Friday, July 26, 2019

The Guest Book

Island. I won’t be getting to Maine this summer, but thanks to Sarah Blake’s novel titled, The Guest Book, I visited an island there and a big old house. Have you ever been in a resort community and noticed a special house and found yourself wondering about the people who live there? If so, this novel is for you. Blake tells the story of a family and what we know and don’t know about our parents and their formative experiences. This is a novel about white privilege and family secrets. The names in the guest book for this big old family house on an island in Maine don’t include all the guests who have stayed there. Blake explores what changes over time and what doesn’t. The prose is terrific, the plot engaging and the characters complex and interesting. I was delighted to be in Maine again through this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Guest Book from

The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty

Beloved. Susan Page has written a terrific biography of the late former First Lady Barbara Bush titled, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty. With access to decades of personal diaries and interviews with scores of people, Page offers readers a comprehensive look at this beloved woman who led a large family whose public service was exemplary. This book is no hagiography, as Page presents achievements alongside shortcomings. As with many women of her time, Barbara Bush has been undervalued and underestimated. A reader will come away from this book with a perspective about whether her husband and her son would have been elected Presidents of the United States were it not for her. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Matriarch from

The New Girl

Headlines. The nineteenth Israeli spy novel by Daniel Silva featuring protagonist Gabriel Allon is titled, The New Girl. Fans of the series will love the latest installment, as Silva takes recent news from the Middle East and incorporates those topics and issues into this novel. While any reader who loves spy thrillers can read this book as a standalone novel, those who have read the entire series will appreciate all the nuances of the large cast of characters who are reprised in this installment. As usual, the plot is engaging, the characters complex and the good guys prevail in the end. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The New Girl from


Memory. Science runs amok in Blake Crouch’s novel titled, Recursion. Using a common science fiction trope, Crouch explores the consequences of time shifting causing the erasure of memories. Many readers can anticipate what happens after false memory syndrome spreads in the populace. Without spoiling the thrilling plot, this is also the story of a hero saving the world from Armageddon. Readers who enjoy thrillers, whether with a sci-fi element or not, are those most likely to enjoy this fast-paced and entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Recursion from

The Chain

Diabolical. Fans of action thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy the clever plot and fast pace of Adrian McKinty’s novel titled, The Chain. The life of protagonist Rachel O’Neill seems to finally turn in the right direction, given successful chemotherapy for cancer and completing her divorce from an immature husband. Instead, her thirteen-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. Raising the ransom required was a stretch, but more insidious was the other condition: the requirement that Rachel kidnap someone else’s child to continue a long running chain of serial abductions to enrich the diabolical kidnappers. We may think our morality is certain and fixed, but what would most parents do to save one’s child? McKinty puts that question before all readers and leaves us with a well-told and memorable story to think about as we ponder what we would do. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Chain from

Rabbits for Food

Depression. Can a writer find humor in mental illness while remaining empathetic and providing insight? Read Binnie Kirshenbaum’s novel titled, Rabbits for Food, for yourself to answer that question. I found the major depression experienced by the protagonist, Bunny, to be presented with sensitivity and insight, and the humor to be genuine. Bunny is a fascinating and complex character. Kirshenbaum captures the bleakness of treatment for mental health with great insight. While she is institutionalized, Bunny is pressed to sign up for activities for which she has no interest. One item on the list seems ok: time with the therapy dog. Day after day, the therapy dog never shows up. Kirshenbaum shows us in this novel that there is help for all of us in this crazy world, whether the therapy dog shows up or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Rabbits for Food from

The Wolf and the Watchman

Justice. Historical fiction about unfamiliar places can place extra demands on a reader. An author needs to bring the place to clarity in our minds and present characters and plot that keep readers engaged. In his debut novel titled, The Wolf and the Watchman, Niklas Nat Och Dag brings late 18th century Stockholm to life and offers a gripping plot about justice filled with great characters. Protagonist Cecil Winge is an attorney dying of what we know now as tuberculosis, and Mikel Cardell is a watchman. This dynamic pair join forces to seek justice. Along the way, we meet the rich and the poor and are entertained by a complicated plot that I found totally entertaining. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wolf and the Watchman from

