Tuesday, April 4, 2017

March Books

**A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the best book I’ve read this year.  It “immerses us in an elegantly drawn era” and the life of Count Alexander Rostov. In 1922, he is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.  With an indomitable spirit, erudition, wisdom and wit, he ‘witnesses’ some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history while living in an attic room  withutlosing any of his aristocratic civility. 

The Guests on South Market Street by Karen White is apparently part of a series about Charleston houses and a psychic realtor.  When her maternity leave ends, Melanie Trenholm dreads leaving her new husband and twins but quickly gets a great listing, a super nanny and a few scary ghosts.  The psychic angle (her mother and nanny are also have ‘the gift’) is a flexible writing gimmick that doesn’t require logic or  any hint of inevitability.

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life by Pat Conroy, edited and introduced by his widow, is a 'new' nonfiction collection of letters, interviews, blogs, testimonials and magazine articles spanning Conroy’s career.  Like Conroy, some of it is brilliant and touching while some is not.

*The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is a late 1980's  story of fourteen-year-old New Jersey nerd who aspires to build a successful company in the emerging computer gaming industry. Billy Marvin also wants to get a copy of the Vanna White issue of Playboy. Billy pretends to seduce a girl as part of an elaborate plan steal a copy of the magazine before discovering that she is his computer-loving soulmate. . While not sophisticated or great literature, it is an engaging, fun book about the angst of adolescence, young love and the evolution of computer simulation.

*The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly is another well-done police procedural featuring Harry Bosch who is now working as a volunteer suburban cop and as a PI. A terminally ill mogul may have sired a child who may or not still be alive. Harry's job is to determine if there is an heir and then to report only to the mogul.  Juggling this investigation with his volunteer gig focused on trying to catch a serial rapist, Harry manages to solve both mysteries, find both the good and bad guys while helping the victims.  After almost 30 novels, Connelly manages to maintain his crisp plotting, dialogue and pacing to produce another enjoyable best seller.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

February Books

*The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrott “explores the complex spiritual and sexual lives of ordinary people…(and) is characterized by (a) distinctive mix of satire and compassion.”  Sexuality teacher, Ruth Ramsey believes that "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power” but an evangelical Christian church doesn't approve of Ruth's style of teaching. She challenges the intrusiveness a group prayer of her daughter’s soccer coach, a born-again, former rocker and druggie, but finds herself attracted to him but appalled by his beliefs.  Thankfully, the book doesn’t end with her conversion to his thinking, but lacks a sense of denouement.  

*Huck Out West by Robert Coover, a veteran remixer of America's tall tales, fables, and myths, “is both a tribute and a fitting postscript to Mark Twain's canonical work.” Told in the vernacular and dialect of Twain’s character, the novel reintroduces readers to Huck a few years after their move to the “territories” and their adventuring as scouts for both sides in the Civil War, surviving (barely) the Gold Rush and various other mythical ordeals. Cleverly told, and moderately engaging.

The Festival of Insignificance by Nobel Laurate Milan Kundera was either too sophisticated for me or not Kundera’s best work.  Described as “an ode o friendship set in present-day Paris follows the long-running discourse among four companions on sex, desire, history, art and the meaning of human existence.” My Philistine response  was thankfulness that it was a short book…my bad.

**A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny  is her 12th novel  about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Sûreté du Québec Québec.  After ‘failing’ retirement, Gamache is back to salvage the notoriously corrupt Sûreté Academy. Rooting out the corruption is an underlying theme as Gamache mentors the brightest students who seem to be on the wrong path until a sadistic administrator is murdered and suspicion falls  on the students and even Garache.  I found the mystery engaging, but the lyrical description of life in "3 Pines" is straight out of a Currier & Ives lithograph is the best part of the book.  I need to read more of Penny’s writings but worry that they all might sound similar—the curse of most series.

I Am No One by Patrick Flanery is "A mesmerizing novel about memory, privacy, fear, and what happens when our past catches up with us.” Jeremy is a history professor, recently returned from teaching at Oxford. Despite this good life, he continues to feel the pangs of loneliness when a series of strange events makes him wonder if he is losing his memory, his sanity or is the victim of a conspiracy.  The book's style makes the unraveling of  Jeremy's world more Kafkaesque and frightening, but led me to conclude that the plot and development were a bit contrived.

Ellie’s Story: A Dog’s Purpose Novel by W. Bruce Cameron is a NYTimes formulaic bestseller, apparently written for young readers and ‘over the top’ dog lovers. Okay, I’m not a young reader, but the formula is nice and the narrative sloppy. Ellie a search-and-rescue dog who can track and find people who are lost, but  her owners, widower Jakob and lonely Maya, challenge her to find a way to save people who are lost in other ways.