WHAT WE ARE READING

Click here to see Time Magazine's list of the 100 best novels of all time.

(3 of the books are reviewed here)

 

TITLE

AUTHOR

COMMENTS

The Double Comfort Safari Club

Alexander McCall Smith

This latest edition from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency doesn't have anything new to offer.  Princess Romatswe still dreams about her late father and Mma. Mikutsi is still talking about her 97% final grade at the Botswana Secretarial College.  I'm not soure how many of these I've read, but I'm pretty sure this is the last. (12/12)

This is How You Lose Her

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Junot Diaz

This collection of loosely related short stories shows that Diaz has a wonderful ear for dialect.  In this case it is recently arrived immigrants from the Dominican Republic.   Yunior is the stories' protagonst and trouble is what he has with women..  R-rated for language but well worth reading (11/12)

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

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Mohammed Hanif

I enjoyed "Our Lady of Alice Bhatti" so much that I read this, the author's previous book.  I was not disappointed.  Mangoes is a fictionalized account of the events leading up to the 1988 plane crash which killed among others the President of Pakistan and the American ambassador.  The writing here is brilliant and very funny.  There are multiple theories about what happened, It was concluded that the cause of the crash was a mechanical failure, but there are many conspiracy theories surrounding the event but nothing has been proven. (10/12)

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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Ben Fountain

This well-written novel chronicles one long day in the life of a heroic squad of U.S. Army brought back from Iraq for  vidtory lap.  On this day they are beinng honored during halftime of a Dallas Cowby game.  The soldiers have access to the Owners Suite for the first half and they are "thanked for their service" by the owner and his cronies.  Somehow the soldiers manage to drink and smoke themselves into oblivion.  Their antics are very funny. (09/12)

Mission to Paris

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Alan Furst

Set in Paris in the years preceding WWII, this novel is a real page turner.  After a prelude in which the Nazis living in Paris are seen in action, the story shifts to an American actor of Austrian birth who is in the French capital to make a movie.  Invited by the Germans to be a celebrity host at Nazi propaganda fest in Berlin masquerading as a film festival.  He is convinced by a contact in the American embassy to accept the invitation and see if he can gather any intelligence.  (09/12)

Skios

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Michael Frayn

Frayn has established himself as the master of English farce, his play Noises Off probably the best known example.  In this novel Skios is a fictitious Greek island which is home to a high-minded foundation which is hosting it annual conference (see Davos).  The guest speaker, Doctor Norman Wilfred,  arrives at the local airport and is picked up by the conference coordinator.  The only problem is that she has picked up the wrong man, a smooth gigilo named Oliver Fox.  This is a pretty thin premise for a novel, bur Frayn pulls it off.  The book is so well written that the reader easily forgives the author for stretching credulity.  A fun read (08/12)

Once We Were Brothers

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Ronald Balson

A good story about a Polish Jew who survives the Nazi invasion of his home town.  Now living in Chicago, he discovers that a leading philanthropist and pillar of the community is in reality his former tormentor in Poland.  He  contacts a lawyer to help him bring the monster to justice.  His story is presented in flashbacks as he reveals all to the lawyer, who after being hesitant decides to take on the case.  Hard to put down. (07/12)

We Were Brothers

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Dane Hoover

This is a pretty good yarn about an American Marine surviving a flawed mission in Vietnam near the end of the war.  However, the characters are one dimensional and the writing standard is not very good.  The person who recommended this book actually meant to recommend Once We Were Brothers which I am now reading. (06/12)

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

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Mohammed Hanif

Reminiscent of "A Fine Balance", but not nearly as depressing,  this tale about life in Pakistan is truly magical.  this novel is hard to put down.  Alice is a nurse in a run down hospital which treats a wide range of patients.  She has risen to a respectable position in life considering that she is a product of the French Colony, a slum with no running water or sewers.  Everyone wants a piece of Alice, but she soldiers on using her mysterious healing power.  This is so entertaining that I am putting the author's first book, A Case of Exploding Mangoes on my must read list. (06/12)

