New Reviews                          

New Books reviewed since February 2009

Title

Author

Rating

Description

Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

****

Beuatifully written by a young Nigerian author, this work of historical fiction assembles an array of characters who tell us the story of Biafra - the circumstances surrounding its creation, the hope it engendered, and the tragedy of its failure. As a child, I remember seeing photos of starving children in Biafra, but I never knew the history of its creation and frankly never gave it much thought. This book opened my eyes to some African history that I was totally unaware of. Highly recommended.

Look Me in the Eye - My Life with Asbergers

John Elder Robison

****

Written by the elder brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors), this incredibly insightful book sheds light on Aspergers syndrome, a mild form of autism. The author, clearly highly intelligent, was not diagnosed until he was close to 40. He shares his life with his whacky parents, and the challenges of growing up without understanding many of the social norms and structures. Highly recommened as the book is both educational, inspirational, and entertaining.

Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell

****

A fascinating book that examines many successful - and some not so succesful people - to attempt to determine the effect of luck and privilege versus talent and hard work on success. There are many great stories that support the authors conclusions and obviously a great deal of truth behind his research. Not to say you'll believe in all his conclustions and therories, but they are all certainly interesting. You'll learn, among other things, why most hockey stars are born in January through March, why the Beatles were so successful, the common factors that made Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and other techie Whiz Kids successful, and why the guy with the world's highest IQ never even finished college. Highly recommened as it will get you thinking!

Sea of Poppies

Amitav Ghosh

****

A book set in 19th century India, it tells the tale of the Opium trade and provides a vivid depiction of life in India during this time. I listened to the audio version which was "performed" not read by a wonderful narrator. The story is good - not great - but the writing, language, and visualiztion is fantastic. Highly entertaining and somewhat informative, I found this book truly enjoyable and different.

The Daily Coyote

Shreve Stockton

****

The author, who is from New York, moves to a remote town in Colorado where she lives in a small, rustic cabin. She begins a relationship with a man who kills coyotes for the US government in an effort to control their population and protect farm stock. For some reason, he saves a coyote cub which he gives the author and the book is about their first two years together. Sometimes funny, sometimes sobering, it highlights the pros and cons of raising a wild animal, especially one that can be dangerous.While it ultimately has a happy ending - at least so far - there are many points where the potential for tragedy are apparent. Well written and interesting - should be enjoyable for all animal lovers.

The Ghost Map

Steven Johnson

****

The true story of a cholera epidemic in 19th century England and the efforts of a determined scientist to discover the cause, which he eventually does - contaminated water. Before this, nobody knew how cholera was transmitted, though even in the face of compelling evidence, the conclusions were not readily accepted. The book is a well-written and gripping look at life in one of the world's largest cities, where logistical challenges were great (ie, waste disposal was a huge challenge) and people were vulnerable to outbreaks of communicable diseases which often spread rapidly with deadly consequences. It traces the efforts of one man who doggedly pursues the evidence left by the many dead to determine how they became infected. A good scientific thriller.

Up Till Now

William Shatner

****

Fans of Star Trek, Boston Legal, or William Shatner will enjoy this book. It's an autobiography which does nothing to dispell whatever you might think about Shatner! Self-serving - of course! It is about Shatner after all. But entertaining and fun, even is Star Trek is only a small piece of it

Black Wave

John Silverwood

***

The true story of a family whose catamaran (sailboat) struck a small island and sank in the Pacific. With the husband badly injured it was up to the eldest son and rest of the family to make important decisions about their survival. Though they were rescued fairly quickly, it was a great illustration of how quickly things can happen at sea.

Bones

Jonathan Kellerman

***

Another in the Alex Delaware series, this was not one of my favorites. The story seemed weak. It evolves around a series of murders - but the serial killer in the end hardley seems believable. Nevertheless, it's a typical Kellerman page turner, with enough interest to justify reading on a nice beach somwhere.

