,
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.
...
Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James   I picked up this book because I have a somewhat vested interest in murder mysteries set in the
19th century, and Ms. James seems to have written hundreds of them--okay maybe twenty or so.  Ms. James (now Baroness James of Holland
Park) picks up the cast of
Pride and Prejudice six years after the end of that book.  Lizzy and Darcy are of course living la vida loca at
Pemberley with Jane's wishy-washy sister and her husband, Mr. Bingley close by.  The author has imagined--and set to paper--rich and full--yet
rather ordinary  lives for the characters--but, at least in my opinion, that is the problem with the book.   At the end of the day, these are not "her"
characters to do with as he pleases.  Yes, she's given rich and full--if pretty ordinary--lives to those who deserve it, but still, none of them are as
mysterious or magical as they were in what I guess we'll have to start calling the source material.  (I admit that this sounds petty hypocritical
coming from a guy who can't wait to go to the movies this week to see the latest revisionist presentation of Sherlock Holmes.)  The good news,
I suppose, is that the murderer and murderer are not characters from the original book, so you'll have no cause to like or dislike anyone come
coming out of this book than you did going in to it.  Read
Death Comes to Pemberley if you must.   (12/11/11)

The Quest for Anna Klein   by Thomas H. Cook   has been sitting in my reading pile for a few months.  I'd been reluctant to pick it up
because I felt I'd been digesting a lot of material about women lost to the Nazis, the most recent experience being  Sarah's Key and to some
extent The Debt.  I just didn't feel like being dragged through the Third Reich again so quickly.   Anna Klein is and is not one of those kinds of
things.  It's not really about the Nazis--it's really not even about Anna Klein--it's really about a quest, a quest for love and/or vengeance.  
(They're very closely related in this book.)   The author has chosen to juxtapose his tale of espionage in the early days of the Reich with the
immediate aftermath of the 9/11 bombing in New York.  It's an awkward device at best, and the author has decided to let the reader decide what
one incident could be understood by an exposition of the other.  At least one reader--moi--had some trouble drawing the connection.  As a
straightforward story, the Quest is somewhat shallow, and allowing the teller of the story to unfold it over the course of an afternoon and
evening in various parts of Manhattan didn't do a lot to enrich it.  There's a twist at the end that did nothing to enrich the experience and indeed
might have trivialized it for many.  Mr. Cook is a good writer, and he takes you to interesting places (his name IS Thomas Cook, for crying out
loud), but he really doesn't show you a good time along the way.  (12/7/2011)

11/22/63 by Stephen King   If at first you don't succeed....   On the heels of his 300,000-page Under the Dome, Uncle Stevie is back with
another door stop.  I think this one is about six million pages, but I could be wrong.  The master of the short-form suspense genre seems to be
trying to corner the market on sagas.  That may be where the money is in terms of movie and television deals, but it's not where readers who
want to be held in King's patented brand of enthrallment want to be.  A Maine diner owner has discovered a time portal that transports its users
from the present back to September 9, 1958.  Regardless of how long the traveler remains gone in the portal, it's always only two minutes later
when he returns.  (One of my favorite lines in the book is when the owner says that he keeps his prices low in the present because he buys his
supplies in 1958.)    He decides that he has the wherewithal to stop the Kennedy assassination.  He contracts lung cancer before he's able to do
that, so he comes back to the present and recruits the central character of our piece, Jake Epping, a high school English teacher , to finish the
job he could not.  Jake agrees, and most of the rest of the book is about how he spent his time between 1958 and 11/22/63.  Is he successful?  
Well, yes and no, and thereby hangs the tale.  I kept turning the pages, but others might not be so patient.  If you like King's work, you won't be
disappointed.  Otherwise, you might want to wait for the mini-series.  (12/03/2011)

When Elves Attack by Tim Dorsey   Mr. Dorsey is the ugly step-sister of the family of Florida comic-noir (I guess that's a genre) that
includes Dave Barry and Carl Hiassen.  Mr. Dorsey would probably tell you that he doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the
other two--and he'd be right.  This book feels like the stream-of-unconscious writing about the worst aspects of life in suburban Florida.  Every
cliché you can think of is dressed up for the holidays, and it's not a pretty sight.  Mr. Dorsey's protagonist/antagonist is Serge Storms, a lovable
rogue who's always a couple of steps ahead of the cops.  Actually, that's a fair description of Serge two or three books ago.  Now, he's just an
irritating device to keep the plot moving forward.  
When Elves Attack will do nothing either to improve your mood or intellect.  Sorry.  
(12/01/2011)

Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson   is the story of an obsessed and obsessive author--and also Ernest Hemingway.  This book has lots of
interesting things to say about Ernest Hemingway that maybe you didn't know before (for the last fifteen years of his life, he was aware that his
youngest son was a cross-dresser), but I think it's most interesting revelations have to do with the minor industry that has sprung up in
America--and Cuba--to study Hemingway's life and all the minutiae associated with it.  In his own folksy way, Mr. Hendrickson tells you
everything about the major player in Hemingway Studies, and much of what you just don't give a damn about.  I happen to think it's interesting,
so I was fascinated.  You might wonder what the hell this guy is thinking.    If you're a interesting in Hemingway as much as his work, you'll
enjoy this book a lot.  If not, read
The Sun Also Rises again.  (11/6/2011)

