Review: The Third Hotel

After arriving in Cuba for a film festival, Clare spots her husband standing outside of a museum. The thing is, he most certainly died shortly before the trip. Clair is bewildered, but determined to track down this doppelganger and have a conversation. 

Laura van den Berg’s dreamy novel The Third Hotel (Digital galley, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) floats between the metaphysical and real worlds, leaving the reader uncertain of where the border lies. The screening of a zombie movie during the festival leads to the intermingling on the streets of Havana of the film’s cast and Claire’s undead husband, toying with horror tropes.

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Review: Drink Beer, Think Beer

Drink Beer, Think Beer review

As Senior Editor of Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine, former editor of All About Beer Magazine, author of a beer cookbook and co-host of a beer podcast, John Holl has spent a lot of time drinking, discussing, writing and thinking about beer. His latest effort, Drink Beer, Think Beer: Getting to the Bottom of Every Pint is an extended homage to modern brewing and its independent producers.

While it’s clear Hull is a lover of  beer, he does not come off as a beer snob. The book makes it clear that craft beer can and should be enjoyed by everyone. “It’s easy to get caught up in the fever of chasing a new, rare, or local beer without stopping to reconsider and appreciate the classics,” writes Hull. “This is time spent worrying about what a beer should be or could be rather than what it is, and when that happens we lose sight of what got us excited about beer in the first place. Each new trip to the bar, each new beer opened, is a chance to break that cycle and to focus on the moment at hand.”

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Very short reviews of books

A roundup of brief reviews of books I read in July. An American Marriage is worthy of the praise it’s received this year and A Terrible Country is an interesting take on live in Putin’s Russia.

An American Marriage: This bold novel takes on marriage, racial injustice and the American dream in a story of a relationship stressed to the breaking point.  (5/5 stars)

A Terrible Country: A compassionate story of a down-on-his-luck American intellectual who goes to Moscow to take care of his ailing grandmother. (5/5 stars)

Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life: A guide to improving perception to better understand the world around us. (4/5 stars)

Little Fires Everywhere: This novel examines wealth, privilege and race in a picture-perfect Cleveland suburb. (4/5 stars)

The Ghost Brigades: A solid second entry on John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, focuses on a special forces clone created to help stop an attack on humanity. (4/5 stars)

Something in the Water: A couple honeymooning in Bora Bora discovers something while out scuba diving and make a series of dangerous choices in this summer thriller that is slow to start and full of predictable twists. (3/5 stars)

Number One Chinese Restaurant: Family and coworker tensions flare up after a disaster strikes a suburban Chinese restaurant in this novel dominated by subplots. (3/5 stars)

The best new books from the first half of 2018

Here is my list of the best new books from the first half of 2018. I’ve listed them in the order I would most recommend them to someone. But if you’re inclined, read them all.

The Sun Does Shine: In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton is sent to Alabama’s death row for two murders he didn’t commit. This is his story. But it’s not a blow-by-blow account of the injustices done to him, it’s an extraordinary story of rising above hate and stoically serving as a source of light to those around him on death row. Read full review.

Robin: This intimate biography of Robin Williams tells the story of the meteoric rise, frenetic life and the sad final days of the comedian. Read full review.

An American Marriage: A beautifully written love story of a young couple dealing with the trauma brought on by a terrible injustice.

The Mars Room: This is a brutal, yet empathetic novels examines a life gone sideways, following a young mother given two life sentences in prison. Read full review.

Calypso: David Sedaris deftly handles a variety of topics including  middle age, shopping, gay marriage, language and family tragedy in this achingly funny book. Read full review.

A Terrible Country: A compassionate story of a man who travels to Russia to take care of his ailing grandmother and tries to find fellowship among Moscow’s inhabitants. Read full review.

The Which Way Tree: Set on the Texas frontier during the Civil War, this quick read weaves a story of violence, survival and frontier justice. Read full review.

Feast Days: This eloquent novel by Ian MacKenzie follows an expatriate couple and examines the social norms of Brazil. Read full review.

Friday afternoon coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories to enjoy with your Friday morning afternoon coffee.

  1. Haruki Murakami’s new novel declared ‘indecent’ by Hong Kong censors.
  2. Why are there so many suckers? A neuropsychologist explains.
  3. Every law is violent.
  4. Audience member steps in to save performance of La Boheme at Royal Opera House.
  5. Five grammar mistakes even the best writers make.
  6. Reflecting on 9 years living in China.
  7. Billy Joel may never write another song.
  8. The 50 highest-paid musicians.
  9. Stephen King is going through a cinematic renaissance, thanks to directors who grew up as fans.
  10. Mel Brooks at 92.

Review: A Terrible Country

Andrei Kaplan is coming off of a failed relationship, low on cash and struggling to find an academic job when his brother asks him to do a favor. Kaplan accepts and heads to Russia where he will take care of his ailing grandmother in her Stalin-era, Moscow apartment.