The Flatshare

Fun. Summer vacation is a perfect time to pick up a novel that’s pure fun. The romantic comedy titled, The Flatshare, by Beth O’Leary fit that bill for me. After Tiffy broke up with her boyfriend, she needed to move. Leon needed some extra cash, so he offered his apartment for someone to share. The unusual arrangement involved using the flat during shifts. Since Leon works nights and stays with his girlfriend on weekends, the new flatmate would use the apartment on weekends and on weeknights after Leon leaves for work. Tiffy was ok with this, and Leon’s girlfriend interviewed her and told Leon to go ahead. An unusual aspect of sharing involved the one bed: one person used the left side and the other the right. Given that backdrop as structure, O’Leary lets us fall for all the interesting characters and their adventures. Readers who are looking for light reading are those most likely to enjoy this entertaining novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Flatshare from

The Farm

Surrogate. What does it mean to be a mother? Joanne Ramos explores that question as well as the consequences of income inequality in her novel titled, The Farm. The Farm is what the residents call the rural and isolated estate named Golden Oaks where they are isolated while awaiting the birth of babies. Rich people outsource all sorts of unwelcome tasks, and in the case of Golden Oaks, they outsource the birth of their children. Women are selected to be hosts and are well compensated to live in isolation and tight surveillance while they carry the progeny of the mega rich. Many of these surrogates have made this choice as a way to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Ramos can be provocative in this novel and yet makes the arrangements seem perfectly normal and mutually beneficial. As we get to know the characters, we understand the consequences of the choices that are made. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Farm from

Lethal White

Falling. There’s a lot of falling in the fourth Cormoran Strike novel by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, a novel titled, Lethal White. After every falling, there’s getting up again. Protagonists Strike and Robin Ellacott are both developed more in this installment and the tension in their relationships adds to the pleasure of the novel. Fans of the Harry Potter series know that Rowling tells great stories with interesting characters and engaging plots. The Strike series reflects similar elements and I was thoroughly entertained by the 650 pages of this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lethal White from

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Throw Me to the Wolves

Chapleton. After every chapter of Patrick McGuinness’ novel titled, Throw Me to the Wolves, I found myself liking it more, thanks to the many ways in which the author succeeds. At the core, this is a crime novel: a dead body, a suspect, two detectives. That only provides the structure in which McGuinness struts his stuff. His prose is finely written, and he allows his characters to surprise readers with humor, psychological insight, and reflections about memory and childhood. The suspect in the murder is a neighbor of the victim, a retired public school teacher. One of the detectives went to that school, Chapleton, and knew the suspect as a teacher. McGuinness exposes the impact of tabloids in contemporary society, and the ways in which anyone who seems different can be held suspect. The action alternates between the present and thirty years earlier at Chapleton. Fans of literary fiction will be delighted by the prose. Readers who love complex characters will revel in this cast. Those who love crime fiction will find a satisfying investigation and engaging mystery. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Throw Me to the Wolves from

The Falconer

Lucy. How does a coming of age debut novel stand out from the many others available to read? Write well and develop interesting and complex characters. That’s exactly what Dana Czapnik has done in her novel titled, The Falconer. Set during a senior year in high school in New York City in 1993, we get to meet Lucy, a talented basketball player who is falling in love with her friend, Percy. Czapnik taps into all the questions and concerns that a seventeen-year-old girl faces, especially one whose talent in sports can alienate from her male and female peers. Readers should never underestimate the interior lives of others, and Czapnik reveals much insight about our human condition as she develops the character of Lucy for us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Falconer from

The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Wolf. Prolific novelist Alexander McCall Smith kicks off a new series with a novel titled, The Department of Sensitive Crimes. Protagonist Ulf Varg (translated: Wolf Wolf) leads a team of detectives in Malmö, Sweden, whose focus is as the title indicates. Instead of what readers usually experience in Scandinavian crime fiction, with Smith at the helm, readers will laugh and bask in the good parts of human nature. As always, the characters are complex humans and engaging for readers. Before you know it, Smith has gotten you to think deeply about something, once you stop laughing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Department of Sensitive Crimes from

Where Reasons End

Words. Where does a writer go to grieve? After Yiyun Li’s 16-year-old son committed suicide, the writer turned to words. In her novel titled, Where Reasons End, Li imagines conversations between a mother and her dead son. The novel captures grief with all its confusion, sadness and attempts to find a way to stay in touch with a lost loved one. The intensity that Li captures in her writing will resonate for any reader who has experienced deep grief. Every odd conversation is a way of reaching for a connection that can never be made again. The prose is finely written and readers open to falling into the grieving process are those most likely to appreciate this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Where Reasons End from

