Thursday, November 21, 2019

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

Process. Investigative journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey describe in their book titled, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, the process they followed in revealing sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein. Most of us are aware of the outline of their story, and this book shows how the story was built one interview at a time, and one research investigation at a time. Whether you think you know a lot or a little about the job of a journalist, this book shows what the work entails, and uses a prominent story as a way to reveal the hard work and diligence it takes to run down a story, as well as the resources required and the willingness to follow the story wherever it goes. In the case of the authors, they had the full support of The New York Times as they carried out their work. I was amazed at the efforts Weinstein took to kill their story. I strongly recommend reading this finely written book and then subscribing to quality periodicals that generate the resources to pursue stories effectively. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase She Said from

Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

Observations. Primatologist Frans de Wall shares insights drawn from decades of observations of animal behavior for his book titled, Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves. He has specialized in comparing human and primate behavior, and the abundant similarities he describes have significant implications. It may be humbling for some readers to accept the evidence that we humans are not as special as we think we are. There’s a heartwarming story at the core of the book, and most readers will finish this book with a greater appreciation of other animals. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mama’s Last Hug from

The Guardians

Innocence. Most readers know that John Grisham can tell one hell of a story that will engage a reader from the beginning to the end of a book. In his legal thrilled titled, The Guardians, the focus is on what it takes to release the innocent from prison. Protagonist Cullen Post is a lawyer working for a group called Guardian Ministries that operates on a shoestring. He’s also an Episcopal priest and uses the dog collar judiciously in his prison work. Guardian accepts just a few cases at a time, and Grisham pulls readers into how Post and the group get prisoners released. As expected with Grisham, there’s tension, action and great satisfaction in the story being told. After you finish reading this novel, consider making a contribution to one of the groups that does this work pro bono. They need help and there are plenty more true stories like the ones made up in this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Guardians from

Red at the Bone

Immersive. The novel by Jacqueline Woodson titled, Red at the Bone, packs a wallop inside a compact two hundred pages. Woodson plants us into an extended family and uses their voices and the atmosphere of their lives to explore race, teenage pregnancy, and finding our place in the world. The multiple voices in the novel scramble us in time and focus us on what’s important. Woodson explores love and loss with great insight. The humanity of the characters in the novel will remain with most readers long after the last page is turned. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Red at the Bone from

The Need

Bizarre. Things are not as they appear for both the characters in and readers of Helen Phillips novel titled, The Need. Protagonist Molly is not the only parent who, while at home with young children, hears footsteps in the house. Is she just sleep deprived or is there something more sinister at play? A long day with children can be bizarre for any number of reasons, but Phillips pulls readers into her speculative and thrilling story and demands that we follow her images and story wherever it leads. Patient readers are rewarded with a bizarre and entertaining story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Need from

Mrs. Everything

Choices. The place of women in society from the middle of the twentieth century until now is the subject of Jennifer Weiner’s novel titled, Mrs. Everything. Sisters Jo and Bethie Kaufman grew up in Detroit and Weiner describes key episodes in their lives and the choices they made with intention or out of necessity. Constrained and defined by others, both women survived what life threw at them. Along the way, readers are pulled into people, places and situations that may cause discomfort, but reflect aspects of the times described. The life we imagine for ourselves is often different when reality sets in and choices are made. Weiner’s prose and insight into human nature lead readers toward introspection. Contemporaries of the main characters will want to tell their own stories of this era after reading the book, so for the right book club, this novel will generate robust conversation. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mrs Everything from

Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark

Audience. As I kept reading Cecelia Watson’s book titled, Semicolon: The Past, Present and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, I found myself wondering about her intended audience. After fifty pages or so, I concluded that I wasn’t the target reader, but I slogged through to the end. Are there really enough readers who truly care about punctuation? I expected something a bit jauntier than what’s on offer in this book. I truly didn’t know that the semicolon is controversial. I didn’t know that there have been periods of popularity followed by periods of aversion whether following or violating contemporary rules of grammar. I know some editors who would appreciate this book, but they may be too busy to take the time to read it. Sample a few pages to see if you might be the targeted reader for this book. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Semicolon from

From a Low and Quiet Sea

Stories. The finely written prose of Donal Ryan in his book titled, From a Low and Quiet Sea, weaves together three stories that will pull empathy out of every reader’s heart and propel us toward recognition of what we need to atone for in our own lives as we journey toward redemption. I love the gentle ways in which Ryan sneaks up on us, pulling us in with our leaning toward compassion for these characters. By the time most readers can see what Ryan has done, he’s finished, and leaves us to marvel at his handiwork. Readers who enjoy literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this well-crafted work of great fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase From a Low and Quiet Sea from

