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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.45
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Washington gave the American people something to cheer about in the aftermath of the Great Depression. It’s hard to believe that, July 23, 2014
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the Langer See. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. Okay, I changed stream to Langer See, but that’s the lake where our boys beat the heavily favored Germans in 'The Olympics of 1936' . Take that, Hitler! Daniel James Brown wrote an interesting non fiction book about the nine gold medalist from Seattle’s University of Washington (I’ll call it the U of W) rowing team, featuring the life of rower Joe Rantz. This book reminds me of Laura Hillenbrand’s book, 'Seabiscuit' , an unlikely champion thoroughbred horse, who along with the rowers from Seattle, Washington gave the American people something to cheer about in the aftermath of the Great Depression. It’s hard to believe that the mostly overlooked rowing program at the U of W was able to beat well trained east coast Ivy league schools, Syracuse, Navy and two-time defending Olympic champion, California, for the 1936 National Championship and Olympic trials. It was gritty country boys from Seattle versus the elite programs of the east coast. And congratulations to the savvy Mr. Brown for making this true story seem like a work of fiction.

The book opens in the fourth year of the Great Depression (1933), where one out of four able bodied workers is jobless. Herbert Hoover is out and FDR is in. The story recollects Joe Rantz’s distressing life : Joe’s mom passes away at a young age, his dad, Harry, freaks out and leaves Joe abandoned, but comes back to marry a woman named Thula, who hates Joe and ultimately kicks Joe out of the family. Joe falls in love with a girl named Joyce and tries to survive on his own. Joe works many exhausting jobs to save enough money to attend the U of W. He tries out for the nine man rowing team headed by Freshman coach, Tom Bolles and makes the squad along with others who never rowed before.The Freshmen are a success and catch the eye of the programs head coach, Al Ulbrickson. As a sidebar story, we also learn the intriguing story of the school’s builder of their racing shells, George Pocock. The ensuing years are up and down for Joe as he struggles to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. FDR also struggles to turn the USA’s economy around, while facing political foes and two Dust Bowls that threaten the ecology and agriculture industry. I thought Mr. Brown did a yeoman’s job blending the countries problems with Seattle’s difficulties.

Meanwhile the story jumps back and forth from Seattle to Berlin, as Hitler gets ready to host the Olympics, while his propaganda maestro, the diminutive Joseph Goebbels, attempts to spread perfumed fog across the globe: all is well in peaceful Germany and to paraphrase, “willkommen athletes of all races and countries.” (really?) Hitler hires German architect Werner March to knock down the old Olympic stadium (the original was never used because of the WWI cancellation of the Olympic games) and build a state of art stadium, which is still in use today. At the same time, Hitler authorizes Leni Riefenstahl (Goebbels is in love with her?) to make a propaganda movie about his 1934 Nuremberg Rally. On page 142, we find that, “The film that would emerge from her labors, 'Triumph of the Will' , would come to define the iconography of Nazi Germany. To this day it stands as a monument to the ability of propaganda to foster absolute power and to justify unfettered hatred.”

Needless to say, as the boys from the U of W varsity team rowed towards their goal of Olympic gold, it became obvious how they were doing it. On page 241, Mr. Brown tells us, “There was a straightforward reason for what was happening. The boys in the Clipper had been winnowed down by punishing competition, and in the winnowing a kind of common character had issued forth: they were all skilled, they were all tough, they were all fiercely determined, but they were also good-hearted. Every one of them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up.” This is truly a feel good ‘turn around of fortunes’ story for nine young men and an nearly curmudgeon head coach. I’ve left out most of this historical story, especially all the ins and outs of rowing that I learned by reading this book (do you know what it means when the rowers have ‘the swing’?) Anyway, grab a copy of this bestseller and enjoy.


