Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

Alarm. How ready are you for severe weather events, climate refugees, food shortages and increasing civil unrest? After reading David Wallace-Wells' book titled, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, you’re likely to wish you were more prepared. Packed with loads of data, the book tells a horror story about what scientists predict as likely if average temperatures continue to rise. In summary: a horror show will follow. I don’t know what it will take for the United States and the world to take climate change seriously. This book may have no impact. Any informed citizen open to listening to some evidence should consider reading this book. What each of us decides to do in this area is up to us, but we need to find ways to be better informed, and this book represents one more way to pay attention to this critical topic. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Uninhabitable Earth from

The Heavens

Dreams. Do we change, or is it reality that changes? Where did we come from and where are we going? Protagonist Kate is as confused as the rest of us about life, as described in Sandra Newman’s novel titled, The Heavens. In New York in 2000, Kate meets Ben at a party, and they hit it off. While she sleeps, Kate dreams of 16th century London where she lives as Emilia. After each dream, her return to New York introduces her to an altered reality from the one she left before sleep. While Ben loves Kate, he finds her changes unsettling and disturbing. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Heavens from

Birthright. I laughed my way through much of Nathan Englander’s novel titled, After all, the premise itself was funny. Protagonist Larry is a secular Jew when his Orthodox father dies. It is Larry’s birthright and responsibility to recite the Kaddish for his late father every day for eleven months so that his father can find his way to heaven. He finds a website,, that allows Larry to outsource his responsibility. Two decades later, Larry has become a rabbi, and is drawn to repair his past action: he needs his birthright back. Underneath the humor, there is a serious story here about purpose and obligations. Englander’s writing is superb, and the tenderness and humanity of these characters will enrich all readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Kaddish from

Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics

Scores. There are some words that easily come to mind when one thinks of Chris Christie: blunt, brassy, cocksure, confident, larger than life. All of that is on display in his memoir titled, Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics. If you think Christie has some scores to settle in this book, you are correct, and he scores with skill. If you expect the book is all “me, me, me,” you are also correct, but after all, this is a memoir. You’ll read about Bridgegate, the relationship between the Christie’s and the Trumps, and come away feeling exactly the same about Christie as you did before opening the book. Readers interested in public affairs are those most likely to enjoy this novel. I assume all the Kushners received signed copies, with the compliments of the author. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Let Me Finish from

The Malta Exchange

Conclave. The fourteenth Cotton Malone novel by Steve Berry is titled, The Malta Exchange. Fans of this series are those readers most likely to be patient enough to stick with the complexity in this novel. A pope has died, and there’s a scheme to get a particular person chosen as pope at the conclave. The complexity comes in the form of a secret document kept by the Knights of Malta, purported to go back to Emperor Constantine and containing material threatening to the Catholic church. There’s also evidence about indiscretions by various cardinals that have been documented and are planned to be used to secure votes for the person who wants to be pope. Various secret agents are at work, and Cotton Malone is in the middle of another mess. If you have any questions about how Cotton fares, you’ve never read anything in this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Malta Exchange from

Outside Looking In

Sacrament. I like most of what T.C. Boyle writes. I’ve especially enjoyed his skill in skewering hucksters in his novels. While I was reading his novel titled, Outside Looking In, about Timothy O’Leary, I was remembering his much earlier novel about the Kellogg’s titled, The Road to Wellville. O’Leary convinces disciples to follow him into lives centered around the sacrament: LSD. The tripping is described with great skill, and the commune is filled with a cast of well-drawn characters who behave exactly as most readers would expect. Con men are great characters, and Boyle offers readers O’Leary at his conniving best. Fans of fine writing, especially those with a good sense of humor are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Outside Looking In from

Here and Now and Then

Parenthood. Time flies and stuff happens. That’s one summary of life. Mike Chen’s debut novel titled, Here and Now and Then, presents a typical dad, Kin Stewart, who loves his wife and tries to be a good dad to his daughter, Miranda. Unlike the typical dad, Kin leads two lives. In one, he is a time-traveling secret agent living in 2142. In another, he works in IT in San Francisco where he has been living since the 1990s when he got stranded while on assignment. After his time travel colleagues pull him out of San Francisco, he still tries to be a good parent to Miranda, while breaking all kinds of rules. This is a great book for a dad to read with a teenage daughter and have something in common to talk about. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Here and Now and Then from