An Invisible Star by Jeff Oppenheimer   Oh, where do I start?   Is it fair to say that you've known someone all your life, if you haven't even
seen them in the past twenty years?  I suppose not.  But I have known the author of this book since 1959. I lived less than a block from him
until I graduated from high school, but during all that time and the interim, I spelled his name "Hockingheimer".  (Jeff, if you're reading this,
that's why your invitation to the reunion was late.)  So I'm thinking that there are probably some other things about Jeff I don't know.  
An
Invisible Star
is a very loose, very interpretive and very abstract recounting of Jeff's life in high school.  Jeff himself plays a couple of
characters in the book, but the heroine of the  piece is a "Mrs. Longfellow"--one of the few teachers who ever seemed to have inspired Jeff in
high school.  The teacher is based--hell, she is Dottye Langhofer, who in real life lived across the street from me when I was in high school.  
(Mrs. Langhofer's daughter, Dottye Lou, a couple of years old than I and in possession of both a driver's license and a 1967 Buick Skylark, was
my ride the school for a couple of years.  To show you how small the world is, I saw Mrs. Langhofer in Kroger in Batesville just this
afternoon.  She looks great.  She says that Dottye Lou and her new husband are traveling in Tahiti this week.  But I digress.)  Jeff's book is
many things:  a stream of consciousness recapitulation of a what in reality was probably a fairly typical high school experience; a howl of pain; a
mash note to Mrs. Langhofer; and a settling of scores.    Unless you actually went to South Panola High School in the early 1970's and know
who these badly-disguised characters are, you'll have zero interest in this book.  But if you did and you do,--it's a scream.  (Full Disclosure  
Note: Despite our proximity, all that Jeff seems to have remembered about me is that Dottye Lou and I once had a lemonade stand in the front
yard.  Or maybe he's just miffed that I've been misspelling his name for 50 years.  (11/3/2011)

Unbroken:  A world War II Story of Survival, Resilience , and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand   It's a Wonderful Life.  Especially if
you're Louis Zamperini, son of immigrants who settled in Torrance, California after the Great War.  In high school, a reluctant principal was
persuaded to let Louie run track rather than be expelled from school.  And run he did--all the way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he
finished eighth and persuaded Goebbels to take his picture with Hitler.  While training for the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo, WWII broke out, the
Olympics were cancelled, and Ernie did his duty by signing up to become a bomber pilot.  When his plane was shot down over the Pacific in
1943, he and two other members of the crew floated 2000 miles across the Pacific in a life raft.  Along the way, he learned to fend off--and
eventually to capture and eat--sharks by punching them in the nose.  When he was eventually "rescued" after 46 days on the raft (a record), he
was taken to a series of prisoner of war camps across the Pacific and eventually in Japan.   And this is just the first half of the book.  Ms.
Hillenbrand is a master, and she has chosen her subject well.  Ernie Zamperini's is an American story that will make you glad to be alive.  And
that's pretty good.  (10/24/2011)

Three Armies on the Somme:  The First Battle of the Twentieth Century by William Philpott   t's always been difficult for me to sort out
World War I.  When I think of the "Western Front" and the trench warfare that spread itself out over four years in 1914-1918, it's hard to
image.  Four years?  Really?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, it certainly wen on for four years, but at least in the Somme region of Picardy, there are
four particularly significant movements That period that are the specific focus of this book.  The "mechanics" of the battles are all interesting,
but the true value of this book is the interpretation the author gives for results of the brutal, bloody and extended carnage.  First and foremost,
the author insists that the result of the four year war of attrition was that it cost Germany the war.  This may sound simplistic, but almost as
soon as the war ended, the meaning of the battles began to be interpreted to provide plausibility to the notion that the German army was not ever
finally defeated during the course of the war, and that the only reason that the Germans sued for an armistice was that their leaders had "sold out
" the army.  This narrative has been used to explain post-war conditions in Germany and the ultimate rise of Nazism.  Mr. Philpott is rather
emphatic in stating that the German army was well and truly defeated on the Somme, and if without an armistice, they would have been
obliterated.  He also makes several interesting points about the frequently overlooked reality that the armies of Canada, New Zealand and
especially Australia shouldered much of the burden in France.  The Australian experience there, is believed to beginning  of that nation's moves
toward independence.  It's a great book, but if you're not interested in the period, you might find it to be a challenge.  (10/20/2011)

Death in the City of Light:  The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King   Well, you'd think this book would have it all--serial
killers, Nazis, Paris....but somehow, it comes off rather flat.  The trap about writing books about serial killers is that unless you find some
compelling characters to be the victims, their loved ones or the people who hunt down the murderer, the only ingress into the story that the
author presents is that of the killer himself.   I'm sure the victims and their loved ones have compelling stories, but there are literally dozens of
them, and the author doesn't seem to feel sufficiently privileged to pick out a few and focus on them.  The investigators who are Nazis are
ignored, and the French investigators are boring.  So that leaves us with the killer, a doctor who claims his work is on behalf of the
Resistance--which may or may not be at least partially true.  (These conundrums leave the reader with really nowhere to go in the book.    
Sometimes, I think it might be nice if we could leave all these people to themselves and just wander around the city.)  This is an "O.K.." book
which could have been a great book.  Pity.  (10/15/2011)

The Crimean War: A History by Orlando Figes   So.  What was the relevance of the Crimean War?  All sorts of things.  Here's one:  It was
the first time that European Christian nations (England, France) had ever backed a Muslim nation (Turkey) in a dispute with another Christian
European nation (Russia).  Two of the unintended consequences were that Turkey (and to a lesser degree, the rest of the Muslim world) opened
up to Western technology and philosophies for the first time.  Also, the Crimean War pointed out to Russia how backward it was and gave it a
clue of what it needed to do if it planned to compete with European democracies.  (Within five years of the end of the war, the serfs were
freed.)  There are all sorts of interesting tidbits like these in Mr. Figes's fine book.  If you have any interest at all in the history of the period, I
recommend it to you with no reservations.  (10/09/2011)

1861 by Adam Goodheart   I think a better title for this book would have been 1861,  Part 1.  In reality, the spread of time covered in the book is
November 1860-July 1861, or roughly the time between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the First Battle of Bull Run.  I like the way Mr.
Goodheart tells his story by selecting representative figures of the various aspects of his story and focusing on them.  His method loses the
sweep of the history, but it does provide context that is frequently missing elsewhere and gives the reader a way to enter the story he is trying to
tell.  I think it's effective and entertaining.  While Mr. Goodheart just sort of nibbles around the edges of the big story, he does a fine job of
telling a number of smaller stories that help to paint a mosaic of a defining point of American history.  (9/18/2011)

