Indexes to the authors and titles are at the end of the text material


America the Broke
; Gerald J. Swanson                                                                              NonF
        There is  a very long subtitle which is “How the Reckless Spending of the White House and Congress is Bankrupting Our Country and Destroying Our Children's Future” and that is what this very scary book is about. Swanson is a Professor of Economic Education in the Management School at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He co-authored a book “Bankruptcy 1995” which predicted a coming economic disaster in 1995 - one started by Ronald Reagan’s debt casualness. That disaster never came, because the Clinton years actually produced a surplus of government funds! Now, under born-again George W. Bush, Swanson says that out current 9 trillion dollars debt and the increases that occur, will wreck this country in a way that has not been seen since the Great Depression. I shall not deal with the details here. I went through the last half of the Depression, and he seems right on to me. Please read it - but don’t expect to sleep well the night that you do. This is not a “liberal” diatribe against Washington. It is a calm look at a growing disaster. I’m convinced. And scared.
 Swanson, G.J.; America the Broke; $24.95; 204pp; Doublrday; ISBN 0-385-51304

Blackbird House; Alice Hoffman  
           This small book contains twelve short tales, many of which have been printed elsewhere. They are separate stories, but there is a connecting link - the Blackbird House. It is the house, on the outer edges of Cape Cod, that John Hadley built for his family: his wife Coral, and his two sons Walter and Isaac. It was the time of the British occupation of Massachusetts. And that is where the stories start. Ten year old Isaac, acquired a tiny blackbird, and fed and nourished it. The bird refused to leave, even after it was grown, and Isaac took the bird with him when his father took him and Walter to sea. They were lost at sea. Walter survived, was captured by the British, and did not return to the Cape till he was grown. The blackbird flew off when Isaac drowned, and seems to have appeared - this time snowy white - back at the house. The stories continue, about the people who acquire the house, and their loves, and hates, and lives. And a white blackbird remains in the lives of the inhabitants of the house. The stories range up to modern times. The book is beautifully written, and the reader is exposed to a variety of emotions, and can’t help sharing some of them with the characters. I am not one who likes a compilation of short stories, even if they are somehow related - as they are here. But I must say I was struck by these tales, some of which made me feel a bit uneasy. I recommend it.
 Hoffman,A.; Blackbird House; $19.95; 225pp;Doubleday;NY;2004;ISBN 0-385-50761-5

Brought In Dead; Jack Higgins                                                                                  (pb)
         An interesting experience. I enjoy Higgins’ storytelling, and I had not seen this title before. The book cover notes: “First Time In Paperback,” but I didn’t remember seeing it in hardback. Part way into the story - laid in England - I had the feeling that something was awry, and I looked at the publishing data. First published in 1967. Almost 40 years ago! Very different - but still a pretty good story. He seems to have written several books in an English police series starring detective Nick Miller, and this is one. Miller finds the floating body of a young woman, a pregnant drug addict, who has drowned herself, but only after removing anything that might identify her - except for a Roman Catholic medal. After some research, he learns her name, and that she was well raised, but forced into addiction and impregnated by a local entrepreneur with mobster connections. Her father is a decorated, retired. Special Operations Lt. Colonel (very tough chap), who simply decides to ruin, then kill the mobster. Miller tries to head off  the last part of that scenario. There is no mystery in the story -- it is mainly a slim, police procedural, with emphasis on the characters. I’m Irish enough to enjoy they “don’t get mad, get even” approach, and I enjoyed watching the father (aided by his other daughter)  methodically and cheerfully destroy the villain’s income and reputation, after which he plans to kill him. Miller seems unable to stop it. Different in style from Higgins’ newer books, and I couldn’t quite determine the English locale. In 1967 when we lived there, the English didn’t use the word “truck” for a vehicle!
 Higgins,J.; Brought In Dead;$7;307pp;Berkley Publishing; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-425-19933-9  

By Order of the President; W.E.B. Griffith   
    This is Griffith’s 35th book about men in uniform. The others are distributed among five series. I think this is the first of a new series. As usual, there is a long list of characters, the time shifts back and forth, and there are several substories. If you are not familiar with Griffith’s extensive detail, and convoluted plots, be prepared. The main story involves the theft of  a 727 aircraft in Angola. The circumstances arouse fear that the hijackers plan to use it for a terrorist attack on the USA, and the Washington intelligence agencies as well as  the Office of Homeland Security start spinning wheels. The time is  2005. The CIA and FBI as well as DIA keep up their territorial struggles, and the President decides to find out what actions the various agencies have taken, and how they have distributed their information, and what the truth is.  Carlos (Charley) Guillermo Castillo, an intelligence officer serving as a special assistant to the Director of Homeland Security, is tasked with the job. Charlie is the Nordic looking illegitimate son of a wealthy German mother, and a Tex-Mex father who was killed in Vietnam, and awarded a medal of honor. When his mother died, he was raised by his father’s parents. He is a Delta Force Major, a veteran of Desert Storm, a very wealthy man, and the owner of several newspapers! The main story is about his quest for information and the missing 727. The substories include his childhood, his military training, and lots of other things. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was a while learning the characters! The Washington atmosphere seems right on.
 Griffith,W.E.B.; By Order of the President;$26.95;528pp;G.P. Putnam’s Sons;NY;2004;ISBN 0-399-15207-5         

