Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins -- I'm back (or am I?)

It's been a few years since I've posted anything to this blog. There have been several other projects, law, tech and other types of books that have kept me occupied. Please forgive my absence. For the last few of you that are still subscribed to this blog, I'm hoping you are still interested in a few good books.

I just finished "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins, a debut thriller, and it is gripping. If you enjoyed the book, "Gone Girl", then add this to your list. While similar in format, it is a different story. I may be late in coming to this book but it is well worth the read.

Set in London, the story unfolds with Rachel, one of the narrators, obsessing over a husband and wife she sees from the train in their home. She peers into their home from the train every day and, in her mind, gets to know them. Rachel suffers from depression, alcoholism and a faulty memory. She's a confused, unreliable narrator. The wife in the home Rachel watches every day disappears. The story takes off. Rachel is pulled into the story. The police are involved and several other views come into play.

Hawkins masterfully shifts narrators and time periods but in a manner easy to follow and enjoy. The perspective shifts and the slow unveiling of the character's views and lapses in memory make the plot exciting and quick paced.

This is a fast read. If you need something for the beach or a weekend, it will keep you gripped.

Monday, April 23, 2012

World Book Night -- April 23, 2012

On April 23, 2012, the world of book lovers will be celebrating World Book Night.  On that night, 25,000 book lovers across the U.S. will be giving away 500,000 books for free from a list of thirty books (complete list is here).  The point is simple -- to promote the love of reading and books.

Why April 23?  It is the International Day of the Book (who knew?) and the day on which both Shakespeare and Cervantes both died (April 23, 1616).  In the Catalan region of Spain, the day is celebrated by giving a book and a flower to a loved one.  (I'll need to get flowers for my wife.  If she is reading this closely, she'll understand why!)

Yours truly signed up as a volunteer and I am happy to be handing out copies of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto.  Two nights ago, I picked up a box of 20 copies of Bel Canto at my local Barnes and Noble.  My job is simple -- give away a great book to friends and colleagues.  If you are interested in receiving a copy of the book (for free of course) drop me a note and let me know.  If we can coordinate an easy drop off/pick up system, I'd love to get you a copy that day or shortly thereafter.  I have delayed reading the book so I can enjoy it with everyone else at the same time.  I have read and reviewed Ms. Patchett's recent book, State of Wonder, which I enjoyed.  A blurb about Bel Canto from Amazon is as follows:

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxane Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening—until a band of gun-wielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds, and people from different continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

If you want a copy and would like to participate in this fun day, let me know.  Even if you don't get a copy of the book, celebrate World Book Night by reading any great book!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tournament of Books; Pulitzer Prize Let Down

It has been a while since I have been able to post so there is a bit of catching up to do.

The Tournament of Books is now complete.  In the final round The Sisters Brothers took on Open City.  I tried reading the former and loved the latter.  The Sisters Brothers won decisively.  It was a great tournament.  I'll have to give The Sister Brothers another chance.

In other book competition news, the Pulitzer Prize for literature was announced this week.  The three finalists were (click the titles for my reviews):

Amazingly, the Pulitzer committee could not agree on a winner so no one won!  Author Ann Patchett had a lot to say about the committee's shortcoming in a NYT's piece (click here).  Having read two of the three nominees and being familiar with the legend of the last, I'm surprised and very disappointed.  The committee is comprised of three judges and a consensus of two of three wins.  Each judge must have been locked into one candidate and refused to budge.  Meanwhile a year goes by without an award, without recognizing great literature and without giving literature a much needed publicity boost.

Finally, when it comes to recently read books, there are two that I'd add to any reading list:
Open City by Teju Cole (simply gorgeous)
Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau (thought provoking and worthwhile)

In the non-fiction world, brace yourself for the forthcoming fourth volume of Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson series.  If you have not read Caro before you have missed the greatest master of biography.  The NYT Magazine did a terrific piece on him (click here).

