Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Solidarity. If you’re as sick and tired of divisiveness as I am, consider reading Heather Mc Gee’s finely written book titled, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Her premise is that when we buy into the notion that progress for some of us comes at the expense of others, we incur great losses for all of us. Not everything is a zero sum situation. There’s something evil about the process of pitting some of us against others of us when practical things can be done for the benefit of all of us. It’s past time to stop dividing and it’s imperative that we start uniting. This book offers a message of solidarity along with practical advice on how to move ahead for the good of us all. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Sum of Us from


Twins. The shadows and hidden spaces in the present and the past keep readers somewhat in the dark as Carole Johnstone unveils a psychological thriller story in her debut novel titled, Mirrorland. As I read this book, I kept thinking of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see through a glass, darkly…” (King James Version). Protagonist Cat returns to Edinburgh from Los Angeles after a dozen year estrangement from her twin sister, El, who has disappeared. El and her husband, Ross, purchased the old gothic family home in which Cat and El had created an imaginary world they called Mirrorland, a place with secrets and shadows. As readers follow Cat inside the family home trying to follow clues left by El, we become enlightened about events in the past and the present. Johnstone’s fine writing keeps the plot intricate and precise, as we twist in the dark and the light searching for answers. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Mirrorland from

Truly Like Lightning

Big. Many novelists select a sliver of human experience and convey something about life with insight. In his novel titled, Truly Like Lightning, David Duchovny tackles the big questions of life and offers a story of a tragic hero who struggles with finding his place in the world doing what he discerns is right and trying to be aligned with what he thinks God would want him to do. The setting of this novel in the desert offers a backdrop for addressing those big questions through the choices protagonist Bronson Powers makes for himself, his wives, and his children, as they try to live out a life as Mormons conflicted with the mores of contemporary American life. We all try to answer for ourselves the big questions explored in this finely written novel. We feel deeply for the characters in this novel as they struggle to discern a right path forward in their lives. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Truly Like Lightning from

Red Widow

Readers who enjoy spy fiction are likely to enjoy Alma Katsu’s novel titled, Red Widow. Protagonist Lyndsey Duncan has been called home to CIA headquarters on administrative leave following an indiscretion that has put her career at risk. After three Russian assets were exposed, the CIA suspects a mole at either Moscow Station or headquarters. Lyndsey has been asked to investigate. Katsu’s plot is engaging, and the characters are complex and interesting. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Red Widow from


Amtrak Joe has never been on a sleeper train like the one in Helen Oyeyemi’s novel titled, Peaces. A kind aunt gives Otto and Xavier Shin a special gift: a train journey on The Lucky Day. All journeys involve mystery and discovery, and Otto, Xavier and their mongoose become bound closely together thanks to this magical train trip. Many readers will find this novel weird, and others will see it as wonderful. I had to grab the straphanger at times to lurch with Oyeyemi’s unexpected leaps. Readers who enjoy eccentric literary fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Peaces from

Early Morning Riser

Katherine Heiny’s novel titled, Early Morning Riser, could have gone off the rails in many different ways. With just a few tweaks, we could find ourselves laughing at these characters rather than with them. She could have skipped the complexity she layers in each character, and we would not have recognized them as complicated people, just like us. The lightness of the story could have become too saccharine to penetrate our senses; instead, we receive a story that is sweet in just the right ways. I felt better about the world and the people in it after reading this novel. That’s a tribute to this fine writer whose wisdom about life fills these pages. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Early Morning Riser from

Good Company

Bonds. The people closest to us have the power to break our hearts. In her novel titled, Good Company, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney draws us into the bonds of marriage and friendship. When bonds are based on an expectation of loyalty, infidelity provides the kryptonite to weaken those bonds. When secrets are finally disclosed after a long period of time, the ability to restore bonds may be lost. Brave book clubs who are open to conversation about the fragility of our bonds will likely find members drawn closer together by a common understanding of our vulnerability to each other. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Good Company from

Every Vow You Break

Prepare for creepy chills as you read Peter Swanson’s novel titled, Every Vow You Break. Protagonist Abigail Baskin marries Peter Lamb, who seems to treat her with every kindness. Wealthy Peter has arranged their honeymoon as a surprise, so Abigail finds herself at a luxury resort on a small island. Queue the minor key music as Abigail faces threats and becomes terrorized. Things are not as they appear, and what Peter has in mind for his bride on this honeymoon will give readers chills. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Every Vow You Break from

