The Abstinence Teacher

The Alchemist

The Almost Moon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amber Spyglass

Angels & Demons

The Appeal

Ashes to Ashes

The Associate

Atlantis Found

Atonement

The Audacity of Hope

AVENUE OF MYSTERIES

 

 

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Back to Blood

The Bad Beginning

Beach Road

The Bear and The Dragon

Bel Canto

Beloved

Beowulf

The Big Bad Wolf

Big Trouble

Black House

Black Wind

Bleachers


Blue Gold

Body For Life

The Bonesetter's Daughter

The Book of Fate

The Bourne Legacy

Boyos

The Brethren

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Bringing Down The House

Brokeback Mountain

The Broker

Brooklyn! The Ultimate Guide to New York's Most Happening Borough

Brundibar

 

 

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California Wine Country

The Camel Club

The Castle in the Forest

The Casual Vacancy

Cell

Child 44

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

The City of Falling Angels

A Clash of Kings (Book Two of "A Song of Ice and Fire" Series)

The Closers

Collected Plays: 1984-1991

The Collectors

Conviction

Corelli's Mandolin

The Corps: Semper Fi

The Corrections

Cradle and All

Cross

 

 

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A Dance With Dragons (Book 5 of "A Song of Ice and Fire" Series)

Dark Lady

Daughter of Fortune

David and Goliath

The DaVinci Code

Dean and Me

Deception Point

Derailed

Desire of the Everlasting Hills

Detour

The Devil in the White City

Digital Fortress

The Dogeaters

Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings

Double Cross

The Dream of Reason

The Dumbest Generation

 

 

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Eaters of the Dead

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Eldest

Elixir

Eragon

Everything Is Illuminated

Exile

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

 

 

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The Family

The Farming of Bones

A Feast For Crows (Book 4 in the series "A Song of Ice and Fire")

The 5th Horseman

The Final Solution

Finishing the Hat

First Family

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Flying Without Fear

Fodor's "Naples & the Amalfi Coast"

The Forest

Forever

The Forgotten Garden

For One More Day

Four Blind Mice

The Fourth Hand

4th of July

Franklin and Winston

Freakonomics

Freedom

 

 

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A Game of Thrones

The Gate House

Gates of Fire

Gertrude and Claudius

Getting There, Staying There

The Given Day

God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian

The Godfather Returns

Godless

The Golden Compass

Gone With The Wind

Go The Fuck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach

Gray Matter

Great at Any Age: Who Did What From Age 1 to 100...and Beyond

Grimm's Last Fairy Tale

The Guernsey Literary and  Potato Peel Pie Society

 

 

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Half A Life

The "Harry Potter" Series

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter: Film Wizardry

Harvard Yard

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The Help

The Historian

Holy Blood, Holy Grail

Honeymoon

Hour Game

The Hour I First Believed

The House at Riverton

House of Sand and Fog

"HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN." by Louise Penny

 

 

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I Am Charlotte Simmons

Ines of my Soul

Inferno

The Interpretation of Murder

In the Company of the Courtesan

Ishmael

 

 

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The Janson Directive

THE JAPANESE LOVER

The Jester

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Judge and Jury

 

 

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Killing Time

The King of Torts

Kissing in Manhattan

 

 

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Lamb

The Land of Painted Caves

The Last Juror

Last Man Standing

Last Night in Twisted River

The Last Oracle

The Last Templar

Lifeguard

The Lion's Game

London Bridges

Lost City

The Lost Symbol

 

 

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The Magician's Assistant

The March

The Marvels

Mary, Mary

The Master and Margarita

Memories of My Melancholy Whores

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Messenger

Mystic River

 

 

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The Narrows

Native Tongue

The Navigator

New York

Next

Night Fall

The Night Listener

No Angel

Northeastern University: Off The Record

The No-Spin Zone

NW

 

 

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Omerta

On Beauty

1000 Places To See Before You Die

The Orc King

The Other Side of Me: A Memoir

Ordinary Heroes

 

 

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Pandora's Daughter

A Painted House

Palmer Lake

Paris

Personal Injuries

Playing for Pizza

Pompeii

Pop, Goes The Weasel

Power vs Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior

Prey

The Princes of Ireland

The Prometheus Deception

Protect and Defend

 

 

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The Race

The Rebels of Ireland

Red Rabbit

The Reptile Room

The Road

Room

Roses Are Red

The Rule of Four

The Russian Debutante's Handbook

 

 

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Sacred Stone

Sandstorm

Saturday

The Seagull

2nd Chance

The Secret

The Secret History

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Supper

The Shack

The Shadow of the Wind

Shadow Watch

The Shelters of Stone

Shopgirl

Shutter Island

The Sigma Protocol

Skipping Christmas

The Slow-Burn Fitness Revolution

Solar

Sons of Fortune

South of Broad

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Split Second

State of Fear

Step on a Crack

Stone Cold

A Storm of Swords (Book 3 in the "Song of Fire and Ice" Series

Stupid White Men

The Subtle Knife

The Summons

Super Sad True Love Story

Suzanne's Diary For Nicholas

The Swan Thieves

 

 

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The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Tara Road

The Teeth of the Tiger

Terrorist

3rd Degree

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Timeline

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Tipping Point

Treasure of Khan

The Tristan Betrayal

Trojan Odyssey

Tuesdays With Morrie

Tunnel Vision

 

 

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Up Country

 

 

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Valhalla Rising

Violets Are Blue

The Vision of Emma Blau

 

 

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War and Peace

Water For Elephants

When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden

White Death

The White Tiger

The Whole Truth

Wicked

Wild Fire

Wish You Well

Winter Solstice

 

 

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The Yacoubian Building

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

You: Staying Young

 

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Zorro

 

 

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BOOK REVIEWS-

BOOK REVIEW- THE BRETHREN by John Grisham

If you've given up reading John Grisham, you might want to reconsider with this new one. Here the pattern is a little different. ALL of the lawyers, judges, and politicians are the idiots, con men, and villains. Duh! Three former judges, who call themselves "The Brethren," are confined to a federal prison, where they operate a mail scam, in which they write letters to gay professionals on the outside, describing themselves as young "hunks," looking for a relationship with an older man. Their goal is blackmail. Their goal backfires, big time, when they lure the wrong "victim." Unfortunately, the story starts to unravel 3/4's of the way through, and it just rolls on to an end...out of steam. It's not a great book, but it's an enjoyable read, nevertheless.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- GERTRUDE AND CLAUDIUS by John Updike

What John Updike has created in this beautifully-written, entertaining, and imaginative new novel, is nothing short of a prequel to Shakespeare's "Hamlet." It ends where the Shakespeare play begins. It starts with Gertrude (Hamlet's mother) as a young princess...takes us through her arranged marriage, her love affair with her brother-in-law, and also the murder of her husband, now, the king. We meet a young Polonius, whose wife goes mad, foreshadowing his daughter Ophelia's fate in the play. Thus, gaps and inconsistencies in the play are explained. Updike hasn't written any villains into this book; every act has a rational and logical explanation...even the murder of the king. All of the characters in this book, are pulled to their death in the succeeding play, by the one character who barely appears in the book...Hamlet!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE VISION OF EMMA BLAU by Ursula Hegi

If you read, and enjoyed, last year's Stones From the River, then you'll certainly want to read this sequel to that remarkable book. In the first novel, we followed the history of the Blau-Montag families in Burgdorf...a German town populated by some of the most interesting characters in modern literature. In THIS novel, we get to see the history of the branch of the family that emigrated to America. Stefan Blau ends up in New Hampshire where we follow the family for 100 years. Hegi writes in the style of John Irving and Charles Dickens, creating personal histories of unforgetable characters. A wonderful read.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- ASHES TO ASHES by Tami Hoag

Yet another generic (and suspenseful) mystery thriller about a serial killer. This one sets his victims on fire after he tortures them. Skip the book; wait for the movie!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE FARMING OF BONES by Edwidge Danticat

This beautifully written book tells the horrible, and little-known story of genocide in the Dominican Republic. The narrator is a young Haitian woman, Amabelle, who was orphaned when her parents drowned, and who has been serving as the maid and friend to the wife of a Dominican army colonel. Through her eyes, we are slowly taken from the tranquility of her adopted home, to the events surrounding the massacre of virtually all Haitians living in the Dominican republic in 1937. The author, Edwidge Danticat, herself a Haitian, has a dreamlike quality to her writing, which often lulls the reader just before something terrible is about to happen. Unfortunately, the story climaxes in the middle of the book, with the slaughter, and then goes nowhere. All the reader is left with, is beautiful writing, but no plot.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE LION'S GAME by Nelson DeMille

I've always believed that it takes as much professionalism and skill, for a writer to create an excellent thriller like The Lion's Game, as it does to create a War and Peace. One form is as technically demanding as another...only the focus is different. Having said that, let me now heap praise upon The Lion's Game, author Nelson DeMille's (The Gold Coast, The General's Daughter, Plum Island) latest, and in my estimation, best suspense thriller. In 700 page-flipping-pages, the reader is thrust into the world of terrorism in America, as seen through the eyes of a Libyan terrorist (The Lion), who is seeking revenge for the 1986 bombing of Qaddafi's compound in Libya, and also through the eyes of his pursuers in the NYPD, FBI, and CIA. The characters, both good and bad guys, are believable and sympathetic...we understand them, and why they do what they do. The story moves forward with the speed of a runaway Boeing 747, but that's more of the story than I should tell you. If you're looking for an excellent blockbuster, with a believable villain and heroes, this book is for you. Watch out for the sequel!

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- CORELLI'S MANDOLIN by Louis DeBernieres

Louis DeBernieres, like bad authors everywhere, falls into the trap of thinking that, because words and language are beautiful, then the more you pour on of both, the better your work will be. He justifies this by having Dr. Iannis (one of his Greek characters) say"...we all use every long word that we know as often as we possibly can." Hogwash! The great ones like Homer, Charles Dickens, Feodor Dostoevsky, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Robertson Davies, John Irving, Tom Wolfe, etc. used language beautifully, without losing their characters and their stories in the process. There IS a story in here somewhere...a love story set on an island in Greece in the waning years of World War II. But the story and characters are buried under a ton of verbiage. I'm reminded of the kind of papers that well-intentioned students hand in to try to impress their professors, thinking that "more is better." This will probably be one of those rare cases, where the movie (starring Nicolas Cage!) will be better than the book. After all, the film will use one "picture" to replace 1000 of those ridiculous words! (2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- TIMELINE by Michael Crichton

In Timeline, Michael Crichton returns to the formula that he used so successfully in Jurassic Park. Start the book with some scientific gobbledy-gook. In the case of Jurassic Park, it was "chaos theory;" in Timeline, it's "quantum physics technology." (Yikes!) Then, send the main characters into another world. In Jurassic Park, it was the island of prehistoric dinosaurs. In Timeline, it's the medieval France of knights defending and attacking castles and monasteries. Will our young heroes and heroine be trapped in 14th Century France forever? How good is a young Yale student in a real joust? Why do all medieval banquets feature dogs eating on the tables? How secret are secret passages if everyone knows where they are? Who cares? The story is fun at times, but much of it is repetitions, and it's hard to like young people who act as stupidly as the characters in a horror film for teenagers (even though they're supposed to be graduate students at Yale!) Nevertheless, it's entertaining, often suspenseful, and sometimes enjoyable. (3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende, niece of Chile's one-time president, steals shamelessly the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (not a bad author to emulate,) but does it so well, that the reader forgives her for her "thievery." Her books are so full of multiple- plots and rich characters that they're usually defeated when they try to make the transition to the screen. Look what they did to The House of the Spirits! In this one, an orphan girl is left at the doorstep of British expatriates in Victorian Valparaiso in Chile. She's raised as a "proper English lady," but, because of her dark skin, is never quite accepted. The complexity of trying to grow up in the two worlds of Victorian England, and Hispanic Chile, is interrupted by the discovery of gold in California, and it seems that all of Chile is leaving to get rich in this new land. Because of a terrible mistake, the heroine finds herself pregnant, in disguise, and in the cargo hold of a ship heading to the rough-and-tumble world of gold-crazy San Francisco. In any one else's hands, this would have been a trashy soap opera. In Allende's hands it becomes an exciting character-driven adventure, filled with the complex details of a Charles Dickens. It's a portrait of an era as seen through the eyes of gold miners, proper English men and women, sailing captains, prostitutes, and a Chinese doctor. I loved it.(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- EATERS OF THE DEAD by Michael Crichton

Last summer, I saw a terrible movie, "The 13th Warrior." In my review, among other things, I wrote that it was boring, and that it made little sense. Because friends have told me that the book upon which the film was based, was better than the movie, I read the book, entitled Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. Here's the rare case of a film being completely faithful to the book, which is also boring, and makes little sense. Crichton, in trying to duplicate the style of "Beowulf," captures all of the tiresome, dull aspects of the classic, and none of the sense of adventure. Similar to the "Iliad," it reads like a laundry list (e.g. "there were 324 tents, 56 horses, 200 swords...I saw these with my own eyes.") Who cares? (1-Star)

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- ATLANTIS FOUND by Clive Cussler

If you love reading Clive Cussler's adventures about his super-hero/oceanographer Dirk Pitt as much as I do (I've read and enjoyed all 15 of them!) then you'll really enjoy his latest, and longest one, Atlantis Found. This one borrows freely from the myths of "Atlantis," "Noah and the Ark," and "The Boys From Brazil, " and takes us from the mining camps of Colorado, to the Teatro Colon Opera House in Buenos Aires, to the icy continent of Antarctica in a wild chase designed to prevent nothing less than then end of the world. So there!!! Why hasn't Hollywood filmed all of these books? Forget Indiana Jones, Part 4; let's see Dirk Pitt, Part 1. (4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- POP, GOES THE WEASEL by James Patterson

James Patterson is one of my favorite writers of contemporary mystery thrillers (Along Came A Spider, Kiss The Girls, Cat and Mouse, ) and his latest is the best one yet. If all you know about his main character Alex Cross is what you saw in the movie, "Kiss the Girls," then you don't know Alex Cross at all. Poor Morgan Freeman was completely miscast. Here's Patterson's description of Cross: "a black, 41 year old, Detective, Psychologist; 210 pounds, and as handsome as a young Muhammed Ali!" (Denzel, where were you when they were casting this one?) Once again, Cross is pitted against a homicidal serial killer, as he was in the other books...but THIS one has diplomatic immunity! This book defines "page-turner." Don't miss it. (4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- PERSONAL INJURIES by Scott Turow

Scott Turow reached into his bottom drawer for THIS one. I'm sure that a good story could be written about the FBI/CIA coercing a bad lawyer to wear a wire in order to entrap several crooked judges...but THIS isn't it!!

This book is a complete bore right up to the last 10 pages, THEN it comes alive. That's just 390 pages too late.

(1- Star)

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- TARA ROAD by Maeve Binchy

Simply put, Maeve Binchy is one of the best damn story-tellers around. Whether it's because she's Irish, or because she just knows an awful lot about people and their lives, her writing is a gift to the reader This is one of those books that you hate to put down, yet you don't want to read it too quickly...it's too good . In a quick summary, it tells the story of two women who exchange houses for the summer...one in Dublin, the other in Connecticut. But that's like saying that Gone With The Wind is about a woman in the South. In describing the friends and relatives of these women and their problems, she manages to give the reader insight into some of life's greatest joys and fears. You really get to know these people...and you really will miss them when they're "gone."

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- BIG TROUBLE by Dave Barry

I can't remember the last time that I laughed out loud so much while reading a novel. Dave Barry's first novel is just plain fun to read; I hated to finish it. He's created the craziest collection of characters since Kurt Vonnegut was writing in his heyday. The setting is Miami, Florida, a city that the author must either hate or love very much, because he portrays it as the hell-hole of America, populated by psychos and cretins. The characters are mostly cops or robbers, plus a few relatively normal teen-agers and street-people. The story, which I wouldn't even begin to summarize involves mafiosi, a nuclear bomb, a python, and a dog who his owner thinks is Elizabeth Dole! The author holds up a mirror to society and in that mirror he sees: the stupidity of today's song lyrics; the frightening incompetence of airport security personnel; the psychos who call in to radio talk shows; guns in the hands of the stupid and insane;....you get the picture? No one or thing that deserves to be blasted, is spared. God love you, Dave Barry; I can't wait for your next book. (4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- DARK LADY by Richard North Patterson

I've read several books by Richard North Patterson (Silent Witness, The Final Judgment, No Safe Place,) and have enjoyed them immensely. He writes in-depth text that immerses you in the story and characters. His latest one, however, about scandal, politics, corruption, and murder surrounding the building of a new baseball stadium, in a thinly-disguised Cleveland, is a COMPLETE BORE! There is NOTHING to hold the reader's interest. I had difficulty getting to the halfway point in the book...my criterion for being able to put down a book (1 1/2 Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: DARK LADY by Richard North Patterson (continued)

I decided to finish reading the previously-reviewed book, Dark Lady to see if it got any better. In fact, it did, but not enough for me to recommend it. The problem was the extensive research that the author did into the building of a new baseball stadium...the core of the story. Instead of letting all of his research support the story, he allowed it to become the story.

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- THE "HARRY POTTER" SERIES- Those of you who have children are probably already familiar with the publishing phenomenon that's breaking all book-selling records in Britain and the U.S. this year. Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone is the first in Scottish author J.K. Rowling's projected series of seven fantasy novels for children, about a young orphan boy who goes to Hogwarts, England's boarding school for the training of wizards and witches. In the first book, Harry is 10-years-old, and in each succeeding book, Harry is one year older and one school year along. As popular with adults, as it is with young people, the first book immediately "crossed-over" to the New York Times best seller list, where it was soon joined by its' sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and shortly, no doubt, by the newly released third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. After having read Hannibal (which I though was very well done,) I needed an antidote, and the "Harry Potter" series was just the right thing. In the tradition of C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and J.R.R. Tolkien, this new series can take its' place proudly on the shelf, alongside the stories about "Narnia," "Prydain," and "Middle Earth." I loved it. Get it for your children, and read it with them!

Nick

If you haven't already read the two-year-old novella, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, by Mitch Albom, I recommend it. It's a beautiful dialogue between a sportswriter and his dying ex-professor. (The movie stars Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon.)

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- BEOWULF (new translation by Seamus Heaney)

If, when you were in college (or high school,) you had to suffer through a bad translation of the epic poem "Beowulf," as I did, then you might want to take a look at this beautiful new translation by Ireland's (and Harvard's) Nobel-winning poet, Seamus Heaney. He does what Michael Chrichton failed to do (in his book Eaters of the Dead,) and what Hollywood failed to do in the Beowulf rip-off, "The 13th Warrior." That is, make the old story of Beowulf and the monster Grendel, come alive to a new generation of readers of this perennial classic. Just in case you can read Anglo-Saxon(!) Heaney gives the original language of the poem on each facing page. It's not a fun read, but it's an interesting one.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE FOREST by EDWARD RUTHERFURD

If you enjoyed the early novels of James Michener (The Source, and Hawaii), and the first two novels of the present author, Edward Rutherfurd (London and Sarum,) then you'll certainly enjoy reading his latest epic story, The Forest. This is the saga of nine centuries in the life of five families who populate a part of the English heartland: The New Forest. From the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the present day, we are brought into the lives of "well-born ladies and lowly woodsmen, sailors and smugglers, witches and Cistercian monks." Their stories are told by a master story-teller, who knows how to hook the reader and reel him/her in. Although he doesn't have the insight of a Tolstoy, he does have the depth and scope of a Dickens. You'll be thankful for the genealogical chart in the front of the book, as well as the maps, because you'll have to be able to recall main characters from several generations, and how they interact with one another throughout the centuries. But if I'm making this sound like a history text, don't be misled. It's filled with murder, lust, intrigue, love-affairs, suspense, battles, incest, adultery, and occasionally, an important historical character or event! I loved it.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEWS:

(1) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

If this isn't the greatest book ever written, then it's certainly up there with the best of them. Why then are so many people afraid to read it? If it's because of its length(1045 pages in the Norton Critical Edition,) it's only as long as two of Stephen King's novels, and exactly the same length as L. Ron Hubbard's Battleship Earth, (possibly the worst book ever written!) If it's because they're afraid that there'll be too much descriptive writing about war, there are only about 100 pages (especially Book Two) that describe (very interestingly) the battles of 1812 in Russia. It's fun to read just how badly Napoleon screwed up! But, if you have the time and motivation to read it, you'll be rewarded with characters who jump off the pages, because they're so well written by Tolstoy, who is a master of character development and human behavior. This man has more insight into people and why they do things, than just about any other author. The story involves the people in four aristocratic families, in the Russia of 1805-1850, and how the war of 1812 comes to their doorsteps and changes their lives forever. it was certainly the inspiration for Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

(2) Cradle and All by James Patterson

This is not about Alex Cross (James Patterson's famous psychologist/detective,) but rather about the supernatural occurrences revolving around two simultaneous virgin births; one involving the son of God, and the other, the son of Satan! It should make a fun movie with Sarah Michelle Geller and Jennifer Love Hewitt (or whatever their names are!) It is suspenseful and exciting, but it's also repetitious and somewhat stupid. Take it to the beach, and bury it when you've finished reading it!

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- "HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE" by J.K.Rowling

Thankfully I don't have to write a "real" review of the most popular book in the history of the world. I'm not looking for challenges. So let me just relax a bit and talk. British Fantasy Fiction is written for people of all ages, not just for children. If you've read and loved the works of writers in this category, such as J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and the "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy,) A.A. Milne(the "Pooh" books,) C.S. Lewis (the "Narnia" books,) Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,) and others, then I'm preaching to the already converted. With the "Harry Potter" books, J.K.Rowling can take her place alongside the authors that I've just mentioned....she's writing a modern masterpiece. Unless you've been living in a cave for the past two years, then you must know that Harry Potter is a young boy who is attending a school for wizards in modern-day England. Each book follows one term at school. Harry is an orphan, whose real relatives are monsters right out of Dickens. Each book begins with him at home with these horrtible relations and then proceeds to Hogwart's the school where he is taught to be the kind of wizard that his murdered parents were. It's here at Hogwart's that he encounters adventures, creatures, violence, dark-doings, and death that are as good and scary as anything devised by Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. Needless to say, I love the books (Book 4 being the longest...734 pages...and the best) and I would recommend them to anyone over the age of 10. START AT THE BEGINNING!!!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- OMERTA by Mario Puzo

What I'm guessing happened here is that up to the time of his death, Mario Puzo must have put together sketches and notes for what was to be his latest novel. When he died, either his son, or his publisher must have hired some hack to string them together into a saleable book. The result is a boring and poorly written Mafia-novel, that reads like a series of outtakes from Puzo's classy epic, The Godfather. Isn't there someone out there who can write a novel about the Italian-American experience in America; one that doesn't have ANYTHING to do with the Mafia?

(1-Star)

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- WINTER SOLSTICE by Rosamunde Pilcher

The beauty of a Rosamunde Pilcher(The Shell Seekers) novel, is that she takes you to a place where people live in a civilized manner, and describes this lifestyle in great detail, while telling a wonderful story. We see people enjoying the simple things in life: taking long walks and sledding in the snow; coming down in the morning to the smell of freshly baked foods; people entertaining themselves with nothing but good conversation with friends; having drinks by a fire; going to a pub for wholesome food and to talk to others; friends taking time to select just the right Christmas present for a loved one...and then wrapping it themselves; young people talking to one another without cursing; enjoying the beauty of a piece of music or a fine painting, etc. In the case of Winter Solstice, she takes us to a small village near Inverness in Scotland, throws together five people (of varying ages) in a house at Christmastime, and lets a wonderful and often surprising story develop. You come to know, and love these characters, and yearn to be with them in this incredibly warm and caring atmosphere. I may just have to go to Scotland next year at Christmas, to see if people still live like this. God knows...WE don't!!!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- BLUE GOLD by Clive Cussler(with Paul Kemprecos)

A Clive Cussler book is never unexciting, (especially those in the Dirk Pitt series)... this one is! But then again, it's one of the new Kurt Austin adventures; one that Cussler "co-authored" with Paul Kemprecos, which means that he probably wrote only ten words of it...and it shows. I can actually tell what he wrote...especially at the end of the book. Stripped of the usual historical context in which his Dirk Pitt adventures are set, this book is left to tell a story about a modern-day Viking billionaire, megalomaniacal, giantess, who's trying to monopolize the earth's depleting freshwater supply. Ho hum!!!!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- "THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON" by Tom Clancy

As I used to tell my students, there are three parts to every story: the SITUATION, the CONFLICT, and the RESOLUTION. For instance, "Once upon a time, Little Red Riding Hood was walking through the woods on her way to her grandmother's house(SITUATION.)" "All at once, a wolf jumped out(CONFLICT.)" Tom Clancy, in his latest novel, takes 600 pages(of a 1058 page novel!) before the wolf jumps out! This blowhard insists on telling the reader everything he knows about everything. The book sinks under its own weight!

(1-Star)

Nick

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW- WISH YOU WELL by David Baldacci

Like John Grisham and Richard North Patterson, David Baldacci has become well known for writing mystery, legal thrillers, with larger-than-life plots. Therefore, it was a surprise to me to see him turn to the oral history of his OWN family, to create this gentle little book about growing up poorer-than-poor on a mountaintop in Virginia. It's sort of a combination of the "Little House" books, and To Kill A Mockingbird. Not a bad combination! Although his prose style is better suited to thrillers, Baldacci does know how to create detailed, believable characters, and set them in an exotic setting on the top of an isolated mountain in the Appalachians. The time is 1940. Even on this isolated mountain-top, there is a struggle between good and evil, as outside forces try to steal the only thing that these poor people have...their land. Although thoroughly predictable and very slow-paced, it's still an enjoyable read.

(3- 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- KILLING TIME by Caleb Carr

In a misguided attempt at writing a science-fiction novel, Caleb Carr has created a story which at times reads like Ayn Rand, and at other times like Buck Rogers! In what was meant to be a cautionary tale, Carr has taken those things that are troubling in the year 2000, and has escalated them to chaos in the year 2024. In this "oh my, the sky is falling" piece of techno-paranoia, the market has crashed, the world's water and oil supplies have been depleted, bacterial plagues have killed millions, the ozone layer and rain forests have just about given up, misinformation and deception have replaced "the news" in the media, and computers have run amok. Through all of this, a band of geniuses ride around the world in a space-ship that can do anything, to try to solve some of these problems, and create lots of their own. Carr wrote two brilliant novels(The Alienist, and The Angel of Darkness) about New York in the early 1900's. He should stick to the past. He's a colossal bore when he tries to write about the future.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE PROMETHEUS DECEPTION by Robert Ludlum

Maybe it's because the over-the-top, blow-up-the-bad-guys-in-one-large-house ending of this novel is virtually the same as the ending of two of the other novels that I read this year. Or maybe it's just that, after reading 18 of his novels, I've grown tired of the formulaic espionage thriller that Robert Ludlum does so well. Whatever it is, this one just didn't do it for me. Once again, we have the multinational organization of powerful "bad-guys" out to destroy the world, and once again, one man and his woman thwart the plot! Ludlum used to be famous for his wonderful surprises, twists, and turns. Some of these are still there, but they seem tired. Maybe it's time for me to read another one of Oprah's recommendations!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- ROSES ARE RED by James Paterson

Sometimes formulas DO work. James Paterson, the master of the suspense/thriller genre has written another Alex Cross novel that is virtually "unputdownable." Once again, detective/psychologist Alex Cross is on the trail of a serial killer...this time one who robs banks and kills hostages. If all you know of Alex Cross is the way he's been portrayed on film (in "Kiss The Girls" based on the Paterson novel,) by the horribly miscast Morgan Freeman, then you need to start reading the books and forget about the terrible film versions. Resist the temptation to read the book quickly in one long sitting...it's too good for that. I hope that I'm not giving anything away by saying that the ending will knock the wind out of you.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- PROTECT AND DEFEND by Richard North Patterson

After his last dud, Richard North Patterson has come back with a vengence with this new blockbuster of a political novel, about the scandalous intigues surrounding a confirmation hearing for the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The thriller is not a page turner, but it's filled with exciting characters(villainous scheming senators, predatory media types, principled lawyers) and enough multiple story lines to fill two novels. Two parallel trials make up the main story. One, the confirmation hearing of a respected female judge for the Chief Justice post. The other, a late-term abortion hearing, where a teen-age girl is in confrontation with her right-wing law professor father. Defending her is a young woman lawyer, whose very conservative firm is not happy about this defence. The President of the United States is not only drawn into both trials, but orchestrates much of the goings-on in both...often with tragic consequences.Although a large section of the book reads like a textbook for a seminar on abortion(every side of the issue is presented in great detail,) the central stories soon pick up again and proceed to an exciting conclusion. Patterson has created some of his most beautifully-drawn characters in this novel, some of whom have appeared as young people in his other books. A fascinating, informative, and often exciting read.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- SHADOW WATCH by Tom Clancy and Martin Greenberg

If you're looking for a no-brainer, quick-read to take away on a ski weekend, then this, the latest of Tom Clancy's "Power Plays" books is what you're looking for. It's all about multinational space stations, guerrilla attacks in Brazil, a sabotaged space shuttle launch, and an electromagnetic pulse generator with the capacity to throw every major American city into a communications chaos! Get the picture? The characters have appeared before in other Tom Clancy books, and no doubt will appear again in the future. Now there's something to look forward to!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG by Andre Dubus III

I can't remember the last time that I read an American novel that's as good as this one; a blend of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy set in modern-day Callifornia.It's the story of a house...and the three people whose lives come together because they want what each one thinks is rightfully his/hers. Kathy Nicolo's father left her the house, but because of a misunderstanding due to her alcoholism and drug addiction, she loses the house. Colonel Behrani, formerly a high-ranking colonel in the army of the Shah of Iran, but now reduced to collecting garbage, buys the house on auction with the remainder of the money that he brought with him when he and his family fled Iran.

Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon, a married man who has fallen in love with Kathy, is obsessed with returning the house to Kathy, come what may. It's the modern-day story of misunderstandings, due to cultural and language differences; a lack of communication; obsessive love and sheer ignorance. This suspenseful page-turner is, at times, almost too hard to take. There are really no heroes or villains in this story of fate, inspite of the fact that at times you hate, and understand, each of the characters, as they, and the reader, are drawn toward their unnecessary tragic end. What a movie this one will make! But don't wait till then; read it now.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- A PAINTED HOUSE by John Grisham

"The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a 'good crop.' " This is the first paragraph of John Grisham's new novel, and from the very beginning, you know that this isn't one of his usual legal thrillers. What it is, is a charming little slice-of-life coming-of-age novel, based on Grisham's own childhood growing up in a family of Baptist sharecroppers in rural Arkansas. Young Luke Chandler(Grisham?) gets up at 4am each morning to pick the cotton along with all of the men in his family, and yet in this "Tom Sawyer" existence, he witnesses two murders, a child-birth, and a devastating flood. I grew up in New York City, and never saw any of these things! Did I have a deprived childhood?

