Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Books

*Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard  Ford has four connected novellas, almost an afterword to his highly praised Frank Bascome trilogy.  This book has the retired realtor confronting his 70ls, a lonely life,  and, at the same time, dealing with the impact  of ravages associated with  Hurricane Sandy, aging, and failed marriages. This isn’t Ford’s best book, but it shows that why still he is considered one of the best of contemporary novelists. 

The Wives of Los  Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit is the collective story of the women who were silent partners of  one of the strangest and most important  research projects in modern history. It's a testament to the remarkable  women who carved out a life for themselves, in spite of the chaos of the war, isolation  and the smothering impact of intense secrecy.  Despite excellent reviews, I found this debut novel’s collective voice to be a bit strained.

 Intimate Apparel by Lynn Notage is the script for February’s production of the Ensemble Theater. Esther is a black seamstress in New York City in 1905  who sews intimate apparel for clients from wealthy white patrons to prostitutes. Despite lacking beauty, she still  longs to find a husband and start a beauty parlor. After corresponding with George, a worker on the Panama Canal, they decide to marry, sight unseen, but he betrays Esther and fritters away her money. While the plot is predictable and a bit sexist, I am confident that the cast will make the script come alive.

Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard psychologist Gilbert Daniel describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. Drawing from research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert discusses what has been discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, the capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there and why we fail to understand ourselves. Although witty and accessible, I still found the book a bit pedantic in places.

 Gray Mountain by John Grisham is another of his enjoyable, formulaic “David and Goliath” novels wherein a young attorney takes on an evil adversary.  After losing her job at New York City's largest law firm after the economic crisis,  Samantha becomes an unpaid intern in a small Appalachian community, where she stumbles upon dangerous secrets, does battle again nefarious coal companies who will do anything (including murder) to hide their abuses of workers and the environment. Grisham keeps even jaded readers interested with colorful background data, well-drawn characters and a touch of suspense and romance.

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler is set “a few decades into the future  after global catastrophes  have destroyed industrial civilization." The inhabitants of Union Grove  struggle to deal with a new way of life over the course of an eventful summer and  plays out against a panorama of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses mowing in the hayfields, and neighbors working shoulder-to-shoulder to survive. “A powerful tale of love, loss, violence, and desperation…(Kunstler) depicts a surprisingly lyrical, tender, and hopeful new America struggling to be born.”

**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 Rosie 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.

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