Black Hole Butterfly
Black Hole Butterfly
by Salem
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.40
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a cleverly written novel by Salem, but..., July 5, 2014
This review is from: Black Hole Butterfly (Paperback)
This is a cleverly written novel by Salem, but I’m not sure I’m clever enough to understand it. I’ve read the definition of quantum (a discrete quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of the radiation it represents) many times. What does it mean? You’ve heard the idiom...You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, right? Well, to read this novel, guess again. I do know this: Rook Black is a NYC detective, but not in the traditional way. He gets his cases from a broker named Cosmo, is assisted by a clue dropping Angela, gets paid by untraceable currency (just like the rich folks), and has an occasional seizure that only can be mended by working the exposed electrodes on his head. What? Somebody named Agent Orange is trying to kill him, or not. Models and mannequins sometimes wear mustaches and van dyke beards. Ouch! Dr Chess is murdered in a tub, is this Rook’s case ,or not? The Gasland Gang, or the Petroleum Club (Rocky, the leader, is currently tied up submerged in a submarine) hates Dr. Naranja of the Empire, who loves Shakespeare’s prose.

Meanwhile, Jack the Butterfly (the quantum butcher-what does that mean?) seems to hate everybody. But he owns a pawn shop in Chinatown and does DNA drugs. What’s that? And who is this Mr. Millioni, who owns a crocodile show/bar and whorehouse where he serves a nasty drink called bai jiu? What’s his motives, if any? (is he the Weedkiller?) Are you following this story so far? Sorry about all the question marks, but I don’t know the answers either. Then we have Jules Barbillon, who could be a pimp, assassin, or a buyer of Shakespeare matches. Yes, that’s what I said. He does blow up Rocky’s penthouse and has him kidnapped. Who does he work for, is he a double agent? I also know that all mail is now electronic, and the mailman now carries a weapon and is part of a gang. We also know that Dr. Naranja’s solar empire has been managing reality for years. Crocodiles are now in NYC rivers and are seen in Chinatown wrestling matches. And everybody seems to like to drink their blood. I can’t figure out what is real and not real. That’s probably because I don’t know what quantum really means pertaining to this novel. Okay, enough said, buy your own copy to find out what happens in the next 331 pages.

When I started this novel by Salem, I thought this book was China Mieville-like (The City & The City ), in other words, weird fiction. But (I like starting sentences with conjunctions-have you noticed?) I realized later that I was reading ergodic literature. Why? Because Salem makes you work to understand what you are reading. That’s the pure definition of ergodic literature, which is reader participation! Got it? Was my mind taxed? You bet your sweet bippy. As a reviewer of all genres, I like to read novels that are different. I am open to most challenges in literature, avoiding the commercial writers like Demille, Patterson, Butcher, Baldacci, and Grisham, etc. Salem’s descriptive writing skills are very good, for example on page 79, Salem describes Cosmo, “His warm dark chocolate brown eyes glowed under thin arching eyebrows, and he squeezed his eyelids tight, wondering if he had made the right decision.” Robert louis Stevenson would have approved of that line. I guess my only beef with the novel is that it didn’t have to be that baffling, or vague at times, “When Rook absolutely wanted to leave a trace, a cold trail of an identity, he cloned.” Everything considered, I believe Salem’s originality and ingenuity overcame any minor flaws in the novel. I recommend this debut novel, especially if you are a masochist (just kidding).


Burning Uncle Tom's Cabin (Volume 1)
Burning Uncle Tom's Cabin (Volume 1)
by Carl Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.37
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If I didn't recently read and review (12/09/2012) Harriet Beecher Stowe's 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'..., June 27, 2014
If I didn’t recently read and review (12/09/2012) Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' , I would be attracted to Carl Waters’s ( book one) version of this American classic. Uncle Tom's Cabin is the most important novel ever written for the American people with the possible exception of Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, 'Common Sense' . Mr. Water’s novel is the first of four planned novels dissecting the original novel into four parts. One would ask, why? Well, according to the author, “The Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin series comprises four books whose narratives are told from the slaves points of view. I have removed many of the racial stereotypes, plot holes, and excessive preaching from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s world changing story.” Waters also states in the book’s introduction, “I do not understand or agree with Uncle Tom’s overall mindset.” This is where I disagree. In my mind, Uncle Tom is the most courageous and righteous character in American Literature. When Tom died in Stowe’s 1852 novel, it ignited a groundswell of opinion against the South and slavery. When Stowe met President Lincoln in 1862 at the White House, he called her, “The little woman who started this great war.” And I believe the character of Uncle Tom had a lot to do with purging America of slavery.