The Strange Bird

Perspective. Jeff VanderMeer adds another perspective to the world he created in his novel titled, Borne, in a smaller novel titled, The Strange Bird. Fans of the earlier novel are those readers most likely to enjoy this creative and imaginative addition. The bird was built in a laboratory from a variety of parts: avian, human and who knows what. Where does this creature fit in the world? She knows captivity and searches for the place where she truly belongs. VanderMeer explores captivity and freedom and raises questions about the world we create. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Strange Bird from

Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don't, Can't, and Do Know

Sobering. University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson presents a scholarly approach for general readers in her book titled, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don't, Can't, and Do Know. This is a sobering account of all the who, what, how and why from 2016, along with an assessment of how unprepared we are for waging the ongoing Cyberwar. Whether the Mueller Report answered your questions or not about the 2016 Presidential election, Jamieson’s book will be of interested to all readers concerned about public affairs and our cyber vulnerabilities. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cyberwar from

Early Riser

Winter. Readers who enjoy imaginative dystopian fiction are those most likely to appreciate Jasper Fforde’s novel titled, Early Riser. Set in Wales, this is a story of a population who eat hearty as preparation for sleeping through the harsh winter. Fforde adds clever writing, humor, mystery and mayhem to keep readers turning pages. Levels of meaning enhance the reading experience and improve the entertainment value of this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Early Riser from

Friday, April 19, 2019

Unto Us a Son Is Given

Inheritance. The twenty-ninth installment in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon set in Venice is titled, Unto Us a Son Is Given. For the first time in my memory, we have an extended one on one conversation between Guido and his father-in-law, and a request for help from the older man to the younger. Leon explores in this novel the things we do for love and the essence of inheritance. There’s an adult adoption at the core of the story, and the ebb and flow of friendship across decades. Longtime fans may be surprised by what Guido is reading. Readers who enjoy character-based crime novels with complex and interesting characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Unto Us a Son Is Given from

Sing To It

Voice. Amy Hempel presents readers with an eclectic range of fifteen short stories in a collection titled, Sing To It. Some of the stories are very short and still complete. With great economy, she can capture emotion using just the right words. Her voice can come across as odd and a bit quirky, which may distract some readers. You can find laughter and pain in sentences that follow each other and feel that juxtaposition is perfect. The longest story, Cloudland, surrenders economy for taking us to many places and to different emotions with depth and insight. Fans of finely written literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the stories in this collection. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Sing To It from


Connections. Caitlin Macy set her novel titled, Mrs., on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just after the financial crisis, and offers a cast of characters including the old rich and the new rich. One connection among the characters involves their children who attend what all the elites know is the best private school. Backstories and past connections among characters provide depth to the novel in which Macy delivers great insight into the lives of the wealthy in Manhattan. There’s a group of school moms who provide the bitchy equivalent of a Greek chorus. At the core there’s a smaller cast of characters of deep complexity and secrets. Macy uses multiple points of view to draw us into this world. While lots of readers will enjoy this novel, it seems tailor made for book clubs, especially ones with school moms. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mrs from

The Lies That Bind

Identity. Kwame Anthony Appiah offers a framework for thinking about identity in his book titled, The Lies That Bind. Many readers will find assumptions challenged about how identities work. Appiah reveals how our assumptions have been forged, whether as a consequence of conflict, or a result of poor science. Our differences are not as great as we may think they are, no matter how we define “we.” There are great stories and clear thinking on these pages. Any reader who enjoys philosophy written for a general audience will likely appreciate this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lies That Bind from

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Complicated. Fans of murder mysteries who are bored with plots that are simple to solve are those most likely to enjoy Stuart Turton’s complicated debut novel titled, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Protagonist Aiden Bishop is trapped inside Blackheath House. He can be released only after he identifies the killer of Evelyn Hardcastle. Aiden has eight days to do this, and over the course of each day he inhabits the body of one house guest. The creativity and twists will delight those mystery readers who can be patient with the complicated exposition. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from