Meanwhile, don't let the stacks of books overrun you and happy reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tournament of Books Update

The first round and part of the second round of the 2012 Tournament of Books are now complete.  Some serious upsets (and my bracket is a mess now).  Here is the recap (winners are in bold)

Round 1
Sense of an Ending v. The Devil All the Time
Lightning Rods v. Salvage the Bones
1Q84 v. The Last Brother
Tiger's Wife v. The Stranger's Child
Sisters Brothers v. State of Wonder
The Cat's Table v. Swamplandia!
Marriage Plot v. Green Girl
Art of Fielding v. Open City

Round 2
Sense of Ending v. Lightning Rods
1Q84 v. Tiger's Wife

Remaining match ups in Round 2
Sisters Brothers v. Swamplandia!
Marriage Plot v. Open City

Several of my favorites are eliminated (Sense of an Ending, Tiger's Wife(!!) and Art of Fielding).  Maybe they make a come back in the zombie round.  Stay tuned for further updates....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Escape Artists by Noam Scheiber

However you feel about the current administration, I think it is important and helpful to get a fair and balanced account of how it works. Call it due diligence for the 2012 election.  The selections below meet that test.

The Escape Artists by Noam Scheiber describes the inner workings of the Obama administration's approach to manage the economy. In this well-researched book, Scheiber describes the history of the main actors, including their flaws and strengths, how decisions were made and what the conversations were. This book fits in the Bob Woodward genre; however, unlike Woodward, Scheiber does not use quotations as extensively. While I love reading Woodward, his books seem to quote people so extensively that it is hard to believe that everything is a "real time" quote. Scheiber does a masterful job of explaining the meltdown and the actors involved.  Areas that Scheiber tackles is the post-2008 election stimulus package, the deficit fight and the budget standoff. A similar book, Confidence Men, came out in 2011.  Similar topics, similar analysis and a bit more Woodward-ian. If the topic appeals to you, you cannot go wrong with either one.

If you are interested in the auto industry rescue, I would recommend Steve Rattner's Overhaul. It was a marvelous account of the how the government intervened and approached that restructuring. If you are in the restructuring field, it is a must read.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Expats by Chris Pavone

The Expats is a new thriller by time author Chris Pavone.  It was a quick, fun and enjoyable book. I'd quite happily pick up his next novel.  Pavone was a cookbook editor before he wrote this novel.

The Moores relocate to Luxembourg because Dexter has a new job with a bank there.  Kate leaves her public policy job in Washington D.C. and becomes a full time mother.  Unbeknownst to her husband, she in fact gave up for job with the CIA as a field operative.  The Moores are befriended by other American expats in Luxembourg.  Kate's training kicks in and she immediately suspects that the new friends are not who they say they are.  She begins to follow her intuition and uncovers layers and layers of deception.

What makes this novel a little different from the typical spy thriller is that it does not focus on any large international issues.  Rather, it is a highly personal and close up look into the mind of a spy.  Pavone does an great job of giving Kate voice and slowly revealing the facts.  There are several well executed "gotcha" moments.  Overall, it was a well executed and fun read.  The writing is crisp and easily approachable.

The interview video below was taped at The Mysterious Bookshop (my favorite bookshop in NYC).  If you jump to 3:51 and 5:19 in the video, you'll see me wandering around the bookstore.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tournament of Books 2012

The Tournament of Books (March Madness for Book Lovers) has started.  The bracket is below.  Very exciting to follow. The first round is posted tomorrow.  I think this is the year of the new novelists.  Based on that, my picks are as follows:

Round 1:
Sense of Ending
Salvage the Bones
Tiger's Wife
Sisters Brothers
Marriage Plot
Art of Fielding

Round 2:
Sense of Ending
Tiger's Wife
Sisters Brothers
Art of Fielding

Round 3 (it may change depending on the Zombies):
Tiger's Wife
Art of Fielding

Tiger's Wife

Good luck, enjoy and stay tuned for updates.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand has been perched on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year with good reason.  It is the remarkable story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, a World War II veteran, a crash survivor, a survivor of the brutal Japanese prisoner camps and a fearless man.  Laura Hillenbrand's previous work, Seabiscuit, was a highly successful 2002 work.  This work was recently optioned for a movie.

Louis Zamperini grew up in California and was a rambunctious teenager.  With his brother's guidance, he became a runner, nearly breaking the four minute mile.  He competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics turning in an extraordinary performance in an event he had no real experience in.  His training for the 1940 Olympics was cut off by the war.  As part of an air force bomber crew, Zamperini flew regularly over the Pacific.  In May 1943, his plane went down.  Miraculously, Zamperini and two other crew members barely survived.  They spent 47 days drifting at sea in a tiny raft with essentially no provisions.  The three men survived daily shark attacks and a vicious attack by a Japanese bomber.  Picked up by the Japanese, Zamperini was interned in a POW camp.  He was brutally beaten and barely survived his two-year ordeal.  The US government had declared Zamperini as dead.  His return home at the end of the war was nothing short of a miracle.  Today, Zamperini is in his 90s.

