Matt's rating system:

  GO!   I liked the book a lot and recommend it to you without reservation.
  CAUTION   I liked it, but your tastes may be different.
  STOP!   I really didn't like this book at all.
The Emperor's Tomb by Steve Berry   Earlier this year, I damned  Mr. Berry's last book with faint praise, but Mr. Berry's books have
always been a guilty pleasure for me.  His plots are predictable; his characters seem to be becoming increasingly two-dimensional, and
some might call his work manufactured entertainment; but I've always jumped on each new release and read it eagerly.  After trashing
most of the World Heritage Sites in Europe, Mr. Berry's alter ego Cotton Malone has turned his attention to Asia, specifically, the
museum of the terra cotta soldiers near Xi'an.  Check it out.  (12/19/2010)

Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges  I think I'm a victim of false advertising.  I bought this book because it said "Winner of the
Pulitzer Prize" on the cover.  I thought that phrase described this book.  Apparently, Mr. Hedges received the award for something else
he wrote.  But I digress.  The liberal class that Mr. Hedges is lamenting is--in no particular order--muckrakers, socialists and
communists.  Their natural habitat includes the press, universities, labor movement, culture (!), the Democratic Party and liberal religious
institutions.  These institutions have either "collapsed" or been compromised by the evil forces of capitalism.  To say that they've
collapsed is just ridiculous, but I'll admit that whether or not they've been compromised by "the man" is open to discussion.  Personally, I
find his reasoning to be pretty weak--but then I would.  Curiously, the one place where Mr. Hedges doesn't think there's enough
capitalism is the Internet, where he says that Pulitzer Prize-winning writers don't get paid enough for their work.  Serves him right for
selling books under false pretenses.  (12/15/2010)

Road of Bones:  The Siege of Kohima 1944  by Fergal Keane   Have you ever been to the Lennoxlove Book Festival?  Me neither.  
Lennoxlove is a grand old Scottish house near the town of Haddington, twenty miles east of Edinburgh.  The festival is always held the
third weekend in November, which means that it usually ends the day before I get to Haddington to have Thanksgiving with friends.  
One  of this year's highlights was Fergal Keane reading from his new history of the siege of Kohima, which he calls the last great battle
of imperial Britain, and happily, my friend got me a copy of his book while she was there.  If you never heard of this battle in far off
India, it might have something to do with the facts that: 1) the only Americans participating in it were airmen who were dropping
supplies into the remote town near the India-Burma border; and 2) it was wrapping up about the same time that D-Day was unfolding in
Normandy.   The book is well-researched and written, and you'll find it hard to put down.  You might disagree with some of its
assertions--for example, was this undeniably fierce but poorly-supplied Japanese force
really capable of marching deep into India and
knocking it out of the war at such a late date in 1944?--but in any event, you'll find Mr. Keane's arguments compelling.  If you're a
student of history, I recommend it highly.  (12/13/2010)

Freedom: A Novel by  Jonathan Franzen    Somewhat shockingly, I've actually read three of the books on Steven King's list of the top
ten books of the year.  I liked the other two quite a lot, but I couldn't disagree with him more about this one.  I could not connect with
this novel in any way.  Patty and Walter Berglund of St. Paul--who share Mr. King's political sentiments--are such hollow, soulless
beings that I just couldn't work up much enthusiasm to celebrate their triumphs or commiserate with them in their failures--of which
there were many.  It may be that the author is trying to comment on the hollowness and soullessness of modern society--and if so, more
power to him.  I'm sure there are people like this in the world,and I'm sure that Steven King probably knows many of them.  I just kind
imagine why anyone would want to write a book about them.  (12/3/2010)

Brave   by Nicholas Evans   took about three hours to read, and when it was over, I felt a little dirty.  It's the story of a kid who grows
up in England with all kinds of family secrets.  By the time he and his mom move to America, he's completely screwed up--and not in a
good way. As a screwed up adult, he botches the job of raising his son, and the reader is invited to compare and contrast the rearing of
the father and son.  It's not pretty--but it is affecting.  It's one of those books that you don't necessarily enjoy while it's in your hands,
but once you put it down, you're pleased that you made the effort.  (11/30/2010)

At Home:  A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson   Mr. Bryson has a million facts at his fingertips about the commonplace
things in our lives,and he does a wonderful job of paring them down to the most interesting couple of thousand and sharing them with
the reader.  How did salt and pepper get to the top of the condiment food chain?  What's the difference between an herb and a spice?  
What are the two most influential houses in America?  (And why?)   Those and thousands of other questions are answered in this
delightful book.  Check it out.  (11/29/2010)

And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi Occupied Paris by Alan Riding   I think of this book as a lost opportunity.  It should
have been catnip to someone like me--Paris AND Nazis! The author catalogues some of the most interesting people in the world in the
cultural worlds of theatre, film, literature, ballet, opera and the visual arts during one of the most interesting periods of their lives.   And
that's the problem.  The book reads like a catalogue.  (NOTE:  Just today, someone in Scotland told me she was reading my snarky
comments, so in her honor, I'll use the UK-approved spellings of "catalogues" and "catalogue".)  It's a mind-numbing procedural of
people doing things between the day in 1940 when the Germans came to town and the end of the occupation in 1944.  There's really no
sense of a narrative.  At the very end of th book, the author tries out a couple of ideas that he thinks might have overarching themes of
the period, but there was no sense of those themes in the 400-odd pages that precede his wrap-up.  In short, I wish the author of the
book had listed to Kelly from
The Office, when she was explaining her theory of office birthday parties--There's always a theme.

The Fall of the House of Zeus by Curtis Wilkie   If you're not from Mississippi, move on down  the list.  The next book is much
better.  If you are from Mississippi, you know who Dick Scruggs is, and you think he's either guilty or innocent of the crime that landed
him in prison.  If you think that Mr. Scruggs is guilty and deserves what he got,,you'll probably be more comfortable reading
King of
.  But if you think he was brought low by a conspiracy of good old boys who resented his power and fortune, Mr. Wilkie is with
you.  The author writes as if he--like Mr. Scruggs--claims not to know how Scruggs could have gotten himself involved with such a
sorry bunch of characters.  In a metaphor that he beats to death, Mr. Wilkie even has a name for them--The Dark Side of the Force.  
Here's a partial list of the folks that he thinks are up to no good:  Senator Trent Lott (who, oddly, is Mr. Scruggs's brother-in-law);
former State Auditor Pete Johnson; former Hinds County D.A. Ed Peters; P. L. Blakely (who Mr.. Wilkie describes as "a figure in their
network"); the Sigma Nu fraternity at Ole Miss (which is compared to Skull and Bones at Yale); and the First Presbyterian Church of
Jackson (by contrast, the Fondren Presbyterian Church that I attend is referred to as "progressive"--the author's highest compliment).

I really don't have an opinion on the guilt or innocence of Dick  Scruggs.  At the very least, I would say that if you lie down with dogs,
you're going to get up with fleas.  What I do resent is the smarmy tone the author uses.  "While men such as Blake wormed their way
into Eastland's political network, Pete Johnson was born into it," is typical.  Likewise, there are no "liberal" Democrats in Mississippi,
only "progressive" ones.  You get the idea.  What's
really troubling is that the author is a journalism professor and teaching this method
to the next generation of  "reporters".  (11/8/2010)

Washington by Ron Chernow   If you'd asked me a couple of decades ago who my favorite president was, I would have said Thomas
Jefferson.  That was before I started reading much about him.  While I agreed with him (then and now) about a lot of things, I
discovered that as a human being, I'm not sure I'd even let him in my house.  (This was before the Sally Hemmings thing, so that's not
it.)  So while others continued to extol the virtues of Jefferson--or Roosevelt (pick one), Lincoln or Reagan, I became a George
Washington guy.  And I still am, which might explain why I was wary of this book.  The last thing that interested me was yet another
dry bio spiced up with the occasional tidbit that might compel me to like the man less.  I don't like facts getting in the way of my idol
worship.  Happily, Mr. Chernow has written a masterpiece.  He transforms the original George W from a monument as rigid as the
obelisk that bears his name to a man of flesh and blood genuinely worthy of the praise he has received.

