Two books plus one

I’m reading two books at once. This isn’t my usual preference, but I have one at the office and the other at home and so far it’s working out.

I’ve been back at work full time for a few weeks and that means forced one hour lunch breaks again. I know the value of breaks throughout the day but a half hour would be enough if it meant I could leave earlier. Alas, I don’t make the rules.

Since I work on campus at a large university I have lots of options for reading, indoors or outside. Three libraries are a 5-10 minute walk away, and they all have choice window seats. There’s also the Grand Reading Room where you have to sign in and leave your stuff in a locker, but the atmosphere is worth it (click to see the giant mural Outside this time of year is hot but so pretty with magnolias in bloom, giant oaks all leafed out and flowering plants everywhere. Good spots abound!

Deacon King Kong is a perfect lunchbreak book. I can easily cruise through one or two chapters in an hour, each one a fully formed and completely satisfying short story. The characters are written into existence – you can see them and hear them so vividly – and each chapter and scene is laid out with comic genius. Author James McBride is so talented. He is funny and observant and it’s a pleasure to experience his story unfold one hour at a time.

I don’t know how to do this book justice in a short blurb. It’s set in the 1960s in the projects in NY. All I can say is I’m not even a quarter of the way through and I can already recommend it. Want to laugh? Want to feel? Want to think? Pick it up.

My home book is A Gentleman in Moscow. I’d heard of it but never did more than add it to a list. It was published by Amor Towles in 2016 and it is, in a word, wonderful. What took me so long?

I finished Part One a few days ago and I’m excited and apprehensive for what lies ahead. The gentleman is the Count Rostov, a sometime poet and free thinker in Moscow living in a hotel. He’s arrested and sentenced to the hotel – he can never leave or he will be killed. Each chapter is a different adventure, encounter or recollection as we learn about the Count, his family and friends, and the people he meets at the hotel.

This book had me from the first page. Charming and funny, each chapter in the first part is a complete delight. It reminds me of All The Light We Cannot See in that it’s just a treat to read and experience. One of those books I wish everyone would read because books like this make us better humans.

So there you have it: two tiny yet enthusiastic reviews of books I haven’t even finished yet. I’m 99% sure they won’t end up in my ‘Good Book Bad Ending’ category. Definitely worth your time – lunchtime, before bed, on the weekend. They’re all good times to get lost in a book.


At the risk of turning this blog into a C.J. Box fan club, here’s another review of another one of his books, one of his standalone novels, Blue Heaven.

Written in 2007, this is really two mysteries wrapped up in one gripping novel. Blue Heaven is set in North Dakota and features a good man named Jess Rawlins. He’s a struggling rancher on the brink of having to sell his family property. Jess is an unlikely hero with problems of his own, but he steps up to assist two desperate young children and their mother. Along the way he aligns with a good ex-cop from southern California and goes up against four bad cops from LA.

That’s the thing with Box’s novels: things are clear cut with no grey areas. Good is good – human and fallible – but good. Bad is evil, no-good, bad news.

Annie and William are two kids out for a fishing adventure when they witness something terrible. They’re spotted and have to go on the run but have the good fortune to meet our working-class hero. Their story intersects with a California crime that was never solved to the good cop’s satisfaction. He followed the money north to “blue heaven” where scores of ex-LA cops have retired.

Box’s books may have a different setting than you’re used to but his underlying themes including poverty, bad choices and redemption are universal.

Happy summer reading!


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