Monday, June 24, 2019

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

Shared. Our isolated social bubbles can reinforce the divisions that cause a breakdown in social order. In his book titled, Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, Eric Klinenberg explores how we can make society stronger by supporting places that bring different people together. Libraries, parks, and welcoming religious and civil organizations can provide places where people can increase interaction and build stronger networks and communities. Through investments in creating these places, we will make our society stronger and more resilient. Any reader interested in public policy and in building a better community and country should consider reading this book and taking action along the lines Klinenberg describes. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Palaces for the People from

The Art of the Wasted Day

Leisure. How unscheduled is your life? How much do you go with the flow? Do you daydream much? Is leisure for you a set of structured recreational activities or is it a period of being totally carefree? In her book titled, The Art of the Wasted Day, Patricia Hampl explores leisure and takes readers into episodes from her life, as well as stories from the lives of Michel Montaigne, Gregor Mendel and others. We can discover a lot about ourselves and others when we get off the beaten path mentally and physically and lose ourselves in thought and in the places we go. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Art of the Wasted Day from

Let Love Have the Last Word

Reflections. The many fans of musical artist and actor Common will provide a natural audience for his book titled, Let Love Have the Last Word. Introspection about his life leads Common to sharing candidly his reflections about life and love. There’s an upbeat message in this book that may be inspiring to those readers who can hear the lessons from another’s life and apply them to one’s own situation. In an age when hate and polarization gets loads of attention, it’s terrific to spend some time basking in messages about love. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Let Love Have the Last Word from

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

Cutlers. Readers who enjoy history that’s lively and well-written should consider David McCullough’s book titled, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. McCullough focuses on the movement west in the settlement of the Northwest Territory, the place that became the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. McCullough tells of the Cutler family, especially Manasseh Cutler, a Massachusetts minister, whose efforts led to the settlement of this region, and whose leadership ensured that three key provisions were included in what Congress approved: freedom of religion, a prohibition of slavery in the territory, and universal education. Cutler’s son, Ephraim embodied these values, and ensured his father’s values would continue. McCullough tells the story of this time in American history through the Cutlers and through a few other significant characters. As a result, readers are brought into the time and place in a very readable narrative. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pioneers from


Possibility. There are nine short stories in a collection by Ted Chiang titled after one of them, Exhalation. Fans of science fiction often enjoy the ways in which this genre allows speculation about what might be possible, and how the big questions in our own lives can be pondered in the context of that conjecture. Some science fiction writers have a few clever ideas and build clunky prose around their concepts. Chiang’s prose is finely written and enhances his clever ideas. From time travel to free will to multiple parallel worlds to living under constant surveillance and recording, Chiang’s speculations will stimulate every reader to think about what is possible and what that means for our lives. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Exhalation from

The Bride Test

Breakthrough. The protagonists in Helen Hoang’s novel titled, The Bride Test, both need to change their lives. Khai Diep falls on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. He succeeds at work in California and fails at relationships. Esme Tran wants to be more than a hotel maid in Vietnam. After Khai’s mother travels to Vietnam to find a potential bride for Khai, she convinces Esme that the young woman had nothing to lose in coming to America to see if there’s a future there for her. Hoang writes from her personal perspective of what life on the autism spectrum is like and offers in this novel a sweet romantic story about the breakthroughs that are necessary in any life to lead to dramatic change. Readers who finish the novel are likely to close the book with a smile. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Bride Test from

Aug 9 - Fog

Collage. I know I’ve never before read anything like Kathryn Scanlan’s book titled, Aug 9 – Fog, and I’m guessing that most readers haven’t either. Fifteen years ago, Scanlan bought a diary at an estate sale. The diary was written by an octogenarian woman over the course of several years. I was reminded of refrigerator poetry and what impressions can be made from assembling different words. Scanlan doesn’t transcribe the diary; she curates it in pieces, carefully selecting what words and phrases will best reveal the diarist and her life. The result is an odd book that will appeal to adventurous readers. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Aug 9 Fog from

