Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. Bazelon focuses on the power of prosecutors to charge offenders and the incentives that lead to choices made. She selects two offenders, Noura and Kevin, and their prosecutors in Memphis and Brooklyn respectively. Bazelon makes a persuasive case in this book that criminal justice reform is needed, and that fixing the parts of the system that are broken will lead to a stronger society. Readers with no personal experience of the criminal justice system will come away from reading this book with eyes wide open, and those readers with hands on experience are likely to find many practical suggestions for ways to repair this broken system. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Charged from amazon.com.
The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great. Many readers may be skeptical of Shapiro as he explores selectively the importance of Judeo-Christian values over hundreds of years. A contemporary culture in which moral relativism and individualism dominate may be leading us toward decline. Shapiro calls for paying attention to moral purpose and finding ways to work together for the common good. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Right Side of History from amazon.com.
The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, David Brooks describes two stages in life: one that is self-centered that leads us to climb a mountain of achievement; and a second stage in which we focus on others and make commitments to individuals and community. While we may achieve some satisfaction in meeting our self-centered goals as we climb the first mountain, fulfillment comes when we give ourselves to others on that second mountain. Our search for meaning and purpose in life involves dependence on others in the context of community. Brooks tells stories in this book about many individuals, including himself, and the narrative will lead all readers to be introspective about one’s own life and the meaning we have found. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Second Mountain from amazon.com.
Trust Exercise, that’s the question I came away with. We meet Sarah and David at age fifteen at the beginning of the book, set in 1982, as a third person narrator describes their relationship and the acting class that helped form them when they were adolescents. The second section of the novel is from Sarah’s perspective in the late 1990s, after she has become a successful author. Choi writes with great skill, and she leads readers to the coda of the novel at which time I found myself thinking about the question I note at the beginning of this review. Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Trust Exercise from amazon.com.
Courting Mr. Lincoln. Set mostly in Springfield, Illinois, the novel imagines the courtship of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd. Bayard demolishes caricatures of Mary that have endured, and instead presents a lively, savvy, interesting and loving woman with deep political insights. Alongside the courtship story is the tale of Lincoln’s friendship with Joshua Speed. Bayard places readers into the social milieu of Springfield, Illinois to observe the interactions of these three historical characters in context. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Courting Mr Lincoln from amazon.com.
Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Arthur C. Brooks offers a prescription to bring Americans together. Polarization has led most of us to associate exclusively with those with whom we agree and to demonize those who have different views. He encourages readers to join him in a countercultural call to action (p.213): “Go find someone with whom you disagree; listen thoughtfully, and treat him or her with respect and love. The rest will flow naturally from there.” Imagine that and then consider following Brooks’ advice. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Love Your Enemies from amazon.com.
The River. Friends since college, Wynn and Jack are on a carefree canoe trip on a river in northern Canada. Both feel at home in the wilderness and have the competence to handle whatever comes their way. Heller injects tension early in this well-told story and maintains a thrilling pace over two hundred and fifty pages as he describes a fight for survival against imminent threats to life. I’m less likely than ever to take a wilderness trip after reading this exciting novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The River from amazon.com.
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, Alex Kotlowitz goes behind the numbers to present readers with rich details about the human lives at stake. Based on over two hundred interviews, the book describes the people behind the crime statistics in the violent summer of 2013 in Chicago. Whatever distance each of us may have created between ourselves and those touched by violence, Kotlowitz brings the human faces close to ours in this finely written book. Empathy and understanding are likely to follow from this encounter. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase An American Summer from amazon.com.
The Parade. Set in an unnamed country, the characters Four and Nine react to the situation in which they have found themselves, and Eggers pulls readers into our own emotional reaction as the road comes to completion. We are all on a road of one sort or another and can be so absorbed in ourselves that we overlook what is happening around us. Eggers demands attention and reaction. Consider giving it to him as you read this novel that leads to personal introspection about important matters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Parade from amazon.com.
Gingerbread. Oyeyemi tests impatient readers who may feel confused at times, but attentive and patient readers will be rewarded by the author’s rich imagination and great skill at choosing just the right words for very sentence. There’s joy in this novel that can become contagious and elements of folklore or magic that can lead to transcending our ordinary lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Gingerbread from amazon.com.
