Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Flexibility. As of today, I consider Wharton professor Adam Grant’s book titled, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know, to be wise, thoughtful and helpful to any general reader. Of course, thanks to what I read in this book, I’m very likely to reconsider my view and revise my assessment. Grant explores the importance of mental flexibility and humility in facing what we don’t know. He offers processes that can improve the ways in which we can use the approach of a scientist in more dimensions of life. Examine what works and revise multiple times as new data becomes available. In other words, remain flexible. Don’t get stuck, but actively unlearn things and relearn based on the current situation. Ask questions about why you do what you do every day. Start feeling good when you see where you are wrong. That’s an opportunity not a shortcoming. Misplaced confidence leads to heading in the wrong direction. Any reader who thinks he or she has an open mind may think again after reading this engaging and useful book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Think Again from amazon.com.
Desire. The characters in the nine stories by Deesha Philyaw in the collection titled, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, all find themselves struggling with desire and passion. The wide age range of the Black women in these stories provides a variety of ways in which relationships develop. Their longings are usually hidden but are no less real. Philyaw’s insight into human behavior is wise, and her prose and character development will bring each character to vivid display within a handful of pages. There’s an intensity underlying each story, and Philyaw manages the exposure of that with great skill. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Secret Life of Church Ladies from amazon.com.
Clever. Readers who love clever crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy the second installment in the Magpie Murders series by Anthony Horowitz, a novel titled, Moonflower Murders. Detective Atticus Pund returns along with publisher Susan Ryeland for a murder mystery packed with twists and the bonus of a novel within the novel. Horowitz’ writing gives me great reading pleasure, and I always feel respected as a reader that I am expected to engage my brain as the story unfolds. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Moonflower Murders from amazon.com.
Injustice. In their book titled, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, Anne Case and Angus Deaton diagnosis serious problems in American life and offer thoughtful solutions to address the current state of injustice experienced by so many citizens. They are critical of areas in which capitalism doesn’t seem to be working, and they rail against the high cost of healthcare that doesn’t deliver great results. Supported by data, their analysis provides a foundation for all parties interested in public policy change. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism from amazon.com.
Writing. I couldn’t care less about poker. If that was what Maria Konnikova’s book titled, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, was all about, I would have skipped reading it. Instead, I found a well-written exploration about how we learn new skills and how we can control aspects of our behavior through focused attention and repetition of what we want to do better. Konnikova’s personal story in this book is captivating, her insights valuable, and her writing superb. If you like poker, all the better. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Biggest Bluff from amazon.com.
Complexity. One of the joys of reading novels involves encountering in new ways the remarkable complexity of humans whose contradictory behavior should by this time in my life come as no surprise. In her novel titled, Monogamy, Sue Miller excavates the three-decade long marriage between Graham and Annie, both of whom had been married before. Graham is an outgoing bookstore owner, and Annie an introspective photographer. Following Graham’s sudden death, Annie learns things about Graham that cause her to question how well she knew him. Miller picks away at the complexity of the characters in this novel, as we’re forced to think about our own frequently contradictory behavior. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Monogamy from amazon.com.
Kindness. We never have too many people in our lives who treat us with kindness and make us feel loved and welcome. Alecia McKenzie’s novel titled, A Million Aunties, lets us spend time with some of those special people who provide healing and community. Art and flowers provide continuity as the story moves through New York, Jamaica, and Paris. Caring for others can be contagious, so as we follow one character who needs healing after a loss, we watch him provide support, kindness and healing to others. Extended families take many forms, and this endearing cast of characters made me wish I could spend time basking with them in the kindness they provide to each other. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Million Aunties from amazon.com.
Tradition. My heart ached as I read about the plight of six-year-old Ibrahimah in Keisha Bush’s novel titled, No Heaven for Good Boys. In Senegal there is tradition and honor for a young man to be sent away from home to study the Koran with a teacher called a marabout. A chance encounter in Ibrahimah’s remote village leads Marabout Ahmed to select Ibrahimah to join his older cousin Etienne in Dakar to study the Koran. After arriving in the capital city, Ibrahimah finds little instruction, little food and a life spent begging to enrich Marabout Ahmed. On the streets of the city, the dangers are life threatening as the young boys called Talibé are exposed to danger from many sources. Bush drew upon true events to describe this abusive practice. This story of a fight for survival will be difficult to read, may break your heart, and might bring renewed confidence and hope in the goodwill of most people. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase No Heaven for Good Boys from amazon.com.
