Sunday, November 3, 2013


by Lisa Scottoline, St. Martin's Press, October 2013

...a cozy mystery with a great cast of characters

In Accused Lisa Scottoline returns to her roots with the familiar and likeable cast of Rosato and Associates. These women and their friends and family have been featured in Scottoline's most successful and enjoyable book. (Legal Tender, The Vendetta Defense).  In this mystery Mary DiNunzio a newly minted partner in the firm takes on an unusual client, a 13 year old.  This young girl, a now only child from a famously wealthy family, is convinced that the wrong man has been convicted and jailed for her sister's murder. DiNunzio leads the investigation and is often at odds with the girl's parents and members of her own law firm.   The story wanders around Philadelphia both downtown and other neighborhoods, with spot on descriptions that bring the city to life.  This cozy mystery is a light, fun read with a cast of characters that are entertaining.  Among my favorites are Mary's uncles, all named Tony -so South Philly! 

 Scottoline is back in great form with this mystery, here's hoping she sticks with the girls at the law firm and we see lots more of these stories.

I read and reviewed a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Giveaway - Me Before You Giveaway Closed

The publisher has offered a copy of this JoJo Moyes novel for giveaway.  This was a great story, one of my favorites this year.  See my review here.  To enter the giveaway just follow the rules that are in the right column next to this post.  Giveaway ends September 3.
The winner of the giveaway is mheffernan245.  Thanks to all who entered.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Giveaway - The Girl You Left Behind -Giveaway Closed

The publisher has kindly offered a copy of JoJo Moyes new novel that releases later this month for giveaway to readers of this blog.  I just finished it and really enjoyed it.  Read my review here.

Giveaway rules are simple and are stated in the column to the right of this post.  The giveaway will close on August 17, 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

German Villains!

The Girl You Left Behind 
by JoJo Moyes
Pamela Dorman Books, August 2013

The Light in the Ruins 
by Chris Bohjalian,
Doubleday, July 2013

What would the today’s writers  do for villains without the German army invading European countries in the first half of the twentieth century.  German soldiers are the most likely evildoers in more than half of the novels that I read.  I just finished two books where this was true so I thought I might review them together.  The talented writer JoJo Moyes (Me Before You) has penned The Girl You Left Behind, a novel of the German occupation of France in WWI.  Chris Bojhalian (The Double Bind, Midwives) has just released Light in the Ruins a story centered on the German occupation of Italy in WWII.  While very different in tone these stories have a lot in common -the villains  the loathsome Germans - the moral dilemmas people face in dealing with an occupying enemy  - the heart wrenching losses that people suffer during war and lastly the fact that both books alternate between past and present events.

Light in the Ruins  like so many of Bojhalian’s books is hard to characterize.  It is part murder mystery, part historical drama , and part romance and  has a decidedly dark tone to it.  The protagonist is Serafina who served with the Italian partisans during the German occupation.  Ten years after the end of the war Serafina is  a police detective in Florence investigating the murder of an Italian woman whose husband and two children were killed by the Germans.  Serafina was badly burned in the waning days of the occupation and has dim memories of those days.  As the investigation continues Serafina comes to realize that she has crossed paths with the murder victim during the war.   When another family member is killed all signs point to events that occurred during the war driving the killer.  The wartime story is interspersed with the murder investigation.  This story is very well plotted with characters that are strong and real.  There are no happy endings here but this is an absorbing story.

The Girl You Left Behind has a lighter tone to it.  The first half of the book tells of the French woman Sophie Leferve who runs a hotel/restaurant with her sister in 1916.  Her beloved husband Edouard, an artist is fighting at the Front.  The Germans occupy the town and the Kommandant takes an interest in Sophie and a painting of Sophie that her husband did.   The narrative describes the hardships and cruelties inflicted on the French people during this occupation  In order to save her husband who is now a POW Sophie contemplates giving in to the Kommandant’s sexual demands to gain his release.  The story abruptly shifts to modern day about half way through the book.  A young widow Liv, now owns Sophie’s painting and sees it as her most valued possession because it was a gift from her late husband.  The Leferve family is claiming that the artwork was looted during war and it is rightfully their property. As Liv comes to know and investigate Sophie’s life she grows attached to her.  Throughout this part of the story Liv is slowly falling in love with Paul, an investigator working for the Lefevre family.   In the court contest over the painting the rest of Sophie’s story is told.  I liked this book and I fear I have not done a very good job in the plot summary.  While the story is complicated, it is engrossing, well written and a great read!  The ending is somewhat fanciful but who doesn’t like a love story that turns out well every now and then. Both books are highly recommended!

