Monday, July 6, 2020

These Women

Voices. Amid the chaos involved with the terror of a serial killer, we hear the voices of a cast of women who know what must be learned, if only someone will listen to them. In her novel titled, These Women, Ivy Pochoda gives five key women clear voices, and adds to the murder mystery tension by having the murderer be the one individual paying attention to the women. The Los Angeles backdrop for this story becomes vivid, and readers will become invested in each of the women that Pochoda presents. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase These Women from amazon.com.

The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast

Stories. The late John L’Heureux didn’t seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the small questions in life. Instead, in his collection of stories titled, The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast, readers find thoughtful examination of those moments that change lives. This collection is packed with joy, love, humor and celebrates the range of human behavior that brings the world pleasure. No topic seems to be off limits, as L’Heureux finds the love or the connection or the reasons to live and to carry on. I’ll miss the ways in which this talented writer helped me and other readers wrestle with what life throws us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast from amazon.com.

Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City

Changemakers. Robin Hood Foundation CEO Wes Moore pulls readers of his book titled, Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City, into the long weekend of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore in April 2015. We learn about the city of Baltimore, the root sources of discontent that led to the violence following Gray’s death, and the hopeful signs of a better future. We are introduced to changemakers who we’ll root for and support as they try to make Baltimore a better place. This is one more book that helps privileged white men like me understand better what Black Lives Matter is about, to commit to supporting those trying to effect lasting impact, and to change what I can to make things better. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Five Days from amazon.com.

The End of October

Pathogens. If living through a real pandemic makes you hungry to read about a fictional one, be sure to read Lawrence Wright’s novel titled, The End of October. I had to keep reminding myself that Wright wrote this novel well before anyone knew about covid-19 because he gets so much of our contemporary experience right. That said, we read fiction for other reasons. Protagonist Dr. Henry Parsons provides one of those reasons. Wright enfleshed this flawed hero with all the human qualities that make us fascinated by other people. This skilled epidemiologist does so much right, makes some big mistakes, and tries to move along, just like us. This thrilling novel provides lots of suspense and a cast of interesting characters, full of good and malice, focused often on the wrong things. Pathogens and nature are powerful forces, as we’re learning, and our human inclinations are not always focused on doing what’s best for ourselves and for others. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The End of October from amazon.com.

The Warsaw Protocol

Blackmail. Leave it to protagonist Cotton Malone to be in the right place at the right time. Or is it the wrong place at the right time? In the fifteenth installment of the Malone series by Steve Berry, a novel titled, The Warsaw Protocol, Cotton happens to be present for the theft of a sacred object, so he leaps into the fray to catch the thieves and recover the object. Almost immediately, Stephanie Nelle invites him back for a short-term job. What follows is an adventurous plot that involves securing items that are planned to be used to blackmail the president of Poland. Politics, villains, castles and a salt mine are all in the mix for readers of this entertaining action novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Warsaw Protocol from amazon.com.

Girl, Woman, Other

Ensemble. I enjoy a novel that provides insight into the essence of human behavior especially through the development of a single complex and interesting character. In her superb novel titled, Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo gives us a dozen such characters. Through this chorus readers join a celebration of humanity in a wide range of ages and diversity of identity. Along the way, their stories become part of our stories, and we acknowledge aspects of shared history and experience. I enjoyed every minute I spent in the company of these fascinating characters and this talented writer. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Girl Woman Other from amazon.com.

Verge

Resilience. There are twenty short stories in the collection by Lidia Yuknavitch titled, Verge. The characters in these stories live on the margins. In lives that are battered from so many sources, there is truth and beauty if one looks in the right places, and an untraveled path out of a current setback can be found. Yuknavitch write prose that sings in celebration of the resilience of the characters she creates. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Verge from amazon.com.

