Barr, N.; A Superior Death, 1
Bradbury,R.; Dandelion Wine, 2
Bragg, R.; Ava’s Man, 1
Clapp,N.; The Road to Ubar, 11
Cross,A.; Honest Doubt, 5
Flagg,F.; Welcome to the World, Baby Girl, 13
Folsom,A.; Day of Confession, 2
Greeley,A.M.; Fall From Grace, 3
Greenfield,M.; Washington, 13
Griffin,W.E.B.; Under Fire, 12
Grisham,J; Skipping Christmas, 7
Harvey.M.; The Island of Lost Maps, 10
Johnson,H.; Sleepwalking Through History, 8
Kaplan,R.D.; Soldiers of God, 8
Krentz,J.A.; smoke in mirrors, 8
Larsen,E.; Isaac’s Storm, 5
Liliuokalani; Hawaii_s Story, 5
Malone,M.; Time’s Witness, 11
Mesce,B.; Officer of the Court, 6
Michaels,A.; Fugitive Pieces, 4
Miles,J.; God: A Biography, 4
Norton,E.M.; We Band of Angels, 13
Ondaatje,M.; The English Patient, 10
Paretsky;S; Total Recall;, 12
Parker,R.B.; Death in Paradise, 3
Parker,R.B.; Gunman’s Rhapsody, 5
Pearson;R.; Parallel Lies, 6
Perry,A.; Funeral in Blue, 4
Rooney,E.B.; Morning Song, 6
Trigiani,A,; Big Stone Gap, 1
Trillen,T.; Tepper Isn’t Going Out, 9
West,M.; The Navigator, 10
Williams,K.B.; Secret Weapon, 7
Wright,P.; Spycatcher, 9
A Superior Death; Nevada Barr, 1
Ava’s Man; Rick Bragg, 1
Big Stone Gap; Adriana Trigiani, 1
Dandelion Wine; Ray Bradbury, 2
Day of Confession; Allan Folsom, 2
Death in Paradise; Robert B. Parker, 3
Fall From Grace; Andrew M. Greeley, 3
Fugitive Pieces; Anne Michaels, 4
Funeral in Blue; Anne Perry, 4
God: A Biography; Jack Miles, 4
Gunman’s Rhapsody; Robert B. Parker, 5
Hawaii’s Story: By Hawaii’s Queen; Liliuokalani, 5
Honest Doubt; Amanda Cross, 5
Isaac’s Storm; Erik Larson, 5
Morning Song; Elizabeth B. Rooney, 6
Officer of the Court; Bill Mesce, Jr., 6
Parallel Lies; Ridley Pearson, 6
Secret Weapon; Kathleen Broome Williams, 7
Skipping Christmas; John Grisham, 7
Sleepwalking Through History; Haynes Johnson, 8
Smoke In Mirrors; Jayne Ann Krentz, 8
Soldiers of God; Robert D. Kaplan, 8
Spy Catcher; Peter Wright, 9
Tepper Isn’t Going Out; Calvin Trillin, 9
The English Patient; Michael Ondaatje, 10
The Island of Lost Maps; Miles Harvey, 10
The Navigator; Morris West, 10
The Road to Ubar; Nicholas Clapp, 11
Time’s Witness; Michael Malone, 11
Total Recall; Sahah Paretsky, 12
Under Fire; W.E.B. Griffin, 12
Washington; Meg Greenfield, 13
We Band of Angels; Elizabeth M. Norton, 13
Welcome to the World, Baby Girl; Fannie Flagg, 13
A Superior Death; Nevada Barr (pb)
Nevada Barr is a U.S. Park Ranger who writes first class mystery stories that star her possible alter ego, Anna Pigeon, a widowed Park ranger. Anna's first love is the desert, but she moves around, and in this one finds herself in Michigan. She spends the winter in Houghton, Michigan, where she works at the Park Service headquarters, and shares a house with her friend Christina and Christina's 5 year old daughter. In the summer, she is stationed on Amygdaloid Island, on Lake Superior. The story is of her adventures during a summer on Superior. The wife of an unpleasant coworker disappears from the scene, and two VERY offbeat Student Conservation Volunteers (their best friend is a cigar smoking Teddy Bear!) decide that her husband has killed her and eaten her! Two men dive to an old wreck, and discover that instead of five corpses that are part of the wreck, there are now six! Anna has to take part in the dangerous dive to investigate, and it turns out the new corpse is that of a newly married Ranger. Anna meets and becomes friends with a number of local people, including a woman who manages a lodge at a nearby resort, and despairs of raising her teen aged daughter. The tale moves through the summer, with the various characters moving in and out of a story that is headed toward a solution of the seemingly motiveless mystery of the body in the wreck. Anna talks regularly by phone with her sister, a psychiatrist, becomes increasingly friendly with the two Volunteers, and Oscar, their bear, and shares lots of wine with the lodge manager. There are apt descriptions of the Park Service, the lives of the workers, and the camaraderie that develops. There are wonderful characterizations, and a fascinating and complicated story that has surprises along the way to a stunning conclusion. A masterful tale, a wonderful outdoors yarn, and touching aspects of love that includes Oscar, the bear, who saves Anna's life!
Barr,N,; A Superior Death; $5.99; 303pp; Avon Books;NY;1994 ISBN 038072362X
Ava's Man; Rick Bragg (pb)
Ava’s man was illiterate Charlie Bundrum, of the Alabama-Georgia Bundrums; the name corrupted from Bondurant, a French Huguenot name. He lived in the foothills, farmed, fished, fought, roofed houses, made corn likker, and married Ada Hamilton. Ava, a black-haired blue-eyed member of a Congregational Holiness family, was well schooled. She fell for Charlie when she was sixteen, and he was seventeen. He had few prospects. Her daddy didn’t think much of him. His reputation, for drinkin, and flirtin, and fightin, was not good ... Ava’s family just said no to Charlie Bundrum and sent him away, and figured he would disappear. He did. They both did. They lied about their ages, and got married in 1920. Ava walked away from the life she had been raised in, and followed an illiterate boy into a strange world. Charlie was the author’s grandfather, a grandfather he never knew. Bragg picked up bits and pieces about his grandfather, and decided to learn all he could about him, and write a book. This is the book, and it is a beautifully told, poignant story of Charlie Bundrum’s life as Ava’s man, of Ava as Charlie’s woman, and of life and times in, and the sociology of a vanished South. They had eight children, lived an unbelievably hardscrabble life much of the time, especially during the Great Depression, loved each other and fought intensely with other, and were both loved deeply by their children. Charlie was a hard working, hard drinking, often drunk, hard fighting man, whose clothes were tattered overalls. Yet he made a wonderful difference in people’s lives, and when he died of liver damage the memorial service attendance was the largest that could be remembered. This fascinating, gritty, touching, recounting of his life, and that of Ava’s, is a remarkably told, unlikely story that held me glued to the pages. And I confess to a large lump in the throat at the end. Again, I am indebted to our middle son for this find.
