Wednesday, November 1, 2017

October Books

House of Spies by Daniel Silva, “one of our greatest living spy novelists”, was a disappointment.  Almost a collection of Silva’s greatest hits, the book spends too much time re-introducing characters, locations and events from his previous 16 Gabriel Allon adventures. Clearly a great writer, but Silva has apparently become too successful or lazy to do his usual thoughtful writing and has turned over the writing to others.

*The Late Show by Michael Connelly introduces Renâee Ballard to his readers and the LAPD. Assigned to the night shift after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor, she disobeys orders by continuing to investigate an assault on a prostitute and the death of a woman in a nightclub shooting. Even after selling more than 60 million copies of his books, this novel proves proof that Michael Connelly is still a "a master of the genre" (Washington Post).

When Zackary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt is set in the summer of '71 and the small town of Antler, Texas. Toby's mother leaves, his best friend’s brother is killed in Vietnam, and Zachary Beaver, self-proclaimed fattest-boy-in-the world, has arrived in town, and Willis has to deal with adult issues of loss, character and becoming his own person.  A good read for young teens.

Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on my Dementia by Gerda Saunders received excellent reviews and is a subject of interest to me.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed by not being able to determine what was written before her diagnosis and what was done afterward.  An excellent concept for a book, but to me, it suffered from efforts to impress readers with her family, education, and erudition.

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keefe by Dawn Tripp brings life to Georgia O’Keeffe’s, love affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz and her quest to become an independent artist. According to the NY Times “Georgia conveys O’Keeffe’s joys and disappointments, rendering both the woman and the artist with keenness and consideration.”  For some reason, I had trouble finishing it. My bad.

*Glass Houses, Louise Penny’s 13th Armand Gamache mystery, explores what Gandhi called the court of conscience—the court that supersedes all others—and “proves she only gets better at pursuing dark truths with compassion and grace.”  When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines on a cold November day, Gamache and others are initially curious, then wary and a bit frightened when the "cobrador" (a conscience) is killed. In July, the trial for the accused begins and Gamache struggles with actions he set in motion and knows his own conscience will also be judged.

The Address by Fiona Davis is an interesting novel about two women, a century apart, who find their lives changed by the Dakota, Manhattan’s most famous apartment building. There are issues of class distinction, love and mystery with lots of historical detail. “Maid in Manhattan meets The Grand Budapest Hotel.”—InStyle

Monday, October 2, 2017

September Books

*The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald whose first novel features Sara who arrives from Sweden to meet her pen pal, Amy, just as Amy's funeral is ending. Marooned in a farm town that has almost no future, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend's memory and sets in motion a chain of events that changes her life and almost everyone she meets. I didn’t fall in love at first, but eventually found the book engaging and literate.

Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld is the story of Karen Kipple, a white, upper-middle-class New Yorker who suffers from liberal guilt despite working for a non-profit and keeping her first-grader in the neighborhood public school—until racial bullying challenges her values and priorities. Despite being described as “a daring, discussable satire about gentrification and liberal hypocrisy,” I didn’t feel that the book achieved its potential.

*Before I Forget by life style maven, B Smith, and her husband, Dan, (with Vanity Fair’s Michael Shnayerson), is B’s unfolding story on coping with early-onset Alzheimer's. Short chapters interweave their story with advice, that can help couples and other readers learn about dealing with memory loss and other challenges of aging. 

*The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve is based on the true story of the 1940 historic fire in Maine and follows the experiences of a pregnant woman who struggles to save her best friend and their young children only to discovers that she has lost her house, possessions and her estranged husband who may have perished or simply left her to cope with the devastation.  

*Bright, Special Days by bestselling author, Jay McInerney examines the challenges of seeking “the good life in New York City” with limited financial resources and faulty moral compasses. Russell and Corrine seem to be enjoying charmed lives with fashionable parties, fulfilling careers, luxurious vacations and beautiful twin children. A high-risk financial opportunity, the discovery that they are being priced out of their tony NY neighborhood lead to a re-examination and change of course. “A sexy, vibrant, cross-generational New York story--a literary and commercial read.” 

Monday, September 4, 2017

July-August Books

*The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife, is historical fiction about the “scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley” and other members of  New York’s high society in mid-20th Century. Like me, you may have missed some of the glamour (and heart-break) of this era.

*Al Franken Giant of the Senate by Al Franken is the story of how an original member of the SNL team gets a chance to serve in the United States Senate, by the narrowest of margins,  and actually turns out to be good at it. Much more insightful and  fun to read than most books by big time politicians. 

*How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny is another mystery set in Three Pines  where Chief Inspector Armand Gamache investigates the disappearance of a woman who was once one of the most famous people in the world and now goes unrecognized. Gamache solves her murder, protects loyal members of the Sûreté du Québec, defends the serenity of his village and finds proof of corruption in high places.  

Camino Island by John Grisham features a young academic who is recruited to help recover priceless F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts that were stolen during a daring heist at Princeton.  She befriends several Camino Island authors and the owner of a popular bookstore who also deals in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts. Not Grisham’s best, but still enjoyable light reading.

*The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, popular "Masterpiece Mystery” author, gives the reader two excellent British mysteries for the price of one. The first, set in 1950s England, is a whodunit complete with vicar, village, and vengeance. The second, features a modern editor who must solve a murder surrounding that book, as her firm’s fortunes rest upon its success. “This fiendishly brilliant, riveting thriller weaves a classic whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie into a chilling, ingeniously original modern-day mystery.”

*Testimony by Scott Turow has Bill ten Boom, a disillusioned American prosecutor taking an assignment in the Hague to investigate the unsolved disappearance of an entire Gypsy refugee camp during the Bosnian War. He navigates a complex, deceptive environment,  takes testimony from a host of suspects while uncovering disturbing alliances and betrayal. I didn’t agree that  it was Turow’s  “most irresistibly confounding and satisfying novel yet,” but it was engaging, entertaining and educational.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is a A Man Called Ove wantabe that doesn’t quite make it.  A 69 year old widower finds a charm bracket in his wife’s closet and sets up to discover what he didn’t know about her. Suddenly, he breaks with his rigid routine and begins an odyssey that takes him from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest. Described as evoking “whimsy and poignancy,” I found it predicable and a bit saccharine.

*Beartown by Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove) is the story of a town collapsing under the burden of unemployment and desperately needing to win the junior ice hockey championship. During a boisterous celebration after an important win, something happens between star player and the coach's daughter that threatens everyone's hopes and illusions.

*The Nature of the Beast is Louise Penny's 11th book featuring Armand Gamache who is failing retirement as chief inspect of the Surete' in a small lidyli8c Quebec village.  When an imaginative local boy is found  dead, Gamache starts looking for clues and finds a gigantic WMD, a complex web of conspiracies and a local serial killer.   Perhaps there are a few too many coincidences, but Penny's novel "peels away the emotional and psychological layers" of the locals while capturing the essence of a beautiful village and life stye despite its proclivity for murder.

*On the Sickle’s Edge by Neville Frankel is a multi generational saga 20th century chronicle of a Jewish family through the rise and fall of the former Soviet Union. The story of the Shtein family spans three continents, and provides a glimpse into how ordinary people lived through turbulent periods of history—similar times but a very different experience from A Gentleman in Moscow.