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE DOGEATERS by Jessica Hagedorn

For someone who was born and raised in the Phillipines, author Jessica Hagedorn must truly hate her native land, because I can't remember the last time that I read a more unflattering and unpleasant portrait of a country. A multitude of despicable, pathetic, desperate, and often cruel characters are portrayed in collage-like fashion, in vivid tropical settings in the Manila of the 1950's. Everyone from the garish, possibly insane Imelda Marcos, to the low-life, drugged-out prostitute Joey Sands, has one thing in common...a superficiality and love of all things American. Senators and whores all worship American movies, music and brand-name American products. If there's a tasteful person of substance in this well-written novel...I missed him/her!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- BODY FOR LIFE by Bill Phillips

You've probably seen this book all over the book stores, as I had, but never thought to buy it. Well, on a friend's recommendation, I finally DID buy, read it, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's a combination self-help, diet/nutrition, work-out manual, and it makes a lot of sense on all counts. Skip quickly through the first few chapters of endorsements(from skinnies and fatsos who blossomed into body beautifuls overnight!), the platitudes about "crossing the abyss," and begin at the chapter about "separating fact from fiction." From here on in, the book is fascinating, interesting, and very practical for anyone who's SERIOUSLY interested in weight control/maintenance and exercise.I learned some new things about nutrition(and I already knew a lot,) and a whole lot of practical new things about exercising: both cardio-vascular and machine/free weights. The programs that the author sets up are really tough, but they DO achieve results. This is serious stuff, so don't bother if you're not willing to push yourself, and hurt a lot!!!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER by Amy Tan

If you've ever read one book by Amy Tan, then there's really no need to read another, because like John Grisham, she keeps rewriting her first novel, with variations on the same basic themes. Having said that, however, let me warn you not to start reading any of these "copy-cat" novels, because if you do, just like the opium-eaters in so many of her stories...you'll be hooked! She knows how to tell a good story...several, in fact in each novel. Like her first novel The Joy Luck Club, (and every other one after that,) this one deals with several generations of Chinese women within one family, screaming at each other, while dealing with problems of life, death, reality, fantasy, ignorance, creativity, men who run away, and those that don't...but should. As in the other novels, the ancient "grandmother's story" is always the most interesting one in the book. In these Chinese families, each succeeeding generation seems to breed a weaker, more dependent woman. So much for Darwinian "survival of the fittest!"

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK (PLAY) REVIEW- "THE SEAGULL" by Anton Chekhov

Take 10 characters from various socio-economic levels, place them in a 19th Century country home in Russia, and you have the makings of any play by Chekhov. With little or no action, and an overemphasis on atmosphere and character development, Chekhov's plays still speak to contemporary audiences because of the brilliance of his dialogue, and his understanding of how and why people do what they do. In "The Seagull," because several of the characters are either writers or actresses, we get to hear a lot about the creative process...how and why writers and actors "create." The people in "The Seagull" become so real to us, as they interact with one another, fall in love, become jeolous, marry for the wrong reasons, run away from home, act foolishly, and slowly get driven mad. Not the stuff of comedy, and yet there's less violence in "The Seagull" than one would find in the "Harry Potter" series, or Russia's "Peter and the Wolf!" So, if you're worried about taking your children to see the all-star Central Park production of "The Seagull" on August 4th, don't worry that it will violent. However, it may bore children who don't understand why some "adults" do what they do to each other in the name of love.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE DREAM OF REASON: (A History of Philosophy From The Greeks to the Renaissance) by Anthony Gottlieb

Why, you might ask would someone choose to read a book that is so suffocatingly boring that, at times, I wanted to cook it and eat it, just to get rid of it! The reason is a simple one. I have a good friend who will read nothing but books about philosophy and who looks down his nose at all modern literature, and I wanted to see WHY. Let me just say that this book is brilliantly written, and the author does an excellent job of summarizing all philosophical movements from the ancient Greeks to Descartes. However, the SUBJECT of what he's summarizing is the problem. How can any rational person take seriously, people who use semantics as a trampoline and wrestle with clouds? It's not just that philosopher's opinions clash violently with common sense. They also clash with each other. In many cases, their reasoning is more than a little absurd (e.g., what is the point of trying to prove that birth and death don't exist, or that there's no such thing as change, or that anything could be refuted, or that the apple that I hold in my hand is just an illusion?) It's all mental gymnastics, and a big waste of time. My answer to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. is "get a life!"

(1-Star)

Nick

 

 

BOOK REVIEW- SHOPGIRL by Steve Martin

If you're not familiar with his New Yorker pieces or his play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," it may come as a surprise to you that actor/comedian Steve Martin is a serious writer. He writes beautifully, that is, he chooses words carefully, stringing them together into meaningful, descriptive contexts to tell a good story. My only problem is that he doesn't create memorable characters...characters that you care about. Mirabelle, the shopgirl of the title, is a loser who works in the glove department at Neiman's in Los Angeles. A psychological basket-case, she desperately grabs at anything that comes along, hoping that the medication that she takes for her depression, will get her through just one more weekend. Not my kind of heroine, I'm afraid!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" by Thomas Cahill

In the third volume in his Hinges of History series, scholar and author Cahill tackles his most controversial subject yet...Jesus of Nazareth. Using his skillof recreating a time, place, and the people who inhabited this time and place, the author shows us a picture of the world before and after Jesus. With his considerable talents as a researcher, he has culled through the enormous amount of sources available to him, including the usual...the old and new testaments of the Bible, as well as the unusual...the Aramaic Matthew, given the name "Q" by modern biblical scholars. Although much of this makes fascinating reading, nevertheless because of the sheer volume of the material being presented, and in spite of his excellent writing skills, some of this book becomes boring, and the mind wanders. For those of you who are seriously interested in examining the phenomenon known as Jesus, (and are not afraid to hear some things that might be in conflict with some old 2nd-grade-Catholic-catechism beliefs,) then you might want to pick up this very impressive, but hard to get through, text.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- GRIMM'S LAST FAIRY TALE by Haydn Middleton

The premise of this unusual novel is unique, creative, and completely original. The year is 1863 in Germany. The 80-year-old Jacob Grimm is taking a last journey back to the places of his youth, accompanied by his niece and a manservant.As he visits these places of his youth, his life is relived in vivid flashbacks. Once again, he and his brother Wilhelm as the soon to become famous Brothers Grimm, are collecting the folk tales of the people of an un-unified and brutal Germany, while falling in love with the same woman.One of these folk tales, the one known as The Sleeping Beauty, is told as it parallels Jacob's own life. However, this is not the Disney version , nor even the Grimm brothers version of Sleeping Beauty, but rather a horrifying story that doesn't end when the princess awakens with a kiss from the prince. Rather it goes on to foreshadow what is to happen later in the real Germany. Back and forth the story goes, from the elderly Jacob, to the Princess in her tower, to the young Jacob falling in love with the mother of the niece who is accompanying him on his journey. At once romantic, then chilling, then sweet and gentle, then blood-curdlingly evil. A truly "German" story.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE NIGHT LISTENER by Armistead Maupin

In a clear departure from his "Tales of the City" books and TV mini-series, Maupin has written a curious and mysterious new novel, where things and people are not quite what they appear to be. Gabriel Noone is the talking voice of a small NPR radio show. One night he receives a call from Pete Lomax, a 13-year-old boy who, in his short lifetime, has suffered sexual abuse from his parents, who forced him into sexual acts with them and paying "guests." Pete ran away with the tapes, turned them over to the police and his parents were subsequently jailed. The boy, who now has aids, lives happily with the woman psychologist who helped him to get through this trauma, and then adopted him. He has written a book about his life and wants Gabriel to help him get it published. A strong bond develops between the two who have never met. Then, everything begins to unravel as Gabriel questions whether or not there IS a Pete. Strangely enough, Pete's voice and that of his "mother" Donna sound very much alike. It's not long before we, the readers, realize that the book that WE'RE reading, is the book that Gabriel Noone is writing, and the lines further blur until we're never sure what is real, what is being written by Gabriel, and what is actually occuring to Gabriel and Pete. Although this book is not a page-turner, Maupin still knows how to create memorable characters AND tell a good story.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE FOURTH HAND by John Irving

I disagree with John Irving. "The Fourth Hand" is not one of his best novels; he puts it up there with "Prayer for Owen Meany," "Cider House Rules," and "A Son of the Circus." But even second-best Irving is much better than most of the other new stuff that's being written. Tom Wolfe and Isabel Allende can write as well, but they write only when Halley's Comet passes overhead. His characters are unforgettable, and the context in which he places them is always unique, original, and often bizarre. In the 20th Century, only Robertson Davies did this kind of Felliniesque writing better than Irving. This time, the hero is Patrick Wallingford, a likable (but shallow,) handsome TV journalist. (Find the oxymoron in THAT sentence.) On assignment at a circus in India, he sticks his microphoned hand too close to the lion's cage and his hand is devoured, giving him his 15 minutes of instant celebrity. One of the millions of viewers who sees this broadcast is a woman in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who offers her deceased husband's hand to Patrick. (How her husband gets to be deceased is something that only Irving could write!) When Patrick agrees to give this woman visitation rights to her husband's hand (!) Irving's ability to make ridiculous situations serious, moving, and often hilarious, kicks in and we're off on another John Irving roller-coaster.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- SUZANNE'S DIARY FOR NICHOLAS by James Patterson

Over a decade ago, there was a book (and then a movie) entitled The Bridges Of Madison County, that swept the country. Its popularity was astonishing. People said that the simple romantic story filled a vacuum in the country at the time...a vacuum caused by a lack of emotion, feeling, and romance in our nation. Maybe that vacuum exists again today, because a similar book Suzanne's Diary For Nicholas has risen to the top of the best seller lists in just one week. I picked it up because it was written by one of my favorite authors of popular thrillers, James Patterson (Along Came A Spider; Kiss The Girls; Cat And Mouse, etc.) However, this is not his usual story of murderous serial killers and their victims. Instead it's a simple, moving love story (the literary equivalent of a "chick flick") about a jilted woman who gets to read the diary that her lover's WIFE, has written to their year-old-child. Although somewhat predictable, it's beautifully written...actually a page-turner. The characters are a little too good-to-be-true, but so what. I'm sure that there are SOME nice people out there, aren't there? I'm not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed it.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

 

BOOK REVIEW- BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett
Author Ann Patchett has creatively combined the subject matter of two opposites, "opera" and "terrorism," to come up with the best novel of the year. It's the evening of a grand ball given by the Vice-President of an unnamed South American country (Peru?) in honor of a Japanese industrialist, who is considering building a huge plant in this country. In order to coax him into doing so, Vice President Iglesias has gathered some of the most prominent dignitaries, for a grand dinner and an after-dinner concert by the world's greatest soprano...a singer who is worshiped by the industrialist. During the concert, the lights go out, and the guests think that it's a way of setting the mood for the next aria. Instead, the air-conditioning ducts burst open, and terrorists with guns spill into the darkened room. The story begins. But, as the dramatic plot unfolds, we begin to see not only fascinating relationships forming between hostages and their captors, but also in broader terms, how music enriches and changes the lives of everyone...from priests and diplomats, to terrorists. You'll never forget these characters. I'm almost dreading the inevitable movie.
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

BOOK REVIEW- VALHALLA RISING by Clive Cussler
The master of the action/adventure, Clive Cussler, is back and at the top of his storytelling form. Superhero Dirk Pitt, and his cohorts from NUMA, once again are pitted against forces bent on world domination, this time through the control of the world's oil resources. Pitt, although obviously getting older, still has the most impeccable taste in women, food, wine and classic cars...and a knack for getting in and out of incredible scrapes. As in all other Dirk Pitt novels, the action begins with an ancient catastrophe (this time it has to do with Vikings and their treasure, who have reached America in 1035AD) Fast forward to the present, and the destruction of the most luxurious cruise ship afloat on its maiden voyage, and the action (and plot) begins. If you enjoy the Dirk Pitt novels as I do (I've read all of them,) you'll love this one as well. It still baffles me as to why "Hollywood" hasn't picked up on this series (with its ready-made audience of millions,) and turned it into a blockbuster action film (complete with an available dozen sequels.) Ah well, who could play Dirk Pitt anyway?
(4-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by Michael Chabon

This year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a masterfully crafted story by Michael Chabon, the author of the highly successful Wonder Boys. What sets this book apart from the page-turners that I often read, is the way the author handles language and character development This is great literature. In it, he tells us the story of two boys. One who escapes from Nazi-occupied Prague, and the other, his cousin in Brooklyn, on whose doorstep he lands. Both are preoccupied with the new form of escapism that is beginning in America during these troubled times...the comic book. They become creators of some of the superheroes, and as we follow their adventures in life (adventures which often seem more bizarre than

those of their comic-book creations,) Chabon takes us across continents and puts his characters, Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, in places where history is being made. The scope is an epic one, and the characters and events are unforgettable. You won't want to read this one quickly, because more happens on one page of this novel, than happens in chapters of your fun page-turner...and you'll remember these characters forever. I loved this book!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen
Years ago, when he was a struggling young writer, being supported by his hard-working young wife, Jonathan Franzen was my neighbor in Somerville, Mass. At the time, he was working on his first novel, and churning out stories that had not yet been picked up by the New Yorker. He was a great writer THEN, and I knew that he would someday be a famous one. That day has come. His third novel The Corrections, has climbed to the top of every Best Seller list and has been acclaimed by critics all over the world, as a masterpiece. He's been compared to everyone from Tom Wolfe to Charles Dickens, and the comparisons are valid. The Corrections is the story of the disintegration of a mid-western American family, whose mother is trying to reunite the family one last time, before the father's Parkinson's Disease changes all of their lives forever. It could be a metaphor for what's happening in America today, although it was written long before September 11th. Although it's not a fast read, it's always a fascinating, complex, and informative one. Franzen writes compellingly and in depth, about such diverse things as: what it's like to have Parkinson's, what it's like to be the chef in a famous restaurant, what it's like to be pursued by soldiers while escaping a coup in Lithuania, what it's like to be the father in a family in which the mother is turning the children against the father, etc. This book will be read, and discussed for decades to come. I can't wait for a book-signing to see if Jon remembers the man who used to bring him garlic pizza from Leone's while he read me his stories!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- KISSING IN MANHATTAN by David Schickler
This could be a book of short stories, except for the fact that all of the characters in the book live in the same luxury apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan...the building is called the Preemption, but it could easily be the Dakota on 72nd Street and Central Park West. Some of the stories are funny, some scary, some wacky, some supernatural, some disturbing, and some very sexy. All of the characters are very realistically drawn, even though some of them are WAY out there! I enjoyed the book, although in all honesty, I can't say that it's a "must-read." If you're in between "big" books as I was, then it's fine.
(3-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

BOOK REVIEW- BLACK HOUSE by Stephen King and Peter Straub
This is a sequel to one of my favorite books. Written by King & Straub, The Talisman told the story of a young boy, Jack Sawyer, who traveled to a parallel universe called the Territories, to retrieve something that could save his mother's life. The book was in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, and it was wonderful. Now, twenty years later, Jack is a wealthy, retired police officer, who is brought back to crime-solving, because of a particularly brutal series of killings that force him to return to that parallel universe, where horror is the norm. Not as good as the original, (but then again, neither am I.) Nevertheless, the authors have written a worthy successor to The Talisman. It's filled with memorable characters (although none as memorable as Wolf in the original) who are forced to endure unspeakable horrors in order to save them selves, their loved ones, and ultimately, the world as we know it. I seem to be reading nothing but metaphors lately!
(5-Stars) Back to Top


Nick

BOOK REVIEW- SKIPPING CHRISTMAS  by John Grisham

Maybe John Grisham should stick to writing his formulaic novels about sleezy lawyers and the criminals who feed them. This, his second consecutive digression from the pattern, sends out a mixed message that turns this Christmas novella into an irritating story about giving up ones values. Nora and Luther Krank, having just watched their daughter leave for Peru to work for a year in the Peace Corps, head home to face another Christmas of drunken office parties, people soliciting for endless charities, hundreds of expensive Christmas cards to be written, and obligatory house-decorating to conform to the neighbors excesses. In an inspirational moment, they decide to "skip Christmas" and take the $7000 that they spent last Christmas and go on a cruise instead. The repercussions that result from this decision point out the ugliness and meaness of their neighbors who rebel against the Krank's, their supposed friends. When a phone call threatens their trip, instead of sticking to their guns and profiting from this valuable learning experience, the Krank's cave in, and go back to being one of the neighborhood robots..."keeping up with the nasty Joneses!" The tacked-on sobby ending makes this no less frustrating to an intelligent, independent, thinking reader. Who said this book was funny? I thought that it was frightening and regressive.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- VIOLETS ARE BLUE  by James Patterson

If you only know detective/psychologist Alex Cross, from the bad movies that were made from Patterson's books about him ("Along Came A Spider," and "Kiss The Girls,") then you really don't know the REAL Alex Cross. He's so much more interesting on paper than he is as portrayed by the terribly-miscast Morgan Freeman, who could be Alex Cross' father! In this, the latest in the series, Alex Cross is pursuing two vicious "vampire" killers, as well as the Mastermind, the serial killer from the other books. There are the usual brutal murders, the tricky/clever pursuit, the red-herring clues to throw the reader and Cross off, and the ultimate showdown. If all of this gets somewhat repetitious, it's still great fun, IF you're an avid fan of the genre, and this very heroic and likable detective. Of course, there'll be a sequel.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- THE SIGMA PROTOCOL by Robert Ludlum

In this, his final book (he died last year,) Robert Ludlum returns to his tried-and-true formula of David (and his girlfriend!) versus the usual Goliath of a menacing global organization. He wrote this story first, in The Scarlatti Inheritance. He wrote it best, in The Bourne Identity. Now in this final version, the David is a young American investment banker. His girlfriend is a Department of Justice field agent. Both are being stalked by professional killers, for getting too close to the secrets of a fifty-year-old organization known as Sigma. Guess what? Once again, they're those "gnomes of Zurich," this time in the guise of a cabal of industrialists, politicians, bankers, etc. who got together at the end of WWII with the intention of changing the course of history. If you're a fan of the formula, you might enjoy the book. I found it to be just too much of the same old thing.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

Nick

BOOK REVIEW- HALF A LIFE by V. S. Naipaul (Winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature)*

I have no idea what the criteria are for awarding an author the Nobel Prize in Literature, but after reading this book, I couldn't think of anyone that I knew to whom I would recommend reading it. Unless, of course, you're interested in reading about a young man, born of mixed parentage (high Brahmin father, low caste mother) in post-WW II India, who flees this unhappy family to make a life for himself first in London, then in Africa. Although the subject matter could be interesting (immigrant life in London; colonialism in Africa,) Naipaul's writing is not. At times florid, at other times pedantic, it's almost never interesting. Mercifully, the book is only 200 pages long!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

*Some past winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature include:

Saul Bellow                    Andre Gide                    Gabriel Garcia Marquez                     George Bernard Shaw

Pearl Buck                    Seamus Heaney             Toni Morrison                                    Henryk Sienkiewicz

Albert Camus                Ernest Hemingway          Pablo Neruda                                    Isaac Bashevis Singer

Winston Churchill          Hermann Hesse              Eugene O' Neill                                 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

T.S.Eliot                       Rudyard Kipling              Boris Pasternak                                John Steinbeck

William Faulkner           Sinclair Lewis                 Luigi Pirandello                                 Derek Walcott

John Galsworthy           Thomas Mann                Jean-Paul Sartre                               William Butler Yeats

BOOK REVIEW- LAST MAN STANDING by David Baldacci

I've been crawling through this lengthy novel at a snail's pace, due to: lack of interest, its unbearable length and slow pace, and dull characters. It's the opposite of a page-turner, whatever that might be called, because I had to force myself to pick it up and read it. That's why it took me weeks to get through it. Gosh, I think that I've just written a review of the book. The slow, drawn-out plot concerns a member of an FBI Hostage Rescue Team who freezes at a crucial attack on a major drug-house. All of his team is killed and he spends hundreds of pages trying to find out WHY? Who cares? The first half of this 550 -page novel is dull exposition, and the second half comes alive, relatively speaking, with some interesting twists of the plot. But by then, most readers will have left the scene. I should have done the same!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- Elixir by Gary Braver

The fact that Elixir was written by a friend of mine (Gary Braver aka Gary Goshgarian,) didn't influence my review in any conscious way. Having said that, let me say that this biotech thriller is a page-turner, one of the best of this genre that I've read in a long time. In a category with the best of Crichton, Grisham, and Patterson (pretty heady company to be in, Gary,) Elixir is a "what-if?" story. What if a biologist came up with an anti-aging drug that works? Who would manufacture it and how? How would it be distributed? Who would be the first to take it, and what would happen to them? How would "the bad guys" try to cash in on it? Is there a downside to living forever? The philosophical, political, socio-economic and practical questions are endless, and Braver answers many of them. However, his primary concern is in creating believable characters and telling a good story. This he does masterfully. I had difficulty putting the book down! Once finished, the question lingers on..."would I take the drug if it would make me live for hundreds of years?" In a minute!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- 2ND CHANCE by James Patterson (with Andrew Gross)

This is the second thriller in James Patterson's new Women's Murder Club series. (You don't have to have read the first book in the series 1ST TO DIE, in order to enjoy this current book.) If you're a fan of Patterson's premiere series, the Alex Cross books, don't be put off by the fact that in this series, four women take the place of psychologist/detective Cross. They are homicide detective Lindsay Boxer, reporter Cindy Thomas, Assistant District Attorney Jill Bernhardt, and medical examiner Claire Washburn. In other words, this quartet can handle all aspects of any crime, and they do it very well. Patterson has once again written a story that is thrilling from start to surprise finish, and once again, the villain is a deviously clever serial killer. Patterson does this genre so well. He's a master of suspense and shocking twists. Just when you think that you've got a handle on the plot, he turns it in an entirely new direction. Keep your eye on the clues. The sensational killings are taking place all over San Francisco, and although they appear to be unrelated, there is an uncomfortable link that ties them all together.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- UP COUNTRY by Nelson DeMille

Not quite a history of, but more than just a novel about, Vietnam, Nelson DeMille's epic-length (700 pages) novel of intrigue, action, espionage, adventure and romance, tells a story of modern-day Vietnam and of the Vietnam of the French and American Wars of the '50's, '60's, and '70's. Quite a big mouthful to chew but DeMille does it beautifully, as anyone who has read his other books (The Gold Coast, The General's Daughter, The Lion's Game, etc.) knows. Paul Brenner (the army investigator from The General's Daughter,) is brought out of retirement to investigate the case of an American army lieutenant, who may have been murdered by his own captain, three decades ago. Why is this murder so important to the CIA, the FBI, and to other government officials? As Brenner reluctantly investigates the murder in present-day Vietnam, where his life is put in as much danger as it was when he fought there as an infantryman, he has graphic flashback memories to the battles he fought during the Vietnam War. In present-day Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon,) he meets the beautiful American expatriate Susan Weber, who pursues him "up country," as doggedly as does the villainous Colonel Mang, head of the Vietnamese Security Police. At times it's hard to tell which of the two is more dangerous. When it's finally revealed, the long-buried secret behind the murder is shocking enough to topple a government. A terrific read, and a very informative one as well.

(4 1/2- Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- PALMER LAKE by Thomas C. McCollum III

Author McCollum has a deep passion for the science of cryonics...freezing dead people, and saving them in tanks until they can be revived in the future...presumably after a cure has been found for the cause of their death. Obviously he knows his subject, and its jargon, very well. Well enough to write an article on the subject for a professional journal. Which is probably what he should have done, rather than to try and blend his knowledge of cryonics with a murder mystery. The result, at best, is muddled. The mystery unfolds in an episodic fashion with far too many undeveloped characters. Just as one plot-thread gets interesting, it's snipped off, and up pops another. Characters come and go, but what fills all of the empty spaces is terminology and pseudo-science, proselytizing about the benefits of cryogenics. The richest man in the world commits suicide (or was he murdered?) His body is frozen, and his best friend, and heir apparent, is accused of the murder. If you don't want to know the ending, don't read the quote given by Larry King on the cover. Why did the author allow this? Surely the King quote could have been shortened to preserve the mystery. The author is quite a fascinating character (see his web-site.) Perhaps an autobiography might have been a better read than this current novel.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE SUMMONS by John Grisham

Although the setting for Grisham's latest novel is not the usual law offices and courts of his most successful books, nevertheless it still revolves around the lives of a young lawyer and his father, a prominent judge. Doesn't this man know anyone else? The summons of the title is a letter sent from the ailing judge to his two sons demanding their presence at his home for an important matter. When they arrive, they're surprised to find their father dead (apparently by his own hand,) and when the younger no-good brother leaves, the older brother finds another big surprise in the house. The rest of the novel has a johnny-one-note theme...the hiding and safeguarding of the "surprise" that was found in the house. Grisham is unable to sustain interest and suspense, and after a while the reader (at least THIS reader,) says "who cares?" The story takes a somewhat interesting turn in the last 50 pages but by that time I was only concerned about starting a new book.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE BAD BEGINNING (Book #1 in the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" Series) by Lemony Snicket

One hears this 3-year-old series referred to as "the new Harry Potter." Other words that come to mind are "parody," "homage," "scam," and "rip-off." However, it's only fair game for author Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler, The Basic Eight,) to cash in on the popularity of the Harry Potter series, by imitating J. K. Rowling (and Charles Dickens for that matter,) since Rowling herself borrowed freely from C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Lloyd Alexander, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who in turn reinvented the ideas of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. In this new series of 8 books to date, we follow the cruel misfortunes that befall the Beaudelaire children, after they've been tragically orphaned. Following in the footsteps of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and Cinderella for that matter, they fall into the hands of cruel guardians, who are out to get their substantial inheritance. The children have no wizards or fairy godmothers to watch over them, nor are they endowed with supernatural powers. All they have are their own brains and cunning. Not enough at times. All of the adults in the book who are not out to harm them, are too stupid to help them. At least one of the events in the first book is lecherous, bordering on child porn, so I would proceed with caution in giving these books to the group for which they're recommended...10-year-olds and up! Although Snicket does some fine things by incorporating the learning of new vocabulary and the benefits of reading, into the story line, neither the plot, the characterization, the style, the theme, nor the setting begin to approach the new benchmark set by Rowling in the Harry Potter books. The books are short and lightweight in comparison. On this sparse skeleton, the cruelty, child abuse, and meanness are even more apparent than they are in the enchanting Potter books. If you're a parent, read this first book yourself BEFORE you put it into the hands of your very young child; you might think otherwise after doing so.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE SHELTERS OF STONE by Jean M. Auel

Readers of the "Earth's Children" series, have had to wait 10 years for the continuation of the epic saga of prehistoric life in Europe during the Ice Age, that began 20 years ago with the first of the five books, Clan of the Cave Bear. Combining her gifts for doing extensive research and her amazing story-telling abilities, author Jean Auel tells the story of a young Cro-Magnon girl Ayla, who was raised by the less-evolved Neanderthals. In the present (740-page) book, Ayla, now a young woman, and her mate Jondalar, have traveled across Europe and through countless unforgettable adventures (told magnificently in the first four books,) back to the lands of his people, the Zelandonii (Cro-Magnon like Ayla.) The Zelandonii live in the massive caves, on whose walls and ceilings they've painted the animals that they've hunted. These prehistoric "Sistine Chapels" are the Caves of Lascaux in what is now the South of France. Using her magical story-telling gifts, Auel takes us back to this time and shows us how these people lived, gave birth and died, what they ate and wore, how they hunted and cooked, what they worshipped, and why they lived and the Neanderthals died out. We come to know these cave-dwellers by name, as their daily lives unfold around us. Some of them you'll never forget. I know I won't. A great book and a great series.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- THE REPTILE ROOM (Book #2 of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books) by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler)

After having read only the second book in this new series of children's books, I've determined three things: (1) they all follow the same pattern, (2) although funny at times, they're an extremely annoying read, (3) I don't like them. Here's the pattern: the three Baudelaire orphaned children are placed in a seemingly safe environment with a loving, but idiotic distant relative. The villainous Count Olaf shows up, in a disguise that's obvious to the children, but not to the adults who are taking care of them (!) The guardian is disposed of (killed!) by Count Olaf, and through the stupidity of the adults who should be looking out for them, the children's lives are put in jeopardy. Then, through their own intelligence and ingenuity, they manage to outwit the Count, point out to the inept Mr. Poe (the executor of their parents' estate,) what HE should have been doing all along, and then watch, as Count Olaf slips through their fingers to prepare for the next book. As I said before, an annoying read...I've had enough of them.

(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan

What Booker-prize author Ian McEwan has done with this new book is nothing short of ingenious. He drags a part of 19th-century British literature up into the 21st-century by writing a NEW Jane Austen novel! Her Victorian elaborate writing style and complex plots are made to serve this new story, as well as they did in her actual novels. The time is 1935 and the place is a very proper manor house owned by the Tallis family, in the English countryside. A dinner party is in progress. Then something happens. An overly imaginative, foolish, and hysterical young girl thinks she sees something that shouldn't be happening (somewhat in the manner of the young girls who accused the "witches" at Salem.) This 13-year-old has difficulty separating real people, from the characters that she writes about in her silly little plays and stories. When she reports what she thought she saw, a chain of events is set in motion that follows the characters at this dinner party through the years, to the retreat from Dunkirk in 1941; from London's World War II military hospitals to a reunion of the Tallis clan in 1999. McEwan draws us into the intimate lives, thoughts, and situations of his characters and paints a loving and realistic picture of England at four memorable times in its history.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer

One of the unbelievable things about this intricate, imaginative, and unique book, is that it's a 20-year-old author's first novel! Unfortunately, one of the things that makes it so unique is the very same thing that makes it a difficult and often confusing read...and that is the way the plot is structured. Actually, there are two parallel and converging plots. One concerns the author's search for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis in World War II. The other plot concerns the bizarre and fantastic lives of the Jews who live in an unusual town in 18th Century Ukraine. As "the hero" (the author) searches for his past, his plot moves backward. At the same time, the story of the "Jews of Trachimbrod" (as imagined by the author,) moves forward in time. In an unforgettable scene, the two stories collide. At times confusing and perplexing, and at other times hilarious and moving, this novel is, although hopelessly puzzling to read, the work of a literary genius. I look forward to Foer's next book, and hope that it's less of an enigma, and more of a good read.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- GATES OF FIRE by Steven Pressfield

Like Homer in his book The Iliad (although not in The Odyssey,) author Steven Pressfield writes in a stilted and boring style, about historic events that were anything but boring. In the case of Gates of Fire, the event is the battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece, where only three hundred Spartans held off an army of three million Persians, buying time for the rest of the Greeks to rally their forces. Don't read this book unless you're ready to read a manual of war, complete with ALL of the logistics of EVERY aspect of the battle. It often reads like a laundry list of war! Although the author manages to squeeze in a few pages of human interest, the bulk of the text is devoted to the details of the preparation for battle and the battle itself. Nothing is left out, including the number of shields carried into battle, the correct way to line up against an enemy, how to hold and throw a javelin, etc. The story is told through the eyes of a young man who barely survived the battle. His audience? No one less than Xerxes himself...the King of the Persians. In the telling of the story, "war" becomes the main character in the book...in all of its inhumanity, glory, violence, heroics, love of ones fellow man, and most importantly, love of ones country. If you are that interested in the intimate details of war...specifically one major battle in an historic war...then I'm sure that you'll enjoy this book.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- RED RABBIT by Tom Clancy

Now that Jack Ryan has become the President of the United States, his spy days of jumping out of planes and killing people are, at least in theory, over. What to do. Clancy has simply turned back the clock and made Jack Ryan young again. Being a cynic, I must conclude that Clancy has caved into the "Hollywood machine" which has already released a film starring Ben Affleck as a young Jack Ryan, and has decided to make the Jack Ryan of the books, the same age as the Jack Ryan of the movies. Less confusing, and much more profitable! But what about the current book, Red Rabbit? If you've enjoyed the formula Jack Ryan novels then you'll probably like this one as well, because it's just more of the same. This time the enemy is the old Soviet Union, Reagan and Thatcher are the heads of their countries, and the target is, of all people Pope John Paul II. Remember that assassination attempt on the Pope years ago, in St. Peter's Square? Well, that's what the book is all about. Too little novelty and imagination; too much deja vu!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE RUSSIAN DEBUTANTE'S HANDBOOK by Gary Shteyngart

In this imaginative and occasionally hilarious fantasy, author Gary Shteyngart creates his alter ego, Vladimir Girshkin, a 25-year-old Leningrad-born immigrant, and takes him from a low-paying job at the Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society in downtown Manhattan, to the fictional Eastern European capital city of Prava (Prague,) in the former Soviet republic of Stolova, where he becomes the right-hand man of a Russian mafioso called the Groundhog. What happens to Vladimir, this Russian-American Candide, in his journey, is often serious, usually satiric, and often laughing-out-loud hilarious. This is 30-year-old Shteyngart's first novel, and it's a brilliant start. Nothing escapes his laser-like attention, and his observations are often sad and funny at the same time. Like his protagonist's, Shteyngart's status as a man with a foot in each hemisphere--he was born in Leningrad in 1972 and emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 7--has given him an ear for the absurdities of each. Although there are sections of the book where the story runs into trouble, for most of the time, it's a fun read with bizarre characters at every turn.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane

When this book came out last year, several of my friends recommended that I read it, but I kept putting it off. Now, with director Clint Eastwood filming the movie version of the book all over the seamier neighborhoods of Boston, I decided to give it a go. Although it's not a "masterpiece of great literature," it's certainly a page-turner and an excellent example of the murder-mystery genre. The story begins in a prologue, when three 11-year-old friends have their normal lives disrupted when one of the three is abducted by child molesters, and then returned...safe, but scarred for life. The story picks up 25 years later, when the three are reunited because of a terrible tragedy that befalls one of the three men, and alters the lives of all three forever. The characters are beautifully drawn by Lehane, and the actors who Eastwood chose to portray them in the film (Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Lawrence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Hayden and Laura Linney,) are perfectly cast. I'm happy to say that I'm not familiar with the settings in the story, but they seem to be very authentically described. Author Lehane knows both the best and the worst parts of Boston. As they say in the ads, read the book, then see the movie.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- GRAY MATTER by Gary Braver

In his latest foray into the world of science fiction, my friend and colleague Gary Braver ( aka Gary Goshgarian,) has tackled the controversial area of the enhancement of childhood intelligence, and asks the question, "how far would you go to significantly increase your child's intelligence?" Gary's books are page-turners and thrillers that resonate with philosophical, socio-economic, and practical issues that concern readers, but in his books, these issues are pushed to their limits through wildly creative plot lines. Hence, the reader is forced to question his/her own feelings about the issues, making for an exciting roller-coaster of a read. In Gray Matter, the children in question are the childhood version of "The Stepford Wives." Remember them? In an affluent suburb of Boston, upwardly mobile parents Rachel and Martin Whitman are depressed, because their 6-year-old son Dylan, is learning disabled. His classmates tease him, and the parents of these classmates are condescending toward Rachel and Martin, when they're discussing their children at the posh country club. Then, along comes Dr. Lucius Malenko, with an expensive new medical procedure that claims to turn slow children into geniuses. But, at what cost? How far would YOU go to double your child's intelligence? If you have young children, read this book. It'll make you question your values concerning your children. If you don't have young children, read it for the sheer fun of reading a well-written thriller.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- "COLLECTED PLAYS: 1984-1991" by A. R. Gurney

Just about a month ago, I was a guest at an incredible star-studded $1000-a-plate benefit in Manhattan, to honor the playwright A.R."Pete" Gurney. One of the gifts in our souvenir package was this book of his collected plays, from the years 1984-1991.Of course, I felt obliged to read it, and how lucky I was to have done so. Gurney writes drawing room "comedies" about upper-class American WASP's...a dying breed. In reality however, his plays speak to everyone, in words that you've either spoken yourself, or had spoken to you, regardless of your socio-economic background, or your ethnicity. Gurney writes about situations that we've ALL experienced, in words that hit home. Do yourself a favor and read at least one of the plays in this book...you'll be hooked, as I was. The plays in this book are: "The Cocktail Hour," "The Golden Age," "The Perfect Party," "Another Antigone," "Love Letters," "The Old Boy," and "Sweet Sue."