I read a copy of The Girl You Left Behind provided by the publisher. I read a copy of The Light in the Ruins that I borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Son

by Philipp Meyer, Ecco, May 2013

... a real Western without the romanticism of Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey

This is a novel of the American West set in Texas.  It follows one family - the McCullough’s - thru the history of the state.  The patriarch, Colonel Eli McCullough, was the first white child born in Texas in 1836. Eli lives for 100 years so he carries the story forward well into the twentieth century.   He is the larger than life character that dominates this story.  The other two storylines are interspersed between Eli’s narrative.  Eli’s  son Peter is a brooding intellectual type who lives through the pre WWI conflict with Mexico and is forever changed when his Mexican neighbors are massacred by his family.  Lastly Eli’s  great granddaughter Jeanne Anne is a talented woman trying to make her way in the male dominated world of big oil.    

This is really an epic saga about the settling and growth  of Texas.  Through Eli’s experiences we read of family massacres, Comanche Indians who kidnap and use white settlers,  Texas Rangers who enforce a frontier type of law.  Through Peter’s story we see the conflicts between the white Texans and the Hispanic settlers who were the original landowners in the area. All of the corruption that marks the relations between a victorious conqueror and the losing side  is here to behold.  Peter also tells the story of the movement from cattle ranching to oil drilling in the big ranches in Texas.  Jeanne Anne’s experiences show the grow of big oil in the state and the uphill battle a woman faced in being successful in this state.  

This story flies along and is filled with action.  I particularly liked the ending which was somewhat unexpected and definitely satisfying.  I was left with two impressions after reading it.  One if anyone wonders where the gun culture in the US comes from, read this story.  Almost from the first settlers in the West, the gun was used to ensure white superiority.  All disputes were settled with guns and loss of life was the norm not the exception and this story illustrates that in spades.  My second impression was that this story so close to truth was profoundly depressing and grim  in that the behavior of the white Texans to the Native Americans and the Mexicans was extremely brutal.  Probably not that much different from other conquering nations but depressing nonetheless.  The author does not sugarcoat any of it.  So if you want to read a real Western story with none of the romanticism of Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey read this.  Sure to be one of the best books of the year.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians

by Kevin Kwan, Doubleday, June 2013

... a definite beach read!

This is a fun book on it’s way no doubt to becoming a fun movie. American born Chinese girl unknowingly becomes romantically involved with a colleague who is the scion of an incredibly rich Chinese family living in Singapore.  The story flits from New York to London to Paris to Hong Kong to Singapore.  The author has some familiarity with the lifestyles of the upper echelons of the incredibly rich Chinese and uses this information to skewer them in a hilarious fashion.  

Rachel Chu is a successful college professor who falls in love with Nick Young a fellow prof at NYU.  Nick invites her to his family home in Singpore without telling her much about the extensive wealth of his family.  As you might imagine this girl from modest circumstances is not welcomed by the haughty family.  Nick’s childhood friend is marrying and an outrageously expensive wedding provides the backdrop for most of this story.  Rachel is immediately uncomfortable in this world and is rescued only by Nick’s cousin Astrid.  Astrid’s relationship with her husband provides one of the subplots for the book.  Events proceed in a rather predictable way but the story is rescued by the writing style of the author - he makes it all fun - an entertaining soap opera with multiple characters acting in just enough of an outrageous manner to make the whole story fly along.  A definite beach read!

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Wicked Girls

by Alex Marwood Penguin Books, July 2012

...a very different thriller

Wow, this is a very different thriller!  Set in a UK seaside town it tells the story of two women who spent a single day together as children and to their everlasting unhappiness were responsible for a young child’s death.  These woman (Kristy and Amber) meet again as adults during a serial killer investigation.  Kristy, originally the child from a very poor upbringing has struggled through the social welfare/prison system to complete university and is a married mother of two working as a reporter.  Amber, originally the child of a privileged upbringing has fared less well. She works as a cleaning supervisor on the overnight shift at the seaside amusement park.  She lives with common law husband Vic and two beloved dogs.  

