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Monday, May 29, 2017

Secret Service Dogs - The Heroes Who Protect the President of the United States

Secret Service Dogs - The Heroes Who Protect the President of the United States (#655) by Maria Goodavage is a fascinating read.  While tip-toeing around information which might breach security protocols, Ms. Goodavage has still managed to provide a peek behind the human and canine wall charged with the protection of the President, Vice President, their families and heads of state visiting the United States.


For instance, did you know that Secret Service dogs are specialists?  Some provide security from intruders, some are trained to sniff for explosives any place the President will be visiting, here and abroad, and some dogs' beat is mingling with the tourist crowds outside the White House sniffing for particular target odors.  It's not an easy road to be chosen for the Secret Service for either the dogs or their human handlers, nor is on-the-job training and maintenance neglected.


But I think the most interesting part of this book is the bond between the dogs and their partners.  Once a dog is assigned to his human, living and working together 24 hours a day with the handler and his family creates a lifelong bond.  Their successful partnership depends on their keenly honed ability to read and respond to each other, no matter the circumstances.  Ms. Goodavage spent much time interviewing the human halves of these relationships, and the anecdotes detail the stress, tedium, and physical demands of the job, leavened with the sometimes wacky things that can happen.  Each of the stories is unique, but one theme runs through each: the utter devotion to duty, and the constant drive to perform even better.  It's inspiring.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Third Secret

I decided to re-read Steve Berry's early suspense novel, The Third Secret (#654) because it was one of the few books at my local library that turned up in a search for fiction set in Portugal.  The Third Secret referred to in the title is the final secret from Fatima which was revealed by John Paul II to the public in 2002.  It's been so long since I'd read it, that it was a totally new book to me, and even more interesting in light of the EfM coursework I've just completed.  I know I read it this time with a completely different mindset. 


This is a stand alone novel set primarily in the Vatican, not one of Berry's popular Cotton Malone series.  The protagonist here is Father Colin Michener, papal secretary to Pope Clement XV.  His mentor has been increasingly agitated recently, and is spending much time in the Riserva of the Vatican Library, an area open only to the Pontiff himself.  His visits are focused on the box containing the documents recording the Third Secret revealed by the Virgin Mary to Lucia, a Portuguese peasant girl of ten in 1917.  What could possibly be in the box which impels Clement to send Colin to interview an elderly retired priest in Romania?


As Clement's health declines, the jostling for power increases amongst the ambitious cardinals in the Vatican, some of whom will stop at nothing, even blackmail and murder, to gain the Papal Throne and suppress the secrets the Church holds.


An oldie, but a goodie.  The subject matter here seems just as relevant today as when it first came out in 2005.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon - The Osage Murders nad the Birth of the FBI

What a grim tale David Grann tells in Killers of the Flower Moon - The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (#653).  Prior to the publicity surrounding this book, I had never heard of the systematic exploitation, theft and murder carried out during the Twenties and Thirties against the oil-rich Osage Indians.  Apparently until a pair of blatant murders, no one else seemed to take any notice either, unless it was to try to cash in on the crime spree themselves.  Although J. Edgar Hoover used this case to maneuver his Bureau of Investigation into a more powerful force under his control, after his agents under the leadership of Tom White solved and prosecuted several of the murders, the books were closed on an investigation that had only scratched the surface of what was really going on out in Oklahoma.  The injustices that occurred then have never been righted.


Despite the carping from critics that this book did not live up to David Grann's previous blockbuster best seller, The Lost City of Z, I find it a fascinating and shaming read.  Perhaps I benefited by not reading "Z", since I had no comparison.  The numerous photos integrated into the text of the persons involved in this story made them concrete.  According to Grann as he began to dig deeper, the extent of the fraud, abuse and betrayal involving millions upon millions of dollars has never been exposed.  There are a few "white hats" in this story, but sadly they are few and far between.  I couldn't help but wonder if Artic oil fields are opened, if the Inuits might face similar problems in the future; it would hardly be surprising.


This book should be on your "Must Read" list.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

First Blush - A Meegs Miscellany

First Blush - A Meegs Miscellany (#652) is a diverting read, to be sure!  Robert Bruce Stewart has taken an element from his Harry Reese turn-of-the-century mystery series and fleshed it out here in a collection of jottings from the pen (and typewriter!) of his wife Emmie McGinniss Reese, co-authoring this volume under the name M.E. Meegs.


