.
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.
Back to Blood  by Tom Wolfe (2012)   I guess the big question is "How relevant is Tom Wolfe to today's world?"  Clearly,  I'm in no position to
answer this question, but as always, I'll tell you what I think--and that is that "He's as relevant as he ever was."   Cop out?  I don't think so.  I
never thought of him as cutting edge, but lots of people thought that books like Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full perfectly captured times
and places like Wall Street during the boom and Atlanta in flush times for real estate.  I thought that while he perfectly captured lots of details
around the edges, the books themselves were melodramatic tripe.  Back to Blood is exactly the same.  This time, we're in the cultural petri dish
that is Miami.  On several occasions, it's mentioned that Miami is the only city in the world in which a majority of its citizens moved there from
somewhere else.   (I would have thought that Washington, DC also falls into this category, but I'm sure that Mr. Wolfe has his facts straight.)   
As usual, he nails the details.  And also as usual, he tells a story that is as hard to swallow as the two-day old croissant The Versailles.  It took a
while to figure out where this book was going, but once I realized that the answer was "nowhere in particular," I relaxed and kind of enjoyed it.  
(11/23/2012)

The Big Screen:  The Story of the Movies  by David Thomson  (2012)  Mr. Thomson is nothing if not ambitious.   In a little over 500 pages,
he wants to give us the complete history of the movies from Georges Melies to a review of Spielberg's Lincoln which was still about six months
from release when the book was published earlier in the year.   As "they" say, this book is a mile wide and an inch deep.  But I say that's a good
thing.   If  nothing else, Mr. Thomson's book provides a context for how "cinema" developed in places as disparate as Hollywood, Berlin, India,
London, Paris and China.  If you want to unravel any of the threads that the author weaves together and explore them further, the book is richly
footnoted and many, many references for additional study are provided.   Mr. Thomson has provided a book that is both fun to read and is an
excellent guide for someone who wishes to be introduced to the rich history of the movies.  He deserves our thanks.  (11/10/2012)

The Cocktail Waitress:  The Lost Final Novel by James M. Cain (2012)  So who am I to be commenting on the last known work of the
author of Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice?   Mr. Cain left us in 1977, and at the time of his death, he was known to be
working on one last book, which turned out to be this one.  Like most "last works", this one is presented unedited and unfiltered--which would
never have been the case if Mr. Cain were still alive. And The Cocktail Waitress desperately needs an editor.   The story is there, and there are
signs of Mr. Cain's signature style.  But it's stiff, stilted and repetitive. But even in the mid-70's, I don't think this story would have flown.  This
story of a young woman who marries a man she doesn't love for his money would have sounded like something that might have been hot stuff in
the 30's and 40's, but maybe not so much when it was being written.   If you want to remember Mr. Cain as the master he is, you might want to
give this one a wide berth.  (10/10/12)

We Have The War Upon Us   by William J. Cooper  (2012)  This is a straightforward narrative of the last four months before "The Waa-wuh."  
That is both the book's strength and weakness.  It's always good to have a point-to-point narrative of what happened during the critical time in
our nation's history.   On the other hand, starting a story as big as this one four months before its denouement is kind of like starting the New
Testament when Jesus shows up in Gethsemane.  You're missing a lot of context that would have made the story you're telling now much more
comprehensible.  Reading this book is like reading a newspaper from the time.   It's fine if you're interested in the most recent development in the
story--you're just missing the rest of the story.   (10/4/2012)

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis (2012)   I can't praise this book enough.   Mr. Ennis has done a magnificent job of taking the reader
back to the opening years of the 16th century.  The New World has just been discovered, and Italy is in an uproar over the efforts of Pope
Alexander to consolidate his power in the Papal States and elsewhere in the peninsula.  In the middle of all this, the city-state of Florence has sent
a young envoy named Niccolo Machiavelli to represent their interests in the Pope's court.   He meets a beautiful young prostitute (apparently, it
was possible to be a respectable prostitute back then) who may or may not be the mother of People's grandson.  Machiavelli falls in love with the
woman and helps her with a mission she has been tasked with that may or may not allow to see her son again.   While all of this happening, he
spends time with Leonardo da Vinci and Cesar Borgia (brother of Lucrezia) who will become the subject of The Prince.   The kicker is that all of
this really happened.   It's a great story and a great book.   If historical fiction interests you at all, you'll love it.  (10/5/2012)

The Mirrored World  by Debra Dean  (2012)  Ms. Dean is apparently a Russophile who loved Anna Karenina.  Her novel of manners in old St.
Petersburg covers a lot of the same territory in about the same tone.   If you're into that, fine.   But as it's a very short novel, you could probably
watch the movie of Anna Karenina in about the same time and keep your hands free for popcorn.  (10/1/2012)

Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge  (2012)   So.   The misuse of hydrocarbons and cell phones over the year has turned me against a
lot of people over the years, but
Zoo imagines a world in which byproducts from hydrocarbons are "cooked" by radio waves emitting from
billions of cell phones across the planet.   As a result, humans have become toxic to animals, and animals (the mammals, anyway) are fighting
back.   Lions, tigers, bears, dolphins and even Sparky the Labrador Retriever down the street have decided that humans taste just like chicken.
It's not good.   Zoo is a relatively small book that tackles this ginormous problem.  And while the authors do keep you turning the pages, you feel
as if you're missing a lot of the story.   Especially at the end.   (9/17/2012)

The Great American Railroad War by Dennis Drabelle (2012)  This is a first for me.   In the past , I've just ignored books that I didn't
particularly like and just stopped reading in the middle.   I don't know why I felt compelled to share my thoughts with you about this one because
frankly, I didn't finish it.  However, I sincerely  believe that if I had finished it I would be
redlining it now.  I really don't like it.    Starting at the
top, this isn't a book about any kind of war between railroads.   It's a recap of a war by the muckraking press of the early 20th century against
the Southern Pacific Railroad.   The heroes of the piece are Ambrose Bierce of the Hearst Newspaper Syndicate  and Frank Norris.   On the very
first page of the book, Mr. Drabelle asserts that Mr. Bierce was the only "first-rate" writer to have been an actual combatant in the Civil War.  
(Mr. Drabelle is clearly not a man to let something like
Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace get in the way of a sweeping
assertion.)  There are other claims that are kind of  "out there" along the way in the book, and they start getting to you after a while.   If
something like that appeals to you, you can buy my copy at the annual book sale of the Batesville Public Library.  (9/9/2012)

Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown  (2012)   It's almost more of a notion than a book.  Craig Brown, a British journalist (if the jacket is to be
believed), has written 101 vignettes of famous people meeting one another.   (Perversely, each vignette is exactly 1000 words long.)  It begins
with Adolf Hitler meeting John Scott Ellis, proceed to John Scott Ellis meeting Rudyard Kipling, Rudyard Kipling meeting Mark Twain, and so on
until the Duchess of Windsor closing the loop by meeting Hitler in vignette 101.  While it's tempting to say that the book is more clever than good,
it's also pretty good because Mr. Brown manages to pack some pretty interesting tidbits into his 1000-word essays.   It does get kind of tedious
in middle, and some of the participants are probably folks you've never heard of (British politicians, mostly), but the good news is that regardless
of how uninteresting a particular story might be, you know that there's a good chance it will get better in the next 900 words or so.  (9/5/2012)