Burning Uncle Tom’s Cabin deals with Stowe’s sidebar story of George Harris, his wife Eliza and their son, Harry. George lives on the plantation of the wicked Frank Harris. George is on loan to a hemp factory where he invented a hemp-cleaning machine to the delight of his foreman, Charles Wilson. Understandably, George, through his hard work, has earned the right to occasionally visit his wife and son at the Shelby Plantation five miles away. George is planning his escape to Canada. Meanwhile at the Shelby’s estate, Eliza and her son are treated as family (if that’s possible). But trouble is brewing. One day a slave trader appears at the plantation. Eliza overhears the trader, Dan Haley, calling in a debt from Mr. Shelby. He wants Uncle Tom and Eliza’s Harry to settle the debt. Eliza warns Uncle Tom and then runs for Canada with three year old Harry.

Back at the hemp factory, Mr. Harris suddenly appears and wants George back on the farm, so to speak. Why? On page thirteen, Mr. Wilson protests losing George and the contemptible Frank Harris says, “I won’t have him stayin’ another minute, pickin’ up airs and thinkin’ too high of himself! This boy’s a lazy, no good Negro, ain’t never done anything worthwhile at my plantation!” Once back on the plantation, Frank Harris treats George badly, giving him the worst chores possible. George is told that he will never see his Eliza and Harry again; in fact, he is forced to take a wife that Frank Harris picks out. When George objects, he is severely whipped and branded on the palm of his hand. Later that night, one of Uncle Tom’s sons sneaks over to George’s shack and informs him that Eliza and Harry are on the run to Canada. Now George is also on the run! All of this happens during the first 77 pages. The rest of this unique rewrite revolves around the pursuit of the Harris family by the slave traders. Will they make it to Canada, or will tragedy strike? You will have to buy your own copy of this revised version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic to find out.

I believe it would be more advantageous for Mr. Waters to write his own Southern Gothic novel rather than pursue this project. The task he is taking-on is very difficult. I see talent in his writing, but certain attributes he is trying to change are very difficult and awkward to modify. For example: the language used in his variant of the novel. In the 1850s, writers like Stowe and Mark Twain used the African American Vernacular English dialect spoken by the negroes of the time period. The author could have used a cleansed version of this dialect. I’m talking about using the local colloquial expressions of the whites (which the author did occasionally) and the negroes (which the author didn’t do) to make the novel more believable. This is very hard to do and still accomplish what Mr. Waters set out to achieve, namely a novel where the slaves are not inferior to the whites; have equal intelligence, and have the courage to shed their shackles. In a certain way, the author did that, but lost credence by not using a purified version of the local vocabulary of 1851. Anyway, I commend the author for taking on this very difficult endeavor, but it wasn’t original enough for me.


The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.55
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Donna Tartt's novel certainly merits the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but..., June 18, 2014
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Donna Tartt’s novel certainly merits the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but does have some discernible flaws (we will discuss later). I saw the CBS interview with Donna Tartt and now understand why her prose is so impeccable. She takes ten years to write a book! She wrote one novel each at the ages of 29, 39 and 49. She is influenced by the writing style of Charles Dickens, which accounts for the incredible descriptive writing she did throughout the novel. The aftermath of the museum explosion extends for a suspense filled eighteen pages (31-48). We see the outcome of the detonation through the eyes of our narrator and protagonist, Theo Decker. This was one of several sections the author wrote that I thought was exceptionally proficient. I also thought introducing Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1868 novel, 'The Idiot' was a clever writer’s ploy since the Russian novel is a classic study of the conflict between good and evil, which abounds in Tartt’s novel. Lastly, this might seem trite, but I loved the author’s generous use of commas, semi colons and dashes. I know that there are grammatical rules for their usage, but I like ‘a little extra cheese on my pizza’ (is that a idiom?). What is the story about?

