Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age

Cyberwar. Any reader interested in public affairs should consider reading David Sanger’s book titled, The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age. Sanger is the national security correspondent for The New York Times, and he offers not a word of fake news in this finely written book. The threat of cyberwarfare is real, and America and its citizens are vulnerable. You may not sleep well after reading this book, but you will be better informed about a serious threat to our lives. Be afraid. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Perfect Weapon from

The Dakota Winters

Charmed. The protagonist of Tom Barbash’s novel titled, The Dakota Winters, has returned from the peace corps in 1979 at age twenty-three to his childhood home in New York City at the famous Dakota. Anton Winter lives a charmed life as he tries to help his father, Buddy, revive his career as a late-night television host. The neighbors at the Dakota include John Lennon, of course, and Lennon behaves like a regular guy, takes Anton to sea with him and on other adventures. This is a coming of age story, a family tale, and the erratic ways in which our lives play out. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dakota Winters from

A Terrible Country

Moscow. I was thoroughly entertained by Keith Gessen’s novel titled, A Terrible Country. Andrei Kaplan’s prospects for work and love in New York have diminished, so he jumps at the chance to spend a few months in the city of his birth, Moscow, caring for his grandmother. Gradually, he understands why his grandmother refers to Russia with the phrase that is the title of the novel. There’s hockey, activists, and a great novel here for your reading pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Terrible Country from

Nine Perfect Strangers

Spa. One recipe for a novel: conjure up some interesting people and put them in an unusual place. In her novel titled, Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty puts a cast of very interesting characters in a wellness spa called Tranquillum House. All is not as it appears at this health resort, and the lives of the characters have levels of depth that take a while to reveal. Over the course of more than 450 pages, Moriarty reveals who these people are and what is really going on at Tranquillam House. You may never go to a spa again. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Nine Perfect Strangers from

How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World

Excitement. I remember in college that there were two introductory physics classes: the one for physics majors met for three hours starting at 8am on Saturday mornings; the other was called “physics for poets” and met after lunch for about an hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I took neither but realized decades later that the majors spent their Saturday mornings in the late 1960s learning things that were later disproven. For them, and for any reader with eyes open to the world, there’s a great book to consider by Stefan Klein. Titled, How to Love the Universe: A Scientist’s Odes to the Hidden Beauty Behind the Visible World, this book offers great images, well-written prose and an attitude of excitement about the world. It’s never too late to learn a thing or two about particle physics, even if you think you already know it all. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Love the Universe from

Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence

Evidence. Chances are your mind is made up on the topic of legalization of marijuana. Whether it is made up or not, consider reading Alex Berenson’s finely written book titled, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. Berenson makes the case that there is ample scientific evidence that marijuana can cause psychosis. There is also a link between psychosis and violence, and there is evidence that crime is increasing among marijuana users in the states that have legalized marijuana use. We are generally poor at estimating personal risks, and on a topic that seems as settled for individuals as marijuana use, how can we assess personal risks? Start by reading this book that offers proof of legitimate health concerns. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Tell Your Children from

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

Unity. We’re in that time cycle when anyone thinking of or actually running for President of the United States has a book to make a pitch to a small segment of the electorate who read such books. Since I’m one of those readers, and open to hearing a pitch, I read Kamala Harris’ book titled, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Over the course of over three hundred pages, Harris tells her of her childhood as the daughter of immigrants, her lifelong passion for justice, and the many ways in which she has served the public through various roles. Her pitch is that she is the person who can lead us toward unity through a focus on what we share in common. Even if you are cautious when faced with someone telling you what truth is, consider reading this novel to get to know one of the candidates running for President in 2020. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Truths We Hold from

In a House of Lies

Consequences. The twenty-second installment in the John Rebus crime series by Ian Rankin is a novel titled, In a House of Lies. All the familiar characters are back for this novel, the fifth since Rebus was forced to retire from the Edinburgh police. After the remains of a private detective who disappeared a decade ago are uncovered, Siobhan Clarke thinks her mentor, John Rebus, might help her solve this cold case. Some events from the past have serious consequences in the present if they come to light, and Rebus, aware of the risks, tries to use the case to press his own agenda. Fans know that that agenda includes Big Ger Cafferty. If none of this makes sense to you, consider reading this novel or this series anyway. The writing is great, especially for those readers who like crime fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase In a House of Lies from