As the serial killer's bodies start piling up the two women reconnect.  The story is peppered with interesting characters who are well drawn even if many of them are decidedly creepy including Vic, Amber’s husband and Martin a hanger-on who interjects himself into many lives.  I really liked that many of these characters tell the story in their own voices (first person).  I think it raised the level of the physiological drama to get inside their heads that way.  I bet no one guesses the ending of this one, it had me right up until the last page.

The issues that the story highlights - what happens to child killers as they become adults, how society treats them and how they deal with their own guilt make this a thoughtful work while not in anyway stinting on the suspense.  I bet you’ll remember this story long after you read the last page.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Question of Honor

by Charles Todd, William Morrow, August 2013

...strongest story in this series

The fifth in the Bess Crawford series is the best one in my opinion.  Bess is a WWI battlefield nurse who continually runs into murder mysteries (like a lot of these series you must keep your incredibility in check).  This mystery is 10 years old and starts in India where Bess was raised.  Her father was the colonel in command of a British Army unit stationed there.  One of his officers is charged with five murders and to the dishonor of Bess’s father and the entire regiment he escapes.  Fast forward to the front lines in France in the waning days of WWI where Beth receives information from a dying man that the officer in question is still alive and serving in the British army as an enlisted man.  Things take off from there, Beth, ever relentless in her investigation tracks down leads in France and back in England.  She must have crossed the English channel at least 20 times in two months to further the investigation.  No more spoilers on this story but the plot is more complex than earlier novels in this series although the denouement is fairly weak.

This series is good but not great.  Beth as the central character is always being rescued by Simon her father’s aide, so not exactly your feminist role model.   Because Beth is neither a detective nor a police official the plotting takes some leaps to keep Beth’s actions credible.  This story is stronger because Beth and her mother solve the case without depending on her father’s army connections to elicit information.  So if you’ve enjoyed earlier books in this series you’ll find this one entertaining.  If you are looking for a good WWI female detective try the Maisie Dobbs series.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can -Eat

by Edward Kelsey Moore, Knopf March 2012

...a great beach read

Covering a 50 year span from the late 60s through the new century, this story covers the friendship of three African American women, Clarice, Odette and Barbara Jean.  The girls meet and bond in high school.  They hang out at the local eatery, Earl’s  All You Can Eat where they are quickly dubbed the Supremes.  We meet their spouses, Richmond, Clarice’s philandering husband, Lester, Barbara Jean’s much older husband and James, Odette’s rock solid partner. Still friends after all these years they continue to meet at Earl’s now with their husbands.

The story is told in two voices, Odette speaks in the first person and the rest of the story is told in the third person.  Oh by the way Odette sees and speaks to dead people including her mother and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Sounds kind of crazy but it works in this story.  The tale is really not plot driven but character driven.  The friendship among these women is the story.  They are now in their fifties and are all dealing with life changing events.  Clarice has decided that she will no longer accept Richmond’s infidelities.  Barbara Jean is haunted by an earlier relationship and the death of her son Adam and Odette has a significant health challenge.  How these women deal with these issues and help one another is the core of the story.  I forgot to mention how much humor is in this story, while not the  laugh out loud type it is surely fun.

I am sure that some people will criticize this novel as being made up of stereotypes but I don't agree, I think these women are warm, real, intelligent characters that show the best parts of female friendships.  A surprise for me was that the author was a man.  I liked this book a lot and was sorry when it ended.  A great beach read!

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ordinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger, Atria Books, March 2013

...a coming of age story that is engrossing and memorable

The story is set in a small town in Minnesota in the summer of 1961. Folks are going to the soda fountain and drinking ice cold root beers and the Twins are a brand new team in Minnesota.   Our narrator is Frank Drum, the 13 year old son of the local minister.  His father Nathan is a vet haunted by memories of his WWII experiences, his mother Ruth struggles in her role as a minister’s wife.  Frank has a younger brother Jake, wise beyond his years who stutters in public and an older sister Ariel who is an accomplished musician headed for Julliard at the end of this fateful summer.

Frank narrates the story from a perspective 40 years later.  It is a technique that works well.  The first death in the book, a train accident that kills a mentally challenged young boy, sets the stage for the events that will follow.  Frank and Jake are an adventurous duo, walking the edge between serious trouble and normal boyhood adventures.  They spend a lot of time eavesdropping on adults and learning information that alters their take on events.  The author does a nice job in writing about the relationships among the three siblings, it is a family dynamic that rings true.