While Mr. Chernow acknowledges Washington's reserved demeanor that served him so well, he also talks about less reserved times such
as marching his army to Yorktown and seeing the French reinforcements for the first time.  He stood on the bank of a river, jumped up
and down, shouted and laughed in delight.  Mr. Chernow describes the scene so well that I can see him doing it.  To underscore
Washington's concern about the way that others perceived him, he discusses at length the clothes he wore, his dental problems and the
care that he took to make Mount Vernon appear to his countrymen as a home of some consequence.  If I have a criticism, it would be
that Mr. Chernow is fashionably fixated on the slave issue, but I'm sure he didn't want to be accused of trying to sweep it under the rug.  
(Interestingly, George's will provided for the manumission of his slaves after Martha's death.  During the year that Martha outlived him,
she was afraid that some of the slaves, impatient for their freedom, might try to kill her.  To rectify the situation, she freed them all a few
months after George's death.)  This is a great book.  You'll thank me for recommending it to you.  (11/5/2010)

The Confession by John Grisham   I guess anyone could have seen this one coming.  Mr Grisham, if you've been paying attention, has
become one of the leading proponents of the movement to outlaw the death penalty in the United States.  Which is fine with me.  If you
know me at all, you know that I'm somewhat ambivalent about the use of the death penalty.  I believe that there are some instances in
which it is absolutely appropriate.  Others, not so much.  (If you really want to get me started, ask me what about the idiotic notion of
"victim's rights".  But I digress.)  I don't have a problem with the politics of the book.  You may think differently.  Ironically (this poor
word is so abused in our language that I'm always somewhat hesitant to use it), I think that Mr. Grisham's prodigious talent works
against the message he wants to convey in this book.   It is so effortless to read that you're hardly challenged to consider the strong
position he's advocating.  It's such a cut-and-dried and blatant example of what he's against that you  wish it had been more nuanced and
ambiguous.  If the truth were told, it's practically a revenge fantasy for defense attorneys.  If you're ready for the medicine to go down,
here's your spoonful of sugar.  (10/31/2010)

Antony and Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy   First, Mr. Goldsworthy does a fine job of presenting the events:  Cleopatra met Caesar
when she was 18...she had her brother murdered...she had a son...she was in Rome when he was murdered...Marc Antony was a
mediocre general and not the shrewdest politician around...they had three kids....Actium...SNAKES!!...and, cut.  This is familiar
territory, and although I don't recall reading anything I hadn't seen anywhere else, Mr. Goldsworthy's way of relating the story keeps it
fresh.  From time to time, he'll toss in a phrase like "Our sources tell us..." that might make you think that you're watching
E! News.  If
you're looking for a thoughtful and straightforward telling of this story, this is a great book.  Having said that, let me vent my complaint
about this book and everything else I've ever read about Caesar, Cleo and Marc.  The events I cavalierly mentioned at the top of the
paragraph actually happened over a twenty-year period.  In the usual tellings of the story, you get the impression that it takes about four
or five years.  (I think I blame Shakespeare for this.)  What's remarkable to me is that in a culture that chewed up members of the
Ptolemy family and spit them out--without any help from Romans who coveted Egypt's wealth--Cleopatra held on to her throne and her
country for a very long time.  Very few writers make a point of emphasizing that fact or discussing what life was like in those years.  I
think that would be a fascinating topic for a book.  Somebody who knows more about it than I do should write it.  (11/3/2010)

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is a book that the folks at www.visitmississippi.org hope will be forgotten quickly.  
I'm no psychologist, but my guess is that the only two characters in this novel about a dying little town in Mississippi who might have
triple-digit  IQ's are the two girls whose murders frame the plot.  This is a dark, dark book about ignorance and prejudice.  In other
words , it sounds very much like something that could have happened around here.  Two boys--one white, one black--growing up in the
70's have more in common than they might guess.  Along thew way, the black child goes off to Ole Miss and sees a little bit of life
before returning to the small town as its constable.  The white boy stays home and takes over his father's automotive repair shop, living
as a local pariah because he may or may not have had something to do with the disappearance and presumed murder of a girl when he
was in high school.  I'm not crazy about the way the novel jumps around on the time and space continuum, but overall, it's a compelling
tale that will stick with you long after you've put it down.  (10/27/10)

Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre   It's been so long since I've read  one of Mr. Le Carre's books that I can't remember if they
were all this bad, or if this is a recent development.  He seems to be doing well for himself, so I'll assume that this is a surprising
disappointment.  I really did read the book, and yet I can't find any connection between the title of the book and any of the characters in
it.  For the record, the Mayhem Quotient (MQ) is a woeful 4. (Vengeful parents, evil millionaires, old drinking buddies, private
aircraft--see left sidebar).  Maybe after decades of glamorous spies, Mr. Le Carre is trying to do the world a favor by making covert
operatives banal.  Maybe if more of them were as dull and uninteresting as those presented here, people inclined to those kinds of jobs
would choose more productive occupations.  In a nutshell, a Russian billionaire knows that the boys at home are out to get him and tries
to defect to the West.  To assist in this effort, he chooses a couple of self-absorbed British dolts who think that a little secret agent
derring-do might be a lark.  Ennui ensues.  (10/25/2010)

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse   Instead of the agricultural operation at the old Manor Farm, what if Snowball, Napoleon and
Squealer from
Animal Farm had opened a bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris?  The results might be something akin to "The Good
Novel" , the fictional bookstore on the rue Dupuytren in this book, founded by an otherwise uninvolved man and woman who decide  
that their store will sell on only the "best" novels as selected by a panel consisting of the best novelists in France.  The store doesn't make
any money-but it's
pure.  The primary enjoyment to be had here is in listening to a bunch of bubbleheads talk about whose books would
be sold at the store and whose would not.  (To say that this book would not be sold in the store that it is named for would be too easy a
shot.) And oh, by the way, this is a mystery novel.  The MQ is a pitiful 1.5 (sex and a millionaire who may or may not be evil).  The
book is almost as hard to take seriously as the riots that are currently engulfing Paris.  You have to accept it for its charm and curious
Frenchness. (10/24/2010)

Pinheads and Patriots:  Where You Stand in the Age of Obama by Bill O'Reilly  Here's a paradox:  The only people who will get
anything out of this book are people who know nothing about Bill O'Reilly, and the people who will learn the least are those who know
even a little about him.  In other words, I think you could say that he's preaching to the choir.  He talks about himself, President Obama,
himself, other politicians and journalists, himself, Lassie (!), and --oh yeah--himself.  Don't get me wrong: I like Bill O'Reilly, and think
he's about the most fair-minded guy in the news game.  But enough's enough.  (10/12/2010)

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett   This 985-page doorstop is the first of a trilogy that Mr. Follett intends to call The Century.  The book
begins at the dawn of WWI and follows young men and women of various social classes in Russia, Wales, Germany and the United
States and follows them through the course of the war and into the beginning of the 1920's.  As you ,might expect, they find
themselves-like Forrest Gimp-thrust into situations into which they can observe and participate in some of the most auspicious doings of
their time. The Russian becomes an aide to Lenin; The Welsh son and daughter of miners both find themselves elected to Parliament; the
American is an aide to President Wilson (apparently because he has time on his hands); and the German is a military officer in the
German embassy in London.  It's an interesting read.  While not all of his characters are equally interesting, Mr. Follett is a wonderful
storyteller, and he keeps you turning the pages.  If you're interested in this period, I think you'll like the story.  (10/10/2010)

Rattlesnakes & the Moon by Darlin' Neal   Ms. Neal is a native Mississippian, but to be honest, I only picked up the book because her
name was Darlin''.  Darlin's book is a collection of short stories about down-and-out women from Mississippi to New Mexico and the
male skunks who done 'em wrong.  It's really not my thing, but I can't say that it's not good writing.  You may think otherwise--and for
Darlin's sake, I hope you do.  (10/2/2010)

Lost Empire by Clive Cussler   is fairly tame by  mystery standards with an MQ = 6.  (World Heritage Sites are trashed; legendary
treasure; evil millionaires; hot woman with a gun; drinking buddies; yachts).  So how did the Aztecs get to Mexico?  Oddly enough, there
are people in the world for whom this is a life-or-death issue.  Into this quandary wade a couple of spoiled American treasure-hunters
about whom we're supposed to give a damn.  They're young, beautiful and rich, and they have a staff of weasels who neglect  their own
lives to back them up--even the head librarian at the Library of Congress is only too happy to do their background checking for them.  
What they are not is interesting.  Unlike
The Spy (below), Mr. Cussler seems to plugging holes with what he thinks are the appropriate
square pegs.  (10/4/2010)