The Black Cathedral

Cienfuegos. Lots of narrators of Marcia Gala’s novel, The Black Cathedral, combine their voices to create a din that describes life in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Readers are treated or subjected to a barrage of fragments that reinforce a poor quality of life and the unrealistic hope that life will change after a new cathedral is built. The people in the town are caught up in violence and selfishness. After finishing the novel, many readers like me may scratch our heads about this novel but concur that we just read an indictment of life in modern Cuba delivered by a rousing chorus of voices. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase The Black Cathedral from amazon.com.

The Death of Jesus

Orphan. I’m undecided whether or not to recommend that you must read J.M. Coetzee’s two novels titled The Childhood of Jesus and The Schooldays of Jesus before you read the third novel, The Death of Jesus. Normally, reading a series in sequence leads to greater understanding. For these three novels, there’s no understanding, only lots of questions. The main question that David, the now ten-year-old protagonist, asks in this novel is: Why am I here? While Simon and Inez act as if they are his parents, he is an orphan, as we all are, since at some time we are all alone in the world with our unanswered questions about the meaning of life. I’ve read all three novels, and feel unsettled, which is probably the best outcome achievable from these unusual and finely written novels. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Death of Jesus from amazon.com.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Origin. Fans of the Hunger Games trilogy are those readers most likely to enjoy Suzanne Collins’ origin story of Coriolanus Snow in a novel titled, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. We meet eighteen-year-old Snow at the 10th Hunger Games, where he and other students are selected as mentors to the tributes. Snow is assigned to a female tribute from District 12 and their chance of winning seems remote. Collins presents readers with an immature Coriolanus and there are times when we think he might choose to do good. To the satisfaction of fans, we see the character traits of the villainous adult Snow appear in one form or another at every pivot in this selection from his formative years. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes from amazon.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Motion of the Body Through Space

Vulnerability. Lionel Shriver skewers the cult of fitness in her novel titled, The Motion of the Body Through Space, while she places the topics of marriage and aging under her perceptive microscope. Sixty-year-old Serenata has exercised daily for decades and has been procrastinating scheduling knee surgery. Her husband, Remington, has led a sedentary life, but when he finds himself in early involuntary retirement, he decides to run a marathon. When a personal trainer spots hapless Remington, she sees a goldmine for her business. If she can get him to finish MettleMan, a hyper-triathlon, she’ll get all the clients she can handle. Shriver captures with precision and grace the vulnerabilities we face as we age, and the peaks and valleys in long term marital relationships. Readers who enjoy finely written prose, whether fitness buffs or couch potatoes, are those most likely to appreciate this novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Motion of the Body Through Space from amazon.com.

The Jerusalem Assassin

Tense. The third novel by Joel C. Rosenberg to feature former U.S. Secret Service agent Marcus Ryker is titled, The Jerusalem Assassin. Unknown terrorists are meeting with success in targeting key players, so when President Clarke announces a new Mideast peace plan and wants to go to Jerusalem, Ryker is engaged to try to keep the President and others safe. The tension remains taut throughout this thriller, and the terrorists are worthy adversaries, usually keeping a step ahead of Ryker and others. As always, a reader feels the plot comes straight from recent headlines, and Rosenberg situates the issues among different countries in the region with great skill. Now that my heart rate has come back down, I can say I was thoroughly entertained by this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Jerusalem Assassin from amazon.com.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Schizophrenia. Readers won’t soon forget the Galvin family after completing Robert Kolker’s exposition in his book titled, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children starting in the mid-1940s and ending in the mid-1960s. Six of the children developed schizophrenia. Through extensive interviews with family members, scientists and others, Kolker offers life stories that describe situations that will make most readers uncomfortable. Once a reader opens the door to come inside, it will be hard to leave the Galvin family dynamics. While telling a personal story, Kolker also describes the development of science over the same time period and how the Galvin family influenced research and treatment for this disease. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Hidden Valley Road from amazon.com.

Barn 8

Chickens. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan. In her novel titled, Barn 8, Deb Olin Unferth introduces readers to a group of activists who plan to rescue a million chickens from the barns on a factory farm. What could possibly go wrong? Unferth’s writing leads us to care about the cast of characters and to love the chickens, while allowing the madcap action to unfold. I like a funny story that has an important message and this book had me laughing and thinking. There’s really no limit to the things we’ll do for love. Fans of imaginative and well-written fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Barn 8 from amazon.com.