Magician. The third novel by Phillip Margolin featuring attorney Robin Lockwood is titled, A Reasonable Doubt. A magician with a checkered past named Robert Chesterfield requests help from Robin’s firm which she reluctantly provides mostly because her retired partner had defended Chesterfield in two cases decades earlier. Fans of crime fiction will find a strong protagonist, interesting cases, and some satisfying twists. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Reasonable Doubt from amazon.com.
Secrets. Introspection leads us to confirm or regret past decisions. In his novel titled, The End of the Day, Bill Clegg lets readers meander across multiple characters and a long period of time as we gradually come to see the connections among people and the consequences of past decisions. After secrets are kept for what seemed like good reasons at the time, the consequences of those secrets have unexpected repercussions in the lives of different people. Patient readers who surrender to confusion about connections are rewarded after the pieces all fall in place. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The End of the Day from amazon.com.
Saturday, February 13, 2021
Intentionality. Charles Blow makes a perfectly reasonable proposal to fellow Black citizens in his book titled, The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto. Move back home to the American South to increase the density of Black residents to gain voting power to exercise Black power. Through intentionality in aggregating together, white supremacy can be defeated by the actions of Black citizens. Blow mentions specific states where such action is most likely to succeed and uses his own positive experience in moving to Georgia as an example of positive change. His case is convincing and bold and, if his manifesto is followed, could result in a successful reverse Great Migration. Readers interested in public policy will find a lot to think about after reading this cogent book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Devil You Know from amazon.com.
Upended. Most managers who read Reed Hastings’ book titled, No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, will feel a bit uncomfortable. When co-author Erin Meyer weighs in with her expertise about corporate culture, many more managers will begin to squirm. This book upends many management practices that are widely followed and explains why there’s another way that produces outstanding results. There’s a ruthless quality that some readers will sense in seeing the consequence of hiring the best, paying them at top of market, adjusting pay regularly to market, and providing generous severance when they are no longer “the best,” is that employees can become one more disposable asset. Other readers will see the value that comes from empowering individuals to make decisions without bureaucratic red tape. For some people, working at Netflix must be a dream come true, while for others it would be a nightmare. Read the book and figure out which side you fall on, and whether some of Netflix’ management practices might work at your company. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase No Rules Rules from amazon.com.
Genealogy. The twenty-fourth novel by Tim Dorsey featuring Serge Storms is titled, Tropic of Stupid. Set as always in Florida, this time out Serge decides to send his DNA to a genealogy testing company so he can build a family tree and meet his kin. While on the road with sidekick Coleman, they visit Florida parks and run into situations that call for Serge’s particular methods of administering justice to those who take advantage of others. Fans of the series will love the plot and laugh at the latest exploits of this quirky duo. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Tropic of Stupid from amazon.com.
Joyful. The title of Dolly Parton’s memoir titled, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, conveys how she thinks of her life’s work: she tells stories in her songs. Leave it to Dolly to come with her own word, songteller, to describe this essential aspect of herself. With joyful enthusiasm, she tells readers about loads of her songs and the personal stories or writing process that led her to finding the right way to tell a story in song. The book contains lots of pictures to support the memories from sixty years of songtelling. Readers who love Dolly and country music, as well as those looking for a joy vaccine are those most likely to enjoy this cheerful book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dolly Parton, Songteller from amazon.com.
Westwyk. I learned a load of interesting stuff about medieval science as I read Seb Falk’s book titled, The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science. Falk brings the topic to life through one scientist, John Westwyk, a talented inventor, astronomer, and master of the astrolabe. We learn about how knowledge spread throughout the world during the Middle Ages. Falk pulls readers into monastic life and manuscripts and the ways in which the advancement of knowledge was encouraged. Westwyk comes across as the quintessential geek whose interests and tinkering would be recognized by scientists of any time period. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Light Ages from amazon.com.
Black. The short stories and novella in the collection by Danielle Evans titled, The Office of Historical Corrections, reveals the wit, wisdom and struggles in contemporary American life. The finely written prose in this collection captures dialogue, mood, and struggle with precision. The strong Black female protagonists emerge from the shadows to reveal their experiences of what life is like for them. Evans conveys in each story some aspect of what these women face and how no matter what they do it never seems to be enough. Readers who enjoy finely written prose and stories packed with insight and wisdom are those most likely to enjoy this collection. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Office of Historical Corrections from amazon.com.