Threats. The third installment in Joe Ide’s IQ series is a novel titled, Wrecked. This time out, Isaiah Quintabe, IQ, seems more established in his private investigator business. That feeling of comfort leaves quickly as IQ gets in trouble, and finds himself in the crosshairs of the man who killed his brother, Marcus. IQ isn’t working alone and has found a new love interest. Readers who enjoy well-written character-based crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Wrecked from

Off Season

Stress. I don’t read many graphic novels and I try to stay on the lookout for ones that I think will be interesting and satisfying to read. I thoroughly enjoyed James Sturm’s novel titled, Off Season. The book covers the stress and strain in a marriage, set during the divisive election year of 2016. The words and images combine to present a well-told story, and the mood is enhanced by the shades of gray throughout the book. For readers who don’t ever think to read graphic novels, consider this one. For fans of the genre, you may find this novel to be very satisfying. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Off Season from

Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts

Subscribe. Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has written a great account of the disruption of the news media, a book titled, Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. She understands this business from the inside and has gained perspective from the outside to assess what all this turmoil means for American life. Many people are losing faith and trust in a free press. Readers who value journalism should read this book and then subscribe to another high-quality newspaper in your town or someplace else. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Merchants of Truth from

Not of this Fold

Immigrants. The fourth installment in the Linda Wallheim series by Mettie Ivie Harrison is a novel titled, Not of this Fold. Linda finds herself caught up in what’s happening in the “Spanish ward” and gets herself and her husband, Kurt, in some hot water with the Mormon power structure. Harrison explores issues of immigration and alienation in this novel and moves along the development of the Wallheim family presented in earlier novels. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to enjoy this installment. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Not of this Fold from

The Wrong Heaven

Offbeat. There are ten offbeat and finely written stories in a collection by Amy Bonnefons titled, The Wrong Heaven. The stories are clever, funny, entertaining and packed with insight about what lies beneath the apparent ordinariness of life. If you can’t imagine a world in which plastic statues of Jesus and Mary can talk, you may want to look elsewhere for something to read. If you are at all curious about what those statues have to say, this collection of stories should be right up your alley. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wrong Heaven from

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Still Life with Monkey

Quality. Slowly and tenderly Katharine Weber pulls readers into the lives of Duncan and Laura Wheeler. In a novel titled, Still Life with Monkey, Weber explores the balance between the will to live and the desire to die. She taps into questions about the quality of life, and our ability to adapt to change. Duncan is a successful architect who became paralyzed following an auto accident in which one of his assistants died. Duncan is broken physically and mentally by the accident, and Laura, who works as an art conservator, wants to do all she can to repair her husband. She brings a trained monkey helper into the house, a capuchin named Ottoline. With finely written prose and insight into human nature, Weber takes us into the Weber lives and draws us into answering for ourselves key questions about the quality of life. She could have gone from insight to melancholy at any turn, but the quality of the writing keeps the novel crisp and cogent. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Still Life with Monkey from


Inheritance. A New England bowling alley turns out to be the perfect place to discover identity. In her novel titled, Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken takes readers into a bowling alley and its resident owners and patrons across multiple generations. The inheritance of the bowling alley depends on identity. Protagonist Bertha Truitt may be the most fully formed of the large cast of characters in the novel, and she will come to life for most readers as she brooks no question or objection about her abilities as a woman to do as she pleases. McCracken goes wild in this novel, and readers are enriched as a result, thanks to her fine writing. I had to look up many words while reading this novel because McCracken uses terminology suited to each time period we visit. I also had to learn what candlepin bowling is and saw that it’s available in Chicago. Readers whose taste leans toward the quirky are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Treat your wild side with this novel and leave behind no regrets. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Bowlaway from

Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House

Perspective. How often have you thought about being a fly on the wall in the White House? If once or more, consider reading a book by Cliff Sims titled, Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House. He was that fly on the wall. This inside perspective by a low-level White House staffer doesn’t gossip or attack President Trump. Sims gives his perspective on what he observed and what he thinks it meant. He affirms what most of us already know: many of the people around President Trump fight with each other and pursue individual agendas. The expected dysfunction is supported by many anecdotes, which come across as believable. Political junkies of any stripe are those readers most likely to enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Team of Vipers from

