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Monday, September 8, 2014

The Darkest Hour

A friend of mine passed along debut author Tony Schumacher's new thriller The Darkest Hour (#425) and told me I had to read it.  I gladly took her advice. 

This is alternative history, set in London after the Nazis have conquered the British.  There is a government in exile in Canada and an active British Resistance, but for most of the population, it's a return to as normal a life as they can manage under the Occupation.  For John Rossett it means returning to his job as a Detective Inspector after serving his time in an internment camp for captured soldiers.  His record as a DI is so good that the Germans choose him to work just as efficiently on the Jewish Question.  For Rossett, it's just a job until the day during a routine roundup he finds Jacob, a little boy hidden in the house by his grandfather.  The train has already left London that Jacob should have been on, so Rossett is stuck with him until he and his superiors can work out a solution.  But nothing is routine, and Rossett and Jacob are soon on the run for their lives from the Nazis, the Resistance and the communists, each with their own agendas.

Besides being a cracking good story, the characters in the book are interesting and multi-layered.  You want it to turn out well for all of them in the end, even Rossett's Nazi superior Ernst Koehler, even though you know it can't.  My friend thought that the author left a hint at the end that we might hear more of these people in the future.  I hope so, too, but I'm not sure that's too likely, all things considered.  Kudos to Mr. Schumacher.  If you're a WWII buff, definitely add The Darkest Hour to your reading pile.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Flat Spin

I first became aware of the Cordell Logan series, written by David Freed, from a review of the third and latest book in our local newspaper.  It sounded as though the book would be right up my alley, but the reviewer did mention that it would be best to read the series in order if possible.  So as advised, I've started with Flat Spin (#424), a thoroughly entertaining introduction to this mystery series featuring Cordell Logan, certified flight instructor, washed-out Air Force pilot and retired member of Alpha, a government black ops group so secret no one's ever heard of them.

I was afraid from the first few pages that it might be too sexist in its language for me to bother reading, but thankfully, that over-emphasis on the female figure vanished almost right away, and got right down to the slightly tongue-in-cheek business of solving the murder of Logan's ex-wife's current spouse, his former boss at Alpha who just happened to arrange things to steal away Savannah, the love of Logan's life.  What red-blooded male wouldn't want jump at the chance to solve that murder?!  Of course the bribe his ex-father-in-law offered him didn't hurt since his checking account is empty and there are no flight students on his horizon.  The problems escalate when Cordell begins turning over unwanted rocks.  It's not an Alpha-related revenge murder; in fact, the clues seem to point to a much more personal involvement.

The good news is that since Mr. Freed has added a couple of new books to this promising series, you know that Cordell Logan will live to fly another day, and he might have another chance to get back with his ex-wife Savannah; but the real question is: will Mrs. Shmulowitz still be his landlady?  I sure hope so; she's a hoot and a half.  I'm looking forward to reading more of Logan's continuing adventures.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Signature of All Things

I've never had the slightest bit of interest in reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, so I was not looking forward to reading my book club's September selection The Signature of All Things (#423).  To my surprise, I was quite taken by this literary tale of a nineteenth century woman and her extraordinary family.  And by a novel centered around the theme of botany, no less, a subject of which I have no knowledge, nor any interest in rectifying that omission.

Gilbert's tale is mainly that of Alma Whittaker, born to a life of luxury to a most unlikely Philadelphia couple in 1800.  Her father, from poor English stock, makes the most of an encounter as a youth with eminent British botanist and adventurer Joseph Banks.  He uses it to parlay his  knowledge of botany gained from expeditions as an agent for Banks into the foundation of his own fortune.  Banks has rejected his ideas of making money from his discoveries in the most humiliating way; therefore Henry will best him in every possible way.  Having grown wealthy in the Dutch East Indies, Henry Whittaker determines to take a practical Dutch wife as helpmeet, and chooses Beatrix van Dervender for her connections to pre-eminent Dutch botanists.  When her family disowns her, the couple sail off to America, never looking back.  Thus, Alma is born into a family that encourages her independence and pursuit of scientific knowledge through her own research and the lively discourse of the era's scientists, explorers and inventors around the dining table of their home, White Acre.  Alma is not beautiful, but that does not concern her until in mid-life she meets Ambrose Pike and falls deeply in love.  And therein hangs a most extraordinary tale...

There are so many surprises in this book, I wouldn't even know where to begin to describe them; you just find yourself reading madly along to find out what will happen next to the Whittakers.  I think my only reservation about this book is that as far as I was concerned, the ending seemed to just peter out.  It wasn't a bad or unexpected ending to the story, but the rest of Alma's life is so unusual, I guess I just expected ... more, not less.  Even if you detested Eat, Pray, Love in both its print and film incarnations, give The Signature of All Things a browse; you may find yourself hooked as I was.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Something author Gabrielle Zevin says towards the end of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (#422) sums up this book perfectly: "Why is any one book different from any other book?  They are different A.J. decides, because they are.  We have to look inside many.  We have to believe.  We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again."  This, for me, is that rare book which exhilarates, that you hate to see end so much that you purposely slow down your reading towards the end to prolong the pleasure it provides.

