Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

This is a collection of short stories by Hilary Mantel. Not sure why this did not gel with me. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, her two first installments in the projected trilogy about Thomas Cromwell that, astoundingly, both won Booker Prizes for her. The half dozen stories I did read were certainly well-written, but were disturbing with no characters for whom I felt any compassion or even much curiosity. Oh well.

World Gone By

Dennis Lehane really crafts a fine tale of life among the rich and powerful underworld in Miami during the early years of WWII. Prohibition was over, but there were still plenty of ways to make money, and the police and politicians often looked the other way if their pockets were well-lined. An uneasy alliance between the Blacks and Italians split the territories of the city and its surrounds. The main character, Joe Coughlin, will never be a made man because he is Irish, but he has paved the way for the mob to make a lot of money, runs semi-legitimate businesses in Miami and Cuba (rum, sugar), and so is the public face of the underworld bosses. He has lost his beloved Barbadian wife and is raising his son with the help of a governess. He is having an affair with the wife of the mayor of Miami. They think no one knows. But it all begins to fall apart when one of the bosses's brothers makes a play for the Black part of town and retribution will lead to an all-out war. Moreover, the family is losing a lot of business to raids by the feds that must be happening due to an informant in the family. Joe gets a tip that there is a contract out on him and figures out, too late, that this is a takeover play, sanctioned at the very top. He risks it all to save his longtime friend, only to find out he has been betrayed. Atmospheric, complex, and with well-developed characters, this slowly unwinding plot will leave you guessing til the very end. Highly recommended.

River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

This non-fiction book by Candice Millard rivals the work of one of my favorite non-fiction authors, Erik Larson. She uses the chronology of Roosevelt's expedition in the winter/spring of 1913-1914 as the framework for masterfully weaving together information about the history of the Amazon basin, its peoples, its flora/ fauna/ ecology, as well as background information on the major players. For most of the trip, there is fairly detailed information about the progress made--or not--to cross the upland plateau of Brasil that would bring the group to the head of a previously unexplored river, the River of Doubt, and then to descend it in order to chart its course. The river had not previously been explored by "outsiders" in any systematic way, and Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, the man in charge of bringing telegraph service to the interior of the country, was determined to make the definitive maps. Roosevelt wanted an adventure, to escape his recent election failure in the run again Wilson, and to put his name on the map, which indeed happened as the river was eventually named Rio Roosevelt.
With the exception of Rondon, Roosevelt's co-leader of the expedition, and the men under his command, it seems that few of those who started the expedition were truly prepared for the incredible hardships the trip had in store. Parasitic insects carrying disease and infection, poisonous snakes, hostile indigenous peoples, the endless rain, the torturous course of the river, and the jungle's unwillingness to sustain them with any food all made this a near-death experience for the group. At one point Roosevelt would have taken his own life with morphine, except that his son, Kermit, refused to leave him behind. One of Rondon's men consistently stole from the inadequate food stores, was confronted and subsequently murdered one of his peers. Kermit's recklessness on the river cost the life of another of Rondon's men. Nevertheless, through sheer determination, the rest of the party that actually started on the river came through, having charted much of the course of a 1,000 mile tributary of the Amazon.
My only criticism is that it felt the recounting of the expedition dropped off rather suddenly after the party finally found the reinforcements Rondon had--months before-- sent via another route to meet them with additional supplies. Roosevelt's health never really recovered from his nearly fatal leg infection and he died 5 years later. Kermit, whose strength and persistence on the expedition were simply awe-inspiring, married the woman to whom he became engaged just before the trip, but never really flourished and began a slow decline into alcoholism, bad investments, affairs, and probably underlying it all, depression. This is an absolutely gripping tale. If you were not an admirer of Roosevelt before--and he was a controversial character for many reasons--you will find much here to make you reconsider.
Photographs, maps, detailed source notes, selected bibliography, and index included.

Monday, June 1, 2015

London Bridges

I probably have read more of James Patterson's YA novels than his novels for adults, but still I was disappointed in this 10th installment in the Alex Cross series. This series of books has provided the foundation for some really compelling movies starring Morgan Freeman--Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. Nevertheless, I found the writing choppy and jarring, the plotting seemed too contrived. Kept me enough engaged on the plane ride back from Las Vegas and only cost me $.50 at the Library Friends book sale so guess I can't complain too much, but I won't be seeking out another of his books when  much better fare is available.
If you want a more detailed summary of the book, it's here on Patterson's own website.

