Hugh

Some Luck by Jane Smiley (2014)

someluckThis novel is best enjoyed as an audiobook with the narration of Lorelei King. Her clear voice changes tone, tempo, and pitch for the different characters expressing their moods and views as the story proceeds. Her believable renditions are very important in Some Luck, which paints the characters of Rosanna and Walter, on their Iowa farm, and continues with those of their five children as they grow up and find their own way. Some readers or listeners might comment on lack of coherent plot, but the theme is that of the family going through their individual and varied lives while keeping touch with one another.

Jane Smiley’s epic saga continues with Early Warning.
Hugh

Gray Mountain by John Grisham (2014)

graymountainThe 2008 economic downturn affected even New York lawyers like Samantha who thought she was on a fast track to partner but was abruptly put on furlough. In order to grasp a questionable volunteer opportunity, she retreats to Brady, Virginia, and becomes an intern at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, run by Mattie, a local lawyer. On the way, Samantha is arrested and taken to jail for speeding, but is soon released with the help of Donovan (Mattie’s nephew), a lawyer representing coal workers in large disability claims against their employers. Samantha’s adventures in rural Virginia lets her see the coarse tactics of the coal companies, the reliance on guns to solve problems, drug use by the locals, and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone really in need.

Samantha is not without capable contacts—her father was a high-income, personal injury lawyer focusing on airline crashes before he was disbarred, and now runs a consulting company advising other law firms. Her mother (divorced from her father) has a high level position in the Justice Department. Samantha finds Donovan alluring and he even offers her a position, but she sees a lot of similarities between him and her father so she must decide what type of lawyer she wants to be. After all of the trials and adventures in Gray Mountain, there are enough loose ends remaining for John Grisham to write another story about Samantha.
Hugh

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (2011)

borrowerThe story begins with a prelude, perchance a prayer for forgiveness, by a children’s librarian (Lucy) because of a cross country trip with her young patron (Ian) trying to escape, perhaps a respite, from his controlling mother. There are strict reading restrictions and a workshop for gender stability all weighting heavily on a ten-year-old boy.

A Christmas gift with a message from the boy to the librarian followed by an overnight campout at the library launch the pair on their journey. As the trip moves along, the reader may wonder if this is a kidnapping, and if so, who is the kidnaper and who is the victim. Several interesting characters are met along the way including the librarian’s parents who clearly care for their daughter and don’t mind using devious ways to straighten her path. Check out The Borrower, which is Rebecca Makkai’s debut novel.
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Hugh

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett (2014)

edgeofeternityThe third of Ken Follett’s 20th century trilogy, Edge of Eternity begins with the assassinations and turmoil of the 1960s and ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. The five families of the earlier books produce new generations heavily involved in the events of this period. The German family is separated by the Berlin Wall and only at the end does a father meet his 18-year-old daughter who he has composed for and sang to in his successful rock concert career. An English rock group finds international success often in concert with this German composer. A Russian author must keep his identity secret as he publishes stories of the Gulag in the west with the help of a TASS reporter. African Americans of mixed ancestry tell their stories of the freedom rides and interaction with well-known political leaders, some more intimate than political. Russian and American diplomats struggle to avoid nuclear war while maintaining a strong position with their allies. The episodes are well told and keep the reader engaged, particularly as one reminisces about these events.
Hugh

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (2014)

burningroomHarry Bosch is near retirement and is assigned to cold cases with a young but very bright partner who has received favorable publicity from her last assignment. He and his young partner find themselves investigating two unusual cases simultaneously. The first involves the recent death of a victim shot 10 years before and the second case, the death of children in a fire from which his partner, as a child, survived. The cases would appear unrelated except for an anonymous phone call (placed by Harry?) on the department tip line.

The young partner and the reader have the benefit of Harry’s experience on a fast-paced tour involving a grisly autopsy, an arrest of a loner survivalist, political and departmental pressure, along with lots of sound but risky police investigation. At the end, could there be penance and redemption for a wrongdoer, and does Harry keep his job for yet another case?

