Friday, January 16, 2009

Thrillers Again . . . reviewed by Suzanne

The Black Tower by Louis Bayard
The only son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the guillotined king and queen of France, was locked in the Temple Prison where he languished for years, an innocent victim of the revolutionaries' hatred of the French monarchy. History tells us he died there . . . or did he? In this historical thriller, Dr. Hector Carpentier is contacted by the great Vidocq, former convict, police spy and "scourge of criminals". Carpentier's name and address were found on the body ("Never let your name be found in a dead man's trousers.") of a murder victim. The story is told by Hector and through the entries in his late father, Dr. Hector Carpentier's, journal. The older physician recounts how he treated a young patient in the Temple Prison when Hector Jr. was just a child. The tone is witty, and there is just the right amount of pathos in the appropriate places. The characters travel around 19th century Paris, which is dirty, dangerous and rat-infested, not the City of Light it is today. Great fun and a book with heart!
Louis Bayard's Web Site

The Legal Limit by Martin Clark
Mason and Gates Hunt are brothers. While Mason went to law school, married and went on to a successful law career, Gates drank too much, did drugs and was eventually arrested and convicted for selling them. Instead of taking a plea, Gates insisted on going to trial, where he lied on the stand. Even after years in prison, he continues to cast blame, not on himself, but on his brother, who he insists could "pull strings" and shorten his sentence if he tried. Flash back to their youth, while Mason was in law school and long before Gates's conviction, when an event occurred that Mason thinks is long behind them. One night, during a confrontation with a rival over a woman, a drunken Gates killed a man. It was senseless and indefensible act of brutality. Mason helped his brother cover up the crime, and neither of them has mentioned it since that night. Now it comes back to threaten Mason. This is a top-notch legal thriller. I recommend it for fans of James Lee Burke.
Martin Clark's Web Site

The Last Patriot by Brad Thor
"At the end of the day, Harvath always did the right thing." In spite of his bravery and dedication, Scott Harvath, the hero of Thor's series, lacks the humor of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and the sex appeal of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. The attempt to create a love life for Harvath is not convincing. He's just too serious to have fun! I’m convinced Scott would rather sleep with his gun. The books are competently written, and this one has an interesting story that hinges on a discovery about the Koran made by Thomas Jefferson. The good guys (Harvath & Co.) are trying to find an unknown document that will shed a new light on Islam, and the bad guys (Islamic extremists) are trying to find it and destroy it. I liked that this book had less graphic violence than some of the other books in the series. And it has a satisfying twist at the end. Recommended for thriller fans.
Brad Thor's Web Site

Le Crime by Peter Steiner
I picked up a copy of this book in my local independent bookstore because it's a thriller and it's set in France. The protagonist is a former CIA operative who left the agency in disgrace years previously. He also left his wife and children. When the book opens, he's living in a small town in France. One morning, sitting on his patio eating his croissant, he sees a body in his front yard. He interprets this as a warning that he is targeted for assassination. I liked that the narrator describes himself as an "old man" and contemplates his aging and sagging body in unflattering terms. There's a flashback to a pilgrimage he took through France, which is how he found the village he lives in. The plotline is thin, the reason he's being pursued by bad guys is - if I understood it correctly - ridiculous, and there are some details about other murders that were not cleared up, unless I missed something. Still and all, I was drawn to the narrator and his French comrades-in-arms, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I'll pick up the sequel, "L'Assassin" when I get a chance.

Reviewed by Suzanne

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Favorites of the Library’s
Nonfiction Book Group

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath told of the Okies who fled the Dust Bowl. Timothy Egan recounts the stories of those who stuck out the hard times, refusing to leave their land. He begins with the history of the settlement of an area one explorer called “a desolate waste of uninhabited solitude.” Real estate speculators enticed settlers to fictitious towns. Settlers came to this area called No Man’s Land for lack of a better place to live, because they had hope and because they believed the soil could never be used up. A combination of natural and man-made disasters - hailstorms, plagues of locusts, severe cold and heat, and worst of all the “moving earth”, the dust storms that blackened the sky—made their lives a day-to-day struggle.

Supercapitalism by Robert Reich
“Of all the nations of the world, America is assumed to best exemplify the idea that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand,” Reich says in the introduction. He also believes that rampant free-market capitalism has become bloated and has weakened our democratic system. Why do consumers expect corporations to be socially responsible, Reich asks, when they purchase the cheapest goods, regardless of where or under what conditions they were produced? Corporations do not exist to be socially responsible; they are in business to increase stockholder profits. Reich’s suggestions for strengthening democracy include the elimination of the corporate income tax and removing corporate cash from politics.
Robert Reich's Blog

Nixon and Mao: The Week that Changed the World by Margaret Macmillan
In 1972, traveling to China was “like going to the moon.” President Nixon’s decision to go to China posed several risks. Conservative Republicans opposed any diplomatic overtures by Americans to that steadfastly Communist country. Furthermore, Nixon would be humiliated if Mao refused to meet with him. Kissinger was dispatched on a secret advance trip, which even the State Department did not know about, to appraise the receptiveness of the Chinese. This is a fascinating look behind the scenes at the banquets, the competing egos of the Chinese and American officials, and the wrangling over the wording of the final joint communiqué.

Reviewed by Suzanne

Friday, January 2, 2009

Good Books for Nonfiction Book Discussion Groups —Suzanne

Playing the Enemy by John Carlin
I've admired Nelson Mandela for a long time. Without his leadership, South Africa's transition to majority rule would probably have been a lot more violent than it was. This book cemented my admiration for the man—and taught me a bit about rugby, which is like American football but without the protective equipment. I watched a YouTube video of the 1995 World Cup match and one of the Springbok players singing the South African national anthem. This is a truly inspiring book. It’s also timely, since Barack Obama has said he wants to be president of the entire US and bring people together. If you think this is an unrealistic hope, read Carlin’s account of what Mandela did for his country. Obama would do well to take some lessons from Mandela, who consistently made the effort to learn about his political opponents, to get inside their heads and hearts, and to appeal to the best in them.

The Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team, were banned from international competition as a result of worldwide condemnation of the country’s apartheid regime. Because the team members were predominantly white Afrikaners, the team was a recognizable and hated symbol of apartheid to blacks. Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress, whose efforts were instrumental in ending apartheid, represented everything white South Africans feared. After majority rule was instituted and Mandela became the country’s first black president they worried that their rights would be curtailed. Carlin tells the surprising and moving story of how Mandela and the Springboks players united to bring all South Africans together through sports.

I plan to use this book in my nonfiction book group. Carlin provides enough background about South African history and about Mandela’s life to make the story comprehensible. The book should launch a good discussion about political and moral leadership.

Reviewed by Suzanne