Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Club (Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg)

The most popular sports league in the world isn’t the NFL; it’s the Premier League in England. This group of 20 soccer (football to most of the world) clubs is viewed weekly in nearly every corner of the world to large audiences, making large sums of money for its member clubs. Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg’s The Club chronicles the rise of the Premier League over the past quarter of a century.

Prior to the Premier League’s start, English soccer was tied to a four-division setup, with the best teams in each division getting promoted and the worst getting relegated at the end of each season. With 92 different clubs and an array of disparity between historical powers and the local town’s side that wasn’t much more talented than the beer leaguers, English football was losing its competitiveness domestically and globally. The top clubs in England broke away from the others in the early 1990s to form their own league, where they could control TV rights and generate more revenue for themselves. Robinson and Clegg artfully describe the league’s evolution to global force, talking about the international invasion of money and talent that has fueled the league’s rise and also brought about a host of challenges to go with it.

For newly minted fans of soccer who want to learn more about the history of the sport, as well as those who are interested in learning the business side of global soccer, The Club strikes the target effectively. It’s an informative, smart, and witty look at a league that many Americans sort of know about but may not realize just how powerful it truly is in global sport. Just visit a random bar in some far-flung part of the world or a restaurant in the Caribbean on a weekend, and you’ll see just how popular it is. If you can’t do that, read this book and you’ll get that view.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Invited (Jennifer McMahon)

I have been reviewing for almost ten years now, and when people ask me who my favorite authors are, Jennifer McMahon is always at the top of my list. Her Island of Lost Girls was one of the very first books I featured here, and what I always say about it is this: don't make the mistake of taking it on vacation with you because you won't want to do anything else but read! With The Invited, McMahon continues with that creepy, haunting vibe she does so well in her books.

Helen and Nate decide to chuck it all and move from the comforts of their Connecticut home to rural Vermont. At first, everything is exciting to them: they buy a piece of land and begin building their beautiful new house. As the days pass, however, they discover the dark history of their land, which includes the hanging of a supposed witch, Hattie Breckinridge. Helen becomes consumed with learning everything there is to know about Hattie and her descendants. In her quest to use salvaged materials with history to design her new home, Helen also inadvertently builds her own haunted house.

McMahon's use of short chapters makes The Invited positively addicting. Readers will be caught between a rock and a hard place: you won't want to know what happens next but you won't be able to stop reading. As far as I'm concerned, McMahon is the queen of the dark, creepy book.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Someone Like Me (M.R. Carey)

M.R. Carey is perhaps best known for the blockbuster The Girl With All the Gifts, to which he received a ton of rightfully deserved praise. As I said in my review, "Carey energizes the zombie novel with a fresh new approach." Unfortunately, I can't garner the same enthusiasm for his latest, Someone Like Me.

It definitely starts off originally enough. Liz Kendall is a kind woman just trying to bring up her two children away from her abusive ex-husband. That is, until the other side of Liz emerges -- a woman named Beth, who is violent to the extreme. At the same time, we meet Fran, a young girl trying to recover from a traumatic experience with the help of Jinx, a fox only she can see. How Liz, Beth, Fran, and Jinx relate to each other is the essence of Someone Like Me, a book not without its own problems.

To me, this was a slog to get through. I just couldn't get myself invested in the characters to care much one way or the other, even at the book's way-too-long length: 500 pages. There were moments I enjoyed it, but then the ridiculous ending put me right back to my original feelings about it. I can't recommend this one.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Wife Between Us (Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen)

Back in September, I gave a high rating to An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. For some reason, even though I was getting so many people telling me that "I have to read their other one!", I had never gotten around to it. My mistake. Their previous novel, The Wife Between Us, is filled with some of the best twists I've ever read, and I thoroughly enjoyed devouring every word.

