Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, 12 years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
Having been told at a tender age that I didn't have the body for ballet (I mean, all true, but really??) I have a love/hate relationship with the art. So I was reluctant to read this book....but so glad I did. The main character, Carlisle, has a mother who danced for Balanchine, and a father who manages a ballet company, but who left her mother for another man. Carlisle is too tall to be a dancer so becomes a choreographer. I found this novel to be wonderfully immersive and moving. Mistakes, of course, are made, and family bonds strained, to say the least, but the discipline of ballet, the music, the movement, the emotion all undergird the book and make it somehow so real. (Made me want to strap on the old pointe shoes....oh never mind.) -Carin
This exquisite, pitch-perfect novel recounts a dangerous affair a young Catholic teacher has with an older, married, Protestant barrister in Northern Ireland. Beautifully written and intensely moving, this love story thrums with the complicated menace that permeated Northern Ireland during the inaptly named Troubles. Don't miss it. -Carin
Homesteading books remind me just how easy, relatively, most of our lives are. In Homestead, set in Alaska shortly before it became a state, a young couple, married in a fever, homestead about 150 acres, building up from nothin' but woods. It's pretty hard to nurture an early marriage when you are dealing with marauding bears, vicious wolverines, Alaskan weather, and no indoor plumbing, to say the least. Sure hope they make it..... -Carin
Thirty miles from Dresden the medieval Colditz Castle sits on a high promontory. The Nazis used the huge building to house hundreds of the most defiant prisoners of war from a number of countries. A major pastime for these men was planning and attempting escape after escape, some more successful than others. Ben Macintyre (Operation Mincemeat and The Spy and the Traitor) tells their stories with fascinating detail and human understanding of the toll long-term prison takes on a soul. (Especially intriguing are the aids sent from outside, which helped enable the escapes...i.e. a tiny compass secreted in a walnut.) -Carin
You think the U.S. is divided now? Hah. Read this account of what was going on in the U.S. during WWI and shortly thereafter. Violent racism, anti immigrant ire, horrifying attacks on pacifists and labor unionists, press crackdowns...etc. etc. All with the background of not only the flu epidemic, but WWI. Hochschild, author of, among others, Spain in Our Hearts, To End All Wars, and King Leopold's Ghost, gives a character-driven account of these years with heroes and a whole host of villains. Not sure whether I found the book to be terrifying, or to be thankful that somehow the country came out of those nightmare years intact. More or less.
God, I love a good manhunt story (see: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, Outlander (Adamson), Butch Cassidy etc.). In the thrilling Act of Oblivion, two Englishman involved with the killing of King Charles I in 1649, are on the run, pursued by the relentless Richard Nayler, clerk to the Privy Council. Where do they flee to? New England... and the Connecticut River Valley. Full of great period detail and a thoroughly enjoyable way to bone up on your colonial age history. -Carin
Lynn Steger Strong's new book Flight takes place in Upstate New York, during a Christmas holiday. Three siblings and their partners and kids all gather for the first Christmas after the death of a beloved and strong-willed mother. Strong knows her sibling dynamics for sure, replete as they usually are with complicated rivalries, jealousy, loyalties and love. If you have siblings, you will nod your head repeatedly in recognition. Other themes involve art, poverty vs. wealth, grief, and shame. Once you get the characters straightened out, the story flies. Loved it. -Carin
Brooks has proven adept at historical fiction with her previous novels March, People of the Book, Year of Wonders, et al. Horse, with the primary character being Lexington, a record breaking racehorse, is no exception. Set in both recent time, and when the horse lived -- the mid 1850's -- the novel seamlessly braids the experiences of a black art researcher, the primary trainer of Lexington, a slave, and the horse, in clear prose. While it takes a bit to get going, hold on. It takes off and becomes one of those books you can't wait to get back to.
Crop circle noir! It's a thing! Well, no, it isn't, but it could be. Set in rural England in the '80s, The Perfect Golden Circle follows two misfits, one with PTSD from the Falklands War, one recovering from too much time with drug-addled punk rockers, who tramp out complicated crop circles in farmers' fields in the middle of the night. The "mystery is everything," and soon practically all England is speculating that aliens have landed. This is not a big family saga, or sweeping historical fiction...instead it's a wonderful "small" book about friendship, art, healing and obsession. "Fuel the myth and strive for beauty." Indeed. (And check out the cover.....) -Carin
In Lucy by the Sea, the latest of the Lucy Barton books by Elizabeth Strout, the pandemic is the main event. Lucy and her ex-husband, whom you might remember from Oh William!, flee NYC for Maine during the first panicked days. Nothing much dramatic happens...hard to say a plot exists. The novel consists primarily of interior dialogue as Lucy recalls her difficult past, and copes with the problems of her ex-husband and daughters. Strout's books seem so simple, but they are so not. The universality of her experiences and feelings living through this pandemic burrows into your bones. -Carin
What a saga! December, 1941. Owens Valley, California. For decades the moneyed Rhodes family has been trying to get the LA Water Department to stop stealing their H2O. Now more complications: Pearl Harbor and the ensuing construction of the Manzanar internment camp next to their ranch. Properties…is a fabulous tale replete with intricate character development, several love stories (one with food), and a compelling portrait of a turbulent and dark period in American history. (Yes, it clocks in at 500+ pages but it’s well worth the time.) - Carin
This is a riveting account of colonial exploration, competition between two explorers, and the race to locate the headwaters of the world's longest river, the Nile. It's a complex character study of Richard Burton and John Speke, incredibly brave and adventurous explorers who also detested each other, for good reason. And it's a fascinating historical depiction of the exploration boom of the mid 1800's. I love reading about explorers, no doubt because the ability to withstand physical discomfort (fevers, starvation, beetles in ears, stinging ants, spear wounds, blindness etc etc.) is not in my character. I read this book in a fever myself. Hard to put down.
This wonderful novel is about 51-year-old twins who live with their mother, hand-to-mouth in rural England. Their mother dies and they have to figure out how to survive. It is, to say the least, not easy. Why are they 51 and still living at home? Good question. Closely observed, wonderfully written, and intricately plotted, this book is especially for those of us who like their characters a little off plumb.