Compass; Alan Gurney                                                                                                   NF
          The jacket says Gurney was once a yacht designer and photographer. I presume this book grew out of his yachting experience,  because it is a history of the maritime magnetic compass, which was used at sea for over a millennium.  The period covered is up to the invention and use of the liquid compass. The story is of the Western development of the compass, with minor comments on the much earlier use of the device in the Orient. The book is interesting, and occasionally frustrating, and is actually more that I wanted to know about the device! I learned some things I was unfamiliar with, and failed to learn some things! For instance, he discusses a “binnacle” as though everyone knows what it is,  and never defines it. He talks about compass difficulties caused by a ship “heeling”, but never says what heeling is. There is much discussion about compass “dipping” and I was unable to find out what it means, etc. There are notes and an index. Good luck. It could have been done better, I think. And a non-sailing editor would have helped!
 Gurney,A.; Compass;$22.95;320 pp.; W.W.Norton; NY and London; 2004: ISBN 0-393-05073-4

1421: The Year China Discovered America; Gavin Menzies                                           NF
       Menzies is a former British submarine commander who tells here of his long quest to prove his belief that the Chinese landed on both coasts of North America, while enroute to most of the rest of the world - a belief that most historians think is nonsense. Menzies is a good raconteur, and the book is fun to read, although it is somewhat erratic and rambling at times. And occasionally frustrating. The story follows his quest in detail, and the book appears at first glance as a scholarly book. It is not. In fact, most of Menzies’ facts are simply stated as such, with little or no evidence to support them! At least one of his surmises is wrong, and the appearance of many notes and references seems to be just padding - and frustrating. I was taken aback by a comment that surprised me, and when I looked up the note it said “see chapter 9.” I did - and chapter nine had nothing to do with the subject. He devotes a fair amount of discussion to the “Bimini Staircase” - a rock formation near Bimini that looks eerily like an underwater paved road, and was believed to be one until it was shown that in fact it is a formation called “beachrock”, and is found elsewhere in the world. He quotes extensively from one of the early explorers of the phenomenon, a man called Link, but never mentions that Link was a firm believer in supernormal powers of a “prophet” called Cayce, and both were convinced that the formation was in fact the entrance to the fabled Atlantis. Menzies believes the “road” was constructed by the Chinese fleet as a place to reef out and repair their 500 foot junks. He does note that some people don’t believe the formation is artificial, but skips past it with that comment. I note this in detail because it is the only “fact” that I really know something about. I looked into it in detail a year ago. I believe that in fact the Chinese did a great deal of overseas exploring (they seem to have got to the Indian Ocean at least), and it is quite probable they got to the west coast of North America. The “evidence” that Menzies cites is not, however, very convincing. As I said: the story is really fun to read - just don’t assume it is a scholarly treatise! And I’ll bet that 500 foot junks would never have been able to stay at sea - if in fact that size was ever built. Have fun.
 NOTE: Contrast (and compare) this treatise with that of Nancy Yaw Davis as told in her book: “The Zuni Enigma.” Her thesis is that  the current Zuni pueblo people, whose language is unique, are the result of Southwest Indians assimilating Japanese seafarers during Indian migrations in the thirteenth century. Davis’s story is that of her quest, and the “evidence” that she has found to support her thesis. I find it just as fascinating as Menzies’ tale. But it IS a scholarly work. In fact, I am somewhat convinced!    
 Menzies,G.; 1421; $27.95;552 pp; William Morrow;NY; 2003; ISBN 0-06-053763-9

High Country Fall; Margaret Maron                                                                                    Series
         This is the tenth in the series that Maron has been writing about Deborah Knott, currently a district court judge in Colleton County, in eastern North Carolina. She is also engaged to be married to a longtime friend from childhood: Deputy Sheriff Dwight Bryant. Both have been married before. As the story opens, Deborah is getting concerned about her upcoming marriage. Her family and friends think it is a really great thing; she is wondering if friendship and good sex (she’s been sleeping with Bryant) are adequate for marriage. When she is asked to fill in for a judge in the mountains of western NC, she jumps at the chance to get away for a bit. So she ends up as a temporary fill-in for a judge in Cedar Gap, in the high country, near Florida, in  the season of brilliant fall colors - and tourists. Cedar Gap is becoming a developer’s dream, and Deborah’s cousin Beverly owns a condo there. She offered it to Deborah as temporary quarters while she is in the area and Deborah accepted. Beverly’s twin daughters are living there while they attend school at a small nearby college campus, and they are fixing up the condo. We follow Deborah as she attends court, meets locals, finds her nieces are not really attending college, and gets involved in and out of court with the murders of two prominent local developers. It is a good story as usual. It is one in which the voice changes back and forth from first person to third person, and that I do not like in a story, but I put up with it here. At the end, Deborah discovers key elements about the murders, and about her forthcoming marriage.
 NOTE: In the story, Deborah notes that Cedar Gap is undergoing the “Cary Syndrome.” Cary was a somewhat rundown, small place near Raleigh, NC., when it began to undergo a “revitalization.”  Developers quietly bought large amounts of land, and began building costly places, and advertising them. The thing caught on, and the entire complex became “the” place to live. My brother had bought an older place there, about the time the development began. It was truly amazing to watch. He moved to a retirement community in Cary before much of the change occurred, but it was interesting to watch over the years.             
 Maron,M.; High Country Fall; $24;303pp;Time Warner Book Group;NY;2004;ISBN 0-89296-808-7

Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston’s Colorful Irish Past; Michael P. Quinlin              (pb)    NF
         My mother’s maiden name was Callaghan, so in a sense I’m half Irish. I say “in a sense” because it has always seemed to me that there really isn’t a  true “half Irish” category. You either are or you aren’t. At any rate, my Irish genes attracted me to the book. I thought I’d skim through to get a feeling for the subject, and I got taken by it. So I read the book. It is really very interesting, and I was continually surprised. The author follows the story chronologically, and covers very well the feelings and problems of the immigrants, and notes that the Irish wholeheartedly became US citizens, and carried out all the things that could be expected of citizens - including, for example, volunteering for the US army in the Civil War. I was surprised to find how many gifted and famous writers, composers, performers, and artists are numbered among the Boston Irish, as well as athletes, politicians, etc. I also had not realized how virulent were the attacks on the Irish by non-Catholics, and by “patriots” who hated the “foreigners.”  And I was surprised to find that, in turn, the Irish had little use for Negroes! And I was especially surprised by how many illegal Irish immigrants poured into this country in the eighties! Over 2000 per month, for years. It is a very interesting recounting. Part II is a comprehensive “Visitor’s Guide to Irish Boston.” There is also an index - which could have been a lot better. For instance, the Irish Troubles are not referenced - although two different Troubles are discussed in several places     
 Quinlan,M.P.; Irish Boston; $?;The Globe Pequot Press; Guilford, Conn.; 2004; ISBN 0-7627-2901-5