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- PREY by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton's latest thriller deals with the world of nano-technology...microparticles, or in this case, micro-robots. In a high-tech laboratory in the Nevada desert, a secret experiment goes awry, and swarms of dangerous nano-particles (micro-robots,) are released into the atmosphere. They're deadly, they're sentient, and their prey is US! Because the "villains" are not as large as the dinosaurs and raptors in Crichton's "Jurassic Park" books, they don't seem as menacing, but they kill their victims just as effectively. A good suspenseful story, well told.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- FOUR BLIND MICE by James Patterson

In the serial-killer genre, no one tops James Patterson for keeping you thoroughly engrossed until the final page. In his latest thriller, he sends detective/psychologist Alex Cross and his partner John Sampson, off on the hunt for a group of serial killers known as Three Blind Mice. The killers are murdering upper echelon Army personnel, by framing them for murders that they didn't commit, thereby guaranteeing that they will be executed by the Army itself. The question is WHY? Although the formula is basically the same, this is the best of the Alex Cross series of thrillers to date, because Patterson goes far beyond the usual cat-and-mouse chase, to show us more of Cross' and Sampson's personal life than he has in any other of the books in the series. Alex and John have new women in their lives. Nana may be dying. The children are getting older, and Damon is getting in with the wrong crowd. If you know the books, then you'll know to whom I'm referring. If you don't, then why not pick up the first one and introduce yourself to Alex Cross? He's a fascinating character. If you only know him as he's portrayed by the way-too-old Morgan Freeman in the films of the Patterson books, then you don't know him at all.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE JANSON DIRECTIVE by Robert Ludlum

Ok, I'm confused. Didn't Robert Ludlum die in 2001? As an avid reader of Ludlum's thrillers, I've been "trained" to be highly suspicious of such things as authors who are still publishing books a year after their death. Adding to my suspicion, is the fact that this is the best damn Ludlum thriller in years! In it, "the author" takes the usual Ludlum pattern...a highly trained agent risks life and limb to over come the overwhelming odds of a global conspiracy...and twists and turns it on its back. The usual Ludlum plot comes to an end after the first 100 pages. In the remaining 450 pages, the plot is reinvented, attacked, and reconstructed, so that even the most avid Ludlum reader doesn't know what the hell is going on; feelings that are shared by the protagonist, Paul Janson. This makes for a suspenseful, exciting, one-step-ahead-of-the-reader tale of intrigue, filled with more twists and turns, and ups and downs, than your favorite roller coaster. I loved it. I can't wait for the dead man's next book!

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- STUPID WHITE MEN by Michael Moore

With the country still reeling from the tragic Columbia disaster, and poised on the brink of war with Iraq, and possibly North Korea, maybe this was not the best time for me to be reading this book about everything that's wrong with America. As a conservative Republican, I can still respect the research that liberal, civil libertarian and Democrat, Michael Moore has done in putting this book together, as well as his point of view. But I can't help thinking, shouldn't everyone be circling the wagons now, rather than attacking everything, from "the mediocrity of our elected officials," to "the president who stole the election," to the fact that our "inferior school system" is "turning out idiots by the millions," to the "criminality of corporate America," to his admonition to "kill Whitey, because everyone who ever harmed me in life was a white person." Maybe if Moore hadn't written this diatribe just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center, he might have thought twice about what he wrote, or at least about the release date of the book. I respect Moore's work, especially his film "Bowling for Columbine," a brilliant documentary on similar themes. However, in Stupid White Men, he comes across as a whining, self-loathing Caucasian, who hates everything in his native country....a country that I love very much, despite its many faults. In spite of his Swiftian satirical wit, his point of view tends to take away from the thousands of shocking facts in his book...facts which do deserve to be read about, and pondered.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE KING OF TORTS by John Grisham

At first, it appears that Grisham has written a modern-day rags-to-riches Cinderella story. But soon, the reader comes to realize that this is more of a cautionary modern-day Faust story. The Faust character is a young lawyer (what else?) slaving away in the office of the public defender, when he "signs his soul away" to a devil-like "headhunter," who promises him untold riches in the form of endless class-action torts cases. All the lawyer has to do is represent thousands of people who have been hurt by pharmaceutical companies, unscrupulous construction companies, etc. At first, the millions pour in, but then, the tables turn. From this point on (halfway through,) the book becomes predictable...and a complete bore! The main problem with this book, is that the "hero" is so immature, greedy, and unbelievably stupid, that the reader is hoping that he gets his punishment sooner rather than later. At least I was! This is no Shakespearean tragic hero; no King Lear here. He's just a money-mad, adolescent idiot!

(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- SONS OF FORTUNE by Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer, one of the world's best storytellers, has written his latest book, while serving a prison term for perjury. Whether or not this adds to the fun of reading this book depends on the needs and interests of the reader. I loved every minute of it. If you've read other books by Archer (Kane and Abel, The Fourth Estate,) then you know that they have some faults (often ludicrous dialogue; two-dimensional secondary characters,) but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The man knows how to write a compelling story, filled with surprising twists. This book begins with an almost operatic set of events. Two twins are dramatically separated at birth by a scheming nurse, and as we follow them through their parallel lives (similar child-hoods, growing up, college, Vietnam, law practices, political ambitions,) we wait for the time when their paths will cross and wonder what will happen when they do....and cross they do, when both men run against each other to become governor of Connecticut. It's really worth the wait. As I said at the beginning of this review, Archer is a master storyteller, and this book is a page-turner...impossible to put down.

(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE JESTER by James Patterson and Andrew Gross

What I love about reading historical fiction, is that it teaches the reader about a particular period in history, or an historical event, or a famous person, with the addition of the human interest element that's missing in historical textbooks. Unfortunately, if you're reading this interesting but thoroughly predictable story, to further your knowledge of the First Crusades and France in that time, you'll learn virtually nothing that you don't already know. The story concerns a poor innkeeper who goes off to the Crusades as an idealistic young man, only to return, disillusioned, and finding that his wife has been abducted by these same Crusaders. Donning the clothes and acquiring the talents of a court jester, he goes off in search of his wife, and his destiny. What he doesn't realize is that he's carrying with him the holiest relic in all of Christendom. If you think that you might be interested in reading this new Patterson tale for its simple story, then go for it. But if you really want to learn about life during this colorful period in history, read either The Once and Future King, or A Distant Mirror. 

(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn

Beware the novel of ideas, particularly when the ideas come first, and all the novel stuff (like the story) comes second. Such is the case with Ishmael, a book that pretends to be much more than what it really is. In the guise of a skeletal plot, the author poses a telepathic "conversation" between a gorilla ("Ishmael") and an inquisitive man, who answers an ad in the paper. The gorilla acts as Socratic teacher to the man, enlightening him about man's true place in the universe. If this sounds lofty, it isn't. As a matter of fact, it's equal parts pretentious and simplistic. What is the gorilla's advice for putting man back on the right track? Nothing but overused cliches, such as "Share and share alike," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," "Don't mess with Mother Nature," and "Don't believe everything that you read." Get it? When it starts to retell the Creation and Genesis stories from the Bible, it comes dangerously close to being a pro-Arab/anti-"Israelite" diatribe. The title should have given it away, since the biblical Ishmael, the son of Abraham, was the ancestor of all Arabs, while his half-brother Isaac, (also fathered by Abraham,) was the ancestor of all Jews. In any case, the book's premise is not a very fashionable position nowadays, after America's War in Iraq! Toward the end of the book, it deteriorates into pseudo-anthropological mumbo-jumbo, in which the author attempts to justify the merits of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle over that of the techno-agriculturalist's. There's a bit of hypocrisy here, since Quinn lives in Austin, Texas, and not in a cave on a hillside!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- SHUTTER ISLAND  by Dennis Lehane

Whereas his last novel, Mystic River, was character-driven, this one is plot-driven, with its intriguing, mystifying story barreling towards its not altogether unforeseen conclusion. The year is 1954, and two U.S. marshals arrive at Shutter Island, one of Boston's outer harbor islands, in search of a missing woman. The woman has escaped from the island's mysterious "hospital" for the criminally insane. What is really going on in this mental hospital? As the puzzle unravels, the reader learns that nothing is what it appears to be. An enigmatic, thrilling, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable page-turner.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- POWER VS FORCE: THE HIDDEN DETERMINANTS OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.

This self-help book was recommended to me by a friend at the gym. On its cover are testimonials from Lee Iacocca to Mother Teresa! In its Preface, Foreword, and Introduction, the author makes promises that would entice even the most skeptical of readers (me!) For example, he states that he will demonstrate how muscles would strengthen or weaken in the presence of positive or negative emotional and intellectual stimuli, as well as the more obvious physical stimuli. He also promises to produce a profile of the entire human condition, allowing a comprehensive analysis of the emotional and spiritual development of individuals, societies and the race in general. He says that "you'll see how easy it is to raise your consciousness to the levels of power, rather than force, so that you can become one of those who is completely awake and aware in this world." Quite a premise. Does he deliver? Absolutely NOT! Instead, the book is filled with nothing but bullshit, and pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Just to give one example, Hawkins has created a complex "Map of Consciousness" which lists and calibrates all levels of consciousness, from Shame to Enlightenment, but he makes no attempt to explain the chart. At the heart of this ridiculous book is a testing method by which, he claims that all of the truth and falseness in the world can be tested simply by applying pressure on someone's extended arm! This is explained in details that had me reading and dumb-founded at the same time. Textbook-sized words tumble from the pages, with the sole intent to confuse and/or impress gullible readers. This scam of a book can take its place on the bookshelf of fakery, along with such other phony-baloney books as The Celestine Prophecy and Ishmael. From now on, I'll stick to fiction. It's more honest and real!

(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW- THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown

God, I loved this book! What I expected it to be was a more-than-routine cat-and-mouse thriller, involving murder, and coded clues to these murders, that could be found in famous art works. What I didn't expect, was that it turned out to be that, and so much more. When noted Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, while on business in Paris, is called in by the French police to help decipher the cryptic clues that have been left next to the body of the murdered curator of the Louvre, a 450-page chase begins that involves Langdon in a global mystery that could change the history of the world. Author Brown has done more than his share of homework/research in presenting this incredible story. He presents two opposing forces. One, a secret society known as the Priory of Sion, whose members have included Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci, and Victor Hugo. The other, the real-life controversial Opus Dei, a deeply devout Catholic sect, protected by the Pope, and mysterious in its goals and operations. Langdon finds himself pursued by one, and protected by the other, because he may have stumbled on a monumental "secret" that could change the course of Christianity as we know it. The clues to the mystery are found in coded messages, and in DaVinci's paintings, and even though you may have seen these paintings in person, you'll be shocked at what might actually be in such works as the "Madonna of the Rocks" and "The Last Supper." I had to pull out my prints and check them out, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what the author was talking about. His theories about religion and art are presented in such an exciting way, that you'll learn some fascinating facts while being thrilled by the suspense and intelligence of the story. Even if you don't believe a word of the art, history, or religion embedded in the plot, the book is a page-turner without any competition on the best seller list today. Move over Ludlum and Cussler....this guy's serious!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- DERAILED by James Siegel

It takes a truly fine writer to make the reader laugh hysterically at, or love or hate something or someone, in a book that he's written. James Siegel has done the latter by creating a protagonist, who is an immoral, stupid, conscienceless loser for the better part of the book, Derailed. I really hated him! Charlie Schine, an ordinary, successful, married, advertising executive, gets on the train for his commute into work, and notices an attractive woman sitting opposite him. They flirt with each other, and one thing leads to another. To say the least! Flirtation leads to an affair, which leads to lying, which leads to violent rape, which leads to murder, etc. Well, you get the picture. It's a cautionary tale with a moral...don't cheat. If you do, tell your spouse immediately. That's not what I believe; that's what the author makes you believe. But the story is not as important as how it's told. Siegel has written a story within a story, with so many surprise twists and turns, you might have to go back and read over some passages. It's a cleverly written, thrilling, chilling, page-turner. If you're in a relationship right now, you'll have goose-bumps while you're reading this book!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- THE NO SPIN ZONE  by Bill O' Reilly

I've never seen Bill O'Reilly's TV show "The O'Reilly Factor" (an oversight that I intend to rectify tonight,) where I understand that he can be rude, condescending and unfair. He displays none of these characteristics on the printed page. In fact, he deals with one controversial issue per chapter in a fair, intelligent and incisive manner.  Each chapter is centered around an interview on his TV show, and they deal with such subjects as "Sexual Deviants Who Prey on Children," "Violence and Sleaze on CD's and TV," Sex Ed in the Classroom," "Capital Punishment," etc. You get the picture. There are snippets of confrontational interviews with the likes of Al Sharpton, Sean "P Diddy" Combs, George W. Bush, Susan Sarandon, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, Dan Rather, and James Carville. The book is a perfect antidote if you've read Michael Moore's Stupid White Men. Not coincidentally, I share the same politics as O'Reilly and as a result of this, and other things, I agree with just about everything he has to say in the book, and how he says it. Read it, and then read Moore's book, if you haven't already done so. See...I'm fair too!

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- ANGELS & DEMONS by Dan Brown

Because I enjoyed author Dan Brown's best-selling book The DaVinci Code as much as I did, I decided to read his earlier work, in which he introduced the character Robert Langdon, "world-renowned Harvard symbologist." Angels & Demons plunges the reader right into the action. Langdon is summoned to CERN, the actual famous research facility in Switzerland, where a murdered physicist has been found with a cryptic symbol burned onto his chest. To complicate matters, stolen from the physicist's lab is a quantity of anti-matter...enough to blow up a small city. From here, Langdon is led on a search to find a centuries-old underground organization known as The Illuminati, whose mission it is to destroy the Catholic Church and anything else that gets in its way. Once again, the author intermingles actual works of art, famous cathedrals, and landmarks into his plot, making for an intriguing and fascinating read to anyone who likes puzzles and mysteries. Will Langdon unravel the mysteries of the cat-and-mouse chase before the Hassassin blows up the Sistine Chapel, filled with the 167 cardinals who are there to appoint a new pope? Brown keeps you on the edge of your seat up to the very last page. I loved this book as much as I did The DaVinci Code, but if you plan to read both of them (and you should,) take a break between them, because the formulaic plots are similar, and that might detract from your enjoyment of the books.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- WHEN YOU RIDE ALONE, YOU RIDE WITH BIN LADEN by Bill Maher

Talk-show personality and author, Bill Maher, joins the ranks of the other two loud-mouthed talk-show personalities and authors, Michael Moore and Bill O'Reilly, in putting in print, his ideas about what's wrong with America, and how we can make things better. Where Moore (ultra-liberal) and O'Reilly (ultra-conservative) are often strident and boorish, Maher comes across (in print at least,) as the fairest of the unholy threesome. Although he covers the same ground as the others, he seems to do it in a more reader-friendly and hilarious manner. Each chapter is preceded by a full-color poster from WW I, WW II, or the Cold War, altered to comment on our current "era of the jihad." They are hilarious! The titles of some of the posters are: "We Say They're Our Heroes...But We Pay Them Like Chumps" (too low wages for firefighters, police officers and teachers;) "Political Correctness at the Airports is Dangerous...Demand Real Security" (there should be racial profiling at airports;) "They Hate Us Because We Don't Even Know Why They Hate Us" (most Americans don't know anything about the rest of the world;) "The Real Celebrity Death-match; Jesus vs Mohammed" (religion can be dangerous,) etc. Maher defines "political correctness" as the elevation of sensitivity over truth, and the opposite of common sense. Who could argue with this? Regardless of your politics, you'll enjoy this provocative, but patriotic book.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX by J. K. Rowling

Avid readers of the Harry Potter series have had to wait three years between book #4 and the present book. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Would I rather have had a book each year? Most definitely. If you're one of those people who hasn't become addicted to the Harry Potter phenomenon, and even worse, think that these books are for children, stop reading right here, go buy the first book and start reading! Harry Potter is now in his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the eccentric faculty is training the student body in everything from Potions, to Conjuring Spells, to Defending Oneself Against the Dark Arts...to just plain growing up. Harry is now 15 and his hormones are acting up, causing him to do impetuous, stupid, brave, and clumsy things. In short, he's a typical 15-year-old, albeit a wizard-in-training. The Dark Lord, Voldemort, and his henchmen the Death Eaters, are still plotting to overthrow the present order of things (and kill anything and anyone that gets in their way...especially Harry and his Gandalf-like Headmaster, Dumbledore.) As Tolkien, Lewis, and Alexander before her, Rowling does so much more than just weave a spellbinding tale of fantasy and thrilling adventure. She tells an incredibly good story filled with some of the most wonderful characters ever put in print, and has things to say to all readers about life in general. Sometimes what she has to say is couched in very dark terms, and so some impressionable readers might have a nightmare or two. So what, the bonuses are worth it! My only regret is that Harry will have graduated from Hogwart's in two years (hence, only two more books.) Couldn't we all start a letter-writing campaign to take him through a doctoral program???

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- WHITE DEATH by Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos

If you're a fan of the maritime misadventures of Cussler's "superhero" Dirk Pitt, then you'll probably enjoy this piece of adventure fiction, starring Cussler's new hero, Kurt Austin. The formula is still the same. The novel opens with a Prologue set back in historic times, where some mysterious event transpires. The plot then jumps to the present where Austin and his sidekick Joe Zavala have to unravel the ancient mystery, which is usually tied into some present-day global catastrophe. The result is usually a thrilling page-turner. Although not up to the level of the best of the Dirk Pitt stories, White Death will keep you going with its tale of a mysterious multinational corporation headed by a villainous albino scientist, whose goal is nothing less than control of the world's seas! It's fun to try to guess which chapters were written by Clive Cussler, and which by Paul Zembrecos. The more hair-raising, imaginative, and visual scenes are probably Cussler's...and there are many of those. But not enough to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire book. Nevertheless, a good summer read, especially for avid fans of Cussler and his two fictitious counterparts.

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE TEETH OF THE TIGER by Tom Clancy

For those of you who, like many Americans after 9/11, have come to hate Arabs, this book will only reinforce that hatred. Rather than duck the issue, and play the politically correct, liberal, run and hide game, author Clancy uses the true present-day villains of world terrorism, Islamic Fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia. Having said this, I'm sorry to say that Clancy's new thriller, at only 420 pages, half his usual length, is only half as interesting as his best books. The first 200 pages are dull exposition, in which he introduces us to his main characters: the rag-head (oops, I mean Arab) terrorists, and the three heroes, Jack Ryan, jr. (hardly a chip off the old block,) and his two cousins, the twin Caruso brothers (does anyone remember these guys from earlier books?) Ryan is a dull junior analyst at a covert operation called The Campus, and the twin Carusos are a Marine and an FBI agent turned trained killers for "the good guys." During the first half of the book, the terrorists are plotting to strike at America's heartland. I won't give away the location of the strike, except to say that you might feel wary going to your local Blockbuster Video or The Gap, after reading this book! The story picks up somewhat after the terrorists strike their target(s) but it's a case of too little, too late. To get back to Jack Ryan, jr., he seems to have grown very quickly between the last book and this one, but he pales in comparison to his father, Ex-President Jack Ryan, sr. (now an elder statesman.)  Anyway it's always fun to revisit the Ryan family, even if the wrong Ryan is the hero of this new book. Instead of aging Junior so quickly, he should have made Senior younger!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- BLEACHERS by John Grisham

Whenever John Grisham breaks away from his formulaic legal thrillers, he often comes up with an original, imaginative book, even though I don't always enjoy them. (I enjoyed A Painted House, but didn't like Skipping Christmas at all.) Now, he's come up with something completely different with this novella (163 pages) about high school football in small town America. Members of the various Spartan football teams over the years, come back for a massive reunion of sorts, as they await the death of the coach that they all loved...and hated. Some of the former stars have never grown beyond their glory years in high school, while others have moved away and become successful doctors, lawyers, and bankers. It's interesting to hear their reminiscences as they meet in "the bleachers" to pay their last respects to their coach, their town, and their former selves. What I didn't find interesting was an endless play-by--play description of "the '87 game" that takes up a big chunk of the middle of the book. If you're a former jock, this may very well be the highlight of the book for you...and I don't mean that in a condescending or patronizing way. The whole book is sort of Pop Warner meets Our Town. So, if you're a fan of either high school football, or life in small town America, you'll probably love this book.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- DECEPTION POINT by Dan Brown

Because I thoroughly enjoyed his most recent novels, Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code, I decided to go back and read an earlier work by one of my favorite new authors, Dan Brown. Although Deception Point is not in the same league as his later books, it's head and shoulders above other novels in the thriller genre. In anything he writes, Brown's research is impeccable, and he has an impressive grasp of his material. However, in this earlier work, he hadn't yet hit on his surefire formula of mixing art history, religion, and murder...a formula that raises his latest books to the level of masterpieces of modern fiction. The plot of this techno-thriller involves deception at the highest level of our government. What a shock! A NASA, imperiled by cut-backs and failures, discovers a meteorite buried deep in the Arctic ice shelf, and in this meteorite is imbedded a discovery that could change the course of history. The White House sends a team of experts to the site to verify the authenticity of the discovery, and before long, these scientists are fighting for their lives against an unknown, but highly dangerous enemy. An exciting page-turner from one of our most intelligent young writers. I can't wait for his next novel.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- SPLIT SECOND by David Baldacci

David Baldacci's latest best-seller, is a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase involving the Secret Service, and the presidential candidates who they guard with their lives. Specifically, the story deals with two agents, who, eight years apart, have managed to "lose" their candidates, in two mysterious career-ending incidents. The two (a Harrison Ford type, and a Julia Roberts type,) band together when they learn that the events may be related, and far from accidental. Up to the half-way point, the novel is so fast-paced, and filled with surprises and twists, that it's almost impossible to put down. But then, the author throws in enough red herrings to stock all the open-air fish-stalls in Boston's Haymarket. The characters come tumbling at the reader so quickly, that at least THIS reader needed one of those glossaries that are so helpful in the more reader-friendly editions of War and Peace! But if you can keep the characters straight in your mind, you'll be rewarded with a shoot-'em-up finale filled with some unexpected (and expected) surprises. A fun read for those fans of Baldacci, James Patterson, Robert Ludlum, Dennis Lehane, and the "Queen of Red Herrings" herself, Agatha Christie.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

  

BOOK REVIEW- ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

The most amazing thing about this truly amazing book is its author, who is only 19 years old. He was only 15 when he started writing it! This prodigious talent can be attributed to many things, two of which have to be good parenting, and home schooling. His love of all fantasy and science fiction, as well as classical music, is evident in every page of this book...the first of a trilogy called "The Inheritance Trilogy." Eragon could only have been written by someone who read and loved the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and who listened to, understood, and enjoyed the operas of Richard Wagner. Luckily the reader doesn't have to have this same background. The hero of this book, Eragon, like heroes before him, such as Frodo Baggins, Taran Wanderer, Siegfried, and yes, even Harry Potter, is a young man who must undergo a difficult quest, in order to find self-realization and an understanding of his unusual world...a world of dwarves, Riders, the monstrous Urgals, mysterious Varden, the evil Razac, and at least one benevolent dragon, Saphira. His journeys take him great distances, away from his loved ones, and into fierce battles with dangerous enemies. There are glorious alabaster kingdoms hidden in huge mountains, waiting to be discovered, but not before Eragon watches his friends die, and his enemies grow stronger. The greatest question of all must eventually be answered..."who am I?"... but not in THIS book. The next book is called Eldest!

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE TRISTAN BETRAYAL by "Robert Ludlum"

Publishers St. Martin's Press, and whoever it is that's writing Robert Ludlum's latest novels, have decided to conceal the fact that author Ludlum died several years ago! They've even gone so far as to include Ludlum's picture and biography on the inside cover, without mentioning the fact that he's dead. The new author has done his/her homework, researching Ludlum's earliest, and best, espionage thrillers (e.g., The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Gemini Contenders, etc.) and has duplicated this very successful formula in the last two books published under the pseudonym of Robert Ludlum.The present novel is an exciting page-turner of a spy thriller that takes place during the turbulent period of WWII in Europe. Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union are acting as a vise, to squeeze all of Europe into submission. Only England is withstanding the pressure, with America (still not in the war yet,) acting behind the scenes to help the British. One of America's best young spies, Stephen Metcalf, is sent to Vichy Paris (the French, as usual, have caved in to the Nazis,) then Germany, then Russia, to try to foil the plans of the Nazis and the Commies. In Russia, he meets up with a former lover, who is now the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi ballet. Together they.......................Well, you get the picture, right?

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- HARVARD YARD by William Martin

If you have any connection (actual or emotional) to either Harvard, Boston, New England, American History, historical fiction, or the writing of William Martin (Back Bay, Cape Cod, and Annapolis) then you'll surely enjoy, and probably love, Martin's latest epic Harvard Yard. In the style of James Michener (one of my favorite authors,) Martin chronicles the life of one fictitious family over a 400 year period. The family leaves England and comes to "the colonies," at the very same time that a new school is being founded in Cambridge. The family's history and that of the College, are woven together, so that in the process of telling the story of this family, we get to meet just about every historic personage who had anything to do with Boston and Harvard, from Shakespeare and John Harvard, to John Kennedy. At the same time that this family's exciting history is unfolding in the past, a modern-day story is being told as a parallel plot. Peter Fallon, the antiquarian who was the main character in Martin's earlier book Back Bay,  has learned that a valuable treasure might be hidden somewhere in the vicinity of Harvard Yard. The treasure? An undiscovered play by Shakespeare. Both stories are told simultaneously...one interacting with the other. In case you think historical fiction is boring, this book will remedy that. Its plot covers witch hangings, the burning of downtown Boston, Civil War battles, the riots of the 1960's, and murder and theft in the present day. The characters are real, even the fictitious ones! A wonderful read, from beginning to end.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE BIG BAD WOLF by James Patterson

James Patterson brings back his (and my) favorite detective, Alex Cross, to solve the case of The Wolf, a Russian Mafiya chieftain who specializes in kidnappings on consignment. That is, Wolf and his vicious gang, take orders from rich sexual predators, who want specific people for their own sick pleasures, and are willing to pay very dearly for these pleasures. Wolf then kidnaps these individuals for his "customers," who enjoy them in various ways...none of them good. Unfortunately, Patterson's formula is wearing very thin, and this time it shows. On the plus side, he gives us an interesting glimpse into the unprincipled workings of the Russian Mafiya, a group of insane criminals who operate far differently than did the old disciplined Italian Mafia, now pretty much defunct. Even in crime nowadays, "progress" has brought a dumbing down!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- DIGITAL FORTRESS by Dan Brown

In this, his first book, written only five years ago, Dan Brown, my favorite contemporary author, shows the glimmerings of the genius that would go on to write two masterpieces of their genre...Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. In this novel, he tells the story of TRANSLTR, America's largest and most secretive encryption device...a computer that stores all of America's most classified secrets. A disgruntled computer genius (is there any other kind?) has implanted a destructive worm into TRANSLTR, and if he doesn't give out the pass-key, the worm will eat through the computer's firewalls and release all of America's most guarded secrets, to hackers all over the world. The villain is the only one who knows how to decode the pass-key, and, unfortunately he's just died unexpectedly in Seville. Will Susan Fletcher, computer genius, and her lover, college professor David Becker, be able to figure out all of the riddles and codes, before the worm destroys TRANSLTR? Will we, the readers, be able to figure out the riddles and codes before the characters do, and will we be able to guess the who, why, and how of the story? Unfortunately for readers of the last two Brown books, the answer is "yes," because this first novel has something that the author would be able to eliminate in his last books, and that is predictability. I guessed who the villains were and the mystery of the pass-key, long before they were revealed in the story. In the last two books, I couldn't figure out the mysteries, clues and enigmas, even if I had had the help of TRANSLTR!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN by Mitch Albom

If you're one of the many people who believes in the afterlife, then you'll probably enjoy this novella immensely. I for one, intend to hedge my bets by having as much fun as I can, every day, in THIS life! Mitch Albom, still riding high from his great success with Tuesdays With Morrie, is plowing the same sentimental, but highly readable fields, in this current book. Eddie is an 83-year-old maintenance worker at an amusement park, who is killed unexpectedly in a freak accident. In heaven, he meets five people who teach him lessons about himself, and help him to see why his life was worthwhile. I was hoping for a heaven that's a little less "It's A Wonderful Life," and a little more "The Wizard of Oz!" (Actually, my heaven is the town of Bellagio on Lake Como!) In any case, if you like borderline maudlin books about people who learn the value of their lives, only after they've lost them, then this is the book for you. It's very short (196 pages) and packed with enough sweetness to send a dentist into fits of joy.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE LAST JUROR by John Grisham

The annual chore of reading John Grisham's formulaic latest novel was becoming a bore, until the author decided to revisit the scene of his first, and best, book, A Time to Kill. In Ford County, Mississippi during the Viet Nam-era '70s, Grisham introduces us to the most colorful characters that he's written about in years. The story line concerns a redneck low-life (is that redundant?) who murders a young widow in the town's bloodiest crime. At his trial, he threatens the jury saying that, if they convict him, he'll punish every one of them. They do...and, nine years later when the killer is paroled, jurors begin to die. But this story is just a device for introducing us to people that the author must surely have known growing up in a small town in the South. There are: the town drunks, who also happen to be the town's lawyers and reporters; the 25-year-old college dropout who buys the small, failing, town newspaper, and through whatever means at his disposal, turns it into a viable business enterprise; the wonderful Miss Callie, a poor black woman, who raises seven children, all but one of whom earns a Ph.D degree; the eccentric Hocutt twins, Wilma and Gilma, who live in a decaying, but grand, Victorian mansion, with all of their animals, and their crazy brother; the murderer's family, the clan Padgitt, who, for decades have lived outside the law, and have grown rich doing so; the crooked sheriff, who they "own," etc. All of these, and many more three-dimensional characters fill the streets of this colorful town, and the pages of this highly readable Grisham novel. Drop the lawyers Mr.Grisham, and stick with what you obviously love, and know best... the people who make up the small-towns of the Deep South.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- FRANKLIN AND WINSTON by Jon Meacham

When I picked up this best-seller, the reviews led me to believe that it consisted of nothing but the thousands of letters exchanged between these two giants of the 20th Century. That's what I was looking for, but I was misinformed. Certainly there are many letters documented in the book, but most of the text consists of the author's rehashing of material found in other biographies of these two men. Having read the definitive book about these great men many years ago,( the Joseph P. Lash 800-page text, Roosevelt and Churchill,) I found very little that was new and revealing in this book (that's half the length of the Lash biography.) Oh sure, there are some unpublished letters of FDR's secret lover, Lucy Mercer Rutherford. But if you're looking for scandal and shocking vulgarity, I'd suggest that you stick to biographies of the more recent American presidents! What is interesting about this book, in light of current events, is how Churchill and Roosevelt, the equivalent of today's Democrats, were considered the warmongers of their time, because they brought their countries into an unpopular war. Especially Roosevelt, who had to fight isolationists, like hero (and Nazi sympathizer) Charles Lindbergh, and "statesmen" like Joseph Kennedy, who saw no threat from Hitler, a dictator who wasn't directly threatening our country. Sound familiar?

