Thursday, March 25, 2021
Reprised. Fans of Harlan Coben will be delighted that he’s reprised a past character for a complete and exciting novel of his own, titled, Win. Protagonist Windsor Horne Lockwood III becomes a person of interest after a recluse is found murdered in a penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side. Inside the apartment was a Vermeer stolen from the Lockwood family two decades earlier, as well as a suitcase bearing Win’s initials. There’s mystery behind the identity of the recluse, and secrets in the Lockwood family that have been kept for a very long time. The story moves quickly, the characters are interesting, and the development of Win in his own novel was satisfying. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Win from amazon.com.
Overstayed. Fans of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock are those readers most likely to enjoy Marie NDiaye’s novel titled, That Time of Year. Instead of returning to Paris from their rural vacation on August 31, a family waited one more day in the village, a decision with dramatic consequences. The horror in this weird and odd story kept me turning pages, always agog at how everything can change overnight. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase That Time of Year from amazon.com.
Cal. Where would you go if you wanted to escape your present circumstances? In her crime novel titled, The Searcher, Tana French introduces protagonist Cal Hooper who needed to get away from an acrimonious divorce and a job that he no longer wanted to do. Cal chose the opposite of his life on the Chicago police force: retiring to a rural village in Ireland where he bought a fixer-upper. A young neighbor asks Cal to help find his brother who has gone missing. Before long, Cal finds himself in peril as his search for the missing person stirs up a mess that had been put to rest. As usual, French develops each character with great skill, and by the time the action for Cal reaches a critical point, we can anticipate how he will respond to what he learns during his search. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Searcher from amazon.com.
Revival. Add together murders, nursery rhymes, and church bells and you have a case for London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. In the seventeenth installment of the Bryant and May series by Christopher Fowler, a novel titled, Oranges and Lemons, a case cries out for the PCU. But in the last installment, the unit was shut down. PCU chief Raymond Land is on the Isle of Wight, Arthur Bryant has been missing for at least a month, and John May is recovering from a bullet wound. Not only is the old team revived for this case, but a new and quite intriguing character is added to the cast. Fans of crime fiction, especially this series, are those readers who will enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Oranges and Lemons from amazon.com.
War. In the sixth installment of the Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart, the United States has entered World War I and the three Kopp sisters are doing their part in the war effort. In the novel titled, Dear Miss Kopp, we find Constance performing intelligence work for the Bureau of Investigation in Washington, Fleurette entertaining the troops across the country, and Norma with her pigeons serving with the Army Signal Corps in France. War changes life for each sister, and the letters the sisters exchange over the course of this book will engage most readers. Fans of historical fiction that doesn’t drift far from the record are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dear Miss Kopp from amazon.com.
Secrets. Patient readers who allow Alex Berenson to draw us inside a marriage will be rewarded by the twists and surprises in a novel titled, The Power Couple. While Brian and Rebecca are celebrating their 20th anniversary on a trip to Europe with their children, nineteen-year-old Kira is kidnapped. Instead of a direct thrilling plot, Berenson leads us away from the current action to learn about the couple’s backstory and secrets. While tension remains taut, especially during Kira’s captivity, our impressions of different characters change as we learn more, including delightful surprises that open our eyes. By the time the novel comes close to an ending, most readers will be unsure exactly how things will turn out. They do resolve, of course, to this reader’s great satisfaction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Power Couple from amazon.com.
Coffee. Fans of cozy mysteries are those readers most likely to enjoy the series by Joanne Fluke set in Wisconsin featuring baker Hannah Swensen. In this latest installment, a novel titled, Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder, the familiar formula is carried out like a favorite recipe. There’s lots of baking followed by massive consumption of sweet treats by a large cast of recurring characters. There’s a murder that Hannah solves, of course. Every chapter provides recipes for the sweet treats that are made as the novel progresses. It might just be me, but a difference I noted in this novel was the volume of coffee that the characters guzzle. I've yet to bake any of the treats in these novels and have begun to think of this series as camp. I’m entertained mildly, even as I roll my eyes. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder from amazon.com.