The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

Gripping. Investigative journalist Evan Ratliff tells the story of criminal genius Paul Calder Le Roux in a book titled, The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.. Were this fiction, I would have stopped reading after a few pages. Instead, knowing that the story is true, I was engrossed from beginning to end in a tale of terror and chaos. Le Roux’s crimes helped fuel our American opioid crisis, and the book describes how that happened using doctors and pharmacies who were ensnared by Le Roux. The pages flew by as I read Ratliff’s finely written account of a global criminal enterprise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mastermind from

The Dreamers

Sleep. Some writers have the ability to tap into core emotions like fear and write fiction that takes readers from caution to insight about those emotions. In her novel titled, The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker explores what happens when people begin to fall asleep and not wake up. They are alive and dreaming, but they cannot be awakened. It begins in a college community in Santa Lora, California and there is fear about a virus spreading this condition everywhere. It’s easy to become afraid when we’re confused about what happened in the past and what is a premonition about the future. We can wonder how our community would respond to the spread of a virus. We can dream with the characters in this novel and think about what is read and what is imagined. Fans of good creative writing are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Dreamers from

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Nose. Talented writer Marlon James opens his Dark Star Trilogy with a novel titled, Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Before a reader opens page one, you should consider the consequences of beginning to read what will be three novels: a commitment to lots and lots of pages. Once you start on this reading adventure, James will pull you into stories from African history and mythology while creating a fantasy world that will consume your time and attention for many hours. Once James presented the character, Tracker, whose nose allows him to find people by following their scents, I was hooked. Once on board, the adventure took me to strange and unfamiliar places, to violence and intense sexuality. The bulk of this first novel is the journey of the nose named Tracker and his search for a missing boy. James empties his imagination with the creatures Tracker encounters on this journey. I felt myself in good hands with Marlon James as he made a world in which I became intrigued, interested and eventually caring. James is a master of voice, and while in this installment the world we see if from Tracker’s perspective, the next novel may offer a different voice, another point of view. I look forward to it. After all, I’ve become hooked. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Black Leopard Red Wolf from

The Island of Sea Women

Divers. Clear your calendar to spend as many hours as you need to read Lisa See’s novel titled, The Island of Sea Women. This book tells us the story of the lives of two best friends from the island of Jeju, Mi-ja and Young-sook, who have been trained in the tradition of Haenyeo women from their youth as skilled divers to reap bounty from the sea. While the novel is packed with love and the joys of friendship, the brutality of life in Korea in the 1940s can be challenging to read. Tragedy strikes Mi-ja and Young-sook in different ways and their strengths are tested by the sea and by life’s circumstances. Most readers will want to talk to a friend about this novel or discuss it in a book group. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Island of Sea Women from

Sea Monsters

Quest. Why does a teen run away from home? That’s the question Chloe Aridjis explores in her novel titled, Sea Monsters. Seventeen-year-old Luisa leaves home in Mexico City on a quest to fulfill her obsession. Her decisions and choices are exactly what one would expect to flow from the unformed teenage brain. While Luisa heads to the Pacific on her quest, her father tries to find his missing daughter by using every possible connection he can uncover about her whereabouts. We are all on a search for meaning, and in that way, Aridjis pulls us along on our own quest as she explores what Luisa has to teach us all. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Sea Monsters from

Run Away

Secrets. Thanks to Harlan Coben, even family trauma can be thrilling. In his novel titled, Run Away, Coben takes us into the challenges of the Greene family. Simon and Ingrid Greene are disrupted from their successful lives by their daughter, Paige, who has become a drug addict. To what lengths will a parent go for a child? Coben pulls readers into the Greene family situation, then kickstarts a nationwide set of connections to revealing secrets long held. Most readers will become anxious to keep turning the pages to see the next turn in the exciting story. How many secrets will be exposed and with what consequences? Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Run Away from


Hardball. Watch out for Judge Julie, the protagonist of a novel by Joseph Finder titled, Judgment. After exercising poor judgment in her personal life, Judge Juliana Brody faces a full court press on her to rule in a certain way concerning a case in her courtroom. Her escapades to avoid being blackmailed demand a reader’s full suspension at disbelief: one must forget that the behavior of this person matches that of a Superior Court judge. Once reconciled to the context that judges are people too, readers can join the brisk plot that races to a very satisfying conclusion. Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Judgment from