(3 -Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- BRUNDIBAR by Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak

There are three things that make this "children's book " unique. First of all, it's based on a Czech opera of the same name, written by Hans Krasa, and performed fifty-five times by the children of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp. The composer, and all of the children died, either in Terezin, or in Auschwitz, after the last performance. Secondly, it's being re-told here by Pulitzer and Tony-award winning playwright, Tony Kushner ("Angels in America.") Thirdly, it's illustrated by America's most famous illustrator of children's books, Maurice Sendak. The look is all Sendak, He's borrowed freely from his other illustrated books, especially "Where the Wild Things Are," "In the Night Kitchen," "Outside Over There," and "We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy." As in most of Sendak's books, the story takes second place to the illustrations and the minimalist language. Here, two children try to beg for milk money for their dying mother, while being heckled and then robbed by a tyrannical organ grinder. The illustrations are filled with subtle reminders of the Holocaust. Children will miss them unless they're pointed out to them...and why would you? What is surprising, is that the children of Terezin were allowed to perform this simple opera, fifty-five times. Did the Nazi guards in the audience miss the point that it's about the deposing of a tyrant?

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- TROJAN ODYSSEY by Clive Cussler

If you're a fan of Clive Cussler's marine adventure fiction, and you love following the Indiana Jones-like wild stories, involving his best character Dirk Pitt, and his sidekick Al Giordino, then you'll love his latest book. The pattern is the same. Cussler starts all of his stories in the past, describing a famous historical event, (e.g. the burning of the Alexandrian Library, the looting of the Inca Gold at Machu Picchu, the battle of The Merrimac and the Monitor etc.) then jumps to the present, where the present is about to be significantly changed, because of something that happened in that long-distant-past historical event. In the case of the present novel, the event in the past is The Trojan War and the ensuing journey home of Ulysses. (Cussler manages to summarize Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey in the first 22 pages of the book!) A brown tide is infesting the ocean off the shore of Nicaragua, threatening the ocean life in all of Central America. Pitt and Giordino are sent down to investigate, by their NUMA boss Admiral Sandecker. At the end of the last novel Valhalla Rising, Pitt was shocked to find out that he had two grown children that he had never known about. Not surprisingly, they've inherited not only his good looks, but also his love of adventure and the ocean. The two fraternal twins are a marine biologist and a marine engineer. It's they who find the unbelievable artifacts that set the plot in motion. I can't wait to see all of these characters come to life on screen, in "Sahara," the first of the Dirk Pitt novels to be filmed. Matthew McConaughey will be Dirk Pitt. Just perfect!

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- POMPEII by Robert Harris

How could anyone write a boring story about the last two days in the life of the sin city of Pompeii, the Vegas of the Ancient Roman Empire? When Vesuvius erupted on that Thursday morning in August, A.D. 79, it released an energy force 100,000 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb! Those two sentences are more exciting than the entire book by Robert Harris. The author, foolishly, has chosen to concentrate on the activities of a civil engineer, whose job it is to monitor the water supply being carried over the 60-mile aqueduct that supplies the water to all of the nine cities on the Bay of Naples. Who gives a damn! The reader comes to know more than he would ever need to know about this marvel of Roman engineering, and so little about the people and the city that are about to be buried in lava and suffocating ash!

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BOOK REVIEW- THE PRINCES OF IRELAND by Edward Rutherfurd

For those of you who believe that Ireland has contributed nothing to civilization except a few playwrights, some poets, and drunkenness, then you owe it to yourself to read this latest epic by master story-teller Edward Rutherfurd ( London, Sarum, The Forest, and Russka.) In the much-loved style of James Michener, Rutherfurd follows the fortunes of several fictional families from prehistoric times up to the present. Because he's such a masterful story-teller, Rutherfurd manages to weave the lives of these family members into the historic quilt of a country, placing them where actual historic events were happening, and having them interact with some of the great names in history. The Princes of Ireland starts in prehistoric times and quickly moves into pre-Christian Ireland with the pagan rituals of the Druids. Then, as years pass, our fictional families and their descendants live through the major events in Irish history: the High Kings at Tara; the mission of St. Patrick; the coming of the Vikings and their intermingling with the natives; the preservation of the ancient world's knowledge in the glorious monasteries; the Book of Kells; the warring leader Brian Boru; the disastrous Irish invasion of England; and the treachery of two Henrys...Henry II and Henry VIII of England. In the reading, it becomes all too evident how the seeds of division between England and Ireland were planted in much earlier times. If you think that this sounds like a boring history text, think again. It's anything but! Because of the author's skill in creating full-blooded characters, and placing them in exciting story plots, the book becomes a page-turner, in spite of its length. (Although it's 764 pages, it's only part 1 of a two-part series entitled "The Dublin Saga." Part 1 ends with Henry VIII. I can't wait for Part 2.) This epic will make a fine companion-piece on the shelf with Leon Uris's classic Trinity. I only wish that I had been able to read it before taking my trips to Ireland (and Northern Ireland) in the past. It would have made these trips much more enjoyable.  

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BOOK REVIEW- 3RD DEGREE by James Patterson

Like Clive Cussler, another of my favorite popular writers, James Patterson keeps re-writing the same story, with a tweak here, and a twist there. In one of his most popular series, Patterson's hero is the wonderful Alex Cross, an African-American psychologist/detective. In his other, relatively new, series, his heroine is Lindsay Boxer, a female detective, and a member of the self-named Women's Murder Club. (The other members are a reporter, a medical examiner, and an assistant D.A. All women!) In this latest book in the Women's Murder Club series, detective Lindsay Boxer, with the help of her three friends and a new love interest, are on the trail of a Charles Manson-like terrorist, who is bent on destroying "all conservative capitalists who are trying to destroy Third World countries by investing foreign capital in their labor markets." Of course, he has a small army of college student/lunatic followers who are willing to blow themselves (and others) up for his cause. Where would these wacko cult-leader types be without their little army of socio-paths, who are willing to do anything for the cause? Probably teaching at a liberal arts college in America. (Don't any conservatives teach at these Marxist universities??? Oh yeah, I did!) Anyway, the book is a fast page-turner, filled with suspense, bombings, and frightening allusions to what's going on in "the real world" right outside your front door.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE FAMILY by Mario Puzo (completed by Carol Gino)

Supposedly, Mario Puzo wrote most of this book before he died, at which time it was completed by his friend and lover, Carol Gino. I don't buy it. My guess is that Carol Gino wrote almost the entire book, from notes and ideas that Puzo left before he died. Why do I say that? Well, if you've read any of Puzo's other books, notably The Godfather, then you know that his writing style is operatic, florid, and suspenseful. How then, could he take the story of one of the most famous families in history, the Borgias of Renaissance Rome, and turn it into a boring history text? My guess is that he didn't...Carol Gino did. Puzo would have reveled in telling the story of Rodrigo Borgia, who after fathering three children, went on to become Pope Alexander, who encouraged two of his children, Lucrezia and Cesare, to begin an incestuous relationship that would last a lifetime, and destroy so many others in the process. All of this, while Cesare himself was a Cardinal of the Church! That's the story that Puzo should have written, and I would have loved to have read. Instead, we have the Gino version...pedantic, descriptive, informative, but rarely exciting. However, even an unexciting telling of the Borgia story is fascinating. This family made the Corleones look like the Cleaver family!

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BOOK REVIEW- THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson

I almost never say this, but I will in this case. This book will make for a more enjoyable experience as a movie, than it does as a book. (Since both Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio are trying to obtain the film rights, we'll surely see this book translated to the screen.) Because Erik Larson chose to write this story as non-fiction, it comes out duller than it should. Because of the story being told, it should have been a page-turner. It's not. Two parallel stories unfold in this book. One deals with the trials and tribulations of creating the first major World's Fair in this country...the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. (Because all of the grand architectural wonders were white, the Exposition became known as "The White City.") The other story, a tragic one, tells of a mad serial killer, who built a castle of death near the Fair, and it was there that he lured young women to their gruesome deaths, and then sold their skeletons to medical schools. Hence, "The Devil" of the title. The two stories run parallel to one another, only occasionally coming together. It's a good read, but not a great one. Wait for the movie.

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BOOK REVIEW- HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln

Supposedly, this "non-fiction" book was one of the inspirations for Dan Brown's brilliant novel, The DaVinci Code. The three authors have respected credentials as serious research scholars, and in that capacity they've attempted to answer such questions as: Did Jesus really die on the cross? Is it possible that Jesus was married, a father, and that his bloodline still exists? What is the connection between Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Merovingian Dynasty of French kings? What is the relationship between the Knights Templar, the Crusades, the Holy Grail, and the Books of the New Testament? They've rummaged through archeological sites, ancient unpublished manuscripts, archival resources, and family histories, and come up with answers to the questions. These are the same answers that Brown has integrated so brilliantly into the story-line of The DaVinci Code, making it one of the most fascinating and readable books of the decade. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for this book. History is often better served up in the guise of fiction, because this book, so filled with questions, facts, and questionable facts, is a difficult, heavy, and except for a few chapters, boring read.

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BOOK REVIEW- THE NARROWS by Michael Connelly

This is the first book of Michael Connelly's that I've ever read, and it'll probably be the last. Not because it's a bad book. On the contrary, it's a very well-written page-turner in the mystery-detective/lawyer-thriller genre. It's just that I already have quite a few authors in that category whose books I read...James Patterson and Richard North Patterson, David Baldacci, John Grisham, Clive Cussler and Dennis Lahane. Sorry, Michael, but this is it. The present book deals with two former FBI agents who converge on a serial killer (yeah, another one!) nicknamed The Poet. In a previous book, this Poet was their mentor at the FBI Academy. The plot is intricately woven, but the characters don't get you involved, as do those created by "my other authors." If you've been reading Connelly, then it's a must. If not, pass on it.

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BOOK REVIEW- THE RULE OF FOUR by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason

On the back dust-cover of this book, author Nelson DeMille states, "If Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, and Dan Brown teamed up to write a novel, the result would be The Rule of Four." I'd like to know what these two young authors paid him to say that! Although there ARE some faint hints of the work of these three far superior authors, in the present book (and even more hints of Clive Cussler,) it doesn't even begin to measure up to their quality. In fact, although the book does have an interesting, although derivative, premise, it's written in such a dull and boring fashion, that it's hard to resist closing it, and never picking it up again. I'm sure that this won't be the last attempt to cash in on the incredible success of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons, but let's hope that the next books are at least an interesting read. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the attempt of four Princeton students to decode/uncover the mysteries in an ancient text, written in Renaissance Italy. They are a self-indulgent, self-serving, deadly dull foursome, who don't for even a moment, make the reader give a damn what happens to them, or their ridiculous book, for that matter. A bad start for two young authors.

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BOOK REVIEW- BROOKLYN! THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NEW YORK'S MOST HAPPENING BOROUGH by Ellen Freudenheim
Whether you were lucky enough to have been born and raised in Brooklyn, or are planning a visit to this exciting place, or simply interested in finding out more about what is certainly one of the most dynamic and interesting places in the world, this book is a must on your reading list this summer. The author, a brave, intelligent, and resourceful woman has plunged into "the 4th largest city in America," with a zeal worthy of Stanley and Livingston and Lewis and Clark! She explores the newly gentrified neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, DUMBO, Red Hook and Gowanus, and describes, in detail, the wonders of their architecture, new restaurants, art galleries,  and shops. Her description of Brooklyn's magnificent world-class cultural institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM,) shows why this borough of New York City, rivals some of the world's great cities in the depth of its cultural holdings. Prospect Park is the jewel in the crown of its creators Olmstead and Vaux (who went on to design Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace,) but who considered Prospect Park to be "their greatest work." Old neighborhoods such as Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge (of "Saturday Night Fever" fame,) Flatbush (remember the Brooklyn Dodgers,)  and America's pre-DisneyWorld playground, Coney Island (Nathan's hot dogs and the Cyclone,) are also described in loving detail. Brooklyn's schools rival any in the world. The author lists the best of these. (Erasmus High counts as its illustrious graduates, everyone from Alexander Hamilton, to May West and Barbra Streisand!) In addition to other factors, this book made me decide to return to my hometown as my summer vacation this year. If you can't do the same, you can experience the trip vicariously by reading this wonderful guide-book.
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BOOK REVIEW- "WICKED" by Gregory Maguire

If you're a fan of the book and the film versions of "The Wizard of Oz," (and who isn't?) then you'll probably find this book to be as fascinating, creative and imaginative a read as I did. It's a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, in which the events and the lives of the main characters are described prior to the time when the house fell on The Wicked Witch of the East. (The Broadway musical is based on large chunks of this book.) The story is basically the tale of Elphaba, the little green-skinned girl, and Glinda, the ditzy snobbish airhead, who grow up to become the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Good Witch of the North. It's all told from Elphaba's perspective, and we begin to see a very different picture of things than the one previously portrayed. Where did she come from? Is she really wicked? Why is she green? Who are her parents? What is her relationship to Glinda? Be warned, however. This is NOT a children's book. Conceptually and linguistically, it's a difficult read, even for adults, dealing as it does with such topics as discrimination, explicit sex, religion, civil rights, and the nature of evil. Gregory Maguire has created a fantasy world that rivals those of J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Isaac Asimov, and J.K. Rowling. That's pretty heady company for a man who taught a seminar with me at Simmons College, many, many years ago!

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BOOK REVIEW- "LOST CITY" by CliveCussler with Paul Kemprecos

In 17 novels, Clive Cussler's great action hero, Dirk Pitt, reigned supreme. But then, he finally grew too old to do all of the exciting things that he did in those fun books, and so, Cussler created a clone of him...Kurt Austin. Either the formula got tired, or I got tired of the formula, in any case, this book just didn't seem to give me the same fun reading it, as did all the previous novels. In the Dirk Pitt novels, the story always began with an exciting event in history (slightly re-told!) Then, it jumped to the present, where the story unfolded, using the historic event as a jumping-off point. That was always thrilling. However, in the Kurt Austin series, there is no historic event, and so all we're left with is an underwater thriller, with some above-ground espionage thrown in for added thrills. It doesn't do it for me. In the current novel, Austin, and his sidekick Joe Zavala (a clone of Al Giordano in the original books,) are hunting down a rich, aristocratic family of French psychos, who may have discovered an enzyme that prolongs life, and also who may have have been instrumental in starting World Wars I and II. Now, that's a pretty ambitious premise!

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BOOK REVIEW- THE BOURNE LEGACY by Eric Van Lustbader

It's all about money isn't it? The estate of the late author Robert Ludlum hired Van Lustbader to complete "The Bourne Trilogy," the three books that were so well written by Ludlum (and the subject of the two fine films with Matt Damon.) Hell, I thought that the trilogy WAS complete. As I said before, it's all about the money, isn't it? Once again, college professor David Webb (alias Jason Bourne,) is forced to resume his previous life of master-spy, when people start dying around him, and too many assassins are aiming their weapons in his direction. With the exception of one surprising twist in the plot, Van Lustbader brings nothing new to the story of Jason Bourne. It's one long cat-and-mouse chase thriller, with everyone (from those nasty CIA bosses, to Chechens, Russians, and assorted Arab terrorists) trying to kill Bourne, before he can stop them from unleashing a deadly biological weapon on a World Leaders' summit in Iceland. Although some of the characters are well-drawn three-dimensional characters, with interesting "back-stories," the plot is still more of the "same-old, same-old." How many ways can an author put his main hero in peril? This would probably have worked better as one of those old-time movie-theater serials, with a 10-minute "chapter" shown every week, before the main feature attraction. Wow. How many people are old enough to remember those wonderful serials? Let's face it. Without them, there never would have been an "Indiana Jones" or a "Star Wars." But, I digress. If you enjoyed reading the three other Bourne books (and enjoyed the two films,) you might want to take a look in to see what Bourne is doing nowadays. Otherwise, try something fresh, new, and original.

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES by Lynne Truss

I had thought that this would be a funny, tongue-in-cheek look at "punctuation," as seen through the eyes of a British humorist. (I love British humor.) Unfortunately, it's not. Instead, it's a boring treatise on the proper usage of apostrophes, commas, colons, semi-colons, etc., by a one-time literary editor, journalist, sports columnist, and book reviewer, whose sense of humor only occasionally shines through the lessons in proper usage. Although I think that my punctuation is as good as the next person's (although the preceding sentence would seem to negate that fact,) I suppose that I did learn a thing or two, and for that, I'm grateful. But, all of this could have been condensed into a one-page hand-out. Who am I kidding? This book has been #1 on the UK best seller list for ages, and it's hovering around there on the NY Times list. So, you go, girl. Don't mind me. Just go out now and write a book about the proper way to pour ketchup. I'll probably read it!

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BOOK REVIEW- THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
This book builds from a slow-start, into a page-turner that I couldn't put down. I don't know how to describe this unique novel without turning off half of you. If I describe it as an extraordinary and complicated love story, I'll turn off the men. If I describe it as an exciting piece of original science-fiction, about a man who can time-travel back and forth throughout various periods of his own life, I'll turn off the women. That might sound sexist, but that's me, folks! What I CAN say without turning off anyone, is that this is the best first novel that I've read in a very long time. First-time author Audrey Niffenegger (what's with that name?) tells the enchanting story of a young man who involuntarily travels through time into various parts of his life, and of the patient woman who waits behind for him, and falls in love with him, even before he realizes that he's met her. Figure THAT one out. The two main characters, Clare and Henry, take turns telling their story, and sometimes we get to see the same incident from different perspectives. In a "Sixth-Sense" sort of way, it almost requires a second reading to get the complete picture of their life together. I wrote to my friend, Matt Damon (name-dropper!) and told him to buy the rights to this story, if it hasn't been scooped up already. He was born to play Henry DeTamble. Read it, THEN judge it.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I had a wonderful time reading this Spanish novel...a novel that's filled with enough stories, incidents and characters to fill several books and a few soap operas as well. This book was #1 on the Best Seller list in Spain for all of 2003. Then it was translated into English by Lucia Graves (daughter of poet Robert Graves,) and brought to America. As I said before, there are so many separate stories in the book, however there's a unifying link to all of them..."Who is Julian Carax, and why are people dying because of the book that he wrote?" The mystery begins, when young Daniel is brought to a mysterious library in his hometown of Barcelona, where he's allowed to remove a single book and keep it. He begins a search for the author of his book, and in doing so, meets all of the people who were a part of the life of Julian Carax, the author. At this point, I could have used a glossary at the back of the book to keep track of all of these fascinating characters. There's a story for each character, and most of these stories interlock with one another, revealing more and more of the mystery of Julian Carax. Episodes in Daniel's book begin to parallel episodes in his own life, and soon his life is in jeopardy. Story lines run the gamut from adultery to incest to murder to comedy to satire, and the characterization is so vivid that it's easy to imagine most of the characters, even those who you'd rather NOT imagine. Some scenes are the stuff of nightmares! What a movie this would make.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- THE SLOW BURN FITNESS REVOLUTION by Fredrick Hahn, and Michael R Eades, M.D. and Mary Dan Eades, M.D.
These books about "how to revolutionize your fitness routine," come out every so often (the last one that I read was Body For Life...remember THAT one?) and they also seem to follow the same pattern. In the Introductory segment of the book, the authors will present their credentials, and then scare you with such statements as "What if everything that you knew about exercise was wrong?" and "What if you discovered that all the time that you spent working out was doing you more harm than good?" Then when they've got you hooked enough to read on, they present THEIR "revolutionary" program. In the case of the present program, the authors present a "slow-motion" strength-training routine that uses maximum weights, forcing the muscles to work at almost unbearable capacities, but that only requires a half-hour work-out a week. If that sounds good to you, then this is your book. I tried it, and it's not for me (although I have integrated some aspects of the program into my own daily workouts) for two reasons. I have neither the patience nor the endurance to work at these high-intensity levels, and I ENJOY my 6 hours at the gym each week!
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BOOK REVIEW- BOYOS by Richard Marinick
The author, Richard Marinick, is an ex-con who spent ten years in state prison for armored car and bank robbery. He writes about lowly criminals in South Boston... the kind who sit around in big cars and in little bars, planning armored car and bank robberies, while dealing drugs. He writes about these low-lifes and their crimes with the voice of someone who's been there, but unlike Robert B. Parker and Dennis Lehane, who cover the very same ground, there's no human interest in his stories. Maybe that's what happens to you when you've been in prison for 10 years. Your humanity disappears. In any case, I was bored to death reading about this trash.
(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW- HOUR GAME by David Baldacci
David Baldacci has written some fine original thrillers in the past ("Absolute Power," "Split Second," etc.) and some clinkers ( "Wish You Well," and "Last Man Standing.") This one is one of the latter group. It's not that it's a bad read. (Actually it's a fine beach book, but hell, it's snowing out!) It's just that he's chosen to go down that well-worn road, and write yet another story about a serial killer, and the two veteran law enforcement officers who track the killer down. In fact, I think that they're the same two characters that the author wrote about in Split Second.  As I said, it's a decent enough read, and something to do while you're waiting for your next real book to come along. In Hour Game, Baldacci's serial killer kills in the style of famous serial killers of the past. The cat-and-mouse chase is lively, but it's really all a case of "same old, same old."
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BOOK REVIEW- I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS by Tom Wolfe

This may not be the best book that Tom Wolfe ever wrote, but it certainly is the best book that I've ever read about contemporary college life. I've spent most of my adult life on, or around, a college campus, and Wolfe hits a bulls-eye on every target that he aims at, in the academic world. There's the all-encompassing sex; the incessant drinking; the professors who dumb-down their courses in order to accommodate the campuses brain-dead athletes (I never did this;) the athletes themselves...gods on the field or court, but illiterate in the classroom; the "froshstitutes,"....first year female students, who will have sex with anything, in order to gain status with their peers; the fraternity scene, right out of Dante's Inferno, with drunken morons inhabiting rundown mansions and spending their days watching ESPN, and their nights at drunken sexual bashes; nerds, who will protest, and write about everything, while experiencing nothing, etc. Charlotte Simmons is a brilliant virgin from a small town in Appalachia, who becomes a Freshman at one of America's most prestigious universities, and it's there that she comes face to face with a shocking world that she never knew existed. She goes from being appalled, to being seduced (figuratively and literally) by this lifestyle. In an extended scene, one of his best, the author describes, in graphic detail, the intimate steps in a drunken seduction of the heroine, from inside the heroine's head. How did this man write so realistically about what a woman experiences during this traumatic moment? It's Wolfe at his best. Where he does miss the mark, is that he says little, or nothing, about those students who don't spend their days and nights with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but manage to maintain their high grades, while still having fun, during these, the best years of their lives. I recommend this book highly, especially to anyone who has any interest in the college experience.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE FINAL SOLUTION: A STORY OF DETECTION by Michael Chabon
If you enjoy the writing of Michael Chabon ( Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay ) as much as I do, then you might want to read this novella. Nothing much really happens in this short book with the long title. The time is 1944. The place is England. An old man, who was once a great detective, is called in as a consultant on a case involving a murder, a stolen parrot, and a mute German-Jewish boy. Because the parrot, before he was kidnapped, kept mumbling numbers in German, the police think that he might be harboring some secret Nazi codes, and so when he's stolen, the pursuit becomes a tale of espionage and murder. We never do find out if "the old man" is really Sherlock Holmes, but it's fun to be inside of his head for even a short while.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- BLACK WIND by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler

There's really no good reason to read this book unless you're a fan of Cussler's "Dirk Pitt" novels (as I am, ) or unless you have nothing better to read. The Dirk Pitt novels always start in the past with a chapter of historical fiction (e.g. the burning of the Alexandrian Library; the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac, etc.) and then jump to the present or the near future, and tie the past event to a contemporary tale of underwater adventure, espionage or terrorism. Our hero, Dirk Pitt, usually rescues the world , and a beautiful female scientist, in a series of wildly improbable, but tremendously exciting adventures, and saves the ancient artifacts to boot! This time around, the past is relatively recent, the defeat of the Japanese Imperial Naval Fleet, and the sinking of two submarines off of the west coast of America, during the final years of World War II. It seems that these submarines carried enough toxins to wipe out the population in most of our western cities, and now, a rich North Korean demagogue has access to these biological weapons, and he means to use them. Since a great deal of time has elapsed since the first of the Dirk Pitt novels was written, the hero and heroine of the current series of books are Pitt's twin offspring, Summer and Dirk, Junior. It's an exciting read, but not top draw Cussler by any means. If you'd like to start out reading one of the earlier, better "Dirk Pitt" books, start with Sahara, because the movie (starring Matthew McConnaughy as Pitt) is about to come out shortly. If this film is a success, watch for the filming of all of the other 16 Dirk Pitt adventures. Wow, that's a franchise!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- SACRED STONE by Clive Cussler and Craig Dirgo

Reading two Clive Cussler books back to back is like eating two Chinese dinners one after the other. You'll get full and be very satisfied, but you'll be hungry right away for something more substantial. The present book is "a novel from the Oregon Files," with its high seas action-hero, Juan Cabrillo. The bad guys in this case, are a group led by a billionaire industrialist, whose intent is to strike a paralyzing blow to Islam, by destroying the holy Mosques at Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem while the millions of "the faithful" are at prayer. I was rooting for the bad guys!!!