With this work, Hillenbrand turned in a magnificent performance.  The book is meticulously researched.  It is loaded with corroborating facts.  Hillenbrand does a masterful job of telling this modern Odyssey story.  Some reviewers have noted their disbelief at parts of Zamperini's story.  While many parts of the story defy reality, what many soldiers and Holocaust survivors endured (and how they did it) defies comprehension.  Hillenbrand's reputation and work deserves deference. The book reads as well as any fiction work.  It is a page turner and will give you a deep respect for the unbroken spirit of Mr. Zamperini.  He truly is an American hero.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Books at The Academy Awards

You may recall that a few weeks ago I posted a beautiful video, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore. I'm thrilled to let you know that the film won the Oscar for best animated short. Congratulations to the producers of this wonderful movie. The movie  is free on iTunes and is on YouTube. Watch it here or below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus is a new novel, which I just could not finish.  Neither the story, the writing nor the execution were great.  I'll cut to the chase: pass.

A plague, carried by children and spread through language, kills.  Sam and Claire try to understand what is infecting them, how to be close to their angry daughter, Esther, and how to survive.  Sam leaves to find answers.  Sam and Claire are also "Jewish" and worship in little huts in the forest where they receive messages from a "rabbi".

The premise of the novel is creative but that is all that I liked about the book.  Marcus is supposed to be a great writer; I just was not impressed or drawn into the story.  The plot drags.  The sentence construction is okay.  As to the Jewishness of the family, aside from using Jewish words (e.g., Jew and Rabbi), not much about what Sam and Claire did seems Jewish to me.  While I am an open-minded reader, this book was too much for me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Last year, the parenting book that grabbed the headlines was Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  This year's lead contender is out: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.  Druckerman, a former journalist, relocated to Paris, had a child and struggled like most of us as a new parent.  The baby completely consumed her life.  Out at dinner with her husband and baby, Druckerman noticed that the French kids sat nicely though an entire meal while American kids often terrorized their parents and those around them.  She can't take phone calls when the baby is up because she can't finish a sentence.  But, at a French friend's house, she sipped coffee and conversed as an adult while the friend's young child played by himself.  By four months old, nearly all French kids sleep through the night.  Druckerman wondered aloud: is there something different that the French do or are they just wired differently?  Bringing Up Bebe was born.

It is all about the parental approach.  Many American parents (and certainly NYC parents like me) are obsessive, try to fill their kids' lives with activities to boost their chances of success and use discipline to get a child back into line.  When I first read the excerpt of the book in the Wall Street Journal (here), I found Druckerman's thoughts about parenting squared with mine: does parenting really need to be an obsessive, combative and all-consuming endeavor? Is there another way in which parents can be fully committed to our children, teach them independence and even enjoy ourselves a bit.

According to the French approach, kids (and yes, even babies) are capable, bright and able to understand.  The parent's job is to educate the child and expose them to life, not to track or discipline them.  For example, how do the French get their kids to sleep through the night so easily and uniformly?  Something called "The Pause".  During the day, the baby wakes, eats and sleeps.  At night, the baby will wake up between sleep cycles, which last about two hours each.  Between cycles, the baby stirs and maybe even cries, but she is not awake.  If a parent steps in at that time to hold or feed the baby, the baby learns that the way to bridge one sleep cycle to another is to cry and get food.  The French wait.  It is called "The Pause".  They understand that the baby needs to learn to bridge one cycle to the next.  So, before attending to a baby, they observe and wait.  They don't go in.  And behold, shortly the baby sleeps through the whole night or, as they call it, "doing her nights".  Crazy, no?  The science seems to line up with the practice.

Food is similar.  Babies nearly uniformly eat at 8 am, noon, 4 pm and 8 pm.  Sounds like a regular eating schedule for older kids and even adults (maybe minus the 4 pm snack).  Every whine during the day does not need to be met with food.  Learning to wait a bit creates frustration (in manageable doses), which we all need to learn to cope with in life.  Older kids learn that a snack is at snack time, 4 pm, not at will.

Playtime is similar.  The kids learn to play on their own at a young age (not with electronics).  They learn to occupy themselves.  Yet again, another life skill.

