"Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup", by John Carreyrou - Book Review

This book is proof positive that a free press is paramount to our society. Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, John Carreyou, with the help of some very brave mid-level ex-employees, took down a company valued at $10 billion in a multi-article investigative expose.

 And, this company, Theranos, and its leaders, Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani, deserve way worse than what they’ve gotten so far.

 Carreyou reports on Holmes’ career starting off as an inventive kid growing into a nineteen-year-old Stanford dropout with big ideas and then into a multibillion dollar venture capitalist wizard. Holmes’ goal? To revolutionize some aspect of the medical field. Her idea? Blood collection technology that would do hundreds of tests on a mere pinprick of blood. The problem was the technology didn’t (and still doesn’t) exist. And what limited technology she did cobble together didn’t work.

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Coming of Age in Post WWII London in "Warlight", by Michael Ondaatje - Book Review

I’ve read all but one of Michael Ondaatje’s novels, with varying degrees of enjoyment - ranging from really good to wonderful. Each are unique in subject and in method of unraveling their stories; however, all retain Ondaatje’s style. It’s a style that is hard to describe - at once uncomplicated in prose, yet with depth of character and emotion.  I suppose he is able to say so much with so little.

Ondaatje’s latest release, Warlight, shows such restraint. From the innocence of a child whom we follow into adulthood, we hear from protagonist Nathaniel, unraveling his own life and that of his mother’s. Nathaniel is 15, his sister Rachel is 17 when their parents supposedly depart for Singapore for a year. The opening line lures the reader in with, “In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals”. Nathaniel takes us through his strange adventure of post-war England; of London, a city still dark with destruction from German bombs; of dim lights and persistent fog - all that form the silhouette of warlight.

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True Food Porn in "Sweetbitter", by Stephanie Danler - Book Review

Sweetbitter started off like a lightning bolt and ended more like a summer drizzle.

Danler’s insight into the world of high-end restauranting is razor sharp. Only a former wait staffer could have written this book. Her precise writing on the inner workings of an upscale New York eatery and the camaraderie of the staff ring completely true.

Sweetbitter: A novel
By Stephanie Danler

Her food analogies are more luxurious than her descriptions of sex - and usually more arousing. You can taste the food on your tongue, feel the drink on your lips, and see the setting in your mind. Her take on fresh figs: “There was a teardrop at one end, and I put it on my tongue. I felt undressed. I tore them apart. They were soft, the pink interior lazily revealing itself.”

Another trick Danler mastered was not divulging the main character’s name until half way through the book. I was stunned at the revelation, but as soon as I saw her name written across the page, I realized it was the first time I had seen it.

Her characters are almost caricatures of themselves but in a way that works. Take Sasha, the Russian bar back who calls the main character Baby Monster. He speaks fluent English, but doesn’t bother to “adhere to its rules.” He is simultaneously endearing and biting with his blunt truisms that you can somehow forgive because of his foreignness.

Inevitably, there is a love triangle, and that is where the story loses its punch. Danler should have kept the focus on the dining, drinking, and escapades of the employees because the love story is overwrought and plays out too slowly. By the end, I cared less about who ended up with whom, I just wanted it over.  

Danler’s success is her descriptive writing. She pens a five-page description of a hangover so bone crushing that it is enough to make even the mildest of partiers want to go to rehab.

For a first novel, her metaphoric turns and use of words to evoke image is beyond reproach. And her story telling will invariably improve. I can’t wait to read whatever she chooses to educate us on next.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Knopf

Elizabeth's rating: 3 ½ 

Continuing the Legacy in "Everybody's Fool", by Richard Russo - Book Review

DISCLAIMER: Because of my complete Richard Russo adoration, this review could suffer from some bias.

Everybody’s Fool is the sequel to Russo’s 1993 novel, Nobody’s Fool. Since the latter goes down as my top book of all time, I approached this one with some trepidation. It was all for naught. In my mind, the new book is virtually flawless.

Set in the imaginary town of North Bath in upstate New York, Everybody’s Fool tracks most of the same characters from the first novel. This one, however, shifts the focus from Sully, who was front and center in Nobody’s Fool, and places it on Doug Raymer, the dense town cop who was routinely the butt of Sully’s shenanigans in book one. The transfer of power is appropriate, though, as Sully has mellowed in his twilight years and Raymer matures into the man he is supposed to be in book two.

Everybody's Fool: A novel
By Richard Russo

Russo’s story telling remains beyond reproach. And while everything in the book is threaded together, some chapters are so well written and self-contained they could stand alone as novellas or short stories. Take, for instance, the chapter about Rolfe Waggenengneckt (AKA Boogie Woogie) and the snakes. Without giving spoilers, know this is a rollicking side story that will have you simultaneously laughing and wondering how Russo comes up with his ideas.

The book is about everything and nothing. It follows regular people living out their lives in a small northeastern town. It touches on racism, but with gentle strokes rather than the brash in your face-ness seen so often recently. It has all the trappings of a classic tale. There is love, heartache, a villain, revenge, forgiveness, and redemption.

Didn’t read Nobody’s Fool? Doesn’t matter; although, you would do yourself a favor to do so. Russo lays enough groundwork in Everybody’s to make reading Nobody’s optional. In fact, after more than twenty years, I find it difficult to remember much of the original one. I just remember that I loved it. I loved this one too, and did a happy-sad cry at the end during that moment of bliss when a book ends just as it should.