Lest we forget, 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were declared "enemy aliens" and held in concentration camps in the U.S. during WW2. Despite the considerable hardships (to put it mildly) faced by them and their families, more than 30,000 Nisei volunteered and were sent overseas to fight for their country. They fought with unstinting bravery, courage and stamina. Daniel Brown (Boys in the Boat) tells their stories well. This book is unforgettable, and should be.
I've been a sucker for a good logging saga since Sometimes a Great Notion, and with Damnation Spring, I feel I've hit the jackpot! This impressive first novel is set in Northern California, home of the majestic redwoods. It's a stirring saga, an environmental mystery, a knowledgable depiction of a working class community, and the story of a marriage, all in 400+ pages! So well written. And, as one reviewer put it, the descriptions of actual logging work are so precise "you can smell the sawdust."
So far my favorite of this year (ok, ok, it's early yet). It's many things (including unputdownable) -- an adventure story set in Banff and the Rockies, a coming of age tale, a love story, and a father/son saga. Beautifully written, imbued with the natural world, full of fascinating, well-drawn characters with great back stories, and totally addictive. And set in 1917, so you can escape the present! What more could you want? -Carin
The Irish culture is imbued with melancholy. All fine and good, unless it takes that precipitous plunge into sentimentality (sorry all you Danny Boy fans). There's little rampant maudlinity in Did Ye Hear Mammy Died, even though it's about, you might have guessed, the death of the author's mother when he was six, and his subsequent life and remarkable father and 10 siblings. In fact it is LOL hilarious. O'Reilly grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, which are a sinister backdrop in the memoir, and writes for the Observer and the Irish Times. A bestseller in Ireland. Understandably. -Carin
Ok, so if you get thoroughly addicted to this older (1st one, The Cold Cold Ground, published in 2012) six volume series about a Catholic cop in Belfast during the height of the Troubles, don't blame me. (Ok you may, but I don't really care. In fact, it would make me happy.) They are SO good. Rarely are literary thrillers so evocative of their time and setting, so funny, intricate, well-written, so, well, like I said... addictive. Just try one. -Carin
As a lifelong East Coaster, California's always been a bit of a mystery to me. How can a state full of earthquakes, drought, wildfires and rightwing crazies inspire such devotion, such loyalty? Well Mecca -- an ironic title if ever there was one -- brought me a little closer to understanding this huge state -- at least the southern part. Straight brilliantly interweaves the stories of her characters, starting with Johnny Frias, a motorcycle patrolman, whose action early in the novel connects him to subsequent vibrantly imagined characters. The result is a powerful portrait of the state and its inhabitants, especially those on the margins. -Carin
Call me an easy laugh (you wouldn't be the first) but David Sedaris has me happily cackling with every book! Happy-Go-Lucky is comprised of essays written during the pandemic. Some deal with his difficult (ok, bad) relationship with his father, and one of his sisters, others with more mundane situation. As always, he is able to see the humor and humanity in the most appalling of situations. -Carin
What a beautiful, brave, heartbreaking and important book! Amy Bloom writes about her beloved husband's gradual descent into Alzheimer's, and his decision to end his life before he becomes inevitably less and less himself. Turns out it's not easy to do that in the U.S. Brian Ameche wanted his wife to write about their experience, and the result is a true testament to their love. Beautifully, frankly written, and at times quite funny, this book is remarkable. -Carin
Sometimes a short, pithy book that makes my brain work is just what I need. Julie Otsuka's The Swimmers is one such book and clocks in at 192 pages.
Otsuka (The Buddha in the Attic; When the Emperor Was Divine) writes a book every ten years or so and they are well worth the wait. The first half of this one is about a group of dedicated—one might say fanatic—swimmers in an urban pool who discover a crack at the bottom of the pool. The second half follows one of these swimmers as she deals with worsening dementia and is moved into a memory facility.
Otsuka's observations about the swimmers are thoughtful, funny and acute—she's as good as any trained anthropologist, and the section in the facility is sometimes unbearably moving. I can't say I know exactly what the book is about but that's half the appeal. Weeks after I read The Swimmers thoughts and questions about the book popped up in my head at random moments like seal heads in the ocean.
And if you like short novels, here are three more that are excellent, and to me, unforgettable: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (116 pp); Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (114 pp); and A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (160 pp.) -Carin
A retelling of The Brothers Karamazov set in a Chinese Restaurant in Haven, Wisconsin. Right. Shouldn't work but it does. A well-written literary mystery full of secrets and hidden agendas, family rivalries, and, of course, a ring....not to mention a dog. It's also an astute rendering of what it's like to grow up first generation Chinese in America. -Carin
Gossip about dead old poets. What could be better? (Oh, and if you truly want to feel better about yourself for indulging in gossip, there's literary criticism, too.) - Carin
I'm all for the big-think novel, but sometimes I just want to settle into a good story....one filled with quirky memorable characters, good backstories, multiple plot twists, main characters with a goal, complicated relationships, and a good pace. And as with most quests, the journey ends up more important than the goal. Amor Towles is a consummate storyteller (A Gentleman In Moscow, Rules of Civility) and here his many talents are on full display. Yes, he publishes a novel every five years or so, but they are worth the wait. Dive in... -Carin
What a delightful and informative book! Orlean (The Orchid Thief, The Library) turns her excellent reportorial eye to animals: mules, pigeons, chickens, lions, tigers, taxidermists (Yes, I know they are not animals) etc. You will learn things you do and do not want to know! But it's all interesting. Maybe I will get that Bengal Tiger I've long been wanting (procurement is easier than you think). Then again, maybe I won't.
This true story -- about a Polish Jewish family escaping from the Nazis and living in hiding for two years in a deep wood in Eastern Poland -- is difficult to read at times, but, ultimately it is an inspiring testament to one family's indomitable will to survive in the worst of times. It is gripping and incredible.