Frank grows into an adult maturity as he considers and responds to the action in the story.  I particularly enjoyed the writing when he describes his thought process on events.  It seemed so realistic.  The events of the summer are life changing for all involved.  The town will witness multiple deaths at least one of which is a murder.  While this story is described as a murder mystery,  it is not a page turner  and the murderer is apparent well  before it is revealed.  It is more of a coming of age story that examines the role of faith in response to horrific events.  

I liked this book and will search out more by this author.   I think he tells an engrossing  story of how good people struggle with loss, deal with guilt, participate in a community, support each other, weigh whether forgiveness is possible and find comfort in a religious faith.

I read a copy of this novel that I bought.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia: A Novel

by Kimberly McCreight, narrated by Khristine Hvam, Harper Audio, 12 hrs, 15 min., April 2013

...chilling depiction of life in a rich kids' prep school

This book has been touted as the next Gone Girl.  It really isn't that type of a taut thriller with unexpected twists it is more of a Mean Girl  prep school story.  Kate, a successful attorney, is a single mother. her daughter Amelia is suspended from school for plagiarism and commits suicide the same day (not really a spoiler as it happens in the first chapter.)  Amelia had been a bright, confident student at an exclusive prep school.  Kate begins to doubt that Amelia’s death was a suicide and plunges into an examination of Amelia’s life.

The author uses  both Kate and Amelia’s voices in the narrative.  She employs text messages, blog posts and facebook statuses to tell the story  Amelia has been selected to join a secret club and begins a hazing process.  The dialogue with the teenagers is very good and gives you the feeling of just how menacing a group of teenage girls bent on harassment can be.  I don’t want to give away any of the plot here but I did think the author had a number of people acting out of character, specifically would a hard nosed NYPD detective let a dead girl’s mother practically run the murder investigation? I don’t think so.  Would a teacher at a prep school really undertake the activity that she is finally exposed for?  I don’t think so.  Would a successful attorney do what this guy did?  I don’t think so.  Get ready to suspend disbelief as this one wraps up.

The character development is quite good.  Both Amelia and Kate are vividly brought to life in the story.  There is a sense of sadness to the narrative due to the finality of Amelia’s death in the first chapter that I found hard to overcome.

Read it for the chilling depiction of life in a rich kids’ prep school, not as a thriller.

I listened to an excellent performance on the part of Khristine Hvam as she read this novel.  Her talented presentation enhanced the story.

I listened to a copy of this novel provided by Harper Audio

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Maya's Notebook

by Isabel Allende, Harper, Tra edition, April 2013

... a very good emotional coming of age story

This is a coming of age story beautifully told.  A nineteen year old girl from Berkeley, CA  through a series of events comes to a remote Chilean island to hideout for a period of time until things calm down back in the States.  Maya Vidal has been raised by her Chilean grandmother mother Nidia and African American stepfather Popo in California.  

Maya  is bright, likable and  headstrong.  Her life comes unglued when there is a loss in the family.  The story is told from Maya’s diary and the author doesn’t stint in dealing with difficult issues such as homelessness, prostitution and drug abuse.  An undercurrent in this story is modern day Chilean history including the events around the Pinochet regime and the “disappeared”, those people who were killed by that rightist government.  

On the island in Chile, Maya lives with a friend of her grandmothers Manuel Arias.  He and other residents of this remote island slowly nurture Maya back to emotional health.  While she is there she uncovers secrets about her own family and their involvement in the politics of the time.

This is another wonderful story from Isabel Allende.  She is great at creating characters that come to life in stories that are rich with history, culture  and everyday detail.  Maya has a superb voice in this story so like a nineteen year old.  A very good emotional coming of age novel!

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Palisades Park

by Alan Brennert, St. Martins Press, April 2012

...a bit of a disappointment

The author has written a homage to Palisades Amusement Park.  We meet the central character Eddie Stopka at Palisades at the age of eleven in 1922.  The story is primarily built around Eddie and his family.  They are a goofy bunch.  His wife Adele is a frustrated stage actress, his daughter Toni is a fledgling high diver and his son Jack is a dreamer.  Eddie and Adele run a french fry stand at the park.  The narrative introduces all kinds of carnival performers - fat ladies, magicians, acrobats and high divers.  There is a wealth of detail about carnivals and their entertainers.

The action (and there is not much of it) includes scenes from the Great Depression, World War II, Korea and  the civil rights movement.  All of this with the amusement park as the continuing backdrop.  The story concludes with the park’s closing in 1971.