Car Trouble

Himself. In his debut novel titled, Car Trouble, Robert Rorke presents the teenage life of protagonist Nicky Flynn in Brooklyn in the 1970s. The center of much attention throughout the novel is Nicky’s father, Patrick, an alcoholic the family calls, “himself.” One of Patrick’s quirks is to buy beater cars at police auctions and run them into the ground. The descriptions of the cars, life in Brooklyn, and family dynamics are all finely written. My own coming of age in Brooklyn came to mind often as I read this novel, especially when triggered as Rorke describes the sounds of crossing the Marine Parkway Bridge from Brooklyn to Rockaway. One of my fondest memories in the 1960s was driving as a pre-teen with my own father, also known as himself, in a 1953 Mercury with a claw-footed bathtub on the roof, secured by ropes that went through the passenger door handle, leaving me trapped in a death seat should peril occur. Readers with a connection to Brooklyn will find special interest in this book, as will anyone affected in any way by alcohol abuse. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Car Trouble from


Interest. There’s a lot of interest in a small village outside London in the eponymous protagonist of Max Porter’s novel titled, Lanny. We learn of Lenny through the viewpoints of multiple characters, but not from Lanny himself. He is recognized as a very special young man by his parents, by an artist neighbor and by a version of the Green Man, a spirit called Dead Papa Toothwort. Porter writes in an unusual way, especially when he tries to let readers hear all that Dead Papa Toothwort is listening to at the same time as village life is being conducted, something unlike hearing snippets of multiple conversations in a busy restaurant. Fans of unusual literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lanny from

Crown Jewel

Schemes. The second novel by Christopher Reich to feature protagonist Simon Riske is titled, Crown Jewel. This time out, Riske accepts a job to investigate unusual losses at a casino in Monte Carlo. A cover story for Riske’s arrival at the scene is a car race in which he gets to drive the car of a billionaire client that returned to Riske’s shop at an opportune time. Following a chance meeting with a German heiress, Riske agrees to help solve her problem as well. Thanks to Reich’s great pacing, the schemes twist and turn, with Riske in the middle of everything. Fans of action thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crown Jewel from

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Golden State

Lies. In his novel titled, Golden State, Ben Winters describes a society in which lying is a crime. Protagonist Laszlo Ratesic works for the state in a role called a Speculator, and his job is to investigate anomalies. The surveillance state records everything in multiple ways, so getting to the truth should be based on evidence contained in the record. Laz learns over the course of this novel that if something can be done, it will be done, and his worldview becomes turned upside down when faced with alternate truth. Can records be altered? Wouldn’t that be a lie? How can we discern truth? If any of this sounds interesting to you, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Golden State from

The Sentence is Death

Hawthorne. Anthony Horowitz reprises protagonist Daniel Hawthorne for a second mystery novel titled, The Sentence is Death. As the character Anthony Horowitz in this novel is writing about private eye Daniel Hawthorne, they are investigating the murder of a divorce lawyer in which the weapon was a pricey bottle of French wine. Horowitz gives readers an entertaining cast of interesting characters, a clever mystery, and just enough plot twists to keep a reader’s attention. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Sentence is Death from

America, Compromised

Corruption. Something is rotten in the United States and Lawrence Lessig explores what that might be in a book assembled from the Berlin Family lectures he delivered. Titled, America, Compromised, this book describes the various ways in which some of America’s core institutions have become corrupted. Lessig does not ascribe our current condition to bad apples, but rather to the gradual ways in which compromises have led to a decline in trust and a culture of corruption. Money is the usual cause of a diversion by institutions from their original purpose toward some compromise that leads to corruption. Lessig gives loads of examples. Readers interested in public policy are those most likely to be receptive to Lessig’s concerns. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase America Compromised from

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

Lessons. One path to improving life around the world is to respect women, listen to them, and support them in improving their local communities. Melinda Gates shares in her book titled, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, snippets of her own life and the lessons she’s learned from philanthropic work. This book is packed with inspiring stories to encourage empathy and enough data to please skeptics. I found the ways in which hard questions and analysis combined with active listening at the ground level lead to contributions that produce great outcomes. This book promotes inclusion, acknowledging the dignity of each person, and acting in ways that nurture all that is good. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Moment of Lift from

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

Paradise. Patient readers looking for escape into a gigantic novel this summer should take a look at Neal Stephenson’s new book titled, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell. While some characters are reprised from an earlier novel, which may appeal to Stephenson fans, new readers can take this standalone novel and be well-entertained. Stephenson explores the afterlife, and presents a contemporary version of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Readers are entertained by adventures in parallel worlds: the world of the flesh, meatspace, and the afterlife, bitworld. Myth lovers and any readers who love a complicated meandering and fantastic story are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Fall from