Toibin has ingeniously reimagined the life of Thomas Mann, the great German author of The Magic Mountain, Buddenbrooks, and Death in Venice, et al. In elegant prose, he details Mann's convoluted family life, complicated sexuality, and genesis of his literary works, all against the backdrop of Germany's most tumultuous decades. At times, the book reads like a thriller, as the many members of the Mann clan, (along with many other artists) try to escape the Nazis. Highly recommend (and while it's long, it's shorter than The Magic Mountain, so there's that...)
Virginia Feito writes like a combination of Patricia Highsmith and Edgar Allan Poe, with an undercurrent of spiky humor. Due to a loveless childhood, Mrs. March has been swimming in the shallow end of the insanity pool for quite a while. Yet when she suspects that her novelist husband has based his latest unfortunate and unappealing character on her, she heads toward the deep end. and fast. Mrs. March is a complex, detailed, and strangely mesmerizing, portrayal of a woman's horrific unraveling. Let's just say, it doesn't end well.
Certain authors create characters so unique and indelible their portraits cling to the readers' mind like barnacles. In Fight Night, Canadian author Miriam Toews (All My Puny Sorrows -- also a wonderful book) has given us an indomitable grandmother -- wise, hilarious, intensely loving, and so strong -- the matriarch of a quirky family (a shaky pregnant actress daughter, her willful 9-year-old daughter, an absent father) all in their own way fighting to live a good life.
Turns out Colson Whitehead (Underground Railroad, Nickel Boys; Pulitzer, MacArthur, etc) can apply his genius to just about any genre and produce something remarkable. With Harlem Shuffle, he delivers an old-fashioned heist story with a keen and particular (often redolent) sense of place (Harlem 1959 - 1964) about a reluctant criminal/furniture store owner “who was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked.” And it has enough thoughtful characterizations, pathos and moral ambivalence to please any discerning reader.
This second book in Cleeves' series starring her new detective (Matthew Venn) proves that he is a worthy companion to the esteemed Vera Stanhope. A complex plot (I sure didn't guess the villain), complicated characters -- including the detective -- and a strong sense of place, North Devon, and Cleeves usual good writing made the pages fly.
I always look forward to the release of a new Daniel Silva, and there are several dozen now, because they are endlessly entertaining. They are sophisticated spy vs. spy (or in this case, spy vs. Russian oligarch) thrillers with a set of usual characters, i.e. Gabriel Allon, his wife, his boss, his assassin buddy, but always with new characters and venues thrown in. However unlikely the premise (a world-class cellist is also a brilliant numbers cruncher AND becomes a competent spy) you are transported into Silva's espionage world and just have to hang on for the ride. I could have done with a playlist for this one, though.
Lest we forget, 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were declared "enemy aliens" and held in concentration camps in the U.S. during WW2. Despite the considerable hardships (to put it mildly) faced by them and their families, more than 30,000 Nisei volunteered and were sent overseas to fight for their country. They fought with unstinting bravery, courage and stamina. Daniel Brown (Boys in the Boat) tells their stories well. This book is unforgettable, and should be.
I wish this book of essays by Rachel Kushner (The Flamethrowers and Mars Room) were 500 pages long and contained twice the number of essays....they are that good. Quite varied, the essays include profiles of Denis Johnson and Clarice Lispector, a travelogue of sorts of Kushner's coming of age in San Francisco, and a remarkable piece about her riding her motorbike in the Cabo 1000. These essays are sharply observed, thought-provoking, endlessly interesting, and funny, everything you want an essay to be. (And if you haven't read The Mars Room, or The Flamethrowers, you'll want to after reading the book.)
A difficult book to describe. What it's about: fish, a man who studies fish, taxonomy, the sorry history of eugenics in America, a murder, a woman's (the writer) existential crisis, the chaos, more fish. See? Beautifully written, this little magical book made me think, always a good thing. And it's short.
Somehow I missed this when it came out a year ago...it's now in paperback and is terrific. Set on an island off Norway in the late 1600's -- a storm at sea kills most of the men, and the grieving women have to learn how to survive by doing all their men did. But their independence (and power) attract witch-hunters...(mostly men) and the battle is joined. Not an easy book, but wonderfully written and absorbing. One of the NYT 100 best of last year...
This exploration of a complicated father/son relationship, and also a look at what it is like to be a Muslim in the U.S. after 9/11 is riveting and actually thrilling. A combination of passionate and personal writing, anger, and revelation makes it so. It's a novel, but clearly much of the content is taken from Akhtar's life. Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (2013).
Having been always curious about acting, how the best actors seem to be not acting at all...I was interested in actor Ethan Hawke's novel, but, frankly, a little dubious. I mean, he's an actor...I know he's written other books but... A Bright Ray...is the tale of an actor, who's often a misogynistic cad, in the midst of a messy celebrity divorce (Hawke knows whereof he speaks), spiralling out of control AND opening on Broadway in the role of Hotspur, of all people, in Henry IV. It's funny, heartfelt, and the main character, while annoying and self-centered, comes across as truly human, as he struggles to transcend his narcissism. It's a knowing look into behind the scenes theatre, and the concept and processes of acting.
This book is brutal, for sure. But also totally compelling, remarkably well-written and evocative for a first novel. Set in Barbados, it's the story of Lala, a woman who seems cursed from the get go. Mother killed, lives in poverty, abusive husband and more. The novel has many other well-drawn characters involved with Lala's life and their stories underscore the effects of misogyny, rampant income inequality, and corruption on the different societies of a sparkling Caribbean island. Not for the faint of heart, but the narrative thread was so well-woven it was hard to stop reading.
This Victorian era addictive thriller could give Dickens a run for his money. London, 1893: A seamstress jumps from the top of a building.....young girls are disappearing at an alarming clip. What's going on? A detective, his fraudulent sidekick, and a young journalist are on the case. Well-written, funny, and wonderfully atmospheric...you feel as if you are walking around London's streets. (And, well, that may be about as close as we can get for a while.) A Best Book of the year in The Guardian, and The Observer.
