Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives! by Richard Ned Lebow

archdukeBook - On the 28th of June, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo, an event which is now commonly regarded as the spark that kicked off World War I. In this book, Lebow considers what might have happened if the assassin had missed. The Archduke, he argues, was an important moderate voice in European politics, and if he had lived, war may have been avoided. But what would the world look like if one of the deadliest conflicts of the twentieth century had never happened?

Lebow offers two alternatives: a particularly good world, in which the absence of war creates an open, moderate, and prosperous global community; and a particularly bad one, in which the tensions which contributed to the Great War continue without ever breaking into outright war, creating an atmosphere of oppression and paranoia. He admits that either set of events is as plausible as the other, and we’ll never be able to test his guesses, but he also argues that thinking about how things could have been different helps us to understand why things happened the way they did.

Since the book focuses so much on individual people, it’s easy to get lost in a long list of names and titles, particularly since half of the book is describing things that these people never actually did. I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the war, but for someone already a little familiar with the events, this is an interesting new angle.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

brokenBook – Top detective Mick Kennedy is the lead investigator for a heinous crime that has resulted in the deaths of Patrick Spain and his two young children. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care. The crime took place in the family’s home, a large, fancy house in one of the newer half-abandoned developments in an outlying suburb in Ireland. As Mick and his partner, Richie, begin to delve into the investigation, they began to realize that all is not as it seems. At the same time, the case unearths memories for Mick and his sister, Dina, that have remained unresolved from their childhood. As Dina unravels, the case also begins to spiral out of control. Tana French’s stories and characters are compelling and terrifying. Broken Harbor was an eerie place and a haunting story. French has written several other psychological thrillers, including In the Woods.       

Keeping Mum (2005)

keeping_mum_xlgMovie-Keeping Mum is a dark English comedy that’s sly humor tickles me every time. With a cast like Rowan Atkinson, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Patrick Swazye you kind of know things will go awry in a most amusing way. Keeping Mum takes place in a sleepy hamlet where Rowan Atkinson plays a hard-working and completely oblivious Vicar. More attuned with his flock vs. his family he is clueless that his daughter is sleeping around with everyone, his wife has been thinking lewd thoughts about her golf instructor and his son has been bullied at school. In comes Maggie Smith, the anti-Mary Poppins. Hilarity ensues as this group comes together as a family.

This is an R-rated movie with nudity and adult topics. For fans of Kinky Boots, Hysteria, Saving Grace, and The Full Monty.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

cuckooBook - The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith is a compelling, fun to read mystery. Set in modern day London, private investigator Cormoran Strike, a decorated wounded war veteran, is trying to keep his struggling agency afloat.  His life is an emotional mess and a new client gives Strike hope. John Bristow’s supermodel adopted sister Lula Landry is dead, and though the police have ruled it a suicide, he is convinced that she was murdered by being pushed off her balcony. He hires Strike to find the killer.  In order to give his full attention to the case, Strike employs Robin as a temporary office assistant, who turns out to be more valuable than he anticipated. The problem is that he really can’t afford to keep her. The investigation is an entertaining romp through the world of fashion and celebrities, as Strike and Robin form a sold fact finding team. Readers will continue reading to find out if there really was a killer and if Robin will stay on working for Strike or take a full time position elsewhere. Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. This mystery series is very different from the Harry Potter books and appropriate for more mature readers.  Recently published, the second Cormoran Strike book is The Silkworm.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of ThievesBook - City of Thieves is, in the author’s own words, a semi-biographical look at the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. A thief and a deserter are arrested and given an impossible choice, find a dozen eggs in a city cut off from all outside supply lines or be executed. While this is a rather weak quest, Lev and Kolya bring the city and the war to life for readers.

While most ‘modern’ authors tend to write accents out phonetically so that you know they are speaking a different language, David Benioff restructured the sentences to give them a wonderful Russian cadence. Admittedly I don’t have much experience with the Russian language, but it flowed as if I was listening to Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof speak.

For those who enjoyed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyCity of Thieves is a humanizing account of World War II that reminds you of the entire story, not just what you were taught in school.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

girlBookThe Girl With All the Gifts is such a unique reading experience that I really don’t want to spoil it by telling you too many things about it before you start. So instead, I’ll introduce you to the main character, Melanie. Melanie is a very special little girl. She wakes up every morning in a cell, and soldiers strap her to a chair to take her to class. On the best days, class is taught by Miss Justineau, who was the one who told Melanie the story behind her name. Sometimes, one of the other children from her class will disappear, and no one will explain where they went or why. And then, one day, Melanie finds out.

