Tuesday, December 2, 2014


*Lila by Marilynne  Robinson is a “powerful, profound, and positively radiant… depiction of a child reared by drifters who finds a kindred soul in 'a big, silvery old man,' the Rev. John Ames  whom she is afraid to love”. . and still does. Robinson deals with the big issues: existence, faith,  abject poverty, life, death, joy, fear, doubt, love, violence, kindness and more. “A book…already for the ages” but not always easy going for rapid reading.

Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor is “a bittersweet comedy from one of Canada's most beloved playwrights”  that explores the ways people grieve and  find love in unexpected places. Bunny’s  two sons, Kyle and Hamilton, have the task of arranging her funeral and caring for her most beloved companion, a troublesome Italian greyhound named Enzo. The obituary-writing, eulogy-giving, dog-sitting, and sibling rivalry quickly  unearths years of buried contentions.

*Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove imagines what might happen if a band of white supremacists traveled back through time to alter the outcome of the Civil War by providing AK-47s to the CSA. A  master storyteller with the scrupulous accuracy of a trained historian, Turtledove creates a believable, meticulously detailed world inhabited by plausible  characters both historical and fictional.

*The Son by Philipp Meyer is “part Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching portrait of the bloody price of power.”  Kidnapped by  Comanche after seeing his mother and sister brutally murdered,  13-year-old Eli McCullough adapts to Comanche life until the tribe is decimated by armed Americans whereupon he marries and founds a family and financial dynasty.  The novel traces the legacy of violence in the American West through three generations of  McCulloughs with  Intertwined narratives from his son, Peter, who bears the emotional cost of his father's drive for power, and  Eli's great-granddaughter who must fight hardened rivals to succeed in a man's world.

Friday, October 3, 2014

September Books

*The Heist  by Daniel Silva is the latest  in the adventures of Gabriel Allon, art restorer and occasional spy/assassin  for Israel who plays a dangerous game of high stakes international intrigue as he searches for a stolen masterpiece by Caravaggio. Allon has joined the pantheon of great fictional secret agents, including George Smiley, Jack Ryan, and Jason Bourne.  Don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous Allon books as Silva manages to recycle the  highlights of his previous hits. Despite the reminders of past exploits and the predictable, formulaic storyline,  Heist is still an engaging read. 

**Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty , the New York Times best-selling author of The Husband's Secret,   follows three mothers, each at a crossroads, and their potential involvement in a riot at a school trivia night that leaves one parent dead in what appears to be a tragic accident. She explores the reality of modern parenting,  playground politics, ex-husbands and ex-wives, and fractured families. In a “ pitch-perfect way, she shows us the truth about what really goes on behind closed suburban doors”  with witty, insightful dialogue (internal and external).

 **The Good Girl by Mary Kubica is an engaging debut novel about a well-planned kidnapping  that surprises the family, the villains and readers alike. The daughter of a prominent Chicago judge and his socialite wife by her one-night stand who, instead of delivering her to his employers, hides her in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota. It is difficult to tell who is hero and who is villain in this “additively suspenseful and tautly written thriller.”

Saturday, August 30, 2014

August Books

Last Kind Words Saloon  by Larry McMurtry is the story of the closing of the American frontier through the travails of two of its most immortal figures: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in Long Grass, Texas. The taciturn Wyatt seems lost between bottles, and the dentist-turned-gunslinger Doc is more interesting as he is dying slowly--more slowly than the era that made them famous. While not up to McMurtry’s best, Saloon is still a short, interesting read.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is according to the NYT, “a short, vibrant book about all kinds of people creating all kinds of serial, improvisatory lives.”  For me, the reviews were more interesting than the book. After being abandoned by their parents, half-sisters Eva and Iris share decades in golden-era Hollywood and mid-20th-century Long Island . They have lots of luck, much of it bad,  but the potential of the plot doesn’t develop for me—probably because of my lack of depth. 

*The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin is “is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.” A totally predictable love triangle involving  a clever, plainspoken heiress; a dashing  but almost impoverished horseman Captain; and  the beautiful, bored empress of Austria.  Despite a well-worn plot, Goodwin’s 2nd novel  places real historical characters is an engaging tale of manners and morals in Victorian England.