The Clockmaker's Daughter

Voices. Fans of big and complicated historical mysteries are those readers most likely to enjoy Kate Morton’s novel titled, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. Some readers may become unsettled with the pacing of the novel, as Morton shifts voices and time periods just as a reader settles into one of the puzzle pieces. It can feel like starting over with a new voice, and it is. Patient readers will be rewarded by the gradual reveal, and with an engaging mystery packed with interesting characters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Clockmaker’s Daughter from

Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying

Candid. Someone I knew while I was in college would sit down at the breakfast table every morning and say, “Here we are one day closer to the grave.” While that may have somewhat morbid and definitely not been a cheery start to the day, it was certainly accurate and reflected an awareness of the certainty of death. That awareness is made candid and useful for every cogent person in a book by Sallie Tisdale titled, Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying. Drawn from her experience in nursing and palliative care, Tisdale explains with clarity what to expect with dying. She includes lots of helpful tools to improve communication about the process of dying and in making one’s wishes well known. Read it today, since you are now one more day closer to your grave and you should be prepared. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Advice for Future Corpses from

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Dutch House

Conroys. Fans of finely written prose with deep and complex characters are those most likely to enjoy Ann Patchett’s novel titled, The Dutch House. In addition to the members of the Conroy family, who we get to know over the course of five decades, we also see the depth and richness of their family home. Any reader who has lived in a home that was more than a place to live will delight in the magic of this house and why it attracts some and repels others. There’s a sibling relationship at the center of this novel and Patchett captures the intensity of that special bond with great skill. Each of us has someone in our extended family who does something that we just can’t understand. Many of the characters in this novel do exactly that and we love them all the more because of their behavior. I loved every minute I spent with the Conroy family and imagined living in the house during good times and bad. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Dutch House from

The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light

Decisions. I love to read a short work by a prominent historian that enlightens me about a single topic. In his book titled, The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light, award-winning historian Jean Edward Smith describes the decisions that were made to liberate Paris in 1944 and the consequences of those decisions. Readers who enjoy history, especially those who love Paris, will read in this book how Paris was liberated and what that meant for the city we see today as well as how saving Paris led to a longer war. I closed the book wondering what would have happened to Paris in 1944 if Ike and Mamie Eisenhower hadn’t lived there in the 1920s and 30s. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Liberation of Paris from

Full Throttle

Variety. I love reading a short story collection with a wide range of settings, and the baker’s dozen in the collection titled, Full Throttle, by Joe Hill suited my taste perfectly. There are a few new stories in this collection; most have been published over the past decade or so. Hill succeeds in each of those stories by tapping into some part of human nature and revealing it. Always interesting and imaginative, the stories kept me engaged for almost a fortnight as I doled out one story a day. Any reader who loves short fiction should consider reading this collection. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Full Throttle from

Celestial Bodies

Oman. I picked up a copy of Kokha Alharthi’s novel titled, Celestial Bodies, after it won the Man Booker International Prize. This finely written novel draws readers into the Omani culture and the changes to that society over recent decades, through the lens of three sisters. Oman’s history of slavery can be disturbing, but Alharthi uses that history to explore the many ways in which people are bound and constrained. The women in this novel are complex and interesting characters and the society in which they live demands change and extracts love and loss as time passes. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Celestial Bodies from

How We Fight For Our Lives

Poetic. The memoir titled, How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones describes a young life that may bear no resemblance to the experience of most readers. That’s exactly one of the good reasons to pick up this book and enter into the experience of someone whose life has been different from our own. Another good reason is that Jones’ prose is finely written, influenced by his poetry, and packed with candor. This examination of a life is reflective and disarming. Jones writes about many relationships that are fraught with drama, stress, even danger, but the memoir turns warm when he writes about his mother. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How We Fight for our Lives from

The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator

Deet. After reading Timothy C. Winegard’s book titled, The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, I checked to see if we had mosquito repellent with deet in the house. Have you ever known something but experienced pleasure when someone else plays back to you what you know in a more coherent narrative? That was my experience on reading this book. I already know about how disease killed people over many centuries, and how in some wars there were more casualties from disease than from battle. Thanks to Winegard, I was able to follow a coherent narrative presenting the mosquito as human’s most powerful enemy across many centuries. I also read this book when Eastern equine encephalitis was spreading in the United States. That explains my search for deet. So far, so good. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Mosquito from