Chosen Ones

Dark. Fans of thrilling and twisting stories are those readers most likely to enjoy Veronica Roth’s novel titled, Chosen Ones. Set in a slightly altered Chicago with a parallel darker Chicago attached, this imaginative novel keeps a fast-paced plot moving along while we get to enjoy the development of interesting and complex, nuanced characters. Protagonist Sloane heads toward a nemesis, the Dark One, and feels the heavy weight of responsibility to prevent chaos. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Chosen Ones from amazon.com.

All Adults Here

Love. After spending time reading about three generations of the Strick family in Emma Straub’s novel titled, All Adults Here, most readers will feel an extra spark of love for our own parents, siblings, children and grandchildren. Most of us will be more thankful for our relations and their issues when compared to the cast of characters in this novel. Sixty-eight-year-old matriarch Astrid Strick leads the ensemble, and her teenage granddaughter, Cecilia, may be the most mature member of the family. Straub packs a host of contemporary issues into this family and the small town in which Astrid lives. I loved the sibling dynamics in the novel, and the insight that as parents we may do our best but know there are things we’ve done that require an apology to our children. Wisdom comes from not guessing what those things are, because they may not be the events or actions we recall. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase All Adults Here from amazon.com.

Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

Thinking. Brian Greene challenges readers of his book titled, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe, to think about thinking. He aims to provide clarity, and I now have more questions than when I started, which is perfect. As he explores a variety of theories and points us to the cosmos, he also directs us inward on a search for meaning. Greene distills lots of big notions on these pages, any one of which lead a reader into decades of further study. He has a way of making connections that will encourage readers to continue thinking after we finish reading this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Until the End of Time from amazon.com.

Valentine

Odessa. The five female narrators of Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel titled, Valentine, never flinch as they describe their lives in Odessa, Texas during the 1970s oil boom. After an opening scene involving the brutal rape of a young Mexican by a violent oil worker, the pace never stops as Wetmore lets these women tell us of their struggle for survival in a culture that stacks the deck against them at every turn in life. Wetmore develops complex characters and leads readers to hear their stories with compassion and feel their struggle with empathy. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Valentine from amazon.com.

A Children's Bible

Storms. The parents in Lydia Millet’s novel titled, A Children’s Bible, have abdicated responsibility so a group of twelve children of various ages fend for themselves after storms devastate the summer house where the extended group has been staying. The children leave their hedonistic parents in the damaged house and head into chaos. If your appetite is for dark humor in troubled times, you’re likely to love reading this novel. Nature, man, animals and their relationships are fodder for Millet’s fine writing and observations about the state of our lives and our world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Children’s Bible from amazon.com.

Kent State

Voices. Even fifty years after the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, there remain conflicting accounts of what happened then over the course of several days of protests. In her book titled, Kent State, Deborah Wiles allows multiple voices to relate different perspectives using free verse. We hear from white and black students, National Guard troops, and residents of Kent. As is the case with many books written for younger audiences, this book removes what’s unessential to the narrative. The result is a mining of multiple memories of the past that provide another context for discussing contemporary protests and violent responses to peaceful as well as disruptive activities. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Kent State from amazon.com.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder

Essays. Brian Doyle died too young at age 60 from brain cancer, and I can only imagine how many more beautiful sentences he would be writing were he still alive. In a posthumous essay collection titled, One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, readers can gorge on his fine prose, and his acute and alert observations about life. Whether musing on basketball, his children or nature, Doyle has a way of opening our eyes and our minds to the wonders around us. Treat yourself to the finely written essays in this collection and view your life and the world around you with more clarity, humility and understanding. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase One Long River of Song from amazon.com.

Lot

Impressions. There are thirteen finely written short stories in the debut collection by Bryan Washington, the middle story of which is used as title for the collection, Lot. We get impressions in these stories, sometimes fragments, of Houston life. Some of the stories are connected. Many involve losses, and the struggle for survival. All the stories are finely written and will appeal to any reader who appreciates literary fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lot from amazon.com.