The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva  (2012)   The Fallen Angel is part of a series of books about an Israeli intelligence officer named Gabriel Allon
continually gets mixed up in the clandestine underpinnings of the Vatican.  I've read at least one of these books in the past.  I remember liking it,
but I remember nothing about it, nor why I liked it in the first place.   I suspect that in about two months, I'll be saying the same about this
book.   So I'd better write this down while I can.  Mr. Silva certainly doesn't need me to tell him that he's a fine mystery writer, and this work is
an outstanding example of a classic mystery.  MQ = 21; Vatican trashed; mythical treasure--a painting by Caravaggio; vengeful siblings; evil
millionaires; hot women with guns; drinking buddies; private aircraft)  It's a great read for a late summer trip to the beach.   And maybe you'll
remember that you've read it longer than I will.  (9/3/2012)

Double Cross:  The True Story of the D-Day Spies   by Ben MacIntyre  (2012)   So you're asking yourself, "What D-Day spies?  How come
I've never heard of them?  Were they part of the French Resistance?"  Sorry, but you're asking the wrong questions.  The counter-intelligence
unit of MI6 in WWII was called Section Twenty (XX--Double Cross.  Get it?)  A wide assortment of marginal Europeans were recruited by the
Nazis to go to England and spy.  Without exception, every one of these agents were exposed, and ether killed or turned into double agents against
Germany.  They  didn't start off being "D-Day Spies," and they did not become so until the spring of 1944. (Interestingly, the only effective spies
in England during the war were Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and others who were copying secret files and shipping them off by the bale to Uncle
Joe in Moscow--but that's another book.)  You haven't heard of them because their files were classified until the 1970's, and the only agents who
had been involved with the French Resistance were responsible for getting dozens of maquis killed.   Interesting characters redeem pedestrian
writing in this book.  If you're interested in the subject, you might want to check out the book.  Otherwise, I think you'll find it something of a
slog.  (9/1/2012)

Always a Southern Soldier by Lee E. Wilson (2012)   Dude, I love you like a brother, but after sticking with you for 374 pages, a reader has
earned the right to know if the main character is alive or dead.  (8/22/2012)

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera:  An Insider's History of the Florida-Alabama Coast by Harvey H. Jackson III   (2012)  
when went to my "special beach" at Perdido Key in Florida on a Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I celebrated forty-five years of
annual pilgrimages to what I truly believe to be one of the most beautiful places in the world.   It was a hot, stunningly beautiful day, the warm
Gulf water was like silk, and there were just two people on the beach for as far as the eye could see.  It was as close to a perfect beach
experience as one could hope to experience.  Afterward, I stood in two long lines for a cheeseburger and a Corona at the Flora-Bama and sat in
traffic for half an hour on the way to the factory outlet mall in Foley to buy a pair of shoes I needed.  The two disparate parts of the day reflect, I
think, what Mr. Jackson is talking about in terms of the "rise and decline" of this special part of the world.  He documents how the coast "rose"
after WWII and more and more people from the Southern states found their way to the beaches between Gulf Shores and Panama City.  (I was
one of them.  For two years in a row before we started going to Perdido Key, we went to Panama City and stayed at the Holiday Inn that was
one of the first "modern" motels on the beach.   In Mr. Jackson's story, mom and pop travel courts gave way to Holiday Inns which gave way to
more and more sophisticated developments, culminating in Seaside.  As the amenities got better and more crowded together, the coast began to
lose the laid-back appeal that had drawn people to it in the first place.  More people, more high-rises and more traffic led to the "New
Jersey-fication" of the coast.   This book is better than any history of the town or city where you live (unless you live in New Orleans), but in
being to careful not to step on the toes of those who Mr. Jackson might have participated in the decline of the coast, I think he missed some
important components of the story.   If you love the coast, you'll probably like the book.  If not, you won't pick it up anyway.  (8/8/2012)

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields   Men, move along.  Trust me.  There is nothing for you here.  I've sacrificed my time and sensibilities to
spare you from subjecting yourselves to this book.  You'll like the next one much better.  Women, you should move along, too.  All up and down
this list, I talk about authors who take various degrees of liberties with their subjects.  There's historical fiction and there's fictional history--and
then there's just plain old  character assassination.   It's one thing to speculate what might have happened if Abraham Lincoln had survived an
assassination attempt at Ford's Theater, or if Hitler had been gay (as authors of two of the next three books suppose), but it's something else to
envision Edith Wharton (!) as a repressed, middle-aged sex kitten who finally finds love in arms--and other parts--of a bounder who's fifteen
years younger.  The book is three hundred some odd pages of  "he loves me, he loves me not," while it's pretty clear all along that he doesn't.   
The first half of the book is about what the author would probably call Wharton's seduction.  The rest of us might think of it as the Parisian
Water Torture.   The second half is Wharton's travel itinerary as she moves from Paris to New York  to New England to Old England and back to
Paris--and more sex.  Ms. Fields writes well, but I wish she had set her sights higher than
Fifty Shades of Mauve.  Mrs. Wharton deserves
better.  (8/8/2012)

Flight from Berlin  by David John (2012)   This is Mr. John' s first book.  He's a good writer,, and I look forward to whatever he might share
with us in the future.   Having said that, this book continues the line of thought that I just finished writing about in
Truth Like the Sun (below).  
Mr. John performs an intricate dance of weaving the together the lives of real and imagined people to tell a story that could be true--except that it
isn't.   They're all here, Hitler and his cronies, real American and British ambassadors and members of the press,  participants in the Games of the
Berlin Olympiad.  They're tied together (very loosely) by an American Olympian based on Eleanor Holm, a swimmer kicked off the team on the
eve of the games.  The book moves along briskly and   presents some interesting theories about Hitler's sex life and the crash of the
Hindenburg.  
It's a good book to take to the beach--but just that.  It's not historical fiction. It's fictional history.  (7/23/2012)

An Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans   by Lawrence N. Powell (2012)  While An Accidental City is a clever name for a book about
the history of New Orleans from its founding to its cessation to the Americans in 1803, it's really kind of a crock.   Bienville fought like a demon
to place the city where it is, over the objections of bureaucrats in Paris who wanted to place the central city of the province everywhere from
Natchez to Baton Rouge to Pass Manchac.   The grid of the Vieux Carre was laid out by the same planners and architects who built Versailles.  
After repeated hurricanes and fires levelled the place in the 1700's, it was always built back bigger and better.   So New Orleans may be many
things (many, many, many things), but accidental is not one of them.  Beyond that fundamental gripe, there is much to appreciate in Mr. Powell's
book.  The author's best observation is that  "New Orleans was never for the faint of heart, not when calamity, cyclonic and otherwise, seemed
just around the corner.  Yet somehow the town always seemed to muddle through."  There's a lot of good information here.   As Mr.  Powell is
the "Director for the New Orleans Center tor the Gulf South at Tulane University" (really?), I' m guessing at some point he'll pick up the story
where he left off and share with us what happened after 1803.  (7/8/2012)