In The Push, Audrain explores a mother's nightmare: What if I can't bond with my child? What if there's something wrong with my child? What if I'm just a bad mother? The mother in question, Blythe, had a dysfunctional family, so maybe she doesn't know HOW to be a mother, but still. Audrain taps into every new mother's anxieties and keeps you guessing until the very end (don't cheat) as to whether Blythe is fooling herself, or there really is a problem with daughter Violet. Written like a thriller, my guess is this will be optioned for the movies any day now.
Good old-fashioned storytelling is rare these days, so I say when it crops up, grab it! The Cold Millions is the vibrant tale of two brothers who become embroiled in the labor battles of the early 1900s in Spokane. There are villains and do-gooders, temptresses and double-crossers, plot twists, tragedy, and small triumphs. And the novel, with some characters based on real people, is a timely reminder of the courage of the men and women in the early fight for workers' rights.
Giant Fish Owls (wingspans can reach more than 6 feet) who look like feather-studded bears and hoot in duets. Hunh? I'll never see one, as they live in far Eastern Russia, but I thoroughly relished my time reading about them and their indefatigable and stoic researcher. Slaght spent five years traipsing over the snowy and slushy habitat of the elusive owls and this is his tale -- a combination of adventure, rigorous science and dedicated conservation. On the National Book Award long-list and deservedly so.
For those of you who take solace in words, art and nature, (or just one of the three) this book is for you. By the author/illustrator of the beautiful The Lost Words, this is a "book of spells to be spoken aloud," about nature, accompanied by exquisite watercolors. As I leafed through it the first time, I could feel my blood pressure lessening. This is a remarkable book, a salve and an inspiration.
Yes, I know, it's more than 900 pages. Yes, it probably weighs more than my head. But what fun to spend some (ok, a lot) of time in the company of PI Cormoran Strike and his sidekick Robin, who's tangled relationship is part of the charm. This time, (this is the 5th book in the series..If you haven't read any, you might want to start with the first, Cuckoo's Calling) there's a cold case of a doctor who disappeared years ago to solve. Add in a school's worth of red herrings, and Galbraith's almost uncanny knack for compelling storytelling and you have a keeper. Long as it is...
Family dysfunction is not laughable, but humor can be of the defense mechanisms used to cope with monstrous behavior. Laveau-Harvie's gripping memoir about dealing with her mother, who is self-absorbed, manipulative, horrible and even murderous, is quite funny. Horrifying, but funny. When Laveau-Harvie's mother was in the hospital, one of her daughters wrote MMA on her hospital chart in big letters. They stood for "Mad as a meat-ax." I'll say...
This is a humdinger of a rural noir thriller by the author of Lie Still. Set in West Texas, on stark and rocky land my father used to call "miles and miles of bloody God help us," it features a one-legged cop who's come home to try to solve an old case, her former boyfriend who still converses with his disappeared sister (the old case), a one-eyed runaway who says just one word (no, I'm not going to tell you) and a couple of really bad daddies. What more could you want for the dog days of summer, or really for any time? Well-written and funny (in that deadpan Texas kind of way), full of anguish and secrets and malice.
In this riveting and wrenching memoir -- so slim but so powerful -- former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer prize winner Trethewey tells of her life growing up biracial in the South and of the murder of her mother by Trethewey's manipulative and damaged stepfather. Written in precise, almost crystalline prose, Trethewey's tale packs a whallop. One of the most moving memoirs I've read in a long time.
It's the near future and entire species are dropping like flies. Frannie Shore has tagged several arctic terns -- the bird with the longest migration of all -- and is following them South. She's never been able to stay in any one place for long. But why? What is she escaping, or running towards? In alternating chapters about her past and her present journey on a fishing vessel, you learn why. This book is about motivation and love and secrets and this whole incredible natural world we take way too much for granted. Andd it is the debut of an enormously talented writer. Loved it.
I didn't think I was going to be taken in by a book featuring two late middle age Irishmen gassing non-stop about their lives, loves and regrets over countless pints, but it's Roddy Doyle (The Commitments, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. etc.). I should have known better. Funny, irreverent, endlessly profane, and ultimately moving, Love is full of the brittle poignancy that is, well, Love, and life and friendship.
"What does a woman want?"...It's a famous, and frankly unanswerable, (yup, you got it, Sigmund) question. Elizabeth, who lives in Brooklyn, is married with two children, newly bankrupt, has two jobs, can't make ends meet in NYC, and is burnt out. This is her story, seen also through the prism of a on/off longtime intense female friendship. It's witty, heartfelt, angry, conflicted, and thought-provoking. I read it in two sittings. (Only because I had to make dinner.) And I may read it again. So there.
It's a testament to Lawrence Wright's prognostication and writing abilities that I was not only able to read a thriller about a pandemic but also kind of enjoy it...in the middle of a pandemic. Wright is most known for his nonfiction books about Isis and Scientology and Texas, to name a few, but this one is fiction. Sort of. Given that it was written before the pandemic appeared, it is gripping and almost, but not quite, unfortunately, unbelievable...
Scott Turow is a longtime master of the courtroom legal thriller. The Last Trial is his 14th book and in it, beloved trial lawyer Sandy Stern is back, at 85, to defend a longtime friend, a doctor, who may be a murderer and a fraud. Full of suspense -- there are a few plots-inside-plots -- courtroom derring do, and legal explication, after I finished it I figured maybe I could pass the bar myself, or at least part of it.
Lynne Olson (Citizens of London; Last Hope Island) is a master of historical narration. Madam Fourcade's Secret War is a tension-filled account of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a French woman of privilege who ran one of the largest spy networks for the Resistance. Almost always in danger, she and her agents a half-step ahead of Gestapo goons, it's more than remarkable that she was able to successfully deliver to the British the impressive intelligence her network gathered. While she survived the war, many of her agents died, in custody or in the camps. What astounding bravery…
"The country was in chaos, there were no rules, law was a matter of speculation, nobody knew how to buy land or put savings in a bank since there were so few banks, how to get a loan, register a title to land, or legalize a marriage, everybody was dubious about the new federal paper money, there was little mail service, and nobody seemed to know where the roads led."