NOTE: It appears that Bragg has recounted the story of his mother in an earlier book: All Over But The Shoutin. I will certainly read that one too.
Bragg, R.; Ava’s Man;$?; 259pp; Alfred A. Knopf; NY, 2001; ISBN 0375724443
Big Stone Gap; Adriana Trigiani (pb)
In the Blue Ridge Mountains, almost as far southwest as you can get in the state of Virginia, there is the town of Big Stone Gap, a village of Appalachia. This is a first person novel about an Italian woman who grew up in the town in the seventies. It is written by an Italian woman who grew up in the town in the seventies. It is the author’s first novel, but by no means her first writing. She is a recognized creator of TV scripts and plays. Here she has created an interesting character, Ave Maria Mulligan, whose mother was from Italy (Ave speaks Italian reasonably well,) and whose father was Fred Mulligan, who owned the Mutual Pharmacy in Big Stone Gap. When we meet her she is 35 years old, her mother has been dead for a month, and she is a pharmacist who owns Mutual Pharmacy. She is an ardent reader, and great friends with the driver of the local bookmobile. Her life is about to change dramatically. She decides she wants to become a love interest for her very close and dear platonic friend, Theodore Tipton, and is stunned to find that Tipton doesn’t want such a change. Then she discovers that there are many of her mother’s family alive and well in Italy (she had assumed that they were dead). And she finds that a friend, Jack Mack, the boyfriend of Sweet Sue Tinsley is at odds with Sweet Sue, and becoming very interested in Ave Maria. The story follows Ave Maria as she gets entangled with these things, with an unexpected, and startling letter that her mother has left for her, and with a variety of problems in the little mining town. It follows her as she decides to make a drastic change in her life, and as part of the change decides to attempt to meet her mother’s family. It is a delightful story. It shows some first-novel rough edges, and is a bit unbelievable at times. And of course this world of small-town, Appalachia stories has Fannie Flagg as its queen, and Trigiani has far to go along the road to that castle, but she has started very well.
NOTE: Book Club people may be interested (I think) to find two very different addenda. One is a delightful _interview_ of Triagiani by one of her interesting characters, the town librarian and Bookmobile operator, Iva Lou Wade Makin! The other is a set of Reading Group questions and topics for discussion.
Trigiani,A.; Big Stone Gap; $12.95;272pp.; Ballantine;NY;2000; ISBN 0345438329
Dandelion Wine; Ray Bradbury
I hope that you know Bradbury: Poet, teller of magical tales, weaver of fantasy, and writer of science fiction. And I hope you like him. If so, you will probably know this old book which was written in 1945, and you will be able, as I was, to read it again with the perspective that age can bring. It is a look back into a summer of growing up in Waukegan, Ill. - Greentown in the book - in the late twenties. It is the world of 12-year-old Doug Spaulding. As the book starts, Doug, in a private ritual, brings the town to life on the first day of summer, 1928, and later he realizes with amazement that he is alive! He has a mutually wonderful encounter with shoe storeowner, Mr. Sanderson, centering on a brand new pair of sneakers. He plays with his brother and his friends, and he crosses paths with many of Greentown's inhabitants. Leo Auffman tries to invent a Happiness Machine. Old Mrs. Bentley tries desperately to convince two girls that she was once young, and they absolutely refuse to believe it. Miss Fern, and Miss Roberta, are horrified about what they see as a hit and run that they were responsible for when they were driving their electric cart, the Green Machine. Young Bill Forrester, and 95-year-old Mrs. Loomis, develop an unexpected friendship that is magically rewarding for both. Mrs. Goodwater takes up witchcraft. And of course Doug and his brother help pick dandelions so that Grandfather can make dandelion wine. I think the reader will be entranced as she moves from vignette to vignette, and the golden remembrances pile up with an occasional sprinkling of fantasy. All is not idyllic however, and there are several scenes that are chilling. In one, Doug is late coming home, and for good reasons his mother becomes terrified that something has happened to him. When I read this as a young man, that was not of much impact. Now, as an old(er) man having experienced parenthood, I found it a terrifying experience. All in all, Bradbury expresses it best (naturally) in the Introduction written in 1978: "Dandelion Wine is nothing if it is not the boy-hid-in-the-man playing in the fields of the Lord on the green grass of other Augusts..."
NOTE: (apropos of nothing) I think that the most enchanting title I have encountered is that of one of Bradbury's books: The Golden Apples of the Sun.
Bradbury,R.; Dandelion Wine;$15;267pp;William Morrow;NY;2001(reprint); ISBN 0380977265
Day of Confession; Allan Folsom
566 pages of suspense, surprise, and violent action that tells a riveting, complex story that held this reader captive to the end. Harry Addison is a successful lawyer in Hollywood. His estranged brother, Daniel, is a priest in the Vatican, assistant to the Cardinal who heads the finance group. Harry finds a desperate message on his voice mail from Daniel, but is unable to reach his brother. Then he is informed that Daniel was killed in the explosion of a tour bus in Italy. He goes to Italy to bring back his brother for burial, and finds that Daniel is believed to have carried out the recent assassination of the Cardinal Vicar of Rome. Then he discovers that the body he is to identify is not that of Daniel, and he ends up captured and kidnapped. Ultimately, by luck, he escapes, finds himself wanted by the police, and with unexpected help changes identity, and sets out to find his brother. The police of Rome, the Vatican Police, and a psychopathic killer employed by a Vatican Cardinal (yes, there is an evil plot in the Vatican) are also anxious to find Daniel. The novel follows the twists and turns of finding Daniel, evading the police, trying to stop the poisoning of millions of people in China, and rescuing, from the Vatican, the Cardinal for whom Daniel had worked, and whose confession to Daniel had started the whole thing. I told you it was complicated! It is also a great yarn if you like the type. I do. Mind you, there is a HOST of characters; in fact the author starts the book with a list of 28 of them! There are too many bits and pieces of extraneous action, one of the sins of a relatively new author (one successful previous novel). In essence, a good editor would have helped I think. I liked it regardless.
Folsom,A.; Day of Confession;$25;566pp;Little Brown;NY;1998; ISBN 0316287555
Death in Paradise; Robert B. Parker
This is the latest in Parker’s series starring Jesse Stone, former L.A. Detective, an alcoholic, and currently chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts. A young girl is found shot, and floating in the nearby lake. The story is about the investigation of the murder. It is also about the struggles that Jesse has with alcohol and with his feelings about his ex-wife who is a local TV person. It is also about his ex-wife. Parker is getting really gung-ho about psychotherapy, and he has two pretty disturbed characters here in Stone and his ex-wife. Lots of two line dialog; a fast read. Fair story. The last one I shall read in the series.
NOTE: There is a new picture of Parker on the back cover,. He is getting a tad heavy.