Okay, Theo Decker is a thirteen year old student living in N.Y.C., who gets into dubious trouble in school and gets suspended. Now his estranged mom and Theo head for the school for a meeting. They are early, it’s raining, so they duck into an art museum to pass some time and see the Dutch artist exposition, mainly Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson and C. Fabritius’s The Goldfinch. Theo is mesmerized with a red headed girl (Pippa) his age accompanied by a old man presumed to be her grandfather (Welty). As Theo and his mom walk to the gift shop, mom decides to go back to see the painting one more time, leaving Theo in the shop alone when he spots the girl and her companion again. Just as he approaches the girl, a massive explosion occurs in the museum. He is covered in debris and disoriented. He hears the old man groaning and goes to him. The girl is nowhere to be seen. The old man is dying. Where is mom? The old man spots “a dusty rectangle of board” covered in rubbish and wants Theo to get it. My God, it’s The Goldfinch painting. The old man (Welty Blackwell) wants to know where Pippa is. Theo doesn’t see her (why am I using so many short sentences?). He gives Theo his “heavy gold ring with a carved stone” and tells him to take it to: Hobart and Blackwell. “Ring the green bell.” Theo finally finds his way out of the museum, dazed and hurt, unable to get anyone to help him. He still has the painting. He walks home in the rain to wait for his mom to return from the museum. Guess what, she’s dead and suddenly Theo is alone.

Is Theo going to experience the same problems that Pip in the Charles Dickens novel, 'Great Expectations' endured? Maybe. Mom doesn’t come home, a social worker from the Department of Child and Family Services calls and the story is off and running (idiom alert). The reader is going to encounter the peculiar Barbour family, agonize over Theo’s life with his dad in Las Vegas, meet his crazy Russian friend, Boris, and delight in Theo’s relationship with Hobart (Hobie). What happened to Pippa? And what about The Goldfinch? Who has it and what will become of it? It is the focus of the story, yet the author occasionally seems to forget about it for a hundred pages, or so. I guess that can happen in a 771 page novel. The cigarette smoking, vodka drinking, and drug using Boris is a character that the reader loves and periodically hates. The author has the unique ability to make the reader like the characters she wants you to like (Theo, Hobie, Pippa, Mrs. Barbour, Andy and sometimes Boris) and hate the characters she wants you to hate (Theo’s dad, Boris’s dad, Lucius Reeves, Tom Cable and sometimes Boris). Can this lady write, or what?

Alright, now for the flaws. When the reader gets to page 643... suddenly it’s a race to the finish line, the author can’t wait to get to page 771. Why? The novel was plodding along nicely for 642 pages and probably nine years of Donna Tartt’s life. If you are writing a book that long, what difference does it make if the novel is a couple hundred pages longer? The extra pages would have given the author the time needed to develop all the new characters that turned up near the end. Lastly, what was that life and death tirade (in the last five pages) all about? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book...it’s just that it could have been better.


Ashlynn's Dreams (Devya's Children) (Volume 1)
Ashlynn's Dreams (Devya's Children) (Volume 1)
by Julie C Gilbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gadzooks! An epistolary novel with a whisper of science fiction..., May 31, 2014
Gadzooks! An epistolary novel with a whisper of science fiction. A remarkable novel written by Julie C.Gilbert based entirely on letters, journals and once with post-it notes sent to our heroine’s shrink lady, Dr. Sokolowski. Does this story measure up to my favorite epistolary novel, Elizabeth Kostova’s, 'The Historian'? No, but this is a YA novel, not a dark adult story involving Vlad the impaler. Gilbert is a different kind of writer and I like that. I prefer writers who gamble with artistic techniques that might not be discernible to the provisional reader. Hey listen, I’ve read four novels by China Mieville. Did I earn my stripes? All I’m saying is that I like a novelist who pushes the envelope a tad. This is a well written novel with a little bit of bounce. Good job, Julie!

The story itself is about a gifted twelve year old girl named Jillian and her high school babysitter (is there a better word for one who watches a twelve year old?), Danielle. Jillian just moved to New Jersey with her mom and stepdad, Jeffrey, who manages a candy store. Everything is great until one day Jillian and Danielle are kidnapped at home. They find themselves in an unknown lab filled with scientists and researchers headed by a Dr. Devya. Welcome to Devya’s Children! Jillian doesn’t know what they want from her, but quickly realizes that it’s not ransom (certainly not from a candy store manager). She does find out that she was a test tube baby with genetic material from four women and two men and then put into to an artificial womb. She finds out that her real name is Ashlynn and she has seven siblings living in the compound. Is Dr. Devya experimenting with genomes in order to produce gifted children? If the answer is yes, then why? What is Jillian’s gift?