Empire   by Steven Saylor   A novel about ancient Rome?  Blood and guts in the Colosseum?  Check.  Deflowered Vestal Virgins?  
Check.  Debauched sex with slave girls and boys?  Check.  So what was I expecting?  If this is your kind of thing--and I admit that
from time to time, it's my kind of thing--it's all here.  (9/28/2010)

Citrus County   by John Brandon  I'm sorry, but I'm going to read a book about disaffected youth, I want some titillation!  I can get
bored and useless kids and clueless adults anywhere.  When I read about the upcoming generation of drones whose lives will be worse
(and shorter) than mine as they work to pay my Social Security, I want to know that they're having a least a little fun being bored and
useless.  Such does not seem to be the case.  Not in this book, anyway.  (9/26/2010)

The Two Sisters Café   by Elena Yates Eulo and Samantha Harper Macy   This is a book that I've been waiting for 25 years.  Well, not
THE book I've been waiting for--but A book.  Let me explain.  As a kid in Batesville, one of my babysitters was a neighbor named Harriet
Harper.  Apparently, babysitting me wasn't the height of her aspirations because as soon as she was able to do so, she left Batesville and
moved to New York, where she became a successful actress under the name Samantha Harper.  (Harriet was also her mother's name, so
maybe using her middle name professionally made sense.)  She was on Broadway (in
Oh, Calcutta!) and television (in Mary Hartman,
Mary Hartman
), and eventually married a fine actor named Bill Macy and moved to California.  She and Bill would come back to
Batesville from time to time, and sometimes, they'd come to my mother's open house at Christmas.  On one of those occasions, she met
my precious Aunt Arralee, who told her that she had been named for an aunt named Arralee Charity Craig Matthews.  In delight,
Samantha said that some day she'd write a book with a character named Arralee Charity Craig Matthews in it.  Alas, this is not that
book.  But while we wait for that opus, this is a fine substitute.  Gentlemen, this is not  a book for you.  It's chick lit of the first order,
and perhaps new age chick lit at that.  As it is set in rural Kentucky in 1952, I really doubt whether the women in its pages were as
aware of their
chakras as they claim.  But, having said that, it is delightful on a number of levels, and like actress Sharon Gless, who
gives a blurb on the back cover, I can easily see this book being turned into a television series and running forever.  While there is an
overarching story arc, there are also a number of nice little vignettes that could be adapted for a compelling series.  And if that happens, I
hope there will be room for Arralee Charity Craig Matthews.  (8/17/2010)

Toqueville's Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch   Toqueville's iconic Democracy in America, like The Holy Bible, is one of those
books that almost anyone can bend to reflect their own world view.  (For example, the City of Memphis has always irritated me, so I
might wish to
quote de Toqueville and say, "Memphis!  What a letdown!  Neither people nor things!"  See what I mean?)  In reality,
Democracy in America was published eight years after Toqueville and his friend Gustave de Beaumont flitted (if that's the word) around
the country, seeing things and meeting people.  During those eight years, France became a less democratic place, and Mr. Toqueville's
appreciation for what he had seen in America grew. Mr. Damrosch quotes extensively from the copious notes that Toqueville and
Beaumont made on their trip; and from those notes, we can see that Mr. Toqueville was not nearly as enraptured by what  saw in
America as people who have had his book quoted to them might suppose.  Generally speaking, he liked the North but disliked
Northerners, and he disliked the South but liked Southerners.  If that doesn't make much sense to you, you should probably read the
book.  (9/13/2010)

The Invention of Paris:  A History in Footsteps   by Eric Bazan  is actually three books in one.  All three of them are about Paris, of
course, but they are so disjointed and disassociated from each other that you suspect that the author has padded out a short book with a
couple essays he'd written about other things.  It starts sublimely.  The bulk of the book is about how the
faubourgs, arrondissements
quartiers came to be over the course of the centuries and what famous things happened in each.  This part of the book is so dense
and interesting that I had to have a map of the city at my side to be able to understand where the author was taking me.  It was sort of  a
graduate course in the geography of the city.  This was followed by a 90-page Part Two about "Red Paris" that traced the history of
political unrest through the city and over the course of the 19th century.  The author skips back and forth between the unrests of 1830,
1848 and 1870 (and others) willy-nilly in a manner that soon becomes frustrating and then annoying.  Part Three follows a similar tack
on the topic of
Flaneurs (look it up).  We bounce around town and the years with Balzac and Baudelaire, and if anything, this part is even
more annoying than the one that precedes it.  Overall, it's a frustrating ride.  (9/7/2010)

Napoleon's Wars: An International History by Charles Esdaile   If I were more industrious, I would undertake a study of the
biographies of Napoleon to see how many of them were written by residents of the United Kingdom.  I'm sure that "all of them " isn't the
correct answer, but frankly I can't think of one off the top of my head that hasn't seemed to have  British point of view..  I don't' want
to cast aspersions on UK historians, but I wonder what the attraction is.  This biography is no better or worse than any other, and the
author's "hook" is that he claims to provide more of an international context for Napoleon's actions than one is likely to get elsewhere.  
Maybe so.  As an American, I was gratified to see that, for example, someone talks about the influence (limited though it was) of our
War of 1812 on the situation in Europe.  Insights like this are many but superficial, and they don't make the book much more interesting
than other books you might have read on the subject. (9/6/2010)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larson   So, is this series of books finally over, and have we seen the last of Lisbeth
Salander?  Yes and no.  The "Millennium Trilogy" is complete, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone makes it worth the author's
while to bring Lisbeth back for more hijinks.  It's just a suspicion.  And if he does, I hope he won't confine her to a hospital bed for 90
percent of the book, as he does here.  These books work best when Lisbeth is being Lisbeth.  They bog down considerably when the
author devotes endless pages to Blomkvist (the journalist and the author's alter ego) and other random Swedes about whom we couldn't
care less.  The rambling nature of the storytelling that was so fresh in the first book starts to wear thin here--not least in the four-page
diversion about how toilets are made in Vietnam and marketed in Sweden.  The action here is pretty tame, and the book reads like a
police procedural.  Maybe it's time for Lisbeth to take a long vacation.  (8/30/2010)

I-69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway  by Matt Dellinger   If you're reading this anywhere but Indiana,
move on.  This is not a book for--or about --you. (If you're reading this in Kentucky, be advised that the author thinks your
commonwealth was part of the Louisiana Purchase.)  Mr. Dellinger is really only interested in telling the story of the tree-huggers in
Indiana who protested the construction of the highway, and a critical reading of other materials about that protest suggests that it's
somewhat overblown here.  (8/30/2010)

Star Island   by Carl Hiassen   If you believe that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, you're at the right website.  After liking
Mr. Hiassen's previous offering,
Skinny Dip, quite a lot, I was not so delighted with his latest.  Skink and Chemo, two of the author's
recurring characters whom I like his books in spite of, play major roles here, and Mr. Hiassen dotes on them.  Apparently, his agent or
fans had told him after his lat book that "We need more Chemo and Skink!" and he was happy to oblige.  All the other characters are
two-dimensional, which is too bad because the South Beach celebri-culture is just crying out to be skewered (literally and figuratively) by
the right person.  (8/26/2010

A Night of Long Knives by Rebecca Cantrell  After I started reading the book, I started thinking that it sounded kind of familiar, so I
looked at the cover and the saw the words "A Hannah Vogel Novel" in tiny  letters down at the bottom.  Since this is only Ms. Cantrell's
second book, I'm assuming that I must have read the first one, although I must not have made much of an impression on me.  (If
YOU'RE curious, you can go back to my past years of comments and look for it.)  I'm hoping, however, that this will be my last
"Hannah Vogel Novel" because Hannah Vogel is kind of a pill.  My primary beef with the book is the key role played by the mother of
real-life scumbag Ernst Rohm.  Ernst Rohm was slime who deserves to be treated as badly as any novelist cares to treat him.  However,
in her Acknowledgments at the back of the book, the author states that little is known about his mother.  Therefore, I think that she is
way off base by throwing Mrs. Rohm's  reputation under the bus.  I find that particularly egregious in light of the heroine's repeated
assertions about her own irreproachable maternal instincts.  (8/25/2010