Parker,R.B.; Death in Paradise;$23.95;294pp;G.P. Putnam’s Sons;NY;2001;ISBN 0399147799
Fall From Grace; Andrew M. Greeley
I would not normally have included this book in these comments. I (a non-Catholic) read, and thoroughly enjoy the Chicago-Irish stories of Father Greeley, and his incisive, often acerbic comments about politics and infighting in the Catholic Church, but I don’t note them unless they are very different. This is an old book that I have read before, but as I reread it during a recent illness I was struck by the prescience of the writer. This novel was written in 1993, and an important element in the story is the legal attempt by two parents to have the Chicago Archdiocese admit to the molestation of their child by a priest, and the tremendous efforts of those in charge to cover the whole thing, even by denigration of the parents! It is clear from the book that the problem in the Church was widespread even nine years ago. During the period I was reading the book, the TV was busy with the current, mushrooming Church scandal concerning pedophilic priests, and what seems to be the Church’s unfortunate reactions to the occurrences. The story is told, as is common in Greeley’s stories, via chapters that are first person accounts by the characters in the tale. There are, again as usual, several stories that interweave. There is the story of unrequited love that involves Kathleen Donahue and psychiatrist Kieran O’Carrigan; the account of the disintegration of Kathleen Donahue’s marriage when she finds her very abusive husband, Brien, has a male lover; the story of Bishop James Leary, brother of Kathleen, and best friend of Brien; and the story of the attempts of two parishioners to have the Archdiocese set up a review board to prevent pedophilic priests from being transferred from parish to parish. The latter story could have been written yesterday; ALL the ingredients that are currently under discussion are recounted in this nine year old book, including _cover up at all cost_ reactions, and the hardball strategy of legally trying to put the blame on the victims. The novel is basically a good, if sometimes distressing, love story. There are several superficial bits, including one on Satanism, that contribute nothing to the story, and should have been left out, but the tale does not suffer from them.
Greeley,A.M.; Fall From Grace;$22.95;367pp;G.P. Putnam’s Sons; NY; 1993; ISBN 0399137238
Fugitive Pieces; Anne Michaels, (pb)
Michaels is a poet who has here written an unusual novel that seems to have won six (lower scale) awards and is described as _THE #1 INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING NOVEL._
It starts as a first person narrative by Jakob Beer, who tells of the Germans killing his family in 1940, in Poland, when he was seven, and of his hiding in the bogs near Biskupin. He sees a lone individual, and approaches him. The man, Athos, a Greek geologist, smuggles the boy out of Poland in his car, and they finally end up at Athos’ place in Greece. That too is under German occupation. In an almost randomly directed, rambling account, we are told of the horrors of the atrocities committed by the Germans, of the continuing thoughts of Jakob about his family, especially his sister, Bella, and about his life with Athos who becomes his mentor in language, science, and life. We follow them to Canada, and again experience Jakob’s exposure to a new environment, his marriage, his activities, Athos’ death, his divorce and remarriage, and his completion of a book that Athos was writing about the Holocaust. Beer becomes a writer, and poet. In the midst of the book, with no warning, another first person narrative, by a different writer, takes up a story that begins after Beer and his wife are killed by a car in Athens. The writer goes to Greece, to Athos’ family home where Beers had also spent time. There is no plot to this story, which is called a novel, but which is rather a series of retrospections and introspections, combined with a description of the feelings that developed upon exposure to new environments while still suffering from emotional trauma. It is very different. It is remarkable prose indeed that of a poet. It is fascinating, and disturbing. I had difficulty reading it emotions can run high. It is not light reading, nor is it entertaining in the casual sense. It is powerful, and not for everyone; in fact, not quite for me.
Fugitive Pieces; Michaels,A.;$12;194pp; Vintage Books; NY; 1998; ISBN 0679776591
Funeral in Blue; Anne Perry (series)
The latest in her Victorian London crime series starring William Monk, private investigator, and his wife, Hestor, a nurse. Two women are found murdered in the studio of a well-known artist. One is an artist’s model; the other is the wife of a well-known surgeon, Kristian Beck, who emigrated from Bohemia. He is quickly the main suspect. Hestor knows Beck; she has assisted him in operations at a hospital where she is a volunteer. Her best friend, also Monk’s good friend, Lady Callandra Daviott who also acts as a volunteer in the hospital, is deeply in love with Beck, but has never disclosed it to him. Lady Callandra asks Monk to look into the case, and Monk, to his distress, finds himself back in contact with an old police colleague, once a friend, but the friendship broke off abruptly, and acrimoniously, some years before. Runcorn realizes that Monk may have contacts that he could use, so there is a very uneasy truce as the two men begin to work together again gingerly. Beck is charged with the crimes, and his wife’s father, also an _migr_, and an attorney, agrees to defend him. The story follows Monk and Runcom as they investigate the case, and tells of the trial of Kristian Beck. The story is taut and interesting, with a surprise ending. The interplay between Runcom and Monk is very well done, as are the other characterizations. Another first rate yarn about Monk and Hestor.
Perry,A.; Funeral in Blue;$25;344pp;Ballantine;NY; 2001; ISBN 034544013
God: A Biography; Jack Miles (NF)
A truly mind boggling book that took me eons to read through and think about. Miles is a former priest, an erudite scholar, and a writer with a fascinating approach to a discussion of God. In his words: “I write here about the life of the Lord God as - and only as - the protagonist of a classic of world literature; namely the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Much as people have analyzed Hamlet. And so he does. He follows the development of God in the books of the Hebrew Bible, his developing awareness of mankind, his changing of interests in man, his various personas through history, the feelings of the Jews for God, and the varying feelings of God for the Jews. It is a step-by-step travel through the books of the Bible, with fascinating detail and fascinating views of the stories being told. The protagonist is God, the Lord God, the God of Abraham etc., and each persona is a different one. His love for, and quarrels with Moses and the Israelites, is outlined with fascinating viewpoints. Many ‘true Christians’ will be appalled by the book, because they will totally misunderstand what the author is doing, and may also be taken aback by what the Bible says. And relative to the current battles in the Mid East - read the author’s account of Numbers, then go back and read the complete text! The author is very kind toward the reader: he regularly summarizes, pithily, points he has made earlier, before extending them in his current text. I found it hard going, and utterly fascinating. I am indebted to John Hood for drawing it to my attention. There are good notes, and a good index. It is an impressive work.
Miles,J.; God: A Biography; $27.50;446pp; Alfred A. Knopf; NY; 1995; ISBN 0679418334
Gunman's Rhapsody; Robert B. Parker
Parker has been writing private eye and police stories, and he is good at it, most of the time. He writes the Spenser novels for example. He seems to have had a deep desire to write cowboy stories, or at least this cowboy story. It is the story of the adult Wyatt Earp, and his brothers, and their stay in Dodge. I violated my own rule: I did not read 100 pages. It didn’t connect with me at all. I don’t even know if the story includes the corral shoot out! Sorry. I do understand the compulsion that might have driven Parker to this theme. I hope it is out of his system.