The Big Fella

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Peter Thompson

This is a history of my former employer BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary), Australia's largest company.  BHP history is chronicled from its beginning as a mining company in New South Wales through my tenure with the company in the 1980's and 1990's up to and including the merger with South  African Billiton, making the combined companies the world's largest miner.  I found the book interesting because I knew many of the people involved.  For a reader not familiar with the characters this may be a little tedious. (06/12)

Raylan

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Elmore Leonard

You expect tough guy dialogue with a humorous edge  from Elmore Leonard and he always delivers.  Raylan Givens is a U.S. marshall assigned in this novel to the coal country in Kentucky.  The first third of the book is about a team of crooks that remove kidneys form their victims and then try to sell them back.  The scene then abruptly shifts to a mining labor dispute, and finally segues into a tale fo high stakes Texas Hold'em.  Leonard tidies up the three stories with linking characters.  One common theme is that women, good or evil, can't resist Raylan's animal magnetism.  Good fun. (05/12)

Enemies: A History Of The FBI

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Tim Weiner

Weiner's 2007 book about the CIA was well-written and well-documented.  This mostly negative story is, if anything, even better.  During the J. Edgar Hoover era, and the years immediately after his departure, the Bureau was little more than a Gestapo, running roughshod over the law of the land.  Under the leadership of Robert Mueller it has been transformed into a law-abiding first class information agency.  Don't be discouraged by the size of this book.  Twenty percent of the pages are the end notes.  (05/12)

Chomp

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Carl Hiaasen

Oddly my last two fiction books have been about alligators in the South Florida swamps.  This one is a typical Hiaasen romp with lots of funny characters and situations.  Unfortunately, it isn't up to his normally high standards.  The main  protagonists are a hard-bitten gator wrangler and a phony TV star.  The star is the centerpiece of a weekly reality show where he appears to escape from dangerous situations.  The trouble starts when the star starts to believe his own hype.  (04/12)

Brave Dragons

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Jim Yardley

The Brave Dragons is the name of a pro basketball club in China whose megalomaniac owner hires former NBA player and coach Bob Weiss to lift his team's game.  The story is more about culture clash than basketball.  As such, it is informative as well as entertaining.  Each team in the Chinese league is allowed two imported players, most of which turn out to be NBA rejects of has-beens.  The Dragons hire former NBA all-star Bonzi Wells who, despite being overweight and out of shape, is a cut above the rest of the team talent-wise.  Highly recommended. (3/12)

Swamplandia!

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Karen Russell

A family of alligator wrestlers runs a tourist attraction on a remote island in the Florida Everglades.  When the mother succumbs to heart failure, the father and his three children head in different directions.  What follows is an entertaining novel of each of their stories unfold.  Good but not great, this book could have benefited from some judicious editing. (02/12)

Boomerang

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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has done it again.  He is the great explainer of things financial in modern times.  This time he helps us understand the economic turmoil in Europe and why it affects all of us.  Each of the countries experiencing financial meltdown is examined in turn, but perhaps the saddest case is Ireland.  Banks there borrowed money from German banks at low interest rates and loaned the money to Irish commercial property developers at high rates.  At the start this looked like easy money, but the problem was that there was no demand for the developments.  When the developers stopped paying back the loans, the Irish banks had no assets with which to repay the Germans.  Not too smart. (01/12)

In the Garden of Beasts

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Erik Larson

In the early 1930's William Dodd was an academic looking forward to writing a book about the old South.  Through a series of unexpected events he Dodd wad tabbed to be the U.S. Ambassador to Germany.  Dodd had done graduate work in Germany so could speak the language.  He moved to Berlin with his wife and flirtatious daughter, and was witness to the rise of Hitler.  Dodd did not have much support in the State Department where the ambassador was not highly regarded.  Well worth reading. (01/12) 

The Sense Of An Ending

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Julian Barnes

This well-crafted novel recently won the prestigious Man Booker award.  A very ordinary man, Tony Webster, narrates a review of his life from his schoolboy years to his old age.  A brief affair with a girl named Veronica during his university years ends badly, and the breakup turns out to be the key event of his life.  An inheritance he receives late in life causes Tony to reconnect with  Veronica, although he's not quite sure if this is a good idea.  Throughout the book there is a sense that something is no quite right.  All this is resolved on the last page of the book.  Highly recommended. (01/12)

 

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