Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Page 44: A Most Wanted Man

John le Carre continues his great writing with this novel about a Chechnyan terrorist who shows up in Hamburg seeking help from a lawyer who works for an agency specializing in assisting paperless immigrants.  She feels sorry for Issa who appears to be an underfed and demoralized young man who says his only goal in life is to become a doctor.  The story moves somewhat slowly at first, but then becomes more complex when Turkish immigrants, a mother and son, the lawyer, and a banker try to help Issa.  As the security forces of Germany, England, and the United States pursue Issa the plot moves quickly to a most surprising and unsettling conclusion.

This book has mixed reviews, but I think it is one of his better ones.  Many critics thought John le Carre's books would not have the same flavor or substance after the end of the cold war, but they have been very mistaken.  I have been a fan of John le Carre's work since his early days.  The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and the classic trilogy about George Smiley and his opposite number in the Soviet Union, Carla, are some of the best of this genre.  There is still a great deal of material to be mined in the post cold war world, especially with the great battle going on between radical Islam and the western nations.

Here are a couple of reviews:
Publishers Weekly

"When boxer Melik Oktay and his mother, both Turkish Muslims living in Hamburg, take in a street person calling himself Issa at the start of this morally complex thriller from le Carré (The Mission Song), they set off a chain of events implicating intelligence agencies from three countries. Issa, who claims to be a Muslim medical student, is, in fact, a wanted terrorist and the son of Grigori Karpov, a Red Army colonel whose considerable assets are concealed in a mysterious portfolio at a Hamburg bank. Tommy Brue, a stereotypical flawed everyman caught up in the machinations of spies and counterspies, enters the plot when Issa's attorney seeks to claim these assets. The book works best in its depiction of the rivalries besetting even post-9/11 intelligence agencies that should be allies, but none of the characters is as memorable as George Smiley or Magnus Pym. Still, even a lesser le Carré effort is far above the common run of thrillers. (Oct.)"
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Bookmarks Magazine
"While this novel may be le Carre's first take on espionage in Europe after the Cold War, critics could not be more divided over its quality. Alan Furst, himself one of the greats of the genre, opines that A Most Wanted Man might be one of the author's best, not for its content so much as for its technical brilliance. But other reviewers panned the work, arguing that le Carre's outrage over recent American intelligence practices distorts the plot and renders many of the characters as mere cliches. Perhaps the consensus is that A Most Wanted Man is an enjoyable le Carre novel (and therefore much better than most thrillers)—but far from his best."
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
As with any creative work, opinions may vary.  Books are like movies, they receive good and bad reviews, but the ultimate decision is up to the viewer or the reader as the case may be.  Use your own judgement.  I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of spy novels or just like to read an author who is at the top of his game.
Coming soon, another John le Carre novel, Our Kind of Traitor

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Page 43: Finding Nouf

I'm doing this in reverse.  I have already read and blogged City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris which is her second book.  Finding Nouf was her first.  In Finding Nouf we are introduced to two of the characters who also appear in City of Veils.  Nayir, the desert guide who is Palestinian, but often mistaken for a Bedouin because of his knowledge of the desert, and Katya who works in the medical examiners office.  They both become involved in the investigation of the death of Nouf, a young girl who disappears from her family home.

The story begins with Nayir leading a team in the desert searching for Nouf.  All they know is that a pickup truck is missing from her family compound as well as one of the camels from the stable.  Nouf's brother Othman asks Nayir to find out what happened to his sister.  The search is fruitless at first, but eventually Nouf's body is found in the desert and taken to the medical examiners office.  The surprising result is that the cause of death appears to be from drowning.  The clues eventually lead Nayir to believe she was caught in a sudden rainstorm that filled the wadi she was in, and the force of the water knocked her off her feet and carried her along causing her death.  This is just the beginning of the story.

Again, the author takes us inside Saudi society and family life.  Nayir is a traditional man who tries not to look at a woman's face unless circumstances require him.  When he first meets Katya in the medical examiners office he looks everywhere except at her.  His religious beliefs are part of who he is, and become part of the story.  Katya is trying to break free of the traditional repression of women, and has gone to work.  Even though women do work, many of them stay home and lead very sheltered lives.

Nayir eventually overcomes his reluctance to work with Katya.  He discovers she is engaged to his friend Othman, but that does not present an obstacle since Othman encourages him to continue the investigation even if it means he will be working with Katya.  The evidence leads them to some startling facts that will change both of them by the end of the story.

Finding Nouf won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; pretty good for a first novel.  If you liked City of Veils, you will find this book to be very similar in providing a fascinating look inside Saudi society.  This is the back story of how Nayir and Katya first met and worked together.  If you have not read either book yet, I would suggest reading Finding Nouf first and then City of Veils.  Both novels stand alone and may be read in any order, but it makes sense to me to read them in order, and not in reverse like I did.

Here are a couple of reviews for you:

"Engrossing . . . yanks the veil off Saudi Arabian culture while unraveling a compelling murder mystery."
"A literary detective novel that balances the pleasures of plot with finely milled prose."
  --San Francisco Chronicle
Ferraris stakes her own claim on the world map, opening Saudi Arabia up for mystery fans to reveal the true minds and hearts of its denizens."
  --Los Angeles Times

Monday, October 18, 2010

Page 42: Bridge of Sighs

I am late to discover the great writing of Richard Russo.  I think Bridge of Sighs is one of his better novels.  This very complex novel is set in a small town in upstate New York north of Albany.  The story begins quite simply as an attempt by the main character to write down the events of his life before he and his wife embark on a trip to Italy.  Lou became known as Lucy every since his Kindergarten teacher made the mistake of reading his name as Lou C. Lynch.  You can pretty much surmise what happened after that.  The name stuck with him for the rest of his days.

Thomaston, NY is the fictional setting for the novel.  The other characters that play major roles are his parents, Big Lou and Teresa, Sarah Berg, Bobby Marconi, and his uncle Dec.  Lou and his father are the eternal optimists even though the stream running through town is loaded with carcinogens from the local tannery.  The town is divided by class (what town is not?) into four sections: The Hill (blacks), West End (poor whites), East End (middle class whites) and a separate section of new homes for wealthier whites.  The blacks are stuck in The Hill with no chance to move out so they remain as segregated in their housing as those in the south at the time.  Lou's parents have manage to avoid financial disaster when his father loses his job as a milkman.  They buy a local corner store, very much opposed by his mother, and have to depend on the meager income from that and his mother's work as a bookkeeper.

The book takes you back in forth in time, provides the perspectives of more than one character for the same event, and gives you new revelations that did not seem possible earlier in the story.  Part of the book is in Venice where Bobby has become a famous artist and is preparing for a show in New York.  He left Thomaston right after his senior year in high school thirty years before and has never returned.  A childhood trauma at the hands of local bullies has left Lou with "spells" that cause him to lose track of time and become listless until he recovers.  These last well into adulthood.