Parker,R.B.; Gunman’s Rhapsody;$22.95;290pp; G.P.Putnam_s Sons;NY;2001; ISBN0399147624
Hawaii's Story: By Hawaii's Queen; Liliuokalani pb (NF)
Queen Liliuokalani wrote this book in 1898. It was her plea for justice as she saw it - a restoration to Hawaiians of their country, which had been annexed by the U.S.A. She died in 1917, still waiting for justice. The book is a fascinating historical autobiography that details life in the Islands in the 19th century, the actions and problems of the monarchs, and the overthrow of the monarchy. All of it is the first person view of events from the author’s point of view. The reader must bear in mind that this may not be a dispassionate account of events! History disagrees with Liliuokalani at times, but one must also bear in mind that History is written by the winners. I must say that I mostly side with the Queen. I find this a sad book, and a sad commentary on the history of relations between Hawaii and Washington. There are detailed appendices that include long genealogies
Liliuokalani; Hawaii's Story ;$6.95;409pp;Mutual Publishing; Honolulu; 1990 (orig. 1898)
Honest Doubt; Amanda Cross
Touted as a 'Kate Fansler' novel. Fansler is the academic detective in the erudite murder mysteries written By Professor Caroline Heilbrun under the name Amanda Cross. This novel is a VAST change from all the others I have read in the series. The first-person narrator is Estelle Woodhaven. Woodie, as we are told she is called, is a fat, motorcycle-riding, private investigator. She has been hired by the Clifton College English Department to look into the death of Professor Haycock, an authority on Victorian Literature. Somebody put an overdose of his heart medication in his drink at a faculty party in his home. Woodie discovers she is out of her league in dealing with academe, and gets Kate Fansler as a consultant. She - they - work through the problem, with lots of passing jabs at academic peccadilloes. I found it not a good change in format, and not a very interesting book. Never thought I’d put down an Amanda Cross book, but you can skip this one.
Cross,A.; Honest Doubt;$22;259pp; Ballantine Books;NY; 2000; ISBN 0345440110
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History; Erik Larson
The book was recommended by an Internet, book-forum friend. The storm is the September 8, 1900 hurricane that wrecked Galveston, killed 6000 people, and wiped out the potentially brilliant economic future of the city. In Galveston, Isaac Monroe Cline was the head of the Texas Section of the U.S. Weather Bureau. The latter was a relatively new government organization. Cline was an amazing man, not only widely read in the world of meteorology, and the ‘science’ of storms, but an MD. who worked for his degree in his spare time! The unbelievably powerful September storm had begun developing intensity in the Caribbean, touched Cuba, and then passed Florida on its way to the Gulf, and to Galveston. The storm did not behave like any other storm, and it was missed by every U.S. group responsible for tracking and predicting storms. Isaac and his brother Joseph, who worked for Isaac in Galveston, also missed it. This first class historical story details the technical development and maturation of the storm, the actions and inactions of the Weather Bureau as well as the horrendous bureaucratic politics there, and tells of Isaac, his wife and children, Joseph, and a number of specific individuals and families that the storm affected. It is also a carefully detailed examination of the development of meteorology, and the increasing awareness of the great danger in powerful storms. There is a fascinating account of the crucial role of a major hurricane in the life of Columbus! It is a powerful story about a powerful storm, about weakness and courage, about hate and love as the author tells it. The reader is caught up in the inevitable tragedies, and suffers with the people who experience them. The author is meticulous in describing the geophysics of the storm, and the almost minute-by-minute development of the weather in the area. He is more speculative about the perceptions, feelings, and some actions of his characters. Much is chosen from after-the-fact reports, including a special report by Isaac, and a good story is woven on the loom of the author’s imagination. The author includes copious notes, and a bibliography, and he has done a great deal of research (an index would have been a nice addition.) I would be interested to hear any reader’s impression of the author’s picture of Isaac and his brother. Let me also observe that the subtitle is essentially misleading. The storm was the worst in the US, but certainly not the worst cyclone by far. It MAY have been the worst storm labeled ‘hurricane’, but that seems hair splitting.
Larsen,E.; Isaac's Storm;$?; 445pp [large print]; Crown Publishers; NY; 1999; ISBN [large print] 0783889321
Morning Song; Elizabeth B. Rooney (pb)
A friend loaned this little volume of poems to Bette. I generally do not read poetry, but at Bette’s suggestion I read this and was greatly taken by it. In fact I have ordered a copy. It is privately printed, so it is not to be found (generally) in a bookstore. Check the Internet. It is a collection of small, short poems, many of which are clearly religious, many of which are subtly so, and some of which are sheer exuberance. They center on the world around us. I enjoyed them. Elizabeth Rooney seems to have found her talent late in life, and while the poems are not in the category of Great, I would be delighted if I had Rooney’s gift. Inspiring - and even a little fun at times. Note the first stanza of Epitaph: "I hope it will be said/ When I am dead, /"She wrote good poems/ And she made good bread" "
Rooney,E.B.; Morning Song; $12.95; 105pp; Brigham Farm Publishing;Blue Mounds, WI; 2001
Officer of the Court; Bill Mesce, Jr.
As the cover says, this is a novel of WWII, and it is dandy, taut novel of suspense and action. An American legal officer, Armando Grassi, is found dead in the Orkney Islands, off Scotland, when he should have been at his duty station in Greenland. The Army's Criminal Investigation Division assigns a young Captain to investigate the death, and the Captain asks the aid of Maj. Harry Voss, who knew Grassi in London when they were both with the JAG there. Voss is home, on leave, but decides to help the Captain investigate the case. The realistically described quest takes them to Greenland, Scotland, London, and Italy. Joining them in the quest is a British newsman, and an American officer on leave from combat in Italy. Gradually it appears that the death is related to secret night flights between Greenland and the British Isles, and that there is a very high level desire to quash the investigation. It is good story telling, and a good story. Almost all the story is in the third person, but there are occasional, unannounced, first person commentaries by the newsman. These seem to me to be irritating, and avoidable. I was impressed by the author's knowledge of arcane details of combat conditions in WWII, but the back of the book contains an impressive research bibliography, and a list of people he interviewed. Nice piece of work.
Mesce,B.; Officer of the Court;$23.95;431pp; Bantam Books;NY; 2001; ISBN 0553801783
Parallel Lies; Ridley Pearson
This is a smart cat and smart mouse chase. Umberto Alvarez is a man whose wife and child were killed by a Northern Union Train. Convinced that the rail line was at fault, he sued. His attorney was then found murdered, and Alvarez was a suspect. He vanished, but developed a plan to cause vast trouble for the head of Northern Union. Part of the plan involved causing derailments, and as the story opens, Alvarez is busy at a successful derailment program. He is riding a boxcar when another man climbs on, and attacks him. Alvarez kills the attacker, and dumps him off the train, leaving a boxcar with lots of blood. Peter Tyler, an ex homicide cop who lost his job for beating a suspect, and who was offered a job by the National Transportation Safety Board to check the bloody boxcar, shows up at the scene. So does Nell Priest, a high-ranking female investigator for the railroad's security division. The story follows the two as they work the problem with very different agenda, find the body, gradually learn that the railroad people are concealing things from both of them, pick up a trail to Alvarez, and get romantically entangled. The story also follows Alvarez as he moves toward his final coup de grace for the railroad, which makes for a riveting climax. The story alternates between the two story lines. It is a suspense thriller, with interesting characterization, and a somewhat off-beat ending. Another of Pearson’s entertaining yarns.