Dr. Devya discloses to Ashlynn that her gift is the ability to shape dreams, in other words, get into someone’s dreams and make them do what you want. And he makes her practice while he holds Danielle hostage. He is not nice to them. Finally, Dr. Devya explains that her twin brother, four year old Benny, has been kidnapped from the Governor of New Jersey, an ardent supporter of Dr. Devya. How can Ashlynn’s twin brother be eight years younger? Well, he was frozen for eight years. Don’t ask why, you will have to read the book for that answer. Anyway, Dr, Devya wants Ashlynn to find out where Benny is being kept so his men can bring him back. Did the rival group of scientists called the Guardian take him?There are a lot of mysteries among these two groups and the gifted children that will culminate into a terrific final hundred pages.

I have to tell you that I do enjoy avant-garde writers and their novels, not that Julie’s book was that far out of the box. But I don’t think that it is easy to tell a story using only letters and journals. All these letters written to Dr. Sokolowski (Dr. S), beginning on page four, were written after the kidnapping was over. I would like to see Julie do an ergodic literature novel involving the same eight gifted children. That would be a trip. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Mark Z. Danielewski’s 'House of Leaves' . Anyway, I highly recommend this novel by another female writer ‘on the rise’ (yes, I still love my idioms).


Across Great Divides
Across Great Divides
by Monique Roy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.80
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Monique Roy writes an rousing story about a Jewish family leaving Germany..., May 24, 2014
This review is from: Across Great Divides (Paperback)
Monique Roy writes an rousing story about a Jewish family leaving Germany during the start of WWII with the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) hot on their tails. The author must have paid attention at SMU because her prose is excellent. On the other side of the coin, the story is a little calculable at times, especially in regards to the family's close call escapes. By this I mean the author seems to be overprotective of her characters. She says that this novel was inspired by her grandparents flight out of Germany, so I'm assuming that the family in the novel is fictitious. By the way, God bless her grandparents for their harrowing experience circumventing the Nazis. In my opinion, when writing a story of this ilk, the author has to have a little of George R.R. Martin in her. In another words, have a little unpredictability about the safety of her main characters. It makes a normal novel into a suspenseful page-turner. Okay, enough said about that, because I don't want to start adding spoiler alerts. I've done several reviews recently involving Nazi Germany, including Ellen Marie Wiseman's 'The Plum Tree' and Erik Larson's 'In the Garden of Beasts' and I would say that Monique Roy's novel is on a slightly lesser plateau, although very entertaining and well written.

At a performance of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1932, twins Eva and Inge spot a beautiful woman wearing a dazzling diamond and emerald necklace. They also see a small man with a attractive lady on his arm that terrifies the twins. He is Adolf Hitler. Thus begins the story of Oskar (father), Helene (mother), the twins and their brother Max, a law abiding Jewish family living and working in the upscale diamond district. I think that the diamond and emerald necklace plays an interesting part in this novel. Well done, Monique Roy. Anyway, in 1933 the mood in Germany changes drastically. Hitler has new laws passed that make Jews second class citizens. The twins school friend, Trudy, is suddenly distant and joins the Nazi Youth Party. Jews are no longer allowed to own a business, they can't have sex with a non-Jew, and finally they are no longer citizens. Then on 11/9/1938 Kristallnacht happens (aka, the night of broken glass). Over a thousand Synagogues are burned down, and 30,000 Jewish men and boys are sent to concentration camps. The Nazis relieve Oskar of the diamond and emerald necklace that he just repurchased from the lady at the concert in Berlin.