It may be difficult to track the story at times since it moves from Thomaston to Venice and then back again several times.  Also, the chronology is mixed so you have different characters giving their perception of the same event, but not in the same part of the novel.  In spite of this, Russo carries it off by giving us a great story with real characters who are both kind and flawed while others are downright mean and nasty.  The novel examines three main families: the Lynches, the Marconis, and the Bergs.  Their stories are interconnected and provide the wonderful material that makes this novel so great.

Here is a review by Jeffrey Frank:
From Publishers Weekly
"SignatureReviewed by Jeffrey FrankRichard Russo's portraits of smalltown life may be read not only as fine novels but as invaluable guides to the economic decline of the American Northeast. Russo was reared in Gloversville, N.Y. (which got its name from the gloves no longer manufactured there), and a lot of mid–20th-century Gloversville can be found in his earlier fiction (MohawkThe Risk Pool). It reappears in Bridge of Sighs, Russo's splendid chronicle of life in the hollowed-out town of Thomaston, N.Y., where a tannery's runoff is slowly spreading carcinogenic ruin.At the novel's center is Lou C. Lynch (his middle initial wins him the unfortunate, lasting nickname Lucy), but the narrative, which covers more than a half-century, also unfolds through the eyes of Lou's somewhat distant and tormented friend, Bobby Marconi, as well as Sarah Berg, a gifted artist who Lou marries and who loves Bobby, too. The lives of the Lynches, the Bergs and the Marconis intersect in various ways, few of them happy; each family has its share of woe. Lou's father, a genial milkman, is bound for obsolescence and leads his wife into a life of shopkeeping; Bobby's family is being damaged by an abusive father. Sarah moves between two parents: a schoolteacher father with grandiose literary dreams and a scandal in his past and a mother who lives in Long Island and leads a life that is far from exemplary. Russo weaves all of this together with great sureness, expertly planting clues—and explosives, too—knowing just when and how they will be discovered or detonate at the proper time. Incidents from youth—a savage beating, a misunderstood homosexual advance, a loveless seduction—have repercussions that last far into adulthood. Thomaston itself becomes a sort of extended family, whose unhappy members include the owners of the tannery who eventually face ruin.Bridge of Sighs is a melancholy book; the title refers to a painting that Bobby is making (he becomes a celebrated artist) and the Venetian landmark, but also to the sadness that pervades even the most contented lives. Lou, writing about himself and his dying, blue-collar town, thinks that the loss of a place isn't really so different from the loss of a person. Both disappear without permission, leaving the self diminished, in need of testimony and evidence. If there are false notes, they come with Russo's portrayal of African-Americans, who too often speak like stock characters: (Doan be given me that hairy eyeball like you doan believe, 'cause I know better, says one). But Russo has a deep and real understanding of stifled ambitions and the secrets people keep, sometimes forever. Bridge of Sighs, on every page, is largehearted, vividly populated and filled with life from America's recent, still vanishing past.Jeffrey Frank's books include The Columnist and Bad Publicity. His novel, Trudy Hopedale, was published in July by Simon & Schuster. 

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition"

Page 41: That Old Cape Magic

Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and many others, likes to explore personal relationships.  He does this in That Old Cape Magic by exploring the influence on Jack Griffin of his parents and their annual vacations to Cape Cod.  Much of the story is contained in flashbacks yet remains very coherent throughout.  Russo plays Freud at times, but manages to include enough humor to offset the angst of the main characters.  The parents are both Ivy League graduates, but end up teaching in, what they consider to be, second rate colleges in the Midwest.  One of their lifelong goals is to land a teaching position in the Ivy League.  Of course, they never do.  With two academic snobs for parents, it appears that Jack doesn't have a chance to succeed in life, but he does and becomes a screenwriter in Hollywood, and then a college professor at a New England college his parents would have died for.

Jack's marriage is heading for the rocks and he is on a collision course with his own breakdown while at the same time carrying his father's ashes in the trunk of his car, and enduring phone calls from his overbearing mother.  It is pretty easy to feel sorry for Jack.  Jack and his wife eventually split and toward the end of the book attend their daughter's wedding, each with a date.  The wedding and all the disasters that accompany it are very funny if you have a warped sense of humor.  But don't we all?

Others have summarized this book quite well, so here is a good summary of the book from Amazon.

"Following Bridge of Sighs—a national best seller hailed by The Boston Globe as “an astounding achievement” and “a masterpiece”—Richard Russo gives us the story of a marriage, and of all the other ties that bind, from parents and in-laws to children and the promises of youth.
Griffin has been tooling around for nearly a year with his father’s ashes in the trunk, but his mother is very much alive and not shy about calling on his cell phone. She does so as he drives down to Cape Cod, where he and his wife, Joy, will celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. For Griffin this is akin to driving into the past, since he took his childhood summer vacations here, his parents’ respite from the hated Midwest. And the Cape is where he and Joy honeymooned, in the course of which they drafted the Great Truro Accord, a plan for their lives together that’s now thirty years old and has largely come true. He’d left screenwriting and Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his snobby academic parents had always aspired to in vain; they’d moved into an old house full of character; and they’d started a family. Check, check and check.
But be careful what you pray for, especially if you manage to achieve it. By the end of this perfectly lovely weekend, the past has so thoroughly swamped the present that the future suddenly hangs in the balance. And when, a year later, a far more important wedding takes place, their beloved Laura’s, on the coast of Maine, Griffin’s chauffeuring two urns of ashes as he contends once more with Joy and her large, unruly family, and both he and she have brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?
That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter’s new life and, finally, what it was he thought he wanted and what in fact he has. The storytelling is flawless throughout, moments of great comedy and even hilarity alternating with others of rueful understanding and heart-stopping sadness, and its ending is at once surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written."

This a good one, but wait until the next review.  Bridge of Sighs coming up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Page 40: The Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis is one of those books you need to read if you want to find out what really happened two years ago when the big Wall Street banking houses fell like dominoes and the government had to bail them out to prevent a depression. A few very smart people saw it coming, told Wall Street it was going to happen, and were ignored.  Happily for them, they made a ton of money shorting sub prime mortgage debt instruments, but didn't feel much joy when the entire economy nearly collapsed on itself.

Some of the characters in the book involved in shorting the debt instruments and the banks include Steve Eisman, Michael Burry, Greg Lippmann, Vincent Daniel, Gene Park and Howie Hubler.  Never heard of these guys?  Don't feel bad.  Unless you were a Wall Street insider you would not be expected.  The big names you have heard: Paulson, Geitner, and Bernanke.  They were involved in saving a sinking ship, the other guys were betting heavily that it would sink even before the leaks appeared and the ship's hull ruptured completely.