Irish Cream; Andrew M. Greeley                                                                                            Series
           The latest Nuala Anne McGrail novel. She is an Irish lass, famous singer, fey, and married to Dermot Michael Coyne. They have three children, the youngest of whom is two, a one-time preemie, and a small dickens. They have two wolfhounds. Followers of the series will find familiar elements, familiar characterization, good story telling, fewer Irishisms than in the last tale of these characters, and a familiar duality in mysteries. There is a here and now mystery that involves the quest for the real killer of a business mogul. A young man, Damian Sullivan, was set up by his family to take the fall for the crime, but it appears that he could not have done it. Nuala and Dermot hire Damian to help take care of their dogs, get to like him, and set out to clear his name. That crosses the path of Damian’s almost psychopathic father, who doesn’t want Damian cleared, and wants to make him fail in every way. Then there is a another of the “old time” mysteries that appears every few chapters as narration from a journal kept by an Irish priest who recounts his activities in Ireland as the efforts to generate an independent Ireland begin to take form. The mystery is who shot (and wounded) the important English landlord in the parish. Greeley’s excellence in story telling carries out the two tales, and finds the answers - or rather, Nuala does. And of course, the book is fully of the steamy sex between the two main protagonists. Best for followers of the series, but very readable for anyone.
 NOTE: There is a page and a half that contains the homily that Greeley puts in the mouth of  the character of “the little priest” - actually a Bishop, Blackie. It concerns Memorial Day, and since that occurred as I was reading the book, it struck me specially. Those pages make a touching, and perceptive reading - would that it could get wider recognition.   
 Greeley, A.M.; Irish Cream; $24.95; 318pp; Tom Dougherty Associates; NY; 2005; ISBN 0-765-30335-6

Map of Bones; James Rollins                                                                                                  Series
          I have read no other books by this author, who is a veterinarian, a caver, and a scuba diver, and whose name might really be Jim Czajkowski - the name on the copyright. This combination of action and puzzle is an apt reflection of this novel. It is another of the “very old secret societies trying to take over the Catholic Church and the rest of the world”, while stalwart, unkillable, secret government action groups (and others) try to solve ancient mysteries and stop them. It is a science fantasy, the Da Vinci code with ten times the number of ancient cryptic codes to be solved, the travels to everywhere, and nonstop, shoot-em-up, action scenes. I like all of these themes, but this one was too much for me. I read it - fairly rapidly because the continual mystery solutions were far too much - and I was impressed with how many times the good guys were absolutely on the verge of being killed, but managed to escape in some way after killing zillions of the enemies. It is almost a parody of such stories! The characterization leaves a lot to be desired, but perhaps it is because I have read no others in the series. I think the author had a great time writing it. I suspect that there will not be many who will thoroughly enjoy reading it, although I have a friend who thinks it is “wonderful!” I was tempted to examine some of the material mentioned in the Author’s Note at the end, but I decided not to. Good luck if you decide to try it. Hold onto your seat.
 Rollins,J.; Map of Bones;$24.95; 434pp; Harper Collins; NY; 2005; ISBN 0-06-076387-6

Memories From The Attic;The Story of Family Treasures Lost and Found;Helen. K. Polaski,ed                                                                                                                                            NF       
         This is the second book in a series that the editor calls The Rocking Chair Reader. It is a collection of 69 short (3-4 page) first person recountings of  the memories suddenly evoked by encountering some item from the past. The writers are mainly women, and all involve small towns. There are inserted nine, two-page statements about the small town mentioned in the immediately preceding story. The book is not one for reading steadily. One should pick it up, read several of the narratives, then put it down and cast back to one’s own sudden recollections. It will strike chords with every reader - who of us have not had many similar experiences when encountering something in the attic, or in our children’s homes. The items here range from Grandma’s ring, to a carved wooden penguin. Almost all are emotionally touching; they certainly touched me vicariously! When I encountered the first discussion of a small town I was disconcerted; I don’t like such abrupt insertions. Then, to my surprise, I found I really enjoyed them- and learned some things! I grew up in
a relatively small Pennsylvania town - fewer that 10,000 people - and recognized many similarities here and there, but that is not a requirement for enjoyment of the book. I guarantee you will be enchanted. And in fact, you may feel like writing a similar experience of your own: the editor invites your submission for the next book she puts together. I am really tempted ....
 Polaski,H.K. (ed.); Memories From the Attic; $?; 271pp; Adams Media; Avon, Mass.; 2005; ISBN 1-59337-270-1