Lock Every Door

Bartholomew. Fans of thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy Riley Sager’s novel titled, Lock Every Door. Protagonist Jules Larsen gets a lucrative job at just the right time as a house sitter for a unit in the Bartholomew, a prestigious and mysterious New York building. While the rules for her residency are strict, the pay is great, and the digs are spectacular. After a fellow house sitter from another apartment disappears, Jules starts to investigate the mysteries of the Bartholomew. Readers are treated with her thrilling adventure. Next time you walk by one of those signature exclusive residences, you may speculate on what’s going on inside. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lock Every Door from


Prolific. Edmund Morris’ biography titled, Edison, was published after the author’s death. Were he alive, I would have asked him why he chose a structure for the book that was as difficult as its subject. While most biographies procced chronologically, Morris goes backward, mostly, and organizes in the following categories: botany, defense, chemistry, magnetism, light, sound, telegraphy, and natural philosophy. The prolific and talented Edison explored all those areas, and he patented inventions at a great clip throughout his life. Despite the challenging structure, most readers will find Edison a great subject and Morris a fine presenter of the complex and voluminous material of a highly productive life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Edison from

The Topeka School

Language. Ben Lerner demands readers of his novel titled, The Topeka School, to go deep or go home. When Lerner unveils the interior lives of characters, we see the ways in which the forms of language shape ourselves and our environment. As he shifts perspective, Lerner demands our eyes follow his as we look to the past and see the trajectory toward our divisive present from multiple points of view. Words matter and Lerner shows us why. Fans of finely written literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Topeka School from

My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son's Search For Home

Kindred. As he prepared to become a father, Michael Brendan Dougherty freaked out a little about how he would need to tell his daughter who she is and where she comes from. He writes a book titled, My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son's Search For Home, as letters to his father who has been an intermittent presence in Michael’s life. Dougherty’s mother and father ended their relationship in Ireland before he was born. While he was raised in New Jersey, his mother spoke to him in Irish and his father visited from Dublin every few years. Facing fatherhood, he wrote letters to his own father that are heartfelt and moving. At some time in our life we answer identity questions for ourselves about who is kindred. If we are fortunate, we also come to understand the sacrifice that parents have made to improve the lives of their children. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Father Left Me Ireland from

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Agent Running in the Field

Anger. Prolific spy novelist John le Carré taps into the prevailing emotion of anger throughout contemporary life in his novel titled, Agent Running in the Field. Protagonist Nat has put in his time in the field for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service running agents, and he seethes as he sees the signals that he might become sidelined. One advantage of his recall to London is the chance to play more badminton at his club, where he’s champion. He begins regular matches with Ed, a player half his age and both men enjoy the competitiveness of their contests. Over beer, Ed expresses anger about Brexit, Trump, and his job. Nat bumps into many of the elements of the toxic angry political environment in his new role where he has been placed in charge of a small group of spies. With great writing skill, le Carré moves the story along swiftly, allowing the anger to flow, and leading the interesting cast of characters toward a very satisfying resolution. Fans of le Carré and spy fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Agent Running in the Field from

Blue Moon

Mayhem. The twenty-fourth installment in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is a novel titled, Blue Moon. This time out, Reacher does a good deed to help an old man, and one thing leads to another as a week of mayhem unfolds. The old man was on his way to repay a loan from a loan shark affiliated with the town’s Albanian gang. Neither Reacher nor the old man understood why the loan shark didn’t show up to receive the payment. Within the first few pages, readers learn that a gang war has erupted between the Albanians and Ukrainians, a conflict that Reacher stokes. The body count is high in this novel as Reacher uses all his skills to do the right thing. By the time Reacher leaves town the community is much better off. Fans of this series and any reader who likes character-driven action novels will enjoy this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blue Moon from

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce

Influencers. I’m willing to hazard a guess that more books have been written about the relationships between mothers and daughters than fathers and sons. Colm Toibin has written a brisk and interesting book titled, Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce, about William Wilde, John Butler Yeats and John Joyce, the fathers of writers Oscar, W.B. and James respectively. Toibin brings to life the marvelous imperfections of these interesting fathers and the ways in which they influenced the lives of their sons and how they show up in the writers’ work. Fans of Irish Literature are those readers most likely to enjoy this finely written book that walks us through Dublin and offers great insight into complex relationships. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mad Bad Dangerous to Know from