I don't know about most of you, but I have always been fascinated by our financial system.  This is probably because I don't understand it, but continue to try.  Michael Lewis, as he has in his other books, gives us a very well written story that is compelling and hard to break off from reading.  In this case I should say listening to since I "read" the Audible version.  Jesse Boggs was the narrator and he does an excellent job.

Why don't some of us understand Wall Street, especially the whole subject of how mortgages were sliced and diced and ended up as AA rated bonds purchased by the major banks, retirement funds, and other big boys?  What is so difficult to understand about collatoralized debt obligations (CDOs), AA rated tranches of CDOs, mezzanine level bonds, and credit default swaps (CDSs)? The answer is simple.  We aren't supposed to understand.  We are just supposed to get screwed so the bond people could make millions on selling the debt instruments created from the mortgages.  Apparently giving mortgages to people who could not afford them, and would eventually lose their homes was all right as long as somebody made money on the process.  Just hearing an explanation of how mortgages of average home owners in this country were magically transformed into sub prime mortgage bonds that became CDOs is mind boggling.  To make this even more interesting, mortgages of different ratings were combined together in CDOs and, 'presto', came out to have an overall rating of AA.  No investor questioned a AA rating by Moody's or Standard and Poors.  Yes, the ratings agencies were involved up to their necks in the insanity.

In spite of the subject matter, the book has great characters, humor, and some very high paid yet clueless people who should have known better.  If you still have any faith in our bond markets, it will definitely be shaken after reading this book, but read it you should.  We all need to know what really happened to Wall Street that caused it to implode on itself.  After all, they have been bailed out with our money and still used it to pay their big fat bonuses after the meltdown. When is the last time any of us were paid a bonus for screwing up?

Here are a couple reviews of the book:

From Publisher's Weekly

"Although Lewis is perhaps best known for his sports-related nonfiction (including The Blind Side), his first book was the autobiographical Liar's Poker, in which he chronicled his disillusionment as a young gun on Wall Street in the greed is good 1980s. He returns to his financial roots to excavate the crisis of 2007–2008, employing his trademark technique of casting a microcosmic lens on the personal histories of several Wall Street outsiders who were betting against the grain—to shed light on the macrocosmic tale of greed and fear. Although Lewis reads the book's introduction, narration duties are assumed by Jesse Boggs, a veteran narrator of business titles (including Lewis's own 2008 book Panic!). Boggs's rich baritone is well suited to the task and trips lightly through a maze of financial jargon (CDOs, derivatives, mid-prime lending) and a dizzying cast of characters. Lewis returns on the final disc for a 10-minute interview about the crisis's aftermath, including a savvy assessment of the wisdom of the financial bailout and where-are-they-now updates on the book's various heroes and villains." A Norton hardcover. (Mar.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

"Michael Lewis has written from the perspective of a financial insider for more than 20 years. His first book, Liar's Poker, was a warts-and-all account of Wall Street culture in the 1980s, when Lewis worked at the investment bank Salomon Brothers. Everything Lewis has touched since has turned to gold, and The Big Short seems to be another of those books, combining an incendiary, timely topic with the author's solid, insightful, and witty investigative reporting. Only the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette criticized what it felt was a rush job of writing and a failure to integrate the individual stories. Few readers will care for the message here (despite laugh-out-loud moments of absurdity), but Lewis is a capable guide into the world of CDOs, subprime mortgages, head-in-the-sand investments, inflated egos--and the big short. However, as Entertainment Weekly points at, if you're only going to read one book on the topic, perhaps this should not be the one."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Page 39: The Moses Expedition

The Moses Expedition by Juan Gomez-Jurado is a real thriller.  Once you start this book, try putting it down for more than a few moments before you are back to reading more.  I just finished it today and passed up a bike ride in the process.

The search for the Ark of the Covenant and the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments is the basis of the plot, but the other components of the plot and how the author ties them all together is what makes this book so darn good.  Rather than go on about this book let me share the synopsis found on the inside cover of the book jacket with you.

"After fifty years in hiding, the Nazi war criminal known as the Butcher of Spielgelgrund has finally been tracked down by Father Anthony Fowler, a CIA operative and a member of the Vatican's secret service.  He wants something from the Butcher--a candle covered in filigree gold that was stolen from a Jewish family many years before.  But it isn't the gold Fowler is after.  As Fowler holds a flame to the wax, the missing fragment of an ancient map that uncovers the location of the Ten Commandments given to Moses is revealed.  Soon Fowler is involved in an expedition to Jordan set up by a reclusive billionaire.  But there is a traitor in the group who has ties to terrorist organizations back in the United States, and who is patiently awaiting the moment to strike.  From wartime Vienna to terrorist cells in New York and a lost valley in Jordan, The Moses Expedition is a thrilling read about a quest for power and the secrets of an ancient world."

If that doesn't convince you to read this book, then just take my word for it.  This is a great read.

Page 38: A Secret Kept

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay is a fascinating story about a brother and sister trying to remember their mother. Antoine and Melanie Rey return to Noirmoutier Island, the scene of many happy summer vacations more than thirty years before.  On the return trip they are in a very serious auto accident.  Antoine is not injured, but Melanie has life threatening injuries that require surgery and a long recovery.  Just before the accident, Melanie turns to her brother to say something she has discovered about the past, but at that moment the car slams into the guard rail and turns on its side.  When Melanie is recovering she cannot remember what she wanted to tell Antoine.

The trip to Noirmoutier Island and Melanie's attempt to reveal something she remembers about the past concerning their mother starts a series of events that eventually lead to a family secret that has been hidden since their mother died nearly thirty years before.  Antoine's strained relationship with his father, the devastating divorce when his wife left him for another man, and the difficult teenagers that are his children are enough to complicate anyone's life.  While dealing with all this he continues to search for answers regarding his mother's death.  His search for the truth leads him to many surprising discoveries about his mother and himself.

Praise for A Secret Kept:
"The story of an emotionally distant family as it struggles to come to grips with changing dynamics and the mysterious death of a young mother many years ago[...] De Rosnay’s writing is eloquent and beautiful, and her characterizations are both honest and dead-on[...]" -Kirkus

"A Secret Kept is a beautiful and haunting exploration of wanting - and not wanting - to understand one's past, of learning to see parents as individuals, whether the parents in question are our own or ourselves."  -Erica Bauermeister, bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients

"In A Secret Kept, Tatiana de Rosnay takes us on a journey to that haunted place where the past seeps into the present, where memory appears and disappears, and where healing seems always out of reach. With her lyrical prose and her gift for creating deeply sympathetic characters, de Rosnay has given us a hopeful story, as addictive as it is moving." -Diane Chamberlain, New York Times bestselling author of Summer’s Child

Page 37: Ape House

Ape House by Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) should change the way you think about bonobos or as many people refer to them, great apes.  Isabel Duncan is a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab at a major university.  She is studying the learning behavoir and language skills of Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena.  They are able to reason, and know American Sign Language.  They communicate with each other in their own language and with Isabel.  A reporter, John Thigpen, does an article for his newspaper on the research lab, and is forever changed as a result of his direct interaction with the bonobos.

