Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Find Love in a Bookshop (Veronica Henry)

When you pick up a novel titled How to Find Love in a Bookshop, you pretty much know you're not going to get elements like crime and suspense.  But that doesn't make Veronica Henry's book any less important than the Erik Larson and Stephen King titles out there.  Because in this day and age, sometimes all it takes to make you feel better is a few hours spent in an enchanting bookshop.

Julius Nightingale is the beloved owner of Nightingale Books, a place where one is always welcome to peruse for hours and the right book will almost certainly make it into your hands.  Julius passes away with a few secrets, including the fact that the bookshop is in trouble.  It's up to his daughter, Emilia, to save the store if she wishes.  In addition to this main arc, the reader is introduced to a whole other cast of characters, but all of them are tied nicely into Nightingale Books.

I simply loved this novel -- there, I said it.  You could almost say that Nightingale Books itself was the main character, and I know I'm not giving anything away (because why would you pick this book up if you didn't know this?) by saying that everyone's storyline comes to a lovely resolution.  How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the novel that people need right now...period.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Grave New World (Stephen D. King)

Stephen D. King’s Grave New World is a thorough discussion of the current global world, divided not as much between conservative and liberal thinking as between globalization and nationalism. The book tackles much of the current state of affairs in Britain with Brexit, America with the current political environment, and elsewhere around the world, neatly packaging a short history of how we got to where we are.

From there, the picture muddles.  While King’s book offers an excellent summary explaining why the world is in its current political state, there is not much concrete substance to promote sound solutions to appease either side of the debate, offering some arguments for continuing international partnerships like NATO and the UN but not more suggestions on how to strengthen those partnerships or how to adapt those that exist to fit a world that is evolving fast.  The instances where he does go into some level of substance on tackling the problems can come across a bit wonky, and King spends a fair amount of time challenging those who are against NATO, the UN, etc. to come up with reasons why nationalism makes sense given the challenges that are on the horizon politically in Russia and China.  He also challenges the global community to sell the deal better but doesn’t offer much in solutions on how to get those who have been burned by automation and free trade back on track.

If you’re into economics, history, and/or politics, and can approach those topics from a non-biased perspective, King provides a great backdrop on how we’ve arrived at the current place we're in and makes a broad argument for global partnerships based on history, economic impact, and overall prosperity that globalization has brought the world through time. The suggestions to improve our partnerships domestically and abroad, however, come up a bit light in my eyes, and it prevents a good read from being a great one


Monday, May 22, 2017

A Head Full of Ghosts (Paul Tremblay)

In July of this year, 1776 Books will be celebrating its 8th anniversary.  In all that time, I can probably count on one hand how many times I've given a 5 rating.  When I began the blog, I worked hard on my definitions of each rating and described a 5 as "Excellent. I would read it again in a heartbeat."  To me, a 5 is practically perfect, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts is that for me.

With so many books being released every week, it's getting difficult for one to surprise me.  I've read the historical fiction, the beach reads, and and the "I couldn't even begin to describe this book if I tried" novels.  I picked up A Head Full of Ghosts because I was looking for something different, and the possession/reality show plot caught my attention right away.

We begin simply with a normal suburban family -- John and Sarah Barrett are parents to Marjorie and Merry.  Merry worships the ground her older sister walks on and is always asking her to tell her stories.  But the family can't hide the fact that Marjorie is starting to act strangely, and in addition to sending her to a psychiatrist, John seeks the counsel of a priest.  John is also out of work, and when a reality show comes calling to film what they think is Marjorie's "possession", he finds it hard to say no.  What results is a suspenseful, often horrific, and utterly tragic story of the entire Barrett family.