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide

Olmstead. Renowned American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead spent over a year traveling through the South before the Civil War and wrote about his observations for a New York newspaper. In his book titled, Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide, Tony Horwitz followed Olmstead’s route, connecting divisions from the past with current polarization. People and places, past and present, come alive in this book, thanks to Horwitz’ fine writing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Spying on the South from

The Moroccan Girl

Recruited. In a novel titled, The Moroccan Girl, Charles Cumming presents protagonist Kit Carradine, a writer who is recruited by MI6. Kit takes to the work quite well in his novice outing, and Cumming may reprise him, as he has done when writing other novels. Fans of espionage novels will find all the usual elements here: intrigue, deception, danger, betrayal and uncertainty about who is friend and who is foe. Thanks to Cumming’s fine writing, the suspense is taut, the characters interesting, and the story captivating. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Moroccan Girl from

Cape May

Desire. Chip Cheek’s debut novel titled, Cape May, pulls readers into the honeymoon of virgins Henry and Effie in 1957. The couple arrive in Cape May from Georgia at the end of September and see that the resort town has pretty much closed down for the season. Cheek presents their innocence and reveals their desire for sexual intimacy. They cross paths with Clara, who had teased Effie years earlier. Clara is staying in Cape May with her lover, Max, and Max’s sister, Alma. Before long, the extended cast are eating, drinking and sailing together. Desire among the characters is like electricity in the air, and Cheek takes the action one step at a time during the rest of the honeymoon, with consequences for the tenure of Henry and Effie’s marriage. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Cape May from

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Moses. Readers who enjoy finely written history and biography are those most likely to enjoy the terrific book by David W. Blight titled, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Blight brings all of Douglass to these pages: the man and the myth. The prophet Moses and the prophet Jeremiah. The slave and the freeman. The patriot and the critic. Whether you know a little or a lot about the life of the great Frederick Douglass, you’re likely to learn new things from this book, thanks to private sources that Blight used to inform his writing. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Frederick Douglass from

Red Birds

Weary. The darkly comic war satire titled, Red Birds, by Mohammed Hanif uses multiple narrators to move the story along quickly. Readers weary of our seeming never-ending wars may become even wearier after reading this novel. Major Ellie is an American bomber pilot who bailed out of his plane, parachuted to the desert where he is wandering and lost for eight days. His narration speaks to the foibles of American military intervention. Ellie is found by another narrator, the dog named Mutt, whose observations are the most cogent and philosophical in the novel. It is Mutt who gives us the title, as he observes the last blood drops of those killed in war turning into birds as they die. A teenage boy named Momo narrates the many personas he tries on from his refugee camp as he strives to become an entrepreneur, especially where he sees the most to gain: from warfare and refugee aid. Hanif’s prose is skewering, and those readers who can appreciate finely written satire are the readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Red Birds from

Monday, June 10, 2019

Lost and Wanted

Friendship. In her novel titled, Lost and Wanted, Nell Freudenberger gives readers one of the most interesting protagonists in fiction. Helen Clapp is a tenured physics professor at MIT. Her longtime friend and Harvard roommate, Charlotte (Charlie) Boyce, a Hollywood screenwriter, has just died. After Helen receives phone calls from Charlie’s phone, the rational persona of Helen becomes a bit shaken. Packed with science and insight, the novel is a story of friendship and love set around a strong and accomplished woman. The prose is finely written and fans of literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lost and Wanted from

The Italian Party

Siena. Christina Lynch takes readers to Tuscany in her novel titled, The Italian Party. Set in the 1950s, protagonists Scottie and her husband, Michael, have moved to Siena as newlyweds, bringing along their respective secrets and hiding new ones in plain sight. Lynch explores truth and lies, while we vicariously eat, drink, watch the Palio and can’t wait to see what happens next to this cast of interesting characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Italian Party from

