is like to be the child of Donald Trump. I have no idea what sources Fox used to write this book, but I read it quickly and came away with some insight. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Born Trump from


Confusion. In her novel titled, Motherhood, Sheila Heti captures the struggle of a woman trying to decide whether or not to have a child. Confusion is present on multiple levels: in the questions the woman asks, and in the structure of the novel that mirrors internal confusion. Readers get to spend time with a first-person narrator living her everyday life while struggling with this key question. Modern life is not quite straightforward, and Heti captures the absurdity of expecting simple answers by asking coins to answer yes or no to questions. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Motherhood from

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


Layers. I loved reading Kate Atkinson’s novel titled, Transcription, for many reasons. Atkinson’s finely written prose will please those readers who enjoy literary fiction and the art of writing. The protagonist of this novel, Juliet Armstrong, starts out as a strong and complex character and by the novel’s ending, the layers of Juliet’s complexity attain greater richness. Recruited first as a transcriber of spy tapes, then as a spy for MI5 during World War II, Juliet has something about her that makes her stand out and blend in at the same time. Atkinson captures the time period with great skill and offers a plot that will please readers who enjoy a twist and turn. Finally, I loved the wit sprinkled throughout the novel, especially the ineptitude by so many characters that it became funny. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Transcription from

The Only Story

Affair. Having a love affair sounds elegant and secretive. When Paul at age 19 begins an affair with Susan, a forty-eight-year-old married woman, it started out as exciting and secretive. Julian Barnes structured his book titled, The Only Story, as a fictional memoir, and over the course of fewer than three hundred pages, we follow the relationship between Paul and Susan over decades. The excitement, secrecy and elegance turn into cold reality after not many pages, and we see the gritty reality of everyday life along with the ways in which love can overlook shortcomings. As expected, Barnes’ prose is finely written and his insight into human behavior carries many insights. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Only Story from

Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old

Purpose. Whether you are young, old, or old old, you can find lessons about living well in a book by John Leland titled, Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old. Journalist Leland spent a year tracking the lives of six people eighty-five years old and older. Here’s one spoiler: happiness has a lot to do with having a purpose in life. Leland listened to the stories of these people and conveys them to readers in ways that are lively and interesting. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Happiness Is a Choice You Make from

Who Is Very Kelly?

Character. It took me longer than usual to read a novel titled, Who Is Vera Kelly?, by Rosalie Knecht, and I think I know why. While the chapters are short, they shift between two time periods and locations. While I thought this was a spy novel, it is really a character study which, duh, I should have concluded from the title. By the time I finished the novel, I appreciated getting to know Vera Kelly, the spy and the person. Scenes in Buenos Aires and New York City were finely drawn. Now that I know something about Vera Kelly, I wonder if Knecht will reprise her in another novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Who Is Vera Kelly? from

The Order of Time

Mysterious. Every now and then I step out of my comfort zone and try to read something in the sciences that I find unfamiliar. Carlo Rovelli presents a view of modern physics for non-scientists in his book titled, The Order of Time. Using plain language, he updates us on the contemporary understanding of time, and explores how much mystery remains on the subject. As expected, I finished the book with some head scratching, some bewilderment and a little more understanding about a subject I know a little better now than before I read this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Order of Time from

Some Trick

Wit. I have advice on how to approach reading the thirteen short stories in a collection by Helen DeWitt titled, Some Trick. I suggest you surrender yourself to her wit and follow wherever she takes you. Stop trying to connect how she went from the last paragraph to the next one. Enjoy her wit and insight and let her take you along for an enjoyable ride in each of these stories. She will introduce you to interesting people and you will come away with a fresh and positive view of human nature. Readers who enjoy intelligent writing will find lots of that in these stories. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Some Trick from

Two Girls Down

Vega. You may forget to re-apply sunscreen if you’re reading Louisa Luna’s novel titled, Two Girls Down, at the beach. Two girls have gone missing, and a family member has called in Alice Vega to help find them. Vega isn’t warmly received by the local police, so she teams up with a local private eye, Max Caplan. Luna develops these characters and the whole cast with great skill, while maintaining a plot momentum that fits the thriller genre. Caplan’s relationship with his daughter, Nell, was another high point in the novel. I finished reading this novel quickly to great satisfaction and wondered if Luna will continue to write stories featuring Vega, Cap and Nell. I’m ready to read them if she does. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Two Girls Down from

A Place for Us

Family. It was a real pleasure to take an armchair vacation spent with an Indian American family while I read Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel titled, A Place for Us. Mirza’s finely written prose guides us back and forth in time as she develops the depth and complexity of an interesting cast of characters. We spend our lives defining the place we call home, and each of us can struggle with identity and belonging. Mirza presents our story on the pages of this novel, and she does that with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Place for Us from

Bloody January

Glasgow. After I read a review of Alan Parks’ debut novel titled, Bloody January, I had to answer a key question. Should I read this detective novel set in Glasgow introducing Harry McCoy and risk that this will be a long series and I will end up reading every one? I took that chance. Set in the 1970s, there’s lots of violence and blood, quirky characters and wooden ones. The story kept me engaged, and McCoy is still employed by the end of the novel, despite coloring outside the lines of acceptable police work. I was entertained by this debut novel and am willing to consider reading the next in the series whenever it is released. Readers who like Tartan noir, or dark crime fiction of any fabric are those readers who should enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Bloody January from

A Distant Center

Quiet. I wonder why I don’t read more poetry. After reading the collection of poems by Ha Jin titled, A Distant Center, I noticed how quiet my mind and surroundings became. I usually read poems slowly, more than once. I find the experience calming and thoughtful. This short collection is packed with memory, images and descriptions of home and places far from home. Any reader who enjoys poetry will find many finely written poems in this collection. Those readers who want to find a quiet place to think can use the opportunity of reading these poems to go to such a place, however near or far that place might be. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Distant Center from