They Eat Puppies, Don't They by Christopher Buckley (2012) and City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern
Chicago
by Gary Krist  (2012)   Surprisingly, neither of these books is about Barack Obama.  (Sorry.  Had to be said.  As it turns out, he's not
even mentioned in either work.)   Mr. Buckley's book is a less interesting retelling of the same story he told so brilliantly in
Thank You for
Smoking
.  The most interesting component of the otherwise  forgettable story is a man-eating not-for-profit foundation director who's clearly
modeled on Ann Coulter.   That's pretty much it.  
City of Scoundrels is a great idea for a book, I suppose.  In July 1919, some dreadful things
happened in Chicago (a blimp crashed into a downtown bank; a small girl was murdered; there were race riots and a transit strike).  I don't doubt
the author 's supposition that these things somehow contributed to the build the city where 42 people were shot this past weekend.  But Mr.
Krist's' book is long on reporting and short on analysis.  How any of the activities he includes in his book actually did give "birth to the Modern
Chicago" is left to the reader's imagination.   (6/1/2012)G

Niceville by Carsten Stroud (2012)   A bank robbery, four seemingly senseless cold-blooded murders, a string a disappearances that's been going
on for almost a century--and that was just on Thursday.  Niceville seems to be the kind of town that only Fox Mulder could love.   Niceville
might not be so nice, but Niceville is a great place to spend some time.  Mr. Stroud has written a brilliant mystery of the supernatural and the
all-too-natural that will keep you turning pages until the very end.   If I can't give this book an unqualified green light, it's only because Mr. Stroud
is very good at writing about violence of the worst sort, and I don't' think that appeals to everyone.  Like Faulkner before him, Mr. Stroud has
created a universe from a small Southern town.  This book has defied my MQ ranking system.  (See left.)   It's a great mystery built around
seemingly normal people doing everyday things.   
Niceville is no place you'd want to live, but If you've got the stomach for it, it's worth a visit.  
MQ = 10.  Vengeful children, parents and siblings, drinking buddies.  (7/1/2012)

Mission to Paris   by Alan Furst   (2012)   isn't bad or boring--it's just not very compelling.   A Viennese-born Hollywood movie star goes to
Paris on the verge of the outbreak of WWII to appear in  a movie.  He is seduced by beautiful women and cultivated by Nazis to whom he seems
to be somewhat who might be sympathetic to them.   He has adventures.  So far, so good, but that's about it.   It always seems as if something is
about to happen, but it never quite does.  He makes sidetrips to Berlin, Morocco and Hungary and has adventures (which are the highlights of the
book), but frankly, it's all kind of "Aanh."  In fact, there really is no "mission to Paris;"  he's just kind of there.   Mr. Furst is a good writer, but I
think he missed some opportunities in this effort.  (6/20/2012)

Deadlocked:  A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris (2012)   Just in time for the summer beach-reading season, Suhhh-kie is back in
the 400,000th novel in the series, which has morphed into
Tru Blood on HBO.   If you've read any of these books, you've read this one--and I
guess that's a compliment.  Each year, Ms. Harris writes a highly readable novel about vampires, werewolves, were-panthers, were-tigers,
shape-shifters, fairies, elves, psychics and just plain-old-rednecks in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  And even though each book is exactly like the last
one, I read it like it's something I've never seen before and enjoy it.  Oddly enough, what I remember most about this book is that Sookie
becomes an advocate for same-sex marriage in Louisiana.    As Sookie herself is somehow married to vampire, you'd think that would be the least
of her concerns, but I digress.   If you like the other books or the show, you'll like the book.  Have a great summer.  (5/14/2012)

A Train in Winter:  An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead  (2011)   
I liked Ms. Moorehead's last work, a biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin quite la lot.  Now she turns her estimable talent to the stories of other
French women in turbulent times.   On January 23, 1943, a train left German occupied Paris, filled with 230 women from throughout France
who had been active in the Resistance in the first four years of the war.   The train was bound for the concentration camps in Poland, and over
the course of the next two years, all but thirty-four would lose their lives.  The train wold be called
Control des 31000, and the women who were
on it would have fascinating stories to tell.  And that is my only complaint about the book.  Even a great writer like Ms. Moorehead really can't
sustain one's interest in 230 stories at one time.   She gives it her best shot, concentrating on those who women who survived their ordeals to tell
of their experiences.  (One of the women would indeed testify at the Nuremberg trials.)  But the stories start to run together, and in the end, this
reader at least found himself having to refer to the short bios of the women at the end of the book to be able to understand who was being
discussed at the time.   If you're interested in the subject matter, you'll like the book.  If not, this probably isn't the best place to begin your
investigation.  (4/10/2012)

The Darlings:  A Novel   by Cristina Alger (2012)   is a book of manners set in Manhattan and its environs in the first decade of the new
millennium.  Specifically, it deals with the fallout of the market crash in 2008 and those who were most immediately affected by it.  The Darlings
are an old New York family, rich but not super-rich.  Ms. Alger has a good eye and ear for the women in her book.  Men, on the other hand,
aren't really her strong suit.   Unfortunately, a large number of the people involved in the story of the crash were indeed men.  There are a couple
of interesting twists in the story, and it's a quick read.   If you're headed to the beach this spring,
The Darlings is an unobjectionable companion.  
(4/1/2012)

The Mormon People by Matthew Bowman (2012)   As someone who has always been an admirer of the Mormon Church, I'm somewhat
reticent about recommending this book to you.   It's not Mr. Bowman's fault.  His book is well-researched and well-written.  The reason I'm
hesitant to recommend the book is that  the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is
UGLY.  Of course, it's possible that
if we knew more about Gospel writers like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we might feel better about Joseph Smith.   But I digress.  While
insisting that they are Christians (the name of the church says as much), there are some key differences between the gospel of Moroni and his
more famous co-authors.   Early Mormons really were proto-socialists, and they really did some pretty terrible things to the Native Americans in
Utah.  And then there's that whole polygamy thing.  How they molted into a generally hard-working and conservative amalgamation is
interesting--and a little confounding, and for that reason alone, I recommend the book to you.   I know you're asking yourself, "What does he say
about Mitt?"  Thanks for asking. Mr. Bowman calls the Romneys the first family of Mormon politics.  Interestingly, George Romney's (Mitt's
dad) religion was never the issue that it has become for his son.  Mr. Bowman says--accurately-- that such a situation says much more to do
with the state of politics in America in the new millennium  than anything having to do with the religion.  (3/29/2012)

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis (2012)   I can't praise this book enough.   Mr. Ennis has done a magnificent job of taking the reader
back to the opening years of the 16th century.  The New World has just been discovered, and Italy is in an uproar over the efforts of Pope
Alexander to consolidate his power in the Papal States and elsewhere in the peninsula.  In the middle of all this, the city-state of Florence has sent
a young envoy named Niccolo Machiavelli to represent their interests in the Pope's court.   He meets a beautiful young prostitute (apparently, it
was possible to be a respectable prostitute back then) who may or may not be the mother of People's grandson.  Machiavelli falls in love with the
woman and helps her with a mission she has been tasked with that may or may not allow to see her son again.   While all of this happening, he
spends time with Leonardo da Vinci and Cesar Borgia (brother of Lucrezia) who will become the subject of The Prince.   The kicker is that all of
this really happened.   It's a great story and a great book.   If historical fiction interests you at all, you'll love it.  (10/5/2012)

Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown  (2012)   It's almost more of a notion than a book.  Craig Brown, a British journalist (if the jacket is to be
believed), has written 101 vignettes of famous people meeting one another.   (Perversely, each vignette is exactly 1000 words long.)  It begins
with Adolf Hitler meeting John Scott Ellis, proceed to John Scott Ellis meeting Rudyard Kipling, Rudyard Kipling meeting Mark Twain, and so on
until the Duchess of Windsor closing the loop by meeting Hitler in vignette 101.  While it's tempting to say that the book is more clever than good,
it's also pretty good because Mr. Brown manages to pack some pretty interesting tidbits into his 1000-word essays.   It does get kind of tedious
in middle, and some of the participants are probably folks you've never heard of (British politicians, mostly), but the good news is that regardless
of how uninteresting a particular story might be, you know that there's a good chance it will get better in the next 900 words or so.  (9/5/2012)

The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva  (2012)   The Fallen Angel is part of a series of books about an Israeli intelligence officer named Gabriel Allon
continually gets mixed up in the clandestine underpinnings of the Vatican.  I've read at least one of these books in the past.  I remember liking it,
but I remember nothing about it, nor why I liked it in the first place.   I suspect that in about two months, I'll be saying the same about this
book.   So I'd better write this down while I can.  Mr. Silva certainly doesn't need me to tell him that he's a fine mystery writer, and this work is
an outstanding example of a classic mystery.  MQ = 21; Vatican trashed; mythical treasure--a painting by Caravaggio; vengeful siblings; evil
millionaires; hot women with guns; drinking buddies; private aircraft)  It's a great read for a late summer trip to the beach.   And maybe you'll
remember that you've read it longer than I will.  (9/3/2012)

Snow-Storm in August:  Washington City, Francis Scott Key and  the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 by Jefferson Morley (2012)  In his
Author's Note at the beginning of this book, Mr. Morley says that "nothing has been made up" and "no dialogue in quotes has been invented.  
After an endless procession of historical fiction and fictional history this summer, it was refreshing to read something that knew how to keep its
facts straight.  So I'm grateful for that.  I'm even more grateful for the opportunity to discover that the Star-Spangled Banner has three more
verses that I'd never heard that are just as compelling-if not more so--than the first.  I wonder why we don't hear them more often at athletic
events.  (One reason is that one of the verses includes the line, "No refuge could save the hireling & slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of
the grave:")  It was also interesting to read more about the eventful life of Francis Scott Key.  He did lots of interesting things in his life in addition
to dashing off a catchy tune.   Mr. Morley calls the riots in Washington during the summer of 1835 a seminal event in the history of the abolition
movement in the United States.  Maybe they were.  But since a move was afoot to instigate this kind of violence in any regard, perhaps events
would have gone done some other way, if not in this way.  Mr. Morley tells his story well, and if I would have a beef with his analysis, it would
be that he seems to be stretching a point beyond recognition when he tries to compare the various antagonists from the 1830's to the present
day.   The comparison is so convoluted that I wonder  why he felt compelled even to try to make it.  (8/21/2012)

Creole Belle by James Lee Burke  (2012)   In the winter and spring of 1991, I took a creative writing course at the St. Bernard Parish
Community College in Chalmette.  (It's a very long story--but a pretty funny one.  I'll tell you sometime.)  The teacher of the course was a guy
named O'Neil LeDoux, a former New Orleans cop who's written dozens of novels and short stories about lowlifes and policemen who herded
them around the City of New Orleans in the middle of the last century.  O'Neil worshipped at the altar of James Lee Burke and encouraged all of
us in his class to read as much of him as we could.   So, over the course of the next few months and years, I did read three or four of Mr.
Burke's books.  They were well written and I could certainly see how they'd inspire a former cop with writing aspirations, but I thought they
were all pretty much the same book.   Eventually, I wearied of the genre and lost interest until I moved back to Louisiana a couple of months.  
Creole Belle, the 8147th in Burke's Dave Robicheaux series, was said to be the best of them all.   So I  picked it up and put it in the reading pile.
No, it's not the best.   It may well be the most philosophical of the series, but frankly in this case at least, a denser philosophy adds nothing to the
reader's pleasure.  It's go all the elements of a good mystery (
MQ=24; Gulf of Mexico trashed, vengeful children and siblings, evil millionaires,
sex, hot women with guns, evildoers from Germany AND New Orleans, stolen secrets, lots of drinking buddies, yachts AND private aircraft),
but the whole thing is buried beneath a layer of cynicism and disillusionment that sucks the fun out of the whole thing.   (8/19/2012)

Don't Ever Get Old   by Daniel Friedman  (2012)  No two words quicken the hearts of mystery lovers more than "Nazi gold."  It's like heroin.  
So imagine my surprise to find a novel about Nazi gold set in Memphis, Tennessee, and Tunica, Mississippi.   (In retrospect, maybe it was just a
matter of time.)  Nazi gold has found its way to America's heartland, and it's up to Buck Schatz (insert punch line here) to find it.  Buck is Jewish
octogenarian, retired thirty-five years from his job as the most respected detective at the Memphis Police Department.   When the Nazi gold
comes into Buck's life, it comes with hypocritical evangelical preachers, bad cops and a Tunica casino that wants its money back.  Also, a
grandson with a temper, the Memphis Jewish community and the undiscovered country of the Internet (undiscovered to Buck anyway) all play
parts.  For a rather short book, there's a lot here that doesn't ring true that is only in the book to keep the plot moving forward.  I won't spoil the
book by going into it here, but if you want to chat after you've had a look, give me a shout.  If the book had been set anywhere but the
Mid-South, I would have redlined it, but the local references held my interest.  
MQ = 18, mythical treasure--it's Nazi gold!, vengeful children,
sex, Nazi evildoers from German, drinking buddies.  (8/15/2012)

Black List  by Brad Thor  (2012)  Why do I not want to believe "Brad Thor " is not his real name?  I digress, but I can't digress for too long
before the details of this book leave my mind forever.   I've heard a couple of interviews with Mr. Thor, and he doesn't seem like the kind of guy
who would be terribly upset if I say that you'll never find his books for sale in the "Literature" section of a book store.  He's definitely a
"Mystery/Thriller" guy.  I don't remember a lot of details from any of the earlier books he's written, and pretty soon, I don't think I'll remember
much about this one, either.  Scot Harvath is an "operator" for a top secret government organization tasked with eliminating threats to the
country.  In past books, those threats have mostly been Islamic extremists.  Here, to paraphrase Pogo, he meets the enemy, and he is us.  
Americans.  Specifically, the American government, and even more specifically, that part of the American government which has taken upon
itself to invade the privacy of any Americans who might still have secrets.  This adventure moves through Paris, Spain, the Rio Valley of Texas
and the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Even if you won't remember much about it next week, you'll find yourself turning the pages
at a rapid clip.  Mr. Thor (fi that is his real name) knows how to crank out a tale.  As an aside, someone must have persuaded Mr. Thor that he
needs to put a little sexiness into his novels.  Hence the following paragraph from the end of Chapter 52:  "That had been more than ten hours
ago.  Now they were in Virginia, Harvath was lying in the Suburbans cargo area, and Casey was unbuttoning her shirt.  It was time for them to
get it on."   Ah, romance.  (8/12/2012)

