Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, eight 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.
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.
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…
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.