There are limits to Druckerman's advice.  If a child is wailing for 15 minutes at night, something may be wrong.  Check on the kid.  Inflexibility is not a virtue; patience is.  Since reading this book, I've tried out a few of Druckerman's ideas with my own kids.  The results were pretty amazing.  We'll see how it goes over the next few weeks.

Druckerman's writing is highly approachable and even a bit funny. This is not a "how-to" book. It is a series of informed observations about how Parisians approach parenting. Druckerman shares anecdotes and then supports them with some research. There are no magic tricks; just a shift in behavior and approach that the author shares with us.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More book videos!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios is a gorgeous video about a life with books.  It has been nominated for an Academy Award.  It is a silent movie that touches on what books add to a life.  It is free to watch above.  You can also buy it for your iPad.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Happens in the Bookstore at Night

As anyone who reads a book knows, all bookstores, even the likes of Barnes and Noble, are struggling to redefine themselves and survive in the age of Kindles, iPads and Nooks.  I love reading on paper and on an e-reader.  It depends on the book, the cost and my mood.  While I'm rarely without my Kindle (it is in my phone as well), online browsing for books will never replace the joy of going to The Strand, The Mysterious Bookshop or even Barnes and Noble and browsing through new and old books.

Recently, Jonathan Franzen believes e-books are damaging society. Link to the story here.  If you want a chance to defend "real" books, you can register today for World Book night.  Info here.

One independent shop made this fantastic video of what happens in a bookstore at night.  I'm certain it is real.  Enjoy.  (Thanks to NA for forwarding this to me.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, a highly acclaimed, Man Booker winning author, was on the 2010 Man Booker longlist and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  At 551 pages (UK edition), it is a weighty novel that took a lot of work to get through.  After several attempts to get through the book, I can say that I appreciated the writing, the character development, the language and the arch of the novel, but I don't plan to read it again.  It was worth reading but be ready to work.

In 1913, George Sawle brings  his aristocratic college classmate, Cecil Valance, to his modest home.  Sawle is smitten by Valance, as is Sawle's younger sister, Daphne.  On that short visit, Valance, a young poet, composes a short poem about the Sawle's home, "Two Acres."  Valance is killed in the war (World War I).  End section one of the book.  In the next section, Hollinghurst fast-forwards by about fifteen years, regathers certain of the characters and examines where they are in life.  This formula repeats several times.  The touchstone of each section is Valance, his poem and his relationships with those he touched in his truncated life.

Through the novel, Hollinghurst examines memory, what is buried and how it is reshaped.  He also examines the subtleties of class in Britain and what it is to be gay during various periods of the 20th century.  The novel is majestic.  As a reader, it takes a lot of work to engage with Hollinghurst.  For example, the characters reappear in different sections of the book but they are older, their names often change (though multiple marriages) and life's experiences have changed them.  Of course that is how life works but it requires the reader's strict attention to the details. Hollinghurst's writing is engaging.  He captures conversation, especially large groups, and tone beautifully.  While there is no explicit sex, sexual themes are pervasive.

This is not a light, easy read.  If you are up for a relatively rewarding challenge, give Hollinghurst a shot.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard tells the story of the assassination of President James Garfield by a deranged man.  This is a smart, highly readable and tightly focused work of history.  I knew nothing about James Garfield or his assassination.  Millard does a terrific job of shedding light on what happened.

James Garfield was a compromise candidate for the presidency in the election of 1880.  He did not want the job and only emerged as the candidate when the front-runners were deadlocked.  He grew up basically fatherless and dirt poor.  He learned Latin, mathematics and literature.  When he was in Congress, he developed an original proof to the Pythagorean theorem.  Garfield was truly a self-made man.

In the 1880s, there was no concept of security for the president.  Office seekers regularly stopped into the White House to meet with the president (can you imagine that nowadays?).  A deranged man, who believed that he helped put Garfield into office and then needed to eliminate him to save the Republic, shot him in Union Station.  Medical practitioners at the time had not yet accepted Lister's thesis that a lack of sterile procedures caused more deaths than the wounds themselves.  Doctors battled with each other for control over Garfield's care.  The doctors who actually took care of Garfield probed the wound with their unsterilized fingers, infecting the wound and causing the wound to become deadly.  Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the phone, struggled to invent a life saving device to find the bullet and assist the President and find a way to get through to the controlling doctors.