Big Sky

Trafficking. Fans of the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson will be delighted with the fifth installment, a novel titled, Big Sky. Patient readers will watch Atkinson meander in what seem like unconnected ways and then observe as she loosens some threads and connects others. At the center of the novel there’s crime: a human trafficking ring at work. While the novel can stand alone, readers of the earlier Brodie novels will enjoy the reprised characters, the increased complexity of their development, and the changes in their life situations and behavior, especially protagonist Brodie. Atkinson respects the intelligence of her readers, and feeds us with her humor, insight and clever references. It’s been almost a decade since the last installment, so enjoy the feast now that it’s finally arrived. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Big Sky from

Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward

Optimistic. Valerie Jarrett’s memoir titled, Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward, offers a story of her life that’s so conversational that many readers will feel like they are sharing a meal with the author. Jarrett is both confident and self-aware, so she tells us about her life in ways that will connect to a reader’s own life experiences. Her extraordinary accomplishments in public service and friendship with the Obamas come across as relatable to our own friendships and our accomplishments, no matter what those are. The tone throughout the memoir is optimistic, and it’s clear by the end that anyone who can claim Valerie Jarrett as a friend has lived an enriched life because of her presence. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Finding My Voice from

Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Character. Most observers of the Kushner and Trump families will acknowledge that the pursuit of self-interest is the first priority or overriding value of the members of these families. In her book titled, Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, journalist Vicky Ward describes the formative experiences of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and chronicles the ways in which they enrich themselves and their families as they attain positions of great influence in the Trump Administration. Ward presents their actions for readers to come to our own assessment of personal character. While sources are not disclosed, most readers will conclude that Ward talked to lots of people who confirmed her account of their actions. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Kushner Inc from

The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life

Quality. If after a certain number of decades of living, your thoughts haven’t migrated toward death, you’re avoiding the inevitable. Quality of life means different things to different people, and when it comes to the notion of “dying well,” there may be different meanings there as well. In her book titled, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life, Katy Butler encourages thinking about what a good end to life means to an individual reader. She offers a variety of anecdotes and practical and thoughtful ways to engage on this topic. Not everyone dies quietly at home in one’s sleep. This book helps readers think about the choices that are ours to make when it comes to our care at the end of life. If you think you’ve made your wishes clear to your loved ones, read this book and think again and provide them with greater clarity about your choices. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Art of Dying Well from

The Body in the Castle Well

Artworks. Fans of the Bruno Chief of Police series by Martin Walker will enjoy a return to the Dordogne in the fourteenth book in the series, a novel titled, The Body in the Castle Well. You already know from the title that the crime in this installment involves someone found dead in a well. The plot required a lot of building before we finally got to sit down to eat and drink with Bruno and his friends. An authenticator of artworks has a house full of works that he wants to be seen by others after he dies. The Americans descend on Bruno because the deceased belonged to an influential family. The full cast of familiar characters returns for another interesting adventure in a special place. Take a virtual vacation in the mythical French town of St. Denis, and savor everything the region and this novel have to offer. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Body in the Castle Well from

The Conservative Sensibility

Thoughtful. Longtime readers of George Will’s newspaper columns expect his views to be calm, reasoned and thoughtful. He sustains those qualities over the course of more than six hundred pages in his book titled, The Conservative Sensibility. Swimming against a current that distills thoughts to sensational and partisan soundbites, Will lays out principles of conservativism in this book, and a philosophy to which he measures our current state of affairs. He uses Madison, Hamilton and other founders as the touchpoint for his analysis about government. Any reader looking for a greater understanding of what conservatism means will find a persuasive view expressed in this book. I came away from the book with insight about why conservatives want a smaller government and a weaker executive branch. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Conservative Sensibility from

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

More than Medicine: The Broken Promise of American Health

Evidence. Any reader interested in the subject of healthcare in the United States should consider reading Robert Kaplan’s book titled, More Than Medicine: The Broken Promise of American Health. Kaplan’s premise is that it’s time to rethink healthcare. Instead of overspending as we do in attacking disease after it arrives, we should invest in reducing the occurrence of disease. He calls on those setting public policy to respect the evidence and take actions that foster health. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase More Than Medicine from

The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris

Lessons. While I was reading Mark Honigsbaum finely written book titled, The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris, there were news stories about people vacationing in the Dominican Republic dying of unknown causes, and a woman who died from a flesh eating bacteria that found an open cut on her leg while she was walking at the beach. Honigsbaum chronicles pathogens most readers have heard about, and the spread of them in well-known events including the deadly 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, and events I knew nothing about, like the 1930 pneumonic plague in Los Angeles and parrot fever. If you think we’ve learned lessons from the twentieth century, you should definitely read this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Pandemic Century from