Metro Girl; Janet Evanovich
          Thirty year old Alexandra Barnaby is an expert on repairing cars - and on driving cars; she learned in her father’s garage in Baltimore. Her younger brother, “Wild” Bill, is casual about life, and out for a good time. He had moved to Miami to have fun. As the story starts, Alex gets a call from him, and he tells her he’s leaving Miami for a bit, and the call is interrupted as a woman screams. She can’t reach Bill, so she heads for Miami. Bill’s apartment has been ransacked. Bill had worked on a corporate boat, so she heads for the Marina, where she encounters Sam Hooker. She recognizes Hooker, who is a NASCAR driver. It seems that Bill has stolen Hooker’s boat, so Hooker is also anxious to find her brother. As the story progresses, it seems that Bill met a young woman whose father seems to have got out of Cuba with a fortune in gold, and that the gold is buried in a place that is indicated on a map. One needs a boat to get there however, and so Bill takes a boat - Hooker’s. Later it appears that there is, along with the gold, a small atomic bomb. The latter is of interest to a number of organizations. Alex and Hooker take off to find her brother and the gold and bomb. It is a romp all the way.
 Evanovich, J.; Metro Girl;$26.95;304pp; Harper Collins; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-06058-400-9

Monday Mourning; Kathy Reichs
          Reichs is a professional forensic anthropologist, who writes thriller novels starring a woman who is a professional anthropologist: Temperance Brennan. Reichs is, professionally, associated with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina, as well as a similar organization in the province of Quebec, where this story is laid. So is her star, Brennan. And the cases that Brennan handles, are versions of ones that Reichs handles! And this is the seventh book that combines these two. Reichs tells a tale well, although she is a devotee of one line paragraphs, but I did not enjoy this book as well as earlier ones. This is about finding the serial murderer who for years has been abducting, torturing, and mutilating young women, who are later disposed of. The tale also involves Brennan’s personal life, and her romantic involvement with a detective. At the end, the murderer escapes. Not to my liking; neither subject nor ending.
 Reichs,K.; Monday Mourning;$25; 303pp; Scribner; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-7432-3347-6

More Unsolved Mysteries of American History; Paul Aron                                                      NF
          This is Aron’s third book on the general subject of unsolved historical mysteries, and the second one to cover American history. He talks about thirty mysteries that have fascinated historians, and presents a summary of the situation, and the problems that exist. He ranges from the Civil War to Vietnam and the Gulf War, and from St. Brendan, the sailor, to the Lusitania, and devotes about seven pages to each subject. Many of the subjects are fascinating, and some left me cold. There are suggested follow up readings associated with each topic, and there is a good index. It is a lot of fun to read, and it is easily picked up and put down, with no disruption. Of course the mysteries remain unsolved - including: who killed Jimmy Hoffa?  was O.J. Simpson guilty? was Burr a traitor? etc. I enjoyed it a great deal.
 Aron,P.; More Unsolved Mysteries of American History;$24.95; 231pp; John Wiley & Sons; Hoboken,N.J.; 2004; ISBN 0-471-26705-8

Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation; Joseph Campbell, edited by David Kudler                                                                                                                   NF
        Campbell spent his life thinking about, and studying mythology, and has written much, and talked a great deal about it. And he does it very well. He died in 1987, and the Joseph Campbell Foundation has been printing, and reorganizing his published and unpublished works and thoughts. This book is one in that effort. It centers on Campbell’s idea that mythology can be a “tool for ...
understanding the psychological growth of the individual...,”  and is in three sections. The first traces the historical development of mythology as a factor in the growth of societies by looking at it in the growth of individuals. The second section studies the psychology of myth, and the third explores the premise that myth is a tool for looking at ones life. Although Campbell has a somewhat casual style, the subject is a bit abstruse, and takes careful reading. It is worth it, especially in the first two sections. I learned a lot about the differences in myth and values between the nomadic cultures, and the land based cultures. The male-based nomadic culture for example, simply took over the female oriented, land tilling worlds, and goddesses vanished, replaced by male gods. Note the anti-femininity of the Catholic Church for example. Campbell also notes the vast difference in the eastern concepts and the western concepts. The reader might consider these in light of some of the problems we have in the world today. The impact on the individual is less clear that I would like, and seems to me to be a bit vague at times. There are very interesting comments on the problems that religions run into if they start to insist that their myths are actually historical.  I would urge any one to try this book. You will certainly find things that will interest you, and probably surprise you, and perhaps irritate you. It has notes, a bibliography, and a useful index.
   NOTE: Perhaps the seminal opus of Campbell is his “Hero With A Thousand Faces.” It details the ubiquitous, mythical, quest-journey of the Hero, and the traditional mythical items about the journey. There is a wonderful contemporary version of the Hero’s journey - complete with all the mythological adjuncts updated - in Michael Malone’s Handling Sin. Be sure to read it whether you care about myth or not!
 Campbell,J.; Pathways to Bliss (ed. David Kudler);$20;194pp;New World Library; Novato,CA; 2004; ISBN 1-57731-471-9

Portuguese Irregular Verbs; Alexander McCall Smith                                                       (pb) Series            This is the first of three (currently) in the series that stars Herr Professor Doktor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, of the German Institute of Romance Philology, and distinguished author of  the seminal work: Portuguese Irregular Verbs. This first book is a set of eight stories about the peregrinations of von Igelfeld and two of his fellow professors, who are SORT OF his friends. The other two books are essentially the same, although the stories are fewer and longer. von Igelfeld is totally unconnected to the real world, and that is to provide the humor in the stories. His world is a tiny, specific piece of academia, and outside of that he is simply at sea. And he has a very simplified mind set - his world is in good shape, but everything and everybody else is probably askew - and wrong. He considers that what he has accomplished in his publication about Portuguese Irregular Verbs has opened the eyes of the world. I did not enjoy the books, and I would not recommend them to anyone else. They are a vast contrast to the Ladies Detective Agency series which entranced me. In this series, the protagonist is not a likable person - as far as I am concerned - and the real reason for the series is to poke fun at academe. Smith has wasted his time.
 Smith,A.M.; Portuguese Irregular Verbs; $9.95; 128pp; Anchor Books; NY; 2005; ISBN 1-4000-7708-7

