Saturday, May 2, 2015

March-April Books

Dog on It by Spencer Quinn is narrated by intrepid canine detective Chet who accompanies his human PI partner, Bernie, on an assignment involving the disappearance of a teenage girl who ran with the wrong crowd, a case that is complicated by Bernie's dysfunctional personal life. Chet has a charming style and the book is an enjoyable dessert morsel.

*Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins centers on Rachel, who commutes to London every day, past the backyard of a couple she images having the perfect life that has escaped her. Then she sees the wife kissing another man, and the next day he wife  goes missing. The story is told from three character’s not-to-be-trusted perspectives. Rachel  mourns the loss of her former life with the help of canned gin and tonics, gets overly involved with the “missing person” investigation and closer to  understanding  who she really is…and isn’t. Janet Maslin (NYT) says this book, “has more fun with unreliable narration than any chiller since Gone Girl.” 

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up  by Marie Kondo didn’t change my life or keep my attention but had a couple of good points about neatness and deep philosophical insights about the virtues and benefits of being tidy from a bestselling, young, obsessive Japanese woman.

*Me Before You by Jo Jo  Moyes is classic “chick lit” about  an ordinary girl  who has never traveled beyond her tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for a wealthy acerbic, moody, bossy quadriplegic who doesn’t want to adjust to the limitations of his current life. “Clark” takes on  the challenge of helping him see the opportunities in his life—and he opens new opportunities for her.  Not a traditional love story with a conventional ending, but a story that was enjoyable and hard to put down.

*The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Eric Topol tries to explain how new technology--from the smartphones to artificial intelligence will to democratize  and improve the practice of medicine.  Topol provides an obituary for the paternalistic medical regime in which "the doctor knows best"  as mobile phones, apps, and attachments will literally put the lab, primary care and some of the ICU in our pockets. The vision is inspirational, and the research exhaustive (exhausting, too) but the writing lacks the engaging quality of his previous best-seller, The Creative Destructive of Medicine.

A Bad Character  by Deepti Kapor was, for me a bad book with great reviews. It  explores an  intense, short-term relationship that the  young  narrator begins  with the title's  "bad character." Her lover introduces Idha to a slice of Delhi life spiked with cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, and passionate sex. This slice is juxtaposed to the mundane, even sedate existence she leads with her guardian, who intends to marry her  to any more eligible suitor. “the novel is at its most impressive in its impressionistic evocation of a dazzling, dangerous cityscape.”

**The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a National Book Award finalist and winner of several other prizes.  A hauntingly beautiful book about a blind French girl and a brilliant German orphan whose paths intersect  in occupied France as both try to find themselves and survive the devastation of World War II.  You long for a happier ending than there’s any reason to expect, yet it is “Stupendous…A beautiful, daring, heartbreaking, oddly joyous novel.”

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly follows the story of Los Angeles Police Department detective Harry Bosch as he and a new partner, Lucia Soto, investigate the death of a mariachi musician shot some ten years previously and a 1993 fire that left several children dead. They find that the musician’s murder case is entangled with local and state electoral politics and the latter is connected to a famous 1997 North Hollywood shootout. This is classic Connelly with good character development, dialogue, police procedure and politics—perhaps not his best but still fun to read.

**Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande's is a “masterful exploration of aging, death, and the medical profession's mishandling of both.” With rapidly aging populations in the developed world, doctors and their patients should see the role of medicine as enabling well-being rather than extending life as long as possible. Gawande provides plenty of important facts, but never loses his warm, caring style. “In his compassionate, learned way, Gawande shows all of us…how mortality must be faced with both heart and mind.”

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst, the reputed master of the “historic spy novel”  has Cristian Ferrar as a Spanish lawyer living in Paris helping anti-Franco forces smuggle arms into his homeland. Working with an enigmatic man of Slavic descent; Ferrar goes on a quest which will take him from libertine nightclubs in Paris to volatile bars by the docks in Gdansk while working in a brief romance with an aristocratic spy and a chance to reclaim a lost love in New York as the war threatens to engulf France.

Insatiable Appetites by Stuart Woods opens with studly Stone  Barrington awaiting the results of the presidential election with candidate Kate Rule Lee and her husband, the sitting POTUS. The plot involves a typical mix of Stone’s devising clever solutions for complex problems of his rich and famous clients, bedding  a couple of gorgeous  younger women, eating at some fabulous restaurants and drinking lots of Knob Creek bourbon.  Formulaic and tacky, yet  a pleasant quick escapist read.  

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