Tuesday, July 4, 2017

June Books

*My Name is Lucy Burton   by Pulitzer Prize winner, Elizabeth Strout, captures the insecurities of having escaped extreme poverty but not some of the hidden scars associated with being different.  A simple hospital visit becomes serious and opens a portal to an unexpectedly tender relationship between an estranged mother and daughter. Potent with distilled emotion. Without a hint of self-pity, Strout captures the ache of loneliness we all feel sometimes.”(Time)

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch is a dystopian futuristic novel set in a world that has almost been destroyed by constant wars. Survivors flee to CIEL, a space station where they mutate and become galvanized by a charismatic child-warrior named Joan who possesses mysterious powers and tries to turn CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state.  The NYT called it brilliant and incendiary”. For me, it was too incendiary, depressing and violent.  Okay, call me a Philistine.

*Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by William H. McRaven expands on his 2014 University of Texas commencement address that went viral with over 10 million views to 144 pages.  Admiral McRavel develops ten principles from his training as a Navy Seal and from from people he encountered during his military service who confronted hardship with determination, compassion, honor, and courage.

**Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a debut novel inspired by the true story of New York socialite, Caroline Ferriday. The lives of three women intertwine through WWII and converge at the Ravensbruck concentration camp as Caroline becomes increasing involved from her post at the French consulate. Kasia Kuzmerick becomes a courier in the Polish resistance and a subject for medical experiments, while Dr. Herta Oberheuser learns surgery at Ravensbruck. “Smart, thoughtful and just an old-fashioned good read.”

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell has “Equal parts mystery, romance, and family saga, with a dash of dark comedy.”  Unemployment at the end of World War II leads two sisters to launch a makeup business similar to Mary Kay.  The smart sister uses life lessons she has learned from romance fiction that enable her to cope when the glamorous sister disappears.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

May Books

*Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles concludes a best-selling trilogy and finds Natchez mayor, Penn Cage, forced to be a spectator as his revered physician father, is tried for murder in the wake of revelations about a mixed-race child and KKK associations. Iles is a great story teller,  but there is just too much here--at 692 pages, too many references to previous books, too many plot twists, too many amazing survival stories and too little nuance in character development...but still a fun read.

**The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis describes how Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of articles challenging assumptions about the decision-making process that won the Nobel prize in economics.  Not Lewis’ best work, but still engaging, informative and insightful.

*The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simseson, best-selling author of The Rosie Project has a 50-year-old man who compares his safe life choices and remembers a youthful affair with an exotic actress.  Then, she contacts him and suggests the possibility of a more exciting life. An engaging read with an excellent sound track (references to songs that fit the occasions of the narrative).

LaRose by National Book Award–winner Louise Erdrich immerses the reader into the tumultuous world of two Native American families bound together by culture and grief. Landreaux accidentally shoots and kills his best friend’s 5-year-old son. He  follows an ancient Ojibwe tradition and gives his own son to the bereaved parents, but complications mount.  The novel shifts between time and alternative realities in a way that made it hard for me to complete-- my bad.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April Books

*Letters to a Young Writers: Practical and Philosophical Advice by Colum McCann appears to capture the high lights of his popular writing class at Hunter College. His 52 short essays demonstrate why he has been successful as a  bestselling writer (Let the Great World Spin) and for two decades as a teacher of creative writing as they contain pragmatic and inspiration lessons for aspiring or published authors as well as aspiring humans.

**Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is a first novel almost as good as his A Gentleman in Moscow. Witty and intelligent Katey Kontent’s life is changed by an encounter with a handsome banker in a on New Year's Eve, 1938.  She is suddenly catapulted into the upper echelons of New York society, where she befriends a shy multi-millionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well and a single-minded widow in her search for a better life.  Reminiscent of Scott Fitzgerald, the novel masterfully weaves intricate imagery and themes with  surprisingly appealing characters

*Our Souls at Night is the last of Kent Haruf’s sparse novels about Holt, CO and a sweet love story about a deep senior friendship growing out of a mutual search to escape loneliness, plus a surprising reprieve of life neither expected. The quiet drama plays out against the backdrop of a gossiping (and at times disapproving) small town with special angst from their grown children with further complications from an extended visit by a sad young grandchild… “A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story.”

Quick Sand by Malin Persson Giolito has been called the “Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year,” but 2016 must have been a slow year. After a mass shooting at a prep school in Stockholm's wealthiest suburb where her boyfriend and best friend were killed, 18-year-old Maja Norberg is on trial for her involvement. Some court room drama is combined with lots (and lots) of introspection about how a popular, good girl became the most hated person in the country.

*Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari who has received rave reviews from the likes of a former U.S. president, a Nobel laurate and  the world's richest man Gates for this book and its predecessor,   Sapiens.  Harari is brilliant, witty, insightful…and verbose. The first and last chapters contained amazing analysis of how we have evolved through past epochs and how the 21st century may evolve “from overcoming death to creating artificial life” and merging with it. Much of the other 350 pages were dense, repetitive, but still impressive.

*The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa follows 12-year-old Hannah Rosenthal and her formerly wealthy family who are attempting to flee Nazi Germany. Finally, they manage to board the SS St. Louis heading to  Cuba, but the  outlook becomes grimmer as most passengers are refused  entry to Cuba and  a variety of other countries. An alternating story centers on Anna Rosen, a 12-year-old girl in contemporary New York, who is trying to understand the death of her father  and a mysterious  package from  Cuba.  Seeking a deeper understanding of her roots, Anna and her mother set off on their own journey to Havana.