The book jacket warns us from the start that we should assume NOTHING. On the surface, Richard seems like the most stellar guy imaginable. He is set to marry for the second time, and part one alternates point of views between his new fiance and his ex-wife. But again, assume NOTHING. The twists come at a breakneck speed, and your mouth will be left agape.

As far as I'm concerned, Hendricks and Pekkanen are a dream team. Their character development is impeccable, and together, they write some of the most addicting mysteries in publishing today. Don't miss The Wife Between Us!


Monday, January 21, 2019

The Problem of Democracy (Nancy Isenberg)

Before our modern age of rage over Twitter, our early forefathers often used their sharpened tongues to savage their political enemies via anonymously written publications. Using such terms as “dithering dotards”, “intriguing and caballing”, and “vulgar herd”, one can appreciate the rhetorical flourish that the nation’s early thinkers attempted to unload as part of their discourse arguing for or against an issue.

John and John Quincy Adams were the first father-son duo to serve as President and also were the first two to serve only a single term. Nancy Isenberg’s The Problem Of Democracy charts their life story, their interactions together, and the closeness of a father-son relationship that grew in strength and trust over time. Both John and John Quincy were fiercely independent in an era that became increasingly partisan and tribal, even during a time when the country did not have fully functioning parties. They were also not ones to grandstand or actively sell themselves to the nation, which played as large a role in their failure to be re-elected as their fierce independence did.

Isenberg's book is timely given our era’s fierce partisanship and tribalism. She shows how both of these men were loyal to country before party and how, despite their inability to serve two terms, both were celebrated for their contributions to this country. At the same time, she shows their increasing contempt for parties and for a democracy that centered around a cult of personality as opposed to one’s ability to competently do the job. In our hot-take world, this book is a refreshing challenge to us of what we want our democracy to ultimately be. The book’s crescendo in the final forty pages strengthens and provides passion to a well-researched work.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Iain Reid)

There's not much I can say about Iain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things without giving too much away. As the reader, you feel unsettled, unnerved, and never entirely comfortable throughout without really knowing why. Reid's mastery is in going right to the edge of your fears but not quite going TOO far in.

Jake is taking a road trip with his new girlfriend so she can meet his parents. There is tons of dialogue (very Hitchcockian), and along the way, we learn intriguing details about both of them. It's when they get to his parents' farm that things begin to get strange, and Reid really gets into the details: dead lambs, a trap door with scratch marks, you name it.

I admit, it took me a little while to fully understand the ending, and I had to go back and reread it a few times to make sense of it. I don't agree with other reviewers that I'm Thinking of Ending Things is unputdownable; there were parts that were very dry. However, Reid has certainly crafted an original work here, and in this day and age of formulaic novel writing, that's refreshing.


Monday, January 14, 2019

I Owe You One (Sophie Kinsella)

In this day and age, sometimes you just need a book you can get lost in for awhile. There's nothing really surprising in Sophie Kinsella's I Owe You One; it's just your typical formulaic love story. But that doesn't mean it's any less enjoyable.

Our main character is Fixie Farr, and no, I'm not even kidding. Fawn is nicknamed Fixie because of her tendency to want to make things right. She, along with her mother and siblings, are the owners of Farr's general store, a cute little place with loyal customers and a "Cake Club." One day, Fixie saves a handsome stranger's laptop from water damage in a coffee shop (don't even ask), and the stranger tells her if she ever needs anything to just ask. Fixie has no intention of ever taking him up on the offer until an unforeseen circumstance with her "boyfriend" gives her no choice in the matter. As is typical with these kinds of books, a bunch of horrible events then come together to give us the nice, sweet ending we all deserve.

Fixie starts off I Owe You One as a complete doormat, but I enjoyed seeing her grow into a stronger person. I have always love Kinsella's writing -- she can be hysterically funny or so sad you want to cry. Her latest is no exception, and it's the perfect book to cuddle up with some tea and a blankie.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

I See You (Clare Mackintosh)

One of my favorite books I read in 2018 was Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go. It had a killer twist, and as I said in my review, "is a powerful tale of grief, guilt, and unimaginable horror." In I See You, Mackintosh continues that unbearable suspense she is known for, and while I didn't enjoy it as much as her masterpiece, it was still a worthwhile read.