Killing Commendatore

Painting. One reading of Haruki Murakami’s novel titled, Killing Commendatore, may lead to one or two more for devoted fans. For me, once through was more than enough. An unnamed painter leaves a relationship and moves to the home of a famous artist where he finds a painting in the attic. What follows is a detachment from the world and a journey of discovery into ideas and metaphors and a search for understanding. Loneliness drags on for dozens of pages in this long novel, and ghostly and otherworldly figures become commonplace. Patient readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Killing Commendatore from

The Paris Diversion

Plans. The action in Chris Pavone’s novel titled, The Paris Diversion, takes place on a single day. Multiple characters have big plans for the day and the expectation of receiving significant financial rewards when those plans are executed. Pavone lays out the action sequentially, draws readers to a point of tension, then shifts from one setting to another to layer on the complexity of what’s happening among multiple characters. The scheming is complicated, the characters competent and interesting, and the plot thrilling. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Paris Diversion from

The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation

Pragmatist. John Delaney announced his campaign for the United States Presidency at the end of July 2017. I’ve just read his book titled, The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation, and it reflects a pragmatism that seems refreshing in our polarized political environment. With experience as an entrepreneur and a member of Congress, Delaney brings experience in solving problems and in dealing with frustration. Despite the long tenure of his candidacy, his name doesn’t pop up in polls. He may or may not gain traction after debates and early primaries. Whether he does or not, his positive approach to working together and finding solutions to serious problems is worth a fair hearing by those readers and voters interested in public policy and politics. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Right Answer from

The Kingdom of Copper

Siblings. The second installment in S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy is a novel titled, The Kingdom of Copper. Readers who have not read The City of Brass will lose the context for the conflicts in this book. Political conflict is building in Daevabad and sets of siblings are in the middle of the action along with powerful parents. The destruction and violence along with fantasy elements will appeal to those readers who enjoy action and imagination. These six hundred pages provide a transition to next year’s finale, a novel titled, The Empire of Gold. Readers like me who’ve invested time to enter into this imaginary world anxiously await the conclusion of this story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Kingdom of Copper from

The Missing Corpse

Belon. The fourth installment in the Brittany Mystery Series by Jean-Luc Bannalec is titled, The Missing Corpse. There’s no rushing Commissaire Georges Dupin as he connects the dots to solve a murder mystery. Much of the action in this installment takes place alongside the Belon River with its prized oyster beds. There’s also a connection to Scotland and Celtic heritage in Brittany through shared cultivation of bagpipes and oysters. This novel is a mystery lover’s treat, with an added bonus for gastronomes. I savored the engaging mystery and will now search for a dozen oysters to pair with a French white wine with just the right level of minerality. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Missing Corpse from

The Lost Man

Desolate. The outback of Queensland Australia can be a desolate place. In her novel titled, The Lost Man, Jane Harper draws readers into the setting with fine descriptive language, then hooks us with her psychological insights into the family dynamics of three brothers raised in that harsh and unforgiving place. The story involves the mysterious death of one of the brothers. Readers who enjoy surprise endings are those most likely to enjoy this one. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Lost Man from

The Border

Conclusion. Don Winslow wraps up his Power of the Dog trilogy with a doorstopper of a novel titled, The Border. Fans of the series are those readers most likely to feel that this is a great conclusion to a thrilling series. Some political partisans may find that certain fictional characters Winslow presents in the novel portray President Trump and members of his extended family in ways that are biased. Less sensitive readers will find an exciting thriller packed with action centered around the war on drugs. Fans of the series will see consistency in the reprised characters and stories of new characters that will resonate for most readers. Winslow also brings to life the struggles of those addicted to drugs as well as those fleeing violence in Central America. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Border from

The Winter Soldier

Atmospheric. Readers who enjoy descriptive historical fiction are those most likely to enjoy Daniel Mason’s novel titled, The Winter Soldier. Set during World War I in Austria and Poland, the novel tells a story of war and medicine. The protagonist is a twenty-two-year-old medical student named Lucius Krzelewski, whose limited training has not prepared him for the field medicine he is called on to practice. Thanks to the expertise of Sister Margarete at the field hospital to which he is assigned, Lucius learns quickly how to care for wounded soldiers. Mason’s finely written prose makes every setting atmospheric, appropriate to the time and place described. Mason presents the condition of PTSD with insight and wisdom. Mason’s prose brings beauty to grim settings. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Winter Soldier from