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.

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.