Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review of Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly

Image of Fall of Angels (An Inspector Redfyre Mystery)
Author: Barbara Cleverly
Release date: May 15, 2018
Publisher: Soho Press
Pages: 368
Great Britain, 1923: Detective Inspector John Redfrye is a blessing to the Cambridge CID. A handsome young veteran bred among the city’s educated elite, he is no stranger to the set running its esteemed colleges and universities—a society that previously seemed impenetrable to even those at the top of local law enforcement, especially with the force plagued by its own history of corruption.
When Redfrye in invited to attend the annual St. Barnabas College Christmas concert in his Aunt Henrietta’s stead, he is expecting a quiet evening, though a minor scandal: Juno Proudfoot, the trumpeter of the headlining musical duo, is a woman, and a young one at that—practically unheard of in conservative academic circles. When she suffers a near-fatal fall after the close of the show, Redfrye must consider whether someone was trying to kill her. Has her musical talent, her beauty, or perhaps most importantly, her gender, provoked a dangerous criminal to act? Redfrye must seek advice from and keep an eye on an old friend to catch his man before more innocents fall victim.
Fall of Angels is the series debut from bestselling author Barbara Cleverly, who is a graduate of Durham University and a former teacher who has spent her working life in Cambridgeshire, England. She is the author of 13 books in the successful Joe Sandilands and Laetitia Talbot mystery series.
In this inaugural installment, Cleverly introduces an interesting new investigator to the mystery-thriller genre. A classic detective novel set in 1920s England, the story centers on the fight for women’s rights—a battle that proves to be deadly for some of those involved. Fall of Angels has all the customary elements that devotees of Barbara Cleverly’s other writings have come to expect: excellent historical detail, humorous dialogue, intriguing characters, and a whodunit that will keep readers on the end of their seat until the very end. Her writing style is reminiscent of a bygone era that pays homage to the Golden Age of mystery writing.
“Redfrye would never rightly know what instinct, what subliminal sound had triggered his reaction . . . The two players would at any moment now be attempting to come down those high, narrow stairs in pitch blackness . . . The thud and the screams from the stairs rang out as he threw the door open and stood in alarm, trying to penetrate the darkness and make sense of the series of bumps and jagged cries cascading towards him. He rushed at the staircase, blindly reaching out his hands to break the momentum of whatever alarming avalanche was about to engulf him.”
In Fall of Angels, Cleverly capably provides the essential historical background and prerequisite elements necessary for any successful mystery story. She always excels at weaving these fundamentals into her narratives, and this new novel is no exception to the established pattern. Although the mystery itself is sensibly conceived its plotline is not particularly unique, although this doesn’t take anything away from its general readability. Overall, it is a fine series debut that is well worth checking out.
Michael Thomas Barry is staff reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and is the author of eight nonfiction books.

review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on May 16, 2018 -

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review of Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt

Image of Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

Author: Stephen Greenblatt
Release date: May 8, 2018
Publisher: WW Norton
Pages: 208
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As Queen Elizabeth I’s 50-year reign over England entered its latter years, a controversial and gifted playwright entered the theater scene and dove head first into the social causes, psychological roots, and cruel consequences of tyranny. In plays like Richard III, Macbeth, and King Lear, William Shakespeare probed the psyche of his characters rampant lust for absolute power and the long-term effects on its calamitous execution.

He asked himself, “How is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?” Under what circumstances . . . do such cherished institutions, seemly deep-rooted and impregnable, suddenly prove fragile?

Esteemed traditions were crumbling, political loyalties were blurred, severe economic woes fueled anti-elitist resentment, average citizens willingly allowed wanton lies and partisan vindictiveness to permeate everyday life. Shakespeare was captivated by all aspects of these societal crises and calamities. With intelligent, clever and poignant awareness, Shakespeare zeroed in on the childish mindsets and ravenously egotistical desires of these firebrands—and the cynicism and unscrupulousness of the numerous enablers and associates who surrounded them. Any of this sound familiar?

In Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Stephen Greenblatt explores the legendary playwright’s unique perceptions and insights of wicked and immoral rulers. A world renowned Shakespearian expert, Greenblatt is a professor of Humanities at Harvard University and has written numerous books that include The Swerve, Will in the World, and The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.

Greenblatt’s perceptive analysis and expert examination of the various tyrannical figures in Shakespeare’s works has an eerie parallel and peculiar familiarity to current political trends. Using the central characters of Shakespeare’s plays the author compellingly and captivatingly scrutinizes the conditions that permit the rise of despotic, dictatorial, and high-handed leaders.
Through skillful and knowledgeable use of quotes and excerpted passages, he provides a brilliant illustration of how intimidation and strong-arm tactics can suppress any political resistance and why anyone would “be drawn to a leader manifestly unsuited to govern, someone dangerously impulsive or viciously conniving or indifferent to the truth.”