All Simon the Fiddler wants to do is get to the Red River, buy some land, track down the Irish governess he fell in love with, and live his life. No cakewalk in a state and country turned upside down by the Civil War. Simon the Fiddler is about devotion and drive, steadfastness and spunk, and the power of music as a salve in a nation gone awry. Paulette Jiles (News of the World) writes her tale lyrically, unsentimentally, with humor and tension both. Just read it
Not the next in Connelly's acclaimed and addictive Harry Bosch detective series, but rather the third in his series featuring journalist Jack McEvoy. (Who acts a whole lot like a detective, but never mind.) Working for Fair Warning (a consumer advocacy publication), McEvoy investigates the loosely regulated DNA search industry and tracks a serial killer who uses DNA data to choose his victims. And McEvoy is trying to salvage his relationship with an former FBI profiler. Science, journalism, murder, love. Something for everyone! Involving, exciting, and far too plausible.
Sometimes you just need a good story. If it's well-written and moves swiftly of its own accord, well then you are lucky indeed. NWSBEF is all that and so so good. It's the kind of book you just can't wait to get back to after you've put it down, the kind you slow down at the end to delay the finish. A British Napoleonic war soldier had some, shall we say, issues, in a village in Spain at the end of the campaign. He's hightailed it back to his estate and is soon on the run in the wild islands of Scotland, trailed by two men eager to track him down. NWSBEF is an adventure story, a love story, a war story, a helluva story. With a little philosophy tucked in. It's kind of perfect. Especially now.
Granted, right about now may not be the time you want to delve into a thriller in which one of, or actually THE main characters, are plague-carrying rats. But if you can stand living with the premise, you are in for a pretty good rat-centric ride, with an ER doctor heroine, a unselfish older P.I. and a number of well-drawn scheming and nefarious characters. The doctor's boyfriend (a hospital executive) dies in an "accident" while the pair are on a bike tour in Vietnam. After his death, she discovers he's lied to her about a bunch of things and she is relentless in her quest to find out why and what he was really up to in Vietnam. Which involves clever investigation, danger, and rats -- lots of 'em.
This is one of the most amazing debut novels I have read in a long time. It's told from the points of view of five women who live in Odessa, Texas during a 70's oil boom. A 14 year old Hispanic girl is raped by an oil hand on Valentine's Day. In alternating chapters Valentine delineates the impact of the rape on the five women, among them the child who is raped, another the woman who rescues her. Beautifully written with a clear and vernacular sense of place, this book is haunting, clear, and fierce.
Deacon King Kong is many things -- a mystery, a crime novel, a detailed portrait of a (mostly) African American urban community in New York, a love story (or two), and a farce. It is filled with "the humor of survival." (And God knows, we need that now.) McBride clearly had a ball creating the Deacon, who is a sot, a handyman, a widower who still talks to his wife, a baseball umpire and, despite his failings, a moral force in the community. It's almost impossible to paraphrase the plot(s), so I won't. Just know that McBride's formidable strengths as a storyteller and character builder (not to mention master of dialogue) shine in this blast of a book.
Sometimes it's a relief for a reader to plunge into a subject one knows absolutely nothing at all about. In this case falcon thievery and smuggling. Hammer's tale of the inveterate and totally remorseless Jeffrey Lendrum is full of reckless adventure,deceit, and obsession. Lendrum spent decades all over the world stealing falcon eggs to sell to rich Arabs. At his heels, a British wildlife detective determined to bring him in and end his larceny. You learn alot about falcons, which, who knows, might come in handy some day.
There's something about reading a good baseball book in February that puts a spring in your step. Emily Nemens (editor of the Paris Review!) knows her baseball. The Cactus League follows a cast of characters: players, coaches, wives, agents, hangers-on, etc. all in Arizona for Spring Training. First and center -- yes he's an outfielder -- is star Jason Goodyear, whose year has started off anything but good. They're an odd bunch but Nemens puts it all together to create a baseball novel that is charming without being cloying, full of baseballania (I made that up) and makes you wish opening day would just hurry up and get here. (Made me almost forget about losing Mookie Betts...Never.)
It's some sign of the political times that I find a book about Churchill and the horrendous London Blitz, oddly comforting. Larson (Dead Wake, In the Garden of the Beasts) has written a behind-the-scenes narrative about Churchill and his family and what it was like to live under Hitler's rain of steel. Engrossing and a bit gossipy, it's like reading a movie. And you come away with immense respect for the grace and courage of both Churchill and the English people he inspired. (Too bad cloning is so problematic...)
Moore's immersive Long Bright River does two things, both of them well. The book is a thriller -- who's killing young down-and-out women in the scummy parts of Philadelphia? -- and also a sociological study of how drug addiction rips the fabric of families into often unmendable strips. Two sisters, one a cop, and one an addict, are the well-drawn and often main characters, both heartbreakingly lonely in their own ways. They are estranged, but linked, as only sisters with a common upbringing can be. Highly recommend.
You think it gets cold here sometimes...Hah. Try living in February close to the North Pole when the temperature is an average of 50 below! Not to mention the wind, the ice floes and bergs, the bears, the wolves... Labyrinth, a totally gripping and detailed tale of polar adventure, tells the story of the Greely Expedition (1881-84) a scientific data collection mission that went, well, awry. The undaunted courage and sheer doggedness of these explorers in extremis pretty much from the get go is extraordinary.
Kevin Wilson's natural, funny writing can make the weirdest, implausible things seem possible. He did it in The Family Fang about a family of performance artists. In Nothing to See Here, aimless, and depressed Lillian is asked by her old college roommate to take care of her two stepchildren. The hitch: when the children get angry or discombobulated in any way they, well, combust. (nb. They are not hurt by the flames they emit.) Lillian becomes fiercely attached to these odd fiery little children and learns, by dealing with their eccentricities and becoming their advocate, the value of caring for others.