The Rogue Republic:  How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History by William C. Davis   I can't blame
the author, but I really couldn't connect with this book at all.  I think he thinks that this unexplored niche of American History is something that
is endless fascinating.  On the other hand, I don't.  Just as there is a big difference between "would-be patriots" and "patriots", there's a largish
gap between "revolution" and "land grab".   The only admirable characters in the story of how the Americans acquired what is now eastern
Louisiana, southern Mississippi and Alabama and western Florida are the Spanish magistrates who governed in good faith without much support
from the home country.  For their efforts, they are banished in disgrace.  While the "Americans" in the story might not rise to the level of
despicable, they're probably not people you'd be happy to let in your house--as the Spanish learned to their detriment.  I think this is a story that
needed to be written and read, but that doesn't mean that you'll enjoy it very much.  (9/11/2011)

Full Black  by Brad Thor   Even though I wasn't a big fan of Mr. Thor's last book of his that I read (State of the Union), it's clear that he is a
writer of considerable talent.  So when I saw that this book had something to do with Hollywood and someone who sounds a lot  like George
Soros, I was intrigued.  I wasn't disappointed.  It was a great beach read (literally in my case--if you want to borrow my copy, it's full of sand),
and it's programmed to keep you turning the pages.  But that's really all it is--a program.  There are only a couple of characters that you care
even a little bit about, and you know that when they get the crap beat out  of them, you know that the author likes them as well as you do, and
that they'll be fine.  Essentially, this is a comic book without the photos.  That's fine, as long as you're not expecting more.  (8/16/2011)

Rules of Civility  by Amor Towles   is a kooky little book about single gals in New York in 1938.  They crack wise with each other and meet
rich swells who find them irresistible.  If that interests you, go for it.  Having said that, what's interesting  (and kind of bizarre) about the book is
that attention to
Young George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.  These rules are always
carried by one of the main characters at all times, and they allegedly guide his behavior.  I guess these rules (there are 101 of them) are a real
thing because the author goes to the trouble of presenting them as an appendix to the book.  Generally speaking, they are the kinds of rules that a
young George Washington would use to comport himself (No. 7: Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber
half Drest), but some are kind of funky.  (No. 107: If others talk at Table but be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth.  Or No. 109:  
Let your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull.)  These really don't add anything to the story told in book, but they're interesting in the own right.  
(8/13/2011)

Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train   by Ina Caro   Move over Frommers, Ina Caro has France completely
figured out.  Apparently, it came to her as she was traveling around willy-nilly, looking at things with not context for them.  So she recommends
that on your next trip to France, you should rent an apartment in Paris and take the excellent French trains to everything worth seeing.   She has
a point.  French trains are a pleasure to ride; they leave from the middle of Paris and take you directly to the middle of the old towns and cities
you want to see, so that you don't have to deal with the pain of driving and finding  place to park; and they get you back to Paris in time for
dinner.  For each of the sites she suggests that you visit, Ms. Caro thoughtfully provides you with appropriate Paris terminal for the train you
want to take, and in most cases, she offers a tip for somewhere to eat lunch while you're day-tripping around the country. Frankly, I would love
to do this some time-some time when I have months and months to spend in France and have the luxury of seeing things this way.  Sadly, few
people do, but it is a thought.  Ms. Caro also thinks that you should see sites in the chronological order in which they were built.  She says this
gives you a better appreciation for how the moats of the Loire châteaux that were built in the 15th century morphed into the reflecting pools of
Versailles in the 17th century.  It makes perfect sense, but I'd like to think that I could comprehend the concepts in a less rigid format.  
(8/10/2011)

The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure by Norma Watkins   After reading the first 138 pages of this book, I came across the photos
of the characters and places in the book.  This was the first clue that this was a work of non-fiction.  I have no reason to doubt the author's
sincerity about the rather dramatic details of her life.  My surprise was based on the author's way of describing the details of her own life as
something that happened to someone else.  It's neither good or bad; it's just odd.  I had never heard of the Allison's Wells resort somewhere
between Pickens and Canton, nor was there reason that I should have.  It burned to the ground before my family moved to Mississippi--but for
some place as allegedly famous as it was, you'd think I would have heard something.  Mrs. Watkins has had a very interesting life.  I don't think
that I could have been as strong as she was to walk out on her four children because she didn't love her husband.  I guess it's just one of the
decisions that people make.  If you're looking for a grittier version of The Help after you see the movie, here's your book.  (7/31/2011)

Once a Southern Soldier  by Lee E. Wilson   I've known Lee E. since he was just a small....well, he was never small.  I guess I'll just say I've
known him since he was in high school.  He has put his passion for Civil War history into this, the first of two books about the western
campaigns of that war.  As you might expect, the second book will be called
Always a Southern Soldier.   Once follows Bill Ayer of Duck Hill
(yes, that Duck Hill) from Shiloh to Van Dorn's raid on Holly Springs.  Along the way, he takes a shot and General Sherman, spies for the
Confederates and saves the lives of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and her son.  It's quite a ride.  My biggest concern while reading the book was that
Mr. Wilson throws around the names of Mississippi towns like Duck Hill, Grenada, Oxford, Holly Springs and Corinth, but I don't think he took
into account the possibility that there might be someone in the reading community who might not know where all these places are, relative to
one another.  (Yes, it's possible.)  So I sent him a note and suggested a map for the second book.  (7/27/2011)

The Map of Time   by Felix J. Palma   Felix J. Palma (what a great name) wastes no time in painting himself into a corner with this book.  On
the very first page, he addresses the reader thusly "Welcome Dear Reader, As you plunge into the thrilling pages of our melodrama where you
will find adventures of which you never dreamt!"  But wait, there's more.  "Your emotion and astonishment are guaranteed."  Sap that I am, I
was delighted to read this.  I admired Felix J. Palma for his chutzpah.   I thought Felix J. Palma could and would back it up.  Well, Felix J.
Palma really didn't back it up.  (But I still like his name.)  What followed the empty promises were three tales set in London in the late Victorian
period which are vaguely related and have to do with time travel, H. G. Wells, Jack the Ripper and a few privileged souls who manage to interact
with all three with no serious damage done to themselves.  I wish Felix J. Palma had written his stories with the same brashness that he had
touted them, but alas, it was not to be.   They were really somewhat pedestrian.  Too bad.  I'm sure we'll see the name Felix J. Palma again, and
I hope that when we do ,he'll redeem the promises made in this effort.    (7/26/2011)