You Know You Want This

Satisfying. There are twelve finely written short stories in a collection by Kristen Roupenian titled, You Know You Want This. Not all of the stories are as terrific as Cat Person, the story that went viral after it appeared in The New Yorker in 2017. I find the key to many great short stories involves the efficient development of interesting and complex characters. Roupenian wastes few words in sharing characters whose behaviors will draw in readers, whether we recognize ourselves or others in those characters or not. The writing is superb and any reader who likes well-written short stories should consider reading this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase You Know You Want This from

Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government

Cogent. If you know about Paul Volcker, you will be glad to read his memoir titled, Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government. If you think you’ve heard the name Volcker, but can’t remember much about him, you must read this book. The former chair of the Federal Reserve reflects on his life of service in this memoir, and he highlights three critical principles that he has followed throughout his life: stable prices, sound finance and good government. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Keeping At It from

Friday, February 8, 2019


Dismal. Some protagonists provide positive role models for readers: these are lives we want to emulate. Other characters make us glad that people like them are not part of our lives. In her novel titled, Adèle, Leila Slimani introduces readers to the title character whose dismal life is rooted in sex addiction. Lives that can appear enviable from an outside perspective may be miserable to those who know the truth. Addictions often become obsessive and overpowering. Spending even a short time with Adèle, I found my mood descending and I needed to take a pause. The writing and the insights into this desolate character kept me reading to the end. Readers with any interest in troubled characters and the consequences of addiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Adèle from


Plodding. Readers who enjoy medical thrillers might be satisfied with Robin Cook’s novel titled, Pandemic. If you’ve heard anything about gene modification using CRISPR/CAS9, this is the book for you. Frequent Cook protagonists Jack Stapleton and Laurie Montgomery are reprised in this book and their relationship has become rocky since Laurie became Jack’s boss at work. My expectations of recent Cook novels have been low, and this installment gave me the exact level of entertainment I expected. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Pandemic from

The Caregiver

Daughter. Can a child ever truly understand the lives of one’s parents? Samuel Park explores that question and others in a finely written novel titled, The Caregiver. Protagonist Mara Alencar grew up in a Rio de Janeiro flavela knowing some aspects of her mother Ana’s life, but not understanding critical actions during her childhood. Now working as a caregiver in Los Angeles for a woman named Kathryn who suffers with stomach cancer, Mara finds herself being treated as a daughter by her employer and questioning her past and that of her mother. Park moves the action between past and present as we gradually learn about the lives of these fascinating characters. I’m usually skeptical of a man’s ability to write with insight about female characters. In this case, Park seemed to understand the mother-daughter relationship extremely well. He also understood what Kathryn was facing with cancer. Park died of stomach cancer not long after he finished writing this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Caregiver from

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Hope. For those readers who look to fiction to explore the scope of human behavior, consider reading Heather Morris’ finely written novel titled, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Protagonist Lale Sokolov arrives at the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Because of his language skills, he is selected to work as a tattooist to mark numbers on prisoners. Morris sets up the contrast between the evil behavior of the Nazis and Lale’s ways of helping others and fostering hope in himself and others. This is a love story between Lale and Gita, a woman he meets in the camp. Based on a true story, Morris draws readers into horror and hope in ways that affirm our ability to express love and survive against all odds. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Tattooist of Auschwitz from

The City of Brass

Adventure. With her debut novel titled, The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty begins a series titled, The Daevabad Trilogy. Fans of adventure fantasy novels will find protagonist Nahri as a delightful character, full of magic and mischief. The world Chakraborty creates has a complicated history and lots of long-held resentments among different groups. Nahri finds herself in the middle of conflicts, and on an exciting adventure at the center of power. She has learned to be a healer, and her special skills are on display in many different contexts. Readers who enjoy big fantasy books with interesting stories should consider starting this trilogy and joining in the ongoing adventure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The City of Brass from