As Long As We Both Shall Live

Marriage. Fans of crime thrillers will love the intensity of JoAnn Chaney’s novel titled, As Long As We Both Shall Live. Matt tells park rangers that his wife, Marie, fell off a cliff. Detectives suspect Matt of murder. And we’re off. Just when we think we’re sure that Matt killed Marie, we think there might be something else going on. Chaney keeps us thinking and reading as she never lets up. What is it about marriage that leads people to the very edge? Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase As Long As We Both Shall Live from amazon.com.

Friday Black

Creative. There are twelve funny and crazy short stories in the debut collection by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah titled, Friday Black. These are sharp, finely written stories that show off the author’s creativity and are likely to delight most readers. There’s an emotional range on display in this collection that packs a punch. There’s dark humor, human failings and issues galore. His writing surprised me often, always had my full attention, and gave me great reading pleasure. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Friday Black from amazon.com.

Lose Well

Resilience. Failure can be a good thing. That’s the message in Chris Gethard’s self-help book titled, Lose Well. It’s a funny book, as one would expect from Gethard, but also contains a serious message about the value of resilience, and all that we can learn when our dreams are thwarted. All of us have suffered rejection of one form or another throughout our lives. Gethard encourages us to embrace the rejection and use it for what we do next. We’re told to stop worrying about failure, believe in ourselves, get up and try again. Candor about his own setbacks allows his voice to be heard, whether a reader finds it funny or not. Read the book and give your dream another shot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Lose Well from amazon.com.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography

Smiles. Most readers will be entertained by the great stories and jokes in Eric Idle’s book titled, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography. You’ll smile a lot (Smilealot?) by the hilarious memories that Idle offers in this book and be amazed at the charmed life he’s led. He’s rubbed shoulders with lots of interesting people, and he gives a funny inside look at lots of them in this book. Just thinking about what I read about Spamalot brings a smile to my face as I write this. Any reader who needs a good laugh should consider reading this memoir. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from amazon.com.

The Truants

Teacher. Intelligent readers will find a lot to like in Kate Weinberg’s debut novel titled, The Truants. Protagonist Jess Walker can’t wait to be on her East Anglia university campus and experience the skills of a charismatic teacher, Dr. Lorna Clay, an expert on Agatha Christie. Weinberg develops a cast of fascinating characters and structures the novel in ways that Christie would recognize. Jess becomes part of a small fun-loving group and Lorna Clay becomes the major influence on how Jess thinks and lives. We’re treated to love triangles, significant coming of age moments, murder, pages of clever writing and just the right amount of plot twisting tension. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Truants from amazon.com.

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race

Categories. If Thomas Chatterton Williams can’t convince you that our racial constructs are meaningless, no one can. In his book titled, Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, Williams uses the backdrop of his own identity and the strains of black and white and how he is perceived as a way to ditch some categories as he applies principles that make sense. This book should lead most readers to rethink our notions of race. Some readers may find his book controversial. I didn’t. I listened to the struggle of a son and a father trying to unlearn the categories relating to race. Williams writes of big things in a light way, inviting readers to join him in moving ahead. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Self-Portrait in Black and White from amazon.com.

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law

Overview. Criminal justice fans will enjoy the readable primer by former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, a book titled, Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law. As a reader would expect from a well-organized attorney, the book is structured coherently in four sections: inquiry, accusation, judgment and punishment. Through clear writing and interesting case stories, issues in criminal justice come to life on these pages as does love and respect for the rule of law. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Doing Justice from amazon.com.