Blood of the Reich by William Dietrich   I thought this would make a good summer beach read.  It's serviceable, but nothing special.  It's kind
of like the Nazis meet Generation Y in Seattle.  Mr. Dietrich is a fine writer, but his choice of a heroine is fatally flawed.  The MINI driving,
coffee swilling, wine tasting cube dweller at the heart of this story is just a flat, lifeless lump.  (I just finished the book, and I've already
forgotten her name.)   She's so insipid that you want the Nazis to stick around and continue to torture her.  You're afraid that if they leave, you'll
be left alone with her, and you'll want to kick her a few times yourself.  The story is fine; you just wish it happened to more interesting people.  
(7;/22/2011)

A World on Fire:  Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman  is the definitive book on its subject.  (And I
thank her heartily for coming out with it at a time when I'm vitally interested in that subject.)  Scholarship and attention to nuance is apparent in
every paragraph, and more  importantly, Ms. Foreman knows how to tell a story.  At no point, do you think you're reading an extended version
of someone's doctoral thesis.  If you're still laboring under the assumptions that the British government wanted the South to win, or that Rose
Greenhow slunk into obscurity after she was exposed as a Southern spy in Washington,  you've got a few surprises in store.  Even if you're
generally familiar with the subject matter, you'll appreciate this fresh appraisal of it.   (7/18/2011)     

The First Detective:  The Life and Revolutionary Times of Vidocq: Criminal, Spy and Private Eye by James Morton   is a missed
opportunity.  From the title alone, you can imagine that there is something of interest to be discussed, and when you realize that the revolutions
referred to are those that took place in Paris in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, you'd think the book would be irresistible.  But no.  
People, places and things that attract our attention are named and glossed over as the story crashes along, apparently adhering to some
previously unknown rule of literature that no chapter may run longer than eight pages   I want to tell Mr. Morton to stop and smell the brioche!  
I want to know more about Coco-Lacour.  Tell me more about The Shrimp.   After reading the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a
book that had been translated from another language because the way the story moves along was so rough and  choppy.  Such, however, was
not the case.  I commend the author for making me believe that Lecoqc is deserving of a detailed and compelling examination of his life.  I just
wish he had written
that book.  (7/16/2011)  

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918   by Adam Hochschild   is a book of surprises.  The biggest surprise is that
I liked it as much as I did.   Mr. Hochschild focuses his outstanding reporting skills on the men and women in the United Kingdom who for one
reason or another protested against World War I.  I think my reasoning for not expecting much was that I thought the author would focus on
the socialists, who even on their best days, were a gloomy bunch whose stories were by definition, not "the big story" of the war.  Those stories
are indeed here, but Mr. Hochschild does a very clever thing by tying--to the extent that he can--those stories to those of people like Rudyard
Kipling, Douglas Haig  and Sir John French and other leaders.  The author also humanizes the stories of the conscientious objectors to the war in
a compelling way.  It's an interesting story well  told, and if you are interested in the period, it's another perspective that you're not likely to get
from the standard histories.  (7/10/2011)

The Ranger by Ace Atkins   I apologize for repeating myself every time Mr. Atkins puts out a new book, but  he and Greg Iles are Mississippi's
finest writers of fiction.  (And by Mississippi, I include the Charlotttesville Alumni Club.)   In his new book, Mr. Atkins steps away from his
reportage of real life crime figures from the past and creates his own postage stamp of Mississippi soil and populates it with necks so red that
William Faulkner would have been proud.    One of them is Quinn Colson, son of a former Hollywood stunt man and nephew of the local sheriff
who has just committed suicide.  Or did he?   Quinn sorts through the town's secrets to find the truth.  Along for the ride are sexy deputies,
corrupt community leaders and legions of trailer trash.  At the end of the book, you'll be very happy that you don't live in Jericho,
Mississippi--but you'll be happy you visited.  (7/1/2011)

Walking to Hollywood: Memories of Before the Fall by Will Self   No one does adjectives like Will Self.  Where no word currently exists to
describe an object or indignity, Mr. Self is great at making one up.  At the most superficial level (mine), the book is fascinating,  as a story, it's
rather exhausting and kinda stinks.   Everyone in the book is loathsome--even the casually observed bystanders.  Read it if you want, but you
were warned.  (6/29/2011)

Dead Reckoning  by Charmaine Harris   Ms. Harris' s eleventh book in the Sookie Stackhouse series is a great summer read, and it goes down
as smooth as a big, icy bloody mary on a summer Sunday morning.  If you don't know by now that Ms. Harris's books have been translated
into the
True Blood series on HBO, it's may actually be too late to try to get you up to speed.  I suspect that the enjoyment of this book has a lot
to do with your memories of either Ms. Harris's earlier books or the tv translation.  If that's the case, I suspect that you go back to the beginning
of the series (books or tv) and get up to speed before jumping into this one.  For the rest of us, the new book is both a nice rebound after the
last entry and a welcome addition to the summer reading pile.  (6/26/2011)

Infamous Players:  A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex) by Peter Bart   Before he began his 20-year stint at Variety, Peter Bart was an
upper level management guy (I'm not even sure he says what his title was) at Paramount Studios in the late 60's and early 70's.  It was a time
when the studio was turning out and/or preparing great movies like
Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather, and Chinatown, and dogs like Darling Lili
and
Paint Your Wagon.  Mr. Bart's thinnish books dishes some dirt, and he doesn't pull his punches in regard to the talent (or lack thereof) of
some big names in the entertainment industry.  However, this book would have been a lot more compelling if he had written it twenty years
ago.  I suppose it works on some level as a documentation of Hollywood's past, but as a "tale" of the Mob and sex, it's pretty tame.  (6/22/2011)