Change in the Weather

Mark McEwan

***

The author, a network morning show celebrity, suffers first a mild stroke which is misdiagnosed as the flu then suffers a massive stroke. A combination autobiography and story about stroke and recovery, the book is good but to me fell short of being compelling. While educational in some respects, it did not provide as much detail about stroke, or the rehabilitation process as I had expected. However, if you know someone who has been affected by strok, this is a valuable book.

Dragon Sea

Frank Pope

***

A true story of ocean archeology and treasure hunting off the coast of Vietnam. This is an interesting story about the conflicts between those who view shipwrecks as historical artifacts and those who believe that whoever finds a wreck has the right to pillage it for commercial gain. This book tells the story of an expedition that attempts to balance those interests - archeologists accompany divers who collect valuable porcelain under the funding of a commercial venture. The author is an archeologist who provides a first hand view of the dangers involved in long-term, deep diving, the excitement of recovering the cargo and attempting to identify and date the vessel, the time pressure of beating others to the prize, and the difficulty of valuing the cargo for public sale.

Havana Nocturne

T.J. English

***

The story of Lucky Luciano and other gangsters who controlled Havana's casinos, entertainment, and prostitution industries prior to the revolution which brough Castro to power. Well researched and intersesting, the book provides great insight into the world of many famous mobsters and provides some background on the things going on in Cuba that led to the revolution in 1959.

Inheriting the Trade

Thomas DeWolfe

***

Ten members of a family whose ancestors were slave traders set out on a journey of discovery to make a documentary. The book alternates between being interesting and annoying. The author, who seems to have led a completely sheltered life, unaware that things like racism still exist, travels to Africa and Cuba and engages in discussions that reveal things to him - and at each turn he overreacts and over-dramatizes to the point where you just want to smack him. But it's not all bad - it does provide some good insight and backgound on the lingering issues of slavery and its affect on this country.

Skipping Christmas

John Grisham

***

A satirical tale of a couple, daughter off on an adventure to a faraway land, who decide to skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead. Subject to scorn and ridicule from all their friends, associates, and neighbors, they stick to the plan almost to the end. Funny and unfortunately all too true - it brings to light the materialism and lunacy surrounding many people's approach to this holiday. Short and entertaining.

Step on a Crack

Richard Patterson

***

Michael Bennett is a NY detective and hostage negotiator with ten adopted children and a wife dying of cancer. He becomes the lead negotiator in a meticulously planned mass kidnapping/hostage situation. Good enough to be believable, this is the first in what will likely be a good series. Unlike some Patterson books, this one is not horribly gruesome.

Stone Cold

David Baldacci

***

The third in the Camel Club series, this one gets a bit more violent and doesn't have a happy ending. But it's still entertaining and the story, while not totally believable, is good.

The Brass Verdict

Michael Connelley

***

This book brings together two of Michael Connelley's main characters - Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller and detective Harry Bosch, end up working on the same case, initially on opposite sides but eventually teaming up to solve the mystery and in the process learning that they have more in common than they thought. Michael Connelly fans will enjoy this one.

The Camel Club

David Baldacci

***

Entertaining story of four oddbalss in Washington who seem to be ordinary weird, homeless, compulsive, or just strange characters, but who are in reality quite capable with intersesting pasts. They team up to solve a mystery involving murder, conspiracy, espionage, and corruption at the highest levels. If you're willing to accept a somewhat far fetched conspracy theory, and some other small issues, it's a fun book.

The Collectors

David Baldacci

***

Anotther in the Camel Club series, this book features a couple bad guys and some new characters. Once again, the Camel Club comes through, solving a mystery which baffles the highest law enforcement agencies in the land.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Kate Summerscale

***

This is the true story of Mr. Whicher, a pioneer of the profession of detective, and his investigation of a murder of a young child in 1860 England. The book is very well researched and, thought the murder was never completely solved, it appears that Mr. Whicher was on the right track. However, this case nearly derailed his career. While interesting, the book seems to be trying to do too much - it winds together the background and facts of the murder, information on all the characters involved, and also tries to provide a history of police work and the advent of scientific forensic methods. The result is that the book is at times slow and provides a bit too much technical detail.