Blood Echo

Pacing. The second novel in Christopher Rice’s Burning Girl series is titled, Blood Echo. If you’ve not read the first novel, go ahead and start there. In this book, Burning Girl Charlotte Rowe is back with her superpower and on a mission that brings trouble to her hometown. Rice starts this novel with a rapidly paced plot and maintains momentum that will keep readers turning the pages for longer than one planned. Just when we’re invested in one plot line, things turn and get very interesting. Fans of fast-paced thrillers and this series are those most likely to enjoy this installment and look forward to the next. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blood Echo from amazon.com.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come

Mutations. For a real change of virus from Covid-19 to Ebola, I decided to read Richard Preston’s book titled, Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come. The book reads like a thriller, packed with an interesting cast of characters. In addition to the focus on the 2013-2014 Ebola pandemic, he brings readers back to earlier Ebola outbreaks in Africa. Readers become caught up with the stories of the victims of the virus, the caregivers and the scientists. There’s a heightened sensitivity to the issues Preston raises in this book especially about mutations, the uncertainty of treatments and vulnerability during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m still thinking about the difficult choices about limited resources, drugs and making decisions about who receives treatment. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Crisis in the Red Zone from amazon.com.

Celtic Empire

Pitts. The twenty-fifth installment in the Dirk Pitt adventure series by Clive Cussler is a novel titled, Celtic Empire. Pitt father and son are both back along with their familiar cohorts in a predictable adventurous romp around the world. We’re grounded in something from history, in this case three-thousand-year-old Egyptian version, and tension comes when an evildoer is up to no good, and the Pitts come to the rescue. No plot spoilers there, that’s the successful formula, and in this installment, I was predictably entertained. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Celtic Empire from amazon.com.

Knife

Twists. Jo Nesbø’s twelfth novel featuring Harry Hole is titled, Knife. Crime fiction fans will enjoy almost five hundred pages of plot twists and Harry’s ups and downs. The only woman Harry has ever loved, Rakel, has been murdered with a knife, and Harry is a suspect. His excessive drinking hurts him again, as he can’t remember much about the night Rakel died. Nesbø pulls readers into the story, complicates matters superbly, and leads us toward a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Knife from amazon.com.

Writers & Lovers

Crossroads. Casey Peabody, the thirty-one year old protagonist of Lily King’s novel titled, Writers & Lovers, feels all the confusion and vulnerability of being adrift. Casey’s mother died suddenly. A romantic relationship fell apart. The novel she’s been working on for six years still isn’t finished. She lives in a hovel. At age thirty-one she works as a waitress to survive. Thanks to King’s fine writing, readers care deeply about Casey, and root for her as she forges ahead. She falls in love with Oscar and Silas at the same time, both writers and very different personalities. Will she choose one or the other? Can she continue to pursue her dream of writing? Will she ever get out from under her debt? Fans of literary fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy this finely written novel. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Writers & Lovers from amazon.com.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

Belonging. The debut novel by C. Pam Zhang titled, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, describes the struggles of two Chinese American orphans, Lucy and Sam, in the American West during the 19th century. Zhang’s prose is finely written, and she creates appealing characters that will lead readers to care what happens to them. Memory, family and finding the place where one belongs in the world are all themes that are explored with great skill. Fans of historical fiction and good writing are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How Much of These Hills Is Gold from amazon.com.

If It Bleeds

Novellas. The four novellas in the collection by Stephen King titled, If It Bleeds, will appeal to all readers who enjoy his imaginative storytelling. I especially enjoyed the return of Holly Gibney from the Bill Hodges trilogy in the title story. I found each novella satisfying and read them too quickly, as I usually do with King’s work. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase If It Bleeds from amazon.com.

The City We Became

Avatars. The first installment in N.K. Jemison’s planned Great Cities Trilogy is a novel titled, The City We Became. Anyone who has lived in a great city knows that the place seems alive and has a certain set personality. I don’t read a lot of fantasy fiction, but there are times we need to escape our world and Jemison offers that with her writing skills. In the novel, she reveals avatars for New York’s five boroughs and pits them against an alien from the multiverse. Each borough’s personality shines in these characters. Avatars for São Paulo and Hong Kong show up to help New York out. For a great escape that also captures contemporary life, consider reading this novel and the others in the series when they are released. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The City We Became from amazon.com.