Friday, May 24, 2019
French Exit. Frances Price is a widow living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with her adult son, Malcolm, and an old cat named Small Frank. Prodigious and carefree spending have made staying in NYC untenable, so where does one go in such a situation? Paris, of course. By what method should they travel? Ocean liner, of course. Pop the champagne and settle in for a very entertaining reading experience. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase French Exit from amazon.com.
The End of the End of the Earth, each one felt fresh, thanks to his fine writing, and crisp and cogent arguments. I’m a sucker for fine writing in any form, and Franzen’s fiction soars. His skill as an essayist is also exceptional, and fans of fine writing are those readers most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The End of the End of the Earth from amazon.com.
Death in Provence. Her dreams face reality after she discovers a corpse floating in her swimming pool. Beware of starting this novel, since Kent starts a series with this book, and if you’re like me, you’re likely to want to read each successive installment. The characters are well-drawn, the mystery interesting, and the writing more than acceptable for this genre. Serena Kent is the penname of Deborah Lawrenson and her husband, Robert Rees. The pace of the narrative is relaxed, which seems to suit Penelope’s life in Provence and this reader’s attitude while reading this genre. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Death in Provence from amazon.com.
Madness Is Better Than Defeat. Set in remote Honduras, two expeditions have arrived at a temple site with divergent purposes: one to shoot a movie, the other to dismantle the temple and send it to New York City. Speckled with humor followed by seriousness, I found this odd novel a bit disturbing to read. Questions about intentions and reality can become confusing, and at about the halfway point, I was ambivalent about how events would play out. Read a sample before tackling all four hundred odd pages. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Madness Is Better Than Defeat from amazon.com.
The Killing Habit. Detective Thorne gets some ribbing when he’s assigned a case that involves the killing of lots and lots of cats in London. Thorne brings Nicola Tanner into his new case, but she remains involved in a different case involving a new lethal drug. Billingham loves to develop these characters and uses pauses in the action to flesh out more about their personal stories. Readers who like crime fiction with well-developed characters are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Killing Habit from amazon.com.
American Spy. Protagonist Marie Mitchell has always wanted to be an intelligence officer. As a black woman working at the FBI, she isn’t often picked for the exciting work. When approached with the chance to play a role in bringing down the communist president of Burkina Faso, Marie is all in. Wilkinson structures all the motivation in the novel as family-based. Marie narrates her life as an agent as a personal story with her two sons as the intended future audience. She is also working under the shadow of her late sister, whom she admired greatly. The prose is finely written and readers who enjoy literary fiction with well-developed characters and an interesting plot are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase American Spy from amazon.com.
The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai. Li Bai lived during the Tang dynasty, in the early part of the eighth century. Readers get to learn about the poet through his poems as well as through the clear description of his life as described by Ha Jin. Since the poet enjoyed many a tipple during his life, I strongly encourage a glass or two of some alcohol while reading this book. When you hear about his drinking exploits, you’ll be more empathetic. Then read a poem and go to sleep. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Banished Immortal from amazon.com.
A Double Life, does what most of us would do: look for him. Claire was a child when her father disappeared, and three decades later, while working in London as a doctor, she becomes focused on tracking him down. Berry’s prose meanders through an irregular plot but uses every scene to help readers understand Claire. Toward the end of the novel, most readers will anticipate what Claire will do next. Fans of finely written literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Double Life from amazon.com.
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. If you’ve ever wondered what different editors do, this book will explain their work for you. Dreyer’s writing is playful, clear and reflects a clear understanding of our foibles. The footnotes can be a bit distracting, often because I kept overlooking the marks that would send me to the bottom of the page. The content of the footnotes and text were a joy to read, and whether my usage of the English language will improve as a result of reading this book, only time will tell. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dreyer’s English from amazon.com.
World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Monopoly power has consequences and what we are gaining in benefits from these giant companies may not be sufficient when weighed against the evidence of what we are losing as individuals and as a society. To what extent are we willing to let these companies think for us? Whether you’re a tech booster or a queasy Luddite, reading this book gives you a foundational way to think about some of the major issues facing our evolving world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase World Without Mind from amazon.com.
Thursday, May 9, 2019
Working, that assembles perspectives old and new about his writing process. The conclusions are not unexpected. Caro works very hard. He digs deeper and deeper, turning every page in research, asking more and more questions in multiple interviews. He begins to write after he feels his research is done, and that takes a while. Once he starts to write, he writes quickly, but then rewrites multiple times. He wants to be sure that a reader is brought inside the story: that the reader understands the issues and feels as if one is there with what Caro describes. Caro’s prose reads so well that he makes it seem easy. This book explains how hard it is to make prose seem that easy. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Working from amazon.com.