Check out Michael Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch novel The Burning Room (for another take, check out The New York Times review). And if you enjoy the adventures of Harry Bosch, check out our list of other popular mystery and suspense series.
Hugh

Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy (2014)

citizenscreekThis book is arranged in two parts: first about Cow Tom, born a slave and sold to a Creek Indian chief before he was 10 and then about his granddaughter, Rose who was born free. Tom gained his name while tending the tribe’s cows under the direction of his mentor, Old Turtle. Tom wanted more than living on someone else’s land, doing another’s bidding; he wanted marriage, a son, and most of all freedom. Both Old Turtle and Chief Yargee recognize Tom’s special skills with language and the Chief allows Tom to apply part of his earnings as a translator towards his and his family’s freedom.

Rose dearly loved her grandfather and desperately wanted to find her place as a respected member of the family, the tribe, and break the family curse of only girl babies. These stories show family and tribal commitment from black slaves and freedmen at a time of conflict and removal of tribes from the southeast into Oklahoma Indian Territory. In Lalita Tademy’s Citizens Creek, the reader can easily become involved with the characters from their loyalty to one another and their conversations about their problems and struggle to reach their goals.
Hugh

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (2014)

louisepennyFormer Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has retired from the Quebec police and is enjoying a peaceful retirement with his wife Reine-Marie in Three Pines. Life is serene with good food, company of friends, and social gatherings. But Clara and Peter Morrow have had a riff, agreeing to separate for one year and meet again to assess their relationship. After that one year Peter fails to return and Clara, in distress, seeks help from the good inspector.

Gamache and his prior associate Guy Beauvoir join with Clara and her friend Myrna in the search. They trace Peter’s journey from Quebec to Scotland then return to visit Peter’s art professor and family in Canada and end with a stormy voyage along the St. Lawrence. Strange paintings Peter left with a young relative may be important to resolve the mystery. Jealousies, danger, and storms plague the investigators throughout the search in Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home.
Hugh

The Archbishop in Andalusia by Andrew M. Greeley (2008)

archbishopThe reader is greatly assisted by the floor plan of La Dona Teresa’s Palacio showing the bedroom where she was attacked (she readily survived) and the courtyard pool where attractive ladies sat, in full view from the windows, enjoying the warm Spanish sun. The first pages of The Archbishop in Andalusia also include a much-needed name list of the Spanish aristocrats and other characters in the story.

While Archbishop John Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan is visiting Cardinal Diego Sanchez y Romanos, El Moro in Seville, the good Cardinal organizes a dinner party in Blackie’s honor and seats him next to the beautiful and disturbing Dona Teresa. Subsequently Blackie becomes Dona’s spiritual advisor and helps solves the locked door mystery shrouding her brutal attack. Dona Teresa is beset by live-in relatives who would interfere with her choice of spouse and gain control of her resources, but Blackie intervenes to find who is responsible for the Duchess’ misfortunes.

If you enjoy this Blackie Ryan installment, check out Andrew M. Greeley’s other works.
Hugh

Brunswick Gardens by Anne Perry (1998)

brunswickgardensIn Brunswick Gardens, Anne Perry presents a good mystery that brings in social issues of the 19th century that are still in play today – women’s rights and evolution versus creationism. The characters reveal their feelings to these issues in a believable and interesting way. The “who-dun-it” part is enjoyable too with many subtle hints and clues from the characters.
Hugh

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre (2001)

constantgardenerA gruesome murder of Tessa Quayle in northern Kenya sets off the action of this gripping story. The Constant Gardener is not just the story of a diplomat seeking to find those responsible for the murder of his beautiful young wife, but also a parable of the conflict between forces seeking power and money opposed by those led by human values. The title is most appropriate as Justin Quale persists in uncovering those responsible in the face of powerful and deadly opposition. The ending is sad but not unexpected as Justin in one sense does accomplish some of the goals of his most courageous wife and finds a way to reconnect with her.