Until Proven Guilty

J. A. Jance

***

The first in the JP Beaumont detective series, this book focuses on the murder of a young child who lives with her mother in a small religious cult. Solid story and good characters.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Kim Edwards

*

Another of those best-sellers that I just don't get! A doctor's wife delivers twins, one of whom has Down's syndrome. He decides to send the child to an institution and tell his wife she died at birth. Naturally, the family is screwed up forever more while the child is adopted and brings joy and love to her adoptive mother. None of the characters is appealing and the story is awful - wish I hadn't bothered to read this one.

New Books reviewed since September 2008

Title

Author

Rating

Description

The Ditchdigger's Daughters

Yvonne S. Thorton

*****

Story of a poor African American man who has five daughters. He worked briefly as a ditch digger but mostly as a janitor. He says to his co-workers that all his daughters will become doctors, then sets out to make that happen. Written by one daughter (yes, a doctor) this is the story of incredible wisdom, commitment, and parenting. One of the more inspirational books you'll ever read and recommended for every parent.

The Man on Mao's Right

Ji Chaozhu

*****

Written by a man born in China whose family came to the US in the 1930';s when China was invaded by Japan. After spending his childhood here he returns to China where he becomes a translator for the Foreign Ministry during Mao's rise to power. A regular translator for Cho En Lai, he also translates on occasion for Mao and provides a incredible first hand account of China during the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, and transition to a more open environment during the Nixon administration. Totally true but reads like a novel - one of the best and most interesting books I've read. Highly recommended.

FDR

Jean Edward Smith

****

Well researched and well written biography of FDR. Provides great insight into the man, the major US and world events that were occurring at the time, and the effects of FDR's leadership and decisions on those events.Worth a read - but it is not a short or easy one to get through!

From Baghdad with Love

Jay Kopelman

****

An American Marine Lt. Col serving in Iraq finds and adopts a puppy during a mission. Adopting or feeding domestic animals is against the rules so the puppy has to be constantly hidden and shuffled around to ensure its safety. Unable to bear leaving his companion behind, the soldier begins a long process to try to find a way to bring him home. A short but wonderful story of the horrors of war, yet how the love for a puppy can overcome those horros. It's a quick read and one you'll enjoy.

Playing for Pizza

John Grisham

****

Wonderful story of a third-string NFL quarterback who after a disastrous game, goes to play football in Italy. Full of fun esposides with some good life lessons thrown in,

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

****

A story told in the form of letters exchanged by friends and associates in the aftermath of WWII. A reporter who covered the war is contacted by a man in Guernsey and his correspondence leads her to research the story of a literary society established there - full of charm, romance, and interesting characters. Highly entertaining.

The Nine

Jeffrey Toobin

****

An in-depth look at the Supreme Court from Earl Warren through John Roberts. Provides wonderful insight into how the court works, how current justices came to be there, and how their decisions affect us. Highly recommended.

The Way of the World

Ron Suskind

****

The author is obviously not a fan of GW Bush or his policies. The book provide an account of US intelligence up through and including the Iraq war while at the same time providing in-depth personal stories about a number of people affected - an exhange student from Afghanistan, a man detained at Guantanamo, a Iraqi-American living and working here. The claims made in the book are very disturbing - it's just hard to know how much is real fact and how much is spin - such is the nature of politics and espionage!

Waiter Rant

The Waiter

****

After losing his regular job, the author takes a job as a waiter in a high-end restaurant and six years later this book details his experience. Not laugh-out loud funny, but highly entertaining. Some of the customers will remind you of yourself or someone you know. You'll be entertained and will have more sympathy for your next waiter.

America's Hidden History

Kenneth Davis

***

A collection of unknown tales about events in America's early history. The stories are interesting but there is nothing about the book or the stories that is gripping or that qualifies it as a "must-read".