This is a tremendously moving book, full of rich characters and heartfelt relationships. Miss Justineau cares so much for Melanie, and Melanie for her, but even the less sympathetic characters grow on you over time as you learn, along with Melanie, more about who they are and what they care about and fear. If you liked Kauzo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, or Mike Carey’s other work, you will love this book.

Back to Brooklyn by Barbra Streisand

Music – This is the new live performance album from the great Barbra Streisand. She grew up in Brooklyn, and when the new Barclays Center luxury arena opened there, she agreed to present a live concert, which she rarely does because she has stage fright. The album has 26 songs, nine of which she had never performed on stage before. Barbra talks to the audience about her memories of living in her Brooklyn apartment childhood home. Of course, she went on to fabulous stardom as a singer-songwriter, author, actress, film producer and director. She is one of only twelve other entertainers who have an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and a Tony award. She is the best-selling female artist on the Top Selling Artists list (32 top ten albums since 1963). She has released 51 Gold albums, 30 Platinum, and 13 Multi-Platinum. She starred in the movies Funny Girl, The Way We Were, and The Owl and the Pussycat, and many others. In Back to Brooklyn everything is perfect – the orchestra, the arrangements, and her voice (smoky, silken and lustrous). Every song is wonderful! I loved “The Way we Were,” Evergreen,” and “Here’s to Life.” Streisand, now 71, can still knock your socks off with what NY Times music critic, Stephen Holden, describes as her “gift for conveying a primal human longing in a beautiful sound.”

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

lookingBook – Teddi Overman owns an antique shop in Charleston, where she can fulfill her passion for restoring and selling antiques. She works with her two quirky employees, Albert and Inez. While her life is filled with her work, friends and caring for her Grammy Belle who lives nearby, she is haunted by her childhood and the family she left behind in rural Kentucky. She is estranged from her mother, who wanted her daughter to be a secretary and disapproves of her career and life choices. She also mourns the loss of her younger brother, Josh, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. As she tries to reconcile her present with her past, Teddi uncovers the secrets hidden beneath her family’s pain and comes to terms with their choices. Charming, hopeful and filled with eccentric characters, this book is an engaging summer read by the author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

killingBook – You may know Julia Keller as a reporter and editor who worked at the Chicago Tribune, where she won a Pulitzer Prize, but she also wrote three adult mysteries in the Bell Elkins series. The first book, A Killing in The Hills, begins as three elderly men are gunned down at a diner. The county prosecutor, Bell Elkins, may be the next victim, because her rebellious 17 year old daughter, Carla, is a witness to the shooting and is keeping some secrets of her own. Also, Bell together with her friend from childhood, Sheriff Nick Fogelsong, wage their own war on drugs trying to find the source of a growing distribution of illegal prescription drugs.  Bell’s single mother life is further complicated by a case where a mentally challenged young man is accused of murdering his friend. This is a page turning haunting mystery set in a beautiful but poverty stricken small town in the Appalachian Mountains.  The book has received starred reviews from BookList, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly.  Looking forward to reading the next books in the series Bitter River and Summer of the Dead.

How Not to be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg

how notBook – Jordan Ellenberg, professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has written a book about math: not how you learned it in high school, but how it really is. We’re not talking about addition and subtraction here, or even algebra or calculus. (Well, a little calculus.) What Ellenberg is talking about in this book is the way math works, the way math shapes the world, and the way we can use math to change how we understand the world.

As a bonus, Ellenberg is pretty entertaining while he’s teaching. Examples range from baseball statistics to politics to con artists, and the book is liberally scattered with amusing footnotes. For example, from a description of how not to add percentages, using the Florida 2000 election results as an illustration:

Yes, I, too, know that one guy who thought both Gore and Bush were tools of the capitalist overlords and it didn’t make a difference who won. I am not talking about that guy.

This is a massively enlightening and entertaining book, and if you like having your mind blown but always suffered through trig by looking things up in the back of the book and praying you’d remember the formulas long enough to get through the test, you may enjoy How Not to be Wrong more than you might think.