I loved The Dirty Life, Kimball's first book about starting a farm on 500 acres in Essex, NY. In Good Husbandry --great title -- she continues the story. Problems erupt: runaway horses, an injured husband, the intense vagaries of modern weather. Children, as they are wont to do, complicate the work balance and her relationship with her husband. But Kimball's love of the farm and what she and her husband are trying to do triumph. And boy do they work hard. A well-written and often moving tale of what it's like to be a young farmer these days.
Country is a brutal and ingenious retelling of the Iliad set in Northern Ireland in the '90s. Hughes' language is mesmerizing and almost volcanic, bursting the seams of the novel. Not for the weak of stomach -- there's a good deal of violence, but then the Iliad isn't exactly pacific. And it's fun to match characters in Country with those in the original, although Achill, the Irish sniper from the North, was kind of a gimme.
Patti Smith is a rocker and an intellectual, terms which, in her case, are not mutually exclusive. Year of the Monkey is her journal of a year in which she turned 70 and also lost several dear friends. It is a fascinating look at the interior life of a true artist. (btw, Smith's performance of A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall at Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize ceremony is not to be missed.)
Ann Patchett has the remarkable ability to be sympathetic to her characters, despite some morally and ethically questionable motivations and/or actions. She makes the reader care about what happens to these people. Couple that with her equally remarkably steady and believable story-telling talent -- the kind of skill that makes the reader continually wonder what's going to happen next -- and you have one of her best novels to date. A book about the long term impact of a building, the Dutch House of the title -- how it's seen and experienced, loved or hated, by different members of a family. Oh, and the abiding consequences of parental abandonment.
I've always wanted to know how to build a lava moat, and what do you know, along comes a book with intricate instructions how to. Randall Munroe, known for What If? and Thing Explainer, has written "the world's most entertaining and useless self-help guide," with illustrated instructions for tasks as various as predicting the weather, making an emergency landing, playing the piano, catching a drone AND (just in time) winning an election. And that lava moat, of course.
Set it 1960's Baltimore, this ingenious noir follows the career of Maddy Schwartz, an attractive divorcee who becomes a newspaper reporter trying to get to the bottom of the murder of a young black woman found in a well. Told from Maddy's point of view with an attending chorus of spot-on Baltimore voices -- a bartender, the victim herself, a police reporter, etc,-- this is Lippman at her best. Not only a captivating murder mystery, but a detailed portrait of a Southern city in the '60s on the edge of change.
ps: I listened to this on Libro.fm, and it is a terrific read (or listen)
Thank Kate Atkinson and the writing gods....detective (retired, now investigator) Jackson Brodie is back! This time he's trying to catch philandering husbands and boyfriends and stumbles on an intricate and repulsive child trafficking ring. But the plot's almost incidental, imo. Atkinson's writing, her character sketches, typical incisive humor, and incredible way with words are the stars here. I wished it were 600 pages long. Do. Not. Miss.
Keane's novel about the intertwining -- by trauma and love and forgiveness -- of two families, the patriarchs of which start as two rookie NYPD officers, is engrossing, moving, and well-written. The story covers four decades. The characters are real and engaging, even the troubled ones. (Perhaps especially the troubled ones.) Reviewer Ann Patchett said this book was about "decency." I didn't know what she meant at first, but having read it I agree.
In this fascinating sort of true crime/biography, Cep intertwines the stories of a malevolent and murderous minister, the lawyer who defended him (and his killer...it's complicated...) and Harper Lee, renowned author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Beautifully written, Furious Hours also illustrates what it was like to live in Alabama both before civil rights and after. This book is a feat...I was entranced.
This is the last Bernie Gunther novel, as Kerr died last year. This one is set in Weimar Berlin, where German Police detective Bernie Gunther, now on the murder squad, is tasked with finding out who's killing prostitutes and disabled WWI vets. The book is highly atmospheric, as prewar Berlin was, seamy, seductive and menacing, with the Nazis on the rise. If you like this one, there are 13 other Bernie Gunther novels and they are well worth checking out.
Van Hemert was a burned out ornithologist who, having "strayed from wonder" embarked on a 4000 mile trek with her husband, from Bellingham, Washington to Kotzebue on Chukchi Sea. The Sun is a Compass is the riveting, exciting and often moving account of that journey, replete with fascinating observations of the natural world. Think Cheryl Strayed but -- better written, no addiction substory, better science and, well, a whole lot less whining.
Thirteen-year-old Eli Bell has a lot on his plate: his beloved brother is mute, his babysitter is a convicted murderer and celebrated jail breaker, and his mother and her boyfriend are heroin dealers who have run afoul of the local crime boss. This wonderful book (apparently based on the author's real life in Australia) is about a teen who's trying to develop a moral code, it's about love and loyalty and defining what makes a man good, or bad. Funny and lyrical, the 400+ pages fly by. I truly miss Eli Bell, now that I'm done.
"Shakespearean," "Game of Thrones of the Mexican Drug Cartels," -- both apt descriptions of Winslow's masterful third and last book in the Border trilogy. (Power of the Dog and Cartel being 1 and 2). This is narco noir at its best, if that word can be applied to something as violent and evil as the Mexican drug trade. In The Border, Arturo Keller is now head of the DEA, tasked with stopping the flow of heroin into the U.S. while rival drug cartels feud. Reviewer Janet Maslin (NYT) wrote that you don't read these books "you live in them." She is right. (And while timely and, unfortunately, all too realistic, the book contains a lot of violence.)
If you like reading books about grammar -- and who doesn't? -- this is the book for you. Written by a longtime editor at Random House, it’s full of clear and amusing hints and admonitions about, among other things, the Oxford comma, split infinitives, verbal clarity, and word choice. Useful AND entertaining. And it just might help you write better.
I needed this book and you do too! Ross Gay's short essays about what delights him about this sweet old life of ours are funny, poetic and philosophical, sometimes all at the same time. This book will make you look at your own life and notice what delights you. A timely gift, if you ask me...
This is Australian writer Harper's third thriller, and her best. Set in inhospitable Queensland, it's about three brothers. One is found dead, presumably of exposure, not far from his well-supplied car. What happened? The answer lies, of course, in events of the past. Well-written, atmospheric and driving, this book is full of thorny family dynamics, and imbued with ethos and danger of the Australian outback.