The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris   by David McCullough   If Woody Allen wants to make a sequel to Midnight in Paris (God
forbid) and go back further in time to drop in on Americans in the City of Light, Mr. McCullough's book could serve as his source material.  
What the title of the book doesn't say is that it's about Americans in Paris in the 19th century.   Naturally, he includes the famous authors and
artists like Mary Cassatt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, but he also includes others you wouldn't expect such as the many Americans who went
to Paris to study medicine in an academic setting at a time when it was impossible to do so in America.  While the book is thorough in some
respects, I would have liked to have seen more.  For example.  New Orleanians of French descent who sent their children to Paris continuously
during the early part of the century are barely mentioned.  Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the brilliant pianist who caused a sensation early in the
century is mentioned, but hardly anyone else.  While almost any book about Paris is interesting to me, I found this one to be a tad dryer than
most.  Still, if the subject interests you, you probably  won't be disappointed.  (6/20/2011)

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead  by Sara Gran   Claire DeWitt is tough but zen-infused private investigator who has been hired to find
a retired assistant district attorney who disappeared in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and of course, the City of Dead is New Orleans.  I
don't know what Sara Gran thinks about the city, but Claire DeWitt, despite living there during a significant time in her life, clearly doesn't think
much of the place at all.  Perhaps her feelings are justifiable as her current visit, a year after the storm, exposes her to the worst people and
experiences that the city has to offer.  Much of the book details unnecessary and not terribly interesting or relevant information about Claire's
past, and there are big chunks of theory of private detection by some real or imagined person named Jacques Silette.  Despite telling you at the
end of every chapter that the story is not going to have a happy ending, the ending is actually as satisfactory as you could hope.  This isn't the
best New Orleans mystery I could recommend to you, but you could do worse.  (6/18/2011)

Boss, Jaybird and Me by Jimmy Reed   is definitely "that kind of thing."   "That kind of thing" in this instance being a Mississippi Delta version
of
Guideposts Magazine.  It's a couple hundred 500-word articles about day-to-day details of life in the Delta.  The articles are mostly about God
and Jesus, and also about people with names like--well, Boss and Jaybird.  I'm definitely learning a new respect for anyone who has the
gumption to put words on a page, so I'm not going to say that
Boss, Jaybird and Me is not worthy of your attention.  But just be sure you're
ready for "that kind of thing."  (6/15/2011)

New Orleans Confidential by O'Neil LeDoux   Here's a New Orleans Confidential secret for you:  I once took a creative writing class.  When I
first moved to New Orleans in 1990, my friend Beth wanted to sign up for a Monday night class taught by a former cop named O'Neil LeDoux
at the Nunez Community College in Belle Chasse.  She didn't want to drive all the way out to "The Parish" by herself, so I told her I'd sign up
and take the class with her.  Predictably, Beth dropped out after the second week, but I stayed with it for the rest of the semester.  During the
course of the spring, I wrote a couple of awful short stories that I shared with my classmates at  post-class chats at a local coffee house.  (So,
yes, I can say that for a short time in my life, I was a member of the Chalmette Café Society.)  Anyway, I had never read anything our teacher
had written until this book, which originally came out in 2005 and was re-released for some reason in 2010.  Mr. LeDoux's work seems to fall
into three categories: 1) New Orleans mysteries; 2) New Orleans mysteries with sex; and 3) science fiction.  This collection of short stories
appears to fall into the second category.  The mysteries are marginally compelling, but the sex--and there's lots of it--is graphic and really spices
them up.  I think that I'd been aware of this aspect of his work, I would have paid more attention in his class.  (6/13/2011)

The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans  by David Lummis   feels like a book that started out to be a book about one thing, changed its
mind and became something else.   That probably sounds like negative criticism, but it really isn't.  If you think about it, how many of us really
turn out to be what we started out to become?  I don't really mind that Mr. Lummis's book begins as a stream-of-conscious ode to the
eccentricity of pre-Katrina New Orleans and ends as a somewhat startling and strident attack on the evils of slavery and its aftermath.  Does it
make a lot of sense?  No, but it kind of sounds like something the author might have discovered as a new resident of New Orleans and begun to
obsess about.   Mr. Lummis is a pretty good writer, and while the modest charms of this work have a lot to do with being something of a
dilettante in an opportunity-rich environment, in the future, I suggest that he start to focus his attention.  (6/6/2011)

The Jefferson Key   by Steve Berry    The Godfather of Matt's Mayhem Quotient (see sidebar left) is back with summer reading fun. He's
brought along his stable of oddly-named (read: "memorable") characters like Cotton, Cassiopeia, etc., and deployed them along the East Coast of
the United States.   (I'm presuming he's no  longer welcome at World Heritage Sites on other continents.)   If you're a fan of Mr. Berry'
slapdash, nonstop action, you'll be pleased.  If not, maybe you won't.  (5/30/2011)

In the Garden of Beasts:  Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson   If you can only read (or stomach)
one book about Nazis this year, make it this one.  Mr. Larson follow us his wonderful
The Devil in the White City and somewhat less wonderful
Thunderstruck with an account of the early years of the Third Reich as Hitler consolidated his power.  I'm delighted to say that he's back to the
top of his game.  William J. Dodd, chairman of the Department of History at the University of Chicago, thought his career was in the dumps
when Franklin Roosevelt made him his fourth or fifth choice to be America's ambassador to Germany in 1933.  FDR's parting advice to his
selection was to be an exemplar of humble, democratic, American values.  This dictate was to work  to Dodd's disadvantage in Berlin where
German officials snickered in the massive Mercedes sedans as they passed Dodd on the Unter den Linden, driving himself in the used Chevrolet
he had brought with him from Chicago.  Likewise, the good old boys of the American diplomatic establishment, who generally neglected to live
within their own salaries and make as extravagant show as possible in their foreign appointments, were a constant source of irritation.   Yet, in
the end, the humble Dodd did what FDR had asked him and at the end of his tenure was recognized as one of the most principled diplomats in
the tumultuous German capital.  This is a great book about a significant time and place.  Mr.  Larson has researched in thoroughly and presented
it wonderfully.  (5/25/2011)