Blood Oath. I always look forward to finding out the NYC landmark that Fairstein describes for readers, and this time out it’s Rockefeller University, one of the country’s finest medical research centers. Fans of the series may recall that we left Alex away from her Assistant DA work on a leave of absence. In this installment, she’s returned to work and her first case is complex and sensitive. Meanwhile, she’s considering whether or not she wants to become the next DA. The familiar cast of recurring characters are tested anew on a case that fans are likely to love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blood Oath from amazon.com.
The Persian Gamble. The cliffhanger from The Kremlin Conspiracy kicks off the new novel and the action never stops. Ryker, assassin Oleg Kraskin and CIA station chief Jenny Morris scramble to get out of Russia alive. Meanwhile, the North Koreans are plotting to sell nuclear weapons to Iran. What could possibly go wrong with that? The action is fast paced from beginning to end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Persian Gamble from amazon.com.
Presidents of War. I paced myself while reading this doorstop of a book, reading lots of other things between sections. Beschloss focuses on these United States Presidents: Madison, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, FDR, Truman and LBJ. I found just the right balance between detail and summary. As with other fine writers of American history, Beschloss knows how to draw readers into the setting and the issues through events that are carefully chosen to support the narrative. The war powers of United States Presidents are interesting to explore, and Beschloss is an author who can lead us toward greater understanding of multiple dimensions of the many issues relating to war. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Presidents of War from amazon.com.
Redemption. While Amos is visiting the graves of his wife and daughter, he is approached by Meryl Hawkins, a very ill man recently released from prison. Hawkins claims that he was innocent of the crime, the first homicide case Decker worked on as a local police detective. After Hawkins is murdered Decker feels duty bound to revisit the old case to see if mistakes were made. Fans of crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy the many plot twists in this novel, and fans of the series will be rooting for Decker at every turn. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Redemption from amazon.com.
The Wall, John Lanchester offers a future that some will consider dystopian and others anticipate as likely. Rising sea levels led an island nation to build a concrete barrier around its territory. Protagonist Joseph Kavanagh works as a defender with one mission: to ensure that the Others don’t breach his section of the wall. Lanchester is a terrific storyteller, and his creativity in this novel captivated me. This novel falls within the long tradition of imaginative fiction and the telling of stories that engage readers. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Wall from amazon.com.
The Parisian, Isabella Hammad tells us about life in Nablus, Palestine in the early 20th century. Protagonist Midhat Kamal is the son of a wealthy merchant and attains the moniker in the title after his father sent him to study medicine in Paris in 1914. Midhat finds a different Nablus after he returns from Paris: British occupation and activists pressing for nationalism. Midhat’s life doesn’t turn out as he or others expected. Neither has Palestine. Here’s one of my favorite lines from late in the novel: p. 547: “When I look at my life,” he said, “I see a whole list of mistakes. Lovely, beautiful mistakes. I wouldn’t change them.” Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Parisian from amazon.com.
Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?: A Mother's Suggestions, and you’ll know whether this is the right gift for any mother in your life. Patricia Marx’s text presents things her mother has said over the years, and cartoonist Roz Chast provides terrific illustrations. It’s clear that both women present this short book out of love for their mothers. Whether it resonates with you or the mother in your life depends on the nature of your relationship and how much humor has been in your family dynamics. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Why Don’t You Write from amazon.com.
Normal People, are well-developed and interesting characters struggling with relationships in contemporary life. Marianne and Connell are, as the title says, normal people. They come from different backgrounds, fall in love and meander in and out of sync with each other, just as other normal people do. Their dialogue seems familiar. Marianne communicates her truth with clarity. Connell seems reluctant and often regrets not saying what he could have. As readers, we come to know Marianne and Connell better than they seem to know themselves, and we want to shout at them to avert a direction that we know will be perilous. Readers may not like Connell and Marianne, but we recognize them, the ups and downs of their lives and the nature of their relationship. Love endures, but come on people, take the right steps to keep it alive. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Normal People from amazon.com.
Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights. Jones was involved in the case in a major way as a US Attorney in 2001 and 2002. Homegrown terrorism is not a recent phenomenon. Jones takes us into life in Alabama in the 1960s and after, and he leads us down the long road that ended with justice. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Bending Toward Justice from amazon.com.