Pearson,R.; Parallel Lies;$23.95;356pp; Hyperion;NY;2001; ISBN 0786865644
Secret Weapon: U.S. High-Frequency Direction Finding in the Battle of the Atlantic; Kathleen Broome Williams (NF)
This is a technical history, and is a specialist’s book. There are several readers who might like to know of it, so I write this brief note. High frequency (HF) means here 3 to 30 megahertz. Direction finding (DF) is locating the direction (bearing) to a radio transmitter. The equipment used was labeled HF/DF, and known colloquially as ‘Huff Duff’. Ms. Williams, who is said to be a Naval Historian, and who teaches at a college of Criminal Justice, believes that the HF/DF technology played an important, unrecognized role in the Battle of the Atlantic against D'nitz's U-boats, and she narrates the problem, the development of the technology, the implementation of the technology, and the results. The story ranges over several countries, several inventors, and several equipment manufacturers, and discusses the development, acquisition, and training problems involved with respect to the U.S. Navy's use of the gear. It is an interesting story, not told very well, of what I feel was a relatively minor contribution to the North Atlantic war against the U-boats. I shall leave it to the reader to decide if the author's many statements about how valuable it was are borne out by her evidence. The story is reentrant at times, repetitive, and could have used quite a bit of rewriting and editing. I am surprised at the Naval Institute Press. There is no glossary; one would have been helpful I feel. There is a list of interviews, references, and a good set of notes. There is a somewhat shoddy index, which, among other things, lists Sam Tucker, who was then a Lt. Cdr. as a Lt. Col. Surely not the author's best work.
Williams,K.B.; Secret Weapon; $?; 289pp; Naval Institute Press; Annapolis; 1996;ISBN 1557509352
Skipping Christmas; John Grisham
Hard to believe: Another no-lawyer-in-sight book by Grisham. This small book is the story of what happened when Luther and Nora Krank decided to skip Christmas activities. Luther is a tax accountant. He and Nora live on Hemlock Street, in a small city, and as the story starts they have just put their daughter Blair on a plane that will take her to Miami, thence to Peru as a member of the Peace Corps. Back home, Luther examines the money they spent on the activities associated with last Christmas. When he sees it was more that $6000, he decides that this year he and Nora should simply forgo all the Christmas stuff, including a Christmas tree, and go on a cruise. He convinces Nora, and they get cruise tickets - departure on Christmas day. Then the story wryly skewers all the commercial and social frenzy, which has become attached to Christmas, by simply recounting all the problems that the Kranks encounter, in a fairly close community with established traditions, when they decide to opt out. It is funny, and it strikes a bit close in spots. Then, having canceled everything, at the last minute they hear from Blair that she is coming for Christmas with her new, Peruvian fiancÚ, and she wants him to see how traditional Christmas is. How to cope?
A light, brief story that does a good job on the enveloping customs of Christmas, but also a bit weak otherwise. Grisham can do much better.
Grisham,J.; Skipping Christmas;$19.95;177pp;Doubleday;NY; 2001; ISBN 0385505833
Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years; Haynes Johnson (NF)
An eleven year old, very perceptive, morbidly fascinating account of the Reagan Years, the people involved, and the disasters of that period, by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. In these Enron days, it is depressing to see that many of the current problems are essentially traceable to the type of atmosphere that Reagan brought to Washington, and the crippling of the SEC that he permitted. Those years were the period of extensive efforts in deregulation, and a vanishing of corporate ethics. Johnson gives, I think a good picture of Reagan, a man of limited intellect, a few strong beliefs, and a disinterest in anything beyond those beliefs. It was that disinterest that led to the scandals that rocked his administration, and to the fact that people forgave him! His comment was that he "didn't know!" The book discusses in detail the major problems, including the almost unbelievable ability of Oliver North to con the whole country. Discouraging reading about a man whose tenure in Washington is still causing major troubles. Be sure to read Johnson's summary at the end, and think back over the intervening eleven years.
Johnson,H.; Sleepwalking Through History; 524pp; W.W. Norton & Co.; NY; 1991; ISBN 0393029379
Smoke In Mirrors; Jayne Ann Krentz
A tad different from most of Krentz's Romances. It involves more than one couple, and it is a particularly interesting murder mystery. Krentz has expanded from her more classic Romances that feature two protagonists who are vastly different, often initially antagonists, usually estranged from their families, and involved in a mystery whose resolution leads them together. In this one, Leonora Hutton has come to town to bury her friend Merideth, a con artist, who was killed in an accident. While cleaning out Merideth's apartment, she is accosted by Thomas Walker who says that Merideth had embezzled one and a half million dollars from the Bethany Walker Fund; a college endowment fund set up by Deke Walker, Thomas's brother, in honor of his wife who had been killed some years earlier in an accident. Walker wants the money back, and feels that Leonora was probably an accomplice of Merideth's. Leonora gets a delayed letter from Merideth with information about the money, and returns it to Walker in return for a promise to help her look into Merideth's death, which she feels was not just an accident. Deke Walker also feels that the death of Merideth was not an accident, nor was Bethany's, but no one will take him seriously. Gradually a complicated story unfolds, as it seems that both Bethany and Merideth had been examining the years-earlier murder of a professor at Eubanks College. The novel neatly follows several stories as the various characters unravel the threads connecting several murders. I enjoyed it. Maybe Krentz is moving more toward novels than classical Romances although she clings to many of her Romance set pieces including steamy love scenes, although they are somewhat toned down. She could have skipped Leonora's aunt, and placed less emphasis on a creepy house with mirrors, but it is an intriguing yarn.
NOTE: I confess. Ever since discovering the prolific Krentz about six months ago, I have become addicted to her Romances! Possibly a sign that the old man has finally gone round the bend. More likely (I hope) that in that period, I really needed escape, and these are well told, guaranteed "happily ever after" stories, with mystery thrown in.