While I enjoyed this story it was far from riveting.  I found the characters oddly one dimensional.  No matter what was happening to them, they seemed to have no emotion that was discernible and the dialogue was at times painful.   I am sure those who grew up going to this amusement park will love this book, the detail sure to trigger many memories.  

Following the author’s last book Molokai, which was excellent, this was a bit of a disappointment for me.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Me Before You

Jojo Moyes, Pamela Dorman Books, December 2012

...not your typical romance novel

Set in modern day England, this story centers around Louisa Clark and the Will Traymor, a quadriplegic for whom she becomes a care giver.  Lou is unemployed when she reluctantly signs up for this position.  Coming from a decidedly lower middle class family she is somewhat awed to find herself working at the Castle taking care of Will the scion of an upper class family.  

Lou is not particularly well suited for this job and soon finds herself challenged to work with Will.  She tries to learn more about quads by joining some online support groups and works mightily to engage Will in life outside his apartment of rooms.  Will is embittered by the accident that left him paralyzed.  There are a number of supporting characters in this story that really add to the enjoyment.  Lou has a family of eccentric but likeable members including her long time boyfriend Patrick..  The male nurse who helps Will and his parents are also well drawn characters.  The central story though is the relationship between Will and Lou.  I loved their dialogue, witty and engaging, it reminded of the best between Tracy and Hepburn.  Both Will and Lou have secrets that are revealed and there is no chance I’ll tell them here.

This is a love story for sure, but really it is so much more than that.  It examines class differences (and renders them inconsequential), the humor is real and funny.  It speaks to the life altering power of true love and finally this story addresses a thought provoking ethical dilemma.  I can't really list all of the emotions you will feel while reading this.

I took a break from reviewing books (not reading books)  for about six weeks.  I wanted to review and recommend this one because I just enjoyed it so much.  Don’t be fooled by the cover this is not your typical romance novel, it would be great for a book club choice.  It will stay with you long after you read the last page.  

I read a copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia

Friday, April 26, 2013

Paris: The Novel

by Edward Rutherford, Doubleday, April 2013

...for the diehard historical fiction fans

Hold onto your hats, we have an 800 page(get it on your favorite ereader)  fictional look at Paris that starts in 1260 with the building of Notre Dame Cathedral and finishes in 1968 with the student revolts.  The story follows several families through the years - the LeSourds who are revolutionarys, the Blanchards middle class merchants, the Gascons skilled labourers and the deCynges who are aristocrats.  In what I guess is typical for European society, they never change class - aristocrats from the 13th century are still aristocrats in WWII, etc.   

There is so much ground to cover that the author sacrifices character development for historical detail.  No major milestone in Parisian history is unrecorded in this story.  The wars with England, the expulsion of Jews, the Revolution, the Paris Commune, building the Eiffel Tower, the Franco-Prussian War, WWI and II are all part of it. I would have preferred a little less history and a little more depth of character but not to be.   The bulk of the tale is set between 1860 and 1945 but in a decision that I found hard to follow the author jumps back and forth in time in telling the tale.  The author is very descriptive about Paris neighborhoods; I do not have a familiarity with the geography of the city but if you do I bet you will like this aspect of the story.  Even though I read and mostly enjoyed this tomb I’d be hard pressed to recommend it to any but die hard historical fiction fans.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Those Angry Days:Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941

by Lynne Olson, Random House, March 2012

...a significant book telling an important story in a very readable way.

Lynne Olson tells the story of the fight between the isolationists and the interventionists in the months leading up the the entry of the US into WWII.  This detailed history reads like a novel. 

On the isolationist side, the author has rightly centered her story around Charles Lindbergh.  Lindbergh’s character and personality is revealed through his wife Anne’e writings and the diaries of other family members and friends.  He is really a fascinating character.  All of the characteristics that made him so successful in aviation - independence, self assuredness, even arrogance were all the wrong traits to make him successful in political discourse.  Because of the issues around his son's kidnapping and death and the intense publicity that surrounded him in the US he relocated to Europe in the 1930s and became enamoured with the regimented and controlled life in Nazi Germany.  There were a few other interesting characters on the isolationist side, including some senior US military (George Marshall, Hap Arnold) and young intellectuals like John F. Kennedy, Sarge Shriver, and Brewster King.  While the debate between the two groups started in a high minded way, the isolationist’s soon attracted all kinds of crazies (radical Catholics, Communists, racial purists, Jew haters) to their cause and the debate sank to new lows (sound familiar today).