Of his 23 novels, John Le Carre rates Gardener as one of his four best.
Hugh

The Messenger (2006) and The Secret Servant (2007) by Daniel Silva

messengerGabriel Allon, the Israeli spy in many of Daniel Silva’s novels, is cast against terrorist groups from al-Qaeda and the sword of Allah who would attack the Vatican and kill the Pope and/or the U.S. President should their schemes succeed. The Secret Servant follows The Messenger and includes many of the same characters and intrigues of the prior novel. These adventures give the reader a bad taste for most of the antagonists and an appreciation for Israeli secret service. The Secret Servant has an extra twist of an Arab willing to help the Israelis in an effort to save a woman’s life as well as that of his own son. In both novels, a young woman is in great danger in the hands of terrorist but Allon and his team come to the rescue.
Hugh

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (2013)

sycamorerowA very rich man (Seth) kills himself by hanging and leaves much of his estate to his black caregiver by a holographic will. Of course, Seth’s family challenges the will; a jury must determine whether Seth’s handwritten will is valid.

John Grisham’s masterful storytelling leads the reader through the trial, the families’ histories and a look at justice and redemption. This is one of Grisham’s best novels set in Clanton, Mississippi, with a street lawyer (Jake) from A Time to Kill as the principal character. Grisham teases the reader to find out why a deceased man would abandon his children and grandchildren in such a manner; how he accumulated such a fortune; and what became of his brother who is mentioned in the handwritten will. Amazing characters, afflicted with greed, stupidity, racism and drink color the story in Sycamore Row and entertain the reader as he navigates through this engaging tale. For more information, read this review in the New York Times.
Hugh

The Bees by Laline Paull (2014)

beesThis story is charmingly told by Flora 717, an exceptional bee having capabilities in the many skills needed to sustain a hive. A Sister Sage (philosopher bee) says Flora has the hive mind. Trouble comes when Flora discovers she also produces eggs and she regards her offspring with great affection. But only the Queen should produce eggs and Flora must hide this wonderful gift from the hive police.

I particularly enjoyed listening to The Bees by Laline Paull as the accents and tones bring out the character and mood of the speaking bee (of course bees cannot talk but the author has skillfully translated their communications from noise, dance, and scent into English). One can speculate as the story moves along as to what will become of Flora and who will be the next Queen. Read a review of The Bees in the New York Times.
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Hugh

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2014)

storiedlifeThis is a story for those who love books and book people. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry presents a sad but delightful series of stories through A. J’s life as he loses his wife and a valued possession, but then gains the responsibility of a 2-year-old child and a new life. Poignant, sad, and funny events keep the reader (or listener) engaged for the full journey. Gabrielle Zevin’s novel was a New York Times bestseller, a #1 Indie Next pick, and a #1 LibraryReads selection.
Hugh

Transhuman by Ben Bova (2014)

index.aspxLuke Abramson, a research biologist, takes his ten-year-old granddaughter Angela out of the hospital without her parent’s knowledge after specialists agree there is nothing more to be done for her brain tumor. Angela’s doctor agrees to go along to protect her patient. Luke begins an experimental therapy that he believes will kill Angela’s tumor as the three go on a cross country adventure dodging the FBI and a greedy entrepreneur determined to control the new technology. Luke also finds ways to reverse his own fatigue and aging process with the new medical techniques. Surprisingly, Luke awakens to a romantic interest in his much younger medical companion.

This story is highly recommended for septuagenarian grandfathers who love their granddaughters and can fantasize about increased vitality when blessed with the company of younger women. Ben Bova’s Transhuman touches on intellectual property policy and corruption of the powerful, but mostly is an exciting adventure for those not annoyed by some unlikely events.