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas   is really too fine a book to be discussed as superficially as it can be in
this space.  It's wonderful, and if I have any problem with it whatsoever, it's with the title.  Herr Bonhoeffer was certainly an incredible
theologian and pastor, and Mr. Metaxas covers that aspect of his life in much  (and much-appreciated) detail.  But a martyr?  Yes, he
was jailed by the Nazis for the last two years of WWII, but for the majority of that time, he was in a prison supervised by his uncle,
meaning that he was treated well and received regular visits from his parents and fiancée.  His prison experience became unspeakable
only as the war neared his end and Hitler had him murdered in the month before liberation.  Martyred he may have been, but the war was
over before anyone knew it.  Prophet?  That's a tough call.  Throughout the 30's, he predicted that things would get bad under the
Nazis.  How hard could it have been to see that coming?  The miracle of Bonhoeffer is that knowing that things would get worse, he still
chose to forsake the relative safety of the United States and England to go back to Germany and minister to those who needed him.  
Spy?  At best , he was an "agent'.  But these are trivial concerns.  Mr. Metaxas has written a fine book.  (8/15/2010)

In a Heartbeat:  Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving by Leigh Ann and Sean Touhy.  Oh, come on.  You knew I'd like it.  The
book itself could have been about running over puppies with your SUV, but I would have given it a pass, based on the title alone.  (Just
to be clear, the book is NOT about running over puppies with your SUV.)  To anyone who has been following the story of the Touhys,
Michael Oher and phenomenon of
The Blind Side, there's really not much here that you didn't already know.  The book covers the same
material as the movie, and the Touhys go to pains to emphasize that yes, lots of people had a hand in helping Michael Oher become a first
round NFL pick, and yes, he did actually know something about playing football when he showed up for his first practice at private
school.  Those of us who have been following the story closely know all that, but maybe others don't; so maybe it's a good idea that they
made sure that their side of the story got put down on paper somewhere.  (7/26/2010)

Rising from Katrina:  How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered  by Kathleen Koch   Even though the
title pretty much says it all, you should still read the book.  During the hurricane and its aftermath (stop me if you've heard this before),
Mississippians (some of us, anyway) resented that New Orleans and Louisiana were getting the lion's share of the attention.  The
reactions generally fell into two categories:  "The storm actually hit us, not New Orleans;" and "Mississippians aren't complaining as
loudly as the folks in Louisiana about how the government isn't doing enough for us."  (There was also a third line that went something
like "Louisiana is the story because they're so screwed up," but I won't go there.)  But there were exceptions.  Mainly because ABC
anchor Robin Roberts hails from Pass Christian and CNN reporter Kathleen Koch is from Bay St. Louis, those two networks gave more
attention to the Mississippi Coast than they might have.  This book is Ms. Koch's account of her youth in "the Bay" and what the process
of seeing it destroyed and (slowly) put back together meant to her.  If Katrina affected you at all, this is a difficult book to read. Ms.
Koch does a wonderful job of recreating the experience and explaining what it meant to the people she'd known all her life.   I can't
praise it enough.  (7/23/2010

The Last Empty Spaces by Peter Stark   I picked up this book, thinking it might help set the tone for a Maine vacation later this week.  
Mr. Stark has identified four parts of the United States he's identified as "empty", taken his family to them; and discovered that--surprise,
surprise--they're really not "empty" at all.  I'm not saying this is a terrible book; I'm saying that I really didn't connect with it.  To me,
good travel writing makes me want to go somewhere, but Mr. Stark really didn't sell me on the places he visited.  In case you're
wondering, they are: 1) northern Maine; 2) western Pennsylvania; 3) eastern Oregon; and 4) the New Mexico desert.  All of these areas
are interesting in their own right and have compelling to stories to share--which is eventually the point Mr. Stark wants to make.  So this
begs the question: What's the point?  More than once, it occurred to me that he was just trying to find a way to write family vacations
off on his taxes. (7/19/2010

The Third Reich at War  by Richard J. Evans   Although both books are excellent and cover much of the same territory, The Third
Reich at Wa
r could not be more different from Deathride (next).  Where Deathride has a few big ideas it wants you to believe, TRAW is
exhaustive and exhausting.  (The bibliography alone runs to forty pages.)  It's the last of a three-volume series of books chronicling the
late, unlamented Reich.  Mr. Evans is nothing if not thorough, and his book is grim reading indeed.  The  book has some interesting
idiosyncrasies (he refers to Hitler as the Leader, not the Fuhrer; and his book is
My Struggle, not Mein Kampf), but there can be no
doubt of his mastery of the subject.  Read it when you want to know the full story--and when you have a couple of weeks to read it.  

Deathride:  Hitler vs. Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945   by John Mosier   If there is any justice, Mr. Mosier's book will stand
the conventional narrative of World War II on its ear and compel us to rethink what we think  we know about the war.  During the past
fifty years, most historians have followed the Russian narrative of the Eastern Front because that was the line that Stalin wanted them to
follow, and no one is Russia was contradicting it (or him).  Among the widely-held perceptions that Mr. Mosier attacks is that the Allies
were of no help to the Russians, who fought the Germans alone until the second front was opened in Normandy in June 1944.  Mr.
Mosier says, "Not so fast."   Hitler started draining the Eastern Front of men and materials in 1943 to reinforce the Italian peninsula and
to begin to dig in for the Normandy invasion.  He also debunks myths like: 1) Stalin's claims that  Russian manpower was "inexhaustible"'
2) the Russians were producing so much weaponry in their own factories that they were not dependent on American material; and 3)
Germany was utterly defeated after their defeat at Stalingrad.  In addition to his surprising insights, Mr. Mosier is an excellent storyteller.  
At one point, he offers the observation:
Of course given the speed with which the Germans executed operations, for the Red Army
responding forcefully was a bit like the helpful hint that the best way to disable a rattlesnake was to grab him behind the head after he
had struck.
It's an excellent and compelling book, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks they know the history of WWII.  (7/6/2010)

Declaration:  The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1-July 4, 1776   by William Hogeland   
You think you now something about something, but then you find out you don't.  The process of crafting the Declaration of
Independence has been chronicled practically every way you can think of--even in a Broadway musical, but who knew they all missed
the big story.  You're probably familiar with the story of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin getting appointed to a
committee to draft a Declaration, but the real action that hot summer in Philadelphia was elsewhere.  Samuel Adams turns out to be the
lead instigator--ably assisted by his cousin and henchman, John.  In the nine weeks after the voters of Pennsylvania voted for a colonial
assembly that would oppose independence and favor reconciliation with the king, the Adamses and their cronies would get the election
reversed and move a motion for independence through the Continental Congress.  The actual drafting of the Declaration was almost an
afterthought.  In fact, the Declaration was such a sideline operation that the document sat on a table in the room where the delegates met
for about six months before all of them got around to signing it.  Mr. Hogeland's book is full of these kinds of observations, and it's a
"must read" for anyone with an interest in the founding of the country.  (7/1/2010)

The Spy by Clive Cussler  is a great old-fashioned mystery.  In the early 1900's, America is far behind England and Germany in the race
to build dreadnought battleships, but a cadre of brilliant young engineers is closing the gap in a hurry.  Or at least they were before
someone started killing them.  Who's behind it all?  Germany?  Japan?  England?  All of the above?  Someone else? You'll just have to
read the book to find out, but relax, it won't take long.  You'll keep turning the pages, and the time will pass quickly.  (6/20/2010)

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris  Each year in March, the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano and the buzzards come home
to roost in Hinckley, Ohio.  Likewise, the vampires of Renard Parish, Louisiana, return to the bookstores around the beginning of the
beach reading season.  This is the tenth (!) Sookie Stackhouse novel from Ms. Harris's never-idle pen, and given the success that the
series has enjoyed from its wildly popular translation to HBO (a
s TrueBlood), I suspect that Sookie and her supporting cast of vampires,
elves, werewolves, werepanthers, shapeshifters, maenads and attorneys will be with us for quite some time.  As you might expect, the
series has lost some of its freshness  from earlier years, but Ms. Harris writes Sookie in such a way that she never becomes off-putting
or  tedious, which is a real accomplishment.  It seems that none of the socially-challenged werewolves knows a shaman, so Sookie, a
"Friend of the Pack", had to be recruited to determine which pack member killed another and mayhem ensues.  If you like this kind of
stuff--and almost anything is okay in moderation--you'll enjoy catching up with Sookie and the gang (coven?  pack?)  (6/15/2010)

