Tuesday, December 31, 2019

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers

Richard Powers

            The Overstory, an opus about trees by Richard Powers, is the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. And, it is an incredible reading experience.

            Powers’s twelfth novel is divided into four sections: Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds. In Roots, we are introduced to nine disparate individuals whose commonality is that each has experiences, albeit unique, with trees. Although we all know trees, these individuals Know trees. As we progress through Trunk, Crown, and Seeds, we learn about their knowledge and follow them as their lives overlap in their pursuits to save the trees.

            When I began The Overstory, working my way through Roots, I did not particularly care for this book. I felt like I was reading a series of short stories where the only uniting factor was some experience or other involving a tree. I am not a lover of short story, and I feared the entire 500 plus pages was such a compilation. Happily, I was wrong. That initial learning of the disparate backstories of these individuals is crucial to the remainder of the book. As soon as I realized this – as soon as the pieces began to fit together – I started to fall in love with this book. And, that love deepened with the turning of each page.

By the time I completed The Overstory, I was dumbstruck and awestruck. Powers has done a wonderful job weaving together this masterful work about trees.

            The Overstory is more than just a Pulitzer-quality book; it is an unmatched reading experience that I highly recommend.

Monday, September 30, 2019

BLOODY GENIUS by John Sandford

John Sandford

            Bloody Genius is John Sandford’s latest novel in his Virgil Flowers series. When the investigation into the murder of wealthy, well-connected university professor Barthelemy Quill made no progress, the governor became involved. Calls were made, and Virgil Flowers, of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, was assigned to the case. So, Virgil teamed up with Maggie Trane, a sergeant with Minneapolis Homicide who was leading the Quill investigation. With two ex-wives (and an estranged wife number three), a feud with another academic department, disgruntled patients, colleagues and employees at his university lab and at the hospital, and an angry surviving daughter, there were no shortages of suspects. That is, until Flowers was assigned and did his thing.

            Virgil Flowers is a tall, thin man with longish blond hair who routinely wears jeans, t-shirts depicting various indie bands, and cowboy boots. His style – both in manner of dress and in method of operation – are very different than that of his good friend Lucas Davenport (who does make a cameo appearance in Bloody Genius).

            I have been a long time fan of Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series and Virgil Flowers series. While reading Bloody Genius, however, I realized that I am no longer such a Flowers fan. I do not know if my tastes have changed or if I do not care for the direction Sandford has taken his character. Although the introduction of a spouse and children can be difficult for an author to pull off, I think Sandford was successful with regard to Davenport. However, I do not like Frankie and am not looking forward to the birth of their twins.

            Nonetheless, Bloody Genius presents a pretty good mystery. The plot is complex and convoluted, and Sandford takes us step by step through the process Flowers used to solve the case. This is vintage Sandford, with typical Sandford humor, and Flowers does discover Quill’s killer.

Monday, August 26, 2019


Nevada Barr

            As I am a huge fan of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, I was intrigued by the opportunity to read and review an advanced reader copy of Barr’s newest novel, What Rose Forgot. I did have some trepidation as I began the book, as it is unrelated to Anna Pigeon, but I was pleasantly surprised.

            Rose Dennis is a sixty-eight year old woman who awakens, outside, and has no idea where she is, how she got there, why she is in a hospital gown, etc. In What Rose Forgot, we journey with Rose as she fills in the missing pieces.

            Although part of the impetus behind my agreeing to review Barr’s book is that I love and miss Anna Pigeon, I knew there would be no Anna. To my amazement, I found Anna in What Rose Forgot. Of course, Anna Pigeon is not in the book – after all, Rose is an artist, not a park ranger – but there are similarities. Rose, like Anna, is intelligent, resourceful, tenacious, and wholly underestimated by others. The two characters are not so similar that one would accuse Barr of simply recreating Anna with a new name; however, I can definitely imagine Rose standing next to Anna at the bra burning rally.

            What Rose Forgot raises some very interesting questions. In addition to the question of “who is elderly?” – it is difficult to believe that the spunky Rose is “elderly” at 68 – the more frightening questions for me concern dementia. Barr shows us how, once one has been given the label of having dementia, no one will believe even a rational, logical argument posited by that person. Everything stated by that person can be discounted – especially if that person is already considered to be “eccentric” like Rose.

            What Rose Forgot is very well done. A wonderful reading experience!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean

            The genesis of The Library Book, by New Yorker reporter Susan Orlean, is the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library on April 29, 1986. However, the book is about so much more than this one library fire or the Los Angeles Public Library itself.

            We do learn a great deal about the 1986 fire and its primary suspect, Harry Peak. But, we also learn about book burning and some other library fires – including the Library of Alexandria – as well as the history of the Los Angeles Public Library. Naturally, Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451 (much of which was written at a library in Los Angeles) are included. Orlean also discusses the multitudinous roles filled by the library as an institution. After all, the library is not just for collecting and/or lending books.

            In addition to being highly informative, The Library Book is well written and enjoyable to read. One of my favorite parts is the chapter wherein Orlean relates her experiment burning a book (in fire prone California). Orlean deftly describes my feelings about books as she explains her dilemma in selecting a book to burn.

Also, each chapter begins with card catalog entries. I began looking forward to them as much as the material in the chapters themselves. At some point, I would like to go back and read the materials referenced in those entries.

            Orlean’s latest book is informative, interesting, and unique. Quite simply, The Library Book is an amazing reading experience.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt

In The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, we meet young Theo Decker. Theo lived with his mom in New York City until the Life Changing Event occurred. The two visited a museum and viewed a small painting of a goldfinch that had greatly influenced his mother. This unusual painting, his last connection with his mother, becomes a sort of center or grounding of Theo’s life.

We accompany Theo on his journey after the Life Changing Event. Tartt gives us access to the impact of such a tragedy through Theo’s eyes. We meet the people that he would not have met otherwise. We witness how this one event bends and skews the direction of Theo’s life.

            The Goldfinch tells a tragic tale. This is not a quick summer read; it does not leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy; it is a downer from the outset, and it is a very long book. Nonetheless, it is an extraordinary work, well written and compelling, that provides a rich three dimensional reading experience. The reader is impelled to continue reading to reach resolution.

            Between the time that I finished the book and began this review, I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie release. I did not know that a movie was being made, and while watching the trailer, all the feelings I had while reading the book came rushing back. I look forward to seeing the film. Nonetheless, The Goldfinch is a powerful literary experience.