Westmont. The setting for multiple deaths in Charlie Donlea’s novel titled, The Suicide House, is an elite school in Indiana, Westmont Preparatory High School. Donley develops multiple plot lines and layers depth onto multiple characters as he pulls readers into what happened on this campus. While there’s been a conviction for murder, not everyone sees a closed case. Following more deaths, psychologist Lane Phillips and his partner, reconstructionist Rory Moore, converge in Indiana to get to solve the mystery. Fans of character-driven fiction will love Rory and notice our hearts beating faster as she finds herself in peril. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Suicide House from amazon.com.
Pipps. Fans of historical crime fiction are those readers most likely to enjoy Stuart Turton’s novel titled, The Devil and the Dark Water. The action takes place in 1634, mostly on a ship where we can observe the skills of “the world’s greatest detective,” Sammy Pipps, who still deduces with skill while imprisoned onboard. Strange symbols appear that spook the superstitious crew, and the stories about a devil named Old Tom cause many to believe that the devil is at work on this perilous journey from Batavia to Amsterdam with secretive cargo in the hold. Turton prompts us to consider lots of suspects for the crimes in the story, and by the time all the pieces come together, most readers will feel satisfaction that the journey is finally over. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Devil and the Dark Water from amazon.com.
Unmoored. Sure if it wasn’t for dark humor in Ireland, we’d have no humor at all. Caoilinn Hughes brought me laughter and sadness as she presents the travails of the Black family in her novel titled, The Wild Laughter. Set in 2008, we meet paterfamilias Chief facing bleak times, his children engaged in sibling rivalry, and all the man wants to do is die. Hughes is a sharp observer of family devastation, and her prose sings on these pages as she encourages both smiles and tears. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Wild Laughter from amazon.com.
Home. Readers who enjoy historical fiction are those most likely to appreciate Marina Endicott’s novel titled, The Voyage of the Morning Light. Set in 1912, we join an interesting and memorable cast of characters on a journey from Nova Scotia to the South Pacific and back. Endicott explores the questions of what it means to be family and where we find home as we join these characters on their journey. She also provides a contemporary lens on the topic of prejudice as she relates what are considered differences and what are similarities in the way we conform or rebel to the expectations of society. Many readers will find the moral complexity in this novel will lead to reflection about contemporary life. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Voyage of the Morning Light from amazon.com.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Loneliness. The precocious and naïve protagonist of Robert Littell’s novel titled, Comrade Koba, is a ten-and-a-half-year-old boy named Leon Rozental who lives in an apartment building called the House on the Embankment, near the Kremlin. After Leon watches from a hidden room as the secret police arrest his mother, he and some friends find ways to survive on their own as they navigate secret passageways and find money to eat in the building’s cafeteria. While on his own, Leon stumbles into a passageway to a large apartment where armed guards are protecting an elderly man. The lonely old man summons Leon into the apartment where the two spend much time in conversation over several weeks. Leon believes the man to be a high ranking official, but he doesn’t realize that he is speaking with Stalin. Thanks to Littell’s wisdom and insight, we see the elderly Stalin reflecting in loneliness about his life and finding a nonjudgmental and receptive audience in young Leon. We find Leon to be a prodigy beyond his years, finding a way to get what he wants from the old man. At times funny and always poignant, I loved this thoughtful character study set at the time of Stalin’s death. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Comrade Koba from amazon.com.
Association. Benjamin Nugent reveals all the ingredients of our human stew in the stories collected in a volume titled, Fraternity. We find sweet, savory and sour tastes inside these stories about college life through the lens of a fraternity, its members and those with whom they relate. There were times when I could almost smell the air inside. There’s darkness and tenderness in these stories highlighting the struggles of boys trying to figure out what this stage of growing up is all about. While the men in these stories are somewhat predictable characters, the range comes from the strong female characters, one of whom is called “god.” Nugent updates Greek life on campus in ways that are in the context of tradition, but authentically set within today’s culture. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Fraternity from amazon.com.