Krentz;J.A.; smoke in mirrors;$23.95;321pp;G.P. Putnam_s Sons;NY;2002; ISBN 0399147926
Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Robert D. Kaplan (pb) (NF)
Kaplan is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, and writes travel books, but not the type you immediately think of. He writes of his travels to very different parts of the world. He wrote this book when he was fairly new at the business. It was finished in 1988, published in 1990, and is here republished (in a somewhat different form) with a new Introduction, and a long additional chapter written in 2000 (with slight modifications added in 2001). The book is concerned with the Mujahidin, their composition, and their war against the invading Russians, as well as the significant role that Pakistan played in the scenario. The author spent time in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan, and describes the country, the tribes, tribal relationships, and a large number of the people he met. I found it hard, at times, to keep track of the large number of players. He met, and spent time with Hamid Karzai, who is currently trying to put Afghanistan together again, but he spends much more time discussing other leaders, most of whom I have not heard of in the present time. He was very bitter about his impression that foreign journalists, including Americans, pretty much ignored making an effort to understand what was going on in Afghanistan. He comments that America ignored the war, except to secretly supply a vast amount of arms for use against Russia. The long, last chapter he wrote in 2000, and published it in the Atlantic Monthly. It too is very interesting; I had not realized that Pakistan set up the Taliban to take over Afghanistan. It is not easy reading, and is at times just a bit confusing, but it is a great portrayal of the country, its problems, its mindsets, its various tribes, and levels of Muslim beliefs and attitudes towards the West. Very informative for anyone interested in the background of much of what is going on in that part of the world today. He notes that there are opinions that Pakistan is a potential Yugoslavia - becoming ripe for a possible implosion. Scary thought. There is a fairly good Index, which does not cover the last chapter.
Kaplan,R.D.; Soldiers of God;$14.95;278pp; Random House; NY; 2001; ISBN 1400030250
Spy Catcher:The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer; Peter Wright (NF)
This relatively old book is Wright's story of the activities of the British Security Service (MI5) and the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) during the period 1945 to 1976. He was a technology specialist in MI5 from 1955 to his retirement in 1976, and was for a while the Assistant Director of that agency. The book is interesting, but perhaps only to those who are somewhat familiar with that arcane history, which includes efforts in the Cold War. It probably contains more information than the reader ever wanted to know. It is certainly a self-serving narrative, and the problem is as in all such accounts that the reader has no way of knowing the real facts of the matter! It is an account of how pitifully incompetent both MI5 and MI6 were, and their difficulties in cooperating, and a scary account about how "appearance" was more important than security. Admitting that people like Philby and Blount could be spies was more than the Brits could stomach. It is a somewhat non productive rehash of old things, with some new things thrown in, and Wright continues his belief that the most important mole in MI5 was Sir Roger Hollis, head of MI5! There are some interesting comments on relationships with the CIA during the time when Angleton was active. A specialist's book, noted here because of a personal interest.
NOTE: Although there have been a large number of "revelations" about the "third or fourth or fifth" man associated with the Cambridge spy nest, there is (as far as I know) no other book that can be compared to this one. I think Wright is the only one who got to such a high level, and then wrote a book. So, unfortunately, there is no way to judge the historical veracity of this account.
Wright; P.;Spy Catcher; $1995;391pp;Viking Penguin;NY;1987 ISBN 0670820555
Tepper Isn't Going Out; Calvin Trillin
Trillin is, of course, the quintessential New Yorker, and he has here written a very short novel about a quintessential New York problem: Parking. I called it a novel because that is what the cover and title page say. The reader will find it to be a seemingly plotless narrative about events that happen to and around Murray Tepper, who spends a lot of time parked on the streets of New York, reading a newspaper until the time on the meter is up. People, looking for a space, stop only to find Tepper is 'not going out. They are infuriated. Tepper's daughter begins to worry about him, and communicates the concern to friends, who begin to worry too, and try to get him to take some counseling. Then a fledgling reporter hears about Tepper, and writes an article about him in a neighborhood publication. A number of people who have read the article look for Tepper, and want to talk to him. Gradually the number increases until there is quite a line at his car. At one point a disturbance occurs, and the police come. The mayor, a dead on version of Giuliani in the early days, decides that this has to stop, and takes action. Pretty soon Tepper is front page, and has an increasing number of supporters. He ends up in court. One follows the story from Tepper's point of view, and via the perception of a close friend, the viewpoint of an advisor to the mayor, and the observations of newspaper columnist. We find that Tepper has a wife, and we see her briefly, but she is mostly absent. There is what is clearly a satisfactory conclusion, and then the reader is brought up short in the last few pages, and may even read back through parts of the book! An interesting, ambiguous end note that may make the reader suspect that there really is a plot! Uneven in spots, but good fun.
Trillin,C.; Tepper Isn't Going Out; $22.95;213pp; Random House; NY; 2001; ISBN 0375506764
The English Patient; Michael Ondaatje (pb)
This well known book is one of the most hypnotic reads that I have encountered for a long time. The scene is a damaged and abandoned monastery in Italy. The time is near the end of WWII, and the Germans have been driven from the area. The monastery was, for a while, a hospital operated by Canadian nurses, but the British withdrew, and moved the hospital. One of the patients, 'the English patient,’ refused to leave, and his Canadian nurse, Hana, refused to leave him. So when the story gets underway, Hana and her patient are the sole occupants of the place. The patient was very badly burned in an aircraft crash in the desert, and his identity is unknown. He is believed to be English, but that is not provable. He is lucid, and talks, and has a phenomenal memory for locales and literature. To the monastery comes an unexpected visitor: Carravagio, former thief, a friend of Hana's father in Toronto, and a man who has known her as a child. A bit later, there appears Kip, a Sikh, an ordnance expert who is serving as a sapper and munitions defuser. The story circles around and among these three in the present and the past. I thought it a breathtaking exposition of unusual and familiar situations and emotions. It is almost lyrical at times, and when I saw that the author is also a poet I was not surprised. It is a very emotional read, with complicated depths, and left this reader enthralled to the last page. I felt somewhat wrung out emotionally. Be sure to read the Acknowledgments in the back. I was startled to find a portion of the story involved a lost Oasis whose name I had encountered in a book about the Queen of Sheba. Small world. Good story. It was a Booker prizewinner. I shall read more of Ondaatje’s works.
Ondaatje,M.; The English Patient;$13;305pp; Vintage Books; NY; 1992; ISBN 067974520
The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime; Miles Harvey (pb) (NF)
I heard an interesting review of this book several months ago, and put it on my ‘read someday’ list. Serendipity and our middle son combined to provide the book, and I read it. I found it spellbinding reading. Harvey, a magazine correspondent, tells of a thief, Gilbert Bland, a mild, unnoticeable individual, almost chameleon in appearance and persona, who was (is still, probably) a stealer of rare maps from books in rare book libraries. Harvey became aware of the man’s existence in 1995 via a newspaper article that mentioned the man’s apprehension at the Peabody Rare Book Library in Baltimore. The book, starting with that event, chronicles the life, activities, and personas of Bland as Harvey gradually uncovered them, and depicts also the author’s gradually developing, very deep obsession with Bland, who would never meet with him. Along the way, the author notes fascinating and remarkable facts about the development of cartography, his growing fascination with maps and the world of collectors, a number of key players in the world of collecting, rare book libraries, librarians, historical commentaries on the use of maps by past explorers, etc.. It is remarkable how rare book librarians almost uniformly don’t want to know about losses from their collections! All of this could have been a real mishmash, but Harvey seamlessly integrates the themes into his narrative. I learned many things I did not know about many explorers, including Columbus! I was a tad distressed at Harvey’s gradual candid evaluation of himself and his obsession, with lots of comments that border on pop psychology, but do seem pretty valid. It is an intriguing, complex, deceptively deep book that kept me riveted to the pages. And to think that I might have missed it!