The Cactus League

Ensemble. Whether you love baseball or not, you’re likely to enjoy the interesting ensemble of characters in Emily Nemens’ debut novel titled, The Cactus League. Nemens gives us an overview of all kinds of people drawn to spring training including an aging batting coach and his wife, a star player, a rookie player, an agent, and a woman looking for a fling. The observations about each character entertained me and Nemens reveals human behavior in all its quirky wonder. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cactus League from amazon.com.

Mr. Nobody

Memory. Catherine Steadman teases out the plot of her novel titled, Mr. Nobody. A man is found on a beach in Norfolk and neither he nor anyone else remembers who he is. Neuropsychiatrist Emma Lewis has been asked to examine the man, since his condition seems to line up perfectly with her expertise. Despite her professional interest in the case, Emma is reluctant to return to Norfolk because something happened there years ago that caused her and her family to leave and change their identities. Steadman leaves readers waiting a long time to find out about Emma’s past, and to reveal what’s up with the man found on the beach. Readers who enjoy psychological suspense novels are those most likely to appreciate this book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mr Nobody from amazon.com.

The Book of Longings

Ana. In her novel titled, The Book of Longings, Sue Monk Kidd introduces readers to a strong female protagonist named Ana who led a remarkable life in the middle east during the Roman occupation. Also, Ana’s husband was Jesus who was crucified by the Romans. The novel helps readers reimagine a familiar story in the context of how a woman navigated a society in which all women are undervalued. Some readers will enjoy the “what if” element of the plot, while others may be uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus had a wife. I found the story compelling, saw Ana as a fascinating and complex character, and came away from the novel with all my beliefs intact. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Book of Longings from amazon.com.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking

Essence. Readers with any interest in food, France, people, stories and relationships will find many things to enjoy while reading Bull Buford’s book titled, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. My taste for this book started when I read Buford’s excerpt in The New Yorker about a baker named Bob in Lyon, France. When this book was released this month, I was prepared to devour it, and I did. Buford makes it all look easy. What he does is cook down people and stories until he uncovers the essence. It takes a while to realize that what we get in this book is the distillation of many years of his engagement with chefs, cooking, and writing. I encountered chef Michel Richard from his Citronelle restaurant in Washington and thought of him as a creative and whimsical restauranteur. I learned, as Buford did, that the late Richard was a traditional French chef, who avoided cooking those things that he had not yet found a way to make better than the traditional method. His dishes were rooted in tradition and made better thanks to his skill and creativity. That’s just one example from this book. Buford uses self-deprecating humor to move the story along, and his family’s experience to balance work and home life as he tried to learn all he could about French cooking. Pick your favorite menu item: the view as husband, father, apprentice chef, mentee, writer, friend; and savor this book’s richness. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Dirt from amazon.com.

When All Is Said

Toasts. I highly recommend pairing five drams of Black Bush as you visit Ireland and join eighty-four-year-old protagonist Maurice Hannigan in the five toasts he makes in Anne Griffin’s debut novel titled, When All Is Said. There are secrets, love, loss, regret and great joy on these pages. Griffin writes with considerable skill and fleshes her characters with the complexity of behavior that readers recognize as authentic. Savor each toast and enjoy a grand story. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When All Is Said from amazon.com.

She Lover of Death

Club. The eighth Fandorin mystery by Boris Akunin is a novel titled, She Lover of Death. A young and naïve protagonist, Masha Mironova, arrives in Moscow at the beginning of the 20th century and joins a club of mainly poets who are enamored with death. She becomes Columbine, wears a pet snake, and before long finds herself next in queue to commit suicide, thanks to the signs she has received. Events are heading off the cliff when Fandorin joins the club. Of course, you’ll have to read the novel if you want to find out what happens. Akunin plays with words and names in this novel in ways that will entertain many readers. Rating: Three-star (I like it) Click here to purchase She Lover of Death from amazon.com.