Winner of the 2018 Booker Prize, Milkman is a novel steeped in menace. Set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, Burns depicts a society riven by factions, where everyone is suspected of one thing or another -- of having an affair, of consorting with the wrong side, of being an informer, of burying guns in the backyard, of having misplaced "sympathies" etc, etc. The narrator is being stalked by the Milkman and she doesn't know why. And while the book's stream of consciousness (and often quite funny) writing takes some patience, it is well worth persevering. (Burns is the writer from Northern Ireland to win the prestigious Booker.)
This newest saga featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his romantically confused sidekick, Robin is just as addictive as the earlier three in the series, just longer. The underlying case is filled with common tropes of classic British mysteries: art, jewel thievery, horses, adultery and family dysfunction, and woven in and around the detection is the complicated relationship between Cormoran and Robin. It's a cliche, I know, but I really didn't want it to end and even at 400 plus pages, it sped by. Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) can write!
Deep in the Carpathian Mountains during WW l, a barely trained doctor from a moneyed family finds himself the only medical personnel in a field hospital. Dealing with both physical (i.e amputations, head wounds) and mental (PTSD) afflictions suffered by soldiers returning from the front, his only aide is an indomitable nun. Complications, just what he needs, ensue This stirring historical novel is enhanced by the medical knowledge of the author, who is also a doctor. You might remember Mason's earlier novel, also good, The Piano Tuner.
If you read the Washington Post and/or the New York Times you may not find many surprises in this meticulously reported account of Trump in the White House. But in the aggregate, this portrayal of a dysfunctional, chaotic White House and a president whose attention span is non-existent, whose knowledge of policy, economics and foreign policy (i.e “Why DO we have NATO?”) is sparse, to say the least, and whose judgment and morals, well, let's not go there -- is devastating and scary. Fear indeed.
Once you get past a bit of a distracting conceit in Heartland (Smarsh addresses parts of the book to her unborn, non-existent child) you will be immersed in a clear-eyed and moving account of what it's like to grow up poor, white, and hardworking in the middle of America. Riveting and written without an ounce of self-pity. A well-deserved longlist finalist for the non-fiction National Book Award.
Pat Barker writes about the cost of war better than just about anybody. (Her WW1 Regeneration Trilogy is a classic.) In Silence of the Girls, she retells the story of the Trojan War, mostly from the point of view of Briseis, a queen who becomes Achille's slave and concubine after he kills most of her family and obliterates her town. All the Iliad characters are here and wonderfully wrought -- Achilles, driven mad by bloodlust and desire for revenge, sorrowful Priam who just wants his beloved son's body, Achilles' loyal childhood friend Patroclus. But this story really belongs to the women -- the "spoils" of war, and how they deal with their changes in fortune. This is a powerful, visceral, anti-war novel.
Midsummer is the best time to get away and dive into the murky, intricate and absorbing spy vs. spy world of Daniel Allon, the crack Israeli agent/art restorer, now head of his intelligence agency. This latest one -- 17 have come before -- concerns the search for a Russian mole with a, shall we say, nefarious, pedigree. It's one of his best. Warning: the books in this series are highly addictive.
If you need any more reasons to hate big Pharma, in this case Perdue Pharma, well, here's a book full of them. Beth Macy's (Truevine, Factory Man) Dopesick is a meticulously reported and devastating indictment of the company which relentlessly pushed Oxycontin as a wonder pain drug and simultaneously downplayed (an understatement) its intensely addictive qualities. Macy concentrates mostly on Virginia, a state hit particularly hard. A grim book, for sure, but if you want to understand the opiate crisis (63,000+ died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016; 66% involved a prescription or illicit opioid) you need to read this book.
If these interconnected stories about four young black or mixed race boys growing up in Pawtucket are any indication, JM Holmes is a writer to watch. The stories are honest (sometimes uncomfortably so), urgent, and often funny. In his own way, each of the boys deals with the lure of sex, the power of drugs, and the push and pull of complicated family ties, along the way to becoming adults. Some are successful, some not. Holmes has a definite, dare I say, original voice -- one I look forward to hearing again.
To children, parents can be enigmatic. A parent who happens to be a spy? -- even more so. Lea Carpenter (Eleven Days) has written a gripping, relentlessly smart, and addictive novel about a woman, Anna, whose "banker" father was in fact a spy. After he mysteriously dies, (in an avalanche, no less), the day before her wedding, Anna receives a mysterious interrogation tape of him. She sets out to find out what he did with his life and assets (not in the money sense). You will learn a lot about tradecraft -- who knows, might come in handy some day -- and about the nexus of spydom and human relationships. Love, lies, betrayal, loyalty, and the CIA. What more could you want?
It's hard to pick up the newspaper these days and not find an account of a child being preyed upon by an adult, whether it be a priest, teacher, or parent. HIs Favorites, Walbert’s wonderfully written wrenching book, tells the story of a vulnerable 15-year-old, Jo. Reeling from her culpability in her best friend's death, Jo is enrolled in a prestigious boarding school, where she, among others, is preyed upon by a manipulative sociopath masquerading as a caring teacher. If you've ever wondered, how do these things happen, here's an answer. This slim, powerful book is a case of good fiction illuminating reality better than the facts themselves can.
This grim (but often grimly funny) book is almost a primer on how to mess up your life: drink too much, join military on a whim, go to war, develop PTSD, get addicted to heroin, screw around on your maybe wife, rob banks... And Walker knows whereof he speaks; he'll get out of prison in 2020, in for.....robbing banks. But what a remarkable voice he has for a debut novelist! Direct yet fluid, in a graphic and profane way. He's got a great writing career ahead of him, if he can go straight.
It's no surprise that Where the Crawdads Sing is infused with the flora and fauna of the North Carolina coastland where it's set, as Owens is a wildlife scientist renowned for her nonfiction books about Africa. The story of the "marsh girl" abandoned by her family and left to eke out a living from the marsh that surrounds her, is told in lyrical, evocative prose. It is a coming of age story, a love story, a murder mystery and a study of the effect of isolation on a young soul, all in one! A pretty remarkable (fiction) debut.