Scary. Until I received a covid-19 vaccination, I wasn’t keen to read a scary book about a different virus, so I set aside Paul Tremblay’s novel titled, Survivor Song. Feeling lighter in spirit following arrival at my place in queue for the shot, I reached for this novel and immersed in terror as appealing characters face a rabies virus that spreads quickly and leads to rapid loss of both mind and life. A pregnant woman has become infected and with her physician friend she’s in a race for treatment and rapid delivery of her child before the worst happens. Fans of scary novels with fast plot pacing are those most likely to enjoy this novel, unless you’ve had enough virus in your life for now. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Survivor Song from amazon.com.
Humanity. More than enough can pull us down on the average day, so it can be refreshing to read something uplifting. In her book titled, Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage, Anne Lamott converses with readers using stories and wit to reveal our common human foibles and the ways in which we meander through life. Her self-deprecating humor can soften us for seeing the places in our own lives where we become self-absorbed and overlook daily gifts of bliss. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Dusk Night Dawn from amazon.com.
Imagination. The novel titled, Death in Her Hands, by Ottessa Moshfegh starts with a bucolic image of a woman talking a walk into the woods with Charlie the dog. After she finds a mysterious note, her imagination leads her into a fog of suspense, horror and uncertainty about the difference between illusion and reality. The dark humor in the novel and finely written prose will appeal to those readers who enjoy fine writing. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Death in Her Hands from amazon.com.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Neighborhood. In some ways, the neighborhood of Sea Cliff, a San Francisco neighborhood, is a character in Vendela Vida’s novel titled, We Run the Tides. We meet teens Eulabee and Maria Fabiola and see their friendship and school life at an all-girls private school. There’s silliness and drama. We find deception, cruelty, honesty and betrayal side by side while truth is elusive in their world of the 1980s. As with the changes that come with adolescence, what was familiar about Sea Cliff also changes. With great writing and efficiency, Vida presents all the confusion of growing up and being at the center of the only world that matters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase We Run the Tides from amazon.com.
Lessons. You’ve already decided whether you’re interested in reading a book by former FBI Director James Comey, so what I have to say may have no impact. In his book titled, Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency, and Trust, Comey talks about lessons he learned from his life and shares with some candor specific mistakes he made, especially early in his career as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice. Someone needs to speak to a general audience about the principles and values that provide direction and guidance to the administration of impartial justice in the United States. Comey may or not be the right voice, but what he says in this book made sense to me and reinforces the importance of fairness and equity in the enforcement of law and the administration of impartial justice. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Saving Justice from amazon.com.
Union. I didn’t know a thing about the free speech riots in Spokane, Washington in 1909 until I read Jess Walter’s novel titled, The Cold Millions. The Industrial Workers of the World are trying to get local miners to form a union, and they are met with violence as they agitate for change. Brothers Gregory (Gig) and Ryan Dolan are caught up in the conflict. Real historical characters Spokane Police Chief John Sullivan plays a part, as does labor organize Helen Gurley Flynn. Walter’s prose is finely written, all the characters complex and interesting, and the parallels to our contemporary time are unavoidable. The cold millions of people struggling for a living wage and safe working conditions in Spokane in the last century appear in an updated form in our own cities and towns. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Cold Millions from amazon.com.
Discovery. Love offers each of us the opportunity to learn about ourselves and to connect to others in ways that strengthen one another. In his novel titled, Memorial, Bryan Washington pulls readers into the love between Benson and Mike who live together in Houston. Just after Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, lands in Texas for a visit, Mike departs to spend time in Osaka with his estranged father who is dying. Neither Benson nor Mitsuko anticipated living with each other, and Washington shows how some relationships can be built with strength quickly. The changes faced by these characters transform them profoundly and rapidly, and thanks to Washington’s fine writing, we see ourselves in their faces that may seem at first quite unlike us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Memorial from amazon.com.