Chosen By A Horse

Susan Richards

***

A woman with a difficult past - abusive family and abusive ex - agrees to adopt an abused horse that has been rescued from a large farm. Though she already has two horses, this new addition has a dramatic impact on the author's life, enabling her to confront some of her difficult past and make some tough decisions about her future. Though I found it hard at times to identify with the author, I enjoyed the story and applaud her for writing it.

Dark Summit

Nick Heil

***

In 2006 a British climber lay dying on the route to the summit while 40 others passed him by, including a disabled climber whose feat was tarnished by this incident. The same year, ten others died in their summit attempts. This books explores many of the reasons leading to these incidents and provides great insight into the difficulties and moral dilemmas facing anyone who sets out on this journey. The style is more of a documantary than other Everest books such as Into Thin Air but is still fascinating and worth reading.

Dirty Martini

J.A. Konrath

***

Jack Daniels is at it again - how many serial killers can one detective track down in one career? Apparently a lot! As with other books in this series, it's a fun read for those who like murder mysteries. Plenty of humor mixed in with lots of blood. One climactic scene had me very annoyed as the attempt at humor made the characters seem unrealistic and stupid given their circumstances. But nothing is perfect and overall this is a good read.

Lost Light

Michael Connelly

***

Detective Harry Bosch has retired from the police force and begins a new career as a private investigator. His case involves a long unsolved murder related to a theft of cash being used for a bank robbery scene in a movie production. Like other books in this series, it is fast paced, intelligent, and entertaining. If you like Harry Bosch, you'll enjoy this book.

Prisoner of Birth

Jeffrey Archer

***

A modern day Count of Monte Cristo. A man wrongly convicted of murder ingeniously escapes from prison and sets out to avenge his conviction by destoying the guys who framed him. Decent story and good entertainment but not my favorite Follett book.

Sail

James Patterson

***

A family still hurt by the loss of their husband/father sets out for a sailing vacation to re-bond and ends up stranded on a remote island where they have to fend for themselves. Did their boat really suffer an accident? Will the new husband/stepfather be able to rescue them in time? Lots of twists and turns and a reasonable story. Good page turner.

Silks

Dick Francis

***

One jockey is accused of murdering another and the barrister (lawyer) who defends him is also an amateur jockey. Another enjoyable Francis novel set in the world of horse-racing

Stolen Season

Alex McKnight

***

Retired cop and private investigator Alex McKnight spends his summers in Upper Michigan where he becomes involved in a complex and dangerous case involving guns and money. Many twists and turns in the plot and some really bad things happen to the good guys, who I found to be pretty realistic - that is, they make mistakes, aren't always smart, and sometimes have bad things happen to them. But in the end the bad guys of course get their due. Not a bad book for this genre.

The Ambler Warning

Robert Ludlum

***

Written after Ludlum's death by someone hired to write like him, this book, while good at times is overall a disappointment. Full of espionage and consiracy, in the end it's just not believable. OK if there's nothing better available.

The Dogs Who Found Me

Ken Foster

***

A man in Manhattan adopts a dog from the pound, then develops a knack for finding and rescuing stray dogs. Though he seems a bit misguided at times, he does relate some heartwarming stories and it a book that most dog lovers will enjoy.

The Appeal

John Grisham

**

Small-town law firm with a poor client wins a major lawsuit against a big, bad company and the story is about the ensuing appeal. The lesson seems to be that anyone involved in business, politics, or corporate law is evil and corrupt. While the writing is OK and the story moves along, I mostly found it obnoxious and annoying

Executive Privilege

Phillip Margolin

*

Lots of people seem to like this book but from the start I found it hard to believe. Junior lawyer working a pro-bono case comes across multiple serial killers conspiring with each other, all tying into the the President of the US. Yeah, right. You get sucked in with good writing and plenty of action, but it never, ever becomes believable.

 

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