Skeleton Man; Tony Hillerman                                                                                                   Series
         This is the latest in a very long run of stories about The Navajo Tribal Police, and two individuals: Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, and Sergeant Jim Chee. Leaphorn is now officially retired, but gets involved in various ways in police cases. Chee is now engaged to marry Bernie Manuelito, who was once in the tribal police, but is now in the Border Patrol - on leave as this story takes place. The story centers around diamonds and bones, and attempts to find both in the Grand canyon. They got there because of the famous (real) 1956, midair collision, over the Canyon, of a TWA Constellation, and a UAL DC-7. The story starts with a somewhat simple minded young Indian, who is charged with theft and homicide at a Zuni jewelry store. Several days after the robbery and killing, the young man tried to pawn, for twenty dollars, a diamond that was worth many thousands. The young man says he got the diamond from an old man at the bottom of the Canyon, and Chee is asked to help find the old man. The story gets out, and is heard By Joanna Craig. She believes that the diamond came from a case that her father had attached to his wrist, when he was killed in the midair collision. If she can find the old man, she might find her father’s wrist or arm bones, and they would supply DNA to prove that she was his daughter. Her mother was pregnant with her, and her father was flying to marry her mother when he was killed. If she can prove that the man was her father she will inherit a great deal of money, and she has been advertising for any information that might help her find the bones. This is her first good lead. The money that should have been hers, is held by a man who is just as anxious that the bones NOT be found, and he hires people to see that the bones are not found. That is the background for the story, which follows both sides as well as the activities of Chee, Manuelito, and Leaphorn who are also trying to find the diamonds. Good story, as always.
 NOTE: Three friends of mine had reserved seats on the UAL plane. They were coming from the South Pacific, and stopped on the coast.  Their baggage was checked through to Washington. However when they went to check in, the airline could not find the reservation for one of them, and the flight was filled. On the spur of the moment, the other two decided to cancel their reservations, and get a flight the next day. All three checked into a local hotel, and the flight they did not take crashed. One told me that a month later UAL delivered a battered and scorched suitcase to him. It had been on the plane. He said he never opened it.
 Hillerman,T.; Skeleton Man; $25.95;241pp;Harper Collins;NY;2004; ISBN 0-06-056344-3

St. Dale; Sharon McCrumb
            St. Dale in this novel is Dale Earnhardt, the race car driver who was killed in a race. In an interesting after word, McCrumb explains that Earnhardt deserved a book, and that she had always been interested in secular sainthood; and  that Earnhardt had rapidly become such a saint. She decided to write a “Canterbury Tales” with a modern saint. She writes of a group who sign up for a NASCAR trip: the Dale Earnhardt Memorial Pilgrimage. None had met Earnhardt, but all were touched by him in some way, and are touched again on the trip. Earnhardt’s ghost appears from time to time - to help someone, of course. The reader is taken, in excruciating detail, through every bit of the NASCAR world, past and present, and most Earnhardt details too. I quit early on. I am uninterested in car racing, and totally uninterested in Earnhardt - Saint or not. Incidentally, nowhere (that I saw) does it indicate what the name NASCAR means! For aficionados, the book is probably great. Not for me. I picked it up because of the author. Next time I’ll settle for reading the jacket!
 McCrumb,S.; St. Dale;$25; 311pp.; Kensington Books; NY; 2005; ISBN 0-7582-0776-X

The Egyptologist; Arthur Phillips  
    This is the third of three unreadable (by me) books that I brought home from the library in one day. I am very interested in Ancient Egypt, and with quest stories, and the jacket noted this was a quest story: an Egyptologist obsessed with finding the tomb of an apocryphal king. I noted there are many interesting looking sketches and diagrams. I suppose it is a quest story, but I couldn’t finish it. I didn’t even get to page 100. It is told in many voices, in many eras, includes copies of letters, etc. I couldn’t keep track of the time or the people, so I quit. I have no idea whether the man found anything.  My luck with books seems to have entered a down phase. I shall have to look at them more carefully before bringing them home.
 Philips,A.; The Egyptologist; $24.95;383pp;Random House; NY; 2004; ISBN 1-4000-250-0

The Full Cupboard of Life; Alexander McCall Smith                                                             Series
    This is the fifth in the wonderful series that Smith has been writing about Precious Ramotswe, her Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana, her friends and acquaintances, her clients, and her fiancé - Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of  Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, an auto repair shop. Mma Ramotswe is still not sure when she will be married - Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has not mentioned the matter. However, she has detective business to take care of, and her new client is a wealthy woman who wishes Precious to check out her several suitors to determine if they are after her for her money. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni gets conned into agreeing to make a parachute jump as the highlight of a fund raising feast that the local orphanage is planning, and Mma  Ramotswe has to get him out of that. Also appearing, of course, is Mma Makutsi, Secretary to Precious, and also a Detective in the agency, as well as an assistant Manager in Speedy Motors. The reader will again enjoy the leisurely pace , the asides, the thoughts of the characters, and their kindness, shrewdness, and love -and the wonderful writing of Smith.
 Smith,A.M.; The Full Cupboard of Life; $19.95; 198pp; Pantheon Books;NY; 2003; ISBN 0-375-42218-8

The Last Dark Place; Stuart M. Kaminsky                                                                                Series
             The prolific writer Kaminsky has so far written 60 books, and this is the eighth in his police procedural series about veteran Chicago  detective, Al Lieberman. I discovered, a while back, that it didn’t matter which of Kaminskky’s books I picked up - it was a really good read. This is no exception. Lieberman encounters Connie Gower in his synagogue, when Gower comes to kill him. Instead, Lieberman, then in uniform, captures him. 33 years later, Lieberman picks up Gower, now a mob enforcer, in Arizona for deportation. Gower is killed while in Lieberman’s custody. Lieberman sets out to find out who was responsible for the murder - and in the meantime arrange his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Meanwhile, his regular partner, Bill Hanrahan, has to find the man who raped a fellow policeman’s wife , and find him before the policeman can find him and kill him. Hanrahan, who is stuck with a temporary partner who is also Irishman but a racist, sexist, anti-Semite to boot, has his own set of problems centering around his new oriental wife, whose oriental acquaintances don’t like the marriage. And there is a young man who dreams of, and plans to kill a famous singer in order to become famous. As usual, Kapinsky weaves all these disparate themes into an intriguing story by emphasizing the characters. And there is a very startling, almost throw away item at the end. An item that will be a key thing in the next book in the series.
 Kaminsky,S.M.; The Last Dark Place;$23.95; Tom Dougherty Associates; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-765-30463-5