An Extravagant Death

The fourteenth crime novel by Charles Finch featuring protagonist Charles Lenox is set in 1878 and titled, An Extravagant Death. Prime Minister Disraeli has a good reason for Lenox to be away from London, and thanks to advice from his wife, Lady Jane, Charles negotiates a trip to the United Sates as the representative of the Queen. On route from New York City to Boston, Lenox is lured to Newport, Rhode Island where a young woman has been murdered. Most of the action of the novel takes place in the Gilded Age cottages of the very wealthy. Readers even get to peek inside one of Lady Astor’s balls. Fans of crime fiction will enjoy an engaging plot with a fascinating cast of characters. Finch leaves readers hanging at the end of this novel about what Lenox will do next. Personally, I’m open to anything that this author dreams up for this finely drawn character. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase An Extravagant Death from

Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age

Neurologist and CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta offers practical advice to general readers in his book titled, Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age. Gupta describes what scientists have learned about the brain and what their findings mean for maintaining one’s cognitive health. Spoiler alert: there’s no magic pill and yes, diet and exercise are recommended. Many readers will enjoy the way Gupta debunks long held myths about the brain. Readers of any age will gain some practical advice from this informative book. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Keep Sharp from

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War

Precision. I savor those times when a book leads me to question my thinking. I’ve always thought that indiscriminate bombing in war was wrong, and that precision should be deployed to avoid civilian deaths. During World War II, I considered the precision bombing efforts by General Haywood Hansell to be morally superior to the widespread and intense method deployed by General Curtis LeMay. After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled, The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, I can understand that LeMay’s massive bombing may have ultimately saved lives and represented a moral choice that could be viewed more favorably than I thought. While LeMay’s tactics replaced Hansell’s during World War II, precision bombing has since prevailed. Readers interested in this subject should enjoy this thoughtful book, which I recommend in the audio version, which was the original format used by Gladwell, and uses historical audio to supplement the text. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Bomber Mafia from

The French Paradox

Jackie. The eleventh installment of Ellen Crosby’s Wine Country mystery series featuring vintner Lucie Montgomery is a novel titled, The French Paradox. Fans of the series will be delighted with the return of a familiar cast of characters and a plot that involves Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and her multi-decade relationship with Lucie’s grandfather. True to the formula, there’s also a murder to solve. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The French Paradox from

Hurricane Season

Brutality. The intensity of Fernanda Melchor’s prose in her novel titled, Hurricane Season, never seems to let up. Through long sentences and long paragraphs, multiple narrators run on and on about the depravity, violence, and brutality in the Mexican village where the novel is set. By the time we’ve heard from every narrator, the chronology makes sense, and we know what life and death are like in the village, and we are ready to depart, somewhat brutalized ourselves from what we’ve read. Melchor’s talent will make this excursion worthwhile for those readers who enjoy finely written literary fiction. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Hurricane Season from

Milk Fed

Appetites. Melissa Broder’s novel titled, Milk Fed, offers a wide-ranging exploration of appetite. Twenty-four-year-old protagonist Rachel has abandoned the Judaism of her youth to pursue an intense focus on calorie counting. By controlling what goes into her mouth, she believes she has taken charge of her life. Life changes for Rachel after a personnel change at her favorite frozen yogurt shop. The precise small portion that she used to receive changes when the new employee, Miriam, begins to dole out much larger portions. Rachel is attracted to Orthodox plus size Miriam, whose abundance provides the yin to Rachel’s restrictive yang. What follows is the pursuit of desires that will satisfy all kinds of appetites and an examination of how we want to be fed. There are many times to laugh and wince on the pages of this novel, but in Broder’s capable hands, we see the changes in Rachel as she comes to terms with who she is and what she needs. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Milk Fed from

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

Steps. General audiences can learn a lot about our climate crisis from Bill Gates’ book titled, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need. Gates approaches the subject in an organized and disciplined manner. He examines efforts that are currently underway, examines how the situation has changed, and outlines a variety of practical solutions, many of which are underway. Power Point fans will be pleased that there are charts to examine. There’s optimism on the pages of this book, and a real sense that we can act in ways that produce success. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase How To Avoid a Climate Disaster from