An explosion destroys the lab and severely injures Isabel.  The bonobos escape and later turn up in a reality TV show in New Mexico.  The man who has the bonobos is more of a P.T. Barnum, and certainly not a Jane Goodall.  He doesn't care about the research that the bonobas have been involved in, he only wants to exploit them for as much money as he possibly can.  Those of you who have ready Water for Elephants will find this theme familiar.

The rest of the story plays out as Isabel tries to rescue her bonobos.  It also follows the life changes experienced by John Thigpen and his wife as they move across the country and start new jobs.  John ends up playing a major role in helping Isabel, but you need to read the book to find out how.

This is a good story, and will change the way you think about animals, especially the bonobos. Their intelligence, sense of humor, playfulness, and use of language are more human than we care to admit.  This book is worth reading just to discover more about them.  Here are a couple of reviews:

"Sara Gruen knows things--she knows them in her mind and in her heart.  And, out of what she knows, she has created a true thriller that is addictive from its opening sentence.  Devour it to find out what happens next, but also to learn remarkable and moving things about life on this planet.  Very, very few novels can change the way you look at the world around you.  This one does." (Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife)

"I read Ape House in one joyous breath.  Ever an advocate for animals, Gruen brings the apes to life with the passion of a novelist and the accuracy of a scientist.  She has already done more for bonobos than I could do in a lifetime.  The novel is immaculately researched and lovingly crafted.  If people fall in love with our forgotten, fascinating, endangered relative, it will be because of Ape House."  (Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Page 36: City of Veils

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris is a unique and insightful look inside Saudi Arabia by an author who actually lived there.  This is her second novel set in this country.  I have not read the first one, Finding Nouf, but I have it high on my list of next books to read.  As usual, my wife has made another excellent recommendation of a book for me to read that I probably would have missed.

This is a real thriller with plenty of action, plot twists, and good characters.  It begins with a young woman's body found on the beach in Jeddah. One of the next sequences is the return of Miriam Walker to Saudi Arabia from some time off in the U.S.  Her husband, also American, works for a security company and disappears soon after she returns.  The story turns to the search for the killer of the girl found on the beach, and soon begins linking supposedly unrelated individuals to the search for the killer and Miriam's missing husband.

The culture in Saudi Arabia is an intrinsic part of the story, both secular and religious.  The role of women in Saudi society and how they are treated by men is explored as part of the story, and may be quite a shock for western readers who are not familiar with this aspect of life in Saudi Arabia.  The plot moves very quickly as one clue after another is found, examined, and then followed to the next clue until the amazing conclusion during a severe windstorm in the desert.

Here is a product description from the inside cover of the book:

"Women in Saudi Arabia are expected to lead quiet lives circumscribed by Islamic law and tradition. But Katya, one of the few women in the medical examiner's office, is determined to make her work mean something.

When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the city's detectives are ready to dismiss the case as another unsolvable murder-chillingly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as the victim is in death. If this is another housemaid killed by her employer, finding the culprit will be all but impossible.

Only Katya is convinced that the victim can be identified and her killer found. She calls upon her friend Nayir for help, and soon discovers that the dead girl was a young filmmaker named Leila, whose controversial documentaries earned her many enemies. 

With only the woman's clandestine footage as a guide, Katya and Nayir must confront the dark side of Jeddah that Leila struggled to expose: an underworld of prostitution, violence, exploitation, and jealously guarded secrets. Along the way, they form an unlikely alliance with an American woman whose husband has disappeared. Their growing search takes them from the city's car-clogged streets to the deadly vastness of the desert beyond.

In CITY OF VEILS, award-winning author Zoë Ferraris combines a thrilling, fast-paced mystery with a rare and intimate look into women's lives in the Middle East."

I hope you enjoy this book.

Some future reviews: The Glass Rainbow, Ape House, A Most Wanted Man, and The Passage.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Page 35: Thank You

I just wanted to thank all of you who have been checking out this blog.  We have gone international.  The early traffic has been mostly from the US and Canada.  Over the past several weeks the visits have expanded to countries such as Australia, Brazil, China, Turkey, United Kingdom and several more.  Let's see if we can keep adding more countries.

Not many of you are leaving any comments.  Please don't be shy.  There are a lot of readers out there and I would really like to know your opinion(s) of the books I blog about and/or the blog in general.  Also your suggestions for other books we may all like to read are most welcome.

Thank you again and keep on reading.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Page 34: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell is a literary work of historical fiction that is set in Japan in the early nineteenth century.  Jacob de Zoet comes to Dejima, a small Dutch East India Company trading post on an island adjacent to Nagasaki, in 1799.  He is a clerk whose superiors want him to inventory the vast quantities of merchandise found in the various warehouses, as well as discover how much has been stolen due to the corruption of those assigned to oversee the trading operations.

The huge cast of characters includes his fellow Dutchmen, foreigners hired by the Dutch to work at the trading post, and the various Japanese they interact with while there.  The Japanese include interpreters, servants, high officials and one very special Japanese woman Jacob falls in love with.  Orito Aibagawa is a midwife studying with Dr. Marinus the company physician. Jacob, even though he is engaged to his fiance back in Holland, falls madly in love with her.  Unfortunately for Jacob, his love must cross the very strict barriers established by the Japanese for relationships with foreigners.  The lessons Dr. Marinus teaches the Japanese students are a fascinating aspect of this novel.  There is plenty of other material in the story that includes detailed descriptions of Japanese culture during the period.  Japan was still a feudal society at the time, and Mitchell portrays the relationships between rulers and subjects, and within classes quite well.

Jacob soon learns to be wary of everyone until he decides who he is able to trust, those he cannot, and the ones he is just not sure about.  Before the ship leaves for Batavia, the major trading city on the island of Java, Jacob is asked to sign a manifest of trading goods.  He is offered a higher position and other perks, but he refuses to sign since he knows the manifest is false.  His own superiors have used Jacob for their own profit and demote him on the spot when he refuses to sign.  He is left on Dejima in disgrace to face a new superior who is no friend.  But this is when the story becomes much more interesting and the plot shifts to Aibagawa  and how she is treated when her father dies and she is sold to the local feudal lord.  She is sent to an abbey controlled by the feudal lord.  The abbey is located high on a mountain and surrounded by walls.  In addition, it is guarded around the clock.  She finds herself in a prison where the inmates are the sisters, and the male monks main duty is to father children with the sisters.  This part of the story includes an escape by Aibagawa, an attempted rescue by her former love interest, and the startling revelation of the main purpose of the abbey.

