Bob's Picks (page 1)
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"Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist return."
Q: Was it as good as the original series by Stieg Larsson?
A: Of course not.
Q: So, how good was it then?
A: Loved every minute of it.
Q: Then what was missing?
A: The pleasure of meeting those unforgettable characters for the first time and watching them find each other and themselves. But reading this latest one by Lagercrantz was terrific—like traveling to Paris again some years after your first magical visit. Not to be missed.
With all the publicity surrounding the recent series loosely based on this classic, I picked up a copy to get a taste of the original and could not put it down. It isn't science fiction, but an alternative history of a world in which Germany and Japan won WW2. The US is divided into a Nazi East Coast and a Japanese West. In the neutral zone separating them our heroine, a Judo instructor, struggles to survive in this nightmare world. She reads a book banned by the German high command, which seems to offer a glimmer of hope, a way back to a better life. Now she can no longer be content to just survive. We also follow a Japanese official whose code of ethics conflicts with the bureaucracy in which he serves, an antique dealer with the morals of Ebenezer Scrooge and a Nazi undercover agent – all fascinating characters. This is a brilliant novel, well written and thoroughly enjoyable.
The opening chapters drew me immediately into the life of a young girl’s struggle to understand the world around her. The small agrarian country in which she lives is being overtaken economically, culturally and militarily by the forces of a dominant empire. The family that has nurtured her through childhood, a family with a mother and two fathers, is about to dissolve under the strictures imposed by new rulers. She learns not only how to survive but to prosper, but her rise to power comes with difficult ethical dilemmas as she seeks to exact the ultimate price from those who destroyed her family and her country. With a cast of characters to rival the Game of Thrones, this well-written tale is well worth reading. A BuzzFeed best of 2015 pick.
I couldn’t tell where this story was going. These stories, I should have said; five of them interlaced, spanning several centuries but nevertheless touching each other again and again. Five stories with eight voices: six human and two artificial intelligences—digital entities less than human, of course, but with superhuman memories and supplied with algorithms to provide their owners with a level of companionship rarely found except between the best of friends. I couldn’t tell where it was going, but I couldn’t stop reading. —Bob
Larson's newest shifts perspectives back and forth between the passengers and crew on the luxury ocean liner and the captain and crew aboard the German U-boat. Although the end of the story is well known, many of the circumstances and personalities involved were fresh revelations – surprising, curious, tragic, and thoroughly engaging. The way Larson tells this story recalls other compelling historical works like those of Laura Hillenbrand that read like the best fiction, propelling the reader from chapter to chapter.
This novel had me at hello. Orhan a successful young businessman from Istanbul, returns to his family estate in rural Anatolia to hear the reading of his late grandfather’s will. When the house in which his father and aunt live is left to a mysterious 87–year-old woman living in California, the stage is set for a totally engrossing, deeply moving tale of a quest to find the truth. As in the best of such quests, Orhan confronts demons along the path and finds, not only what he was seeking, but so much more. Brilliant writing and an unforgettable cast of characters put this book solidly in the running for the next Booker Prize or National Book Award.
Robinson’s 2006, Pulitzer winning novel, Gilead, is one of the great works of fiction of the last two decades. And, although the title character of this story is one of Gilead’s key figures, the action in this book occurs before that of the earlier novel, so you can read Lila first if you like. In any case, you'll enjoy it as I did, page after page brilliantly written in the voice of an orphan with no memories of her parents, a child who grows into a fiercely independent young woman, wandering rural backroads with itinerant laborers or on her own. This is the story of how she finds home and a life she surely deserves but never imagined.
You know by now that Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling. If you've read the first in her mystery series, The Cuckoo's Calling, you also know that her gifts of creating brilliant characters and unexpected plot twists are undiminished from the Harry Potter days. If you haven't met the struggling but lovable detective and his shy but determined "temporary" office assistant, be forewarned that these books are an addictively delicious stew of humor, love, and suspense peppered with expletives throughout.
Theodore Roosevelt’s and William Howard Taft’s remarkable exploits, successes and failures are expertly interwoven with those of the brilliant, dedicated muckraker journalists Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair. I don’t read much history (bad experience in 5th grade) but the interviews on NPR led me to pick this up, and it turned out to be a non-stop read. Almost. It’s 900+ pages so I had to take a few breaks, but it felt like reading a classic adventure novel with characters equaling Shakespeare’s finest.
In this autobiography, Bob Mankoff, the New Yorker’s cartoon editor, has included a multitude of drawings and cartoons that made it into the magazine as well as rejects that were too edgy to publish. As each of us on the beach took turns with this book, laughter would erupt, often to tears. My brother-in-law wrote: “Imagine reading a book that is so consistently laugh out loud funny that no matter where you are reading it, people stare at you as howls of uncontrollable laughter come again and again. Many who saw me laughing wrote down the name of this book to buy for themselves.”
A woman fashioned from mud by a Jewish magician and a jinni under a spell who can only access a fraction of his natural powers--each of these fantastical but believable creatures must find themselves a way to survive in New York City--she among the Orthodox Jews, he among the Muslim immigrant community. At the start, their stories are told in parallel narratives, but there's no doubt that the threads will connect and intertwine before too long. A totally absorbing tale of alienation, compassion, frustration, suspense, and romance. Enhanced by a memorable cast of supporting actors, we are given deep insights into the Islamic and Judaic traditions plus a helluva good read.