NOTE: The book has a very good index, and superb notes. The reader should note the latter, because otherwise she might be unaware of them, and they are very interesting. They are listed with page headings, and are readily accessed. The title of the book is extremely clever, and neatly divulged about halfway through the story. There are interesting, but relatively poor quality illustrations.
Harvey.M.; The Island of Lost Maps;$?; 405pp; Random House; NY; 2000; ISBN 0375501517
The Navigator; Morris West
To my surprise, I found that I did not know this old book of West’s. My son loaned it to me, and I read it slowly with interest. It is a fascinating tale. Gunnar Thorkild, Ph.D., and expert on Polynesia, its language and its culture, is the son of a Norwegian sailor, and a Polynesian woman, and teaches in Hawaii. His grandfather is Kaloni, The Navigator. From Kaloni, Thorkild has heard of the lost island, the island where Chiefs and Navigators go to die. He convinces a local millionaire to make his ship available for a trip during which they will pick up Kaloni, who is going to the lost island to die, and will guide them most of the way to the island. They set sale with a very diverse group of men and women, pick up Kaloni who transfers his mana to Thorkild, as his successor, and after sending Kaloni off alone in a canoe, they begin to follow him to the island. They are wrecked there by a bad storm. They have no available communications. The bulk of the tale then follows the group, which essentially becomes a tribe with Thorkild as chief. West, as usual, portrays strong pictures of his characters, and the interactions, problems, loves, hates and tragedies are very real, and even painful at times. Life on the island is pictured strongly for the reader. There is a running thread of mysticism which becomes quite normal in the tale. Mind you, this is neither a classic derring-do adventure tale or a ’happily ever after’ story. This reader found anguishing moments with the group of castaways, but it was impossible to put it down.
West,M.; The Navigator; 304pp; William Morrow, & Co.; NY; 1976
The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands; Nicholas Clapp (pb) (NF) I bought the book because of the title. I am a pushover for quest yarns, and when the quest yarn involves the desert, and an archaeological attempt to determine the truth of a legend, I am putty in the author’s hands. I was also somewhat aware of the successful efforts and discoveries of the author and his colleagues. Clapp is a maker of documentary films, and he and Kay, his wife, ended up on a plane delivering several oryxes to the Sultan of Oman from the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. The Oryx had vanished from its natural habitat - Oman - and the Sultan wanted to try restoring the creatures. Clapp was filming the odyssey, and he and his wife were utterly fascinated by the desert world of the southern Arabian Peninsula. As Kay said later “A reason, we need a reason, a way to go back.” Clapp found it as he became obsessed with the legendary vanished city of Ubar. The book recounts the author’s initial interest in the few historical and many legendary discussions of Ubar, his seeking of archaeological information via satellite mapping by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JAL), the developing interest of experts in the various fields, the search for funding, and the expeditions to a still very unexplored part of the world in Yemen and Oman. The author is a very good storyteller, and this reader was caught up in the spell cast by his words. He and his colleagues were, in fact, successful in locating Ubar or let me say that their arguments convince me they were. And I’ll bet you will be convinced too after reading this magical, exciting, unusual story. Great story ( if you like this sort of thing of course!) This scholarly work has a good set of notes, a good bibliography, and a just adequate index. I was intrigued to find that the animal (Oryx) that brought the Clapps to Arabia in the first place, is not indexed. I DO have a critical _thing_ about indexes!
Clapp,N.; The Road to Ubar;$14;342pp.; Houghton Mifflin Co.; NY;1998; ISBN 0395957869
Time’s Witness; Michael Malone (pb)
Until, by chance, I picked up a paperback copy of this thirteen year old novel, I had never heard of Michael Malone. I have been missing a striking writer. This is formally a police procedural, but that structure is used to tell a far broader and deeper story. The first person narrator is Cuddy Magnum, chief of police in the quiet, upscale, Piedmont town of Hillston, North Carolina. Cuddy, as he says, has no ‘class’, i.e. an old family tree and good looks; but he has brains. On the other hand, his very close friend, and chief of Homicide, Justin Savile V, is one of the upper crust in Carolina society. But he has brains too. As the story starts, George Hall, a black man whom Cuddy had arrested in a homicide case seven years ago, was to be executed, but the governor grants a 4 week stay of execution. Shortly after that, Hall’s brother, Cooper, is murdered, and Magnum and Savile start to work the case, which has strong racial overtones. In the meantime, Isaac Rosethorne, Hillston’s legal genius, and Cuddy’s longtime friend and mentor, sets out to obtain a new trial for Hall, and ultimately gets one. The story gets complicated as two more killings occur, the Comptroller of the town kills himself, an ex cop, released from prison, stalks Cuddy, and gradually appears to be involved in the killings, Cuddy has an affair with the wife of the man who is going to run for governor of the state, and the new trial for George Hall gets underway. The story is compelling. Not only is the complicated plot unfolded well, but there is remarkably convincing characterization, and an impressive, panoramic presentation of Southern society in the late eighties, including racial problems and prejudices, and politics. Cuddy, a seeker of justice, is not part of the Southern upper class, but is accepted by it, and the reader sees it through the eyes of a knowledgeable observer. Malone is a gifted storyteller, and a remarkable observer of his native Southern culture, its structure and its mores. There are a large number of characters, and that, as well as the content, makes this a book to read, not skim. And it is truly worth reading. As one _cover_ reviewer says: It is a novel _... of time, of place, of history, and of hope..._
Malone,M.; Time_s Witness; $5.95; 581pp; Pocketbooks; NY; 1991; ISBN 0671703188
Total Recall; Sahah Paretsky (series)
This book is the latest one starring V.I. Warshawski (Vicky), the private eye with a Polish name, and a fluency in Italian! As usual, there are really several stories here. One has to do with an insurance case that Vicky is hired to investigate. When a woman tries to claim her husband’s insurance, she is told the claim had already been paid. A second has to do with the concept of the restoration of childhood memories by a psychologist; her client is a young man whose ‘restored’ memories revealed that his ‘father’ was in fact a Nazi war criminal. And the third is the past history of Vicky’s friend and mentor, Dr. Lottie Hershel, who was transported to London as a child refugee, before WWII and the Holocaust. The latter two stories are intimately entwined. Lottie almost goes into shock by some things the young man talks about, and there are periodic flashbacks to her story during the war years and after. The young man says there is a connection of his past life to Lottie’s. Warshawski tries to determine whether the young man’s memories are real or ‘implanted’ by his therapist, and to find out what are the memories that are about to drive Lottie around the bend. And of course she has to work the insurance problem, which, gradually, as she looks into the business of the insurance company, comes to be somewhat related to the other two cases, in the time frame if nothing else. It is an involved, somewhat disjointed, but gripping story, that is also a powerful comment on past and present society, and far more sweeping in scope than this short note might indicate. The Holocaust looms over the stories, and can be uncomfortable in its presence. A good, and different one in the series, but not for everyone.