Inventive. Patricia Lockwood brings our connected lives to a whole other level in her novel titled, No One Is Talking About This. Readers receive fragments, snippets, details, images, just like we do online as we navigate our days online. We can laugh at some, scratch our head at others, and just wait and see for the rest. Suddenly, something really important intervenes, and by then Lockwood has us running ahead with her to encounter a baby, to learn about Proteus Syndrome and find the places in the endless daily scroll that offer kindness, love, understanding and support. This inventive novel speaks directly to our time and place and shouts with clarity to pay attention to what matters. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase No One Is Talking About This from amazon.com.
Heritage. The sixteenth installment in the Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry is a novel titled, The Kaiser’s Web. A candidate for election as Chancellor of Germany stokes nationalistic sentiments and represents those who are proud of their heritage. Cotton is asked to help the incumbent Chancellor who is vulnerable in her race for reelection. There are secrets involved, investigations in South America and South Africa, as well as in secret Swiss vaults. Berry speculates about an alternate Nazi history, and offers plot twists and surprises that will delight fans. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Kaiser’s Web from amazon.com.
Ache. The beauty and affluence of Baxter Beach in Barbados overshadows the ache and sorrow of the poor who struggle to survive there. In her novel titled, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones draws us quickly into grievous loss, inflicted pain and ongoing abuse. We ache for these characters in their pain, as we live with them on the beach. There’s an intensity to this novel that never lets up. These tragic heroes will remain in your mind long after you finish reading the novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House from amazon.com.
Phily. Fans of Jane Haddam’s series featuring protagonist Gregor Demarkian will be excited to read the 30th installment, a novel titled, One of Our Own. The former FBI agent serves as a police consultant while living with his wife in an Armenian neighborhood in Philadelphia. The lively cast of characters brings the neighborhood to life. Gregor is asked to assist in a case involving murder in his neighborhood. This finely written novel is an upbeat and hopeful ending to a beloved series and a tribute to the vitality of one Phily neighborhood as a model for every place in the world to emulate. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase One of Our Own from amazon.com.
Myths. In her debut novel titled, Bestiary, K-Ming Chang introduces readers to three generations of women who navigate through a world of myth and reality. If you’re comfortable with a woman growing a tiger’s tail and remain at ease while unsure what’s real and what’s imagined, you’re likely to enjoy this novel. Chang’s writing will appeal to readers who appreciate literary fiction, and the motifs of water, snakes and keys will delight such readers. Personally, I don’t know enough about Taiwanese mythology to appreciate the references, but I found the writing engaging and imaginative. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Bestiary from amazon.com.
Collectors. The more quirky Jess Kidd’s novel titled, Things in Jars, became, the more I surrendered to her finely written prose. She gives readers a Victorian detective mystery packed with a cast of fascinating, unusual and sometimes otherworldly characters. We see that wealthy individuals would collect specimens of all sorts of unusual things and behave in ways that disturb modern readers. There are curiosities and spectacles that define the time period, and a female detective whose skills are put to the test in this intriguing case. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Things in Jars from amazon.com.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Kindness. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Richard Osman’s debut novel titled, The Thursday Murder Club. At its core, this is an engaging mystery novel with twists that will satisfy fans of this genre. The complex characters, especially a female detective and four septuagenarians, treat one another with respect and kindness as they sleuth together to solve a case. Osman is often funny and always clever in this novel which will appeal to fans of mysteries and crime fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Thursday Murder Club from amazon.com.
Hotspur. Readers can feel deeply the anguish of the protagonist of Ethan Hawke’s novel titled, A Bright Ray of Darkness. He is a film actor making his Broadway debut in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, playing the role of Hotspur. His marriage has fallen apart, and he falls easily into self-destructive behavior. He often seems clueless, as Hawke pulls readers into the world of the theater, this play, the actors in a philosophical examination of art and the life of the artist. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Bright Ray of Darkness from amazon.com.
Incisive. There are twelve essays by Joan Didion in a collection titled, Let Me Tell You What I Mean. These pieces were written between 1968 and 2000 and showcase this fine writer’s incisive focus and her concurrent detachment as she presents her views. Her use of language is always a model for aspiring writers, and these essays provide loads of examples of how to write well. Like all great artists, her eye sees something that most of us miss, and that when she shows us what she sees, we can understand better our lives and our world. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Let Me Tell You What I Mean from amazon.com.