One of those nearly perfect novels, like Atonement or Dog Stars, that grab you in the first few pages and sweep you along, becoming more entranced chapter after chapter, smiling, sighing and brushing a few tears aside in order to keep reading to the end, which you hope will not come too soon. It's a moving story with characters that are unforgettable and deeply emotional scenes that will still bring you pleasure long after you have passed your copy on to some fortunate friend.
It took me 60+ years of reading to pick up a copy of Middlemarch. I'd read and reread Jane Austen, and thought that Eliot couldn't possibly be as engaging, witty and delightful. In fact, Eliot is to Austin as Barbara Kingsolver is to many contemporary authors who give us good, entertaining books but without the depth that makes Lacuna or Poisonwood Bible a full-bodied experience. How could George Eliot have had such insight, not only into society and relationships, but science, medicine, agriculture and economics? No matter, just read it and enjoy.
Of course you all know by now that Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling, but what you probably don’t know, if you haven’t read this murder mystery yet, is that the writing is in Ms. Rowling’s classic style. This time, however, it’s clearly for adults, peppered with many four-letter expletives throughout. Her descriptions of her characters and the places they inhabit fit right into the Muggle neighborhoods, with her precise descriptions of lampposts, train stations, stairwells, bars. The story itself is complicated and contains interesting characters who make it totally worth reading or listening to on audio, which is what we are doing. The reader isn't Jim Dale but he’s terrific.
It's a book I wanted to never end. Ah, if only one could climb into the pages of this amazing novel to live awhile with these very real fictional characters. If you figure out how to do this, let me know, but take care to avoid arriving during the Wyoming winter.
The first part of this memoir is curious--a history of sorts mixed with imaginary scenes involving a pioneer balloonist and the legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt. It felt like the script for a docu-drama on the History Channel--which I probably would have abandoned if the writing wasn't so exceptional. Then in a moment, it became something thoroughly engaging--engrossing, something altogether different--in the present and real, yet connected intricately to the earlier story. The reader has been set up, caught with his defenses down and swept away by a tsunami of feelings. That's all I'm saying.
This novel, by the great mystery writer P.D. James, is set seven years after the end of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are now married and living at Pemberley, Darcy's hereditary estate. The writing is remarkably good, the characters are true to Austen's vision and, for any Jane Austen fan, reading it is a non-stop pleasure.
She squints, being too vain to wear glasses to her first tryst. She's left the kids at her mother-in-law's, and while her sweet, boring husband is at work, she slips on her not-for-walking dress boots and painfully picks her way up the hillside. But she never reaches the cabin where the guy she can't get out of her head awaits, because she sees something in a stand of trees on the hill -- what exactly, without her glasses, she can't say, but it's so unworldy and unsettling that it turns her life around. So begins Kingsolver's deeply moving and often hilarious novel whose characters will stay with you long after the last delicious page.
Set in a small Colorado town, five women and a 12-yr-old girl touch the lives of one another of two troubled men. They come together in varying groups, sometimes awkwardly, but always with honesty and sincerity in this nearly perfect novel that evokes the real meaning of community. I was hooked from the first chapter, reading late into the night, then up early to read more. Good to the last drop.
The unforgettable characters in Ms. Roy's novel span three generations. Like planets, asteroids and comets, they move on separate paths which, in time, inevitably cross, pulled to the center by the force of love of family, of truth, of beauty and, ultimately, by the force of romantic love. We read this aloud to each other in the car, hardly able to wait for our next ride together while at the same time wishing the story would never end.
This novel is a treat — especially for those who enjoy writers whose craft and ability allow them to create a cast of characters whose stories initially seem to be totally distinct and unrelated to each other, but by the end have been brilliantly and perfectly integrated. Writing with humor, compassion, intelligence and charm, Jess Walter has given us a unique and memorable gift of a novel.
Imagine someone drags you into a museum to show you a great portrait. You go, reluctantly, thinking, "a portrait, really, sigh," and it turns out to be a Vermeer or Van Gogh that leaves you weak in the knees. That's how you feel, over and over, reading this remarkable novel. After the first few chapters you know what's probably going to happen, but when it does, you find yourself laughing or crying or issuing a breathy "wow," and then, once again a few pages later. Finally, at the end, you shake your head, smile and sigh in total awe.
In moments of crisis, some people choke, others panic. There's a big difference and the author gives fascinating examples of how this effects our lives. In another of his chapters based on 22 brilliant recently published articles, Gladwell asks what an employer can learn about job candidates during an interview. Not much, research shows, unless you're willing to throw out everything you think you know about judging the character of a person you've just met. Filled with great personal stories and entertaining interviews, this book is the perfect gift for anybody, including you. —Bob
Two friends growing up in the vast Wyoming landscape fall in love the same girl, who, without warning—after some twenty years of marriage to one and friendship with the other—leaves them both. This sets the two men off on a journey across the Rocky Mountain West trailing remnants of their former lives and picking up pieces of a possible future along the way. With witty dialogue, vivid settings and a memorable cast of supporting characters, The Fruit of Stone is a deeply moving novel destined for major awards. —Bob
This is the moving story of a magazine artist’s son, who might be creating great works of art, but settles for commercial jobs. He sees himself repeating his father's patterns. Is it a case of "be careful what you wish for" when he is given the opportunity to paint a true master piece for one million dollars? Every page seems lit from within like a Vermeer painting, or a Velázquez. It’s a great novel, packed with unpredictable twists through the world of fine art, and through time itself. —Bob