Many of the plots of the Harry Reese novels hinge on events Emmie has been inspired to write about and submit to various yellow journals under the pen name M.E. Meegs, hence the subtitle, A Meegs Miscellany,  She gleefully embroiders the actual people, places and problems to suit her own highly-overheated imagination and to serve her own purposes.  The reader is never actually given the opportunity to read any of Emmie's output; rather, they are referred to by either Harry or Emmie herself, or sometimes both in conflicting versions.  It's like watching the weekly dramas at the White House unfold...


In First Blush (which you probably will, as the materials here are rather risque!) the reader is at last given access to the source material, accompanied by marvelous period illustrations.  What a treasure trove!  Some of it is eye-popping, some comical, some ingenious; all of it a window on the character of Emily McGinniss Reese, sole occupant of the unique Emmie-Land.  It's a wonderful place to live for a few hours, but be glad that your residence there is temporary.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Jane Austen Project

What a diverting read!  The Jane Austen Project (#651) by Kathleen Flynn combines several of my favorite genres into an entertaining novel.  Jane Austen tribute?  Check.  The author, Kathleen Flynn is an editor at the Ne York Times, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society.  Time travel?  That's the whole point of the plot; in a future that has undergone drastic changes from our world, a secret team is assembled and trained to be able to successfully blend in when sent back to England in 1815.  Their mission?  To retrieve letters written to and by Jane Austen destroyed by her sister Cassandra after Jane's untimely death.  But paramount to their mission is retrieving the entire manuscript of Jane Austen's unpublished novel, The Watsons.  Key to their assignment, Dr. Rachel Katzman, an emergency medicine physician, and Liam Finucane, an expert on Beau Brummel, is that they do nothing to change history during their year-long stay..


Needless to say, things do not go as planned!  Rachel and Liam, posing as the Ravenswood siblings, do manage to meet and be taken up by Henry Austen, Jane's favorite brother, but becoming intimate with the Austen family generates unexpected consequences and dangers.  As they say, "Be careful what you wish for!"


If you are a Jane Austen fan, don't miss The Jane Austen Project.  What if she could be cured...?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Children Act

Although The Children Act (#650) is ostensibly about a family court judge deciding on whether a boy just short of his majority should be allowed to refuse a life-saving transfusion in keeping with his Jehovah's Witness beliefs, it's really Fiona's story.


Ian McEwan introduces us to Fiona on a Sunday evening when she's reviewing briefs for her next day's hearings in London's Family Court.  Her husband approaches her to tell her that he's going to have an affair.  Although she is preoccupied with cases, his announcement comes from out of the blue.  Before they can really get into it, a phone call interrupts.  Fiona will need to determine if a hospital can go ahead with a transfusion to save an adolescent's life.  A decision must be made within hours.  By the time things are settled for court, her husband is gone with his luggage and their car.


The middle third of this book deals with the issues both for and against the transfusion, moral, ethical and legal.  Under terms of the British The Children Act, Fiona must decide in the best interest of the child.  She feels the only way she can do this properly is meet Adam, the boy at the center.  It's a meeting that will profoundly affect everyone assigned to the case.  Without giving away the ending, I can say that things did not entirely work out the way I expected.


Mr. McEwan's writing is beautiful.  He manages to perfectly capture Fiona's devotion to her responsibilities, even when it come at the cost of her personal wishes.  She and her husband's roles in contemporary society are switched here, and thus even more clearly illuminated. A brief investment of your time will yield positive results in reading The Children Act.

Monday, May 1, 2017

American Gods

I saw that Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods (#649) was going to be on Starz, so I decided to finally read something by him.  It took me an awfully long time to get through American Gods.  I should have known; my husband kept commenting as he read it first, "This is a really odd book."


The premise, according to the Starz trailers, is that the old gods are fading, new gods are rising, and that a war between them is coming.  Odin is certainly trying to gin up his troops against the digital and media gods, using his hired lackey, Shadow to drive him around the country and run his errands, telling him that a war, is indeed, on its way.  As Shadow learns in the end, not so much.  We have all apparently been played by reading this book.


I know that Mr. Gaiman has a legion of avid fans.  He has a vivid imagination and a curious bent of mind (where does he come up with some of his ideas?), but I will never be one of them.  I regret the time I could have spent reading something else.  At least now I know.