Millard narrates the story beautifully and brings the vivacious personalities to life: Garfield's tenacity and strength, Bell's persistence and drive, the doctors' self-serving need to control Garfield's care and the assassin's psychosis.  The book's focus is not on politics or the shooting itself.  It is about what happened after the President was shot and how the doctors and Bell struggled and battled to save the President.  The book reads like a novel and brings to life a somewhat forgotten president.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Walking on the Moon With Einstein

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer is a 2011 non-fiction book that will change how you think about your memory.  If you like Malcolm Gladwell or books that help you see the world a bit differently, I'd add this to your reading list.

Foer, a young reporter, went to report on the ultimate event -- the U.S. Memory Championships.  He met the competitors, learned about their talents and decided to participate in the following year's competition.  He learned the skills, trained and ended up winning the competition.  Through Foer's adventure, he teaches the reader that memory is like most other skills, one which we can be learned.  He explains some of the basic and intricate techniques he was taught.  It is amazing.  By creating absurd images of objects and placing them in a memory palace (a place you know very well, such as a childhood home), with proper training, you can store extensive material.  For example, look at this list:

-pickled garlic
-cottage cheese
-smoked salmon
-six bottles of white wine
-3 pairs of dirty socks
-3 hula hoops
-a snorkel
-a dry ice machine
-write an email to Sophia

Last Thursday, I memorized the list above based on the techniques in the book and I still remember it crisply.  It is amazing!  I've tried this out on four subjects so far and each one has had equal success.

The book reads as if it is a long New Yorker article: well written, highly entertaining and beautifully executed. It was a great book.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 Tournament of Books

March Madness is coming!!  The Tournament of Books announced its competitors for the 2012 Tournament of Books.  For those who don't recall, the Tournament (in its eighth year) is the book lover's answer to the NCAA tournament.  In March, the contenders below will be bracketed and compete for the Rooster Award.  Exciting stuff!!

Of this year's contenders, I've read six of the books and know a fair amount about five others.  Plenty to read in the coming weeks.

The selection committee announced that this year they wanted more diversity.  They've accomplished that.  There are some serious 2011 heavyweights in the group below.  The Man Booker prize winning Julian Barnes is included.  Two other Man Booker contenders, deWitt and Hollinghurst, are also included.  The Orange Prize winning newbie Obreht (and one of the favorites of the year) is in the crowd.  The National Book Prize, Ward, winner is listed.  Two of the writers were The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 (Obreht and Russell).  Harbach's entry was one of the most anticipated (and expensive) of the year.  And, of course, there are some literary big hitters, Ondaatje (English Patient), Murakami (beloved by many) and Eugenides (Virgin Suicides).

The Sweet Sixteen are:
Over the few weeks, there's a lot of good stuff to read.  Of course, I'll keep you posted with color commentary.

On a personal note, today marks the beginning of year two of this blog.  Writing this blog and interacting with fellow readers over this last year has been fun and gratifying for me.  The growth of this blog has astounded me.  The number of hits has grown exponentially from a couple of hundred in a month to thousands!  I'm humbled by the depth of the readership and the interest in what I have to say about books.  As always, I appreciate any feedback and look forward to sharing year two with you.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is remarkable.  This is a non-fiction book from 2010.  I highly recommend it.  (It came highly recommended to me from three readers of this blog.  Thank you, DH, MH and JM).

What makes this book standout is that Skloot ties together a story about race, medicine, medical ethics, science, healthcare and human beings in a narrative that simply flows.  In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer.  She was a decedent of slaves, an honest and hard working woman, and a mother of very young children.  Unbeknownst to her, Lacks's doctors extracted tissue from her for research.  Her tissue produced the first cells to survive and spawn new cell lines -- the HeLa line of cells.  The HeLa cells have continued to replicate and have been used extensively, for example, in developing the polio vaccine and throughout cancer research.  Neither Lacks nor her family were asked for their consent.  They were never compensated or even recognized for the contribution they made.  While her cells advanced medical research and enriched some companies, the Lacks family could not afford basic healthcare.  

Skloot does a magnificent job of uncovering and telling the story of Henrietta, her family, the doctors and researchers involved and the breakthroughs that they made.  She tells Henrietta's story, the story of the researchers and what they accomplished and, in accessible terms, the story of the advances made by science.  She manages to get close to the Lacks family (in a loving, non-exploitive way) and share their story.  She challenges the reader with ethics questions, some of which still remain open today.  The writing is thoroughly accessible.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Mysteries for 2011

Before the year closes out, I wanted to share some short thoughts on four recent mystery novels.