NOTE: I am impressed with the research that went into this book and is described at the beginning. I think, however, that some of this caused the book to be considerably longer than it might have been.
Total Recall; Paretsky;S.; $25.95;414pp; Random House; NY; 2001; ISBN 0385313667
Under Fire; W.E.B. Griffin (series)
The latest in Griffin’s series about the Marine Corps. It is his ninth in this series, and that is the number that he wrote in his _Brotherhood of War_ series. It is another good historical novel of men at war. The war in this case is the Korean War, and the characters are all those we have come to know very well during the series. However, you can read this book and enjoy it without having read any of the others, because he spends a great deal of time cleverly bringing up things in the past that help the reader understand the relationships and the characters. But that does add to the pages! All the familiar characters, from Brigadier General (Ret.) Pickering, through Capt. ‘Killer’ McCoy, to ex Master Gunner Zimmerman, appear again, older and perhaps wiser. They all end up back in uniform, and working for the newly created CIA! The story ranges from Washington, and the President’s Office, to Tokyo, and Douglas Macarthur’s headquarters, to Korea, and to the Channel Islands off Inchon. The title is somewhat misleading; there are very few firefights in the story. The title refers more than likely to the stresses that many of the characters endure! The thing is really leading up to the historical military actions in the Channel Islands, without which the brilliant Inchon invasion might have foundered. The story ends with the invasion, and with some loose ends that will undoubtedly be cleared up in the next book. He certainly will not quit before he recounts how MacArthur threw away the brilliant invasion by moving into North Korea, and thus into the Choson Reservoir debacle. Griffin’s perceptions of the key players in Washington, and the politics and vendettas there are sound, as is his portrayal of the military situation. Good story. As always with Griffin’s tales, I enjoyed it a great deal, but not quite as much as some of the others in the series.
Griffin,W.E.B.; Under Fire; $26.95; 576pp; G.P. Putnam’s Sons;NY;2002; ISBN 0399147888
Washington; Meg Greenfield (NF)
Greenfield, for those who live outside DC, was the outstanding editor of the Editorial Page of the Washington Post, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. She was writing this book secretly during her last years, and died before she finished the last chapter. Even unfinished, it is an impressive work that gives a striking portrait of the legendary culture and subcultures of the nation’s capitol, and very perceptive opinions on how these cultures are now changing. She discusses her experiences, her learning, and her perception of the various levels of action and influence in and out of politics, and the various relationships that the press has with the major players. She has several striking analogies, one being the perception that in a (persuasive) way the milieu seems like that in high school! Greenfield outlines her early attitudes and her changes in thought, and tells her tale in elegant prose. A very worthwhile rumination on that small but important world on the Potomac. There is an Index, a forward by Katherine Graham, and an after word by Michael Beschloss, who was her literary executor. The latter two are wonderful, loving pieces about this remarkable woman who was very much a loner, and yet seemed to move effortlessly in the social, political, and journalistic worlds of Washington.
Greenfield,M.; Washington;$26; 241pp;Public Affairs; NY; 2001; ISBN 1586480278
We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese; Elizabeth M. Norton (pb) (NF)
In the Introduction, Norton, an R.N., tells of interviewing military nurses who had been in Vietnam (she wrote a book about them) and hearing about nurses who had ‘fought’ in WWII in Bataan and Corregidor, in the Philippines. She looked into it, and discovered the nurses and the events that are told of here. Fifty years after the fact she began tracking down those that were left of the original 97 Army and Navy Nurses who were in the Philippines when the War began in 1941. She ended up interviewing twenty of them. She combined the interviews with voluminous research into historical records, archival material, and published articles, and wrote this book, an outstanding testimony to that group of women. Most of the nurses ended up trapped on Corregidor, and captured by the Japanese. Some were evacuated just before the Japanese took over, and a few escaped. The author tells of all of them, their experience on the mainland, the times on Corregidor, the brutal realization that they were _expendable_ (as MacArthur and his family escaped to Australia) and then the times in the prison camps, where they still served as nurses. Those were grim, hard, depressing times, and the devotion, loyalty, honor, compassion, and suffering of those diverse women, who banded together, are wonderfully described. Although they were initially very honored, the military pretty much forgot them, and in fact later treated many of them fairly shabbily in many respects. It is a realistic, powerful tale, and the last two chapters left me with an old man’s tears. There are impressive references, a bibliography, extensive notes, and a good index. A scholarly work as well as a first class, compelling narrative.
NOTE: The women never referred to themselves as ‘Angels,’ and never thought of themselves as such. On the last page, the author notes why she used the term, and why she used the collective ‘We’. The latter is the ‘we’ from Shakespeare's Henry V: ‘We band of brothers...’. The more one reads, the more one realizes how very apt the title is.
Norton,E.M.; We Band of Angels; $?; 327pp;Pocket Books;NY;2000; ISBN 0671787187
Welcome to the World, Baby Girl; Fannie Flagg (pb)
Baby Girl is Dena Nordstrom, a tall, blue-eyed, blond New Yorker, and a famous TV personality, who is the network’s premier anchor person and interviewer. She comes from Elmwood Springs, a small town in Mississippi. Her father was the son of the Nordstroms, and met her mother when he was in service. He married her just before he shipped out. He was killed in action, and his wife came to live in Elmwood Springs with Dina, who became ‘Baby Girl’ to Norma and Macky Warren, and Aunt Elner. However her mother abruptly left Elmwood Springs with Dina, and later, when Dina was 15, her mother left her and was never heard from again. The story spans 40 years, and bounces back and forth in time, with the year specified at the head of each section. A tad jumpy, but try to stick with it. We see Dina as a child, then as a successful woman who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She sees a psychiatrist, who has to refer her to another psychiatrist because he falls in love with her, and ethics will not permit him to treat her. The story is about Dina’s attempt to understand herself, to find out why her mother deserted her, and to discover what happened to her mother. It is also about deep love, in many forms. Flagg also provides another of her stunning portrayals of the people and character of a small Southern town, and a _right on_ portrayal of the TV world. It is funny in spots, tender and very touching in spots, with a very surprising turn at the end. And when the reader is finished, I’ll bet she will have a warm glow. Flagg at her best, and she is very good, a superb storyteller. I found it a delight.
Flagg,F.; Welcome to the World, Baby Girl; $7.50; 396pp; Ballantine Books; NY;1998 ISBN 080411868X