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White   I don't know if I've shared this with you or not, but now that we know: 1) that Social
Security will be dead soon; 2) that my retirement portfolio retired without me back in 2000;  and 3) that moving back in with Mom is
becoming increasingly less likely; Plan D for my retirement has become committing a white collar crime and getting sent to federal
prison.  For that reason--plus the fact that the National Hansen's Disease Center in Carville, Louisiana, used to be on my regular bicycle
trail back in the 80's, I was particularly interested in this book by an Ole Miss graduate who did something bad and got himself sent there
back in the 90's when the leprosarium also served briefly as a federal penitentiary.  I liked the book much more than I thought I would,
and while Mr. White does not hold himself out as a paragon of virtue, he is someone to whom the reader can relate as he explores the
lives of patients at the Center who would have been considered to be outcasts anywhere else in the world.  Mr. White walks a fine line in
this book, and he does an admirable job of bringing the reader along on his journey.  (6/11/10)

Light Boxes  by Shane Jones represents something new in the world.  In his acknowledgments, Mr. Jones gives credit to the online
community and "independent literature."  I assume that means that he wrote the book online without the aid of a publisher.  Good for
him, but the downside of independent publishing is that it is also "editor-free."  Mr. Jones desperately needed someone to tell him that his
story makes no sense.    What's it about?  February (the month) has come to life and oppressed an innocent town.  The townspeople
respond in the only rational way they can think of--and move underground.  To go on would make you contemplate
my sanity, so I'll
stop here.  (6/8//10)


April might have been Confederate History Month in Virginia, but at Chateau d'Matt, we're celebrating French History Month
in May.  I've got a pile of books on the 18th and 19th centuries that it's going to take a month or more to slog through, and
I'm as happy a
s un cochon en merde!

Enlightened Pleasures by Thomas M. Kavanaugh   Sorry to say that French History Month is off to a slow start.  Mr. Kavanaugh is
obviously a genius, but I'm not sure he's a very convincing genius.  His book is about the evolution of the concept of pleasure (plasir) in
18th century.  He plows a cultural field that includes the works of Rousseau and Laclos (
Les Liaisons dangereuses).  The concept he's
trying to sell is something called Epicurean Stoicism, which to me sounds like the worst (or best) oxymoron since "Oklahoma City".  Mr.
Kavanaugh explains this dichotomy
: If the terms Epicurean and Stoic were rarely combined during the eighteenth century, the, it was not
because they were incompatible but because Cartesian physics had driven a wedge between them.
Damn you, Cartesian Physics!  
Anyway, Mr. Kavanaugh gives it his best shot.  If you want to know more about Epicurean Stoicism (and I don't think it will be around
for long), you'll read the book.  If you don't, you won't.  (5/7/10)

Revolutionary Commerce by Paul Cheney   tackles what could have been a very interesting topic, namely economics in
pre-revolutionary France.  Woulda , coulda, shoulda.  Unfortunately, Mr. Cheney puts the dismal in the dismal science with a plodding
look at his subject.   Essentially, he says that France should have worked to become more like England and Holland and less like Spain
and Portugal.  I can't argue with either his facts or his logic.  I can only complain about his ability to interest me in his topic.  Unless
you're a economics buff and are used to reading stuff like this, I can't really recommend it to you.  (5/10/10)

Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution by Caroline Moorehead   Like manna from heaven,
this book showed up unannounced and unbidden in a Royal Mail envelope from a publisher in London.  I'm sure it's available here--or
else, it would have made no sense to send me a copy.  Regardless, I was happy to get it.  Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin  (it
translates to "tower of the pine") was the child of second cousins in the Dillon family of Roscommon and the wife of Frederic, who was
a diplomat in service in both the ancien regime and under Napoleon.  She might have been a footnote to history had she not taken up her
pen and written her own memoirs of the era.  Those memoirs, according to the author, have not been out of print since they were
published in the early 1800's.  So even though Mme de la Tour du Pin seems perfectly able to speak for herself, she now has a
wonderful autobiography to fill in the parts of her life that she herself might have blushed to speak of.  Ms. Moorehead is
outstanding writer, and she  tells the story of Lucie and her age in a most compelling and readable manner.  If you have any interest in
the Revolution and its aftermath and would like to know how it specifically impacted the lives of those who fled from it and/or lived
through it, I recommend Ms. Moorehead's excellent book to you.  (5/17/10)

The Unseen Terror:  The French Revolution in the Provinces   by Richard Ballard   The subtitle is misleading; it should have read
"The French Revolution in the Province".  He only examines one province, Charente Inferieure, one of 83 new departments established
during the revolution.  It had previously been part of Saintonge, and in a self-esteem preserving move, was changed to Charente Maritime
in 1941.  It lies in southwestern France, and its major cities are Rochefort and La Rochelle.  Metternich once observed famously that
when Paris sneezes, Europe catches cold.  This was never more true than during the Terror and unattractive orders were issued to every
corner of France in regard to who should be taken out and shot.  Mr. Ballard demonstrates this ably in his book.  He doggedly records
how every step in the national descent played out in the province.  But in the end, it's mostly a book about how people took orders and
did what they were told.  The real action, as they say, was in Paris.  If you're a true student of the revolution, you'll   want to check it
out, but if you're a casual reader of history, you might find it somewhat claustrophobic.  (5/20/10)

Russia Against Napoleon   by Dominic Lieven  They marched from France into the heart of Old Russia, where they starved, froze to
death on the side of the road--and were eaten.  They were the horses of the Grand Armee, and they were the oil and gas that armies ran
on in the 19th century.  Mr. Lieven goes to great pains to point out that although Bonaparte could replace the soldiers who died in the
thousands, he might have lost Paris in 1814 because he could not replace the horses who died during the invasion of Russia.   This is but
one of the interesting points that Mr. Lieven makes in his wonderful book.  A more salient point that preoccupies Mr. Lieven is that
history--especially Leo Tolstoy i
n War and Peace, and later the communist state under Stalin, did not serve the reputation of the Russian
state--especially its military--particularly well during the Napoleonic wars.  They had their reasons.  Count Tolstoy probably thought his
book was long enough as it was, and Stalin and his minions didn't want to praise the tsarist regime under Alexander, which had
successfully conducted the longest military campaign in human history.  Bravo, Mr. Lieven.  You make it fun to read history.  (5/28/10)

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris   by Graham Robb   Like most good things, my self -proclaimed French History Month has
come to an end.  I
f Russia Against Napoleon was the climax of the month, then surely Mr. Robb's Parisians is the satisfying post-coital
cigarette (not that I would know anything about either sex or cigarettes).  Mr. Robb's earlier work
, The Discovery of France, was much
enthused over in these precincts, and his latest work is almost as good.  Here, he uses the words of residents--famous and otherwise-in
twenty or so vignettes to illuminate the times in which they lived.  The first story he tells is of Napoleon's adventures among the
prostitutes and other rapscallions of the Palais Royale before the fall of th
e ancien regime.  The next to last is of three young boys whose
deaths in a power plant precipitated th
e banlieu riots of 2005.  Mr. Robb is a wonderful storyteller, and his enthusiasm for his topics are
evident in his work.  Even the story of the banlieu riots ends with the hope that in another fifty years, the alienated people of the housing
projects on the periphery of Paris will consider themselves to be as Parisian as anyone else.  In his introduction, Mr. Robb says that his
book "was written for the pleasure of thinking about Paris..."  It should also be read that way.  (6/3/10)

Infamous  by Ace Atkins   As it turns out, I was wrong to have been worried.  When Oxford's favorite crime writer's third historical
, The Devil's Garden, didn't measure up (in my opinion, anyway) to his first two, I feared that we might have been witnessing the
beginning a decline of sorts.  Now I'm thinking that California just isn't his milieu, because his fourth such work
, Infamous, is terrific.
With a Mayhem Quotien
t (MQ) of 12 (1 vengeful child, 1 evil millionaire, lots of sex, 1hot woman with a gun, lots of drinking buddies
from law enforcement, 1 private airplane--see sidebar at left), It's the story of a poor girl named Kathryn from Saltillo, Mississippi, who
grows up with big dreams of jewels, furs, money  and cars-and all she had to do to get them was marry George "Machine Gun" Kelly.  
While Mr. Kelly may get most of the attention from readers and reviewers, it's pretty clear that in addition to great men having great
women (and surprised mothers-inflow) behind them, the same is also true of gangsters.
Infamous takes place during the last 56 days of
freedom in Machine Gun's life in July -September,1933, when he and Kathryn kidnapped an Oklahoma City oilman and went on the run
to such places as Memphis, the beach in Biloxi and the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago.  The book is written in the
rollicking style we've come to expect from Mr. Atkins, and I'm delighted to say that once again, I can't wait to read what he comes up
with next   (5/3/10)