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell
Zuckoff   Well, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  You'd be wrong about that.  Yes, everything the title of the book is somewhere in the book
(with the possible reservation that this really wasn't the most incredible rescue of the war), but all the great components are presented like an
episode of
CSI: New Guinea.   I know that writing non-fiction can somewhat constrict an author, but I know that an interesting story of real  
people in this period can be told compellingly.  As proof, I offer Erik Larson's book in the next paragraph up.  (It's also a little misleading to link
this episode to the James Hilton novel, with which it has nothing in common.)   I'd love to recommend a great summer book for you, but this
isn't it.  (5/22/2011)

The Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries,Titanic Storms and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester   isn't a
terrible book.  It's not even a bad book.  It's just a very superficial overview of a very large topic.   As the title says, there are a million stories,
and frankly, I think he's vastly underestimating.  The only reason I'm
redlining the book is to discourage him from thinking it's a great concept
and deciding that he should now turn his attention to the other four oceans.  But assume that there are a million stories.  How do you prioritize
and organize as many of them as possible into 459 pages?  The device Mr. Winchester has chosen is the use of the seven stages of man's life set
out in Shakespeare's
As You Like It.   While this does provide a comprehensible direction for the book's narrative, it doesn't have as much to do
with the ocean as it does with the people who live around said ocean.  Mr. Winchester is a fine writer, and I look forward to reading more of his
work in the future.  I just hope he declares victory over the oceans and moves on.  (5/8/11)

The Paris Wife   by Paula McLain   Hadley Richardson Hemingway was the first of Ernest Hemingway's four wives, and the one with whom
he experienced
la vie boheme that was Paris in the years after the War to End All Wars.  While all the characters in The Sun Also Rises are based
on very real people who went to the festival in Pamplona with Papa and Hadley in the early 20's, Hemingway arbitrarily wrote her out of the
story.  Her participation in her husband's life was never really acknowledged at all until he wrote
The Movable Feast about the Paris years near
the end of his life.  The Hadley presented in Ms. McLain's fictionalized biography provides a clue as to why Hemingway chose not to write
about her in the early days.  Simply put, she was too normal.  She was funny, intelligent, considerate of others, and lots of other things, and she
very probably kept her husband grounded in the early years.  As the mother of his firstborn, he clearly saw her in a maternal light, and I suspect
that kept him from including her in the pantheon of rogues and scoundrels he described in his Paris works.  It's just a theory.  If you're
interested in the period, or in Hemingway, or just a tale about a gal who had to get out of the house, I think you'll like it.  (4/26/2011)

Moby-Duck:  The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and
Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them
by Donovan Hohn   This book deserves to be redlined based on the title alone.  
I think it's the longest in the history of my book page.  If you know me well, you know I have a large-ish collection of rubber ducks from
around the world (although I now suspect that all of them were made in China.)  Back in 1992, a container of them fell of a transport ship
somewhere in the North Pacific, and for the next few years, they turned up as far away as Puerto Rico.  How were they made?  How did they
fall off the ship?  How did they get where they went?  How did they survive?  These are the questions the author addresses, and I wish the
answers had been as interesting as the questions.  Rather than the story of a mystery solved, this book reads like a collection of essays on
marginally-related topics as diverse as ocean currents, the state of the environmental movement, manufacturing in China and one man's
obsession with rubber duckies.  You have to
really be interested in things that go quack to digest this.  (4/11/2011)

Electric Barracuda by Tim Dorsey   So what does "gonzo" mean to you?  One generally accepted notion of the concept is that it's the
acceptance of style over accuracy.  I bring this up because the blurbs on Mr. Dorsey's new book refer to it as "pure gonzo humor!"  Following
that line of patter, I suppose a gonzo novel would suggest the ascendancy of style over narrative.  If you agree, you've got a reasonable sense of
Electric Barracuda.  The book is an extended chase through the noir-ish side of Florida.  I may be wrong, but I don't think we were even told
why the protagonist is even being chased.  How much importance you attach to knowing that particular bit of information will go a long way
toward determining how much you will enjoy this book.  As you might suspect, my patience ran out rather early on.  I enjoyed the pilgrimage to
the Island Hotel in Cedar Key and few other places, but on the whole, the book was--to quote someone famous -- sound and fury, signifying
nothing.  (4/6/2011)

Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams by Charles King   When they think about it all, most Americans think of the Russian
(technically, the Ukrainian) city of Odessa as a place that--like the rest of the Old World--has been around forever.  Actually, like Sydney and
Cincinnati, it was settled sometime around 1789.  Mr. King chronicles the city's history in this somewhat slim book that glosses over a lot of
stuff I think the average person would like to know about Odessa.  He focuses on the history--and periodic mass slaughter--of the city's Jewish
community.  It's interesting, but incomplete.  I'd like to know more about the community that thought it could get along just fine without the
Jews, and where such thoughts came from.  Interestingly, Mr. King presents the notion that most people "know" Odessa from its association
with Sergei Eisenstein's masterpiece
Potemkin.  What's almost as interesting as the idea that most of the story that takes place in the film is
fabricated is the idea that the film is such a powerful piece of political propaganda, its fidelity to the truth was ultimately irrelevant.  If you're
looking for a short, facile history of a place that's only moderately interesting to people who don't live there, this book might interest you.  
(4/2/2011)