Details. Tokyo detective Kyoichiro Kaga claims a well-earned place among the great fictional detectives. In the second novel titled, Newcomer, in this series by Keigo Higoshiro, Kaga has been assigned to a new precinct. Even before he’s assigned his first case, Kaga walks through the neighborhood getting to know people and places, constantly noticing things. Thanks to the details that Kaga pays attention to, he unravels the secrets that solve a murder case. Fans of character-based crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Newcomer from

Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise

Minorities. Eboo Patel offers readers a robust defense of religious diversity in his book titled, Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise. Following Patel’s argument, there are commentaries on the subject by others. This book is part of a series called, Our Compelling Interests. Patel describes his view of what the American promise is, and how minorities enhance the common good. Diversity is a great strength in the life of our country, and religious diversity is of special value. If you believe that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation, you should read this book and reflect on what our future should be like. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Out of Many Faiths from

The Turn of the Key

Story. My prescription for you on the next cold and windy night is to pour a few fingers of a fine single malt for yourself and sit in a comfortable chair with a copy of Ruth Ware’s novel titled, The Turn of the Key. Ware eases us into the story of Rowan Caine written in the form of Rowan’s letter to her attorney from prison where she awaits trial for murder. The action builds slowly, so sip at leisure. Once the action builds, you will soon forget there is a beverage at your side. Ware uses the whole gothic toolbox for this novel: a remote setting in the Scottish Highlands, a young woman accepting a lucrative job as a nanny, loads of red herrings, spooky settings, superstitions and ghosts, and a bit of romance. While the early exposition might seem plodding, seeds are planted, and the second half of the novel races toward an exciting end well before your glass of scotch is consumed. The setting at Heatherbrae House blends the horrors of smart home technology with a house that was the place for tragedy in the past. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Turn of the Key from

America's Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King

Questions. Any Stephen King fan who has noted the religious imagery and themes in his writing should consider reading Douglas Cowen’s book titled, America’s Dark Theologian. Cowan explores all the core questions that King raises in his writing. This invitation to questioning is prevalent throughout King’s writing, and he is always skeptical about those who purport to have the answers to life’s big questions. Readers who may not know why we love horror may come away from this book with greater understanding. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase America’s Dark Theologian from

The Adults

Foibles. Parts of my funny bones were tickled in just the right ways by Caroline Hulse’s debut novel titled, The Adults. Matt and Claire are the divorced parents of seven-year-old Scarlett, and they decide that the best Christmas holiday for Scarlett would be to spend it with both her parents and their current partners, Alex with Matt and Patrick with Claire, at a resort called Happy Forest. What could possibly go wrong when the exes come together with their significant others? They are all adults. One thing happens early in the novel: someone is shot with an arrow. That’s not in the Christmas spirit. The sixth member of the holiday party is Scarlett’s invisible big purple rabbit, Posey, whose opinions fill Scarlett’s head. The foibles of these individuals bring the characters to life, but their predicament can often seem slapstick. Readers looking for some humorous distraction should consider reading this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Adults from

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

Spies. In a pause from writing fiction, prolific novelist Brad Meltzer paired up with researcher Josh Mensch to write an engaging work of non-fiction titled, The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington. Meltzer takes us to New York during the American Revolution and the shifting loyalties between those supporting the English monarchy and those in revolt for independence. While Washington tries to train and equip a ragtag group of soldiers into a fighting force, there are active plans to take out Washington himself. Plenty of historians have written about what a close-run thing the Revolutionary War was. Meltzer adds this book as another easy read that describes true stories of that era that will enlighten and entertain readers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The First Conspiracy from

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America

Window. Journalist James Poniewozik, television critic for The New York Times, tells two stories in his book titled, Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. The first story flows from job as TV critic: he relates the role of television in American life and how it has evolved from the beginning of the medium to the present. The second story involves using television as a window into gaining a deeper understanding of Donald Trump. Poniewozik projects how television helped form the character of Trump through what he watched as a child, to his self-promotion as a businessman, through his fame via The Apprentice, and then on to politics through Fox News. I found that Poniewozik described the evolution of television with insight, and he uses his observations of the changes in television over decades as one way to explain increased polarization among Americans and to offer a view about how television made Donald Trump. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Audience of One from