(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke
If either Charles Dickens or Gabriel Garcia Marquez had decided to write a Harry Potter book, this would have been the result. First-time British author Susanna Clarke has written a complex, intelligent and highly readable fantasy about two rival magicians in a Victorian England where there are no rules of reality. Anything goes...and does. Mr. Norrell, after a show-off piece to demonstrate his magic to his fellow-magician peers, establishes himself as the master of British magicians. However, because he's reluctant to use his magic for personal gain, his younger rival, Jonathan Strange emerges as the "go-to" guy whenever anything major needs "fixing up" in England, e.g. helping Wellington win the Battle of Waterloo, defeating the immense French fleet by creating a rival fleet of ghostly British ships, etc. The book is long (820 pages,) epic, and written in an excellent imitation of Victorian prose, but don't let this put you off. It's a magnificent page-turner, filled with wildly imaginative characters, and set in well-known cities (Venice, London, Padua,) that are turned magical at the hands of the two feuding magicians. Although I've been lugging the 4-pound book around with me for weeks, I was sorry when it came to an end.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE GODFATHER RETURNS by Mark Winegardner
It's all about money, isn't it? And I guess that the family of Mario Puzo is running low, because why else would they hire writer Mark Winegardner to revisit the story of the Corleone family...a story that was complete in the book written by Mario Puzo? In the current novel, the story begins in 1955, following some of the major events of the novel, and then dovetails back and forth with events of the novel, and the first two Godfather films, mercifully eliminating any mention of the dreadful third film. The characters are the same, but the major difference between the Puzo book and the Winegardner book is in the style of the authors. Mario Puzo wrote in a style that was epic and operatic. There was a grand sweep to his work that raised its story to the level of allegory. Mark Winegardner writes in an ordinary style, that is journalistic and episodic. If the Corleones could ever be made to appear commonplace and even dull, they are, in this book. What's needed is more Verdi and Tolstoy, and less "goombah" and Danielle Steele!
(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW- NIGHT FALL by Nelson DeMille
Nelson DeMille is a master story-teller. What separates him from other authors who write page-turners in the thriller genre (James Patterson, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, etc.) is his intelligent style of writing, his three-dimensional characters, and his highly readable, yet complex plots. Whether he's writing about the mafia on the North Shore of Long Island, or Vietnam, or murder in the Army, he holds your attention from the beginning to the end. In Night Fall, he dips into the area of historical fiction to retell the tragic story of the crash of TWA flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996. The husband and wife team of John Corey (NYPD) and Kate Mansfield (FBI), who we've met before in other DeMille books, take it upon themselves to reopen this case, in order to determine what really caused the explosion that brought this plane down, just minutes after take-off, killing all of the passengers and crew. Was it a malfunction or a missile fired from a ship? Telling this story from the present-time, in the Age of Terrorism, gives this plot a resonance that it wouldn't have had, had it been written prior to 9/11. The characters in the story aren't yet engulfed in the War on Terrorism, but we, the readers are, and this adds immensely to the story. There is a surprise at the end of the book, but it won't come as a surprise to anyone who can read the chapter headings, and do some simple arithmetic. Nevertheless, knowing what's coming at the end isn't as important as what happens getting there. A terrific read, and unfortunately, a very topical one.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman
(This book was recommended to me by my young cousin Catie, and I thank her for that; it was a joy to read.) In the fantasy/adventure tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman has studied those who came before him, and written a rich and detailed story of adventure, courage, and betrayal. The characters of Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter and Iorek Byrnison are unforgetable, but none more so than the young heroine of the tale, Lyra Belacqua. The concepts far transcend those usually associated with books dealing with children as the main character...concepts such as "free will," "the need for a soul," "parental betrayal," "original sin," and "genocide." The young "orphan," Lyra, the ward of the scholars at Oxford, is torn away from her somewhat idyllic life on campus, and plunged into a believable adventure involving kidnapped children, armored talking bears, brain surgery, flying witch clans, sea-going gypsies, and warring parents bent on destroying one another and their offspring. Pullman creates a world where souls are living animals, and the clergy is the villain. That, in itself, is a rarity. In addition, it's rare to find a scene in any book, let alone one of this genre, that is so moving that it will bring you to tears. Without giving away too much, the scene involves Lyra's discovery of the caged and dying "souls" of the kidnapped children. The Golden Compass is the first book in a trilogy entitled "His Dark Materials." I need some time to absorb what I've just read, before I plunge into the parallel universe that Pullman has created in the second book. That's something to look forward to.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- LONDON BRIDGES by James Patterson
Reading a James Patterson novel, after reading a novel of substance, is something like eating some sherbet after a fish course...it's light, refreshing, and is easily digested! This is my tenth novel dealing with the main character of Alex Cross, psychologist/detective, and to be perfectly honest, although the formula is as old as an old tire, it's still a fun read. This time, Cross is pitted against two of his most formidable enemies, the masterminds The Weasel, and The Wolf. The Wolf's ambitions are lofty...to hold five of the world's cities "hostage" until his demands are met. While the FBI, the CIA, Interpol, and Scotland Yard contemplate how to deal with this terrorist, famous landmarks around the world are blown up, killing thousands. Did I say it was a fun read? Well, you know what I mean. It does strike me as somewhat irresponsible, when an author like Patterson gives terrorists ideas about what to do in their spare time, and how exactly, to go about doing it! Do we really need our novelists giving helpful hints to Al Qaeda? That's what we have the newspapers, TV, and the Internet for, right?
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE BROKER by John Grisham
What kind of book do you get when John Grisham takes his plot and characters out of the courtroom? The best book that he's written since his first two, A Time to Kill, and The Firm.
In this book, the main character Joel Backman, is a billionaire Enron-style financial broker and lobbyist, who stumbles onto a "Star Wars"-like satellite system...one that belongs to someone other than the United States. His involvement in trying to find out which country has put this mysterious system in place lands him in a federal prison for six years. When he's pardoned six years later, by an inept president who's leaving office, he's put out onto the streets where he's hunted by those foreign powers who are still trying to find out what he knows about that satellite system. One of these hunters is the CIA. Most of the action takes place in the dark, picturesque medieval Italian city of Bologna. This in itself, is a major departure for author Grisham, whose usual venue is a courthouse in the Deep South. It's a welcome change, and one that should keep this book on the best seller lists for months to come.
(4 -Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- THE SUBTLE KNIFE by Philip Pullman (Book 2 in the "His Dark Materials" Trilogy)
Don't even think of reading this book, if you haven't already read the first book ( The Golden Compass in Pullman's trilogy.) Even having read the first book, it's quite confusing at times, because the author doesn't always explain references to persons and places in Book 1, and you're never quite sure which world you're in in Book 2. But if you have read the first book, then you're in for a real treat, because the story of our young heroine Lyra ("Silvertongue") Belacqua, continues in a fantastic adventure, that rivals those of other classic series in this genre. Lyra and her young companion Will Parry, travel to and through two worlds that parallel our own. The first city that they travel to on one of these worlds, is Cittagazze, which resembles a Meditteranean town by the sea, only it's populated with children, devilish Specters, and zombie-like adults. The second world, Lyra's actual world, is a world like our own...but different. The third world is our own, which seems quite foreign, after one has visited the others. Lyra and Will are on a mission to rescue Will's father, to see where The Subtle Knife takes them, to learn its true function, and to learn the meaning of "Dust." On their journey, they're pursued by Specters, murderous children, and Lyra's evil mother and her allies. They're helped by Witches, Angels, and a golden device that always tells the truth. Pullman (like his fellow countrywoman, J.K. Rowling,), although writing for young adults, never talks down to them. In fact, some of the religious concepts and those of quantum physics, are difficult even for bright adults to grasp. But the journey is exciting, the characters are unforgettable, the multiple plots are highly imaginative, and I can't wait for the conclusion in Book 3, although I hope that it's less confusing to the reader than this one was.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- STATE OF FEAR by Michael Crichton
They say that timing is everything, and if that's the case, then Michael Crichton's timing is impeccable. His latest novel, a thought-provoking techno-thriller, deals with whether or not global warming is really a threat, or merely media hype. With recent events like the tragic tsunami in the South Pacific, and the signing of the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming and the Environment by over 100 nations, his timing couldn't be better. In his book, the forces favoring the notion of global warming, are pitted against those who claim that scientific evidence favors the view that it isn't happening (Crichton's viewpoint,) and either side will stop at nothing to make sure that they win the "war." The novel is filled with charts, graphs, and footnotes to scientific references, making the facts of both sides appear to be accurate. If nothing else, it's worth reading just to read Crichton's theory of the "State of Fear:" how Western nations (with the help of their politicians, universities, lawyers and the media,) keep their citizens in a perpetual state of fear. This is fascinating, and it occurs 100 pages from the END of the book. Just in case I'm making this sound dull, let me assure you that it's anything but. One side will resort to anything to keep the public fooled, and anything, means wild chases over glaciers in Greenland; the hero and heroine (both young lawyers who are truly the most accident-prone heroes in recent novels!) being swept away in a flash flood, chased by a storm with planned, directed lightning strikes, bitten by a poisonous Australian octopus, and captured by modern-day cannibals; etc. In other words, enough action to make for a blockbuster movie. Start casting!
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- CONVICTION by Richard North Patterson
If you know anything about my politics, and my obsession with fairness, you probably can guess that I'm not too happy reading a book about a liberal California lawyer, who's trying to prove the innocence of a moronic coked-up gorilla who's been sitting on death row for 15 years, awaiting his imminent execution, for having been convicted of committing an unspeakable crime. The crime? He was found guilty of causing the death of a 9-year-old Asian girl who choked on his semen while she was forced to perform oral sex on him. I know that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but he WAS found to be guilty by a jury of his peers. During her visits to death row to interview her new client so as to try to exonerate him on a final appeal, she found this man to be sweet, likable, and "she loved his smile." She even brought him presents. You'll excuse me if I find this character's behavior to be disgusting. This is a cautionary tale about lawyers who become obsessed with their clients. People on death row shouldn't be coddled like kids in a day-care center, not even in a piece of fiction! As with all of Patterson's books, this one is written expertly, with fine attention to plot and characterization. Up to a point that is. Half way through the book, it deteriorates into a legal textbook. This second half of the book is overburdened with so much boring legalese jargon, that it makes a John Grisham novel read like a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm! That, in addition to the fact that my conservative bias couldn't get me through the nauseating bleeding-heart liberal attitudes of the protagonist, especially when she puts the feelings of the alleged murderer before those of her daughter and family. It made her repulsive to me. Sorry.
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BOOK REVIEW- THE AMBER SPYGLASS by Philip Pullman
All of the many imaginative story lines come together in the conclusion of Philip Pullman's trilogy, "His Dark Materials." Although the first two books in the trilogy were creative, exciting, thought-provoking and quite beautiful, this final book is nothing short of magnificent. In fact, it's a masterpiece of the fantasy/adventure genre. None of these books can be read alone; they must be read in sequence. All of the characteristics of a well-told story...plot, setting, character development, setting and style...are woven skillfully into one of the richest tapestries that I've ever experienced in a novel of this genre...and I've read them all. At its simplest level, the book is a coming-of-age story of two exceptional children, Lyra and Will. At its more complex level, it's a creative re-telling of the Garden of Eden story, which culminates in a battle of the forces of good and evil. How this battle turns out, will shock even the most sophisticated reader. Along the way, the reader is introduced to wonderful mythical (and mystical) creatures; monumental urban and pastoral settings; spectacular battles on land and in the air; violent deaths and glorious re-births; scenes of epic proportions that cry out for computer-generated-imagery; and a tricky reversal of the usually-accepted roles of God, the Church, the clergy, angels, witches, Specters, harpies, and other creatures that I've never ever encountered...even in my own very vivid imagination. I loved this trilogy, and especially this last book...the best, by far, of the three.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- HONEYMOON by James Patterson & Howard Roughan
If you're a fast reader (I'm not,) you'll finish this one in a long evening, because it's exciting, it's a page-turner, the chapters are short and the print is large and triple-spaced, but most important of all, it's a terrific story. Not great literature, mind you, but a gripping fast-paced story. Nora Sinclair is a beautiful "interior decorator to the rich," who would appear to have everything, including an ideal boyfriend, and an ideal husband! She's also a widow, having disposed of her first wealthy husband. You see, Nora is what's known as a "black widow," a woman who marries rich men and then kills them. Up to now, she's been getting away with it. (Hey, I didn't say it was Dostoevsky!) Enter Craig Reynolds, insurance agent, and John O'Hara, FBI agent, who in addition to suspecting foul play, fall wildly in lust with Nora. Did I mention that Reynolds and O'Hara are the same man? The plot is shot full of holes, but you'll be hooked from the very first page, anyway. Now, if I were casting the movie, I'd go with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and possibly Colin Farrell. Not bad, huh? Oh, and don't give away the ending.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- DETOUR by James Siegel
The author of the successful book Derailed, has come up with another page-turning thriller. As with his other book, this one starts with a relatively innocent premise...an infertile couple is going to Colombia to adopt a baby girl. One would have thought that the first clue that things would go wrong, was the fact that they were going to COLOMBIA! If you do read this book, see if you have a sense of deja vu, when things start to go wrong with the adoption in Colombia. I could swear that I read the exact same scenes (or saw them in a movie,) somewhere else. I knew EXACTLY what was going to happen, down to the smallest detail. Anyway, the couple's lives go into a downward spiral involving betrayals, kidnappings, drug-smuggling, suicide, and murder. The author's first book, Derailed, has been made into a movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen. I'm sure that the same thing will happen to this one (with different stars, of course.) I've read two "beach books" in a row now. What will I read this summer???
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- FODOR'S NAPLES & THE AMALFI COAST (First Edition)
The only thing wrong with this otherwise excellent guidebook, is that it's five years old. So, if you're looking for up-to-date information (like current hotel and restaurant prices, etc.) on this area of Italy, I would say get a later edition of the same book. I say that, because it does a wonderful job of describing the various cities and towns of Campania in great detail. Most of these places are centuries old anyway, so not much has changed! For those of you who are coming to Amalfi in July, you'll find the book very useful in giving information on walking tours of the towns that we're planning to see...Pompeii, Herculaneum, Positano, Sorrento, Ravello, Capri, and Amalfi itself.
Our hotel, the Luna Convento is described as the "legendary 13th Century convent founded by St. Francis of Assisi, that was transformed into the earliest hotel on the Amalfi Coast in the 19th Century. Along with guests like Wagner, Mussolini, Sophia Loren, and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, it was here that Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House." What I did find disconcerting about the book is that everything was quoted in Lire rather than Euros, so that I had to convert the currency when trying to establish prices. Other than that, I did learn a great deal from this book. So, I recommend it for its background information, not for its timeliness.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- SATURDAY by Ian McEwan
McEwan's last book Atonement, was not only beautifully written, but was also a great read...a truly wonderful story written by, what I thought was, a masterful story-teller. The present book is also beautifully written, but it's a terrible read...so boring, that I almost skimmed parts of it. In the first 83 pages, there are only 80 sentences of dialogue. I know; I counted them! Not that dialogue, in and of itself, makes for a great read. But, it helps! This one reads like a term paper in an advanced English writing class, where everyone is trying to impress the professor with words, syntax, and use of metaphors. I wanted to take out a red pencil, and write all over it, "did you forget to write a story?" In the slim story, an English neurosurgeon has his peaceful day interrupted by an auto accident, which ends in a violent confrontation. It sounds interesting, doesn't it? It isn't! It's a depressing, colossal bore.
(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW- FLYING WITHOUT FEAR by Captain Keith Godfrey 
For someone like me who's flown to more than 50 countries, it's ironic that I've developed a fear of flying in the last two decades. I do it anyway, but I'm a white-knuckle flyer. In the hopes of conquering this fear, I read this manual by a former 28-year veteran pilot at British Airways. In it, he tries to answer some of the most basic questions pertaining to flying and the fear of flying. Although he does do a lot of explaining about how a plane flies and why it's highly unlikely that you'll ever be in a plane crash, the only thing that I took away from the book that I found useful to my awkward situation, is that "even in the most severe turbulence, the plane is never in danger." If I hear a drinks-cart rattling down the aisle, I assume that we're going down! This from someone who was in a plane that was struck by lightning over the former Soviet Union; weathered a ferocious hail storm over Uruguay; and saw an engine catch fire over the Atlantic. I guess not everything mellows with age!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- 1000 PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE by Patricia Schultz
This is one of those fun books that every traveler should read. The author, who has not herself visited most of these places, has nevertheless interviewed/surveyed hundreds of travelers, tourism boards, travel agents, and PR agencies to compile this list of must-see places. Her sole criterion for inclusion is that "each place impress upon the visitor some sense of the earth's magic, integrity, wonder, and legacy." It includes cities, hotels, restaurants, and even events (e.g., Times Square on New Year's Eve, etc.) I must say that I agree with most of the places included in the book, but I think that I would have substituted others that were left out, for some of the more obscure ones (e.g., Baliem Valley in Indonesia???) What surprised me the most was the number of places that I've visited; it was surprisingly low for someone who's traveled to more than 50 countries, some of them several times, and visited just about every important site in each of these countries. The number for me was 300 (out of 1000!) Low, don't you think? This is all just sour grapes on my part, because I'm angry that I didn't write this book!!!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: OFF THE RECORD by Briyah Paley
This is a useful little handbook about Northeastern University, written by a student in the Journalism department there, with a little help from her friends. It's students, supposedly telling it like it is. The students quotes are often inarticulate and grammatically incorrect. Much of it is accurate, some of it is not. Topics covered include: Academics, Diversity, Safety and Security, Guys and Girls, Campus Dining, Nightlife, Athletics, Campus Housing, Famous Alumni, etc. You get the picture. A good book if you're thinking of going there, are going there now, or have already gone there. Or, in my case, have spent your entire life there....and are STILL there!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- 4TH OF JULY by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
If you've read and enjoyed the first three books in Patterson's "Women's Murder Club" series, then you should read this sequel to the others. It's the same formula, with a different kind of story. The main character in this one is Detective Lindsay Boxer. The action begins with a near-fatal car chase, in which two murderers are cornered by detective Boxer, and in self-defense, she kills one, and maims the other for life. Unfortunately, the murderers also happen to be children! This leads to an exciting trial, and then what appears to be exile from her former life as a law-enforcer, for Boxer. In the small town of Half Moon Bay, where she escapes to, for some peace and work, she gets caught up in a series of murders, which seem to be the work of a very sick serial killer, or killers. In this small picturesque, peaceful town, the stuff of nightmares happens, and no one is what he or she appears to be. If you're into this kind of thing, you probably won't be able to put the book down until you come to the surprising conclusion. It's a fast read, and although it's not great literature, it's very entertaining nevertheless.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- ZORRO by Isabel Allende (translated from the Spanish by Margaret Peden) 
Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard of the legend of Zorro, the masked avenger of the oppressed Mexicans and Native American Indians of 19th-Century California? If you haven't read about the story of Diego de la Vega (aka Zorro,) you've certainly seen at least one of the many films, in which he was portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks (in silent films,) and others, including Antonio Banderas, most recently. Now, one of my favorite authors, Isabel Allende, has written, as only she can, one of the most complex and exciting histories of this swashbuckling adventurer. As always, her writing is filled with color, style, and incredible details. Even I, who enjoy reading slowly, had difficulty putting this book down. Her imaginative tale creates the historic legend with dramatic intensity, beginning with Diego's birth in southern California, late in the 18th-Century. His father was a Spanish aristocrat (a caballero,) and his mother an amazon-like Shoshone warrior; what a heritage. The first half of the book deals with Diego's exciting childhood and adolescence, in which the reader sees the unusual upbringing that eventually could produce the man who would become Zorro. It was almost inevitable. Allende weaves together Spanish history, California history, mythic folk tales, stormy sea voyages, wild romance, duels at dawn, pirate adventures with colorful pirate Jean Lafitte, Native American lore, secret societies, and much, much more. It's an epic story, that's operatic in scope, and a literary tour de force for Allende. I loved every page of this book!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- THE CLOSERS by Michael Connelly
If you're an avid fan of Connelly's "Harry Bosch" series, then you'll enjoy this book. I'm not, and therefore I found it to be a generic and boring detective "thriller."
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by Dave Eggers
This is a story of an asshole! In a fictionalized autobiography, that's neither "heartbreaking" nor "staggering," the twenty-something author retells his tale of woe. After having lost both parents in a very short period of time, he's left to raise his younger brother. As a role model and mentor for this young boy, he's a disaster. The little boy is much more mature than his older brother is. What the author is, is paranoid, disorganized, forgetful, perpetually late, horny as a frat boy, and a brilliant writer. So, if you're looking to read a story about the adventures of an asshole and his younger brother, this is it. At least it's well written. 
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW- "HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE" by J.K. Rowling
If you've read all of the other books in this incredible series, then nothing can keep you from reading this new book. When you do, you'll be rewarded with another exciting chapter in the life of the students and faculty of Hogwarts, the school for wizards. For those of you who have chosen not to read this series for fear that you might be reading books for children, get that ridiculous notion out of your head. This is as much children's literature as is Oliver Twist or Romeo and Juliet. Just because the main characters are young, doesn't make a book a book for children! In this, the latest book in the series, the emphasis is less on action (although the last 100 pages are action-filled,) and more on character development. We learn more about, not only Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco, but also about Lord Voldemort, when he was young Tom Riddle. The villains get more villainous, and the heroes and heroines more heroic, although always within the broader context of being flesh-and blood adolescents. These are real kids...who just happen to be able to fly on brooms, and disappear at will! To the impatience of many of my friends who read the book in one night, I chose to read the book very slowly, savoring every page. As I explained to them, when one sits down to a 5-course magnificent meal in a fine restaurant, one doesn't gobble it up in five minutes! Oh well, now it's time to put away my Hogwarts sweatshirt for another year. I do so reluctantly.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE CORPS :Book 1 SEMPER FI by W.E.B. Griffin
W.E.B. Griffin is the poet laureate of the American Military. He knows his stuff when it comes to writing about "The Military" in all of its various aspects. Therefore, a warning. If you're not thoroughly interested in the details of military life, dress, ordnance, etc., then you'd probably be wiser to stay away from Griffin. The present book deals with the Marine Corps in the year 1941. It starts in China and ends in Pearl Harbor. I found it interesting, historically, because it gave a clear picture of the events leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (The actual bombing is glossed over in the last 20 pages of the book!) However, what I didn't enjoy, was the fact that the military details overwhelmed the very thin story. Griffin spends more time, and pages, describing a rifle, than he does describing a character. Ultimately, this proves boring. At least it did to me. Tom Clancy used to obsess over details concerning the military as well, but in his novels, the details never got in the way of the story. So, if you're a military buff, and enjoy this kind of thing, go for it. However, let me warn you that "Semper Fi" is the first of NINE books in THE CORPS series!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: LIFEGUARD by James Patterson & Andrew Gross
Although not top-draw Patterson, this book is a good enough read to have kept me going until its predictable conclusion. Ned Kelly, a lifeguard-to-the-rich in Palm Beach, is drawn into a burglary, by a group of his friends, with the promise of a million dollars as his share. As in all of these books, things go wrong, people are killed, and the former lifeguard finds himself being pursued by the F.B.I., as well as by master criminals, all of whom want him dead. One of these F.B.I. agents becomes his ally, and his girl-friend, further complicating things! 
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: ELDEST by Christopher Paolini
...the Saga of Eragon continues. There's really no need to write a lengthy review of this, the second book in "The Inheritance Trilogy," but I probably will! If you read Eragon, the first book in the trilogy that was written by the young genius Christopher Paolini (he started to write the first book when he was 15 years old!) you'll most certainly want to read this book as well. As in the first book, the rewards are great. It's an instant classic, worthy of being put on the shelf alongside the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Alexander, and Rowling. In this book, our hero Eragon, and his cousin Rowan, set out on parallel journeys, on different sides of the land of Alagaesia. The journeys have been forced on them, but they meet all tasks bravely and excitingly. Paolini has written another page-turner, and I had to force myself to read slowly. Why rush through the excitement of meeting fire-breathing dragons, magical and wise elves, fierce but lovable dwarves, monstrous Urgals and even more horrible Ra'zac? The journeys of the two cousins come together in a fiery, spectacular battle, in a landscape resembling hell, that fills the last 50 pages of the book. The ending of the book is also filled with surprises. As in most great works of epic fantasy, the reader will gain insights, not only into the many characters, but also into him/herself as well. I loved every page of it, and I look forward to the next, and final book of the trilogy.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS by John Berendt
If you love Venice as much as I do (it's my second favorite city in the world,) then you'll surely enjoy reading this fascinating, interesting, and often thrilling "non-fiction" novel. It took John Berendt ten years to research and write it (his last big novel was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,) but it was worth the wait. Each time I go to Venice I seem to discover a new part of this tiny stage-set of a city: the glass-blowers on the island of Murano; the Cipriani Hotel on Giudecca, and the velvet-cushioned boat that takes you there; the majestic Danieli; the first ghetto in the world, where I stayed in a charming hotel, the Amadeus; the Lido, and its Casino and topless beaches; the cemetery on San Michele; the back-canals of Canareggio, etc. Berendt does the same thing with this masterfully-created book. He allows the reader to discover Venice bit by bit. In the book, he tells us the story of the investigation surrounding the burning of one of the world's greatest opera houses, La Fenice. Was it arson, or simply a freak accident? In any case, this magnificent opera house was burned to the ground, and the suspects were piling up. As the author of this forthcoming book, Berendt was allowed to "eavesdrop" on virtually every aspect of the investigation, taking him from his tiny apartment in Canareggio, to the police headquarters, to the great palazzi, lining The Grand Canal. We meet pigeon trappers, the Plant Man, con artists, the Rat Man of Treviso, as well as Counts, Countesses, and Henry James and Ezra Pound! It reads like the script of a Fellini movie. In fact, it would make an incredible Merchant-Ivory film! By the way, La Fenice has been completely rebuilt, even better than before. The book bogs down somewhat near the end, but it's still a fascinating read.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE MARCH by E.L. Doctorow
If you're a real Civil War buff, you might enjoy Doctorow's latest book. I found it to be intermittently interesting and boring...mostly boring. In it, the author has decided to document Union general William Tecumseh Sherman's march to the sea, after burning the city of Atlanta. The Union army, like a huge flood tide, carries with it the remains of The Old South, now "gone with the wind." There are so many characters in the book, but none of them are particularly memorable. Nor is there any one scene that stands out in my mind. In addition, to the detriment of the book and the person reading it, Doctorow has chosen to adopt a writing style (no quotes for dialogue, etc.) that makes the reading of it even more confusing. As I was reading the book, I kept bringing to mind so many unforgetable scenes from the movie "Gone With The Wind," proving that one picture is sometimes worth more than a thousand words.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE CAMEL CLUB by David Baldacci
David Baldacci (one of my favorite authors) has written his latest thriller about the escalating fears and dangers in this present Age of Terrorism, and what might happen if the Non-Islamic world decided to play by the rules of the Islamic Jihadists. There are so many heroes and villains in this fast-paced novel, that it's often hard to keep track of who's who. The four main protagonists are a ragtag group of what one might call "bag-people"; each of whom has a fascinating history, and who, collectively, are out to find out who is telling the "truth" in America, and who is out to destroy it. The book starts with a mysterious murder, and proceeds through various horrific events, including Arab suicide bombers, conspiracies at the highest levels, and eventually to a roller-coaster of a cat and mouse game, involving the attempted assassination of the President of the United States. Oh, did I mention there's also an eleventh-hour plan to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Damascus, Syria, the oldest continuously occupied city in the world? How ironic...and how frightening.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: MARY, MARY by James Patterson
The latest Alex Cross ( FBI agent/psychologist) thriller about yet another serial killer. (Does America breed this damn species?) If you've read, and enjoyed, the other books in this series (e.g., Along Came A Spider, Kiss The Girls, etc.) you'll certainly enjoy this one as well; it follows the established formula perfectly!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: ORDINARY HEROES by Scott Turow
In Scott Turow's latest novel, he's created some fascinating characters, and he should have been able to write an interesting book, in which to tell the story of these characters. He didn't! Instead, he's written a boring story about a man's quest to find out the true story of what happened to his father during the final years of World War II. Was he a hero or a criminal? Who cares. The book is a bore. I couldn't wait to put it down!
(1-Star) 

BOOK REVIEW: MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Although this novella is not up there with my favorite books by Marquez (e.g., One Hundred Years Of Solitude, and Love in the Time of Cholera,) it's hard to ignore any writings by one of the world's finest authors, who hasn't written a book in 10 years, and who received the Nobel Prize for Literature! The hero of the novel is a 90-year-old lifelong bachelor, who on his 90th birthday, decides to give himself the gift of a night with a 14-year-old virgin prostitute. As with all of Marquez's novels, it's not about the story, but rather, about the beautiful words that he uses to tell his story.
(4-Stars) Back to Top


BOOK REVIEW: BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN by Annie Proulx
I can't remember the last time that I said this, if I ever did, but I'm saying it now. Skip the book and see the movie instead! Even though the book was written by Annie Proulx (The Shipping News,) screenwriter Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) took the short story and opened it up into a full-blown masterpiece of screen writing. His lonely cowboys and their wives, living in dying Western towns, are fully realized on screen, due in large part to the brilliant portrayals of Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, and Anne Hathaway. I must confess that I didn't see these people (especially the cowboys,) in the men created by Annie Proulx in her 55-page short story. Even though her writing is filled with vivid visual imagery, nothing compares to the majestic beauty of the Canadian Rockies as seen on screen, and the characters on the page, are much too ordinary and weak to carry the full powerful burden of such an overwhelming and devastating story. As I said before...skip the book and see the movie instead!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: FREAKONOMICS by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Who would have thought that a brilliant young economist could have written a non-fiction text, that is not only a page-turner, but also fun to read? Levitt, the economist, collaborated with Dubner, the New York Times journalist, and together they researched some unusual combinations, occurrences, facts, and coincidences, and came up with surprising answers to some surprising questions. For instance: do teachers cheat so that their students will do better on standardized tests? Do Sumo wrestlers cheat, and how? Do real estate agents get more money when selling their own homes, than when selling yours? Why do many black parents saddle their children with absurd names (Shaquanda, Marquis, Taleequa, etc.) and how do these names affect these children when they're trying to get a job? Will taking your child to museums make that child a better student? Do adopted children do poorly in school? What are the multitude of differences between blacks and whites, and will the gap ever disappear? These, and many more fascinating questions and subjects are answered, and dealt with, and more importantly, are backed up with extensive research from many reputable sources. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found myself quoting from it to friends, as I was reading it. You will too.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova
I really loved this book! Part of the reason that I so thoroughly enjoyed it, is because it has many of the same qualities of Dan Brown's masterpieces, Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. It's a book about three couples, from three different generations of the same family, all historians of sorts, who are in search of an illusive and deadly "legendary" figure.....Count Vlad Tepes the Impaler, who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula! It's filled with religion and murder, ancient history and the great architecture of some European cities, three love stories and stories of hatred and death, and hidden codes found in the pages of ancient texts. The story bounces back and forth from events in the 1930's, and the 1950's, to those in the 1970's and the present, and is advanced in letters from the 1960's and ancient texts from the 1400's. It's told by a mother who was abandoned by her lover, her mysterious daughter and her new lover, and their young daughter, who has no idea who her mother is, but is coming to discover her, in once-hidden letters. Parts of the story are told by monks, who lived in the 1400's. It sounds confusing, but it isn't, because it's so well written by first-time author Elizabeth Kostova. It's an unforgetable page-turner, in which elements of the supernatural become as real as events in the real world. What made it even more enjoyable for me, is that the story takes place in cities that I once visited, from Oxford, England, to Budapest, Hungary, to Istanbul, Turkey, and of course Bucharest and Transylvania, in Romania. It will linger in my mind for a long time.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE TIPPING POINT by Malcolm Gladwell
Not nearly as fascinating and thought-provoking as is the similar book Freakonomics, this book sets out to describe trends and fads (which the author calls "social epidemics" )...who starts them, and how and why they spread. For anyone familiar with basic textbooks in psychology, education, communication, and economics, there's nothing new in this book, that hasn't already been presented and analyzed in more comprehensive textbooks. Gladwell has simply compiled some of the more interesting facts from other sources and presented them in a somewhat linked, and simplistic, fashion to support his theses. In short, he's written what amounts to a good term paper. I stopped reading those 6 years ago!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE OTHER SIDE OF ME: A MEMOIR by Sidney Sheldon
Back in the day, I read most of Sidney Sheldon's novels, because they were page-turners, best-sellers, and a fast read. Who knew that, before he started writing novels, he was a famous playwright; that he wrote screenplays for some of Hollywood's biggest, and best, films (many of which he also produced and directed;) that he wrote the scripts for some very successful TV series; that some of his closest friends were also Hollywood's biggest stars; that he won an Oscar AND a Tony award; and that he was manic-depressive and suicidal? It's no wonder that this memoir reads less like an autobiography, and more like one of his fast-paced novels. It's filled with interesting anecdotes about his friends Marilyn Monroe, Richard Burton, Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, etc. But the most interesting person in this story is Sidney himself, who rides his roller-coaster life, from near-suicide in Depression-era Chicago in the midst of a highly dysfunctional family, to his ups and downs on Broadway and in Hollywood, to enjoying life as a grandfather at the age of 90. It's a fascinating, fast ride, and a must for theater and movie buffs.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: CHRIST THE LORD: OUT OF EGYPT by Anne Rice
Anne Rice, author of all of those vampire books, has chosen to write about an intriguing subject...the young Jesus Christ of Nazareth; the very young Jesus Christ. In fact, the entire book deals with one year in the life of 7 year old Jesus....as told from his point of view. Why Rice has chosen to focus on this relatively uneventful year in the life of a very fascinating individual is unclear, but the end result is a fairly dull book. I remember now, why I only read the first of the vampire books, and never went on to the others. I don't like the way Anne Rice writes; she writes in a very boring way. In the present book, she's taken one of the most famous families in "history," and has reduced them to ordinary blue-collar suburbanites. Jesus is just becoming aware of his powers, which his parents refuse to discuss. Mary is motherly, but stoic. Joseph is strong, and a leader of his extended family, all of whom live under one many-bedroomed roof in a large house/ workshop in Nazareth. So what we have is "Leave it to Beaver" in Nazareth! 
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE 5TH HORSEMAN by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

This is the fifth book in the "Women's Murder Club" series, and it follows the same pattern as the previous four books. An unofficial "team" of four professional women (a police lieutenant, a medical examiner, a reporter, and a lawyer,) pool their skills and resources to capture a serial killer. This killer is terrorizing a municipal hospital in San Francisco, killing recuperating patients, who are about to be released with a clean bill of health. Instead, they're found dead with caduceus buttons on their eyes. If you enjoyed the first four books, you'll enjoy this one as well, unless like me, you're getting tired of the formula. Don't take this book into the hospital with you when you go in for minor surgery!