The interventionist story is centered around FDR and those advisers (Stimson, Knox) who supported the British cause.  FDR is portrayed as uncharacteristically reluctant to voice support for the interventionist cause.  What I found interesting was the role played by individual citizens in promoting the selective service act and the provision of military equipment to Britain.  Additionally the British ambassador to the US, Lord Lothian was a truly heroic character, actually sacrificing his health and life to work promoting the British cause to Americans.

I liked this book but not nearly as much as two earlier WWII books the author had - Citizens of London, and A Question of Honor.  I think the subject matter dealt with here was just less exciting that either the war in Britain or the story of the Polish aviators.  Nonetheless this is a significant book telling an important story in a very readable way.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

His Majesty's Hope: A Maggie Hope Mystery

by Susan Elia MacNeal, Bantam, May 2013

... a fun series

This is the third novel in this WWII mystery series.  Maggie Hope, a Brit who was raised in the US is the heroine.  The first novel in the series, Mr Churchill’s Secretary introduced Maggie as a feisty, independent woman with a head for breaking codes and a propensity for attracting danger.  In the second novel Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, Maggie has joined the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and protects the young princesses from intrigue as she learns more about her own convoluted family history.

This story finds Maggie fully trained and ready for an overseas assignment.  The year is 1941 and Maggie finds herself chosen by Churchill himself to conduct  a dangerous mission  that takes her right into Berlin. Lots of danger and suspense here and you are almost sure that things will not go well for Maggie. In addition to her mission she uncovers more info about her family that is very interesting.

The author does a great job with historical detail.  I also love the fact that she mixes real life characters with fictional ones.  You get a good picture of life in Berlin circa 1941. The characters are rich and well drawn.   This is a fun series so I almost hate to make any negative comments because I do enjoy it, but the author relies on an inordinate amount of coincidences to further the story line.  I think the story would be just as compelling with slightly less of these far fetched add ons. Having said that, if you like WWII mysteries with strong female heroines, this series is for you.  Can’t wait for the next story - The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent in 2014.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander, Berkley Hardcover, December 2012

...this story is tightly edited and all the more powerful for its brevity and focus

Some Spoilers  --  Yet another WWII story (I know too many!).  This one a true tale of chivalry in the air war in Germany.  Using a single instance of a German fighter pilot aiding the crew of a crippled US bomber the author takes the opportunity to describe life in the German air force for those who were not Nazis.  Telling the story of Franz Stigler, a Bavarian Catholic who served as a pilot we get the background on Hermann Goering’s air corps pilots, their esprit de corps, their life styles and their battles.  The author opens with Franz’s love of civilian aviation and reluctant recruitment into the air force.  He survives numerous crashes in Spain, Germany, and North Africa.  He flies over 400 sorties for the air force and comes to question the purpose of the war.  Remarkably he survives the war, the post war hardships in Germany and immigrates to Canada.

The US pilot in the story, Charlie Brown, is younger than Stigler and much less experienced than him when their paths cross in the skies over Holland.  But Charlie has many of the same experiences as Stigler, dealing with fear, a sense of despair and the strong feeling he won’t survive the war. 

I won’t tell the tale of their encounter because the author does it much better than I could, but it is a great story.  The author (an extraordinarily lucky man to find all of the key players alive and willing to be interviewed 50 years later) does a good job of interweaving the two stories.  The events that brought both pilots together 50 years later are almost as good as the original story.  This story is tightly edited and all the more powerful for its brevity and focus.  It continues to fascinate me that we can motivate young men (and women) to put their lives on the line in the way these two gentlemen did.  A great story that would bring up a number of interesting discussions for a book club.

I read a kindle edition of this book and again am unhappy with nonfiction on the kindle.  The images provided are awful and the documents shown are unreadable.  Come on guys at least provide a link to some good images if you can’t get them on the kindle.  No more nonfiction on the kindle for me! 

I read a copy of this book that I bought

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


by Jonathan Kellerman,  Ballantine Books, February 2013 

...the energy and suspense have gone out of this series for me

Guilt is the newest offering in the long running Alex Delaware series.  The early books in this series emphasized the psychological skills and interest of Delaware.  They were taut thrillers.  In the more recent books, Milo Sturgis, Delaware’s police lieutenant pal has become a central character as the series has moved into a more straightforward murder mystery type story.