Confederate Reckoning by Stephanie McCurry  Earlier this month, the Democrats were giving grief to the governor of Virginia for
declaring April to be Confederate History Month in his state.  I presume that their aim was to score political points off the notion that
only the reddest of necks wold waste one's time reading about The Glorious Cause.  Well, the joke's on them.  Ms. McCurry has written
what can only be called a feminist history about Confederate States of America, which she calls "an explicitly pro-slavery and
antidemocratic nation-state" dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created  equal.  Ms. McCurry actually performs a valuable
service in this book by stepping away from the battles and rhetoric.  She speaks directly to the roles played by women during the life of
the Confederacy. And while she sounds very much like the women's studies professor that she is. ("The gender of the people, unlike the
race, was communicated largely by thoughtlessness and indirection and often simply through the saturation of male pronouns.")   But
from time to time, she rises above the pronouns makes valid points.  For example, governors of the more populist Confederate states
(like Mississippi) promised to "protect" the womenfolk of the men who were off fighting the battles.  For the first time, women formed
as a political group to demand that those promises be honored.  Ms. McCurry has written a very provocative  book about women in the
Civil War.  If you think you learned all you need to know on that subject fro
m Gone With the Wind, you might not like this book very
much.  (4/27/10

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo  (Mayhem Quotient (MQ) is 6  (Vengeful Child; Sex with Strangers; Nazis; drinking buddies from the
CIA--or in this case, the Norwegian equivalent.  See sidebar for explanation.)  I don't recall ever reading a Norwegian crime novel before,
but I kind of liked this one.  The names and places were unpronounceable to my Southern tongue, but the story of an Oslo cop who's
about to be bounced off the force for ne-er-do-well-ism, was intriguing to me.  He can't technically leave the force until his supervisor
gets back from his three-week vacation (This is how you know you're in Europe), so he has time to solve one last serial killer case.  And
he does, but not before all sorts of red herring leap from the fjords. (4/25/10)

Treat Me Like a Customer by Louis Upkins Jr.   I am wholly unqualified  to offer an opinion on this book.   It's a self-help book on
how to have better relationships with your wife and kids.  This is a concept so foreign to me that it might as well be about how to
disassemble a computer that's trying to run your life.
(2001 was on tv the other night.)  Generally speaking, he says you should treat
your wife like Bill Gates.  Makes sense to me.  (4/23/10)

Hand of Fate by Lis Wiehl   Ms. Wiehl is one of the blondes on the Fox News Channel, and after reading her second "Triple Threat
Novel," I'm thinking that I want to her to stick to her day job.   The Triple Threat Club is composed of  three gifted and beautiful women
in Portland, Oregon, who went to high school together and have peripheral interests in crime and chocolate.  One is a crime reporter on
television; one is an assistant district attorney; and the third is an FBI agent.  They're sort of a chocoholic Mod Squad--one black, one
white, one blonde.  While investigating the murder of a local radio talk show host, one has a miscarriage, one is attacked by a man who'd
raped her fifteen years earlier, and the third develops an addiction to sleeping medications.  It's a not a long book, but it's too busy by
half. The Mayhem Quotient (see sidebar), or MQ is 4:  No national landmarks are attacked, but a beloved talk show host is; 1 vengeful
parent; 1 instance of sex with strangers; 1 hot woman with a gun; no evil millionaires or Presidents, but there is a slimy Congressman.)  

I Thought You Were Dead   by Pete Nelson   Another great title for a book that sounds like it ought to be about fundraising (see
below), but it's not.   Paul Gustavson, a thirty-something New Englander who writes things lik
e Windows 95 for Morons and Nature for
ns, has a rich interior life.  He talks to his  dog, and the dog talks back.  As it turns out, Stella, a Lab-Alsatian mix, is challenged in
her comprehension of time.  When Paul leaves the house for more than a couple of hours, she assumes he's dead.  Hence the title.  Paul
also has other problems.  His wife has left him; his father back in Minnesota has had a stoke; and he's an out-of-shape alcoholic.  The
book follows him as he begins to put his life back together.  Nothing too dramatic happens during his journey, but it's a companionable
story of people trying to make the best of what they've got.  (4/15//10)

The Ask    by Sam Lipsyte     Mr. Lipsyte has apparently had a career in institutional advancement because his first book was a novel
written in the form of letters to a university alumni magazine.  His new work of fiction has to do with university fundraisers--specifically
one down-on-his luck washout who is a development officer at a mythical New York City school of liberal arts.  And he's washed out of
everything--his job, his home, his marriage, and his relationships with key players from his past.  Mr. Lipsyte has the lingo down pat, but
his description of the institutional milieu is considerably more given to lowlifes than anything I've come across in almost thirty years in
the field.  There's a great book that could be written about university fundraising--but this isn't it, and I didn't find it to be particularly
enjoyable on any level.  (4/13/10)

The Infinities by John Banville   (Mayhem Quotient: 1.5.  One vengeful child and one
instance of sex between people who didn't know each other yesterday--although the man is disguised as the woman's husband.  As
Denise Richards says, it's complicated.)  I wa
s this close to punting on this book and not even mentioning that I had read it.    I really
disliked it about as much as anything I've read lately--maybe ever--and yet the reason I wanted to punt wasn't that the book is
awful--actually, I'm not absolutely sure that I could tell you if it is or not.  The story i
s soooo not my thing that I just couldn't connect to
it in any way.  Maybe you're different.  The story unfolds at the English country home of a mathematician who lingers in a coma upstairs
as his famil
y and some Greek gods gather to await his passing.  Yes, I said "and some Greek gods. "  Zeus is there.  Hermes.  Pan.  Zeus
is there to diddle the dying man's daughter-in-law.  Hermes is there to cover Zeus's tracks.  Pan just shows up to be a pain in the butt.  
As you might suspect, we're in the realm of the Big Allegory.  (The dying man's name is Adam Godley, for cripes sake, and the diddled
daughter-in-law's name is Helen.)  There are also lots of medium-size allegories and a plethora of small ones.  It really got to be kind of
irritating after a while.  But like I said--maybe you're different. (4/8/10)

The Monuments Men:  Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History   by Robert M. Edsel  I'm sure
I'm wrong, but I'd almost guess that Mr. Edsel's publisher told him, "Bob, you're book has got to be 426 pages.  No more.  Make it
work."  While 426 pages is a respectable length for a book, is it enough to hold "the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History?"  I think not.  
Mr. Edsel tells us plenty about the dozen or so Americans who were charged with finding artworks stolen by the Nazis in WWII and
returning it to its rightful owners, but he tells us precious little about the art itself--and even less about the Nazis who stole it, unless
you're willing to believe that Goering stole all of it himself.  The book is fine--as far as it goes.  I just wish it had gone further.  (4/4/10)

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann You've got to admit that it's a great
title.  Regrettably, neither Lucifer nor Mr. Holmes appear in this book, which is a collection of essays that Mr. Grann has written fo
r The
New York
er, Atlantic and other magazines.  "The Devil" in the title is a Haitian politician who earned that nickname by allegedly ordering
the deaths of hundreds of his countrymen.  Mr. Holmes appears as the obsession of a mystery writer who himself is found dead under
unusual circumstances.  Mr. Grann--to his credit--is eclectic in his choice of subjects, writing about everything from a thirty-something
year-old Frenchman who has survived for years by pretending to be troubled teenage boys to a murder in Poland that was unsolved for
years until a fresh pair of eyes looked at the case.  My favorite essay is about a marine biologist in New Zealand and his obsession with
capturing a live baby giant squid.   Mr. Grann's subjects are all over the place, but his writing is uniformly good and compelling.  