(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE REBELS OF IRELAND by Edward Rutherford
When James Michener died, Edward Rutherford became the new reigning master of grand historical fiction. In this sequel to his Princes of Ireland, Rutherford completes his two-book, nearly 2000-word masterpiece, "The Dublin Saga." Add these two books to Leon Uris' Trinity, and you'll have everything that you need to know about Ireland in just three magnificent books! (You might want to throw in a book of poetry by Yeats, and a play or two by Shaw or Wilde. But, I digress!)  The Princes of Ireland, the first volume of Rutherford's epic of Irish history, begins in prehistoric times, and ends with the disastrous Irish revolt of 1534.The present book begins where the other book left off, and ends in the 1920s, with yet another revolt. Both books bring history to life through the tales of a dozen families, who just happen to be everywhere that history is being made in this troubled country. They're Protestant and Catholic, rich and poor, villainous and heroic. But most of all, they're exciting characters to read about, because Rutherford is a master story-teller. Yes, an 863 page book CAN be a page turner! 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: CELL by Stephen King

After reading most of Stephen King's earlier better novels, I stopped reading him ages ago when all of his books started to sound the same. The blood and gore became predictable and stupid. But, just recently, I heard that King will not own a cell phone because of the unconscionably rude behavior that they've caused in even the best of people. So since we share that belief (I refuse to own a cell phone,) I decided to read his latest book, Cell, in which cell phones are used as the weapons of mass destruction to destroy all those who use them. Well, it starts off great, with the cell phone users in Boston turning into savage beasts, preying on all those around them. (Isn't that what they do now???) What's set off this mysterious behavior, is a "pulse" heard by all "phoners" around the world. The world is now divided into "phoners" who stalk by night, and sleep by day (or is it the other way around,) and "normies," who haven't been affected, because they weren't using cell phones.  In any case, after the initial concept is worn out, the rest of the book becomes predictable King...bloody, gory, disgusting, and stupid!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: NATIVE TONGUE by Carl Hiaasen

In years past, I read all of the books by authors Woody Allen and Kurt Vonnegut, because they made me laugh out loud while reading them. I thought that Carl Hiaasen was the kind of author who would do the same for me. Well, he isn't. This is not the hilarious laugh-out-loud book that I expected it to be, but it is a funny parody of theme parks and the mentality of those people who run them. Hiaasen always creates memorable characters and the characters in this book are no exception. Bud and Danny are two brainless, small-time crooks, who are hired by a grandmotherly type who heads an environmentalist group, for the express purpose of putting a stop to the bulldoze-everything-in-sight mentality of the sleazebag who owns the Amazing Kingdom theme park in Key Largo, Florida. Trying to keep scandal from erupting at the park, is a burned-out reporter, who acts as the park's PR man, until he uncovers a dirty scam that's going on behind the scenes. Actually, with the right cast and director, this would probably make a funnier movie than it is a book. As is, it's a fun book to read while you're waiting to read your next GREAT book. 
(2-Star)
 

BOOK REVIEW: THE SECRET SUPPER by Javier Sierra

Little did Dan Brown know that he would be creating a cottage industry when he wrote his modern masterpiece, The DaVinci Code. Here's another imitator to add to the ever-growing list. This book shares some of the same characteristics of the Dan Brown original: murder, mystery, religion, art, and coded messages hidden in great paintings. The year is 1497, and Leonardo Da Vinci is painting his "Last Supper" on the walls of the dining hall of a church in Milan. A mysterious religious group, the Cathars, who were supposed to have been wiped out, have surfaced, and are bent on destroying, not only the brothers in this church, but also the Catholic Church itself. Are they taking their instructions from the painting itself, and has Leonardo, who may or may not be a Cathar himself, filled his painting with anti-Catholic symbols and instructions to these "terrorists?" Or is it all a sinister plot concocted by a mysterious figure, known as The Soothsayer? The book is a well-written fun read for those who like art, history, and deciphering coded messages. However, it's limited in scope, in that it focuses all of its attention on the one painting, and the simple church in which it's being painted. Also, the coded messages are either too simple and easy to figure out, or so complicated that they're laughable. It's no DaVinci Code, but it's a good page-turner, if you like this sort of thing...and I do.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN by Sarah Dunant

I love big pieces of historical fiction in which the author gives you a very real sense of what it must have been like living in one of the great cities of the world, during the time of its most glorious period. Such a book is In the Company of the Courtesan. This epic novel, is the story of a fictitious courtesan, Fiammetta Bianchini (she's too classy to call her a prostitute,) and her business manager (pimp, if you will,) the dwarf, Bucino, in Renaissance Venice. These two characters are so colorfully drawn by the author, that it's impossible to read their story without casting them in your mind, for an epic film, based on the book. Fiammetta's "clients" are the cream of Venetian society, from wealthy businessmen,  to artists like Titian (Tiziano,) and even the occasional Cardinal. The book is filled with love, hate, sin, religion, murder and witchcraft. All of this against the background of the glorious palaces and watery canals of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It made be want to jump on a plane, and head over to my second favorite city in the world!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: BEACH ROAD by James Patterson and Peter De Jonge

What makes this book different from so many of the dozens of other books that Patterson has written (he IS prolific, if nothing else,) is that it has some unexpected twists and turns...surprises, that I for one, didn't expect. The scene is the glamorous beach resort of East Hampton...the richest resort town in America. It's not all billionaires and mega-celebrities, as we're lead to believe by the media. When four people are murdered, after a pick-up basketball game between some white kids and black kids gets ugly, a hunt for the killers turns up some unsavory characters. The trial allows our main character, a going-nowhere young lawyer, to show what he's really capable of doing. His ex-girlfriend, now a Manhattan super-lawyer, comes back to help him fight this case. Did I mention that the suspect is a black star athlete, destined for the NBA? Go ahead and read it. I'll bet that you won't guess where it takes you.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards

The runaway hit of the summer book season, is this book by first time author Kim Edwards. Not even the publishers knew that it would be such a critically-acclaimed book, and that it would be swooped up by the public in every bookstore. In fact, they published it in paperback, not hardcover!
The story is the story of a young baby girl, one of two twins, who is born with Downs Syndrome, and how this fact, affected the lives of two families so profoundly, that it’s telling,  approaches the level of Greek tragedy. Everything about the book is absolutely perfect: its unusual, highly readable style of writing; the original, fascinating plot; the incredible character development; the settings, and the beautiful theme. All of it comes together miraculously, in one of the best books that I’ve read in a long time.  Don’t be put off by the element of Downs Syndrome in the story; it’s not at all depressing. Well, actually it is, but in such an uplifting, good way. I loved this book, and I’m recommending it to all of you.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW- BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE by Ben Mezrich
Mezrich has written a piece of non-fiction (that reads like fiction, ) about a group of brilliant students from M.I.T., who became rich by beating the casinos of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and the Mississippi riverboats, using their skills of card-counting at blackjack. It was a fun book to read in Vegas, but it's a cautionary tale. There may have been a time when you could "beat the house" at blackjack, but that time is over. There are too many safeguards in place now. So when you go to Vegas, spend your money on the restaurants and on the shows as we did.
(3-Stars) Back to Top



 

You don't have to be black to appreciate the humor of playwright, composer, actor, director, producer, and now author, Tyler Perry. Tyler Perry speaks through his alter ego, Mabel "Madea" Simmons, a 400-pound, foul-mouthed, pistol-packing, lovable grandmother, who offers advice on just about every subject, from flirting and marriage, raising kids, the healthy choice of a deep-fried diet, the many uses of Vaseline, her commentary on the Bible, etc. Her words of wisdom are very funny, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. Here's Madea on leading a protest march back in the day, "We got a whole bunch. It was twenty-two women. But all of us were as fat as hell, so we marched a good fifteen feet and everybody went to Burger King." A clever, funny, wise and enjoyable read.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

  
 

BOOK REVIEW: TERRORIST by John Updike

On a welcome break from writing about "suburban angst in Connecticut," author Updike takes a dramatic turn, and in the process, has created the most chilling, depressing, and insightful book that I've read in years. Ahmad is a young high school student in New Jersey, whose mother is an Irish Catholic, and whose father was a Muslim. He has been studying with a local imam, and has become a single-minded, unforgiving, relentlessly-hateful-of-all- things-non-Muslim, priggish, blind, candidate for martyrdom. The scary thing about this book is that Updike takes us into the mind of this young man, shows us everything that's wrong with American society today from his point of view, and you find yourself agreeing with much of what he sees and hates (e.g., valueless people creating monster children; materialism and ignorance running rampant; moronic teenagers on cell phones and in tasteless clothing, having sex before they can spell the acts that they're performing, etc.) Don't get me wrong. I love America, and wouldn't live anywhere else. But we're all f_____d up, and Updike shows us how and why.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: DEAN & ME by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan

With the help of writer James Kaplan, show-business legend Jerry Lewis gets to tell his version of the rise, phenomenal success, and the fall, of one of the greatest acts in the history of show-business, "Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis." It's an always-interesting read, as Lewis gets to drop famous names, tell inside stories, and in general, describe a relationship that reads like a marriage, albeit a stormy one. I would like to have read Dean Martin's version of this same relationship!
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

 
BOOK REVIEW: GOD BLESS YOU DR. KEVORKIAN by Kurt Vonnegut
Back in the day, Vonnegut was one of my favorite writers...the only one who could make me laugh out loud while reading one of his classic books. In fact, during my 30 years of Christmases spent in what-used-to-be glorious Acapulco (before the Spring Break animals discovered it,) I always took down either the latest Vonnegut, or the latest Ian Fleming, to read by the pool. But then Vonnegut lost it, and his books ceased to be laugh-out-loud funny. In this, one of his more recent "books," he's clever funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny. This book is not really a book at all, but a short (70 pages) series of "interviews" conducted for WNYC public radio in New York. Vonnegut claims to have had a near-death experience during heart by-pass surgery, and during these "excursions to heaven," he interviews the likes of Adolph Hitler, Martin Luther King's assassin, Sir Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare. Some of these interviews are funny, some are clever, but none are laugh-out-loud funny. So, my search continues for another book that will make me laugh out loud. Don't Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings did it. Any other ideas?
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: GODLESS by Ann Coulter
The media has done a fine job in shamelessly portraying Ann Coulter as a raving lunatic with outrageous opinions. In fact, even I believed it, not having seen anything to the contrary. After having read this book, I can say that Coulter is a brilliant writer, and one who knows how to present ideas objectively and fairly. The book has the validity of a textbook, being well-researched, well-documented, and filled with bibliographical references. Because it presents such an accurate picture of what's REALLY going on in America today (it's hard to argue with factual references,) I recommend it to every intelligent reader, whether or not you're a liberal or a conservative, a democrat or a republican, or a religious person or an atheist. Unfortunately, even the most brilliant liberals, such as one of my colleagues and closest friends, might respond to my suggestion to read this book with, "I'd rather die than even touch that conservative bitch's filthy rag!" As I pointed out to him, isn't that something like saying, I wouldn't even look at "The Last Supper," because I'm not a Catholic, and DaVinci was a homosexual! You may not agree with everything in the book, and I don't,  but it's a fascinating and enlightening read for someone with a brain in his/her head. 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: FODOR'S CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY by John Doerper

If you're planning a trip to the California Wine Country in the near future, as I am, then this is the guide book for you. As with all Fodor guidebooks, it's an in-depth book with everything that you need to know.  I haven't been back to the Napa Valley since I first visited it 35 years ago, when there were only a few vineyards operating, and a good meal consisted of a burger or fried chicken. Now, this has become one of the prime wine producing areas in the world, and its hotels and restaurants are world-class as well. So, whether you're planning on staying at a Courtyard Inn or Best Western, or at the luxurious Silverado, Meadowood, or Auberge du Soleil resorts, this guidebook will give you all of the information that you need, from the history of the region, to where the best spas are. In addition, there are beautiful photographs which help to recapture some of the spectacular beauty of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. When you start to read this guidebook, don't forget to make your reservations at Thomas Keller's impossible-to-book, "The French Laundry" restaurant. It takes reservations two months in advance!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER by Jed Rubenfeld

If you enjoy reading books like The AlienistRagtimeThe Historian and Devil in the White City, in which the authors use real-life historical figures, and weave them into a story-line of classic crime, along with exciting fictional characters, then you'll surely enjoy reading this book as much as I did. The year is 1909, and Sigmund Freud has landed in New York for his only visit to America, in order to deliver his now-famous series of lectures on psychoanalysis, at Clark University in Massachusetts. Along with him is an entourage including his protege and rival, Carl Jung, and his biographer Ernest Jones. No sooner have they arrived, when a young woman is found strangled, and hanging from a chandelier in her opulent apartment in the Ansonia (called the Balmoral in the book.) Soon after, another wealthy heiress is attacked. Everyone, from the then Mayor McClellan, to Harry K. Thaw (who shot architect Stanford White,) to Freud and Jung themselves, are brought into the case. The plot becomes more and more twisted, as first-time author Rubenfeld, brilliantly recreates the sights, sounds, and smells of New York at the time. I felt just as though I had been there. In one of the most convoluted endings that I've read in a long time, he brings all of the many pieces of the puzzle together, and finally, this exciting historical thriller makes sense. Stick with it, and try to solve the mystery if you can. It's a most enjoyable read.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE BOOK OF FATE by Brad Meltzer

This is one of those books that will make a better movie, than it did a book. It starts off with a spectacular attempted assassination of a sitting president, at a big Indianapolis 500-type race, and then twists and turns its way through 500 pages of confusing interlocking story lines and two-dimensional characters. The plot concerns political espionage and religious symbolism (this time it's the Masons who are in the spotlight.) There are villains called The Three (one bad guy from each of the following: the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service,) and a couple of good guys (one a personal assistant to the president, and a gossip columnist.) Then, there's the requisite escaped murderous lunatic, who has religious delusions. Everyone is trying to kill everyone else, but it just takes too damn long to get to that final showdown in a cemetery. As I said before, wait for the movie!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith

For those of us who are not African-Americans, the brilliant young writer, Zadie Smith, is an excellent tour-guide into the world of the African-American educated middle class in America...specifically, the world of college professors and their families, who live on and around the exclusive, exciting, exotic, exuberant, energetic, and ever-youthful world known as "Academia." The Belseys and the Kipps are two opposing families, who come from Florida and London respectively, to live in the college town of Wellington ("Wellesley?") Massachusetts. The Belseys are liberal, and the Kippses are conservative in their life-style and beliefs. Both families have college and high-school age children. The story throws all of these characters together in a thoroughly realistic, beautifully-written, page-turning plot, involving race, sex, politics, religion, art, and college life. The language is accurate and real, and the situations hit close to home for the intelligent reader. The two families are drawn together because of their opposing views of life. You'll find it hard to take sides; all of these people are interesting. If you want to experience what goes on behind those protective high walls of the academic ivory tower, read this book, and Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons. Both are completely accurate. Take it from me. I've spent my entire life there!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE COLLECTORS by David Baldacci

In this, his sequel to his best-seller The Camel Club, author Baldacci once again introduces us to his team of aging, just-one-step-away-from-homeless, crime fighters with dark, mysterious pasts. Wasn't one of them a government assassin for the CIA? Anyway, now we're introduced to two different story lines that eventually converge. In one, a team of master con artists pulls off a major con in Atlantic City. In the other, a series of assassinations of high-ranking government officials in Washington, D.C., is tied to the forgery of one of the rarest books in American history. Back and forth the reader goes, from a Borgata-like casino in Atlantic City to the Library of Congress, and the backstreets of the nation's capital. It's an exciting read, but at the end, the author shamelessly ends with a "please-read-my-next-book" cliff-hanger. That really turned me off. I was expecting closure, not "wait till you see what happens to these people in my next book!"
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE MESSENGER by Daniel Silva

The Messenger is the most recent espionage thriller in a series of books written by Daniel Silva, about the exploits of Israeli art restorer and spy, Gabriel Allon. I had never read any of the other books in the series, but the author is good enough to fill the "newcomer" in, on just about everything that's happened previously...much to the dismay of the "old-timer," who has read all of the previous books in the series. In this book, the bad guys are the Saudi Arabians, and the Islamic Fascist terrorist thugs who are financed by the money that the world pays the Saudis for their oil. In that respect, the author tells it like it is. Gabriel Allon, and his super crack team of Israelis and Americans, attempt to prevent a billionaire villain, and HIS team of Islamic thugs, from killing the pope and destroying St. Peter's, using as bait, a missing Van Gogh painting and the young art expert known as "the Messenger." The characters are surprisingly well-drawn for this genre, and a couple of them, notably Allon himself and the young woman known as "the messenger," are three-dimensional characters. The plot is the typical page-turner, filled with exciting twists and turns, some of which are not predictable. I enjoyed the book, but not enough to read the next book in the series. I already have a lot on my plate in this particular genre of spy fiction.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: INES OF MY SOUL by Isabel Allende
Well, Isabel Allende, one of my favorite authors, has finally done it. She's written a boring book! After three wonderful reads, The House of the Spirits, Daughter of Fortune and Zorro, she's written this book about Ines Suarez, a daring Spanish conquistadora who helped to build the nation of Chile (where Allende was raised.) Whereas the other books were exciting page-turners, this one plods along from "adventure" to "adventure," all written in a dull, textbook-like fashion. Yawn! Take a vacation, Senora Allende, before you write your next book.
(1-Star)
 

BOOK REVIEW: JUDGE AND JURY by James Patterson and Andrew Gross

Just as Santa Claus has his elves to make his toys, James Patterson has HIS "elves" to make his books. Who's writing which parts of his books now is anyone's guess! The latest page-turner created by James Patterson, Inc., is the story of a crafty mafia boss, who knows how to defeat the American judicial system, by using everything at his disposal to escape his captors. That "everything" includes international terrorists, who will kill and blow up anything and anyone in sight to keep the Don out of prison. It's a thrilling, suspenseful fast read (partly due to the triple-spaced short chapters that are part of the Patterson formula!) In spite of lots of twists and turns, the plot is thoroughly predictable. The true guessing game for the reader, is in trying to guess which parts of the book Patterson actually wrote (very few, I'm guessing,) and which part was written by his hard-working and talented "co-writer." With all of the money that he's made off of his books, one would think that he could have a better picture for his back covers, than the one that has him looking as though his favorite cat just died!
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

BOOK REVIEW: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

How could someone who looks as young and pretty as Marisha Pessl does, on the inner cover of the book, have written such an overwhelming piece of great literature? In fact, how could one person have written such an overpowering book? In the context of the story, the young heroine quotes and makes reference to just about every one of the "great books," and she also throws around thousands of facts about just about everything. I would have guessed that an army of researchers working full-time wrote the book. Anyway, whoever wrote it, it's a modern-day masterpiece...and it undoubtedly holds the record for the most metaphors used in one single book. The story revolves around a 16-year-old genius, and her eccentric college professor father. Blue Van Meer (the young girl) has been brought up in college towns all over the country, but for the duration of this story, they've settled in one college town, where Blue falls in with a bizarre group of high school chums, all of whom are under the influence of their teacher and mentor, a mysterious woman named Hannah Schneider. Things happen to them.......................................................................................
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK THAT I'VE READ THIS YEAR.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: CROSS by James Patterson

If you're a reader and fan of James Patterson's "Alex Cross" books, then this one is a must, as it's a prequel to all of the others, and it includes the shooting death of Dr. Cross's wife, Maria, back in 1993. If you're not a fan, then skip this book, unless you're looking for a fast-reading murder mystery about the hunt for a serial killer. It can stand on its own, even if you haven't read the other books in the series.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: WILD FIRE by Nelson De Mille

This is one of the books where I found myself siding with the "bad guys." In this topical novel, author De Mille has written another brilliant book, substantive in content, yet an exciting page-turner. He tells the story of a government program entitled "Wild Fire," that was supposedly put into effect under Ronald Reagan. This program is a retaliatory program, where, if any city in America is bombed by a nuclear weapon, a myriad of atomic weapons aimed at enemy cities would be fired off instantaneously. A group of important, wealthy industrialists and politicians who realize that the enemy of Western Civilization, is the Muslim World, have decided to force America's hand to fire off the "Wild Fire" nuclear weapons, that are now aimed at 120 Muslim cities and major religious shrines around the world. How to make this happen? The Custer Hill Club, who are these wealthy men, are determined to use the two atomic bombs that they have "at their disposal," to blow up two American cities, and force the retaliatory atomic bombs to be fired at all of the Muslim world. Now who could argue with such a wonderful solution to the present day's problems??? Well, at least two people can. John Corey and his wife Liz, who are Homeland Security and FBI respectively, are following up on the murder of one of their agent friends, and the trail leads to the exclusive Custer Hill Club. Will they solve the murder mystery before the Custer Hill Club can cause the destruction of the entire Muslim world? If you know me, you know whose side I was on as I was reading this thrilling, albeit long, novel!
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy

This book appeared on just about every book-critics list of the "ten best books of 2006," so I thought that I'd give it a shot. Big mistake. This is one of the most boring and depressing books that I've read in years. Although McCarthy knows how to put together words and sentences beautifully, and he knows how to create vivid visual images, the man just doesn't care to tell a readable story. The story he tells is an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world, with a few survivors wandering the earth, foraging for the crumbs of food that might remain. Two of these "survivors" are a father and his young son, who are struggling to reach "the coast," on an endless road. They're pathetic, and so is this damn book!
(1-Star)
 

BOOK REVIEW: TREASURE OF KHAN by Clive and Dirk Cussler

If you've been reading as many Clive Cussler books as I have, then you know the pattern;
....they begin with an historic event (this time it's the reign of Genghis and Kublai Khan and their treasures)
....the heroes, Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino come to the aid of a damsel in distress (they're usually highly capable, beautiful professional women)
....there's usually a shipwreck or two
....there are several daring escapes (too many in this overlong book)
....an antique car plays an important part in the story (sometimes it's a motorcycle)
....Pitt gets to keep the car (and sometimes, the girl) for his collection
....the modern-day story and the historic story come together, with Pitt uncovering the lost (treasure, city, president, ancient vessel, etc.)
....there's always a megalomaniacal villain who wants to rule or destroy the world (this one wants to control the world's oil market)
....the settings are always exotic (this one takes place in Mongolia, Hawaii and China)
....there's a cameo appearance by the author, Clive Cussler, usually in a very flattering role
....Pitt's adventurous son and daughter (DIrk and Summer,) get caught up in the action
....Pitt gets to save the world once again!
 Same old, same old, but I love it, and you will too, if you love the "Indiana Jones"-type of adventure thriller.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

Too long!
 

BOOK REVIEW: THE AUDACITY OF HOPE by Barack Obama

Barack Obama flew onto my radar screen when he made that incredible speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. For a conservative Republican like me, the speech HAD to be good to get my attention! Ever since then I've been following his career, and he's always been impressive. Now, that he's a presidential candidate for 2008, I thought it best to read his book. In this enlightening book, Obama sets forth his ideas on everything from family values, the environment, the Iraq war, race, the economy, to globalization, gun control, abortion, etc. Damned if I don't find myself agreeing with him on just about everything that he says. He's so damn fair, articulate, intelligent, and bipartisan, and he says, "it's the media that hypes the differences between Republicans and Democrats. When I sit down with my Republican colleagues, we talk about ideas that we share in common. There are more of those than you'd think." He outlines very specific plans for dealing with the country's current problems...and they're all very sound ones. In fact, right now, I like HIS ideas more than those of my own party...such as they are. I can't believe that I'm the same guy who read Ann Coulter's Godless, and loved every page of it. Maybe Obama is right. We do have more in common than we think, and we should stop listening to the more hysterical, strident voices in both parties! Regardless of your party affiliation, this book is a MUST READ.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: NEXT by Michael Crichton

The topic of Crichton's new science fiction thriller, is genetic engineering, in all of its current and future aspects. Subplots deal with: a man whose cells are being harvested (without his knowledge) and resold as a possible cancer cure; a talking orangutan in Java, and a chimpanzee who actually passes for a young boy, and goes to school with unsuspecting children; ads being implanted onto the bodies of animals, making them glow with company logos; master genes to control drug addiction, alcoholism, and anti-social behavior; a talking parrot, with human emotions, etc. If all of this sounds like a lot to process, it is, and there are just too many story lines to hold the readers interest for long periods of time. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading each of the many stories...up to a point. Halfway through the book, Crichton seems to have lost the thread of each of these stories, and the book falls apart.  As with other Crichton books, and I've read his last 10 books, it's often difficult to determine what is real and what is just speculation about what COULD be. It's even hard to determine which of the many newspaper articles in the book are actual reprints from newspapers, and which aren't, (without checking the bibliography.) Some of this adds to the fun of the book, while some just adds to the confusion. In any case, as I said before, after the halfway point in the book, it's pretty much ALL confusion. Don't bother reading the book. Just wait for the inevitable movie.
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST by Norman Mailer

The Devil made me do it! That could be a perfect one-sentence review of this book, and I'll tell you why in a minute. Any book by Norman Mailer is an important one, because he writes so infrequently. But, a book about the youth and adolescence of Adolf Hitler REALLY intrigued me. For the first 150 pages of this 460 page book, Mailer describes Hitler's family...one riddled with incest. His grandparents were first cousins, and his father and mother were father and daughter! For little Adolf's first few years he appears to be a normal little boy, growing up in a small town in Austria, with a domineering father and a loving mother, and going to school in a one-room schoolhouse. But I left out one major detail in this strange book. There were three people present when Hitler was conceived...his father, his mother, and the Devil! Just like Rosemary's Baby! In fact, a lesser devil is narrating the entire story, and we see devils present everywhere. OK, that STILL could have made for an interesting book. But then, on page 150, or thereabouts,  Mailer drops the Hitler storyline and goes off on a 50-page digression about apiculture...the raising of bees. I know, it makes no sense. Even if we see the world of bees as a metaphor for Europe before Hitler, or for life in general, it STILL makes no sense. Then, just when you think that he's resuming the Hitler storyline, Mailer goes off on another 50-page digression about the Coronation of Nicholas and Alexandra in Moscow!!! Here, there's not even the remotest connection to either Hitler or bees! Then, on page 261, we're back to the Hitler family and their bees. What to make of this?
We DO get a few glimpses of what Hitler will eventually become, from little things that he says and does as a child, but even with this meager foreshadowing, there's just not enough here to see that this sickly little boy who soils his pants, because he's afraid of everything and everyone,  will become the monster of the 20th Century!
(2 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE LAST TEMPLAR by Raymond Khoury

If you loved The DaVinci Code and just can't wait for the release of Dan Brown's new book, then first-time author Raymond Khoury's book should satisfy you until the real thing is released this summer. The Last Templar is filled with the same exciting ingredients of history, religion, art, and murder. OK, it's not as well written as the Brown contemporary classic, and the characters are a bit too obsessive, and they often do very stupid things, but it's a fun read, and you might learn some new things about the medieval Knights Templar who were thought to be the guardians of Christian doctrine, during a time when other religions were threatening it. The book starts with a very exciting raid on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, during a Gala Opening of an exhibit of Vatican Treasures. The murderous raiders are dressed as Templar Knights on horseback! The plot jumps back and forth from the people who are trying to apprehend these daring murderers on horseback, to the 13th Century, when the original Templars were trying to preserve a world-shaking secret about Jesus. Poor Jesus. After authors like Brown, Khoury and countless others have written books that speculate about the life of "the real Jesus," is there any mystery left to His life? Anyway, it's a good book with some new insights and theories about Jesus, the Knights Templar, comparative religion in general, and some crazy murderers...one of whom is a monsignor, and another, a retired college professor. Now, that's an interesting possibility for a new series.......
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE by Jonathan Safran Foer

I had the same problem with this book as I had with the author's first novel Everything is Illuminated. Sure, it's imaginative and unique, but the damn thing is so annoying and confusing to read, that I started to lose interest in what could have been a fascinating story. Oskar Schell is nine years old, when his father is killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Oskar finds a mysterious key in an envelope in his father's possessions. On the envelope, his father had written the word "Black." Oskar, after searching the telephone book to determine how many people named "Black" are in New York City, sets out on a quest to interview each of these people, with the hope of finding the lock that matches the key. Now, this could have been a terrific story, except that Foer has written it in such an enigmatic way, that the story turns into a puzzle...one that I soon lost interest in. I'm no idiot and I do like puzzles, but at times, I had no idea who was narrating the story, or when it was being told. It jumps back and forth from generation to generation with little or no warning. Is it Oskar or his grandfather, who's narrating the chapter? Or is it his grandmother? I would have liked to have had more stories about the people named "Black."  As with his first book, it's the plot structure that's the problem. I'm beginning to think that Foer is less of the literary genius that I called him in my last review, and more of a literary show-off, who just likes to play with the pieces of a story, turning them into a hopelessly puzzling swirl of words and images. Next time, Mr. Foer, how about a linear story, one that I can follow without the use of a literary road-map? Do you think you can do that?
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

BOOK REVIEW: FOR ONE MORE DAY by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom is obsessed with death. His three books (Tuesdays With Morrie, Five People You Meet in Heaven, and For One More Day,) all deal with different aspects of death. I didn't like Five People You Meet in Heaven, but I did like the other two. In this current book, a suicidal loser gets to spend one day with his dead mother. Actually, he's just been in what could be a fatal automobile accident, when he encounters his mother, so you're never sure if he actually met her, or if it's just an hallucination brought on by the accident. In any case, this homey woman gets to dispense some much-needed wisdom to her failure of a son. Can she save him? What brought him to this point in his life, where suicide is his only answer? Who ruined his life? All of these questions, and more, are answered in this novella-sized book. It's enjoyable, and it's a quick read. Now, Mitch, how about a comedy?  
(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE SECRET by Rhonda Byrne

This book is complete bullshit! I was roped into reading it because friends were talking about it, and I kept seeing it up front in all of the bookstores. When I asked those who have read it, what the secret is, they told me, "you'll have to read it." Well, YOU won't have to read it, because I'll tell you what the big damn secret is! Like those classic scam-books that came before it (e.g., Games People Play, The Celestine Prophecy, etc.) "the secret" is, you can make ANYTHING happen simply by willing it to happen! Here's "The Secret" in summary:
...the Great Secret of Life is the law of attraction. What you think about the most or focus on the most, will be attracted to you.
...our emotions instantly tell us what we are thinking. When you feel good, you are powerfully attracting more good things to you.
...Ask for what you want. Believe (act, speak, and think) that you have already received it. Receive it by feeling the way that you will feel once your desire has manifested.
...create your day in advance by thinking the way you want it to go. Visualize what you want to happen. At the end of every day, replay in your mind anything that didn't go right, the way you wanted it to go.
...to attract money, focus on wealth. Make-believe you already have the money you want. Say, "I can afford that. I can buy that." The money will come.
...your job is you. Unless you fill yourself up first, you have nothing to give anybody. Treat yourself with love and respect, and you will attract people who show you love and respect.
...beliefs about health and aging are all in our mind. Focus on health and eternal youth, and you'll have them.
There it is in a nutshell. As I've just summarized the whole book for you, I realized that I've been living "The Secret" my whole life without knowing it, and it's been working for me. Damn. Why didn't I write this book!!!
(1-Star)
 

BOOK REVIEW: EXILE by Richard North Patterson.

