Thursday, December 31, 2009

Page 6: Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi

Robert K. Tanenbaum has been writing best sellers since 1987 when No Lesser Plea was published.  The amazing thing is that this was the first book in a series that now numbers 22 books with the 22nd scheduled to be published in 2010.  His background is just as amazing as his books.  According to the book jacket on one of his novels: "Robert K. Tanenbaum is one of the country's most successful trial lawyers--he has never lost a felony case.  He has held such prestigious positions as homicide bureau chief for the New York District Attorney's Office and deputy chief counsel to the congressional committee investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr".  He is also a former two-term mayor of Beverly Hills.

A friend of mine introduced me to this series and I have read every one except the two latest.  You are introduced to Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi in the early books as well as their hectic lives.  Butch is Jewish, but not religious.  Marlene is Sicilian, religious, and superstitious.  What a match!  The supporting cast includes lawyers, police, politicians, reporters, FBI agents, terrorists, corrupt officials, and very interesting street people who hang out at the Criminal Courts Building.

The Fantastic Fiction website has a very brief elevator synopsis for each book.  Check them out at and you will get a good flavor for each book.  The characters mature through the years, become even better than at the beginning, and become involved in a variety of life and death and good vs. evil plots.  If you like legal thrillers, or even think you would like them, these books are for you.  I may even go back and start reading them from the beginning again.  That is how good I think they are.  Here is a list of all the books in the series and their publishing dates:

No Lesser Plea (1987)
Depraved Indifference (1989)
Immoral Certainty (1991)
Reversible Error (1992)
Material Witness (1993)
Justice Denied (1994)
Corruption of Blood (1994)
Falsely Accused (1996)
Irresistible Impulse (1997)
Reckless Endangerment (1998)
Act of Revenge (1999)
True Justice (2000)
Enemy Within (2001)
Absolute Rage (2002)
Resolved (2003)
Hoax (2004)
Fury (2005)
Counterplay (2006)
Malice (2007)
Escape (2008)
Capture (2009)
Betrayal (2010)

I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Page 5: Old Money, New Money

Nelson DeMille has written many good books.  Two of them I particularly like are The Gold Coast and The Gate House.  The first book was published in 1990 and the second in 2009.  Many of the same characters are in both books and the story line continues after the surprising conclusion of the first book.

The name "Gold Coast" refers to the North Shore of Long Island where the mansions of the very rich, old money families, have been lived in for generations.  Most are not doing as well in the last part of the 20th Century and have either sold the mansions, part of their estates, or just moved away to the Carolinas or Florida.

DeMille has a sense of humor that keeps you interested in the main characters in spite of all the dumb things they do to screw up their lives.  Imagine laughing out loud while reading a book, The Gold Coast, where a mafia Don from New York City (new money) moves next door to an old money family.  Lawyer John Sutton (the comic) and his wife Susan find themselves caught between their friends, who are shocked that the Mafia has invaded the North Shore, and their social obligation of being nice to the new neighbors.  It gets even more interesting.  John Sutton is having a mid-life crisis.  He has a local practice and  specializes in real estate sales, managing the investments of his neighbors,  and completing their income taxes.  He eventually ends up defending the Don in a criminal case.  Throw some adultery and tax fraud into the mix and it gets even more interesting.

The Gate House picks up the story ten years later.  The same crime family is involved as well as John Sutter and Susan.  The humor continues while the characters seemed destined for self-destruction once again.

Here is a link to the Nelson DeMille website.  I will blog about some of his other books in future posts.  I hope you laugh as much as I did when you read these.  If you have read these books already, let me know your take on them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Page 4: Gabriel Allon, Art Restorer and Israeli Spy

A series of books I discovered about a year ago is the one by Daniel Silva.  The latest is The Defector which came out in the fall  and immediately became a New York Times best seller.  This series is so good I would suggest you start at the beginning and work your way through all of them. Here they are in chronological order:

The Kill Artist
The English Assassin
The Confessor
A Death in Vienna
Prince of Fire
The Messenger
The Secret Servant
Moscow Rules