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (2012)   Stop me if you've heard me say this before, but I continue to believe that Ace Atkins is the best writer
now at work in Oxford, Mississippi[, and America.   His books fall into three categories:  1) non-fiction about corrupt places like Ybor City in
Tampa, and Phenix City in Alabama; 2) his "Ranger" series of novels about a young sheriff in one of Mississippi's most miserable backwaters;
and 3) eccentric exercises like
Robert B. Parker Lullaby (below) that he just does to show off and prove that he can.  The Lost Ones is the
second book in the second category.  This time, Sheriff Colson and the morbidly obese and double-digit IQ residents of Jericho, Mississippi, find
themselves beset by a nasty gang of Mexican carny folk who do a little gun-running and baby selling on the side.   (I'm sure that there are folks in
Jericho whose weight is in the normal range and IQ's are above average, but Mr. Atkins isn't much interested in them.)  He writes with a style
that is elegant in its spare-ness and stoicism.   The book is violent and sexy--and not in fun ways, but if you're willing to take the journey, you'll
be treated to an exposition of some of the very best writing being published in America today.  (7/25/2012)

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln:  A Novel    by Stephen L. Carter  (2012)   Had it not already have been taken by a certain Fox
anchor, a better title for this book might have been
Killing Lincoln.  But  it's not, and we move on.  Mr. Carter's supposition is that the 16th
President was not killed by John Wilkes Booth, but lived on to oversee the beginning of Reconstruction in the South.   Alas there were those in
Congress who disapproved of the way he was handling the job and therefore moved to separate him from it.   Mr. Carter, a professor of law at
Yale, tells his story from a most unusual perspective--a young black Washington woman named Abigail Canner, who has recently graduated from
Oberlin College in Ohio and has returned to her hometown to read law and become an attorney.  That there were only five black attorneys at this
point in history--and none of them were beautiful young women--provides the impetus for many to be fascinated by her, for several to try to use
her to their own advantage--and for some to want her dead.  Wherever she goes in Washington, everyone--event he rich and powerful--know
who she is and want to take her measure.   This last point provides what I think might be one of the book's weaker points--after all, as written,
she's not that fascinating.   She's not even the most interesting person in her own family.  An older sister may or may not be a master spy, and a
hot-headed brother could be a major historical figure.  Even by the non-existent standards of historical fiction, Mr. Carter is quite the fabulist.  
Since Lincoln's night at the theater did not end in his death, the administration of Andrew Johnson never happened.  (Alas, I don't think I'm giving
too much away by sharing with you the sad report from early in the book that Vice President Johnson was indeed killed by one of Booth's
co-conspirators that fateful night.)   But for all of the rearranging of the big things, Mr. Carter gets most of the small things right, and as a result
he provides a mystery that is interesting and compelling.  The
MQ (see left sidebar) is a relative low 9  for vengeful parents, children and siblings,
evil millionaires, and stolen government secrets.   (7/30/2012)

China Wings by Gregory Crouch (2012)   Unlike Flight from Berlin or Truth Like the Sun, China Wings is real, honest-to-God history, yet it
feels more like a novel than any of the three books.   China Wings tells the story of the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), an airline
established in the 1930's as a joint venture between the Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek and the Pan American Airways, the first great
American airline.  Mr. Crouch calls the venture the greatest  Sino-American venture of all time.  And perhaps it is CNAC got its start flying
between Shanghai and Hong Kong and other cities in China in the 1930's.. At its height, it was ferrying thousands of tons of cargo and people
"over The Hump"  (aka, the Himalayas) from India and Burma to western China.  There are lots of great characters--dedicated executives,
colorful pilots, corrupt officials and fortune-seekers from around the world who were dedicated to bleeding China dry and getting while the
getting was good.  And then there were the various members of Generalissimo Kai-shek's family.  As I said, this is history that reads like a novel.  
In one episode, we're treated to a clinical exposition of how a handsome pilot and a sexy British ex-pat had sex in the cockpit during a flight over
The Hump.  It's certainly not your typical WWII history--it's a lot more entertaining.  (7/21/2012)

Truth like the Sun by Jim Lynch (2012)  I can't remember when I've been so ambivalent about a book.  Mr. Lynch is a fine writer and her
certainly knows how to tell a story.  The dual-timeline story is set at two key times in the history of Seattle-during Century 21, aka the 1962
World's Fair and the aftermath of the dotcom bust in 2001.   In 1962, Roger Morgan is the 30-year-old wunderkind who "runs" the fair and earns
the title "Mr. Seattle"; by 1970, he's a reflective 70-year-old who decides to run for mayor, earning the attention of a young reporter from the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  For someone who was never married, was not particularly rich and who never held or even ran for political office,
there are a lot of (old) folks around town who seem to have it in for whom and have been clinging to life, seemingly for the sole purpose of
letting Roger have it.  And they do.  I suppose you could say the book is a procedural of a journalistic investigation--but that seems like a
cop-out.  As someone with a particular interest in historical fiction, I'm somewhat put off by the way Mr. Lynch dances up to the line separating
"historical" and "fiction".  He sticks his toe over the line from one to the other and dares anyone to complain.   Although Roger Morgan is clearly a
fictional character, there must have been someone who was "Mr. Seattle" who served as a template for this character, and while he may or may
not be still around, surely he has family members and friends who are wondering how much of Roger Morgan was their father or friend.  The
same could be said for other characters in the book who existed in real life.  Is that fair?  There's no definitive answer, but frankly, I'd say no, it
isn't, and for this reason, I'm not going to assign the book a Mayhem Quotient.  But you can decide for yourself.  Read the book and let me know
what you think  (7/9/2012)

The President's Club:  Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity  (2012) by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy      I blame Greta van
Susteren.  She was flogging this book on her show one night, so I went out and found it.   It is exactly what the authorities (and Greta) claim it
is--a look at how former Presidents of the United States relate to one another and to the current occupant of the White House.   Sounds like a
great idea for a book, and it is, as far as it goes.  And making Jimmy Carter look less like a narcissistic gadfly than he is about as far as it goes.   
Ms. Gibbs and Mr. Duffy are writers for what's left of
Time Magazine.  As you might expect, that seems to tilt their reporting toward the
Democrats--which they do.  Frankly that's fine with me.  Given their  low opinions of George W. Bush and his Republican predecessors, I rather
hear less than more about them.   The book is interesting, although not particularly  enlightening.  One minor bone I'd like to pick is that it's clear
that the authors depended on conservative commentator Monica Crowley for most of their interesting information about Richard Nixon.  (Ms.
Crowley worked for Mr. Nixon after he left office.)  Just out of curiosity, I checked the acknowledgments to see if they thanked Ms. Crowley
for her input.  To no great surprise, they didn't.   But having read the book, it never occurred to me that they would.  (6/17/2012)