The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist

Revolutionary. Readers who enjoy true crime stories are those most likely to enjoy Anthony Amore’s book titled, The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist. Rose Dugdale grew up in an affluent family, obtained an Oxford doctorate, and embraced the Irish Republican cause, whether the IRA liked her actions or not. Amore proposes that her education gave her the ability to be selective in stealing the right artworks and that she is the most probable thief of two works by Vermeer. While the main perspective of this book involves Rose’s skill as an art thief, there’s also a more complete presentation of her life, and that offers readers insight into a formidable woman who committed her life to the pursuit of causes in which she believed. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Woman Who Stole Vermeer from

Pickard County Atlas

Pam. The action in Chris Harding Thornton’s debut novel titled, Pickard County Atlas, takes places over the course of six days in 1978 in Nebraska. We meet an intriguing cast of characters, the most compelling of which for me was Pam, who struggles with the constraints of being a spouse and a mother and wants to escape. There’s intensity to the plot, specificity in the setting, and complexity in the characters. I was thoroughly entertained by Thornton’s finely written prose. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Pickard County Atlas from

The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town

Sick. Few Americans love our healthcare system. Readers of Brian Alexander’s book titled, The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town, will feel sick about the situation he describes. Rather than taking a policy approach to examining healthcare, Alexander focuses on one town, Bryan, Ohio, its local hospital, and a handful of people in the community. I finished this book with a deeper understanding of what’s broken in our healthcare system, and how the incentives for change are misguided. Most readers will feel deeply for the personal stories in this book, and the plight of all the characters involved. Through understanding some of the root causes of our current situation, we should be able to work toward good solutions for the benefit of all. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Hospital from

A Man Named Doll

Kidney. The test for whether crime fiction will appeal to readers often involves whether the protagonist comes across as authentic and interesting. In his novel titled, A Man Named Doll, Jonathan Ames introduces readers to Happy Doll, a Los Angeles private detective who prefers to be called, “Hank.” Ames passed the character test for me because I came to really like Hank, a former cop who loves his dog and shleps from one predicament to another. Queasy readers will find some gruesome violence here, and it’s not too much of a plot spoiler to say that Hank loses a kidney in a nefarious scheme in this novel. There’s a sense that most of life for Hank is a close-run thing, and somehow or other, he’s likely to come through. A series featuring Hank is off to a great start with this novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Man Named Doll from

Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy

Obstruction. Until I read Adam Jentleson’s book titled, Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy, I thought I understood the filibuster tradition in the United States Senate. Thanks to this interesting book, I understand better the intentions of the founders in the structure of Congress and how the current use of the filibuster distorts the ways in which the minority is heard and then majority rules. The current state of obstruction means that we have, in effect, minority rule, a state of affairs anticipated by the founders who put in place a way for the minority views to be heard for a period of debate, then voting to represent the will of the majority. Readers interested in public policy are those most likely to enjoy this book. I learned more about the tradition of the filibuster and the ways in which obstruction has led to gridlock and thwarting the will of the majority of Americans. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Kill Switch from

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Gambling Man

Fortune. The second novel by David Baldacci featuring Aloysius Archer is titled, A Gambling Man. After the first episode left Archer in peril, he heads West in hopes of become an apprentice to a private detective in Bay Town, California. A stop in Reno brought him good luck, a large bundle of cash, a rare 1939 Delahaye convertible, and the companionship of Liberty Callahan, a talented actress who wants to make it big in Hollywood. Action in Bay Town is stimulating and perilous, and Archer and Liberty make a great team. Readers need not have read the debut in this series to enjoy this installment, but one’s understanding of Archer’s character is enhanced if one reads from the beginning. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Gambling Man from

Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America

McClure’s. Stephanie Gorton’s book titled, Citizen Reporters: S.S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine that Rewrote America, balances a narrative about a distinctive era with a handful of characters whose influence has endured for at least a century. Gorton describes the rise and fall of McClure’s, a popular magazine in the early 20th century that launched investigative journalism. We get to know S.S. McClure, his best journalist, Ida Tarbell, along with writers Ray Stannard Baker and Lincoln Steffens, who together established a foothold for investigate journalism in American democracy. Readers who love this period in American history will find a lot to enjoy in this engaging book. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase Citizen Reporters from

Infinite Country

Identity. Readers will marvel at how much ground Patricia Engel covers over the course of two hundred pages in her novel titled, Infinite Country. We find a family with identity rooted in both Columbia and the United States. We observe separations and unifications. We picture the people and places with clarity thanks to Engel’s descriptive prose. We live alongside five family members as we read this novel, and we feel deeply for each of them, and note an increased intensity as a deadline approaches rapidly. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Infinite Country from