When Richard North Patterson writes well, he writes very well, and here he's at the top of his form. I know so many people who don't enjoy reading, and when I read a book like this one, I can't help thinking how much they're missing. It's the kind of book, where not only are you reading an exciting story, but you're also learning a great deal about one of the major conflicts of our time. The book deals with a terrorist assassination of the Prime Minister of Israel by a suicide bomber...the first suicide bomber on American soil. What follows is a thrilling court trial to rival anything by John Grisham; a highly charged love story worthy of Danielle Steel; and a history lesson in the basic differences between Palestinians and Jews...differences that have impacted the entire world. David Wolfe, a successful Jewish lawyer on the fast track to a seat in Congress and about to marry an influential Jewish socialite, takes on the defense of a Palestinian woman who he once had an affair with, while they were in law school at Harvard. The woman has been accused of being the mastermind behind the bombing. In researching the case, the lawyer goes to Israel and the West Bank to meet Jews and Palestinians who force him to not only come to terms with his own beliefs, but to come to understand the beliefs of his enemies. You'll do the same. The book is a long one (560 pages,) but it's a page-turner, filled with twists and shocking surprises. I loved it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: STEP ON A CRACK by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

First came Alex Cross. Then the Women's Murder Club. Now, Patterson's new creation is Detective Michael Bennett...NYPD...and his ten children! In this story, the First Lady has died, and her funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, is being attended by a Who's Who of the famous people in America...politicians, movie stars, billionaires, etc. A group of ten hooded monks proceed from the back of the altar, tear gas begins to pour out, and they reveal themselves as terrorists who have sealed off the church, and are holding all of these people hostage. So begins an exciting game of American terrorists vs. the combined forces of the NYPD (with Bennett as the negotiator,) the FBI, and Delta Force. It's an exciting read from cover to cover, with Patterson's typical short chapters and swift mood changes. It's not a great book by any means, but it's one that you'll find hard to put down.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon
A new book by Michael Chabon is always an event. He writes so infrequently, and I've really loved his other books (Wonder Boy; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.) With the exception of a few other writers like Tom Wolfe, Maeve Binchy, J. K. Rowling, Edward Rutherford, John Irving, etc., no one writes with such creativity and wild imagination, as does Chabon. His characters and the situations and locations that he puts them in, are always unique, especially in this latest novel. Here, he's created a world that is almost as unique as Tolkien's Hobbiton in Middle Earth! Here's the premise. After the Holocaust, the Jews created the new state of Israel, which then collapsed in 1948! Seeking for a safe place in which to live, the Jews fled to the Federal District of Sitka, in Alaska. For sixty years the Jewish refugees and their descendants have lived happily, in this unique world that they've created, in the Alaskan panhandle. Now, let's focus the lens a little tighter, so that we see our hero, Meyer Landsman, a homicide detective with the District Police, who is involved with a murder case, in which the dead man may, or may not, have been a Messiah! The story is thoroughly captivating, but even more so, are the words, the sentences, and the paragraphs of prose that Chabon uses to tell his story. His characters are completely unique and unforgettable. The man writes like no one else. That's high praise indeed.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE NAVIGATOR by Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos
When Clive Cussler's most famous action hero, Dirk Pitt (and his sidekick Al Giordino,) got to be too old to be doing all of the swashbuckling adventures that Cussler kept writing for him, the prolific author simply created another action hero, Kurt Austin (and HIS sidekick Joe Zavala,) to replace him. The pattern of the Austin books is still the same as in the Pitt books. The action begins with some historic catastrophe (real or imagined.) The plot moves to the present with an adventure story that ties that historic event, to a modern-day threat to the world. Austin and Zavala are brought in to prevent that threat. There's always a professional woman around for the eye-candy. In The Navigator, the historic events involve Phoenician sailing ships large enough to have crossed the Atlantic; the lost treasures of King Solomon; the Queen of Sheba; and a mysterious set of documents, personally encoded by Thomas Jefferson, which may have caused the murder of Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame.) Anyway, it's a fun, quick read to take to the beach with you this summer. Cussler will rarely disappoint you.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hosseini
I can't imagine that there's anyone reading this review, who doesn't already know that Islamic Fundamentalists are a pack of barbaric assholes, who treat their women like cheap furniture or household animals. But if there is, then you might want to read this thoroughly depressing book about two women in Afghanistan, who lived through several oppressive regimes, and one horrible marriage. (Both are married to the same filthy pig. Under Islam, you can do that.) I can't say that you'll be entertained, or find it enjoyable, but at least you'll be enlightened. It gets better toward the end, but by that time I was numbed by the violence, backwardness, and ignorance. There is some insight into the mentality of the men who oppress their women in the name of religion, and also some insight into the mentality of women who refrain from killing them! I didn't enjoy this book, but it is well-written, by Khaled Hosseini (who also wrote The Kite Runner,) and it does give a human face to the atrocities that we hear about on the news every day. 
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling
If you're wondering why it took me so long to finish this book and write my review, then you really don't know me! I love to prolong the enjoyment of things that I love, whether it be a good meal or a good book. So, I tried to read only 20 or 30 pages a day, and savor them as I read them. As with all of the other books in this classic series, it was a book to savor. As the final book in the seven-book series, there was a sadness to reading it, knowing that there would be no more adventures with these highly original, colorful characters, in these amazing settings. As with Lord of the Rings, and other memorable books that I've read, I'll never forget these characters. They'll always be with me. If you haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, don't read this one. Start with the first one, and I envy you, reading them for the first time. In this book, Harry, and all of his friends, classmates, and teachers at Hogwarts, come face to face with the gathering evil of Voldemort and his forces. Most of the action takes place away from Hogwarts, as Harry, Ron and Hermione search for "The Deathly Hallows," the only weapons that can defeat Voldemort. The search ends in the set piece to the book...The Battle at Hogwarts. (I can only imagine what this battle will be like in the film to come.) I won't say any more about the rest of the plot, for fear of giving anything away, although I'm sure that most of you who read, have already read the book!  Goodbye Harry, I'll never forget you.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt
When my friends Pete and Liz recommended this book to me, Pete told me that I would find it interesting because, not only was it well written, but also because of the fact that the plot bore some similarities to the plot of my own life. I was intrigued. When they gave me the book as a birthday gift, I plunged in. The story revolves around an elitist college professor who befriends and mentors a small group of unique, privileged students in an exclusive New England college. Not only does he teach them the classics in Greek, but he tries to teach them about good foods, wine, and life in general. Mmm, that does sound familiar. However, that's where the similarities end. The professor speaks Latin and Greek with these students, but is totally unaware of what's really going on in their lives outside of his classroom. The students are a brilliant, but self-indulgent, spoiled, alcohol and drug-dependent, group of near-psychotic freaks, who prey on each other, and on everyone else around them. There isn't one in the group that I would enjoy taking to dinner! Possibly because of the fact that they've been taught to think of themselves as living outside the ordinary humdrum existence of academic life, these students begin to think outside of the normal boundaries of what's right and what's wrong. This propels them all onto a downward spiral, which leads to them toying with evil, and eventually to murder. The author, Donna Tartt, is a gifted writer, and in this, her first novel, she creates a compelling atmosphere of suspense, and intrigue, and has also developed characters that are recognizable (if you know college students,)  and unforgettable. It's a fast read, but a memorable one.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

  

BOOK REVIEW: BELOVED by Toni Morrison
I read this book for the first time, when it came out 20 years ago, but I decided to re-read it, when The New York Times Book Review Fiction Survey, selected it as "The Single Best Work of American Fiction in the Last 25 Years." In addition, a new opera, "Margaret Garner," premiering at The New York City Opera, is based on the book. The question I asked myself is, do I agree with the New York Times Survey's assessment? The answer is "absolutely not!" I've read several books in the past 25 years that I consider to be better than Beloved.  What it is, is a liberal's guilt read; read this and one strikes a blow against racism. Bullshit! I think that I'll always have problems with aspects of Toni Morrison's writing. She writes page after page of beautiful words, phrases, and sentences, and throws them haphazardly,  in the face of the reader, whether or not they advance the cause of her story-telling. In her books, very often it's difficult to determine who's being spoken about, or who's doing the speaking.  Past and present blend together as well. The supernatural mixes with reality, but not as well as in books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.  In Beloved, the author tells the story of Sethe, who having escaped slavery herself, is arrested for killing her daughter (and trying to kill her sons,) just to keep them from being returned to the plantation from which she fled. Although the main character was a real woman, Morrison has taken many liberties to make her story more accessible and interesting to the reader(!) I think that Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," another book about brave women who escaped the horrors of slavery, is a better read than Beloved, and would have been a better candidate for the Times' award. As a matter of fact, I can think of a dozen books, that I've read in the past 7 years alone, since I've been writing reviews for my web-site, that are better than Beloved. Check the web-site (www.NicksReviews.com) for my "5-star books".
(1-Star)


BOOK REVIEW: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen
To say that this is just a book about the circus and the people who work in it, does the book a great injustice. Sara Gruen has written a beautifully-written page-turner, about the exciting lives of wonderful characters, who just happen to be a part of the circus. The book is told in flashback, from the bed, in an assisted-living facility, of the 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski. It's hard to reconcile this feisty, but obviously feeble, old man, with the young, vibrant 23-year-old Jacob, who joins the circus, after he's forced to leave the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine. At first reluctant to become a part of the crazy world of the circus, he soon becomes an integral part of this third-rate traveling show. One of his reasons for staying, is the lovely Marlena, who is the star of the act involving trained horses. Unfortunately, the other half of the act is her husband, August, a sadistic and jealous nut-case, who enjoys beating up animals and people. In a book where one grows to love an elephant named Rosie, and a dwarf named Kinko, it's easy to understand the lives of these exotics, and to see how exciting a life in the circus could be. What's sad, is to see the contrast between the young Jacob's world of colorful people, costumes, and animals, and his drab existence growing older, and waiting to die, in a gray world of bedpans and nurses. However, this vivid, detailed book, about love, murder, and thrills under the big top, has one of the happiest endings you'll ever read!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

  

 BOOK REVIEW: THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho.
This international bestseller, which has been kicking around on the best-seller lists for ages now, is part self-help book, like The Secret, which I hated, and part fable, like The Little Prince, which I love. Your tolerance for the story of a young Spanish shepherd, who goes on a quest for treasure, only to find that the treasure lies within, depends on how much sugar-coated philosophy you can take, between two covers of a book.  Here are some worthwhile quotations from the book:
..."whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend."
..."when each day is the same as the next, it's because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises."
..."there was a language in the world that everyone understood. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired."
..."intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it's all written there."
..."our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand."
..."I don't live in either my past or my future. I'm interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man."
There's a story tucked away in this book somewhere, but it's just a framework on which the author hangs his philosophy. Read it, if you need it.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: PLAYING FOR PIZZA by John Grisham
If you're looking for something light to read, in between two "significant reads," then this simple little book might serve the purpose. John Grisham has taken another of his occasional breaks from writing his formulaic legal thrillers, to write a book about an American in Italy. This American, Rick Dockery, was the third-string quarterback for a big NFL team, who, when he was surprisingly put into an important championship game, "provided what was arguably the worst single performance in the history of the NFL." Upon the advice of just about everyone, he fled America, taking a job as "the American quarterback" with the Parma Panthers, an Italian football team. Yes football, not soccer. This pathetic little team, the Rocky of its league, benefits from having Rick as one of them, and he in turn, learns to love life in Italy playing for pizza, and learns a great deal about himself in the process. As I said above, it's a simple book, but it's a pleasant read...part sports book, part love story, part travel book, part coming-of-age story. That's a lot for a 250-page book!
(3-Stars) Back to Top


BOOK REVIEW: THE ORC KING by R.A. Salvatore
According to last week's Sunday New York Times Best Seller list, this book is the "first book of a new trilogy, Transitions." Part way into the book, after being thoroughly confused by a barrage of names and places, all of which the author seems to assume that the reader should be familiar with, I realized that, although this book IS the first book of a NEW trilogy, all of its characters are based on other books by the same author. Therefore, the elf Drizzt Do' Urden, who was a new character to me, had already appeared in at least 13 other books. I stopped reading the new book at that point!

BOOK REVIEW: THE RACE by Richard North Patterson
This is probably one of the most interesting, readable, and informative novels about a presidential campaign that I've ever read. It's frighteningly realistic, and a page-turner as well. Corey Grace is a U.S. Senator, a war-hero, and the lover of the most beautiful African-American, Oscar-winning, movie star. When he decides to run for president, his life is turned upside down, and all of the slime-balls (rival politicians and their handlers, evangelists, reporters, and crazies,) climb out from under rocks to try to destroy him. Watching the whole disgusting process is fascinating, and terrifying for the future of this country. If even half of this fictitious novel rings true, we'll never have an honest man in the White House again!
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: YOU: STAYING YOUNG by Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Twenty five years ago, a friend of mine recommended a book to me. The book was Life Extension: A Practical, Scientific Approach (by Pearson and Shaw,) and it changed my life! Because of the information in this clearinghouse of medical and nutritional research, I implemented a regular program of eating healthily, exercising regularly, eliminating everything (and everyone) that was negative in my life, and taking mega-doses of vitamins and other supplements each day. I'm probably the healthiest person of my age, that I know. For one thing, I haven't had a cold in 25 years! This new book, by Roizen and Oz, does just about the same thing, only it does it in terms that are easily understood by the lay person (and it comes complete with amusing illustrations.) The older book was a difficult read, with chapters on Bio-Chemistry, etc. This one is fun to read, and in spite of having extensive knowledge of the areas of health, the body, nutrition, and exercise, I still learned a great deal from this present book. In fact, I'm planning on adding several supplements to my daily intake, and doing some extra little exercises that could be life-saving. It was reassuring to read that most of the things that I've been doing for the past 25 years, are still recommended by the current authors. Stop wasting your time reading this review. Go out and buy the book. You'll thank me for it at my 100th birthday party. Who wants to host the party?
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: PANDORA'S DAUGHTER by Iris Johansen
Once upon a time, in the year 1495 in Spain, there lived a family called Devanez. This family was a family of psychics, who practiced everything from shape changing to predicting the future. They kept their family history in a book called The Ledger. Needless to say they were hunted by the Spanish Inquisition. This book should have been about them. They sounded interesting. Instead, it's about the present-day descendants of the family...a much less interesting bunch of individuals. Some are healers, some are listeners (don't ask,) some can see into the future. One still has the Ledger, and everyone else seems to want it, for varying reasons. One of our heroines is a physician...the daughter of a Pandora (a Devanez descendant who can do everything except keep herself from getting killed!) Oh yeah, there's a villain, whose son was made insane after he raped the aforementioned Pandora. He's not fully developed, otherwise HE might have been interesting. I've never read a book by Iris Johansen before, and I probably never will again,. She writes as though she's saving her best material for the sequel.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: DOUBLE CROSS by James Patterson
How many times can author James Patterson get away with rewriting the same story, about detective/psychologist Alex Cross vs. yet another serial killer(s,) and still keep us, his loyal readers, interested and entertained? Infinitely, it would appear!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER by Tom Perrotta
Author Tom Perrotta (Little Children) writes about dysfunctional suburbanites. In this book, it's soccer moms, born-again Christians, and their soccer-playing daughters. Since I'm not terribly interested in any of the three groups, I was bored most of the time!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE ALMOST MOON by Alice Sebold
Alice Sebold had great success with her last book, The Lovely Bones. This new book will go a long way toward erasing some of that earlier fame! It's only fair to tell you that this review is based on having read a little more than half of this book. I couldn't force myself to read another page. Why? For one thing, the two main characters, a middle-aged woman and her 86-year-old mother, are such depressing, despicable characters, that it was hard to muster an ounce of empathy, let alone sympathy, for either one of them. I'm not giving away any of the plot when I tell you that the younger woman kills her mother in the first sentence of the book, because she's tired of being a slave to her. Didn't the bitch ever hear of nursing homes?? The rest of the book is told in flashbacks, in which we're supposed to come to understand why she was justified in doing this. All I came to understand was that the daughter was crazier than her mother. Hopefully, one of HER daughters will return the "favor" in the future! 
(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW: STONE COLD by David Baldacci
Baldacci may just be the best of the genre action-thriller writers. His books are page-turners, and his characters and story lines are always exciting and interesting. The present book continues the story of the ragtag group of men in their sixties, known as "The Camel Club," who were once almost superhuman fighting machines in Vietnam, and who are now still dedicated to preserving the American way of life, even if it means bringing down the biggest men in our government. There are several story lines criss-crossing in this book, some continuing the stories introduced in earlier books in the series. So, my suggestion, if you've never read any of the earlier books, is to go back and start with the first, The Camel Club. If you have read the earlier books, then you'll probably find this one to be the best of them all, as I did. Once more we meet John Carr, alias "Oliver Stone," we leads his motley crew against another killer, a former Navy Seal, who is determined to kill some of the higher-ups in our government, because his mother told him to do it. This will make sense when you read the book! We also meet again, the con artist Annabelle Conroy, who managed to swindle 40 million dollars from the megalomaniacal owner of Atlantic City's largest casino, because he killed her mother. Mothers figure prominently in this story! Of course, this casino-head is trying to find her to kill her. All of these stories manage to come together in an explosive conclusion, in which it's difficult to figure out who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. No blacks or whites...all grays. Just like in real life.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE APPEAL by John Grisham
I know, I know. Grisham is formulaic and repetitive, but this one is Grisham at his most fascinating. Maybe it's because I read it during an exciting and highly competitive presidential campaign, and so the issues in the book resonated differently than they might have at another time. The story involves a billionaire business tycoon, who is on the verge of losing everything, because he's just lost a large class action suit involving the dumping of toxic wastes into a small Mississippi town's water supply, thereby causing the death of many people in the town. Of course, his high-powered lawyers are appealing, and here's where the story heats up. The tycoon hires a spin-doctor and his army of businessmen, media types, and crooked politicians to purchase a charismatic and photogenic lawyer, who is willing to be the stooge in a rigged campaign to unseat a popular judge on the state's Supreme Court. If he wins this unethical, but legal campaign, he will become the new judge, who will undo the balance on the court, thereby winning the appeal for the tycoon, who is paying millions to see that this happens. One can only wonder if presidential candidates can be bought and paid for in the same way. Gives you something to think about!
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
I'm still not sure why I decided to re-read this great classic now. Was it to see if it's still "the greatest American novel ever written," or was it to see if it had anything new to say to me after 30 years. The answer to both is "yes." There are certainly some great contemporary novels that approach it in story, character development, theme, and style, but there are none that surpass it...and that's not just because it's over 1000 pages! What was surprising to me was how the story and theme resonated so much more vividly in this age of terror, inelegance, vulgarity and mediocrity. After all, this is a story of The Deep South...before, during, and after The Civil War. It was the last time that a society in America reached the heights of elegance, chivalry, class, and good manners, before a war came along and it was all gone with the wind. Could that have been what touched me? Because, after all, I'm old enough to remember a time in America when there was elegance, class, good manners and intelligence, even in young people, before a series of wars, especially the current one, took it all away. The book is filled with relevance to what's happening today, for example, if the "Yankees" had had an exit strategy for getting out of the South during and after Reconstruction, we probably wouldn't have the racial problems that we have today. (Ask me about that when I see you and I can talk about that at length.) The characters are still unforgettable...some of the most fully developed and memorable that you'll ever read about. You'll never forget Scarlett O'Hara, Mammy, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes, and especially Melanie, the true heroine of the book. If all you know of this great story is the movie version, which is excellent, you only know a picture-book version of a classic. Someday, read the original, and you'll see why just about every literary critic in the world calls it "a novel that is unsurpassed in the whole of American writing."
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: SANDSTORM by James Rollins
If you enjoy reading the novels of Clive Cussler as I do, then you'll certainly enjoy the books of James Rollins. Sandstorm is my first, recommended to me by a friend, and I really enjoyed it. Both authors use the same formula. They start with some incident in ancient history, and then proceed to the present, and create a story in the genre of action lit., integrating that historical incident with the action-filled story in the present. In the case of Sandstorm, the historical incident involves the destruction of the city of Ubar, the capital of the kingdom ruled by the biblical Queen of Sheba. A team consisting of former CIA operatives, archeologists, a museum curator, and the strangest army of near-supernatural women and children, and superhuman men, set out to uncover the secrets of Sheba, in the present country of Oman. All of this in the midst of an incredibly destructive megastorm. Although Rollins likes to pile on the scientific jargon, sometimes sounding like mumbo-jumbo especially near the end of the book, he never lets it get in the way of the story or the action. It's a page-turner, and one that you'll enjoy from cover to cover. With all of the stunning visual effects in the book, it would make an amazing film. But, they'd screw it up as they did Cussler's "Sahara." So, create the film in your own imagination as I did. As one critic said, "while Clive Cussler maintains the gold standard in historical/action lit., Rollins has a firm grasp on the silver." I certainly agree.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE WHOLE TRUTH by David Baldacci
Baldacci's latest thriller deals with a frightening subject that is threatening the stability, sanity, and peace in the real world. It's a subject that's just recently been given a name, even though it's been going on forever. The subject is "perception management," a fancy name for manipulating the truth so that people will believe what you want them to believe. When it's done on a grand scale by institutions such as the Congress, the Media, or the President of the United States, it can cause wars! In The Whole Truth, Nicolas Creel, the head of the world's largest defense contracting company, needs a war to sell his weapons, and so he hires a perception management firm to create this war, by manipulating international conflicts. It's terrifying to see how simple it is to do this. The unlikely hero of this story is someone named Shaw, who works for a secret multinational intelligence agency. He, and an alcoholic, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Katie James, tackle Creel's billion-dollar juggernaut, The Ares Corporation, to try to prevent World War III. Russia and China are at the brink, about to fling their nuclear weapons at one another, while the U.N. and other nations try to prevent this from happening. It's all a suspenseful and frightening tale of a possible Armageddon. If you watch or read the news every day, you realize how up to our necks we, the gullible public, already are, in "perception management." Is it too late to do something about this, or have we been conned for so long, that we'll believe anything???
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Picture a plot out of a James Patterson novel, about a serial killer who has killed 44 children, and the master police official who is chasing him around the country, trying to find out his identity before he kills child 45. Now, transpose the story to the Soviet Union during the cold war, where, according to government policy, there is no such thing as a serial killer in their communist regime. Complicating matters even further, is that the police officer who is doing the pursuing, is a disgraced MGB official, who is being pursued by just about everyone else, for going against the government's rule that there is no crime or criminals in the "paradise" of the USSR. In this, his first novel, author Tom Rob Smith creates a vivid picture of life, and death, in this paranoid world. In fact, his characters and the setting in which they live, are almost difficult to believe. It's an unusual thriller to say the least, and a real page-turner. There's at least one major twist in the plot that will come as an unexpected jolt. In addition, there are lots of other surprises along the way. A depressing, but highly original look into an insane world, and the sane and insane people who populate it.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE LAST ORACLE by James Rollins
James Rollins is a gifted writer, who knows how to write a page-turning thriller. But the story formula that he uses in each of his books, is derived from the author, Clive Cussler. Hell, it worked so well for Cussler, why not  steal his style. Both authors start their story in an event in ancient history, then jump to the present, where the adventure story is related in some way to the historical event. In the case of the present book, the event is the destruction of the temple of the Oracle at Delphi in Ancient Greece. In the present, the assassination of a noted scientist, on the Mall in front of the Smithsonian in Washington, sets in motion a series of interrelated plots, involving the bioengineering of autistic savant children who may be able to predict the future; a frightening chase in and around the radioactive ruins created by the accident at Chernobyl; the search in the Punjab area of India for what may be the origins of the Gypsy tribes of Europe; the frantic rush to stop a ruthless scheme to assassinate all of the rulers of the world who have gathered for a momentous event, etc. That's enough. You get the picture. Although I enjoy reading Rollins as much as I enjoy reading Cussler, I have to say that Cussler creates better heroes than does Rollins. No one in Rollins books can match either Dirk Pitt or Kurt Austin. However, Rollins does create great villains. In any case, the book is a fine read. Although I had problems getting through this book at times, I can attribute that to the fact that I was just having too much fun in the past few weeks. My reading fell off. Normally however, a Rollins book is just as hard to put down as is a Cussler book. There I go again making comparisons. But in this case, they're justified.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING by Alaa Al Aswany
Forty years ago, in the summer of 1966, several of us visited Cairo, Egypt, as part of an extended tour of The Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece.) We found Cairo to be dirty, with a distinct odor, and unhealthy for tourists ( I developed dysentery from eating shellfish in the restaurant at the Hilton! ) Aside from the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and the complete King Tut section of the Cairo Museum,  I could have done without Cairo. So, when an Egyptian, Muslim, friend told me that if I wanted to get an accurate picture of the people who live in Cairo today, some of whom go on to become terrorists, I should read the world's best-selling novel in the Arabic language, The Yacoubian Building. So I did. The author tells the story, several stories actually, of the residents of an apartment building in Cairo. He uses the building as a microcosm of all of Egypt. We meet the poor, the corrupt, the perverse, religious hypocrites, the easily led, and the women who are kept in virtual slavery by their men, as dictated by the Koran (Qur'an.) The multiple plots are all interesting, but sometimes confusing, because of the Arabic names (many of which sound the same to a Westerner like me,) and the author's tendency to jump around from story to story. What interested me particularly, was the story of the intelligent, youthful, idealist, who, because of his extreme poverty, his rejection by the Police College, as well as by his girlfriend, turns to the terrorist preachings of a fanatic religious leader, who trains the young to become future terrorists. In the course of the stories, we hear quotes from the Koran, many of which are demeaning, and some are incendiary, encouraging violence. So much for the Koran as a "book of Peace!" I'd like to see the "major motion picture" that was based on this book, and which became a big hit in Egypt, but unfortunately, never made it to the West. In any case, to get some background on the kind of people who think of us as "infidels," you might want to check out this book. It's an enlightening read.
(4-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: LAMB by Christopher Moore
A mildly amusing take on the life of Jesus Christ, "according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." You get the picture. I would have found the book to be much funnier, if I had never seen Monty Python's "Life of Brian," which covers the same ground, but does it in a much funnier way. Also, the author feels the need to fill in the missing 20 years in Christ's life, that are not dealt with in the four gospels. He takes Christ, and his pal Biff, into India, China, and Afghanistan, in search of the Wise Men, who, when found, impart their knowledge of Confucianism and Buddhism to the young Christ. These wanderings along the Silk Road, cover 200 pages in the middle of this 400-page book, and they're boring as hell! Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were wise to have skipped them! Rent the DVD of "Life of Brian" and skip this book.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE GIVEN DAY by Dennis Lehane
I'm about to use the word "masterpiece" again, even though I just used it in my last review. This book by Dennis Lehane is so epic in scope, and he's written it so well, that it really deserves the use of that word. The author is no stranger to fine books. He's written three that were made into films...Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island. This one is his finest by far. The year is 1919. The place is Boston. It was a year like no other for this city, because so many memorable events occurred at the same time in one year. The action of the plot leads up to the notorious Police Strike, in which chaos reigned in Boston for awhile, and much like the Boston Massacre, people were unnecessarily killed. The story tells of two families...one black and one white...one a family of Irish cops, the other a family of servants who take work wherever they can get it, as they try to build their family. Around these two families circle some of the famous people of their time...Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth, W.E.B. DuBois, Eugene O'Neill, and a weird, sleazy little lawyer named John (J.Edgar) Hoover. The characters are all richly drawn. The plot moves so swiftly that I had to force myself, at times, to put down the book. In the right hands (Martin Scorsese?) this will make a spectacular film. I can't wait.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE GATE HOUSE by Nelson DeMille

Eighteen years ago, author Nelson DeMille wrote his novel The Gold Coast, which went on to become a contemporary classic. Although I loved this book, I never felt that it needed a sequel. Obviously, the author disagreed with me, (either that or he needed the money,) because here's the sequel. In the original book, DeMille took us to that portion of The North Shore of Long Island known as "The Gold Coast," because at one time, its mansions housed the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America. We were introduced to John Suttter, a successful lawyer, who foolishly befriended a Mafia don, who had purchased one of these mansions. Sutter's wife, Susan Stanhope Sutter, a wealthy socialite who grew up on The Gold Coast, takes the relationship with the don one step further...she falls in love with him and then, when scorned, murders him! The action of The Gate House picks up ten years later. The Sutters have reunited and come back to live in the gate house of the large Stanhope mansion. (Susan was only given a slap on the wrist for the gangster's murder.) The don, Frank Bellarosa, is still dead, but his son Anthony, who lives in a large villa on the grounds of the former estate next door, is determined to seek revenge for the death of his father...and guess who lives right next door? As with all of DeMille's books, this one is a page-turner, and a thoroughly enjoyable hard-to-put-down read. DeMille grew up on Long Island, and still lives there, so he "knows the territory." It's not as good as The Gold Coast, but it's a damn good book.
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: NO ANGEL by Penny Vincenzi

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "there's no such thing as a woman's book or a man's book, only a badly-written book or a well-written book." Well, this is very definitely what would have been called a woman's book, with strong women characters, and very weak men characters, who are manipulated and controlled by these women. Being the sexist that I am, I should have hated it, except that it's so damn well-written. Vincenzi creates beautifully complex characters and puts them in wonderful situations, in the service of a great story. The plot revolves around the Lytton family in London, during a 15-year period from 1904 until 1920. The senior Lyttons, Oliver, his sister LM, and his wife Lady Celia, own an elite publishing house, and the story revolves around the ups and downs of the publishing business. The characters move through the events of this period...World War I and the bombing of London, the sinking of the Titanic, etc...and are influenced greatly by these events. Children grow up, people die, affairs take place, the world changes. What I loved most about this book is that it could have been written by either Jane Austen or Edith Wharton. Now, that's a compliment! What upset me about it is that, halfway through the book, I found out that it's the first book in a trilogy! I'm not about to read two more 700-page books now, but somewhere along the line I will continue the trilogy, to find out what happened to these wonderful characters. If you have the time, and the inclination for this sort of thing, this is a great read.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE SHACK by Wm. Paul Young
 I was really looking forward to reading this book that's been sitting in the #1 slot of the New York Times  paperback Best Seller list, for ages. However, I was also worried that it was going to be another one of those fraudulent touchy-feely, feel good, "I can get you in touch with God, and your inner spiritual self," pseudo-religious self-help manuals, like The Secret, and The Celestine Prophesy. That's exactly what it is! The first third of the book is a morbid, depressing story about a man whose young daughter is kidnapped. The rest of the book is the story of the man's journey to The Shack, where he meets God (a large Aunt-Jemima-like black woman,) Jesus (A Middle-Eastern handyman,) and The Holy Ghost (an Asian woman who likes to garden!!!) The book's popularity is an indication of how many people are needy, searching for answers, and looking for something to tell them how to make sense of their lives. I can do this for myself, thank you very much, so please don't presume to tell me that you have connections to God that I don't have. I know Him as well as you do, Mr. Young, but congratulations for giving in to greed, and capitalizing on other peoples fear of the unknown. You're an asshole, in MY book!
(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW: THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED by Wally Lamb
It's always difficult to describe, let alone review, a Wally Lamb book, because he's the master of digressions, and is incapable of telling a linear story ("Once upon a time.....they lived happily ever after.") But, his digressions are often the best part of the book, and this one, his latest 728-page book, is no exception. At the heart of the story is Caelum Quirk, a high-school teacher in Colorado. As we follow his story, we're also told his parents story, his grandparents story, his great-grandparents story...you get the picture. Of course, these are all fascinating stories in themselves, and could have each been a separate book. Adding to the complexity of Caelum's story, is the fact that he always seems to be where something historic, and often tragic is about to happen. For example, Caelum and his wife Maureen teach at Columbine High School at the time of the shootings. His tenants were in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina. This Zelig-like quality, carries over to his ancestors as well, putting us in Mark Twain's dining room, a Connecticut Prison for Women, the hospital tents of Dorothy Dix during the Civil War, etc. You get the picture? The book is complex, completely interesting, filled with great stories, and hard to put down, even though it's so damn heavy! In short, I loved it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD by J. K. Rowling
Beedle was a 15th-Century bard, who compiled these tales, for parents to tell their children, all of whom happened to be wizards. They emphasize the positive aspects of magic, and are filled with the teaching of good values, and the difference between good and evil...all from the point of view of wizards. The tales were translated by Hermione Grainger, Harry Potter's dear friend and schoolmate at Hogwart's, and are complete with notes about the tales, written by Headmaster Abner Dumbledore. They're charming, and filled with the wisdom of Beedle the Bard, Headmaster Dumbledore, and author J. K. Rowling.
(3 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE ASSOCIATE by John Grisham