From the start Kaplan finds it difficult to navigate Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where prices are rising and even meager entertainments are out of the reach of his limited budget. But he dutifully looks out for his grandmother and sets out to find fellowship, first on the hockey rink and later among a group of revolutionary leftists who test his beliefs.

Keith Gessen’s A Terrible Country (Digital galley, Viking) is a compassionate story that centers on the relationship of Kaplan and his grandmother, who is suffering from dementia. At times humorous, the novel offers a peek at the competing forces building a new Russia and humanizes the characters who inhabit modern Moscow.

Review: Number One Chinese Restaurant

The characters of Number One Chinese Restaurant all inhabit a planet orbiting the Beijing Duck House. A fire at the suburban Washington, D.C restaurant upends the equilibrium and tensions between family and coworkers come to the surface.

At the center of the novel by Lillian LI are two brothers with different philosophies of life and what it means to be restaurateurs. Thrown into the mix are long-serving restaurant staff and a mobster “uncle” who seems to be pulling strings behind the scenes.

Unfortunately Number One Chinese Restaurant (Digital galley, Henry Holt & Co.) is a book dominated by subplots. The family tensions make for interesting stories, but without a gripping, dominant plot line it was unfortunately not a compelling read.

Friday morning coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories to enjoy with your Friday morning coffee.

  1. The industrial era ended, and so will the digital era.
  2. What I learned as a honeymoon planner for billionaires.
  3. What’s holding Mexico’s economy back.
  4. Should we hide the locations of Earth’s greatest trees?
  5. Wealth and education have made Ireland a better place.
  6. Is Barnes & Noble too big to Fail?
  7. Supreme Court’s ruling on taxes might affect art dealers nationwide.

Very short reviews of books

A round up of brief reviews of books I read in June. David Lynch’s biography Room to Dream and Stephen King’s The Outsider are new to bookstores and worth reading.

The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway’s first novel and one of his best works follows American and British expats traveling from Paris to the bullfights of Pamplona. (5/5 stars.)

Room to Dream: A peek behind the camera to see what drives the visionary director and artist who has delivered a number of memorable films that enthrall and confuse viewers..(4/5 stars.) Read my full review.

The Outsider: What starts as a murder mystery morphs into a familiar Stephen King creep-fest with a bogeyman channeling Pennywise from It. (4/5 stars.)

Angela’s Ashes: I’m late to the game, but Frank McCourt’s memoir of growing up poor in Ireland is as moving as everyone says it is. (4/5 stars.)

A Geek In Japan: A fun, heavily illustrated and informative guide to the unique Japanese culture. (4/5 stars.)

The Stranger in the Woods: A remarkable and revealing story of a man who lived as a hermit in the Maine woods for 27 years. (4/5 stars.)

Old Man’s War: In John Scalzi’s science fiction novel, the elderly are given a chance at rebirth as part of humanity’s interstellar fighting force. (4/5 stars.)

The Art of Map Illustration: Four artists share their techniques for mapmaking as well as samples of their work. While the book is full of beautiful maps, it seems more time is spent describing how to illustrate map embellishments such as trees and buildings.  (3/5 stars.) Read my full review.

Review: Room to Dream

The inscrutable auteur David Lynch has delivered a number of memorable films that enthrall and confuse viewers. In Room to Dream we get to peek behind the camera to see what drives the visionary director and artist.

In this autobiographical work that’s a collaboration between Lynch and Kristine McKenna, the chapters alternate between interviews with more than 100 colleagues, friends and family and Lynch’s own recollections of events. The biography ranges from stories of his growing up in a small western town to the processes that went into creating such iconic works as Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive.

Lynch was involved in even the smallest details of each of his works. He would often change directions on a whim if he felt it would serve the story and he was known to pull people from his production crew or even off of the street if he saw a roll for them in a film. Lynch’s colleagues universally laud him as one of the kindest and most giving directors to have worked with. A number of artists interviewed for the book credit Lynch as having given them the chance that kick started their careers.

Other than Dune, Lynch has avoided projects that could be consider big-budget Hollywood movies. Room to Dream (Random House, digital galley) is a refreshing look at someone who has pursued a singular vision and is willing to say “no” when his goals don’t align with financial backers.

Friday morning coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories to enjoy with your Friday morning coffee.

  1. Live Nation rigged an entire concert to measure the biometrics of music fans.
  2. The trouble with Johnny Depp.
  3. Shrines, gardens, 7-Elevens: A Japan journal.
  4. Thousands of Swedes are inserting microchips into themselves – here’s why.
  5. Can Silicon Valley disrupt how we construct buildings?
  6. Exploring the digital ruins of Second Life.
  7. Technology in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  8. The uncertain fate of the much-loved puffin.
  9. Where have America’s truck drivers gone?
  10. Spite buildings: When human grudges get architectural.
  11. Bad .Men at .Work. Please don’t .Click.
  12. The physicists watched a clock tick for 14 years straight.