Americans in Paris:  Life & Death Under Nazi Occupation by Charles Glass   OK.  I promise that I'll lay off the books about Paris
for awhile.  Even I'm starting to get a little weary of them.  But I did save the best for last.  Lots of people have written about the Nazi
occupation of the French capital from 1940 until a couple of months after D-Day, but this is the first book I've seen that focuses on the
remarkable Americans who were living in the city at the time and chose not to leave when the jackboots started pounding down the
Champs d'Elysses.  There are names you know like Josephine Baker and Sylvia Beach, but there are some you might not have
heard--most prominently the remarkable General Adelbert de Chambrun and his wife, the Countess Clara de Chambrun.  At the beginning
of the Occupation, Adelbert was a 70-year-old  American director of the American Hospital of Paris and a direct descendant of the
Marquis de Lafayette.  He worked tirelessly (and mostly thanklessly) to keep the hospital open until Liberation.  His wife, Clara, a sister
of Nicholas Longworth of Cincinnati who famously married Alice Roosevelt, did the same for the American Library of Paris.  After the
war, their efforts were downplayed in order to appease Charles deGaulle who disapproved of Adelbert and Clara's son's marriage to the
daughter of Vichy Foreign Minister Pierre Laval.  It's a great book and a compelling read.  Mr. Glass has given us a book worthy of its
subjects.  (3/22/2010)

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova   Gentlemen:  There's nothing for you here.  I promise you'll like the next paragraph better.
s: Jackpot!  There are hundreds and hundreds of pages of women kvetching about bad boys who done them wrong.  Even though
there's not a credible male character in the whole book, you'll love it.  This 561-page book has 105 chapters.  I think that if you just read
the chapters that have "Marlow" at the top--about half the total, you'd have a fairly entertaining book, and you wouldn't miss anything

The Paris Vendetta
by Steve Berry   I've stuck with Mr. Berry for his first 800 identical books, but I have to say that his formula is
starting to wear thin.  He's a fine writer, but it seems as if he's going to stick with the same formula--and plot--that brought him this far.  
What's different about this book is that--let's just say that Cotton et al are in Paris.  You can probably fill in the blanks from there.  

For the Soul of France:  Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus   by Frederick Brown   Remember the movies in which an author and
his or her editor would sit around some swanky restaurant in midtown Manhattan talking about the author's next book over martinis and
who knows what else?  I imagine a similar conversation over this book in which the author says he wants to write about book about the
Dreyfus affair, and the editor says, "Dahling, the Dreyfus Affair has been done to death.  You need to make the focus a little broader.  
Throw int th
e expositions and the Impressionists."  And so this book was born.  I'm not going to parse the book because with the
exception of the Dreyfus Affair, everything in this book is done better in other books further down this page.  I will, however, parse the
title.  First, where the author mentions "culture" wars, he's really talking about religion.  With the exception of the aforementioned
expositions and Impressionists, almost everything he details has to do with the religious wars in France prior to the ultimate separation of
church an state in 1915.  Second, like (seemingly) every other historian who's ever written about the country, when the author talks
about France, he's really talking about Paris.  To a greater extent than any other country I can think of, the capital of the country IS the
country.  Lots of books have also been written about this phenomenon as well, so I won't belabor it here.  I just thought it was worth
mentioning.   (3/7/10)

Safe from the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough   A year or two ago, I read Mr. Yarbrough's The End of California and was much
impressed with his ability to recreate Mississippi on the page.  Now, Mr. Yarbrough has done something even more remarkable--he's
made me reassess key events from my own life.  When James Meredith enrolled at Ole Miss on October 1, 1962, I was at home,
watching the event on television and hoping my dad, a traveling salesman who always went to Oxford on Mondays, would get home
safely.  He got in late that night, and it never occurred to me to question why.   He said he couldn't get out of town past the troops
coming the other way, so I'd like to think that found some place to sit, have a beer and watch the scene unfold.   Forty-five years later, I
wouldn't be absolutely shocked to hear that he'd been up to no good that night.  But back to the book:  Mr. Yarbrough is a fierce writer,
so I don't really know why he felt compelled to change the names to protect the litigious in the book.  It's clear that he was writing about
Indianola, Mississippi, and that when his characters left town to go out to eat at "Mann's Eating Place" in Greenville, they were really at
Doe's.  Why bother to change it?  And with the exception of a key plot point in which the lead character's college-age daughter smells
strange perfume in her house and automatically deduces that her heretofore chaste father was having an affair, the story is solid and the
characters are compelling.  I liked it a lot.  (3/6/10)

Mr. New Orleans:  The Life of a Big Easy Underworld Legend by Frenchy Brouillette and Matthew Randazzo V  A few paragraphs
below, you'll see what I've had to say about the new biography of Edwin Edwards.
How I wish that book could be as interesting and fun
to read as this one.   (You may find this hard to believe, but sometimes authors google themselves to read reviews of their works.  In the
event that Matthew Randazzo V is reading this, please, PLEASE
, PLEASE consider an unauthorized biography of Edwin Edwards.  You
are the man for the job.  But I digress.)  Kent "Frenchy" Brouillette is now a tired, rundown ex-gangster, but to hear it from him, he was
once young, beautiful (his words) and--well, an underworld legend in the French Quarter.  I always like it ween the author addresses the
reader as "baby", and Messrs. Brouillette and Randazzo do that excessively and more to bring you into Franchy's world.  In the first half
of the book--and of Frenchy's life--he really gives you the dirt on people he knew from Carlos Marcello on down the crime food chain.  
It is as he says: if they were still alive, he wouldn't have written the book.  Sadly, this revelation also tips you off that the second
half--the part that deals with Frenchy's cousin, Edwin Edwards and other who still walk the earth--isn't going to be nearly so interesting.  
And it's not--which is too bad.  But it's still a lot of fun as far as it goes.  (3/2/10)

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane   The Yahoo (sorry I just can't get behind "Yahoo!") folks tell me that during any particular week,
about 170 people visit this website.  Assuming that no more than 160 of them are Nigerian bankers looking for allies to help them
preserve the wealth of the country's ruling families, that means that about ten of you are actually looking for something here.  I hope that
something isn't whether or not you should read this book.  Mr. Lehane has been all the rage recently.  His books "Gone, Baby Gone",
"Mystic River" and "Shutter Island" have been made into high profile movies.  This is the first of his books that I've read, so please
forgive me for wondering if: 1) he's starting to write books with an eye toward what kind of movie they will make; or 2) all of his books
are written this way.  At the end of the War to End All Wars, Calvin Coolidge (the ultimate villain of this book, although he is almost
invisible) is the governor of Massachusetts as Boston descends into anarchist and/or communist mayhem, the Spanish Influenza, an
impending police strike and the trade of Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees.  Mr. Lehane tries to link these four plot lines into the story of an
Irish family of policemen and their women--and the blacks who come North from Oklahoma to serve them.  Danny, eldest child and
aspiring cop, reads like a character made for an action flick starring Matt Damon or Ben Affleck's younger brother.  He's a great
character, but  everyone else is definitely a supporting player.  I didn't dislike the book, but you may want to wait for the movie.  (3/1/10)

The Crimes of Paris by  Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler   Just to be clear, this book is not about either the Trojan War or...wait for
it...sequestering a chihuahua in a Louis Vuitton handbag.  (Sorry.  Had to be done.)  It is indeed about evildoers in the City of Light
during the period of the Belle Epoque, roughly 1870-1914.  The most famous crime of the era was theft of the Mona Lisa in 1912.  This
subject has been written about several times recently, most recently last year by R. A. Scotti i
n Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of
Mona Li
sa, and most interestingly by Donald Sassoon in 2003's Becoming Mona Lisa.  If you are interested only in this part of the story,
both of those books are superior to this one.  The Hooblers weave tales of several of the high-profile crimes of the day and the (mostly)
men who resolved to solve them. The story the Hooblers want to tell is indeed a rich one, and I wish they had put a little more flair into
their work.  (Curiously, although Sherlock Holmes is mentioned frequently in the book--mostly in terms of how Sir Arthur referenced
French criminal investigators--not is word is mentioned about the Phantom of the Opera.  Pity.)   2/25/2010

Ordinary Thunderstorms   by William Boyd   has a great premise.  Adam, a British climatologist recently returned to the UK from
America, is wrongly accused in the death of a medical researcher he never really met.  He goes "off the grid" in 21st century London to
try to solve the mystery.  Most of the pleasure to be had is in the description of how Adam actually goes off the grid.  (Having all your
belongings stolen helps.)   He spends his first few weeks under some bushes near the Thames.  The great premise begins promisingly,
but like--well, living in bushes near the Thames, I suppose, it gets old.   The story runs out of gas about thirty pages before the book
ends.  Some of the characters, including Adam,  are interesting, but others--like many people in general, I suppose--just take up space.  

