‘Water’ isn’t fine, but may still be worth a dive

water.jpgPaula Hawkins’ first book, “The Girl on the Train” benefited from the tailwind created by the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” Readers, it seemed, were anxiously searching for thrillers with major twists on the theme of women hating men.

Hawkins has a new novel out, a thriller with a major twist with the theme of men hating women. It’s not great (but neither was “Train,”)  and it’s way too long, but it’s summer and everything seems better when read by the side of a big body of water.

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You’ll enjoy your time with this ‘Gentleman in Moscow’

moscow.jpg“Have you read ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ yet?” the message from a Shelf Improver read. “I have not been so delighted in a long time.”

I had heard about the book, published last year to great acclaim, and was glad to hear this recommendation from someone whose taste I respect. So I was thrilled when it turned out to be the next book I had to read for book club. At 480 pages, it raised an eyebrow, but once I started, there was no stopping. It was, as promised, a delight from start to finish with plenty to talk about afterward.

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‘The Shack’ is a slam dunk in the Crap Bucket, isn’t it?

shack.jpgSeveral years ago I tried to read Wm. Paul Young’s bizarre religious tract “The Shack” because, well, everyone was doing it. I got through about a third of it, realized it was crap and returned it to the friend who had loaned it to me saying something noncommittal and politic like, “I just couldn’t get into it.”

Fast forward to last month when someone in my new book club chose “The Shack” as our first book. I nearly dropped out. But being a good team member (something that is almost never recognized, much less rewarded anymore) and I found myself irritatedly skimming this book I had written off years ago.

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Surprise! A grump called Ron liked ‘A Man Called Ove’

ove.jpgOne day, following what must have been a prolonged harangue from me about the injustices of the world, my wife tossed a book at me and said: “You should read this, you’re in danger of becoming a grumpy old man.”

“A Man Called Ove,” is a book I’d heard about for years and had pegged it as a favorite of women’s book clubs. Her friend, not much of a reader, had loved it, as had many people I know whose tastes never stray off the bestseller lists

On the cover, above a cartoon-like drawing of the back of a man, presumably Ove, and a cat on the top of a hill, is a quote from a People magazine review: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.”

“You’re the one who should read this: It’ll make you appreciate me more.” It was a remark that kind of hung in the air.

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A ‘Bridge’ too long from a favorite writer

sighs.jpegRichard Russo has long been a favorite of mine, but I notice I have not read one of his books since I started this blog. Odd.

That could be because his books, like those by John Irving and Pat Conroy are marathons that I’m not always willing to tackle.

I lump the Russo, Irving and Conroy together because they are sort of cut from similar cloth, though Irving’s is special order and Conroy’s is taffeta. Russo’s cloth is denim. It’s dirty and worn, which makes it feel loved, but it can be worn too long.

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In England, during WWII, ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’

brave.jpegSeveral years ago a friend of mine breathlessly begged me to read a novel she had just finished. “I’m not going to tell you what it’s about except to say you have to read it.”

So I picked up “Little Bee” by Chris Cleve. Here’s the quote from the flap inside the dust cover: “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” A little too clever, but, OK, they had me.

Then I started reading this tedious, untidy novel peopled with stupid characters I didn’t care about entangled in a plot that had little point. It’s memorable to me only in that I wished I had stopped reading after the dust cover, as it was the most interesting aspect of the book.

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‘Fortunes’ explores the Chinese experience in America

fortunes.jpgI picked up Peter Ho Davies’ “The Fortunes” because I had read a brief review that said it was a fictionalized account of one of an event that stunned me at the time and has stayed with me over the years.

In 1982, the year I graduated from high school and not all that far from where I lived, a young man named Vincent Chin was beaten to death outside a strip club in a Detroit suburb by two autoworkers. The men were upset, so the story went, that they were out of work because of the surge in sales of Japanese-made cars. They took out their anger on Chin, who was at the club celebrating his bachelor party. Chin, though, was Chinese, making his death that much more senseless.

The Chin case is just one of four sections of “The Fortunes” that examines the experience of Chinese in the United States. It’s a history tarred with racism that is rarely acknowledged. Davies’ fascinating novel shines a bold, unblinking light on the experience and left me thinking.

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