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn received great reviews and is described as a “hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award.” There are sharply drawn satirical portrayals of various literary types who ultimately give their award to an innovative  novel that is actually a cookbook. The writing is inventive and clever, but  after a few chapters it became ‘a tad’ tiresome.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

June-July Books

*The Arsonist by Sue Miller is an engaging novel about  family and community tensions when an arsonist begins setting fire to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town. “Suspenseful, sophisticated, rich in psychological nuance and emotional insight,” this book probes themes of aging, belonging, class distinctions,  and community.

*Natchez Burning by Greg Illes grabs your attention and holds it for most of its 800 pages. Penn Cage has been an attorney, successful novelist and recently elected mayor of Natchez .  Now, he must deal with corrupt law enforcement, sociopathic business men, sadistic killers and  a radical  branch of the KKK when his father, a beloved “medical Atticus Finch” is accused of murder.  Illes manages elegantly to tie much of the sordid history of Mississippi racism and the fight for civil rights to this “epic tale” but struggles to tie all the threads together  in the finale.

*Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline finds Molly Ayer  avoiding juvie  by helping an elderly woman, Vivian,  clean out her home. Vivian had been  a young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her—and also realizes  that Vivian is a friend and mentor.

*The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor is based on Harvard’s most popular undergraduate class.  Achor  spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University and draws on the growing body of impressive research on the art and science of happiness. The writing style is engaging and the book reads like a popular and well-rehearsed  executive seminar  about  re programing  our brains to become more positive.

The Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford is the disappointing,  anticipated second novel by the author of NYT best seller, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Confined to a Seattle  Orphanage during the Great Depression,  a Chinese-American boy becomes convinced that a movie actress who was forced to give him up is actually his mother. There’s lots of opportunity for pathos, but the characters lack subtlety.

The Art of Social Climbing by Lincoln Kerney is described as “must-have manual for anyone looking to move up and blend into a world of houses, horses, and hired help.” The author knows the world he describes and offers some useful insight about matters of manners and taste, but  doesn’t always follow  his own advice about the dangers of dropping names or bragging.

The Keeper by John Lescroart is a Demas Hardy missing-persons case that gets complicated in a hurry. Hal Chase is a guard at the SF County Jail.  While he’s at SFO,  his wife, Katie, disappears from their home. Hal is soon picked up by police as the prime suspect and later charged with murder. Unfortunately, Hal is having an affair and so was his wife,  so suspects abound.  There’s also something rotten in the Sheriff’s department.  This is not great literature but engaging and fun to read. 

The Apartment by Greg Baxter “follows  an American man and European couple across a blurry, illogical, and frozen city  (Prague or Paris?) into a past the man is hoping to forget.” The book received excellent reviews but was a bit too “blurry and illogical” for my taste.

Suspicion by Joseph Finder  has Boston writer Danny Goodman in over his head after borrowing a large sum of money from a fabulously rich man who is the father of his daughter’s best friend—and maybe part of  a Mexican drug cartel.  The plot is formulaic, but “ so smartly put together, expertly paced and unpredictable that neither Danny's shallowness nor Finder's limitations as a prose stylist keep this from being an irresistible page-turner.”

*The Farm  by Tom Rob Smith ventures  into the almost crowded territory of Scandinavian thrillers, frequently associated with deep, dark family secrets, long-buried crimes and shocking revelations. Smith manages to simultaneously deliver on the  promise of this genre and also provide  insight into apparent paranoia with a psychological complex,  unexpected ending. 

*Looped  by Matthew  Lombardo is a play script based on a real event from 1965  when a boozed-up Tallulah Bankhead needed eight hours to redub—or loop—one line of dialogue from horror flick, 'Die! Die! My Darling!' It is a tough assignment  for poor Danny Miller, who's  been chosen to direct the sound editing session. The setting provides a believable backdrop to showcase the famous life and lines of the irrepressible Tallulah.

The Director by David Ignatius  has former tech entrepreneur Graham Weber as the  director of the CIA trying to save a moribund organization in "the post-Snowden era" of whistle-blowers and cyberterrorism.  Ignatius  writes with great authority on hackers' technology and motivation, as well as the history and culture of the CIA, builds an engaging story, but runs out of steam with a disappointing, unconvincing denouement.

*Summer House With Pool by Herman Koch is “a sly psychological thriller  within a pitch-dark comedy of manners.” As with his previous best seller (The Dinner), Koch tells a sinister tale, filled with ethical dilemmas,  through the eyes of a questionable narrator. Koch's deft and nuanced exploration of gender, guilt, and vengeance  employs sardonic humor to probe how far a person will go in risking his professional reputation and marriage while  still trying to protect his children.