The Drop by Michael Connelly is part of the Harry Bosch series.  This is a must read for mystery fans.  Bosch is an LAPD detective, with three years left until retirement.  He takes up a twenty year old murder case in which a DNA match was just found to a convicted rapist.  The problem is that when the murder was committed the killer was only eight years old.  Meanwhile, Bosch is called on to investigate the suspicious death of the son of a powerful city councilman, who, not coincidentally, is a nemesis of Bosch.  In this fast-paced, page turner, Bosch hunts down two mysteries, is enmeshed in the dark depths of political conspiracy and even finds time for a romantic relationship.  I simply could not put this book down. The book was one of Connelly's better ones and was one of my favorites of the year.  Highly recommended.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff is Lawrence Block's most recent mystery involving his detective Matthew Scudder.  Scudder tells this tale from his younger years after he was forced out of the NYPD.  Like so many fictional detectives, Scudder faces his problems of alcoholism.    Scudder enrolls in Alcoholics Anonymous.  As he approaches is one year anniversary of staying on the wagon, Scudder reconnects with a childhood friend who followed a route into a life of crime.  Based on the AA 12-step program, the friend has tried to "make amends" for the harms he caused to others.  Along the way, he is murdered.  Without the resources of the police department, Scudder hunts down a killer.  This was a very well crafted mystery set in a grittier New York City than we live in today.  The use of AA as a backdrop worked very well.  This is a worthwhile read.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel is the fourth Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley.  As Christmas arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luce family estate, the cash strapped Colonial (Flavia's father) has rented out the mansion to a movie company to generate cash.  In the middle of a charity performance for the local church by the movie stars, a blizzard hits, and the characters are trapped in the mansion.  Suddenly, there is a murder.  Classic British cozy murder set up.  Flavia sets out to solve the murder.  While I have enjoyed this series immensely and love Flavia, this one came up short.  After the murder, the plot stalled out.  The characters were not particularly well developed.  I am afraid that Bradley is responding to the success of his series by pushing out product.  Also, while I love the setting, there have been a lot of murders in the house in a very short period of time.  Bradley needs to move his detective out of the mansion to other locations if this series is going to hold together.  Pass on this mystery but read any of the previous ones for a unique and wonderful character and mystery.  Sorry, Flavia.

The Leopard by Jo Nesbo is the second Nesbo mystery I read and reviewed this year (Snowman was the first; review here).  While intricate, well written and well plotted, I found this novel less compelling than Snowman, even more gruesome (seemingly for shock value only, and a bit too long.  Two women are brutally murdered by an apple like device which is jammed in their mouths and shoots out 24 knives.  Gruesome.  From there, Nesbo's broken detective, Harry Hole, is running across the globe to solve a murder.  The ending was overly dramatic (a long confession explaining everything).  Everyone is looking to be the next Stieg Larsson.  This novel even employs a mildly crazed hacker.  This isn't it.  I'd give Nesbo another chance but I would recommend passing on this one.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Books of 2011

After nearly a year of reading and posting comes to a close, I wanted to share my favorite books of the year from among those that I have read (whether I've posted about them or not).  Year end lists are a great way to select books to read and gifts to give.  Titles of the books below link to my review and images to the particular book on Amazon.

Before diving into the list, if you are looking for a gift for a reader (or yourself), get an e-reader.  I'm often asked what I use to read.  Sometimes I use my Kindle, which links to my phone and tablet.  Sometimes I read paper.  E-readers are ubiquitous and a very convenient way to read books.  They have finally matured and become very affordable (Kindle $79; Nook $99).  I strongly suggest one.  By getting one, you are not committing to an "e-reader lifestyle of reading."  But, consider that it is a easier to carry a Kindle full of books rather than a stack on vacation, on the train or anywhere else.  You can download samples to check out whether you want to read a book.  And as for the reading experience, it is just like reading on paper except the device slips into a pocket easily.

My recommendation is the simple Kindle.  For $79, you get a Wi-Fi only device (no touch screen). You really can't go wrong.  If you have questions about e-readers, email me.  I'm happy to discuss.

Now, on to the 2011 favorites list:
Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht


The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

The Drop by Michael Connelly (I never got to post a review but it is fantastic)


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner

Honorable Mention

The Game of Thrones Series by George R.R. Martin (a modern day J.R.R. Tolkien)

Happy reading!