Each day, Zoe Walker takes the exact same way to her train, waits for it in the exact same spot, and sits in the exact same seat. She comes across her picture in a newspaper advert for a dating site, but she has no idea how it got there. A new woman is shown in those adverts every day, and dangerous things begin to happen to them all. The police frantically work to solve these crimes and find out who is responsible before something happens to more women, including Zoe.

I See You doesn't let up on the dread, claustrophobia, and paranoia. Mackintosh is skilled at ensuring that each line she writes means something; there are no throwaway lines so readers better pay attention. I was able to figure out the main culprit pretty easily, but I definitely didn't have a clue about the shocking epilogue. All in all, I liked this one better than a lot of psychological thrillers I've read lately.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Finding Dorothy (Elizabeth Letts)

I have to admit that I was slightly skeptical when I read the premise of Elizabeth Letts's Finding Dorothy. If the "Dorothy" in the title refers to THAT one -- of The Wizard of Oz fame, then why is the book mostly about Maud Baum's life? Maud being the wife of L. Frank Baum, the famed author of one of the most beloved books of all time. The fact is that the two are interconnected more than anyone ever realized.

Even though Finding Dorothy tells us this story through historical fiction, Letts weaves in the thorough research she conducted on the life of the Baums and how one of the most famous movies came to be. So how does Maud's life get us to how L. Frank Baum "found" Dorothy? Maud was the daughter of Matilda Gage, one of the hardest-working suffragists you probably never heard of. Maud's mother taught her to be fiercely independent, and when Maud meets Judy Garland during the filming of the movie, she tries to teach her the same principles. Maud falls in love with Frank because of his creativity and kindness. No, he will never make much money (that is, until his magnum opus is published), but she adores him just the same.

It is incredibly interesting how Letts switches from Maud's early life and marriage to Frank and her elderly years when the movie is being filmed. All she wants to do is guard Frank's legacy and make sure the story he put on paper is the story the audience will see. The book is filled with delightful "Aha!" moments when readers understand that Frank did not just make up Toto, the Scarecrow, and the rest. And yes, the origin of Dorothy is explained, too. This is a terrific read and a must for all Baum fans!


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Capitalism in America (Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge)

Alan Greenspan’s long tenure at the Federal Reserve coincided with two large periods of economic growth and two fairly notable recessions fueled by “irrational exuberance” (Greenspan’s favorite term) in various sectors of the economy. Greenspan’s knowledge of economic policy throughout American history helps to serve as the basis for his recent book, Capitalism in America, co-written with Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist.

Greenspan takes us back to the beginning of America and charts a 240-year voyage through its economic and capitalist development, buoyed by his opinions and analysis of key moments and trends throughout our nation’s history that have steered us through periods of dominance and into our current period of uncertainty. The book varies through a number of paradoxical statements when it comes to the role of the state, praising funding for science and innovation throughout our nation’s history while talking about entitlement spending in a negative light. Greenspan, while promoting a classical conservative lean, does take both Republicans and Democrats to task for much of the current state of affairs. The book ends with a modest discussion about where America goes in the future, shaped in part by some guarded optimism that its past history of overcoming challenges will help steer the country in a path to a better light.

From a historical standpoint of understanding capitalism’s role in America’s growth, Greenspan’s book reads reasonably well and provides a healthy balance of anecdote and textbook-like research. However, from a standpoint of fixing what’s ailing America’s economics, the book drifts into a set of inconsistent views without offering more concrete objectives on how to fix the things that are gunking up the economic machine. Capitalism in America comes close to delivering the whole package but sadly misses the ribbon and the wrapping paper in Greenspan’s gift of his take on economic history.