Although Greenblatt does not specifically name or discuss any current political personalities, it can be naturally implied that contemporary figures are the main target of comparisons. But make no mistake, this book is essentially about President Donald J. Trump and his brand of populism, or at least what the author believes Shakespeare would have thought about him personally and his political movement.
Tyrant is a clever and well written interpretation of how our current political environment compares to Shakespeare’s most controversial and legendary works. Truth be told, Trump is no tyrant like Macbeth or Richard III, but Greenblatt’s compelling conversations on those who assist and are complicit to dictators is particularly illuminating.

Overall, this book is full of surprising and shocking insights that examine character politics and the exploitation of authoritarianism as it pertains to literary criticism. A must read for any student of classic literature, history, and politics.

Michael Thomas Barry is a staff writer for the New York Journal of Books.

The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on May 8, 2018 -

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review of The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Image of The Pisces: A Novel
Author: Melissa Broder
Release Date: May 1, 2018
Publisher: Hogarth
Pages: 224
For nine years Lucy has been working as a part-time librarian at a small Arizona university and struggling to complete a Ph.D. program in classic literature. She’s fraught with complexities and doubts and persistently contemplates the meaning of life, which she calls “the greater nothingness—the void.”
After a dramatic break-up with her handsome geologist boyfriend, Lucy is depressed and facing a mini-existential crisis. Her sister, Annika, invites her spend the summer in Los Angeles, dog watching and house sitting at their posh Venice beach house. But Lucy finds little relief from her depression and anxiety—not in the love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in the unconditional love of her sister’s dog.
“Gods, please help me to be happy. Let me do the will of the universe and be willing to do the will of the universe, whatever that even is . . . I never asked to exist. But I am here now so could you maybe at least try and help me enjoy my life?”
Everything changes one evening, while strolling alone along the beach she encounters a mysterious swimmer. Lucy is immediately infatuated and mesmerized by Theo’s charming demeanor and rugged good looks. But when she learns the truth about the stranger’s identity, their relationship—and Lucy’s distorted understanding of what sex and love should look like—takes an unexpected turn.
The Pisces is the debut novel by award winning poet, essayist, and columnist Melissa Broder. In this bizarre novel, Broder fuses existential malaise and destructive love with a heavy dose of sexual fantasy. The characters are remarkably complex, but be warned the storyline is extremely graphic in its sexual portrayals and accounts. The explicit descriptions of these carnal encounters are somewhat disturbing and gratuitous in their titillation. 
The fact that one of the characters is a merman comes across as less pointless than first imagined, and more like an acknowledgment of the absurdity of his existence. Broder’s mixture of straightforward bluntness is unsettling at times but curiously compelling. Her use of darkly humorous realism gives true voice to the depiction of those who are battling depression and suicide.
Putting the silliness of the merman storyline aside, Broder’s writing style cleverly explores the realities of both disappointing casual trysts and meaningful sexual encounters. Comically explicit, contemplative, and sometimes depressingly blunt, the author does an excellent job of exploring everyday human experience. This novel is filled with sincere reflections that ponder the existential question of whether we are destined to always desire what we can’t have?
Often unsettling, peculiar, sexually graphic, unapologetically explicit, but fascinatingly gripping, The Pisces does an adequate job of exploring the fundamental human need for both physical satisfaction and emotional desire, while connecting the frustrating ways that they are almost always mutually exclusive.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer for the New York Journal of book. The review first appeared at the New York Journal of Book on April 30, 2018 -

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review of American by Day by Derek B. Miller

Author: Derek B. Miller
Release date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 352
Sigrid is in a tough place. A star investigator in Oslo, she’s been cleared of any wrongdoing after a confrontation with Kosovan immigrant turned deadly—but reading the neat report that plainly states she took the appropriate course of action only disturbs Sigrid more. She’s ready for some quiet introspection on her family farm, but upon arrival it’s clear her father has other plans for her.

In fact, he’s purchased her a ticket to America: her elder brother Marcus has dropped off the map in upstate New York, and she’s been dispatched, somewhat reluctantly, to find him. It doesn’t take her much time upon arrival to reach her first conclusion: America is weird.
But soon she discovers more to dig into: that Marcus’s disappearance seems inextricably linked to the death of the woman he loved, an African American professor named Lydia Jones. Moreover, this conclusion—and Marcus—are now the focus of an investigation led by irreverent, cowboy-boot-wearing, utterly American local sheriff Irving Wylie.
While initially their divergent investigation methods seem bound to clash, it becomes clear that they must work together: that each sees parts of the case through a glass darkly, as Wylie puts it—but by looking together, they just might be able to find answers.
Derek B. Miller’s American by Day takes a suspenseful and engaging look at police brutality and race relations within the American justice system. Miller tackles this explosive topic in a refreshingly thought provoking manner. Miller is the award-winning author of several novels that include Norwegian by Night (2013) and The Girl in Green (2017). He lives in Norway with his family and has worked on international peace and security for think tanks, diplomatic missions, and the United Nations.
In his novels, Miller’s characters are appealing and far from stereotypical. They suffer through all sorts of issues and definitely have passionate opinions on a wide variety of incendiary topics. Protagonist, Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård was first introduced to readers in Miller’s debut novel, Norwegian by Night. She and Irving Wiley provide plenty of entertaining and clever dialogue that represents opinions on individualism versus collaboration. Sigrid’s observations about America, men, and life in general are intuitive and humorous.
“She is angry at men. All men. For their stupidity, their lies, their egotism, their irrelevant words, their aggressive personalities and hairy backs. She is angry at them for what they did and didn’t do. For what they say and leave unsaid. For the timber of their voices and the length of their strides, the ease by which they open jars and their inexplicable incapacity to return even the smallest objects to their rightful locations. She is tired of investing in them without dividend . . . to solve everything herself.”
Overall, American by Day is a fascinating crime novel and the use of unorthodox characters, stinging observations, and lack of stereotypes is refreshing. A quick read and highly recommended, the plot develops into a thoughtful but grim exposé on societal challenges of inequality and the brutality of racism that are running rampant in modern America.
Michael Thomas Barry is a staff reviewer at New York Journal of Books.

Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on April 3, 2018 -

Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of Paris in Stride: An Insider's Walking Guide

Authors: Jessie Kanelos Weiner and Sarah Moroz
Release date: March 27, 2018
Publisher: Rizzoli Books
Pages: 176

It is hard to go wrong in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Paris in Stride: An Insiders Walking Guide is an attractively illustrated and easy to follow guided stroll to all of the important locations within the City of Light.

Jessie Kanelos Weiner is an American illustrator, author, and food stylist based in Paris. She creates watercolor imagery for many international companies and her illustrations have appeared in numerous publications. She is the author of several books that include Edible Paradise: A Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables (2016) and pens a popular blog about her life called Sarah Moroz is a Paris-based journalist, writer, and translator. This is her first foray into published travel writing. 

“Paris is a ceaselessly mythologized city. Many wistfully extoll the beauty, the history, the architecture, and the gastronomy of the French capital; it is only natural that visitors come with the ambitious aim of extracting the very best of its sights and tastes.”

Divided into ten compact and comprehensive walking tours, the authors have woven the “must see” locations with a plethora of quirky and lessor known destinations. Each section has a map and key with carefully selected locations with tiny descriptions. The authors encourage “an adventurous approach” to seeing the city. The reader can follow their preplanned walks or explore the city indiscriminately.

Paris in Stride is intended to be helpful both in terms of cultural decoding and in terms of ease in circulation.”

This useful and handy guide transports the reader to the Paris that only locals know. With unique and compelling narratives on culture and history, the authors have created an authentic glimpse into Parisian life. The attention to detail, originality, conciseness, and readability will most certainly delight the casual and veteran traveler.
Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 30, 2018 -

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Review of Speed the Dawn by Philip Donlay

Author: Philip Donlay
Release date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Pages: 336
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Hundreds of white-hot meteor fragments plunge toward earth near Monterey Bay, California. Huge fires ignite—dry landscape and, the sun sets, the power grid collapses and the fires grow, illuminating a nightmare created in hell itself. Donovan Nash realizes he is trapped.
Injured and growing desperate, his options dwindling, Donovan fights to keep himself and a small band of survivors alive until dawn, when they can make one last attempt to escape the inferno. Meanwhile, Donovan’s wife, Dr. Lauren McKenna, working with the Pentagon as well as the Forest Service, envisions a bold approach to stop the fire from spreading all the way to the Bay Area and the seven million residents living there. She’s terrified that, if not executed perfectly, her plan could cause the death of thousands of people—including Donovan.
With Speed the Dawn: A Donovan Nash Novel, Philip Donlay has delivered another superb suspense thriller. The eighth installment in the extremely popular Donovan Nash series, the author has created a new adventure that’s bursting with peril and mayhem. Writing from the basis of his own experience as a professional pilot, Donlay doesn’t hold back as the white-knuckle edge of your seat action starts on the first page as this novel.
“Lauren squinted as another burning object fragmented under the tremendous forces of high speed and friction, creating hundreds, if not thousands of small separate hazards racing downwards. The noise came all at once, like a sudden hailstorm. Instantly, hundreds of small pinholes opened in the ceiling. Lauren gripped the seat as the Gulfstream shuddered.”
Speed the Dawn continues in the same pattern of Donlay’s other novels with the tense, exciting, and action-packed thrills that puts wealthy environmentalist Donovan Nash right in the middle of a natural disaster. Fraught with danger and terrifying realities, Donlay effortlessly manages to bring new layers and situations to his multidimensional characters with each new installment.
Whether it’s by air, sea, or land, his writing style keeps the reader captivated. The plot is a twist on an old and effective theme, but Donlay succeeds in making it seem fresh and his own.
In an effort to retain tension, he adds chaos and a touch of hopelessness to the wild-ride narrative. The fear of being trapped and trying to find our loved ones during a disaster is palpable and heartfelt. Fast paced, spellbinding, and packed with exhilarating thrills and chills, Speed the Dawn is a well-written and electrifying novel. An outstanding addition to the Donovan Nash collection and quite possibly the best yet, the suspense will keep the reader glued to the edge of their seat until the very end.
Michael Thomas Barry's most recent book is In the Company of Evil: Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950–1980. He is the author of six other nonfiction books and is a columnist for
Review first appeared at the New York Journal of Books on March 6, 2018 -