It's no secret that John Grisham keeps re-writing his book, The Firm, plugging in new characters and relatively new settings, into the same old story line, over and over again. Since it's no secret, then why the hell do we keep reading these tired old retreads? This time, the young lawyer is being blackmailed into revealing the classified secrets of his mega law firm. He's vulnerable to blackmail, because when he was in college, he and three of his frat boys may have raped a "party girl pig" while they were all drunk. Yes, there is a video of the affair. Remember the real-life case of those lacrosse guys whose lives were almost ruined when that stripper-slut wrongfully accused them of rape? Half way through the book, I had figured out where the plot was going, and I couldn't wait to see how Grisham handled the details. Unfortunately that was MY story, not Grisham's. Grisham's story continued in a dull, predictable way, until the conclusion, where nothing really happened to resolve what came before. In fact, nothing happened at all. Grisham can never be accused of being original!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz
This book won the Pulitzer Prize and the praise of critics all over America, when it came out in 2007. I agree that the author, Junot Diaz, speaks with a unique and original voice...the slangy voice of a young male from the Dominican Republic. In this voice, he tells the story of his friend Oscar de Leon, a grossly obese, nerdy, Dominican, who is socially inept...and somewhat of an annoying idiot!  In the process, he also tells the story of three generations of Oscar's family, under the oppressive dictator Trujillo, in the DR, and in the slums of the Bronx. Yes, we learn a lot about life in the Dominican Republic, especially amongst the lower classes, but who cares??? I really didn't find many of the characters interesting, and therefore was not terribly interested in what happened to them. When Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, wrote about her side of the island, Haiti, in the book The Farming of Bones, I thought that that was a somewhat better read...at least for half of the book. This ends my exploration of the island of Hispaniola!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: FIRST FAMILY by David Baldacci
Call it what you will. Here's the first exciting, page-turner, beach book of the Summer (even though the Summer hasn't officially begun.) If you're a fast reader, you can finish it before you have to reapply your sun-block! It's the story of a philandering U.S. President who can't keep his dick in his pants (sound familiar?,) his scheming, Machiavellian wife, and the Secret Service and FBI agents who try to keep them from getting killed, while all are trying to rescue the kidnapped niece of the President. Leading the rescue team are two former Secret Service agents, who are now private investigators. I think that they were introduced in another Baldacci novel. The action is fast-paced, non-stop, and hard to predict. I was trying to cast the movie as I was reading the book. Joan Allen as the first lady,.....
(4 1/2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I loved this book! It's the kind of book that makes you feel good about people, and life in general. The story is made up entirely of letters, written between the many characters in the book. And what wonderful characters they are. I feel that I know every one of them. The time is just after the end of World War II in England. An author has received a letter from a few people on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, and she decides to find out more about these people by visiting the island. What she finds is more than she bargained for. It seems that the island, like many other places in Europe, was occupied by the Germans, and some inhabitants resisted this Nazi occupation in different ways. The plot is completely character driven, and we get to know these characters, and how each one dealt with the Occupation and its aftermath. The book is a reader's delight...a small masterpiece that you'll want to read quickly. Don't! Read it slowly and treasure it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga
I don't like stories about the poor, and how they "live" in third world countries. In fact, I'm probably the only person in America who didn't like the movie "Slumdog Millionaire." However, if you do like this kind of story, and would like to delve further into the underbelly of India, with its filth, corruption, disease, ignorance, servitude, and death, then this is the book for you. I hated it! First time author Aravind Adiga, takes us into the everyday life of the slums of India, with their rats, roaches, and the people who live with them. The narrator is a young man who lives in one of these slums, and through a series of adventures, manages to move up the social ladder, from servant, driver to the rich (who are as tasteless and vulgar as the poor that they oppress,) entrepreneur, and murderer!
(1-Star)

BOOK REVIEW: SOUTH OF BROAD by Pat Conroy

When is the last time that you read a book in which the author described the setting of the story, so beautifully, lovingly, and in such detail, that you wanted to hop a flight to see this place as soon as possible? That's what Pat Conroy has done in this love letter to the charming city of Charleston, South Carolina. If you've read a book by this author before (e.g. Prince of TidesThe Great Santini, etc.) you know that he creates unforgettable characters and puts them in an exciting memorable story. We meet the eight main characters as teen-agers in the Summer of 1969, the Summer that they all met each other for the first time. There's Leo, the main character, son of an ex-nun, and brother of a suicide victim; the beautiful twins Sheba and Trevor...too fragile and exotic for this world; Niles and Starla, mountain-trash runaways; socialite Molly; the Frasers, who are the rich people who are descended from signers of the Declaration of Independence; and the one black in the group, Ike, the son of the new football coach, who is hated because he's black. We follow these characters from their teenage years to the time twenty years later, when they've lived through unhappy marriages, the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, stardom in Hollywood, pedophilia, murder, and a disaster of Nature that nearly destroys this paradise forever. A page-turner from start to finish.

(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: THE LOST SYMBOL by Dan Brown
First of all, let's get a couple of things out of the way. Yes, it's a sequel and it's formulaic, but so are Huckleberry Finn and The New Testament of The Bible. No, it's not great literature, like Great Expectations or War and Peace. But if you loved Dan Brown's last two books, Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code, you'll enjoy this sequel as well. Once again, Harvard Professor and Symbologist, Robert Langdon gets caught up in an explosive cat and mouse game, where the evil villain threatens to reveal a secret that will cause chaos in the world. The setting this time around is Washington, D.C., and who would have thought that there were so many secrets, coded messages, symbols, and mysteries built into some of the most famous buildings in the city. Dan Brown has certainly done his research, and as the mystery unfolds at a frantic pace, we're shown some of this city's rarely seen places, and the secrets that they hold. Many of these actually exist, and I'm sure that tours are already being organized to explore them. Much of the plot involves the already-mysterious organization known as Freemasonry, or The Masons. I can't tell you more without revealing too much of the book's secrets, but I can say that Brown has created one of the best villains that I've read about in years!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER by John Irving
Whenever John Irving writes a new book, it's a major literary event. I've read and enjoyed most of them. I loved The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and Prayer for Owen Meany. I also enjoyed The Fourth Hand, and A Son of the Circus immensely, although not as much as the first three. That's why this latest book is so disappointing. Unless you're extremely interested in the logging industry in New England in the 1950's, or are such an avid fan of John Irving, that you'll read anything that he writes, you'll never get through the first 100 pages of this book. They're that boring! Yes, he has created some interesting characters, and placed them in some bizarre, and often memorable, incidents. But most of the time, he just moves them through five decades of their lives, bouncing back and forth from present to past, as they're being pursued by a Javert-like half-crazed sheriff. The main characters are a father (who's a chef,) his son (who's a writer,) and his grandson (an aspiring writer.) In their travels from New England, to the Midwest, to Canada, we learn something about cooking and the restaurant business, as well as something about the craft of writing. We meet many fat people, especially grossly obese women, illiterate loggers, and crazy animals. Oh yes, there's a bear. What's an Irving novel without a bear? This is probably one of the few times, when the movie, if one is ever made, will be much better than the book.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: NEW YORK by Edward Rutherford
Maybe it's because I was born and raised in New York City, or maybe it's because I've read every book written by this author, and loved them, but, whatever the reason, New York is one of the most enjoyable and informative books that I've read in years. In the past, I might have said that Edward Rutherford writes in the style of James Michener (another of my favorite authors,) but now, it's sufficient to say that this is a typical Edward Rutherford book. This author picks a geographic location (London, Russia, Ireland, etc.,) and then traces every thing that happened in that place, from ancient historical times up to the present. He does this by following the lives of a few fictitious families from their early roots in history, up to the present time. Cleverly, he manages to intertwine their fictional lives, with actual historic events, and with actual historic figures, who figured prominently in the growth of this specific area. I loved this book; I learned from this book; and I was thoroughly engrossed by this book. Although it's a huge book, it's a page-turner! What more can one say?
(5-Stars) Back to Top


 

BOOK REVIEW: THE SWAN THIEVES by Elizabeth Kostova
An apparent madman rushes into a room at The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and attacks a painting with a knife. He's taken to an institution where a psychiatrist spends weeks trying to question him, but the man refuses to speak. He will only paint, the same woman, in various scenes. The psychiatrist begins to investigate the mans life, and he starts to interview the women in the artist's...yes, he's an artist...life, and uncovers a fascinating tale of art and obsession. The women tell his, and their stories, and the psychiatrist becomes more and more enmeshed in their strange lives. As the story unfolds in the present, so does a parallel story unfold in the past in a suburb of Paris. It's the mysterious story of Beatrice de Clerval, a painter who lived in the time of Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Manet. Amidst this world of lily pads, windmills, dancers and picnickers-on-the-grass, this unusual woman lives an unconventional life, which becomes intertwined with the life of the man who attempted to slash the painting in the National Gallery. Who is this woman, and what is her connection to a "madman" who lived a century later, and a continent away? Author Elizabeth Kostova, in this her second novel proves that her first book, The Historian, was not all that she had to say. This one is completely different, but equally enjoyable.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

BOOK REVIEW: SOLAR by Ian McEwan
Forget it. You'll never get past the first 100 pages. It's THAT boring! Author Ian McEwan has written one of the best books that I've ever read (Atonement,) and one of the worst (Saturday.) This book falls into the category of "one of the worst." Michael Beard is a Nobel laureate in physics, whose life outside of his area of expertise, solar energy, is a complete mess. He's fat, old, ugly, married and divorced several times, and a womanizer, who lets his dick rule his life, while he sends his brain on vacation. A real loser, as is the book.
(1-Star)
 

BOOK REVIEW: SUPER SAD, TRUE, LOVE STORY by Gary Shteyngart

How do I write this review in which I want to encourage you to read this work of genius, without scaring you off? In this, just his third book, Gary Shteyngart has written a terrifying, painfully accurate look at an America in the near future, a once-glorious country that has completely collapsed under the unbearable weight of its own greed, ignorance, and technology. On the surface, it's a love story between a book-loving thirty-nine-year-old Russian American, and a brain-dead brand-name-crazy twenty-four-year-old Korean American. But the love story is just an excuse for the author to paint a horrifying and depressing picture of an imploding America. In this police state one-party-rule America, everyone is functionally illiterate...they can barely read, write, or converse with one another. They are totally dependent on their apparati...pendants that hang around their necks and do all of these things for them. Books are obsolete, and are frowned upon as smelly artifacts. China runs the country. When one lands at a run-down JFK, the only terminal that hasn't closed or fallen apart is that of China Airlines. Crossing the only bridge that isn't closed, one sees cranes in the city, with Chinese lettering on them. Only Chinese buildings are being built. National Guard tanks, the military arm of the fascistic government, roam the streets looking for dissidents and trouble. Looking and acting young is encouraged and maintained by large companies like Post-Human Services. In short, it's a nightmare, but one that has its seeds already planted in our current society, in which most young people don't read or converse with one another, but rather, tweet or text. People like The Situation, Snooki, and the Kardashians are worshipped. Unemployment is the norm, and China can force us into bankruptcy because it owns us. Class, taste, good manners, and elegance are nostalgic things of the past. See what I mean? I've ceased reviewing this brilliant book, and started to review US!!! In any case, the book is a work of genius, albeit depressing and terrifying. It's a must-read for the thinking person.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett
I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to reading this novel that's been on the New York Times best seller list for a year and a half! Well, curiosity finally got the best of me, and I just finished it. It's a wonderful book by first-time author Kathryn Stockett; a thoroughly enjoyable read, and almost impossible to put down, even for me and my 20-pages-a-day quota! In what appears to be a somewhat autobiographical style, the author tells the story of the black domestic help ("colored girls,") and the young white women who employ them, in the Jackson, Mississippi of the early 1960's. "The help" does just about everything for its employers...cleans house, irons clothes, raises their children, and often acts as their shrinks! Many of the young white women are fair to their maids, others are just tolerant, and a few are monstrous. All of them pay little more than what black women were paid as slaves 100 years before. The plot concerns one of these young white women, who decides to write a book about the situation, anonymously of course, and proceeds to interview the reluctant "colored girls," who are justifiably nervous that their anonymous interviews could get them killed! She is helped enormously by two of the maids who have an axe to grind. When the book gets published, the shit hits the fan, and the town explodes. Although it fizzles out in the end in a disappointing ending, I still recommend it as a wonderful, enlightening read.

(4-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

On the book jacket of this book, it says that Freedom  is an "epic of contemporary love and marriage." It is that, but it's much more. It's also accurate to say that it's a story of a dysfunctional family from Minnesota, and their friends and relatives. It's that too, but it's much more. A book written by Jonathan Franzen is not necessarily about the story or the characters. It's about the way that he writes the story, and describes the characters and the setting. Everything is so beautifully written that it's hard to put this 560-page book down. You may hate or you may love the characters, but you'll certainly get to know them thoroughly. There's not much that I'd like to say about the story except that you get to know the individuals from their college days, through their marriage years, and their child-rearing years. They go through hell, and some of them are more scarred than others. I think that that's all that I really want to say about the plot. Discover it for yourself as you move through the book, and wallow in the incredibly descriptive writing style of this brilliant writer. The man is a genius.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
 

BOOK REVIEW: THE DUMBEST GENERATION by Mark Bauerlein
There have been many books written lately about the shocking news that the current generation of under-30-year-olds is a generation of intellectual morons. They can't or won't read anything that isn't a required textbook, and they write at the level of a 4th-grader of the 60s, 70s, or 80s. They know nothing, and are not interested in learning anything about Chopin, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, Machu Pichu, Luxor, Rome, or Greece. In short, their knowledge of the vast body of information in Literature, Art, History, Music, Civics, Etiquette, Geography, and Common Sense, that has been passed down from generation to generation, is non existent. What they do know about is "social networking." Their only concern is what's happening to them and their friends. Napoleon, Jesus, and Leonardo DaVinci are not on their Facebook! In the current book, author Bauerlein compiles the data taken from research, surveys, and anecdotal references, and presents a gloomy picture of how the technology of today (cell phones, texting, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) has taken over the lives of a generation who care nothing about the past and its wealth of knowledge...the kind of knowledge that could transform them into fully-rounded mature, adults. They only care about which of their friends got laid last night! They're bogged down in a perpetual adolescence. The book starts off by slapping the reader around with appalling and interesting facts...facts that you were slightly aware of, but never had objective data to prove that you were right. It's truly frightening for what the future holds. The message is a simple one...stop texting, and start reading a novel!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

For the first 160 pages, dealing with the results of surveys and research.
(1-Star) For the last 200 pages dealing with the author's philosophizing about his often irrelevant thoughts.

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN by Kate Morton.
When I picked up The Forgotten Garden,  one of the books given to me in the hospital by two of my dearest friends, I hadn't read a book in five months...not a sentence in a book or in a newspaper, and I hadn't watched any TV. My mind simply closed to the outside world. I spent all of my time going into my own mind, checking out the corners, and "cleaning up shop." I only allowed in, those people who I loved the most, and who loved me. Now, five months of surgeries and recovery had past, and it was time to start reading again. I picked up The Forgotten Garden, from my pile of gift books. What a lucky choice. This is a book that, once you start reading it, it's nearly impossible to put down. If you liked Wuthering Heights,  Atonement, Shadow of The Wind, etc., you'll love it. It's a multigenerational saga about a young Australian woman who sets out in search of her past, and who uncovers the secrets of three generations of her family in England. It's filled with mystery, intrigue, and self-discovery, as Cassandra discovers what happened to the bizarre Mountrachet family at Blackhurst Manor all those years ago.  The characters are unforgettable. This author knows how to write. Some might call this "chick lit," but for those who like to divide things in this way, I'll quote Oscar Wilde who said, "there is no such thing as a book for men or a book for women. Books are well written or badly written." This one is VERY well written. I recommend it highly.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

If you are a fan of the American Musical Theater, then this is a must-read book. In it, genius composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim gives us some of the lyrics of each of his classic musicals, then dissects each of them telling us in great detail why he wrote them and what's wrong with some of them. He also critiques the writing of other famous lyricists from Sigmund Romberg to Cole Porter, including his own mentor, Oscar Hammerstein. It's a rare privilege to be allowed into the mind of a true genius, especially one who is so intelligent and self-critical. We can actually see his mind working when he writes his music and his lyrics, because he's such a good tour guide through his own creative process. Yes, it's a big "coffee-table book," and sometimes it's hard going, because he's so damn bright and articulate. but it's certainly worth the effort. Half way through the book, he explains that this is Part 1 of a planned two-volume series. This book covers the following of his musicals: "Saturday Night;" "West Side Story;" "Gypsy;" "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum;" "Anyone Can Whistle;" "Do I Hear a Waltz?;" "Company;" "Follies;" "A Little Night Music;" "The Frogs;" "Pacific Overtures;" "Sweeney Todd;" and "Merrily We Roll Along." The next volume will contain all of the others (e.g., "Sundays in the Park With George;" "Passion;" etc.) I loved this book, and found it hard to put down. If I had a coffee table, it would be sitting on it right now!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 
The title says it all. This is one of those little Hallmark books that are perfect for that shelf just behind your toilet seat in the bathroom. You can read a few facts, or even pages, each time you...ummm...sit there! It starts with "Age 0 - 1" with facts like: At just 7 days old, Mary, from the House of Stuart, becomes Queen of Scotland, and ends 150 pages later, with "Age 100...and beyond" with facts like: Ichijirou Araya, age 100, climbs Mount Fuji. It's a fun read, either from cover to cover, or in bits and pieces. I read it both ways. I guess that I spend a lot of time in the bathroom!!
(3-Stars) Back to Top

(It doesn't aspire to higher.)

BOOK REVIEW: ROOM by Emma Donoghue
I had to break my own rule about not giving up on a book until I've read it half-way through. I disliked this book so intensely, that I just couldn't read another page of it (I read 100 of 320 pages.) It's written in the voice of a 5-year-old, Jack, who is being held captive along with his mother, by a man who has been raping and abusing his mother all the while that they're his prisoners in Room, an eleven by eleven "prison" in his home. His mother has created a life for Jack for the five years that he's been in it, through her fierce love and creative imagination. (She's been in Room for seven years.) Some might find the voice of a five-year-old narrating the entire story, describing his world through his eyes, as an interesting plot device. I found it so damn annoying, that it was a chore reading each new page. End of story for me, and no, I don't care how it turns out!
(1-Star)

Kate Morton is a master storyteller. I loved her second book, The Forgotten Garden, enough to want to go back and read her first. I enjoyed the first one just as much. It's another page-turner. For those of you who saw, and loved, the PBS Masterpiece Theater series, "Upstairs, Downstairs," you will certainly thoroughly enjoy Morton's two books. They all have the same subject matter...the privileged upper-class of England during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and the servants who waited on them. They're also all multi-generational sagas, dealing with the aristocrats who live upstairs, and their servants, who live in the attic and work in the basement kitchen and throughout the house. The stories are told in flashback, and as the current one unravels, we meet the Hartford family, who are a product of their class, and who are eccentric at best. World War I affects them greatly...both the aristocrats and the servants. As the characters interact, secrets are revealed, plots are hatched, identities are exchanged, and at least one mysterious death is the climax of this novel. Grace, the ninety-nine year old doctor of archeology, and a former maid at Riverton, the grand manor house of the title, narrates the story from her deathbed. She worked as a maid there when she was a teen-ager, and became a part of the fabric of the house. We learn everything through her eyes, and what a story they tell. 
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov

I've read and enjoyed many of the classics of Russian literature, including War and Peace, The Brothers Karamasov, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and many of the plays of Chekhov and Turgenev. I've also enjoyed operas based on stories by Pushkin. But this classic was one that I didn't enjoy. It's an absurdist satire, but I got hung up on the absurdity of it all, and didn't think much of the satire! In the fragmented story, such as it is, the devil and his entourage pay a visit to Soviet Moscow and wreak havoc there. Two of their main "targets" are an author, who has written a giant novel about the trial and execution of Jesus, and the author's lover, Margarita. The parts of the novel that I enjoyed the most, were the chapters recalling the last days of Jesus, and his confrontations with Pontius Pilate and Judas Iscariot. It's not that I didn't understand the story. I got the comparisons between Jerusalem under Pilate and Russia under Stalin. I got most of the satire which is all too obvious, although the long and confusing Russian names got in the way. I just didn't like the way it was written and sewn together like a poorly-designed patchwork quilt...and don't say that you have to be Russian to understand it. You don't. The chapter-by-chapter explanations and references in the back of the book, make everything more than clear to the non-Russian reader. Let's just say that this one lost me. For satire, I'll stick to Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Voltaire!

(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

I loved Ann Patchett's book, Bel Canto, but this one is nowhere near as good. The first sentences, "Parsifal is dead. That is the end of the story," are intriguing and they rope you in. Parsifal was a magician, and his grieving wife unexpectedly finds out that the family that he told her had all been killed in a car accident, are very much alive and living in Nebraska. She flies out there to meet them, and there, she learns a lot about her husband, his dysfunctional family, and about herself. Unfortunately for the reader, nothing very interesting happens out in Nebraska. In THIS story at least. Thankfully, it moves very quickly.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP by Adam Mansbach (illustrated by Ricardo Cortes)

This new runaway hit is a parody of a children's book, written by a frustrated father who can't get his three-year-old to go to sleep. Here's a sample page:
The cats nestle close to their kittens,
The lambs have laid down with the sheep,
You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear,
Please go the fuck to sleep.
As you can see, it's definitely not a book for children!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: TUNNEL VISION by Gary Braver

Can it be scientifically proven that God and Heaven exist, using the advanced technology of MRI imaging...and some very sophisticated drugs? That's the premise of the latest science-based novel by my friend and colleague Gary Goshgarian (aka Gary Braver.) All of his best-selling novels have been page turners and thrillers. Unfortunately this one is neither! Sorry Gary.
(2-Stars) Back to Top

 

This huge coffee-table book was given to me by a friend as a birthday gift last week. I've been skimming it and reading snippets of it since then. It'll take a lifetime to read it, so I've decided to review what I've read so far. No sense having you wait twenty years to read a full review! The book contains everything you would ever want to know about the celebrated movie series. It's filled with interviews with all of the stars; behind the scenes looks at how the sets were made and filmed; beautiful pictures of everything and everyone; and fascinating anecdotes. What I really loved were the removable facsimile reproductions of props and paper cut-outs...everything from: Harry's acceptance letter to Hogwart's, in its own envelope; the Quidditch World Cup program; punch-outs of jars of vials and potions; the programme to the Yule Ball; boxes of products from Hogsmeade; the brochure containing The Marauder's Map; the product catalog for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, etc. All of these are meant to be taken out of the book (they all come in plasticene envelopes,) put together, and perused separately. It's all exciting, interesting and great fun. If you're a fan of the Harry Potter books and films, it's a must. I'm loving it!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: THE LAND OF PAINTED CAVES by Jean M. Auel
I had to wait 20 years for this book to come out. It's the conclusion of Jean M. Auel's six book epic masterpiece "Earth's Children." It's so hard to describe the all-encompassing contents of this 800-page work of genius. As with the other books in the series, it takes place during the Ice Age...30,000 years ago. The main characters are what we would call "cavemen,"...Neanderthals and Cro Magnons. But the author, through her genius, makes us see them as real-life, familiar characters who live and breathe, raise their families, struggle to survive, cook and clothe themselves, and live by the values, morals and religion of their clans. They hunt the large animals that roam their land, and live off of the exotic plants that grow around them. The hero and heroine, Jondalar and Ayla, are two of the most unforgettable and beloved characters in contemporary fiction. We follow Ayla from her horrific childhood in the first book, to marriage and motherhood in the latter books. In the present book, she travels to a gathering of the many Clans, at a Summer Meeting...where people will be married, others will die, and where, she hopes that she will become the healer (doctor) that she has trained all of her life to become. Her training requires her to visit the Sacred Painted Caves (of what will become present-day France,) where she will be initiated into her future role, and where she will face betrayal and death. You, the reader, will feel as though you're living through the every day occurrences of this period, where life was simpler, and morals, customs, values, and codes of behavior were clearly defined, and deviations from these were severely punished. We can learn a lot from our ancestors!!!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

When one of my friends gave me this book as a birthday gift, I was hoping that I wouldn't like it, knowing that it was the first in a series (of at least five,) entitled "A Song of Ice and Fire." Unfortunately, I loved it! It's my kind of book, an epic fantasy. If you loved Lord of the Rings, The Once and Future King, and Macbeth, you'll love it as well. In fact, the author, George R.R. Martin, is often referred to as "the American Tolkien." The title is justified. He's created a world where a king rules, and where lords and their knights each occupy their castles in one of the Seven Kingdoms. Wars are fought. Friends are betrayed. Plots are hatched in lands beyond the Seven Kingdoms. Children occupy thrones vacated by their fathers, who were killed by other fathers, who have children of their own. Journeys are undertaken through treacherous terrain, to flee from danger, or to unknowingly run into danger. Then there are those giant killer wolves, who serve as the pets of the children of the House of Stark. They're marvelous; I want one! So there you have the barest of summaries, of a plot that is gigantic, heroic, exciting, suspenseful, and so filled with wonderful characters, that it requires a complex appendix, listing all of the houses and their occupants. There are also maps. In short, if you love this genre as much as I do, you'll be captivated, as I was.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

The Seven Kingdoms, ruled by five kings, three of whom are young boys between the ages of eight and fifteen, are all at war with one another, all vying for the single crown and throne that will proclaim him to be the true king of all of the Seven Kingdoms. All will stop at nothing to destroy the others. Evil and mad Queen Regents, the mothers of the boys who sit on the thrones of three of the kingdoms, plot and scheme to make sure that their sons will rule the land. Wars are fought, heroes and villains are killed, whole towns and their people are destroyed in a day. By the end of this book, two of the kings are dead, and my favorite character, Tyrion, the dwarf uncle of one of the boy-kings, lies in bed with life-threatening wounds, but still hatching plots. Meanwhile, across the vast sea, a queen and her three dragons set sail for the Seven Kingdoms to take control of a land that she believes is rightfully hers. The characters and plots come tumbling at the reader. One could easily be overwhelmed if not for the helpful appendix in the back of the book. I spent much of my time going back and forth from the story to the appendix, to remember who the characters were, and to which House they belonged. The book is a masterful sequel to the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones. However, I think that I'll take a break before proceeding on to the next three books!
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

If you haven't already read this series, or aren't reading it now, why not? It's the best series of epic fantasy books since the "Lord of the Rings." I just finished reading Book 3 in this series of five books, and I'm loving every word, every page, every character. It's so well written that it's almost impossible to put down. So, do yourself a favor, and start to read Book 1 tomorrow. You'll love it.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

 

Relative to the excellence of the first three books in this series, book four was a great disappointment. As much as it hurts me to say it, it was cumbersome and even boring at times! Ouch! In A Feast For Crows, George Martin concentrates on the minor characters in the series, and then delves even further into the more minor characters in the lives of the minor characters...and down and down it spirals, cluttering the readers minds with hundreds of insignificant names and incidents. Where are our favorite characters, like Tyrion? Nowhere in this book. The result is an overwhelming sense of confusion and boredom. I can't wait for book five!
(2-Stars) Back to Top

After Book 3 (the best book in the series,) this exciting-at-the-start series completely falls apart, with its linear plot deteriorating into a series of episodic chapters that are often unrelated to anything else that came before or that followed. Books 4 and 5 consist of nearly 2000 pages of mish-mash...insignificant characters who do nothing to move the story along; plots that require a special guidebook to determine what's going on and why; main characters who simply get lost in the shuffle and disappear; and even an apology by the author for writing such confusing stories in Books 4 and 5! Can you just imagine Tolkien doing this? Book 5 is nothing more than a 1000-page trailer for Book 6, which I probably won't read when it comes out!
(2 Stars) Back to Top

 

BOOK REVIEW: NW by Zadie Smith
Generally, I don't enjoy reading books about poor people, unless they're hobbits, or the author is Charles Dickens. Neither is the case with this new book by Zadie Smith. I read her first book, On Beauty, which dealt with the world of academia in an affluent town similar to Wellesley, Mass. A far cry from the current novel, which deals with the population living in a project in a depressed area of London. They're mainly immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. Their lives are miserable, and their surroundings are a nightmare. Smith's writing style in this book, is so fragmented and confusing, that it's hard to get to know any of the characters, who come across as boring and uninteresting. I have a rule of thumb when reading. If I don't like the book by the time I reach the half way mark, I can put it down. I almost threw this one down!

(1-Star)
It starts well and it ends well, but in between, the story bogs down and actually gets boring at times. I can't believe that I'm saying this about the author of the most successful series of books ever written...the Harry Potter books. Rowling has said that The Casual Vacancy is her first book written expressly for adults, but I beg to differ. The only people that I know who read the Harry Potter books and loved them, were adults. In any case, this book tells the story of what happens in a small English town when a councilman dies, and his seat is up for grabs. We meet the townsfolk...an interesting lot as created by Rowling, but they're also stereotypical and predictable...a surprise coming from the creator of some of the most fascinating and unique characters in all of literature. Rowling is also a master storyteller, but her story here is not that of a master. As I said before, it bogs down and actually gets boring at times. Nevertheless, I finished it, and I'm glad that I did, but it's not one of Row\ling's best. If I may, I'd like to suggest to the gifted author, to start work on a prequel to the Harry Potter books, telling the story of Harry's parents, Snape, etc. when they were all at Hogwarts as young students together.
(3-Stars) Back to Top

 

It's always worth the long wait for a new Tom Wolfe novel, because they're well-written page-turners, with exciting stories and memorable characters. This one is no exception. It's the story of a city, and some of the people who live in it. As Wolfe describes it, it's almost a foreign city, with English the language of the minority, and with people of several national and ethnic groups running the show. The city is Miami, which Wolfe calls "the American city of the future." God, I hope not! Some of the characters that we get to know are, our hero, a muscle-bound Cuban-American cop; Miami's tough-ass black police chief; a young reporter who went to Yale; a sex-addiction psychiatrist and his hot slut of a Latina "nurse;" a porn-addicted billionaire; Russian oligarchs who spend millions on art, and have museums named after them; condos filled with ex-New York Jewish yentas; plus the inevitable drug-dealers. They all collide and clash in a story that screams to be written up in the tabloid press. Some of the scenes are so cinematic, like the annual orgy called the Columbus Day Regatta, that I just can't wait for it to be made into a movie. The end fizzles out, but who cares...the rest moves like a police chase.
(5-Stars) Back to Top

If you love the books of Kate Morton as much as I do, then this one is a must read. It's one of her best. As with the others, it belongs in the combined genre of historical/romantic/murder mystery. The books also have plots that deal with multi generations of one family. In The Secret Keeper, the place is England as we follow one family back and forth from farm to London. The story covers three time periods...the farm in the near present, London during the Blitz of World War II, and the farm in the 1960's. The main character is Laurel, who we first meet when she's a young teen, and an unsuspecting witness to a brutal murder. When we meet her again, she's become a famous actress of the stage and screen, and she's trying to follow clues to the murder she witnessed as a youngster, and why it took place...primarily due to the fact that the killer was her own mother! It's a real page-turner and I really enjoyed it.
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BOOK REVIEW: PARIS by Edward Rutherfurd

This is one of the best books that I've read in years! You'll love it too, if you love: Paris, and want to learn more about it; multigenerational epics of historical fiction; the great novels of Edward Rutherfurd (Sarum, London, New York, The Princes of Ireland, etc.) Following his usual pattern, Rutherfurd introduces us