The Honor of Spies by W. E. B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV    There's not much here, and frankly, I'd be more interested in a
book about two people named W. E. B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV.  (I wonder if they're related?)  You'd think that a book
whose characters include Howard Hughes, Allen Dulles, Adolf Hitler and Eva Peron could hold your interest at some level.  Sadly, these
folks are all on the sidelines while the story revolves around a forgettable American, a couple of uninteresting Nazis and an army of
Argentine bureaucrats.  There's always room on the bookshelf for a good Nazi spy novel, but this isn't one of them.  (2/19/10)

Elvis My Best Man by George Klein   Among people who grew up listening to Memphis radio in the 60's, there were two kinds of
people:  people like me who listened to Rick Dees on WMPS (before moving to Los Angeles and going Disco Duck on us), and those
who listened to George Klein on WHBQ.  (Actually, there were three kinds of people: the third kind was called "black people", and they
listened to WDIA, but I digress.)  I was a Rick Dees person, and I never had much use for George Klein.  But Mr. Klein did, however,
have his admirers--chief among them being Elvis Presley.  Mr. Klein was also the voice of the Lakeland Drag Strip and wrestling at the
auditorium, so I kind of considered him to be a notch or two below Rick and the WMPS crowd.  I've always thought that Mr. Klein has
made a living over the last forty years being a "Friend of Elvis", capitalizing on his relationship with the King.  He's done a Elvis-themed
radio show each week, and he's been a fixture at Dead Elvis Week in August.  So I wasn't surprised when he finally go around to writing
a book about his relationship with Elvis; what surprised me was that I kind of liked it.    Mr. Klein clearly idolizes Elvis--but that's OK.   
He doesn't really have any new dirt to dish--and that's even better.  Frankly, it was kind of refreshing to be able to read something about
Elvis that  presents Elvis as a person first and an icon second.   (2/12/10)

Edwin Edwards, Governor of Louisiana: An Authorized Biography by Leo Honeycutt  Forty years (almost to the day) after the
Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Huey Long by T. Harry Williams was published, Leo Honeycutt, a Baton Rouge journalist and
photo-journalist, has turned out an authorized biography of Edwin Edwards, who once said that he would like to be buried on the
grounds of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge near Huey's tomb.  While Governor Edwards might have been Huey's equal in terms of
political skills (and I personally think he was), Mr. Honeycutt is no T. Harry Williams (nor, probably, would he claim to be).  This is,
after all, an authorized biography, and although Mr. Honeycutt has bent over backwards to be as fair as possible to his subject and his
subject's detractors, it's still pretty clear that the point-of-view is rather slanted--not that there's anything wrong with that.   Edwin
Edwards is a fascinating character in Louisiana and American politics.  Mr. Honeycutt seems to think that he hand in Jimmy Carter's
downfall in 1980, but I just can't imagine a typical American voter north of Mooringsport checking a ballot for someone who had already
attracted the attention of the FBI on a couple of occasions.  I also can't imagine a typical American reader north of Mooringsport buying
this book.  On the whole, Mr. Honeycutt has done an admirable job.  It could have been much, much worse--but it also could have been
better.  (OK, since you asked, here's my Edwin Edwards story.  Prior to the formal beginning of the gubernatorial campaign in 1983,
both Dave Treen and Edwin Edwards had been asked to speak to a trade group that was meeting at the Chateau Country Club in
Kenner.   It wasn't a debate: both candidates just showed up, made their remarks and left the business folks to continue their business.  
On the front steps, Governor Treen and I were waiting for the trooper to get the car, and Governor Edwards was waiting for his ride as
well.  To break the awkward silence among the three of us, Governor Treen said, "Matt, have you m
et Ed Edwards?"   "Ed?  Has
anybody ever called this man,'Ed'?" I asked myself.  I said that we'd met and went on to babble about a couple of other things. On the
way home, I wondered to myself if Governor Treen had ever really met "Ed" Edwards.)  2/11/10

Honolulu by Alan Brennert    As I write this, the East Coast is under blizzard conditions, North Mississippi has received six inches of
snow this morning, and more is expected later this week.  What a perfect time for a nice little book call
ed Honolulu.  Apparently, being a
guy is no impediment to writing chick lit--whi
ch Honolulu certainly is.   It's the story of a young woman from Korea named Regret who
comes to Hawaii as a "picture bride" to be wed to a man she has never met.  Naturally, he's a skunk, and Regret spends the next forty
years building a better life for herself with the help of the loyal friends she met on the way from Korea.  It's a pleasant little story, and
along the way, she meets interesting people like the hooker  who was the inspiration for Somerset Maugham's Sadie Thompson, and the
Honolulu cop who inspired Charlie Chan.  If you love Hawaii as I do (don't get me started), you'll appreciate the opportunity to
reconnect" with the islands in a vicarious way.  At the very least, it will keep you warm on a cold night in February.  (2/8/10)

The Thirty Years War:  Europe's Tragedy by Peter H. Wilson   In some relatively recent year, Germans were polled about the greatest
tragedy in the history of their country.  The leading response--ahead of World War I, the Third Reich and the curious infatuation with
David Hasselhoff-- was the Thirty Years War.   The war is arguably the bloodiest in history.  Whereas 10 percent of Europe's population
died in WWI, and 12 percent died in WWII, fully 20 percent of the people of the Holy Roman Empire died perished between 1618-1648.  
Plague and famine were the leading causes of death, but bloody battles also took their toll.  Some have called this the definitive English
history of the Thirty Years War.  They may be right, but this is n
ot The Thirty Years War for Dummies.  It is a very difficult read.  The
author admirably tries to hack the war down to bite-sized pieces, but those pieces are arranged in a way that disrupt the flow of the
story.  A timeline would have helped a lot.  Also, there is a list of maps in the book, but the maps themselves were not included.  (I
understand they are downloadable from the book's website.)  This was a huge impediment to making sense of the story.  Finally, a list of
he Dramatis Personae would have been a big help to this 17th century history novice.  If you are a student of history, this book may
appeal to you,but if you are only casually interested in this interesting chapter of European history, you might be better advised to start
your search elsewhere.  (2/8/10)

The Imperial Cruise:  A Secret History of Empire and War   by James Bradley.  Late last year, I read Douglas Brinkley's Wilderness
Warrior, a (very long) commentary on Theodore Roosevelt as an early environmentalist.  Now, Mr. Bradley is treating readers to
Theodore Roosevelt as an early water-boarding racist Nazi warmonger.  I really can't think of enough bad things to say about this book.   
(Well, I can, but it's not worth my time.)  First, there's nothing "secret" about this history.  You've read most of it elsewhere, better
written and without Mr. Bradley's atavistically cretinous opinions ladled on top of it.  If you're really interested, you can go to
amazon.com and read reviews that catalog the multitudinous factual errors.  I'm just outraged by the author's use of sloppy
fact-checking and pejorative language to back up his poorly-considered opinions about American imperialism in the early 1900's.  Boo.  
Hiss.  (1/23/2010)

The Help   by Kathryn Stockett  I've been putting off reading this book for a while now.  For some reason, I just wasn't ready to pick
up a book about Mississippi in 1962.  But I finally have.  I want so much to judge this book by my remembrance of 1962, but I know
that I should  not.  My experiences, after all, weren't really much at all like what is depicted in these pages.  Then again, I was nine at the
time.    I didn't have a dear old family retainer to "raise" me.  People all over the country have asked me have asked me about the book.  
People all over, that is--except for Mississippi, that is.  I'm sure I've met people in Jackson who have read the book, but I haven't met
anyone who wants to talk about it.  I don't really know what that means, but I'm guess that it means that--to some extent--the author has
hit her mark.  (1/19/2010)

UPDATE:  In a literal example of life imitating art, the world of this book--Jackson in 1962--has become my world.  The book
is being turned into a move starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis, and some parts of it are being filmed on the street in front
of my house.  The stores along my little strip of North State Street have been repainted to appear as they did in 1962, and
even the old Capri Theatre down the street has a new sign and marquee--advertising Cleopatra with Taylor and Burton.  Sadly,
the theatre also has a sign on the side door reading "Colored Entrance".  (10/1/2010)