The Palace Tiger; Barbara Cleverly                                                                                            Series
         Cleverly is writing an interesting series, laid in the British Raj, in India. The series seems to be progressing in time, and this one is laid in the early 1920s. The protagonist is Detective Joe Sandilands, who is a Commander of Scotland Yard, and temporarily assigned the India. In this story, he is sent to the Princely State of Ranipur to accompany a big game hunter, Edgar Troop, who has been requested by the Maharaja. There is a man-eating tiger on the loose, but the governor of Bengal really wants Joe to keep an eye on things, because the Maharaja is dying of cancer, and there are some questions about the successor to the throne. The oldest son was killed by a panther, in what was clearly a pre-rigged murder. There are two more sons, but when Troop and Sandilands get to Ranipur, the second son is killed in a plane crash. And Sandilands finds that the small plane’s control cables had been weakened, and failed, causing the crash. There is a convoluted series of events, with it gradually appearing definite that someone has been plotting to kill off all the heirs. The third young heir is killed during the tiger hunt to kill the man-eater, and at first glance it seems that he was killed by the tiger, but it is discovered that someone has been using a stuffed tiger claw.  The title is clever - when you see how the story turns out. The plot is interesting, if very complicated, but the real interest - to me - is the detailed look at the Raj society and British activities during that period. There is a lot of information about both east and west; an interesting look at the society of the time. That was also true of the other book that I have read in this series.
 Cleverly,B.; The Palace Tiger;$23.95; 304pp; Carroll & Graf; NY; 2005; ISBN 0-7865-1572-3

The Search For Nefertiti:The True Story of an Amazing Discovery; Dr. Joann Fletcher  (NF)
           As readers here know, I am a sucker for a quest story. And when the quest involves Ancient Egypt, several thousand years B.C., at the turbulent time of Akhenaten, I am really thrilled. That period has fascinated me for years. The quest is Fletcher’s, and the goal is to show that an ancient, discarded mummy, is in fact that of Nefertiti. The book is actually a sort of an illustrated, partial autobiography of red haired, nose-pierced, feminist Joann Fletcher who is, at the moment, 34 years old. She decided at the age of 8 that she would be an Egyptologist, and she tells us of her efforts to that end, and her first trip to Egypt at age 15.  And she tells of her developing career, her trips to Egypt, her specialization in hair, wigs, and jewelry, and later her efforts with mummies in various parts of the world, but especially Egypt. She notes briefly some of her TV efforts, and other media involvements. She is a dandy story teller, with a sense of humor, and clever throwaway lines here and there. There is a great deal of history about the people, places, and events of ancient history, and the reader may be somewhat overwhelmed by the large number of such things. There are many line drawings in the text, and three sections of color prints. The history is redundant at times, and very unfortunately there is no history timeline printed. Most of the activity centers around Armana, and Karnak, and ultimately Fletcher sees a picture of three mummies that have been left in a walled up anteroom of one of the tombs. To her, one face looks like Nefertiti, and she sets out to find out if she can determine if that is true. Before she gets to that task however, she provides, among many other things,  descriptions of the world of Egyptology , and the crucial role that women have played in the science - in fact I was surprised; somehow little of that had been in my reading! And she spends time pointing out the importance of female pharaohs, beyond the legendary Hapshepsut. She imagines many scenes from the past, and many parts of the story are rife with phrases like “it is probable”, most likely”, “it would seem”, etc. She points out the evidence that leads her to these imaginations, and some of it is good, and some is a shaky. But it is all told well. The index drove me bats at times - but the thing that really threw me comes at the very end. She and colleagues took zillions of x-rays of the one mummy that Fletcher believes to be Nefertiti, and the plates were given to a first class forensic group, and the group was asked to reconstruct the face and head. They were told nothing of the situation - Fletcher says ( but I’ll bet they had some clues, at least!) And she notes that when she looked at the reconstructed head, it was a wonderful match for the busts of Nefertiti. And she is satisfied that she has found Nefertiti. What blew my mind is: THAT PICTURE IS NOT PRESENTED! It should be noted that there are quite a few experts who think Fletcher is off her trolley. I shall not note my opinions here. Try to read the book if the general subject interests you; it is a really dandy story, if you don’t get overwhelmed.
 Fletcher,J.; The Search for Nefertiti;$25.95;452pp; William Morrow; NY; 2004; ISBN 0-06-058556-0

The Serpent on the Crown; Elizabeth Peters                                                                            Series
         This is in the Egyptology series that Peters writes about Amanda Peabody and her clan, which includes her irascible husband and renowned Egyptologist, Radcliffe, their son Ramses, his wife Nefrit, their two young, twin grandchildren, Radcliffe’s brother, etc.  It is the seventeenth book, I think, and is laid in Egypt in 1922. The story is of the mysteries that surround a small gold statue of a Pharaoh, one that is missing the Serpent that adorns the crowns of the ancient Egyptian rulers. It is given to Radcliffe by a woman author who says it is cursed, and has brought her trouble. The first mystery is where the statue had been found, and that is followed by a murder, several attempted murders, and surrounding all these is interesting commentary about the state of archaeological research in Egypt during the period. The story is told both in the first person by Amelia, and in third person alternating chapters. It follows the many characters through to the end of the mysteries. I read this out of curiosity. I Think that Peters should have dropped the series after about the fifth book or so. The initial books were all narrated by Amelia, and Peters wanted to keep that, but had to add the third person to take care of Ramses as an adult. It is a reasonable story that will probably appeal to most followers of the series. I keep telling myself that I WON’T read any more - but I do, Sigh ...
 Peters,E.; The Serpent on the Crown;$25.95;350pp;William Morrow;NY;2005; ISBN 0-06-059178-1