This is not a very big book.  It's about a widowed bookseller on an island off the coast of Massachusetts who comes down from his apartment above the store one morning to discover an abandoned toddler with a note from her mother, asking him to take care of Maya.   A simple premise, a la Silas Marner, but surprisingly touching and profound.  A good story, about mostly decent folks, but filled with enough literary references to delight the book lover in all of us.  It's a bit hard to describe just what makes this book so perfect in its own way.

Believe me, it would be almost as fast to read this gem than to read this blog.  Put The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry at the top of your "Must Read!" list; you won't regret it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dog On It

Dog On It (#421) is the book in which Chet and Bernie, that indomitable Private Eye team, make their debut.  Though I have gleaned much of their back story from reading later books in this delightful mystery series, it was very satisfying to begin back at the beginning.  (See also my posts on The Sound and the Furry and A Fistful of Collars.)

Chet the dog is the narrator, and he plays the major role in this story of a missing teenager which turns out to be much, much more involved than a simple runaway.  It's full of action, so much so that at times I felt as though I was reading a canine version of The Perils of Pauline.  Okay, I'm definitely dating myself with that reference. (If you don't know about this classic screen series, Google it.)  Bernie brings his own unique skills to this partnership, and it's good to find that things might be finally taking a turn for the better in his personal life; that is, if he can survive long enough to enjoy it! 

I just can't seem to get enough of this dynamic duo.  Now if only I can finally get my husband to pick up this book, I'll have someone to chuckle over their adventures with.   Highly recommended!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Lincoln Myth

Steve Berry has a few interesting concepts to anchor his latest thriller The Lincoln Myth (#420), but I do have to admit, it's a bit of slog to get there. 

Cotton Malone is back.  The Magellan Billet just won't let him retire to peacefully run his bookstore in Copenhagen.  He's called in to retrieve an asset because he's physically closer than any other agent, but the promised easy assignment quickly turns into a shooting match.  There's trouble afoot in Washington, D.C., and a prominent Mormon Senator appears to be at the root of the problem.  What's at stake is the fate of the United States itself.  Cotton Malone is roped in despite the fact that with his involvement, the stakes for him will become personal as well.

There was a lot of material in this novel about states' rights, the Constitution, the Union, Lincoln and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.  All of which was necessary to understand the premise behind the peril, but it was presented in a manner that was more didactic than  your usual page-turning thriller.  I'm sure that was a turn-off for many readers, as was the fact that the various fonts used indicate eighteenth and nineteenth century documents were very difficult to read. Despite all that, if you can bear with it, the threat that was posed at the heart of this novel is only too plausible.

Besides, I found it a good introduction to an area I'll be visiting myself in a couple of weeks.  I'm looking forward to visiting Salt Lake City, and kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to visit an LDS temple here before it was dedicated not too long ago.  So, in my ledger, the pluses still outweigh the minuses for The Lincoln Myth.

Monday, August 25, 2014

John Wayne - The Life and Legend

Why would I be reading John Wayne - The Life and Legend (#419)?  I'm not particularly a John Wayne fan, although I've seen bits and pieces of many of his movies on TV.  It's because I've been fortunate enough to see Scott Eyman, its author, in action at our local library's annual book festival BookMania! twice in the last few years, emceeing author panels and interviewing individual authors about their show-biz related books.  That was enough to convince me that any book he authored would be worth reading.  John Wayne is a perfect case in point.

At close to six hundred pages, Eyman makes Duke Morrison, the man behind his screen image John Wayne, interesting and accessible.  He is not always admirable or likable, but Eyman treats his subject with sympathy in recounting the good, the bad and the ugly in his life.  Overall, I found this biography vastly entertaining, more so than I could ever have imagined.

Maybe some day my husband and I will join the twenty-first century and upgrade our electronics so we'll have access to a streaming video service so we can order up John Wayne films at our own convenience.  Reading his biography and the descriptions of what happened on a number of his film shoots has really instilled a desire in me to see some of his better pictures which I've never seen: The Searchers, Hondo and The Shootist just to name a few, and to watch some of the more familiar movies like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with new eyes and appreciation.  I envy Scott Eyman's access to the various film archives which have enabled him to see as many of John Wayne's films as he has.  Of course, that did mean he had to sit through some real losers like The Green Berets, and The Conqueror so I guess it all evens out in the end...

If you've ever seen a John Wayne film in your life (and who hasn't?), I guarantee you'll find something to enjoy in this comprehensive look at an American screen legend.