When the Stars Go Dark

Suspense. Novelist Paula McLain has turned to suspense for her book titled, When the Stars Go Dark. Protagonist Anna Hart works as a missing persons detective. Following tragedy in her personal life, she leaves San Francisco for Mendocino, where she had lived as a child with foster parents. Instead of finding refuge, she learns that a local teenager has gone missing, and Anna becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. Thanks to McLain’s expert storytelling, the backstory weaves into the suspense of the current case, and readers are rewarded with the development of Anna as a complex and interesting character. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase When the Stars Go Dark from

The Prophets

Representation. Thanks to the finely written novel by Robert Jones, Jr., titled, The Prophets, young gay Black men can see themselves represented as enslaved people on a Southern plantation. Jones offers two memorable protagonists, Isaiah and Samuel. He describes the intimacy of their relationship and how even that precious thing is subject to the whims and oppression of slave masters. What Jones does so well in this novel is lay out the story of love in a context of evil and hate, and how the human spirit thrives in love. He describes pain and suffering, while conveying what’s beautiful, where truth lies, and the hope that becomes real in love. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Prophets from


Learning. Having arrived at age 50, Matthew McConaughey decided to take stock of his life up to that milestone, and offers his reflections in a book titled, Greenlights. The sentiment of the book is to share what he’s learned about life. He lays out joy, sorrow, success, failure, luck and how to catch the right wave, or in his case, the green lights, instead of the yellow and red lights (which he says eventually turn green). His voice in this book has that aw shucks quality, and the tone is upbeat, offering a celebration of life. He tells great stories in this book and encourages all of us to find the way forward in life, wherever that takes us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Greenlights from

Good Neighbors

Sinkhole. Toxic muck runs beneath bucolic Maple Street in a suburban Long Island town. In her novel titled, Good Neighbors, Sara Langan takes us beyond appearances and into a dark reality of life in many neighborhoods, especially when some people don’t fit in. The Maple Street enclave felt their first level of discomfort after the Wilde family moved in from the city. They don’t look right, they don’t act right, and they are just not the right people for Maple Street. After a sinkhole opens in a park near Maple Street, a young girl falls in. As the search to find her progresses, the Wildes become the focus of accusations. If, like me, seclusion during the spread of COVID-19 made you look at neighbors a little differently, say as potential vectors of disease, a novel like this one will lead you to all the bad places that such sentiments can encourage visiting. We don’t want to be like the neighbors on Maple Street, but there are times when we will act just like them. That’s a sinkhole to be avoided. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Good Neighbors from

How Beautiful We Were

Village. In her novel titled, How Beautiful We Were, Imbolo Mbue places readers in Kosawa, a fictional African village where life has turned sour after an American oil company ravaged the environment. A dictator leads the country’s government, and the pleas of the villagers for reparations and restoration of the land have been ignored for decades. Protagonist Thula left Kosawa for school in New York City, and her mission in life becomes justice for the people of Kosawa. Mbue’s prose is finely written, the characters complex and interesting, and the setting is described with care. Readers will come to care about the village and the people who live there, and root for Thula while knowing her mission’s success remains unlikely. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase How Beautiful We Were from

The Windsor Knot

Clever. SJ Bennett opens a new crime series featuring a familiar protagonist: Queen Elizabeth II. Under Bennett’s conceit, the Queen solves crimes in her spare time, and proves herself to be an unerring judge of character in the process. The setting for the crime in the novel titled, The Windsor Knot, is Windsor Castle, where an overnight guest has been found dead in one of the bedrooms. Thanks to a poorly tied knot, what appeared to be suicide looks now like foul play. The manner in which the Queen pursues her inquiries will delight those readers who love crime fiction, and the use of her assistant private secretary brings those two women closer together. I was entertained by this clever novel and look forward to the next case investigated by the Detective Queen. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase The Windsor Knot from


Installment. Some novelists who present books with recurring characters build stand-alone pieces that are enhanced for those fans who read every installment. I found that the fifth novel by Joe Ide featuring private detective Isaiah Quintabe titled, Smoke, feels like a middle piece in a set: you really need to understand what came before and know that something else will need to follow. I’ve enjoyed this series, especially protagonist I.Q., and was entertained by the expanded cast of characters in this novel. First time readers may want to be introduced to I.Q. through the earlier novels in this series. In the current installment, I.Q. is on the run from something that happened in the last novel, so his profile abides more in the shadows than on the center stage in this entertaining crime novel. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Smoke from