The Tree Bride; Bharati Mukherjee                                                                                Series
         I think I picked up the book because of the unusual title. What I found was an unusual book. The author is Indian, a Brahmin I suspect, a professor of English at The University of California, Berkeley, and has written seven novels, two non fiction books, and two collections of short stories of which one won a National Book Critics Circle Award. This book appears to continue an earlier book, a fact not made clear at the beginning, and which had this reader a little baffled. But it all worked out. The story is told in different voices, and tenses, and is really  four stories that weave back and forth in the tale. And the number of characters - many with Indian names - is tremendous. It is therefore difficult to follow, and requires a lot of careful attention. Give it the attention. The writing is luminous,  description is vivid, and the foreign environments shimmer. First class writing. It is only barely possible to outline the story here. Initially we meet the story teller, Indian born Tara Chattergee, an inhabitant of two worlds: the here and now world of California, in which she is well known, and the ancient Bengali world of her native India. She and her husband, Bish, were once billionaires - he made the money in the infotech world before it collapsed. But the financial tide turned, and their house was bombed, leaving him wheelchair bound, and they lost their fortune. And they are divorced, but Tara is taking care of Bish. Tara finds she is pregnant (she has a grown son), goes to an obstetrician, and the story starts. The obstetrician reveals that her family, and Tara’s Indian family, had connections in the past, and that she has a lot of old documents. Tara begins to look into the history of several people. One is of her great, great aunt Tara, who at the age of five, was married - legally - to a tree. The reason, the reader will see, is eminently sensible! In the course of this she delves into the complicated history of three other people, and their interaction with the British Raj, and the post Raj. There are spectacular descriptions of the actions and attitudes of the British, and those who served in British India. Included is a vivid and telling description of the older years of one of the Brits. And all around the stories of the past is the story of  the current Tara and her family, and someone who wants Tara dead! Whew! It is quite an experience for only 300 pages. The ending suggests that there is another book to come.
 Mukherjee,B.; The Tree Bride;$23.95; 293pp;Hyperion;NY; 2004; ISBN 1-4013-0048-8

Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror; Mark Danner      NF   (pb)                This is a collection of several items that the author published about his experiences in Iraq, including attempts to find out details of the infamous Abu Ghraib “interrogations.” That takes 71 pages, and is very revealing and distressing. He then appends about 500 pages of official inquiry reports, Red Cross reports, debriefing reports, and any thing else “official.” And he includes all the terrible photos. I recommend the author’s articles. I simply could not plow my way through the Appendices. And the photos are horrible. The reader will find - as she already knows - that the whole thing has been carefully underplayed and concealed by the Administration, and that no one in power seems to be responsible.  Who, me?  I was particularly intrigued by an “official” who, when asked if he was doing anything about the negative Red Cross reports, said yes - he was limiting their access to the prison!
 Danner,M.; Torture and Truth;$?;580pp;New York Review of Books; NY; 2004; ISBN 1-59017-152-7

Valley of the Bones; Michael Gruber
          For years Gruber has been ghost writing enjoyable books that carry Tanenbaum as the author. A year or so ago he decided to write under his own name, and this is his second story. It is a strange, convoluted tale, which is ostensibly a police procedural murder mystery, but ends up very different. A young beat-cop, Titi Morales, sees a man come off a tall hotel building, and get impaled on a fence. Detective Jimmy Paz arrives to take the case. Paz is well known in the area. In the dead man’s suite they find a woman in a prayer like state,  who faints when they touch her. She is Emmylou Dideroff, who explains she had been communicating with Saint Catherine! She had followed the man to the hotel - she knew he was a murderer, and couldn’t believe he was walking around, but she never got to see him. They also find a bloody piston rod, and they book the woman for murder. She says she wants to write her confession, and starts to do so  in a series of notebooks. The woman’s past included a stay in the unusual Catholic order of nuns: Society of Nursing Sisters of the Blood of Christ. The book involves three separate items. One is a series of one page, continuous accounts of the history of that order. Another is the continuing account of the suspect’s confession - really the story of her life. And the third is the world of Miami, and the police, and Lorna Wise, a psychologist who visits Dideroff in custody, and who is asked by Paz to help determine whether Dideroff is really guilty. The story hinges around the fact that Dideroff once lived in Africa, in Nigeria, and found out that in the remote poverty stricken area where she was, there was a tremendous, untapped, oil reservoir. To exploit it would demolish the tribal civilization in the area. No one else knows where it is, but it is known that Dideroff knows, and it happens that is the driving force behind the whole story. Oil interests, the CIA, one or two secret US operative agencies, the FBI, and others play a part. Gradually Paz, Morales, and Wise get the thing unraveled. Through it, they are never quite sure about who - or what - Dideroff really is. She feels she is a messenger and activist for God, and she has a number of persona. It is, as I said, a strange book, with a religious shimmer to it. All in all, I don’t think I liked it very much.
 NOTE: For some reason I seem to have got into a pattern of bringing home stories that, at the end, I don’t like! Or perhaps it is associated with changes in my reading habits. I’ll watch and see.
 Gruber,M.; Valley of the Bones; $24.95; 436pp; Harper Collins;NY;2005; ISBN 0-06-057766-5