When a Dutch ship does not return to Dejima the men left behind find themselves in a very bad situation.  They must depend on the Japanese for help while they wait for a ship.  A ship does eventually come, but it is  English.

Read the book to discover all the details for yourself, and what happens to Jacob, Aibagawa, and Dejima.  As usual, here is a review of the book.  This one is from Amazon.com by Tom Nissley:

"David Mitchell reinvents himself with each book, and it's thrilling to watch. His novels like Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas spill over with narrators and language, collecting storylines connected more in spirit than in fact. In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, he harnesses that plenitude into a more traditional form, a historical novel set in Japan at the turn into the 19th century, when the island nation was almost entirely cut off from the West except for a tiny, quarantined Dutch outpost. Jacob is a pious but not unappealing prig from Zeeland, whose self-driven duty to blurt the truth in a corrupt and deceitful trading culture, along with his headlong love for a local midwife, provides the early engine for the story, which is confined at first to the Dutch enclave but crosses before long to the mainland. Every page is overfull with language, events, and characters, exuberantly saturated in the details of the time and the place but told from a knowing and undeniably modern perspective. It's a story that seems to contain a thousand worlds in one." 

Here is another review from Publishers Weekly:

"Mitchell's rightly been hailed as a virtuoso genius for his genre-bending, fiercely intelligent novels Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas. Now he takes something of a busman's holiday with this majestic historical romance set in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan, where young, naïve Jacob de Zoet arrives on the small manmade island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor as part of a contingent of Dutch East Indies officials charged with cleaning up the trading station's entrenched culture of corruption. Though engaged to be married in the Netherlands, he quickly falls in hopeless love with Orito Aibagawa, a Dutch-trained Japanese midwife and promising student of Marinus, the station's resident physician. Their courtship is strained, as foreigners are prohibited from setting foot on the Japanese mainland, and the only relationships permitted between Japanese women and foreign men on Dejima are of the paid variety. Jacob has larger trouble, though; when he refuses to sign off on a bogus shipping manifest, his stint on Dejima is extended and he's demoted, stuck in the service of a vengeful fellow clerk. Meanwhile, Orito's father dies deeply in debt, and her stepmother sells her into service at a mountaintop shrine where her midwife skills are in high demand, she soon learns, because of the extraordinarily sinister rituals going on in the secretive shrine. This is where the slow-to-start plot kicks in, and Mitchell pours on the heat with a rescue attempt by Orito's first love, Uzaemon, who happens to be Jacob's translator and confidant. Mitchell's ventriloquism is as sharp as ever; he conjures men of Eastern and Western science as convincingly as he does the unscrubbed sailor rabble." 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Page 33: Ford County: Stories

I have been meaning to read this book since it came out.  I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago to South Carolina to visit family, and picked up a copy of this book at the airport shop and started reading on the plane.  John Grisham is one of my favorite writers.  He is not only a very good writer, but a great teller of stories.  This departure from the novel to short stories is a real joy to read.  Each story is a gem.  They all take place in Grisham's Mississippi and capture the good, bad, and ugly of any small town.  I will not try to pick a favorite story from the seven since they are all that good.  There is something special about the south when it comes to stories, and Grisham has mastered his own sense of place in Mississippi.

Pat Conroy, another great writer of novels set in the south, has high praise for Ford County.  Here it is.

"Ford County is the best writing that John Grisham has ever done.  One of the many things I've admired about his books is his intimate chronicle of Mississippi life in the generations following William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.  Grisham writes equally well about the plantation south, the black south, and white-cracker south.  Over the years he has used the legal system as an instrument to illuminate the world of mansions and sharecroppers and everything in between as he not only defined Mississippi but also staked it out as his home fictional territory.  His short stories were a surprise to me.  All of them are very good; three of them, I believe, are great."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Page 32: The Craft (Published)

My book, The Craft by Thomas Talbot, is now available for purchase on the iUniverse web site.  Right now the book is available in hardcover and softcover.  The ebook will be ready in the near future.  The book is also available on Amazon (see link at the left), Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books A Million.

I am in the process of having a web site developed so I can keep everyone up to date on how the book is doing and obtain feedback from readers.  I'll let you know when that is ready.

Thanks you for following my blog and reading the book.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Page 31: The Craft (A Preview)

Yes, I have written a book that will be published in the very near future.  I don't have a definite date yet, but will let you know when it is available.  I just finished approving the final edits.  The book is historical fiction in genre and is entitled The Craft.  The story takes place in 1826 and features secret government agents working for President John Quincy Adams.  They are trying to find William Morgan.  Remember him, the scoundrel who wrote a book revealing the secrets of Freemasonry?  His disappearance at the hands of Freemasons in upstate New York touched off a national scandal that year.

The premise of The Craft is that Morgan was a spy for the British during the War of 1812.  The president's agents have found most of the spies from that era, but the one who has eluded them is William Morgan. A man who knew Morgan during the War of 1812, Matthew Prescott, is recruited to assist the presidential agents in their search for Morgan.  Their charge from the president is to find Morgan, and bring him back to Washington for trial and punishment.  Of course, the task turns out to be not quite so simple.

The action begins in Washington and moves to New York City, Albany, and various locations upstate such as Lewiston, Fort Niagara, Rochester and Batavia.  A few others are included, but read the book to find out.  Several historical personages find themselves caught in a very dangerous and far reaching plot hatched by rogue British agents.  The book even provides my own version of what may have happened to Morgan.

Stay tuned.  More information will be forthcoming.  Leave me your contact information in the comments section if you would like to know where to purchase the book.  It will be available in hardcover, paperback, and in ebook format.

Page 30: True Blue

OK, this is the second book in a row  I have 'read' in audio format.  However, my Kindle is not languishing unused.  I am reading another book on the device and even have a real hardcover book waiting in line.  I must confess, though, I like listening to books from Audible.com while I am doing other things around the house that don't require any concentration.  My favorite device is my very portable iPod Touch that now has a great Audible app.

True Blue by David Baldacci is the first book in a new series that features the Perry sisters.  Beth is the DC Chief of Police and her sister Mace has just been released from prison after being framed for crimes she did not commit.  The book is typical Baldacci.  There is plenty of action, a fast-paced plot, good characters and government conspiracy aplenty.

