Thursday, August 4, 2016

BOB'S BEST BOOKS OF 2015



The Little Paris Bookshop (by Nina George) is a literary apothecary, a floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, where Monsieur Perdu prescribes novels for the problems of life--for everyone except himself. After 20 years of mourning a lost love, Perdu unties his barge and travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and books with a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef. “A charming international best seller that believes in the healing properties of fiction, romance, and a summer in the south of France."

Prague Summer by Jeffrey Condran is an insightful, beautifully written story of a happily-married State Department employee and her rare-books-dealer husband who enjoy a good life in Prague.  Their routine is thrown into chaos by the arrival of an old friend whose own husband has been mysteriously imprisoned.  She hides a sinister agenda that is gradually revealed in a tantalizing and ingeniously constructed study of relationships and human character. “"Like the city itself, Prague Summer is romantic and mysterious, with a refined literary bent.”

The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a National Book Award finalist and winner of several other prizes.  A hauntingly beautiful book about a blind French girl and a brilliant German orphan whose paths intersect in occupied France as both try to find themselves and survive the devastation of World War II.  You long for a happier ending than there’s any reason to expect, yet it is “Stupendous…A beautiful, daring, heartbreaking, oddly joyous novel.”

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion is a much anticipated sequel to The Rosie Project (my favorite book of 2013). Don Tillman (think a slightly more adaptable Sheldon Cooper of “Big Bang Theory) and Rose are now living in New York and unexpectedly expecting their first child.  As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting his friends to reconcile, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave save his business and marriage while staying on the right side of his social worker, he almost misses the biggest challenge until he realizes that his compulsive helpfulness might cause actually him to lose Rosie.

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford is another in this year’s parade of “witty tales about high-society wannabes…” Reminiscent of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth and the more modern *Primates of Park Avenue and *Luckiest Girl Alive, NY Times reporter Clifford’s debut is a “relentlessly fascinating story of old money and callous ambition.”  Yes, it is chick lit and beach reading, but still insight and good fun.   *(also recommended)

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years by Thomas Mallon captures the crusading ideologies, blunders, and glamour of the still-hotly-debated Reagan years.  Moving from the political gridiron of Washington, the wealthiest enclaves of Southern California, and Iceland, where the U.S. president engages in two almost apocalyptic days of negotiation with Mikhail Gorbachev. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are spared Mallon’s acerbic, insightful fictional conversations that seem utterly in character with the key political players of the era.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande's is a “masterful exploration of aging, death, and the medical profession's mishandling of both.” With rapidly aging populations in the developed world, doctors and their patients should see the role of medicine as enabling well-being rather than extending life as long as possible. Gawande provides plenty of important facts, but never loses his warm, caring style. “In his compassionate, learned way, Gawande shows all of us…how mortality must be faced with both heart and mind.”

The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Eric Topol tries to explain how new technology--from the smartphones to artificial intelligence will to democratize and improve the practice of medicine.  Topol provides an obituary for the paternalistic medical regime in which "the doctor knows best” as mobile phones, apps, and attachments will literally put the lab, primary care and some of the ICU in our pockets. The vision is inspirational, and the research exhaustive (exhausting, too) but the writing lacks the engaging quality of his previous best-seller, The Creative Destructive of Medicine.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lufthansa by Eric Larson,  who is “one of the modern masters of popular narrative nonfiction.”  A resourceful researcher and a subtle storyteller, he places the world’s fastest and most opulent passenger ship and the deadly German U-boat as protagonists in a thrilling suspense tale even if you already know the outcome.  Larson draws on telegrams, war logs, love letters, and survivor depositions to provide intriguing details about things you didn't know you need to know... “Thrilling, dramatic and powerful."

Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties by Patricia Marx, former writer for SNL and the New Yorker is “equal parts sarcasm, silliness and smarts.” (NPR). Self-deprecating riffs on memory lapses-- looking for glasses while wearing them or asking, "Who's the guy who isn't Robert De Niro?" --are reminiscent of Nora Ephron's I Remember Nothing and lots of fun for anyone willing to admit that their brain doesn’t function as well as we think it once did.

July Books



*In the Garden of the Beast: Love Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Lawson focuses on 1933, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. Dodd tries to acclimate to an increasingly violent city where he has to associate with the Nazis while his daughter pursues relationships with Gestapo and Communist officials (among others). Larson is an excellent researcher/writer and the story has disturbing reminders of how evil triumphs.

Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, author of the Kurt Wallander series, is the story of a lonely old man living alone on an isolated Swedish island. After a self-imposed exile of 30 years, the “winter of discontent” for a disgraced surgeon begins to thaw as he encounters three women whom he has wronged—the lover he abandoned, the daughter he didn’t know about, and the patient he mutilated. “Intense and precisely detailed. . . . A hopeful account of a man released from self-imposed withdrawal.”—The Independent, London

*The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is a worthy follow-up to her Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (or Downton Abby), deftly recounts the effect of war on Edwardian sensibilities about gender, money and class. Freethinking Beatrice Nash has been hired to teach Latin at the local grammar school but must cope with provincial, misogynistic laws, mores, and people. “A delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the…complications of living in a small community.” Wash Post)

-The Last Mile is David Baldachi’s second novel about extraordinary detective Amos Decker who can forget nothing. Baldachi is a great writer, but you wouldn’t know it from this book. The characters, coincidences, and conversations are unbelievable.  Various chapters appear to be written by different authors and made me wonder how much Baldachi actually wrote.  Yet, it was a NYTimes best seller and the Washington Post wrote, "It's big, bold and almost impossible to put down.” Go figure.

**Eligible   by Curtis Sittenfeld is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice from the author of Prep and American Wife.    The Cincinnati Bennett’s have fallen on hard times, thanks to exorbitant medical bills, reckless spending, and the perpetual underemployment of four of the five Bennett daughters. Liz is the novel’s central character, voice of reason, and the only one holding down a regular job. Yes, after much travail, she does get her Darcy.  Eligible sparkles with Austen-esque wit and intelligence and is a pure pleasure to read.”

Sunday, July 3, 2016

May-June Books



*Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo returns to the setting and many of the characters of his most successful book, Nobody's Fool.   Sully is confronting a daunting health prognosis, which he hides from his loved ones, including a longtime mistress, an increasingly distant best friend, and an obsessive chief of police. This is classic Russo, filled with humor, heart, hard times, and characters whom you can't help but love despite, and perhaps for, all their faults.



Fool Me Once by is Harlan Corbin 8th consecutive NYT best seller. Former special ops pilot Maya, sees an unbelievable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya's husband, Joe—whom she had seen brutally murdered two weeks earlier. To regain confidence in her own senses, Maya must discover and confront deep personal and family secrets.
 
*The Man with No Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates is a 30-year journal of mirrored self-discovery by a   neuroscientist and the attractive, charismatic E.H. who is unable to store new experiences or to retrieve some of the old.  She becomes famous for her experiments and inadvertently falls in love with him even though she must re-introduce herself each day. Oates deftly probes the significance of memory in meaning of love, and relationships while subtlety exploring academic mores, changing gender roles along scientific ethics and objectivity,



** Seven Brief Lesson on Physics by Carlo Rovelli is a lucid, insightful, almost poetic review of the scientists, from Einstein and Niels Bohr through Werner Heisenberg and Stephen Hawking who have shaped the science of Physics. The “concise and comprehensible writing makes sense of intricate notions such as general relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology and thermodynamics” (The Scientific American) and “artfully hints at meanings beyond its immediate scope.” (NYTimes).



  Old Age: A Beginner’s Guile by Michael Kinsley is A collection of essays on aging, Parkinson's, a culture of celebrity, and the legacy of the Baby Boomer generation as they march toward a toward a door marked “Exit.” The book is clever, personal and insightful, but, for me, it didn’t quite achieve its potential—but then so few of us do.



*A Man Call Ove by Fredrik Backman is a Swedish novel that is winning raves in 25 countries as “the most charming book of the year.”    Ove was a curmudgeon when he was young and has always seen the world in black and white.  Without his Sonja, Ove decides to join her in the next world. But a young couple, their children and a bedraggled cat move in next door and upset his plans and world view.  Curmudgeons of all ages and their partners will find much hilarity and heartbreak to enjoy in this engaging story.



**All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage is a “lyrically written, frequently shocking and immensely moving . . .literary thriller.”  At its heart of this gothic insightful story about two families entwined in their own unhappiness, is a gruesome and unsolved murder.  “A rich and complex portrait of a psychopath, marriage and community.”



* The Widow by Fiona Barton “is a taut reconstruction of a crime and a ruthless examination of marriage” in the tradition of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train.  Jean Taylor has been the perfect wife, but after her husband is suspected of a terrible crime and dies before the crime is resolved, she become a different person. Barton peels back the lies spouses tell not just to each other, but to themselves in order to provide meaning and stability for their lives.



Big Fear by Andrew Case is “a hard-punching police procedural” that draws on his experience as an investigator and policy director of New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. Case obviously knows his City and the Police Department as he weaves a tale of extensive police misconduct and the impact that one or two honest cops can have.