Thursday, September 1, 2016

August Books

*Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, Emmy Award-winning creator of Fargo, provides a before and after analysis of the mysterious crash of a private jet off Cape Cod. The story of the crew, crash investigators and five wealthy victims of the crash intertwine with the only survivors, a down-on-his-luck painter and a four-year-old boy, with odd coincidences pointing to a possible conspiracy. While engaging, entertaining, and fun, it isn’t great literature.

*Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All continues Jonas Jonasson’s trademark satirical humor of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden and The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of His Window and Disappeared. A disgraced priest, an ex-millionaire's grandson and a recently released murderer form a profitable alliance to defraud gangsters, commercialize a new religion based on generous servings of the sacraments and utilize social media to help Santa become a more profitable enterprise.  “Often laugh-out-loud funny…non-noir Nordic crime fiction to savor”.

*The Unseen World by Liz Moore “winds its way through mystery, heartbreak and mortality with an acute sense of what it means to be human.”  12-year old Ada Sibelius is trying to understand the adult world of technology and her brilliant, socially inept father. When Ada’s father goes missing, she is led down a difficult path to discover his true past –and her own future.

The Nest by   Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is a debut novel about an upper middle-class, dysfunctional New York family who hope their inheritance (affectionately called the nest) will be dispersed in time to solve the financial problems created by their irresponsibility.  Reviewers loved the book, but many readers, seem to share my impression that the four Plumbs were too rotten and to continue reading until the author could fashion a moderately positive conclusion.

The Trouble with Sheep and Goats by Joanna Canon’s debut novel is a study “of hypocrisy and prejudice in an insightful and compassionate parable” about life in a 1976 British Council Estate. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is filled with secrets and whispers that 10-year old Tilly and Grace try to understand in their search to discover God.  Except for the two girls, I didn’t find the characters or narrative as engaging as the professional reviewers.

*Time and Time Again by Ben Elton is an engaging alternative history.     Asked by his former Cambridge Don to use secret correspondence from Isaac Newton about time travel, ex-soldier and adventurer, Hugh Stanton returns to June, 1914, to prevent World War I by stopping an assassination.  Andrew Lloyd Webber says, “An absolute page turner. The historical perspective (both real and imagined) is forensically astute and the narrative thrillingly inventive.”

Thursday, August 4, 2016

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.