The Colors of All the Cattle

Politics. The nineteenth installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith is a novel titled, The Colors of All the Cattle. Smith gives readers the familiar gentle pace of a plot filled with familiar characters, while he introduces surprising new developments. This time out, apprentice mechanic, Charlie, does some effective detective work for Mma Ramotswe. Believe it or not, Grace and Phuti have a fight. Most surprising of all, is that Mma Ramotswe is convinced that she should run for the city council on a platform to stop a property from being developed next to a cemetery. Who’s her opponent? Violet Sephotho. If none of that makes sense to you, you haven’t been reading this series, in which case you should treat yourself. Fans will laugh while reading this installment, and finish the book as always, filled with good feelings. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Colors of All the Cattle from

The Verdun Affair

Quest. Fans of finely written historical literary fiction, especially relating to World War I and its aftermath, are likely to enjoy Nick Dybek’s finely written novel titled, The Verdun Affair. Fate brings Tom Combs together with Sarah Hagen in 1921 as she is searching for her missing husband. Dybek uses multiple time periods and finely crafted prose to draw readers into a quest to discover both oneself and a loved one. Truth is, as always, elusive, and subject to multiple interpretations. Dybek’s complex structure adds to the difficulty of the quest to decide whether or not a solider with memory loss is the missing husband, and who will get to decide the truth. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Verdun Affair from

Them: Why We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal

Neighbors. Ben Sasse, junior United States Senator from Nebraska, has written a book titled, Them: Why We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal, that he says is not about politics. Having read the book, I’m willing to take him at his word. His book suggests a solution to our hyper-partisan polarization: love your neighbor. He calls for building community at the local level, and that strong communities will lead to unity and a reduction in hate. He suggests that we root ourselves in some real physical space and find common ground with our neighbors. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Them from

Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance

Movement. In his book titled, Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance, Bernie Sanders does a calendar review of 2017 and 2018 and selects those things that reinforce the progress made on Sanders’ ideas becoming mainstream, and examples of success in opposition to a government that he claims works for the rich instead of all the people. This chronology of what has happened lays out what’s coming next, setting the stage for Bernie to throw his hat in the ring for President in the 2020 election. Fans of Sanders and prolific readers about current events will find all Bernie’s recurrent themes covered in this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Where Do We Go from Here from

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

Gripping. Sometimes a difference between fiction and non-fiction is that the real-life version can seem to demand way too much suspension of disbelief. In his true story titled, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, Ben Macintyre tells us about the life of Oleg Gordievsky, a Russian spy and the child of KGB agents. Beginning in 1973 he was working secretly for MI6 and played a key role in defusing cold war tensions. His dramatic extraction from Russia kept my heart beating rapidly as I read of his ordeal. Readers interested in international relations, especially espionage, are those most likely to appreciate this gripping story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Spy and the Traitor from

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Your Duck Is My Duck

Words. I don’t know about you, but words flow in and out of my consciousness all day long. Where they came from and where they are going is sometimes clear, and at other times very obscure. Deborah Eisenberg plucks words from whatever her source is, and constructs them into six playful and quirky short stories, a collection titled, Your Duck Is My Duck. Eisenberg taps into the inner and outer lives of eclectic characters and holds a mirror up to our regular and strange ways of being in the world. The characters are compelling, the stories engaging, and the words are chosen with great skill. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Your Duck Is My Duck from

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fea

Independence. From the earliest time I can remember, I would leave our family’s apartment in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, and my parents had only a vague sense of where I might be. Were there days when I got in trouble that could have been avoided? Yes. Did I grow up with self-confidence and independence? Yes. Today’s children and parents assess risks differently, and the “see something, say something” culture has led concerned individuals to contact the police rather than a parent when they are concerned that a child might be in jeopardy. Kim Brooks has written a book titled, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, that uses her own experience with leaving a child in a car for a few minutes, to describe current social expectations and the angst of parents. If selected for your book group conversation, count on hearing lots of stories about child rearing in the past and present. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Small Animals from