Mace is trying to get her old job back on the DC police force, but as a convicted felon it is a stretch that it will every happen.  Her sister has been watching Mace's back while in prison and finds a job for her as a research assistant to a professor at Georgetown.  It is an understatement to say that Mace is a loose cannon, and does not like people telling her what to do including her sister.  This adds to the story line and makes it much more interesting.  Mace teams up with a lawyer from a Georgetown law firm to help solve a murder.  Roy, the lawyer, is the one who finds a colleague in the break room fridge.  So much for Roy's motivation.  Mace just wants to solve a high profile crime in order to get her old job back.

This may not be the best book David Baldacci has written, but it is good just the same.  If you like thrillers, plot surprises, non-stop action, and believable characters this is the book for you.  As usual here are a couple of reviews.

The first is from Publisher's Weekly

"This promising first in a new series from bestseller Baldacci (First Family) introduces Beth Perry, chief of the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police, and Beth's younger sister, Mace Perry, a former police officer dubbed the Patty Hearst of the twenty-first century after she was seized by bandits, drugged and taken along on a series of armed robberies around Washington. Mace, who's just getting out of prison after serving a two-year sentence, is willing to risk everything to clear her name and reclaim her life as a cop by cracking a big case on her own. The rape-murder of a powerful lawyer as well as the killing of a prominent U.S. attorney provide Mace an opportunity to vindicate herself. While Baldacci draws his characters in bright primary colors, and some of the action reaches comic book proportions, he delivers his usual intricate plotting and sets the stage nicely for highly competent Beth and impulsive, streetwise Mace to take on more bad guys. (Oct. 27)" 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This review is from Amazon

"Mason "Mace" Perry was a firebrand cop on the D.C. police force until she was kidnapped and framed for a crime. She lost everything-her badge, her career, her freedom-and spent two years in prison. Now she's back on the outside and focused on one mission: to be a cop once more. Her only shot to be a true blue again is to solve a major case on her own, and prove she has the right to wear the uniform. But even with her police chief sister on her side, she has to work in the shadows: A vindictive U.S. attorney is looking for any reason to send Mace back behind bars. Then Roy Kingman enters her life.

Roy is a young lawyer who aided the poor until he took a high-paying job at a law firm in Washington. Mace and Roy meet after he discovers the dead body of a female partner at the firm. As they investigate the death, they start uncovering surprising secrets from both the private and public world of the nation's capital.

Soon, what began as a fairly routine homicide takes a terrifying and unexpected turn-into something complex, diabolical, and possibly lethal."

If you like thrillers and have never read David Baldacci, try this book.  I think you will be checking out the web for more of his work.  Enjoy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Page 29: The Rembrandt Affair

Daniel Silva has done it again in The Rembrandt Affair just released July 20th.  Gabriel Allon is back with his wife Chiara and a cast of supporting characters including the wonderful Julian Isherwood.  This time Gabriel is not after a terrorist or assassin, but a painting.

I listened to the audio version of this book and found it to be a very unique experience.  The reader was very good at accents and made the characters come alive.  I don't get this when I read a print book, although reading a print version is still my number one choice for a book.

The book opens in Cornwall where Gabriel is trying to retire while Chiara heals from her horrible experiences in the previous novel at the hands of a Russian oligarch.  Of course, Gabriel is unable to stay retired and agrees to find a lost portrait by Rembrandt that is stolen from an art restorer in Glastonbury, England.  The restorer is murdered during the theft.  Since Gabriel is one of the best art restorers in the world, known only to a very few, as well as an agent of Israeli intelligence, he is convinced by Chiara to find the portrait for Julian.

Gabriel starts searching for the painting by investigating its past.  What he finds is a trail of greed and evil that includes the sole Holocaust survivor of a Jewish family that once owned the painting, an SS Officer who stole the painting and was taken on the underground escape route out of Europe that was run by the Catholic Church, an art thief in Paris and a very wealthy Swiss businessman.

Daniel Silva does not disappoint in this book.  It is well written, has great characters, and moves at race car speed to its conclusion.  For me, each book in the Gabriel Allon series is like becoming reacquainted with an old friend.

Here are some reviews of the book.

"Of those writing spy novels today, Daniel Silva is quite simply the best."
-The Kansas City Star

"The perfect book for fans of well-crafted thrillers ... the kind of page-turner that captures the reader from the opening chapter and doesn't let go."
-The Associated Press

"Filled with remarkable twists and turn of plot, and told with seductive prose, The Rembrandt Affair is more than just summer entertainment of the highest order.  It is a timely reminder that there are men in the world who will do anything for money."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Page 28: Matterhorn

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes should be a Pulitzer Prize book.  True, I am not a literary genius or review books for a living, but I think I have read enough quality fiction in my life to recognize the great ones.  This is a great one.

Another of the great novels, in my opinion, about war was The Killer Angels that dealt with the Battle of Gettysburg from the Southern point of view.  Matterhorn is about a different war, but one that many of us are able to identify with since it was our generation's war.  No matter how you felt about the Vietnam War, you cannot help but be moved by this book.   

Karl Marlantes is a decorated veteran of the war and began this book thirty years ago.  As many reviewers of the book have said, it is well worth the wait. Speaking of reviews, as usual, I want to give you two of them.  The first is by Mark Bowden the author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. 

"Matterhorn is a great novel. There have been some very good novels about the Vietnam War, but this is the first great one, and I doubt it will ever be surpassed. Karl Marlantes overlooks no part of the experience, large or small, from a terrified soldier pondering the nature of good and evil, to the feel and smell of wet earth against scorched skin as a man tries to press himself into the ground to escape withering fire. Here is story-telling so authentic, so moving and so intense, so relentlessly dramatic, that there were times I wasn’t sure I could stand to turn the page. As with the best fiction, I was sad to reach the end.
The wrenching combat in Matterhorn is ultimately pointless; the marines know they are fighting a losing battle in the long run. Bravo Company carves out a fortress on the top of the hill so named, one of countless low, jungle-coated mountains near the border of Laos, only to be ordered to abandon it when they are done. After the enemy claims the hill’s deep bunkers and carefully constructed fields of fire, the company is ordered to take it back, to assault their own fortifications. They do so with devastating consequences, only to be ordered in the end to abandon Matterhorn once again.
Against this backdrop of murderous futility, Marlantes’ memorable collection of marines is pushed to its limits and beyond. As the deaths and casualties mount, the men display bravery and cowardice, ferocity and timidity, conviction and doubt, hatred and love, intelligence and stupidity. Often these opposites are contained in the same person, especially in the book’s compelling main character, Second Lt. Waino Mellas. As Mellas and his men struggle to overcome impossible barriers of landscape, they struggle to overcome similarly impossible barriers between each other, barriers of race and class and rank. Survival forces them to cling to each other and trust each other and ultimately love each other. There has never been a more realistic portrait or eloquent tribute to the nobility of men under fire, and never a more damning portrait of a war that ground them cruelly underfoot for no good reason.
Marlantes brilliantly captures the way combat morphs into clean abstraction as fateful decisions move up the chain of command, further and further away from the actual killing and dying. But he is too good a novelist to paint easy villains. His commanders make brave decisions and stupid ones. High and low there is the same mix of cowardice and bravery, ambition and selflessness, ineptitude and competence.
There are passages in this book that are as good as anything I have ever read. This one comes late in the story, when the main character, Mellas, has endured much, has killed and also confronted the immediate likelihood of his own death, and has digested the absurdity of his mission: "He asked for nothing now, nor did he wonder if he had been good or bad. Such concepts were all part of the joke he’d just discovered. He cursed God directly for the savage joke that had been played on him. And in that cursing Mellas for the first time really talked with his God. Then he cried, tears and snot mixing together as they streamed down his face, but his cries were the rage and hurt of a newborn child, at last, however roughly, being taken from the womb."
Vladimir Nabokov once said that the greatest books are those you read not just with your heart or your mind, but with your spine. This is one for the spine." --Mark Bowden