This brilliant debut novel follows the lives of twelve mixed race and full Native Americans whose fortunes (and mostly, misfortunes) converge at a powwow in Oakland. The writing is direct yet often poetic, and flawlessly paced. Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, is full of urgent despair. He writes as if to say, "Don't you dare look away. This is how it is." Not to be missed.
Sedaris is up to his old tricks in this new collection of essays. Funny stories about family dynamics (on which he is superb), shopping in Japan, other people's eating habits, beach life, his sister's suicide, and mortality. While the tales make you laugh out loud, or at least snicker in private recognition, there is both a poignancy and a little more bite than in previous books. That said, Sedaris' prodigious powers of observation have not flagged in the least.
This is Ondaatje's first novel since the estimable The Cat's Table (2011) and, boy, is it worth the wait. The story follows two siblings who have been mysteriously abandoned by their parents in the aftermath of the Blitz in London. It has all the trademark Ondaatje themes: what parents owe their children (and vice versa), the seduction and destruction of war, memory and the "ravine" of childhood, what one does with the history and traits one inherits, and of course the endlessly fascinating elements of love. Ondaatje is an artist who paints with words and woven into this intricate puzzle of a book, are indelible images. Just read the first sentence and try to resist.
Macbeth is part of the Hogarth Series — Shakespearean plays reimagined by modern writers. Jo Nesbo is an inspired choice for one of the bard’s bloodiest tragedies. He sets his version in a contemporary Scottish police department, in a society rife with drugs, deception, murder and ambition, in which Macbeth becomes top dog. As with Shakespeare, it may take a while for you to tell who has the knife out for whom, but you’ll figure it out. It’s an old story.
Prison literature is by definition claustrophobic, surreal, and sad. Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room is all that, but it's also funny, sometimes in a brutal kind of way, and so moving. Romy, a single mother and stripper, is in a California prison serving two consecutive life sentences for killing a creepy customer who stalked her. (Terrible defense attorney.) Kushner writes about Romy's daily life in prison, her fellow prisoners, and intersperses that with the story of how she ended up there. Forever. While this book can be difficult to read, it is also necessary. And the writing...
Texas is a humungo state and there are many reasons to both love and hate it, but you cannot deny the oversize influence it has on America. Wright has written a seamless and fascinating cultural and political travelogue of sorts of his native state, going back and forth into history and out, discussing issues such as Texana, snakes, school shootings, oil and energy, and the sausage making legislature. Not to mention the cowboy culture. One reviewer said God Save Texas is both an "apologia and an indictment." True, but to put it more plainly, it's a hell of a book!
Cy Bellman is a widowed mule breeder who believes that mammoths still roam the West. So he sets out to find them, accompanied by a young Indian guide, and leaves his 11-year-old daughter at home in Pennsylvania. The West is a mesmerizing story of obsession, a parable about the lure of the West and the unknown, and a coming of age story about the daughter. At less than 150 pages, you can read it in one sitting, but the writing and images resonate. It's Moby Dick writ small, and that's not such a bad thing.
Know anybody who likes to open water kayak? Don't give them this book -- or better yet, DO give it to them so they can better understand the perils. The Cove tells of a man in a kayak at sea who is caught in a sudden storm and struck by lightning. Coming to later, he finds he's partially paralyzed, mentally foggy and desperate to reach the shore and safety. Exquisitely written, gripping and terrifying. And if you are wondering about the impact of such a short book....the night after I read it, I woke up in the middle of the night -- 3:32am to be exact -- searching for land.
I am a total sucker for the “We-ditched-our-desk-jobs-bought-a-ramshackle-farm,-and-after-
ten-years-of-back-breaking-work,-made-a-go-of-it’ memoirs. There's something appealingly pioneer-y and American about them. (Just nevermind that this particular farm is in Canada. It's close to America...) Preston is a former journalist so this memoir of learning to farm successfully AND sustainably and organically, is particularly well-written. Informative, honest, inspiring and passionate.
The admirable memoir joins the increasing canon of Iraq/Afghanistan war literature. An honest, often funny, more frequently sad, accounting of one man's induction into the Marines at age 19 and his three tours in Iraq. Written in a variety of genres i.e. lists, letters, prose, even graphics, the memoir underscores the idiocy of engaging 20 yr olds in war, and the insanity, monotony, and violence of war itself.
Trump should read this book. He won't, but he should. Francisco Cantu is a young man who worked for the Border Patrol in Arizona and Texas. The migrants he encounters (and sends back south) tell him stories of desperation, of the power and horror of the drug cartels, and of their thwarted desires for a better life and work. All this gives Cantu nightmares and tests his humanity. And it makes the concept of a "wall" utterly laughable. Must reading if you want to understand the border.
The four Gold children visit a fortune teller in NYC in 1969 who tells them each the exact date of their deaths. The Immortalists recounts how they live their lives and act on that knowledge. It's an interesting premise backed by wonderful writing, a story of the sometimes rocky, but always loving, relationships of four very different siblings,
and a profound meditation on destiny
A powerful true story about a series of murders in the 1920s of members of the Osage nation in Oklahoma, after oil was discovered under their land. The cases constituted one of the fledgling FBI's first major homicide investigations. A fascinating and compulsively readable look at venality, greed, and outright evil. Soon to be a movie (Scorsese, DiCaprio). From the author (and New Yorker writer) of The Lost City of Z.
Elmet, shortlisted for the Booker last year, is set in rural Yorkshire England and is a strange amalgam of LIttle House on the Prairie and Blood Meridian. Narrated by the gentle 14-year-old son of a loving brute of a father (he fights/boxes for a living), the story is of this boy's family (he has an impressive older sister: mom was a train wreck) and an escalating conflict with their money-grubbing landlord. The writing is often painfully beautiful and lyrical, almost fabulist, but this is "rural noir," and the noir part is black indeed. That said, Mozley conjures up a world that stays in your head.