The main character is Gabriel Allon who is an art restorer in his public life, not that he has much of one, and a highly skilled secret agent for Israeli Intelligence in his other life.  Gabriel has quite a history.  He was recruited from art school to be trained as an assassin.  It was determined that he had the right stuff in terms of psychological profile and determination to complete a difficult, if not impossible, task.  He was trained and then assigned to the team that Golda Meir sent to hunt down and kill the murderers of the athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  His team was tasked to hunt each of them down and kill them no matter where they were hiding.  They did exactly that.  However, it took a huge toll on all of them including Gabriel.  Killing anyone up close and personal, no matter who they are, proved to be more than any of them expected.  Gabriel was the best at the killing.  His legend follows him throughout each book as he continues to carry out assignments given to him by the intelligence service.  The character studies of the team members he chooses for these missions as well as the skills they all possess are fascinating reading.

Gabriel Allon's cover is that of an art restorer.  He is so good at what he does that he is hired by the Vatican to restore various  priceless works of art.  This dichotomy is part of what makes these books so good.  Not only do you get a glimpse of the inner workings of Israeli Intelligence, but several very interesting lessons in how Renaissance masterpieces are painstakingly restored to their original brilliance and beauty.

This series is a must read for those of you who enjoy John LeCarre, Len Deighton, Nelson Demille and other authors of this genre. Daniel Silva writes a great story and just keeps getting better with each book.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Page 3: The Amazon Kindle

All right, my reason for starting this blog was to talk about the books I have read and hope some of you will be interested enough to comment and read one or two of them.  This is book-related since the Kindle is an electronic device for reading books and other printed media.  So much for the justification for this post.

I recently purchased a Kindle.  You know how it is.  You go on Amazon to look for books and keep coming across the Kindle page.  You read about it, check out the reviews, and start getting emails from the Amazon Kindle Store.  The next thing you do is download the Kindle App to your iPhone or iPod Touch and start reading books on the small screen.  It isn't that bad, but you keep thinking: "Why am I reading books on such a small screen when I could go to the library and check out a real book or go to the local bookstore and buy one to help the local economy?"  Maybe I've been listening to too many of Leo Laporte's podcasts and have been afflicted with his uncontrollable desire to buy every new device that comes out.  Oh God, I might be turning into a technology junkie!   

Anyway, I ordered a Kindle 2 the day after Thanksgiving, maybe it was the chemicals in the turkey that affected my brain, and paid the extra money for Saturday shipping.  In this case it was next day shipping.  Sure enough the package arrived Saturday afternoon and I was like a kid with a new toy.  I read the electronic manual and was ready to go.  Here is my take on it.

The screen is great.  It is easy to read, no glare, and you can change the font size.  Look out large print books, the Kindle has you beat.  Since it comes with a wireless AT&T connection it is like a cell phone you can't talk on, but streams books in bits that travel in one direction--down.  This is good, though.  You can download books, magazines, newspapers, blogs and many other text materials in about a minute.  You have to pay for most of them--after all this is America and somebody has to make a buck.

I started out slowly.  I have purchased only one book and subscribed to two magazines so far from the Kindle Store. I am certain this won't last.  I can see a spending frenzy in my future.  However, the neatest thing about the Kindle is that you are also able to download audio books from  I already had an account with Audible and have downloaded a couple of audio books.  You can listen through the external speaker or plug in your earphones.  Right now I am listening to What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis.  This is a great book and I'll talk about it in a future post.

There were a couple of other surprises as well.  There is an experimental section that includes the ability to surf the net, import your own PDF files, and download mp3 files.  The browsing is a little 'klunky', but it works well enough to find information as long as you can live with text without many visual images.  I guess the mp3 files are for those who want to listen to music while they are reading.  I haven't tried this yet, but plan to in the near future.  I haven't tried to import any of my PDF files, but see this as a great advantage if you are traveling and want to take the files with you so you can read them on your Kindle.

The only thing I don't like about the Kindle is the on/off switch.  It is at the top and quite small.  To work it properly you need to use your finger nail.  Once you get used to it the process works, but it could be better.  An on/off switch like the one on the iPod Touch would be much better.