The Columbus Affair   by Steve Berry   To paraphrase the next selection, I (HEART) you, Steve Berry, but you're bringing me (DOWN).  
Every year, Mr. Berry puts out a new immensely readable mangling of historical fact and fiction, and each year, I snap it up, read it
cover-to-cover and then want to take a shower because I feel as I've be violated in some way.   After blowing up Monticello in last year's
The
Jefferson Key
, Mr. Berry now turns his attention to the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.   Unfortunately for Senor Columbus, he is the perfect grist for
Berry's mill.  The old question, "Who was Christopher Columbus?" is answered by historians, "Who do you want him to be?"  Steve Berry wants
him to be a Jew from Majorca with secrets to hide and a desire to find in the New World a safe have for Old World Jews from the Inquisition.   I
can't deny that Mr. Berry is a fine writer and can tell a story like nobody's business.   This one--which does not, by the way , include his regular
stock company of characters like Cotton Malone and Cassopeia Vitt.  In their place are a disgraced journalist who's down but not quite out, his
irritating daughter, and a Jamaican druglord who's coming to terms with his heritage---and those are the good guys.   This is not Mr. Berry's best
work  (Do I say that about all his books?), but be warned, if you pick it up, you won't put it down until its mawkish conclusion.  (6/15/2012)

Paris, I (HEART) You But You're Bringing Me (DOWN) by Rosecrans Baldwin (2012)   I suppose that Mr. Rosecrans aspired to give us A
Movable Feast In Our Time
(or at least Adventures of  Young Man), but instead, he gave us Death in the Afternoon.  Mr. Rosecrans is a pretty
good writer, and he writes about what he knows--also good.  Unfortunately, what he knows isn't particularly interested.   Instead, we get a
couple of young Americans in Paris who barely speak the language and spend as little time as possible interacting with the locals.  Thanks to
telephones and the Internet, Americans can now exist happily in Paris speaking no French at all.  But Baldwyn and his wife really don't exist
happily in Paris and skedaddle back to North Carolina as quickly as possible.   Good for them, I suppose; tedious for us.  Sadly, Mr. Baldwin has
not  chosen his friends nearly as well as Hemingway did, but I guess he played the hand he was dealt.  Engage with this book only if there's
nothing about Paris you won't read.  (5/20/2012)

Robert B. Parker's Lullaby   by Ace Atkins  (2012)   Nobody writes about crime better than Ace Atkins.  Not even Robert B. Parker.   Which
begs the question--why would Mr. Atkins want to prove that he could write a
Spenser novel just as well as Mr. Parker?  (Which he does, by the
way.)  Mr. Atkins has probably answered this question in press interviews about the book, but he doesn't say anything about it in the book itself.  
I read a few of the original Spenser novels, and they were okay in 70's kind of way.   Robert Urich always seemed like an ideal choice to play the
role on television because he always looked like a perfect 70's kind of guy. And this--dear reader--is about the only justification for Mr. Atkins to
indulge in this particular exercise.   Maybe if we can make Spenser relevant to the cell phone age, more people might want to check out the
original material.   Or not.  It's a good read--as all of Mr. Atkins' work is--regardless of why it was written.   
MQ=10; vengeful children; drinking
buddies.  See left inset.   (5/18/2012)

December 1941:  31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World   by Craig Shirley (2011)   As you can see in the following entry, I'm
pretty much a sucker for any book that has a year in the title.  As Craig "Don't Call Me" Shirley's (sorry-had to be done) book is only about one
month, I think it's fair to say that I liked it about one-twelth as much as a typical "year book."  I have no problem either with the author's breezy
conversational style or the strong opinions he puts forth about practically everyone and everything that reared their heads during the month.  What
was more problematic was the structure of the book.  There are 31 chapters--one for each day of the month.   I don't want to presume too
much, but I think that his intention was that every day/chapter should be able stand alone, regardless of what you might have read in the last
chapter-- which was practically the same thing.  As a result, you're reading the same thing over and over.  At first, it's frustrating; then it
becomes irritating; and by the end of the book, you think that you're trapped in the literary version of
Groundhog  Day.  As perplexing as this
device is, the real damage that it inflicts on the book is that it keeps the author from developing themes--such as how did the events of December
1941 save the world, as the title of the book implies.  The world was not saved at the close of business on December 31st, and it would have
been interesting to read more about how that would eventually come to pass.  (Some old saying about forests and trees comes to mind, but I
forget what it is.)  There are lots of great books about Pearl Harbor and its aftermath, but this isn't one of them.  (5/3/2012)

1493:  Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann   Read the title again.   "Created????"   Columbus didn't create the
New World. you say?  True, but he did create "a" new world, and that world is the subject of this book which is a follow-up to Mr. Mann's
hugely successful
1491.   (Note to 1492: I think I speak for all of us when I say that we hated what Gerard Depardieu did to you.  But that was
twenty years ago.  Get over it.  It's time to move on.   Where was I?  Oh, yeah.) the new world that Columbus created was the globalized world
we live in today.  Mr. Mann skillfully points out that before the babies that were born when Columbus landed in the Caribbean would have
grandchildren, "slaves from Africa mined silver in the Americas for sale to China; Spanish merchants waited impatiently for the latest shipments
of Asian silk and porcelain from Mexico; and Dutch sailors traded cowry shells from the Maldive Islands, in the Indian Ocean, for human beings
in Angola, on the coast of the Atlantic.  Tobacco from the Caribbean ensorcelled the wealthy and powerful in Madrid, Madras, Mecca, and
Manila.  Group smoke-ins by violent young men in Edo (Tokyo) would soon lead to the formation of two rival gangs, the Bramble Club and the
Leather breeches Club.  The shogun jailed seventy of their members, then banned smoking."  This book provides interesting information about
how the world got to be the way it is on each of its 398 pages--not counting hundreds of end notes and a forty-eight page bibliography.  If there
is a dominant theme, I think I would say that this is probably the first book of world history I've read that puts China in its proper context.  In
most other histories, it's either mentioned fleetingly or ignored.  In Mr. Mann's book, it takes its (fascinating) place in world commerce.  So far, I
think I'd have to say that this is the book of the year.  Bravo.  (4/16/2012)

Russia:  A 1,000 Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith (2012)   One of the two most critical word in the title of this book are
the provocative "East", which focuses the attention of the reader on the notion that most of Russia does indeed lie in Asia, and that efforts by
various tsars and commissars over the years to remake the country into a European nation have largely been doomed to failure.  And lots have
tried.  Figures as diverse as Catherine the Great and Boris Yeltsin have given it a shot, but in the end, the people have always turned back to more
authoritative figures like Stalin and Patin.  The second most important word in the title, oddly, is "A".  This book does not pretend to be a
comprehensive history of the nation.  It's the part of Russian history--mostly focused on transitions of power over the centuries--that apparently
interests Mr. Sixsmith.  Which is fine.  If, as historians have observed, Russia is too big to be governed as a democracy, its entire history is too
vast and complex to be included in a 530-page book.  So, if you're really interested in Russian in politics and don't mind leaving the culture of the
country for another time, here's your book.   However, here's a bit of culture and politics that I did think was interesting.  Stalin and the
composer Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day, March 6, 1953.  Because every available flower in the city of Moscow had been sent to the
dictator's funeral, there  were none left for the composer's.  If  his next-door neighbor had not brought a potted plant from home, his grave
would have been completely bare.  (4/23/2012)