Beyond Katrina by Natasha Trethewey    As an avid consumer of all--OK, most--of the Katrina literature I can find, I was interested in what
was purported to be "her very personal profile of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and of the people there whose lives were forever changed by
Hurricane Katrina."  Well, I was warned.   Ms. Trethewey, a Gulfport native, was already living in Atlanta at the time of the storm, and she tells
she stayed away from the Coast for as long as she could afterward.  Her very personal profile of the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a remembrance of
growing up as an African-American in Gulfport in the decades before the storm.  As such, her childhood was happy, but in terms of inter-racial
relations, it was no day at the beach.  (Sorry.)  Her memories are interesting, but they were not what I thought I was getting when I picked up
the book.  More satisfactorily, Ms. Trethewey does share some interesting stories of "those whose lives were forever changed" by the
storm--mostly members of her family.  There was the good--those who pitched into help others in need; the bad--Ms. Trethewey's sister's
landlord who illegally kicked her sister out of her still-standing apartment in Pass Christian when her own home had been destroyed; and the
ugly--Ms. Trethewey's brother's conviction as a drug mule in the years following the storm--which the author seems to try to connect to the
storm itself.  I found these stories interesting and compelling--but I can't really say that it's a particularly valuable addition to the Katrina canon.  
(3/23/11)

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris  is the third and final book of Mr. Morris's trilogy of T.R. books.  The first two were excellent, but I
think the author saved his best for last.  Focused on the last ten years of Teddy's life, this book does a wonderful job of pondering his
motivations, as well as his actions.  In the years after his presidency, Roosevelt explored the Nile and Amazon, founded the short-lived Bull
Moose Party, hobnobbed with kings, conservationists and commoners, sniped at Taft and Wilson who succeeded him, and generally did his best
to keep his options for an eventual return to the White House.  It's the story of a lifetime of staggering accomplishment.  Where I think many
historians and others lose their sense of Roosevelt is when they try to explain why he thought anyone in America could rise to the heights that he
did.  Could they?  Maybe, maybe not.  It certainly didn't hurt his own rise to power that his family was who they were and were able to launch
him at Harvard and into politics.  Could he have done the same if his name were Jiminez (or Isch)?  I don't know.  No one knows--and anyone
who says they do isn't being entirely truthful.  However he got to his station in life, Teddy Roosevelt lived a remarkable life, and it's a pleasure to
read about it when it is presented as well as it is here.  (3/14/11)

Big Appetite  by Sam McLeod   This is the story of a boy growing up in the South as a skinny little thing and betrayed by genetics to become
an adult with body mass index issues, yada yada.  I'm sure Mr. McLeod's life has been a source of endless interest and amusement to himself
and his friends and family, but maybe not so much to the rest of us.  The most interesting character in the book is, alas, not Mr. McLeod, but
his mother, Coco.  As a public service, Mr. McLeod has given us "Coco Rules" for living, the most useful of which is, "If you're going to eat a
lot, look good doing it."  The book also contains several recipes for dishes like " Mrs. Mallory's Ginger Ale Salad" and "Coco's Meatloaf."  These
won't be of much help to you either.  (2/28/2011)

American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen   is the story of a slave revolt in the Louisiana River Parishes (which the author persists in calling the
"German Coast," without telling you why) in January 1811.  I read the book because I wanted to know more about the subject.  About halfway
through, I realized that I had taken the same plantation tour that the author had, and that I might already know as much about the topic as he
does.  Some day, there will be a thoughtful, well-researched and insightful look at this miserable episode of Louisiana history--but this isn't it.  
You will never read a history in which the words "perhaps", "maybe",and "could have" appear with such regularity.  On the other hand, the
author is somehow certain of a few things.  In describing the skirmish itself, he speaks of slaves lying "dead on the ground; their eyes glazed;
their lips blue; and their last expression fixed forever in their faces.  It was a horrifying sight."  Maybe it was, but the author doesn't know that.  
After speaking of 19th-century sugar plantations as one of the cruelest forms of evil ever manifested on the planet, he revisits the battle site in
the present day and sees that they have been replaced by chemical plants, "the sugar plantations of the current day."  Really.   This is
post-modern history at its worst.  (2/26/2011)

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer   So.  As everybody knows, there's a secret cabal of "honest brokers of information" in Washington who are
above politics and who tell the President what he really needs to know.  This group has been in place since the time of George Washington, and
over the centuries, only the names of the members have chan---what, you DIDN'T know about the Inner Circle?  In that case, Mr. Meltzer is
here to enlighten you as he tells the tale of a young archivist at the National Archives who stumbles on the group at a time when they are being
challenged by a rival group of evil Presidential advisors, known as --wait for it--the Plumbers.  Think of it as
West Side Story with lots of
wideband but no creepy dancing hoodlums.  As political thrillers go, I'd give it about a five out of ten.  
MQ (Mayhem Quotient, see sidebar
left) = 8.5
-- Minor landmarks trashed; legendary treasure (of knowledge); vengeful children; possibly evil President; hot woman with gun;
stolen government secrets)   The notion that one of the central characters JUST HAPPENS TO BE the daughter of an assassin who once tried
to kill a President and did kill the First Lady man and is now in a mental hospital--conveniently located in the Nation's Capital--is somewhat
far-fetched.  However, I do see Nicholson in the role.  (2/21/11)

German Genius by Peter Watson   To hear it from Mr. Watson, he's just about had it up to here with people who define German history by the
Nazi period.   Prior to the Nazis' rise to power, Germans had more Nobel Prize winners than the English and Americans combined, their
philosophers, scientists, writers, artists and musicians had set the world standard of excellence in fields.  Two in particular, Freud and Marx, he
says were the most influential individuals of the last century--and perhaps the current one as well.  Mr. Watson discusses literally hundreds of
German intellectuals of the period from 1750 to the present and explains explicitly why they have mattered.  It's exhausting.  Mr. Watson tells
his story in chronological fashion, jumping from philosophy to physics to music to archeology as he goes.  And if the book has a fault this is it.  
This format is exhausting to try to follow.  This book demands to be considered a masterwork, and it is a definitive exposition of German
thought.  If you have the interest and the fortitude--and the time--it is definitely worth your attention.  (2/14/11)   