If someone asked me how I liked the Kindle on a scale of 1 to 5 I would give it a 4.5.  I like it a lot and use it every day, but it could be a little bit better.  Now I am waiting to see what Apple comes out with next year with their media tablet that has generated so much speculation and buzz for the past several months.  It's your fault Leo. If you want a great e reader, go ahead and buy a Kindle.  I think the price point ($259) is good, especially for someone who loves to read and wants a good portable device that holds a lot of text and audio books.

Bottom line: buy it, you'll like it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Page 2: Philip Caputo Book About the Darfur Region of Sudan

We have an excellent local bookstore in my community called Present Tense.  On a recent visit, I was browsing for something to read and came across the paperback edition of the Philip Caputo novel Acts of Faith.  Philip Caputo is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer.  Long books usually give me the urge to keep browsing, this one is 669 pages, and I was reluctant to buy it until I discovered it was about the Darfur region of Sudan. 

All I know about Darfur is what I've read in magazines, newspapers, blogs, and news reports on CNN.  For many of us, Africa has become the forgotten continent.  We view events there from a distance and find it difficult to find a connection to our lives. The famine in Darfur is one of the greatest human tragedies in recent times.  Philip Caputo brings this tragedy to us through the eyes of the people working for relief agencies.  This includes the aid workers, missionaries, and pilots that fly the food and material to the people in need in the middle of a civil war between the Sudanese Government and the rebels.

The characters include missionaries who are trying to convert the natives to Christianity, a long established practice in Africa.  The airline charter companies are trying to make money by flying cargo into the affected areas.  The pilots are there because they love to fly and want to make a few bucks in the process.  Some have altruistic motives, but most of them are there for the flying even if it means dodging attacks from the Sudanese armed forces trying to prevent the relief goods from reaching their destination. 

If you want to find out more about Darfur through the eyes of the people directly involved, even though this is a work of fiction, I don't think you will find a better novel to inform you.  The book starts out at an even pace, but just keeps getting better and better.  The characters are very believable and you are soon drawn into their stories.  I found this book so compelling I did not want it to end.

Here is a quote from The New Yorker that appears on the "acclaim page"of the book:

"Nothing is omitted in this ambitious novel depicting the turbulent lives of several aid workers at the height of theSudanese civil war....Caputo may have set out to write an epic parable about the dangers of uncritical belief, but he ended up with, quite simply, a great story."

Read this book.  You will not be disappointed.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Page 1: Two Good Reads

I have always been an avid reader, and thought it would be fun to share my take on various books I have read. Much of my reading is pretty eclectic, but there are always favorites. Two recent books are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. The third book, according to Amazon, is coming out next year on May 25th. The title is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The author submitted the manuscripts for this trilogy shortly before his untimely death. All I can say is if these are the quality of books he would have gone on to write had he lived, we are all the poorer for it. If you like crime novels, an inside look at computer hacking, mystery, plot twists, and a very unconventional heroine, these books are for you.

Both books take place in Sweden. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduces a unique heroine, Lisbeth Salandar, and uses a parallel plot line to follow her as well as the male hero, Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael is a writer who is sued for slander and loses. After the trial, when he is at a very low point professionally, he is offered a job by an industrialist, Henrik Vanger, who lives a few hours north of Stockholm. The offer is for Mikael to write a Vanger family history, but that is just the cover. The real task for Mikael is to find what happened to Henrik's niece who disappeared nearly forty years ago. The pace picks up quickly and Mikael and Lisbeth team up to solve a mystery that puts both their lives at risk.

The Girl who Played with Fire continues with the same main characters, Lisbeth and Mikael, but reveals much more about Lisbeth's background that was only briefly touched upon during the first novel. Lisbeth is the prime suspect in the murder of a journalist and grad student completing her dissertation on the sleazy side of Swedish life, the sexual exploitation of women. They are completing a book for Mikael's magazine that will name judges, police and others as important players in this exploitation. Mikael is convinced of Lisbeth's innocence, but has a difficult time proving it. Lisbeth proves to be as resourceful and unpredictable as she was in the previous book.

If you have not read these books yet, I would strongly urge you to read them in order. You don't have to, obviously, but I think you will appreciate them much better. Get ready for a modern Sweden that has a real dark side including neo-Nazis, biker drug dealers, sexual exploitation of women and conniving capitalists. Gee, it sounds a lot like the United States! You won't be able to put either book down until the final page.