Stuff. Most of us have a lot of stuff. Some of us become overwhelmed when there is too much stuff for us to deal with. In her book titled, Clutter: An Untidy History, Jennifer Howard explores issues including hoarding, consumerism, the prevalence of big box stores and her personal experience in spending huge amounts of time dealing with all the stuff in her mother’s house. She helps us examine how and why we end up accumulating so much stuff, and the challenges we all face as we receive and dispose of things. While I read this book, I thought of a friend who recently mentioned her supply of about 1,000 face masks, and how much longer we will be likely to wear them. The day after I finished reading this book, a photo on the cover of a Toronto newspaper showed a littered cityscape full of discarded masks. This book will appeal to both neat freaks and collectors of all sorts of stuff. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Clutter from amazon.com.
Forgiveness. The twenty-first installment in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith is a novel titled, How to Raise an Elephant. Kindness abounds for the large recurring cast, and yes, there is an elephant. Mma Ramotswe has new neighbors and her white van experiences mishaps. After spending time with these endearing characters and drinking bush tea with them, fans will close this novel thinking about the importance of forgiveness and reflecting about where there is need for each of us to forgive or to be forgiven. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Raise an Elephant from amazon.com.
Simon. Fans of the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd are those readers most likely to enjoy the backstory contained in a novella titled, A Hanging at Dawn. Set mostly in India when Bess was a child, we find out about how the Crawford family first met recurring character Simon Brandon. The events of this story are the pivotal ones that bound Simon to the family and knowing that context now explains much about what we already know happened after the events in India. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Hanging at Dawn from amazon.com.
Tender. Nick Hornby offers up for readers a novel titled, Just Like You, a romance overflowing with tenderness. The couple is an unlikely match: 42-year-old Lucy and 22-year-old Joseph. She’s a White, divorced mother of two boys. He’s a Black aspiring musician who first met her when he worked in the local butcher shop. Love can overcome lots of obstacles, and the use of text messages in the narrative highlights the age difference between the protagonists. I was receptive for a big-hearted story, and this novel fit the bill perfectly. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Just Like You from amazon.com.
Wordplay. The P.G. Wodehouse estate made a great decision when they selected Ben Schott to reprise Jeeves and Wooster. The second novel from this project is titled, Jeeves and the Leap of Faith. Schott gets it all right: the wordplay, puns, escapades and eccentricities. I even laughed about wallpaper as selected by Jeeves and Wooster. Fans will especially enjoy the way that the Drones club chooses to solve their financial predicament. Readers looking for entertainment and humor, especially Wodehouse fans, are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Schott offers a finely written homage: fresh action, true to the original. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Jeeves and the Leap of Faith from amazon.com.
Transported. I love the way poetry can call attention to something simple in nature, provide a vivid image through words, then send our minds off on an adventure to some other place. In her collection titled, How to Fly, Barbara Kingsolver offers a wide range of poems that provide transport from our home base of reality to new places. With eyes wide open to the wonders of the natural world, Kingsolver uses carefully chosen words to merge what she sees and feels with what a reader can find when we join her on a journey toward insight and understanding and awe. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How to Fly from amazon.com.
Aggrieved. Even the three dogs (Bedlington terriers) in David Leavitt’s novel titled, Shelter in Place, come across as entitled elites. Leavitt skewers with great skill the complete cast of characters in this novel, mostly through his fine deployment of dialogue to highlight the aggrieved state as felt by those who are so much better off than most. Residents of wealthy enclaves in Manhattan know these characters and possibly are these people. If after reading a sample of this novel and not finding the pointed wit, you may need to do some additional introspection. The world and the characters in the novel revolve around the star of protagonist Eva. Worried about life in the United States under President Trump, Eva buys an apartment in Venice as a potential refuge. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this cast of very unlikeable characters, thanks to Leavitt’s fine writing and pointed humor. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Shelter in Place from amazon.com.
Bride. Let Marie-Helene Bertino’s finely constructed sentences lull you as you read her novel titled, Parakeet, so you can dream along with the surreal narrative. We meet the protagonist known as the bride as she faces the emotional intensity of her wedding week. Her dead grandmother visits her in the form of a parakeet and presents a warning and a challenge. The momentum of the novel involves the bride’s response to the visit of the parakeet. I loved the finely written prose but can tolerate only so much surreality. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Parakeet from amazon.com.