My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me

More. Have tissues or a handkerchief nearby as you read Jason B. Rosenthal’s book titled, My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me. Two weeks before she died of ovarian cancer, Jason’s wife, Amy Krause Rosenthal, wrote an op-ed piece for the Modern Love column in The New York Times titled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” This book is the story of Amy’s vibrant life, their marriage and family life, and the ways in which she made our world better through everything she did. Amy’s first word was “more.” Jason tells this story with grace and skill, pulling all readers into leading a meaningful life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me from amazon.com.

Walk the Wire

Murders. The sixth Memory Man novel by David Baldacci featuring Amos Decker is a novel titled, Walk the Wire. Amos and partner Alex Jamison are sent by the FBI to North Dakota to investigate a murder. It takes lots of pages of exposition for us to know why this murder has brought in the FBI, and even Amos Decker’s perfect memory has trouble keeping track of the mayhem at play in this novel. Layers of secrets are eventually uncovered, to the satisfaction of close readers who ache to see every murder solved and the story brought to a satisfying resolution. As a bonus to Baldacci fans, the author brings characters from another series, Will Robie and Jessica Reel, to North Dakota to help out Amos and Alex. Fans of crime fiction, this author, and this series are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Walk the Wire from amazon.com.

Camino Winds

Storm. John Grisham gives readers an exciting return to Camino Island in his novel titled, Camino Winds. A major hurricane lands on the island causing major damage. Protagonist Bruce Cable’s bookstore and home come through the storm ok, but one of the island’s authors has died. Bruce and his posse suspect foul play, and the action of the novel involves their dogged investigation into this case. Fans of Grisham and action thrillers are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Camino Winds from amazon.com.

Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier

Rejection. Historian Benjamin E. Park uses newly released archival information from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to offer readers a concise view of the violent struggles on the American frontier in the 19th century in his book titled, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier. Park offers readers a serious look at the early years of the Mormons, and places them in the context of that time. For a brief period, they found acceptance and refuge in Illinois where they built a large utopian city, Nauvoo. Park describes the variety of forces that led to the abandonment of the city of Nauvoo and the rejection of the Mormons living in Illinois, forcing them to head West. Readers who enjoy history are those most likely to enjoy this book that blends well a national story with the growing power and popularity of a religion. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Kingdom of Nauvoo from amazon.com.

Saint X

Repercussions. One key event has repercussions in the many lives presented by Alexis Schaitkin in her debut novel titled, Saint X. At the end of the Thomas family’s vacation on a Caribbean island, eighteen-year-old Alison disappears and is found dead, changing forever the lives of her parents and her seven-year-old sister, Claire. Schaitkin carries readers along with a plot and multiple narrators weaving forward and backward in time as we learn what happened from various points of view. Claire is the novel’s protagonist, and her life has become consumed with learning what really happened to Alison and what her big sister was really like. Beneath the plot level, Schaitkin delves into issues of white privilege, racism and class differences. Through the impact of Alison in life and death on a number of minor characters, we see the repercussions of one person’s life on many others. The examination of multiple lives takes patience, but close readers will emerge from this novel with a heightened sense of the impact of any single event on multiple lives, for better or for worse, but certainly forever. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Saint X from amazon.com.

Trace Elements

Water. Fans will enjoy the return of Commissario Guido Brunetti in the twenty-ninth installment of the series by Donna Leon, a novel titled, Trace Elements. Set in Venice during a hot summer, Leon takes readers and Brunetti on an exciting murder case involving the quality of the water supply for Venice. The familiar cast of characters returns in this installment, and thanks to Leon’s writing skills, we feel that we are in Venice and we struggle with Brunetti in deciding the right things to do in the search for justice. Fans of crime fiction, especially of this series, are those readers most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Trace Elements from amazon.com.

Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir

Momentum. Madeline Albright’s memoir titled, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir, is packed with wit and wisdom. This former Secretary of State tells us of her life from 2001 to the present, a period for her that was packed with deciding what to do next and then after that, and then something else altogether. Her momentum is a force of nature as she accounts her life of ongoing service and engagement. Her prose is exciting, and her humor enchanting. Do something or get out of her way. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hell and Other Destinations from amazon.com.