The Gone Dead

Inheritance. Chanelle Benz’ debut novel titled, The Gone Dead, will appeal to any reader who enjoys fiction that presents family stories in the context of particular places over time. After protagonist Billie James inherits a shack in the Mississippi Delta thirty years after she left the place, she leaves Philadelphia to spend some time in the house that once belonged to her father, a black poet who died in the Delta when Billie was four years old. Once on site, Billie stumbles into issues of memory, race and justice and pokes at unhealed wounds until secrets are revealed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Gone Dead from

The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty

Lens. Some companies look for growth from places where consumption can be observed. In their book titled, The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, Clayton Christiansen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon, offer a different lens to consider. They provide loads of examples of looking for situations of non-consumption and providing innovative solutions that provide expanded markets and stable growth. Along that path, underdeveloped communities can escape from poverty and become self-sufficient. Few business writers understand innovation as well as Christensen, and this book will help many business leaders ask and answer questions about market engagement. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Prosperity Paradox from

Machines Like Me

Turing. Intelligent and thoughtful readers are those most likely to appreciate Ian McEwan’s novel titled, Machines Like Me. Many of us wonder about how different the world might have been if certain events turned out differently. In the 1980s setting for this novel, among other changes, Great Britain loses the Falklands War, and Alan Turning lives. Protagonist Charlie inherits some money and uses it to purchase Adam, an early automated human life form. McEwan riffs on the Turing test, and allows readers to consider how the full cast of characters measure up to living a good life and being a good human. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Machines Like Me from

Where the Crawdads Sing

Marsh. While I’ve noted that Delia Owens’ debut novel titled, Where the Crawdads Sing, has been on the best seller list for almost a year, I didn’t settle down to read it until a few days ago. Owens offers readers the full life of protagonist Kya Clark, who lived for six decades in the marsh on the coast of North Carolina. The setting is described with such care that most readers will visualize the place where Kya lives. For much of the plot, there’s a mystery to solve, and Owens fills the space around that core with pulling readers deeper into understand all the complexity of this interesting protagonist who battles for survival in a difficult environment. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Where the Crawdads Sing from

Little Faith

Children. After I finished reading Nickolas Butler’s novel titled, Little Faith, I thought a lot about faith and family, and the range of behaviors that take place when there is harmony and when there is discord. Children are at the core of this novel. The death of a son led protagonist Kyle Hovde away from his Lutheran faith in rural Wisconsin. After his adopted daughter, Shiloh, moves in with Kyle and his wife, Peg, Kyle gets a chance to love another child, Shiloh’s son, Isaac. Shiloh is drawn into a religious community and under the influence of a powerful minister. This pastor believes that Isaac has healing powers, and the family enters a period of discord. Butler builds each character with recognizable and relatable complexity and draws readers into this great story of faith and family, centered on the love of children. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Little Faith from

Out of the Dark

Survival. The fourth Orphan X novel by Gregg Hurwitz is titled, Out of the Dark. Someone in government with a lot of power is taking action to eliminate everyone involved in the Orphan Program. Protagonist Evan Smoak, Orphan X, now known as the Nowhere Man, knows exactly who’s behind this effort, and decides to take that person out. This fight involves two opponents with vastly different resources and capabilities. Hurwitz maintains tension throughout a fast-paced plot. Readers who enjoy thrillers are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Out of the Dark from

The Reservoir Tapes

Connected. The quirky exploration of an ordinary place and a missing girl that Jon McGregor began with his novel titled, Reservoir 13, continues with a new book titled, The Reservoir Tapes. McGregor offers fifteen perspectives of members of this small community. In this second novel, McGregor helps readers see how a tragedy can fade into the background life of any community. The village we met in the first novel seems very different in the second. McGregor first presented this narrative on BBC Radio 4, and some readers may want to receive the text in audio rather than print form. I found that hearing helped me appreciate McGregor’s skill in capturing the cadences of everyday speech, while connecting the pieces to allow us to gain insight into how people reveal their inner selves. While this novel stands on its own, when read in conjunction with the earlier novel, a reader can appreciate the breadth of McGregor’s writing expertise. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Reservoir Tapes from

Halibut on the Moon

Insight. One reason we read fiction is to gain insight into human nature, to understand people just like us, and people who are very different from us. In his novel titled, Halibut on the Moon, David Vann pulls readers into a family for whom mental illness defined their world. Readers become swept up in the swings from depression to euphoria, and in the sensation of being out of control. Vann captures the pain of mental illness with insight and writes with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Halibut on the Moon from