A Head Full of Ghosts also ranks as a book I read in record time.  I normally like to take my time with novels I enjoy, allowing me to delve into each layer of the story.  With this one, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.  You'd be hard pressed to find a more richly developed horror novel than this one.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Churchill, Roosevelt & Company (Lewis E. Lehrman)

Lewis E. Lehrman’s Churchill, Roosevelt & Company covers the stories of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt but also pulls their advisers and lower level government officials in to weave the narrative of the Americans and British during World War II.  While the Churchill-FDR relationship was unique in its flow and ebb through both men’s leadership of their respective nations, the management of that relationship and the Allied War effort by individuals such as John M. Keynes, Lord Halifax, Anthony Eden, Harry Hopkins, and Generals Marshall and Eisenhower played a more critical, substantive role in ensuring the two countries collaborated in their efforts to defeat the Axis Powers.

Lehrman compares the two leaders’ styles in managing and dealing with the Soviet Union during and especially after World War II, and shows how both countries were able to use each other (and each other’s strengths) to their advantage. The author skillfully moves between the British and Americans, weaving in tails of espionage and intrigue along the way to add extra spice to the historical narrative.

Above all, Churchill, Roosevelt & Company reinforces a most powerful lesson that all of us should remember: Relationships matter. The book shows many examples of how government policy and decision-making was influenced by interpersonal relationships by second and third level diplomats and lower level government advisers. While Churchill and FDR garnered the headlines, the dirty work in the trenches required that personal touch that Churchill and FDR were not always able to maintain during the balance of the war effort.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Talking as Fast as I Can (Lauren Graham)

It's really funny -- a friend of mine has always told me that I needed to watch this terrific show called Gilmore Girls.  So one day over Christmas break, I began a Netflix binge, finishing the show completely (including the revival) last week.  I loved Lauren Graham's portrayal of Lorelai Gilmore so much that I recently read and reviewed her fiction novel (Someday, Someday Maybe) and began watching another show she was in, Parenthood (perfection!).  Her latest collection of essays, Talking as Fast as I Can, is a book that all of Graham's fans can enjoy, no matter what you know and love her from.

I got one thing straightaway from this book: Lauren Graham IS Lorelai Gilmore.  Whether she's talking about her experiences on Gilmore Girls or Parenthood, or all her many jobs before she became a bona fide TV star, reading her essays is as comforting as a hot cup of coffee from Luke's.  Graham's warmth comes through loud and clear, and her honesty is really refreshing in this day and age.

You can devour Talking as Fast as I Can in a single afternoon or savor each essay so the book lasts longer.  Either way, I bet you're going to love it.


The Girls (Emma Cline)

Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a huge waiting list at the library and many readers fawn over that I just don't understand why.  Such is the case with Emma Cline's The Girls.  To me, this novel didn't live up to its hype at all, and judging from other reviews on Goodreads, quite a few people seem to agree with me.

To put it simply, The Girls takes the horror of the true Manson murders and for the most part, just plops in fictional characters to replace the real life killers.  We see the "family" through the eyes of Evie, a 14-year-old girl living in the late 1960s who is completely disillusioned with her life.  Upon meeting members of this cult, she is drawn to them and their leader, Russell (you can only guess who he is supposed to represent).

If you think The Girls is going to be mostly about the actual killings, think again. They don't even happen until almost 90% of the book is finished.  Many times in these fictionalized accounts, knowing that something is definitely going to occur draws up quite a bit of suspense.  However, Cline just fills the previous pages with mundane details and lots and lots of sex, so The Girls was definitely not the page-turner I was expecting.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty)

Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies features an unforgettable cast of characters and a storyline that seamlessly alternates between all of them.  Even though Moriarty is often considered a chick lit type of author, her books are usually pretty smart, and Big Little Lies is one of the smartest of all of them.

The main premise and setting are odd for a novel like this -- a school where helicopter parenting abounds and lots of gossip takes place.  The three main women (Madeline, Celeste, and Jane) have much turmoil going on with their relationships, children, and lives in general, much of which are secrets they're keeping.  From the very beginning, the reader knows that something tragic will happen at the school's trivia night (of all events); Moriarty does this effortlessly by including snippets of conversation that characters in the town divulge to the detective on the case.  The fun comes from trying to figure out what exactly will occur and which character will be the victim.

Extremely well written, truly suspenseful and often downright funny, Moriarty reminds us that as much as we try, we probably don't know everything there is to know about our families, friends, and neighbors.