Here is the review from Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. "Thirty years in the making, Marlantes's epic debut is a dense, vivid narrative spanning many months in the lives of American troops in Vietnam as they trudge across enemy lines, encountering danger from opposing forces as well as on their home turf. Marine lieutenant and platoon commander Waino Mellas is braving a 13-month tour in Quang-Tri province, where he is assigned to a fire-support base and befriends Hawke, older at 22; both learn about life, loss, and the horrors of war. Jungle rot, leeches dropping from tree branches, malnourishment, drenching monsoons, mudslides, exposure to Agent Orange, and wild animals wreak havoc as brigade members face punishing combat and grapple with bitterness, rage, disease, alcoholism, and hubris. A decorated Vietnam veteran, the author clearly understands his playing field (including military jargon that can get lost in translation), and by examining both the internal and external struggles of the battalion, he brings a long, torturous war back to life with realistic characters and authentic, thrilling combat sequences. Marlantes's debut may be daunting in length, but it remains a grand, distinctive accomplishment." (Apr.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

My goal in writing this blog is to put some books out there I hope people will like.  I could write several paragraphs about why I think this book is so great, but I think the two reviews I have included above do the job quite well.  Don't miss out on this book.  It is a great one.   

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Page 27: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford takes us back in time to 1940s wartime Seattle and explores the relationship between Asian Americans and the rest of Seattle through the relationship between Henry, who is Chinese, and Keiko who is Japanese.  It is primarily a story about the internment of Japanese Americans in relocation camps, but also the love story of Henry and Keiko, Henry's strained relationship with his father, and Henry's love of jazz fostered by his friendship with Sheldon who plays jazz solo on the street and with a group when he can get the gigs.

This is truly a story that is both bitter and sweet as it moves back and forth between Seattle in the 1980s and 1940s.  Anyone who does not know about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II has either been living in a cave or attended a school whose books are censored by the Texas School Board.

This book was recommended to me by a very good friend for whom the internment of Japanese Americans was a reality for his family.  In spite of the injustice done to loyal Japanese Americans as a result of the hysteria that gripped our country at the time, I have never heard him express any bitterness or ill will toward his country.  I find this truly amazing and magnanimous.

As usual, here are some reviews to encourage you to read this book.

"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle's Nihonmachi district in its heyday."
-- Sara Gruen, 
New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants 

“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel." 
--Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan 

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal

Please read this book.  It is a real gem.

Next Book Page: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

Page 26: Pebble in the Sky

Isaac Asimov wrote this book in 1949 when he was in his twenties and launched an amazing string of science fiction novels.  His spectacular career lasted until he died at the age of 72.  Pebble in the Sky is, as they say in the music business, 'a golden oldie' that is well worth reading.  I have not read any of his works in several years and decided on this particular novel after hearing a recommendation on a podcast.

The story begins with Joseph Schwartz walking down the street in Chicago.  In an instant he is transported to the distant future where Earth is part of the Galactic Empire, but ruled locally by an ultra-conservative theocracy.  Much of the planet is radioactive and the citizens are only allowed to live until age 60 in order to keep the food supply and population in balance. Everyone must carry identification and have a unique number.  Joseph is taken to a famous scientist who is conducting brain experiments, since the people who found him don't know what else to do.  The story moves quickly from that point and takes some very unusual turns.  Those of you who have read the Robot Series and the Foundation books will find some some familiar themes in this novel.  Check out Wikipedia for a good summary of the author's professional, scientific, and literary life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Page 25: The Lion by Nelson DeMille

The Lion, the sequel to The Lion's Game, finds  John Corey and his wife Kate Mayfield once again threatened by Asad Khalil.  Khalil is a ruthless Libyan terrorist with the nickname "The Lion."  He wants to kill John and Kate after he failed in the previous novel.  However, they are not his only targets.  Besides killing targeted individuals he is also interested in mass murder for his backers in Al-Qaeda.

I have enjoyed all the previous John Corey novels by DeMille and this is no exception.  What I did find was that John Corey reminds me a lot of John Sutter in The Gold Coast and The Gate House which I have previously talked about in an earlier post.  They both are 'wise guys' and 'snarky' in their sense of humor.  Nothing is sacred to John Corey.  His comments include his wife, his bosses, his enemies, and many others.  These comments and unspoken thoughts provide some good laughs in spite of the seriousness of the plot.  All readers may not find this attractive, but I think DeMille is one of the best at creating this type of character.

The book moves fast from the very beginning and provides plenty of surprises.  This book is not for the squeamish, so be warned. Here is a comment from Booklist that should help you decide to read The Lion:

From Booklist

"In The Lion's Game (2000), terrorist Asad Khalil, also known as the Lion, came to the U.S. to kill the people responsible for bombing his village in Libya. John Corey, the NYPD cop turned antiterrorist agent, and his FBI trainer, Kate Mayfield, gave chase, but their quarry got away. Now it's a few years later, not too long after 9/11. John and Kate are married, and John's an experienced agent with his own trainee. Out of the blue sky, literally, in a very creative and exciting scene, Khalil swoops down, bent on continuing his revenge against the people behind the bombing. And now he's added Corey to his hit list. Can Corey outmaneuver and outwit a determined, ruthless assassin? This is a well-constructed and satisfying sequel, full of exciting (and occasionally gruesome) visual imagery. Corey is a more developed character this time around, and Khalil is every bit as intelligent, cold, and compelling as he was in The Lion's Game. If the book has a flaw, it's that it might be a little close in feel, plot, and even dramatic structure to the earlier book. On the other hand, Khalil is a single-minded guy, and it doesn't stretch credibility at all to imagine that he'd pick up right where he left off." --David Pitt
If you like Nelson DeMille, I guarantee you will like this book.  If you have never read any of his novels, read this one and then check his other novels on his web site.  You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Page 24: The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of those rare first novels.  It has all the great ingredients you wish all novels to have: wonderful characters who face difficult and dangerous choices, a great plot, and tons of tension.  This book started slowly for me, but then took off like a rocket and kept going.

The novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi during the beginning of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.  The main characters are three women, one white and the other two black.  Skeeter is a recent college graduate from Ole Miss.  The two maids collaborate with her on a book about the relationship between black maids and their white employers.  The maids, Aibileen and Minny, face many difficult and potentially life-threatening situations for helping with the book because of the time and place they are living.  Their bravery and courage is inspiring.  The book they  write includes stories from a dozen maids who risk a great deal to take part in the secret project.  This microcosm of the south in the early 1960s explores the tightrope that both whites and blacks had to walk as part of the racist culture that had existed there for so many years.  For those of us who lived during this tumultuous era it will bring back many memories of that time, and the terrible events that occurred.  For the younger generation, it will hopefully serve as an important history and morality lesson.

This is a very good book. I'll include a review for you to read before you go out and buy it.

"Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.

Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town.

Skeeter is in some ways an outsider. Her friends, bridge partners and fellow members of the Junior League are married. Most subscribe to the racist attitudes of the era, mistreating and despising the black maids whom they count on to raise their children. Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the "help" to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids -- their names disguised -- talk about their experiences. 

Fear of discovery and retribution at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, and her friend Minny, who keeps losing jobs because she talks back when insulted and abused, sign on with Skeeter's risky project, and eventually 10 others follow.

Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War.

The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are seen through African American eyes, but go largely unobserved by the white community. Meanwhile, a room "full of cake-eating, Tab-drinking, cigarette-smoking women" pretentiously plan a fundraiser for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa." In general, Stockett doesn't sledgehammer her ironies, though she skirts caricature with a "white trash" woman who has married into an old Jackson family. Yet even this character is portrayed with the compassion and humor that keep the novel levitating above its serious theme." 

Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

The next Book Page should be Nelson DeMille's The Lion, but I may find something else before that.  Keep on reading.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Page 23: Innocent by Scott Turow

I am currently reading Innocent by Scott Turow which I blogged about briefly in a post about new books a few weeks ago.  So far so good.  More to come when the book is finished.

I just finished the book today.  Scott Turow is still amazing, and has taken some of the same characters from Presumed Innocent and put them into another legal cliff-hanger.  Rusty Sabich is back, but is now a chief appellelate court judge. Tommy Molto is still working as a prosecutor, but now is the acting head of the Kindle County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.  The animosity between Rusty and Tommy has been put into a restless sleep for twenty-one years, but not forgotten by either.

 Rusty is once again charged with murder.  This time it is his wife Barbara.  When Rusty found her non-responsive one morning, he stayed with her for nearly twenty-four hours before calling his son Nat.  Nat convinced him to call the authorities and report her death.  This seems like strange behavior for a judge, and Tommy Molto's assistant, Jim Brand, thinks so as well.  Jim convinces Tommy to let him start a quiet investigation into the circumstances of Barbara Sabitch's death.

Scott Turow takes a different approach to this novel than the one he used in Presumed Innocent.  The story is told from several viewpoints and jumps around in time.  At first I thought this distracted from the story, but soon came to realize it was a good technique.  We hear from Rusty, Tommy, Rusty's son Nat, and Rusty's former clerk Anna.  Tommy Molto has mellowed over the twenty-some years since he prosecuted Rusty for the murder of Rusty's mistress in Presumed Innocent.  Jim Brand finds enough circumstantial evidence to get Tommy all fired up again, and they decide to press charges and prosecute.

This is a great legal thriller with plenty of plot twists and surprises.  The trial scenes are vintage Turow and will not disappoint.  Sandy Stern is back as Rusty's defense attorney.  Sandy's daughter Marta is his partner.  Together they mount a defense to counter the attacks of Tommy Molto and Jim Brand.  Rusty, Tommy, and Sandy are all older, but pretty much the same people they have always been.  However, the trial judge is one of the best characters in the book.

I always like to include some reviews from the publishing world, and here are two of them.

Here is a review from Publishers Weekly:

"Mesmerizing prose and intricate plotting lift Turow's superlative legal thriller, his best novel since his bestselling debut,Presumed Innocent, to which this is a sequel. In 2008, 22 years after the events of the earlier book, former lawyer Rusty Sabich, now a Kindle County, Ill., chief appellate judge, is again suspected of murdering a woman close to him. His wife, Barbara, has died in her bed of what appear to be natural causes, yet Rusty comes under scrutiny from his old nemesis, acting prosecuting attorney Tommy Molto, who unsuccessfully prosecuted him for killing his mistress decades earlier. Tommy's chief deputy, Jim Brand, is suspicious because Rusty chose to keep Barbara's death a secret, even from their son, Nat, for almost an entire day, which could have allowed traces of poison to disappear. Rusty's candidacy for a higher court in an imminent election; his recent clandestine affair with his attractive law clerk, Anna Vostic; and a breach of judicial ethics complicate matters further. Once again, Turow displays an uncanny ability for making the passions and contradictions of his main characters accessible and understandable." (May) 

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Here is another review, this one from Booklist, with a different take on the book.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same” seems to be the burden of Turow’s ninth novel, which is a clever reprise of his first, Presumed Innocent (1987). In Turow’s breakthrough book, prosecuting attorney Rusty Sabitch is put on trial for the murder of a woman colleague with whom he’d been having an affair. Tommy Molto, another attorney, launches an unsuccessful prosecution against Sabitch in a nail-biter of a courtroom drama (with added zest provided by Turow’s own background as a lawyer). Twenty-one years later, as this story begins, Sabitch has ascended to an appellate court judgeship, Molto is still a prosecutor, and they retake their roles as defendant and prosecutor (and persecutor, since Molto investigates Sabitch before the trial). Rusty’s wife of 36 years, Barbara, is bipolar and extremely difficult. His senior clerk, Anna, is jolly and extremely willing. Sabitch embarks on an affair that has disastrous consequences and winds up with the judge once again fighting a murder charge. The first part of the book shuttles between Sabitch and Molto, each narrating his take on events—suspense is often spoiled, though, because readers know what Sabitch has done before Molto figures it out. Part 2, inevitably, is the criminal trial, in which the two antagonists meet again. Turow is as agile as ever at plotting and characterization, and his fans will be thrilled at the prospect of a reprise between two of his most memorable characters. But this time the courtroom drama has a mechanical feel to it, as if Turow accepted a dare to put Sabitch and Molto back in the courtroom, older, but in the same position and pickle as in Presumed Innocent. --Connie Fletcher
I liked this book and urge you to read it as well.  Judge for yourself.

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