Published: 2016
Publisher: Knopf

Elizabeth's rating: 5 stars

Tragedy, Angst and Solace in "In the Unlikely Event", by Judy Blume - Book Review

Judy Blume’s first book in 17 years has been widely anticipated and having been an avid reader of hers as a young girl, I was one of the first to check it out at the library.

The plot of In the Unlikely Event revolves around astonishing real life events that happened in Blume’s hometown. Taking place within three months in late 1951 and early 1952, three commercial planes crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey, resulting in the death of passengers and town people alike. The plane crashes serve as a backdrop for Blume’s look into how everyday life in an American town is defined by not one, but three tragic events.

For the first hundred pages or so, I struggled to keep the characters straight and fully engage with the story. However, somewhere along the way, the cylinders started clicking and I was committed. 

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"Love and Other Perishable Items", by Laura Buzo - Book Review

“So, Amelia, what do you hate?” he says, leaning back in his side of the booth.
“Hate?”
“Yes, hate. You know, despise, loathe, abhor. What erodes you from the inside?”
“What, about myself, or the world in general?”
“Let’s start with you, then move on to the world in general.”
“I hate that I am fat and ugly and stupid.”
Chris takes a swig of his beer. “You are none of those things, but I can dig irrational self-loathing. What else?”

Australian author, Laura Buzo’s novel, Love and Other Perishable Itemstakes a realistic and charming look at what a young girl endures when she has a crush that she knows deep down will not amount to anything except a broken heart. 15-year-old Amelia Hayes falls for her grocery store co-worker, Chris. At 21-years-old, Amelia knows that Chris is too old for her, but this does not stop her from falling for him and obsessing non-stop about every interaction.

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Love and Companionship in "Our Souls at Night", by Kent Haruf - Book Review

Our Souls at Night is filled with neither passion nor adventure. Rather, it is a restrained telling of a kind of love story - two ordinary people coming together, dealing with adversity. Sounds banal enough; however, our protagonists are old souls. That is, both over the age of 70 whose spouses have passed away. It’s a relationship not often written of, and certainly not in popular fiction.

Author Kent Haruf has written several award-winning novels. Our Souls at Night is his last, published after his death. The story takes place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado - a small community where everyone knows everyone’s business and openly critiques. Our widow Addie approaches an acquaintance, Louis with an offer. Both have been on their own for years, and Addie is lonely. Her proposal to Louis is to come spend nights with her - lay next to each other, hold hands and talk. Despite becoming the scandalous talk of the town and initial disapproval of their grown children, they openly continue. And it’s lovely. Of course, complications ensue and we see if Addie and Louis can endure.

Haruf’s writing is spare, and the dialogue is confined to only what he feels is important for us to understand - the mere essence of their relationship and care for one another. And on second thought, perhaps the book really is about passion and adventure, though not in the usual sense. It’s the passion for living life through advanced age and continuing to look forward to what adventure is ahead.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Vickie’s rating: 3 stars 

The End of Civilization As We Know It in "Station Eleven", by Emily St. John Mandel - Book Review

Station Eleven’s storyline seamlessly moves between present day and the post-apocalyptic world that remains after most of the human population is decimated by a catastrophic world-wide pandemic. In a strangely non- "end of the world" book fashion, it starts off in the midst of a Shakespeare play and the Bard, through his works, seems to almost become a character in the story. 

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel

Through a masterful use of flashbacks and foreshadowing, author Emily St. John Mandel weaves a complicated tale, involving numerous characters and relationships that she wraps up so neatly at the end you feel as though you’ve been given a beautiful present. And her representations of what the end of life as we know it would be are so realistic; they are as believable as they are frightening.

Operating in the new world under a theory that “survival is insufficient,” those still alive have to face an existence that most of us have never contemplated much less lived. The desperate circumstances the characters face turn them into killers at times, but we understand that it is necessary for the greater good and are shockingly unbothered by it. Despite the bleak landscape of the "years after", Mandel’s story is one of hopefulness of the human spirit. One that has us believing that good will prevail against the evil that lurks close by, and that life will find a way no matter what. 

A finalist and/or winner for multiple prestigious awards, this post apocalyptic tale reads like classic literature, and is absolutely worthy of your time.

Published: 2014
Publisher: Knopf/Vintage Books

Elizabeth's rating: 5 stars

Blood on Snow, by Jo Nesbo - Book Review

Blood on Snow is my first foray into the world of Jo Nesbo, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. First, let me begin with the reasons I chose this book. One, the book has been on many “2015 must read” lists. Two, I’ve been focused on female-centric books lately and wanted a change of pace. And finally, Nesbo’s bio - “a musician, songwriter, and economist, as well as a writer”. Perfect.

The story is told by Olav, a “fixer”, or contract killer in the frigid Norway winter. As he tells us about himself, we think he’s perhaps a bit dim. But we find quickly that while he has dyslexia, Olav is quite clever. He tries to deceive us often with, “but what do I know” comments after explaining that he’s read a scientific journal or idealized the romance of Les Misérables. Olav fixes situations for his bosses, but he also fixes stories - both in books and his own reality to turn them into a newer, more interesting and romantic version.

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