Void Moon

As best I can tell, this is the only book by Michael Connelly featuring this protagonist, Cassie Black. Cassie went to prison 5 years ago for manslaughter--not that she actually killed anyone--and is now out on parole, working at Hollywood Porsche and making a life for herself. But when she finds out that the family who adopted her daughter, after being born to Cassie in prison, is moving out of the country, Cassie throws it all away to find a way to keep her daughter near. And that means not just another score, but one big enough so that she and her daughter can disappear.
She contacts her former middleman, Leo, and he sets her after a whale who has been winning big in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the heist has to go down at the same casino where Cassie's former partner and lover--and Cassie's father--was caught and died. Was it just the bad alignment of the celestial bodies as Leo claims, or was there something more humanly sinister at work on the night Max died. When Cassie pulls off the heist, she finds the money the mark was winning at baccarat, and a whole lot more--too much, in fact. Now she knows she's in trouble, but that's not the worst part. The casino owner has sent psychopathic killer Jack Karch to find her and bring back the money; he will take out everyone in his path without a second thought. And Cassie will have to use every trick in her repertoire to come out of this alive.  As always, Connelly creates vivid, three-dimensional characters and a twisty fast-paced plot to make this an engrossing read.

Cry Wolf

First of the full-length books in Patricia Briggs' "Alpha and Omega" series deals with Anna's leaving her abusive pack in Chicago and accompanying Charles back to Montana. Charles wants Anna for his mate as does his wolf. And Anna's wolf wants Charles, but Anna herself is not so sure. She feels so distrusting after what she has been through with the Chicago pack and it will take time for her to learn that not all dominant males are out to hurt her. Her unique qualities as an Omega werewolf become apparent fairly quickly when a very old (almost as old as Bran himself) werewolf in Bran's pack, Asil, confronts her at a tense funeral, and Anna not only does not back down, but calms him. Bran has his own motives for wanting her to stay, but right now, he needs to deal with disturbing reports of werewolf attacks on humans in the nearby Cabinet Mountains. Charles has been seriously wounded while settling things in Chicago, but time is of the essence and Bran feels he has no choice but to send his enforcer to find the rogue wolf. When Anna volunteers to accompany Charles, Charles objects but Bran agrees.
Winter is harsh in these mountains but Anna finds herself exhilarated as well as challenged by the  demanding trek. What they find, however, is more than either of them bargained for, and it seems that Asil may actually be the ultimate target of these attacks. The rogue werewolf is Asil's long dead lover, Sarai, who was tortured and murdered by a witch over 2 centuries earlier, and whose spirit has now been enslaved by that same witch, Mariposa. Worse yet, it is quickly revealed that she can use the pack bonds to control not only any individual wolf she comes in contact with, but the entire pack. Anna is not yet a pack member and may be the only chance they have of defeating this evil and ruthless witch.

Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson

This collection of stories from Patricia Briggs was published just last September (2014) and includes stories featuring some of the characters from the "Mercy Thompson" series (see my other posts by searching Briggs in this blog). Some of these are stories that wanted telling (per Briggs own notes in the book) but did not fit well with the main story arc of her other books. Some provide prelude to new series (e.g., Alpha and Omega), others are long ago history that inform current novels (e.g., Silver), some have peripheral characters as protagonists, and some are side stories for key players. All in all they are enjoyable and a wonderful enrichment of this series.
  • Silver: the back story of Samuel (Bran's older son) and Ariana (fairy)
  • Fairy Gifts: payback of an old favor between vampire and fairy, set in Butte, MT
  • Gray: a remorseful vampire returns to Chicago, the site of her greatest love and greatest regrets
  • Seeing Eye: a powerful, blind, white witch gets revenge against the witch who blinded her--her father--with the help of a werewolf. Moira and Tom appear in Hunting Ground, 2nd book in the "Alpha and Omega" series.
  • Alpha and Omega: how Charles Cornick (younger son of Bran) meets his mata, Anna.
  • The Star of David: sort of a Christmas story featuring David Christiansen, former VietNam vet, now mercenary and werewolf, gets forgiveness from his daughter.
  • Roses in Winter: Kara is the youngest werewolf ever to survive the turning and has had no pack. Her family sends her to Bran finally because they can't handle her and her fate hangs in the balance until she is befriended by Asil. 
  • In Red, with Pearls: Mercy's good friend and gay werewolf, Warren, takes on a witch who targets his lover Kyle. 
  • Redemption: Ben, the snarky werewolf sent to Bran for rehabilitation from England, has helped Mercy many times, and here he helps a woman targeted for sexual harassment where he works as a database administrator.
  • Hollow: Mercy helps a man escape the torments of a vicious ghost--his dead wife.
  • Outtake from Silver Borne: the  happy ending to Samuel and Ariana's story.