Little Man, What Now by Hans Fallada   The next paragraph encapsulates my view about what is alleged to be Herr Fallada's master work.  
While this later book is not nearly as ambitious as
Wolf Among Wolves, it is somewhat more accessible to the reader in its reduced reach and
grasp.  This story of a young Berliner at the advent of the Nazis' rise to power who knocks up a country girl, marries her, brings her to Berlin
and drags her along on a woeful voyage of underemployment and despair.  This book captures its age in an interesting manner, its characters are
more engaging and easier to analyze and as I've said, in the case of Herr Fallada, less is more.  If you're at all interested in the work of this
author, this is the better book to begin with on your journey.  (2/14/11)

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada   While Mr. Fallada might not be a household name these days, this contemporary of Faulkner was as
popular in Germany between the World Wars as was Mr. Faulkner on this side of the pond.  This book, allegedly Herr Fallada's masterpiece,
was not translated into English until 2010, so I don't think it's likely that he influenced Faulkner.  Whether the reverse is true, I couldn't say, but
what I can say is that Fallada's style is more like Faulkner's than anyone else I''ve ever read.  Whether or not that's a compliment, I will leave to
you.  No sensation goes undescribed, no feeling unexplored.  Life goes on for hundreds of pages in Mr. Fallada's book, but you'd swear that
nothing much happened.  The book is year (1923, to be precise) in the life of a dissolute young Berliner, Wolf, for whom a day without
gambling is like a day without sunshine--who moves from the city to an East Prussian farm, where he finds that although the people aren't much
better than they are in Berlin, they do have a couple of things to teach him about life.  It's an outstanding book, but it might take you weeks and
weeks to get through it.  (1/31/11)

The Autobiography of Mark Twain edited by Harriet E. Smith   Dear Reader, do you notice anything odd about this first line?  (Go ahead.  I'll
wait.)  Here it is:  Don't you think it odd that a book called
The Autobiography of Mark Twain would not be written by someone named Mark
Twain?  And who is this Harriet Smith (besides a secondary character in a Jane Austen book)?  As it turns out, Harriet Smith is a professor at
the University of California, and that is the source of the biggest complaint I have about this book.  Mark Twain did not write this book.  With
the exception of the odd inserted letter or speech, he didn't write anything in this book.  What he did was dictate his memoirs in an amiable and
rambling way, and a team of academics, led by Ms. Smith, gave shape to this massive tome--the first of three, we're told..  What Mr. Twain
dictated is mostly entertaining--although what might have caused him to want to delay its publication for a hundred years after his death escapes
me--but that narrative is encased by two hundred pages of exposition at the beginning and 150 at the end, that do not improve upon the work
and are of interest only to Twain scholars.   When Twain is speaking, you hear his voice as he lampoons everyone and everything from book
editors to John D. Rockefeller and Teddy Roosevelt.  It is the voice of Mark Twain.  It's just that all those other voices you don't give a damn
about screw it up.  (1/11/11)

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm:  Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter   I had a few misgivings about this
book when I first picked it up.  The subject is one that has received lots of attention from several outstanding writers in recent years, but I have
to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Ms. Carter has an excellent grasp of her material and a compelling way of telling her story.  While the
book is exhaustive in detail, Ms. Carter pulls no punches and isn't afraid of letting you know where she stands.  In the most obvious example,
she devotes a fair amount of her 425 pages explaining how the cluelessness of Nicholas and Alexandra to the world around them drove the
Russian monarchy to extinction and took several million souls with it during the world war and its aftermath.  Yet in her last paragraph she slyly
notes that in 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Nicholas and his family as saints.   I enjoyed this book quite a lot, and I recommend
it highly to you.  (1/6/2011)

Hell's Corner   by David Baldacci   This is yet another mystery that's part of a series based on a central character with whom I am not
familiar.  But that's okay.  One feels as if one knows Oliver Stone (not his real name) in short order.  He's a retired assassin who is now living in
Washington and hanging out with his friends who call themselves the Camel Club.  (I assume that I would have had to have read one of the
earlier works to appreciate the meaning of the name.)  In this book, the ball gets rolling when a bomb goes off in Lafayette Park, across
Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.  No one was killed, so no one seems to know what was the point.  The solving of the mystery
itself is fast-moving and interesting.  The problem is that the book keeps going for about another fifty pages after that happens.  As the
perpetrator is someone who is not much discussed during the solving of the crime, the process of rounding her up is less compelling than it
might be otherwise.  It's a good read, but nothing worth dropping everything and rushing out to find.  (1/4/2011)

Missing New Orleans: Special Edition   by Phillip Collier   This book first appeared about five years ago, and it was a wonderful trip down
memory lane who remember old New Orleans landmarks like Pontchartrain Beach, Pelican Stadium and the original breweries.  Even though I
am not one of those people, I enjoyed the beautiful pictures of New Orleans the way it used to be.  The "Special Edition" has to do with some
so-so photos from Hurricane Katrina that do nothing to enhance the book, other than reinforce the notion that more and more of the city is
disappearing.  If you love New Orleans, you'll like the book.  (1/2/2011)

Seeing Further:  The Story of Science, Discovery & the Genius of the Royal Society   by Bill Bryson   may well be the most beautiful
book I'll see this year.  On the occasion of the 350th birthday of the Royal Society of London, this book has been put together to give readers a
glimpse of the march of science over the last three-and-a-half millennia, and how the Society has been a part of it.  Newton, Darwin,
Locke--they're all there, and the chapters about them that Mr. Bryson has edited are brilliant.  While some of the more complex topics can be
daunting to the typical reader, most of the material is geared toward non-scientific types like me.  Less brilliant, but still edifying are the several
chapters that look ahead to the future of science.  The only issue that holds much interest seems to be climate change.  (We don't call it "global
warming" anymore.)  Much of what is presented on the topic is speculation--as were the other topics in the book until they were "proven"--and
I don't really have a problem with that.  What I find unusual is that there doesn't seem to be anyone in the Society who has any ideas about
climate change that differ with the organization's official position.  If the science is really that "settled", you'd think we would have seen some
proof by now.  But that's just me.  It's a good book.  Check it out.  (1/1/2011)
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