 In this novel a series of seemingly connected events in an upscale LA neighborhood start the story.  The bones of an infant long dead are found buried in a yard of a home.  Nearby, the body of a woman and the bones of a second infant are found.  Milo conducts the investigation that leads to a power Hollywood couple (read Brad and Angelina) and their unusual life style. There are a few twists and turns before the murderer(s) are identified in the improbable ending.

As you can probably tell from my tepid review of this book, the energy and suspense have gone out of this series for me.  I find these stories to be just average police murder mysteries.  The characters have become predictable in their actions and the endings of these stories wildly unrealistic.  I will pass on the next book in this series.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Leaving Everything Most Loved

by Jacqueline Winspear  Harper, March 2013

...long time fans will be well pleased with this one.

The tenth novel in this series in the Maisie Dobbs series and it is a good one.  The year is 1933 and Maisie, a psychologist and private investigator, is asked to investigate the murder of an Indian woman.  It was common practice in England for British families returning from Indian service to bring an Indian amah to care for their children.  Unfortunately when the children are grown, the families often just released these women into a land that did not welcome them.  Usha Pramal the woman who was murdered was a charismatic well educated Indian, beloved by all who knew her.  Her murder was not well investigated by the police and her brother newly arrived from India asks Maisie to investigate.   The murder investigation takes the expected twists and turns as Maisie works slowly but competently towards capturing the murderer.

One of the hallmarks of the Maisie Dobbs novels is that they are well grounded in time and place- in this one London in 1933.  A small number of people led by Churchill and joined by Maisie’s love interest James Crompton are preparing for what they see as inevitable war with a rearming Germany.  Women are struggling to gain opportunities in the working world, in this story highlighted by Maisie’s assistant Sandra Tapley.  The devastating effects of WWI on the British continued well into the 1930s and we see this with the lingering effects on the health of Billy Beale, Maisie’s friend and assistant.  Lastly the overt racism that was common to the times is a consistent theme in this murder investigation.

On the personal front, Maisie continues to be unable to take the step and marry the incredibly patient James.  She has decided to close her business leave England and travel, possibly to India and other parts.  This could be the end of the series but I choose to believe that this will just give the author more exotic locales in which to set the stories.  If you haven’t read the earlier books in this series, it would be best to do so before reading this one, but it will stand alone.  Long time fans will be well pleased with this one.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where'd You Go Bernadette: A Novel

by Maria Semple, Little, Brown and Company, December 2012 
Lots of fun, a beach read in the best sense.

This wonderfully satiric novel is set in present day Seattle.  The Fox family – husband Elgin a widely successful Microsoft exec, daughter Bee (short for Balakrishna)a precocious 14 year old and mother Bernadette a genius architect suffering from  acrophobia – live an unorthodox life style in a deteriorating former girls convent school.  As the novel opens we are presented with the fact that Bernadette has mysteriously disappeared a few days before Christmas.  The story then jumps back in time to about 6 weeks before her disappearance.  Using emails, memos, FBI documents and first person narration by Bee we get to meet this widely funny cast of characters and get the story.
In a nutshell Bernadette, an award winning young architect, has retreated to her home and is unable to work because of her acrophobia.  While loved by her husband and idolized by her daughter, Bernadette has retreated into her own quirky world.  She employs a person assistant Manjula who resides in India to complete any tasks that would require her to leave her home.  Bernadette is in constant conflict with neighbors and helicopter parents at her daughter’s elementary school.  Her husband is so engrossed with his Microsoft project he fails to notice the spiraling out of control issues at home. Ecology issues arise when the next door neighbor demands that Bernadette remove blackberry vines that encroach on her property.  Things get wild after that! I don’t want to tell too much of this plot as it sounds so absurd but is in fact laugh out loud funny.  Bee using information that is slowly revealed to her in many forms works to try and find her mother. 
I liked so many things about this story – it unwinds at a fast pace, the characters are fully drawn and likeable, the unconventional methods used to tell the story, the portrait of Seattle, the Microsoft corporate culture so realistically drawn -  but mostly I liked that is was such a fun book.  In some deft plot mastery the author manages to pull together the minor plots that seemed extraneous to the story for a great ending.  I read afterwards that the author Maria Semple was a screen writer for Arrested Development; you can see this story presented as a TV series (think Portlandia set in Seattle).  Lots of fun, a beach read in the best sense.  

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.