Butterfly in the Typewriter:  The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces by, Cory
MacLauchlin (2012)   Maybe surprisingly, this is the third biography of "Ken" Toole, the author and creator of the iconic book,
A Confederacy of
Dunces
.  According to Mr. MacLauchlin, the first book was too critical of Mr. Toole, and the second book was too fawning over his mother.   
So the theory is that this book is
just right.   And maybe it is.  It's a fairly straightforward retelling of Mr. Toole's life and suicide at the age of
31.  Except for the suicide that cut his life short, the evidence of this book is that Mr. Toole's life wasn't really all that tragic.  He had a normal
childhood, two eccentric but loving parents a good education early in life in New Orleans and later at Tulane and Columbia.  After graduation he
had a pretty good job as a college instructor and had students who respected and even admired him.   Things didn't really didn't go off the rails
for him until the end of his life.   Mr. MacLauchlin debunks a couple of popular misconceptions about Toole.  The first is that he was bullied by
his New York editor, who ultimately drove him despair and death.   Yes, his editor was tough.  But, based on the evidence, he worked with Toole
on
Dunces for over two years.  Unpublished authors just don't get that kind of attention from New York editors, and it's clear that Toole
appreciated it.   The other potential misconception is that Toole was gay.   Maybe he was, but there's no evidence one way or the other, and no
one the author talked to had any clear sense whether he was or not.  If you don't feel that the subjects of Mr. Toole and his book have beaten to
death, this is a good place to join the conversation.  (4/2/2012)

The Garden of Last Days   by Andre Dubus III   If you liked The House of Sand and Fog by Mr. Dubus, go read that again.   Cut this one
loose.   It's about some of the 9/11 terrorists and the strippers and other lowlifes with whom they associated in the week before the attack.  If
anything about the preceding sentence sounds appealing to you, read the book.   Mr. Dubus is a good writer and has an interesting way with a
sentence.  Otherwise, eww.  I mean, eww.  (3/31/2012)

Inferno:  The World at War, 1939-1945   by Max Hastings (2011)   This is Mr. Hastings' tenth book about World War II; he's also written lots
of other books and articles that pertain to the big war in some manner.  So, yes, he knows his subject.   While I haven't read all of the author's
other books about the war, I take his word for it that in those books, he examined the actions and words of the major players in the conflict.   It
is for this reason that in
Inferno, he chooses to focus on writings and quotes from a sampling of the millions of soldiers, loved ones, factory
workers, victors and victims.  On the very last page of the book, he writes: "Within Western Culture, of course, the conflict continues to exercise
an extraordinary fascination for generations unborn when it took place. The obvious explanation is that this was the greatest and most terrible
event in human history."  That is, in essence, both the source of continuing interest in the war, and a reasonable summary of the book.   If your
interested in the war beyond what Winston had to say about it, I highly recommend this book.  (3/27/2012)

Freedom's Cap:  The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War by Guy Gugliotta (2012)   Imagine the United States Capitol in
your mind's eye.  In 1850, the House and Senate wings on the south and north side of the building did not exist, yet the building was already the
largest structure in the country. Even so, Congress had already outgrown it.  (The complex of House and Senate offices on either side of the
building were not in place yet, either.)  So how did a building that was already the biggest thing in the country double its size?   Politicians who
want others to do as they say, not as they do, of course.  And the big surprise in this book is that the politician who had the most to do with the
way the majestic Capitol looks now is none other than Jefferson Davis.   Yes, he was a pill even when he was serving as a senator from
Mississippi in 1850.  The author is under no illusions about the man who would become the first and only president of the Confederacy, but he
does give the devil his due.  "Davis could be an evil-tempered, mean-spirited grudge holder and a fearsome enemy," he says, "but in his own
professional--as opposed to political--dealings, he was almost always fair."  Almost any fan of American history will appreciate this book, and
anyone with a particular interest in the art and architecture of the mid-19th century will like it a lot.  (3/17/2012)

Wild Thing by Josh Bozell  (2012)   A couple of years ago, I was very impressed with Mr. Bozell's first book, Beat the Reaper.  I remember that
I thought it was a fresh and fun story of a mob hitman turned doctor.  Now he's turned his attention to a mysterious monster on a remote lake in
Minnesota.  Along the way, he dances around a number of potentially interesting topics and opts to treat all of them snarkily.  
Religion: "Anything
you yourself can't figure out has to be due to a glowing man with a beard...";
Politics: "November 2010: Americans who believe that their most
pressing problem is that rich people and corporations aren't free enough to f*** them elect a Republican majority to the House of
Representatives."  
Sarah Palin: "You probably want to know how MILFy she is in person."  And there's more.   As much as I liked Beat the
Reaper
, Mr. Bozell's sophomore effort kind of stinks.  (3/11/2012)

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason   (2011)   For the second time in less than a week, I've read a book that provides clinically
specific information about gay sex that does nothing to make it sound attractive.  (See
The Scottish Prisoner below.)   The story here  isn't bad.   
A young man overcomes a difficult youth as a poor clerk's son in a small town in the Netherlands and gets a glimpse of the glamorous life as a
tutor in the home of one of Amsterdam's wealthiest men.   I was under the impression that everyone in the book was a fictional character, but
about halfway through, the wealthy Dutch master opens the Plaza Hotel in New York.   Whoa!  Did that really happen?  Don't know.  I guess I
could have read the acknowledgements and found out, but frankly, I wasn't that interested.  And to tell the whole truth, I really wasn't much
interested in anything that happened to young Piet as he found his way in the world through good looks, charm and an innate knowledge of
whom to have sex with.   It's not as much of a slog as
Iago or The Scottish Prisoner, but still a slog.  (3/8/2012)

Iago by David Snodin  (2011)   Yes, that Iago.  So.  The Moor is dead.  Desdemona--dead.  Cassio, Rodrigo, Bianca--dead, dead, dead.   So
what's a villain to do?   The author's answer seems to be to summon up a cast of characters and hope for better results in the second act of the
villain's life.   Before he begins his story, Mr. Snodin promises his readers that his story will not be as well-written as
Othello.  No argument here.
It's not.  Not by a long shot.   Most of the new characters are members of prominent Venetian families who were Desdemona's relatives.  They
know that Iago is somehow responsible for the deaths in Cyprus, but they don't know how or why.  
Iago hangs on the answer to the question of
whether they find out or not.   Suffice to say that Mr. Snodin has put himself behind the figurative eight ball by pussyfooting around the questions
that Shakespeare was wise enough to leave alone--and that's my biggest reason for finding
Iago to be unsatisfactory.   If you're interested in a
story of day-to-day life in15th century Venice, you could do worse than this book.  Just don't expect Shakespeare.  (3/7/2012)

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee   (2012)   I want to make three points about this book--which is about two-and-a-half points
more than I'm usually able to make in these snarky mini-blurbs.  The first is that I really enjoyed Ms. McAfee's tale of an overweight,
thirty-year-old art teacher in a rural Mississippi public school.   Most of the extra weight that our heroine Graciela "Ace" Jones is carrying seems
to be in the region of her big mouth, which frequently gets her in trouble.  I was hooked from the second paragraph of the book, in which Ace
complains that she needs a vacation more than "Nancy Grace needs a chill pill."   The book goes on a little longer than the story does, but you've
had such a good time along the way that you don't mind so much.   The second point is that you've never seen the State of Mississippi presented
like this.  Ms. McAfee says that her fictional Bugtussle is 75 miles southeast of Memphis, which would put it somewhere in the neighborhood of
Oxford.  But Metro Bugtussle has nothing in common with Faulkner's postage stamp of Yoknapatawpha County.  Bugtussle apparently has no
minorities, no rednecks and no poor people.   Its citizens enjoy Japanese restaurants, hospitals with six floors and mansions that are home to "the
wealthiest woman in six states"--among other adornments.  It's a world where an overweight, thirty-year old school teacher's best friend has
retired from being supermodel (!) and has come home to Mississippi to teach high school.   Really.  It's a little over the top--okay, it's a lot over
the top--but I was happy to go with it.   My third point is that this book is already something of a legend in publishing circles.  It started life as an
ebook for kindles at Amazon.com, and was so successful that the New American Library bought it to publish as a "real" book.   This is a template
for publishing going forward, and it's a tribute to Ms.  McAfee that she had the guts and the brains in this instance to--as Ace would say--git 'er
dun!"  (3/4/2012)