Uncomfortable. In her debut novel titled, Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid makes readers laugh and experience just the right amount of discomfort. Protagonist Emira Tucker is an underemployed Black twenty-five-year-old who works part-time as a typist and does babysitting for a wealthy White family. Reid unveils the contrasts in contemporary life based on race, class, and age cohort. Emira navigates life’s challenges with great skill as she adapts and adjusts to both the familiar and the new when it comes to working, dating or being racially profiled. Most readers will finish this novel thinking about privilege and rethinking what constitutes complicity with structural racism. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Such a Fun Age from amazon.com.
Survey. I thought I read a lot of books about the rise of Donald Trump, the factors that led to his election, and his presidency. Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozado beat me by a mile with the 150 or so books that he consumed on this subject. In his engaging book titled, What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era, Lozado assembles what he read into themes and offers a survey of the books relating to those themes. While there have been many books on this subject, much of the history of this time will take time to be written. In the meantime, those readers interested in public policy will find this survey interesting to read while time passes, should any appetite for this subject remain. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase What Were We Thinking from amazon.com.
Mother. With each installment of Gregg Hurwitz’ series of novels featuring Orphan X, Evan Smoak, we learn more about this character and his depth and complexity evolves. In the sixth novel titled, Prodigal Son, Evan meets the woman who gave birth to him and gave him up for adoption. All of a sudden, Evan’s orderly world has turned upside down. The action and technology in this novel make for exciting reading, and a reader’s tension remains taut after the last page is read. Fans of the series are those most likely to enjoy this installment, and new readers can enjoy this as a standalone story, then devour the earlier novels to get to know this fascinating protagonist. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Prodigal Son from amazon.com.
Priest. Chances are readers have never met a priest quite like Father Dan, the protagonist of Daniel Hornsby’s debut novel titled, Via Negativa. Retired and no longer welcomed by the bishop of his Midwestern diocese, Father Dan points his Toyota Camry west and begins a journey with a few touchpoint connections to his past along the way. As if living in a car wasn’t enough, Dan sees a coyote hit by a minivan that doesn’t stop, so he patches up the wild animal, and secures the animal to the back car seat, adding to the malodorous ambience of life inside the Camry. His encounters along the road are full of interest for readers, and the whole nature of contemplation and reconciliation with one’s past gets played out for all to examine. There’s humor sitting beside tragedy in the vignettes of the journey, and we gradually gain insight into Father Dan and his demons. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Via Negativa from amazon.com.
Identity. David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s debut crime novel is titled, Winter Counts. Set on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the novel overflows with interesting and complex characters facing contemporary challenges. Drug cartels are making inroads in the area to the peril of the community. Protagonist Virgil Wounded Horse has struggled with life and his identity, often called half-breed. He is guardian for his nephew, a high school student facing similar challenges of identity. Weiden writes with great skill and insight into the life of this community while presenting all the key elements of a thrilling crime plot. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Winter Counts from amazon.com.
Spree. The third installment of Lynne Truss’ series featuring Constable Twitten is titled, Murder by Milk Bottle. Dead bodies are piling up in Brighton and Twitten and police station charwoman Mrs. Groynes are right in the middle of the madness of the summer of 1957. Truss keeps her wit sharp throughout this novel as we follow the quirky cast of characters through an engaging plot. Not quite a spoiler, but I almost choked while laughing at the transfer among characters of a complete list that identified each murder victim of a killing spree. Let’s tie all the pieces together, shall we? Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Murder by Milk Bottle from amazon.com.
Danger. The fifteenth novel by Walter Mosley to feature Los Angeles private detective Easy Rawlins is titled, Blood Grove. Fans of this series will delight in the return of a cast of endearing and complex characters, an interesting plot, and a clear-eyed and uncompromising view of what it is like to live as a Black man in L.A. in 1969. After Easy reluctantly takes on a client’s case, he finds himself in danger from which escape will be a close-run thing. Easy calls for help from reliable friends and navigates a path that involves justice and integrity. It comes as no surprise to fans that once Easy takes on a case, he will see it to some final resolution. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Blood Grove from amazon.com.