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction

Discipline. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been productive, organized and disciplined. After reading Chris Bailey’s book titled, Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, I understand how and why some of my routine practices have been successful. Readers who have trouble with productivity or with managing distractions will find a lot of practical ideas in this book about ways to get the right things done efficiently and effectively. I especially enjoyed the section of the book about scatterfocus, and the ways in which that approach can lead to creativity. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hyperfocus from

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

Alienation. Many children of immigrants feel alienation not only from their parents who grew up in a different place but also from their peers, whose family lives can seem more homogenous. In the eleven short stories in the collection by Neel Patel titled, If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, the characters struggle with identity and with finding ways to escape dysfunction of many types. There’s loneliness in these stories, anxiety about family expectations, and couples who are out of sync. The intimacy that Patel creates with just a few paragraphs in these stories leads to insights about human behavior that may be enlightening to many readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If You See Me from

The Widows

Mining. In a finely written debut novel by Jess Montgomery titled, The Widows, the protagonists Lily and Marvena are connected through the Sheriff of a small Ohio coal mining town, Daniel Ross. Set in the 1920s, the novel is packed with interesting characters and plot momentum involving violence, greed, loss, and restraint. Lily and Marvena are also connected in a battle for justice, a cause for which these two widows are formidable warriors. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and well-developed complex characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Widows from

The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King

Bully. TR fans will be dee-lighted by Jerome Charyn’s historical novel titled, The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King. We find the raucous Teddy Roosevelt in this novel which takes readers to the time he became President. Charyn excels at dialogue in this novel, and the language seems perfectly suited to the time period covered, and never comes across as awkward or clumsy to this reader. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King from

Bridge of Clay

Dunbars. There are loads of levels of meaning for the bridges in Marcus Zusak’s novel titled, Bridge of Clay. Protagonist Clay Dunbar is building a physical bridge. He also bridges the family relationships and finds identity as a Dunbar boy, one of five brothers. Zusak bridges past and present in erratic ways as he tells the Dunbars’ story in mixed pieces of exposition. The building blocks become clearer over hundreds of pages of what seems unclear or circular while on the reading journey. Patient readers will be rewarded with a finely written family story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bridge of Clay from

The Suspect

Personal. The latest crime novel by Fiona Barton to feature journalist Kate Waters is titled, The Suspect. A story about two young women missing in Thailand lets Kate jump into the lives of the parents worried about their daughters. The story turns personal when Kate learns that her son, Jake, is a suspect in foul play relating to the missing women. The plot twists rapidly with action in both England and Thailand, and family dynamics are dramatic for lots of characters. Children keep secrets from their parents for a variety of reasons, and parents can be in denial about the behavior of children. Barton mines all that with great skill in this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Suspect from

Dark Sacred Night

Partners. Michael Connelly’s novel titled, Dark Sacred Night, features both protagonists Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard. Ballard’s skills are underutilized while she works the night shift at LAPD’s Hollywood station. After she meets Harry in the wee hours at the station, the two hit it off and begin to work as partners on a neglected case. Connelly develops Ballard a lot in this novel, especially her dedication to the job, and the skills she deploys expertly. Harry Bosch is a beloved character and Connelly sets him up here with a gig for more novels to come. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the plot and characters of this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dark Sacred Night from

Harvest of Secrets

Workmanlike. The ninth installment in the Wine Country Mysteries series by Ellen Crosby is a novel titled, Harvest of Secrets. Protagonist Lucie Montgomery faces more than the usual challenges at her winery in Virginia at harvest time. A storm is coming before the grapes have ripened as far as desired; old human bones have been discovered just outside the family winery, and there’s a murder to solve. While part of the structure of the novel is formulaic and the characters are often not fully formed, this novel will appeal to those readers who enjoy mysteries. I finished this book with the same kind of feeling I get after a glass of a moderately priced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: workmanlike, tastes exactly as expected, and not much complexity. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Harvest of Secrets from