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon   (2011)   Do bookstores still have special sections for "Gay Literature"?  Or have fashionable sexual
orientations seeped so far into the culture that they have come out of the book store's closet?   I picked up
The Scottish Prisoner because the flap
promised the story of Jamie Fraser, a Jacobin and the Scottish prisoner in question who was sentenced to internal banishment in England after
Bonnie Prince Charlie was sent packing in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1745.   He is sentenced under the supervision of Lord John
Grey, a wealthy soldier living in London.  Together they embark on a mission to break up a planned uprising of Jacobins in Ireland.  So far, so
good.   What the jacket neglected to point out, however, is that along the way, there's lots of steamy gay sex--both real and fantasized.   Yes, I
admit I'm a prude, but I don't think I'm so much of one that I think it would have been too much to ask that someone could have pointed that out
as a key plot element.  The sex neither helps nor hurts the story, which is much more burdened by the fact that it goes on much longer than the
reader can maintain an interest for it.    In other words, this 534-page novel is OK, but it's about 60 pages too long.   (2/28/2012)

Pauline Kael:  A Life in the Dark   by Brian Kellow   (2011)   Sorry, but I can't be objective about Pauline Kael.  I think that almost every
useful thing I've learned about watching movies is something I learned from Ms. Kael.  Perhaps the most important things about movies that I
learned from her was that you shouldn't think about movies too much and whether they're "good" or not.   You should trust your instincts about
whether or not you liked a movie and not worry about whether it's "art" or whether or not you should enjoy or appreciate it.  (She also taught me
that when reviewing things like movies and books, you should write like you're talking to someone and say "you" a lot.  But I digress.)   For
years, I told people that
Nashville was my favorite movie.   While I do love the movie and watch it frequently, sometimes I think I liked it
because Pauline told me to.   There haven't been a lot of bios of Ms. Kael over the years.  When she was alive, people would approach her from
time to time and suggest that she write her memoirs.   Her response was always the same.  "I already have."   What she meant was that she put
so much of herself into her writing that sometimes there wasn't much else left to say.  While that sentiment is mostly true, there are nuances to
her life that Mr. Kellow has done a fine job of presenting here.   In a nutshell, she thought of her family as her staff and her staff as her family.   
You don't have to love Pauline Kael to appreciate this book, but it does help if you like movies.   (2/27/2012)

Holidays in Heck:  A Former War Correspondent Experiences Frightening Vacation Fun   by P. J. O'Rourke   (2011)   It's been a while
since we've seen a new book by ole P. J.   His powers of observation are as keen as ever, but frankly, it was a lot more interesting reading his
comments when he was writing about war zones, political clowns and other modern afflictions.  Cruises, shopping trips and ski vacations (albeit
in Ohio) just don't hold your interest in quite the same way.  An underperforming P. J. O'Rourke is still head and shoulders above almost
everybody else who tries stuff like this, but still, there's a sense of opportunity lost.   (2/26/2012)

Throw Them All Out:  How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send
the Rest of Us to Prison
by Peter Schweizer  (2011)  Last night, I sat down and wrote out my monthly check to Entergy, the local electric
company.  (In case you were wondering, it was $41.25.  It's been a very mild winter.)  Later I read in Mr. Schweizer's excellent book that
spooky dude George Soros owns over a million shares of Entergy.   Mr. Soros' investment is but one of the hundred or so examples that the
author provides the impropriety of crony capitalism.   The title of the book says it all, and Mr. Schweizer, while focusing on Democrats like
Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry, does not overlook Republicans who have profited from their Washington experiences.   In one instance
of former politicians who have brought members of their families into lucrative lobbying and consulting positions in DC, Mr. Schweizer mentions
that Trent Lott's son was managing a Domino's franchise before he joined his father's business.   If you're ready to be outraged by your elective
representatives, I urge you to buy the book and read it today.   Or if you want to borrow my copy--which has only a few vomit stains, give me a
call.   (2/21/2012)

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie   (2011)   Have you ever not read a book because you were afraid that it might not be as good as you
hoped it would be?  OK, that sounds stupid, but you get my point.   
Cate the Great has been sitting on my nightstand for a couple of months.  
I've always been a huge fan of Mr. Massie's
Nicholas and Alexandra (1967) and Peter the Great (1981).   Those, and Massie's Dreadnought and
Castles of Steel are among the best books I've ever read.   It's been thirty years since Peter the Great, and I was afraid that Mr. Massie might
have been coasting on his laurels in this most recent effort.  And while
Catherine is not as spot on as the earlier works, I think it's fair to say that
Robert Massie writing at 80 percent is still better than almost anyone else at full strength.  Mr. Massie's book is insightful and entertaining at every
step.   And although he does seem  to wander off on tangents from time to time (there's a two-page divergence about the modern use of the death
penalty that has nothing to do with Catherine and not much to do with anything or anyone else), it's a minor inconvenience for the pleasure of
having Mr. Massie's wonderful grasp of history at hand.   As her personal and public lives were so intertwined, it is impossible to try to separate
one from the other; and Massie is right not to try.   Equal attention is given to both the reforms she attempted (and did not attempt) and to the
dozen or so lovers she took during the course of her adult life.   If you love history, don't wait to read
Catherine the Great.   (2/20/2012)

The Time In Between by Maria Duenas   (2011)   and The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano   (2011)   Beyond the notion that both of these
books deal with Spain and Nazis, they couldn't be more unalike.   In the excellent
The Time in Between, a young Madrid seamstress finds herself
stranded in Morocco while Civil War rages in her homeland.   Events and spymasters collude to provide her with opportunities to provide British
MI6 with intelligence about the German communities first in Morocco, and later at home in Madrid during WWII.  Ms. Duenas is a fine writer,
and this is an interesting book about a young woman who finds a way not merely to endure, but to prevail.   As different as possible in every way
is
The Third Reich, which was written in the 1980's and  published after Mr. Bolano's death.   I'm not familiar with any of Mr. Bolano's dozen or
so other books, but I'm guessing there's a reason why they were published while he was still alive, and this one was not.   It's the story of Udo, a
German "gamer" who plays elaborate war games with others around the world who are as obsessed as he is.  Udo--he's not much of a
hero--goes to the beach (somewhere near Barcelona) with is girlfriend, where they meet an entirely unpleasant assortment of trashy German
tourists and surly locals.  As the vacation progresses, not much happens and Udo plays his war games in his hotel room.  Nothing that happens
inside or outside the room is terribly interesting, and by the end of the book, you're so disconnected from the story that the only thing that
interests you is whether or not Udo's simulated invasion of the UK will be successful.   (2/6/2012)
.
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