White Thunder; Aimée & David Thurlo
          Ah, the latest Ella Clah novel. Readers of these annotations know that I am a fan of the Thurlos - at least with regard to the Ella Clah Novels. Not the vampire ones! Readers will also know that Clah is a Navaho, formerly with the FBI, and now an investigator with the Navajo tribal police. The stories take place on the Navajo reservation, and are essentially police procedurals, but with involved and good plots,  much tribal lore and convention - and problems, and first class story telling. This one involves the vanishing of a new, young, FBI agent who went to find a wanted man at a tribal ceremony - not realizing that his appearance would be a severe violation of Navajo custom. The simple sounding case begins to take on all sorts of turns, and ultimately involves a clever scheme for swindling the U.S. Government. Good story - as always.
 Thurlo,A.&D.; White Thunder; $23.95; 253pp; Tom Doherty Assoc.; NY; 2005; ISBN 0-765-31174-7

Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery; Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor, Terry  Dolan                                                                                                                       NF
          This is a really scrumptious book, and heavy! It is of heavy glossy paper, with many, many striking illustrations. And it is fascinating. Jones, who was once a member of the British Monty Python Show (!), has written several books about the Middle Ages, and he has written part of this one. His co-writers have filled it out in their areas of expertise, and Jones compiled and edited the final version. Geoffrey Chaucer - he of the Canterbury Tales and other works - simply vanished from history in 1400. There are no records of his death, there are no records that reveal anything about him after a certain date. The writers here make a case for considering that Chaucer was, in fact, murdered, because he was at cross purposes with the crown, and right in the political middle. The tale is a fascinating exposition of the great tensions between Church and State, and in the State, in Britain, during the last decade of Chaucer’s life, and how Chaucer’s writing was essentially subversive. And that, it is argued, could provide a reason for someone to murder him. The writers compile anecdote after anecdote, and examine writings and records of the times, and as far as I am concerned, make a good case for a possible murder. Mind you they do not say he was murdered - no one can know that - they simply argue that it is a very possible scenario. This is one of the best analyses that I have ever seen of that particular time in British history, and it is a very readable, if at times irreverent, bit of story telling. It is a great view of the world of Chaucer, the writings of Chaucer, and what we know about Chaucer. I recommend it highly - if history is of interest to you. It is quite a scholarly book, with references, notes, and a bibliography.
 Jones,T. (editor); Who Murdered Chaucer?;$29.95; 406pp; Thomas Dunne Books;NY; 2003; ISBN 0-312-33587-3

                               AUTHORS
 


 Aron,P.; More Unsolved Mysteries of American History, 6
 Campbell,J.; Pathways to Bliss, 6
 Cleverly,B.; The Palace Tiger, 8
 Danner,M.; Torture and Truth, 10
 Evanovich, J.; Metro Girl, 5

 Fletcher,J.; The Search for Nefertiti, 9
 Greeley, A.M.; Irish Cream, 4
 Griffith, W.E.B.; By Order of the President, 2
 Gruber,M.; Valley of the Bones, 11
 Gurney,A.; Compass, 2

 Higgins,K.; Brought In Dead, 1
 Hillerman,T.; Skeleton Man, 7
 Hoffman,A.; Blackbird House, 1
 Jones,T. (editor); Who Murdered Chaucer?, 11
 Kaminsky,S.M.; The Last Dark Place, 8

 Maron,M.; High Country Fall, 3
 McCrumb,S.; St. Dale, 7
 Menzies,G.; 1421, 2
 Mukherjee,B.; The Tree Bride, 10
 Peters,E.; The Serpent on the Crown, 9

 Phillips.A.; The Egyptologist, 8
 Polaski,H.K. (ed.); Memories From the Attic, 5
 Quinlan,M.P.; Irish Boston, 3
 Reichs,K.; Monday Mourning, 5
 Rollins,J.; Map of Bones, 4

 Smith,A.M.; Portuguese Irregular Verbs, 6
 Smith,A.M.; The Full Cupboard of Life, 8
 Swanson,G.J.; America the Broke, 1
 Thurlo,A.&D.; White Thunder, 11


                              TITLES

America the Broke; Gerald J. Swanson, 1
Blackbird House; Alice Hoffman, 1
Brought In Dead; Jack Higgins, 1
By Order of the President; W.E.B. Griffith, 2
Compass; Alan Gurney, 2

1421: The Year China Discovered America; Gavin Menzies, 2
High Country Fall; Margaret Maron, 3
Irish Boston; Michael P. Quinlan, 3
Irish Cream; Andrew M. Greeley, 4
Map of Bones; James Rollins, 4

Memories From The Attic; Helen. K. Polaski (ed.), 5
Metro Girl; Janet Evanovich, 5
Monday Mourning; Kathy Reichs, 5
More Unsolved Mysteries of American History; Paul Aron, 6
Pathways to Bliss; Joseph Campbell, 6

Portuguese Irregular Verbs; Alexander McCall Smith, 6
Skeleton Man; Tony Hillerman, 7
St. Dale; Sharon McCrumb, 7
The Egyptologist; Arthur Phillips, 8
The Full Cupboard of Life; Alexander McCall Smith, 8

The Last Dark Place; Stuart M. Kaminsky, 8
The Palace Tiger; Barbara Cleverly, 8
The Search for Nefertiti; Dr. Joann Fletcher, 9
The Serpent on the Crown; Elizabeth Peters, 9
The Tree Bride; Bharati Mukherjee, 10

Torture and Truth; Mark Danner, 10
Valley of the Bones; Michael Gruber, 11
White Thunder; Aimée & David Thurlo, 11
Who Murdered Chaucer?; Terry Jones, Robert Yeager,
                     Alan Fletcher, Juliette Dor, Terry Dolan, 11