Oskar's family decides to leave Germany with their diamonds sewn into their clothes. With the help of Max's friends and a lot of luck, they make it to Antwerp, Belgium. They settle in the Jewish part of town in the heart of the diamond district. Oskar and his family start a business with all the diamonds they smuggled out of Germany. Life is okay for awhile, Inge marries Isaac and Eva and Carmen get married. "MAZEL TOV" to the couples. Then the unthinkable happens...Germany attacks Belgium. Here we go again, now the family tries to find peace in Rio de Janeiro. You will have to read the book to find out what happens there. I'm guessing probably not good. After two years, more trouble arrives! Okay off to Cape Town, South Africa. Will they finally find tranquility, or more distress and/or harassment? Now, I left out a lot of previous trouble they got into to get to this point of the story. By the way, what happened to Eva and Inge's Nazi classmate,Trudy? There is a lot going on in this story that moves from Germany to Belgium to Brazil to South Africa. Here is what I wanted to know: How is this honorable Jewish family going to react when in 1948 the Reunited National Party of South Africa declares Apartheid as a policy of rigid segregation? How did Oskar's family feel about their neighboring Aryan German citizens when they didn't do anything to stop the Nazis from attacking them? Will they stand aside like their German counterparts and watch the blacks get trampled, or will they stand up for the blacks. The answer is very engaging. I highly recommend this novel by Monique Roy.


The Road to God
The Road to God
by Anthony Rhine
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When I first got a hold of this novel..., May 17, 2014
This review is from: The Road to God (Paperback)
When I first got a hold of this novel, I thought it was going to be one of those Holy Roller publications. Then when I got into the book, I thought that this novel was heading for the road to perdition. But it's really a mixture of these two predominant religious/ anti religious pathways. In my opinion, Anthony Rhine wrote a credible story balancing the inner happenings of a large Christian Church (not sure what denomination, most likely Protestant), and the mystery of afterlife. This book didn't seem like it would work, but it did in a far-reaching way. The novel held my interest for all of the 346 pages. I'm not sure I can compare this novel with another since the subject matter is so diverse. As a sidebar to the story, the reader is also educated on the differences between Scientology (all eight dynamics), Buddhism, Mormonism, and Hinduism from page 222 through page 241. So what is this story about? Okay, it's time for a synopsis.

Our protagonist and narrator is Daniel Bolton. Dan has an unusual trait passed onto him by his mother. He can talk to the dead (mentally) right after they died, normally between four to ten days after passing. The dead are always in a dark transition room waiting to see the light. He has learned bits and pieces of information from them over the years. It seems that the light is called concatenus, which is a place where all spirits go to be linked together and share the intelligence with the whole (God?). Some of the dead get reincarnated instead of going back into the light. Dan is not sure about the people who are going to hell since he has never talked to one. On page 84, Dan states, "You see, enough chats with spirits in transition have given me small glimpses into what awaits us beyond this earthly world, and I have been able to piece those glimpses together to get a sense of where we are going."

After High School, Dan gets a job with the Elizabeth Community Church as an actor in a play being performed at the church. The Pastor, Greg Woolfe, is a vile bigoted man married to Violet Black, a cold offensive assistant to the pastor (these are the road to perdition people). Somehow Dan prospers at the church and keeps moving up the ladder until he is on equal footing with Violet. Greg sends both of them to the seminary for gratis with the stipulation that they have to stay with the church until he retires. Greg and Violet have many poisonous foul mouthed arguments throughout the novel. Then Dan has a one-night stand with Violet (very bad move). Subsequently, Dan falls in love with a teenage actress, Melissa, acting in one of their plays at the church. He now has the obnoxious Violet Black as a enemy for life. The affair with Melissa is also going to cause grief for Dan in the future.

What I liked about the novel was the way the author switched back and forth from the church activities to Dan's talks with the dead. Most notable was Dan's discussion with a dead man named Chen. Apparently, they were speaking Mandarin. They had a long talk while Chen was in the dark transition room. On page 246, Chen says, "I can tell you this: I was right to live a good life. I was right to believe that I would one day be where I am now and I was right that I would eventually go back to where I am to go back to." "Concatenus?" I (Dan) wanted to say it again, seeking further confirmation. "Daniel, that is only a word" (answers Chen). This is some good stuff. So what I am wondering is this: Does the author believe in the afterlife that he describes in this titillating story? Well, maybe he will post a comment on this review and reveal his thoughts. Listen, I only gave you tidbits of what this novel is about, there is much more woe ahead for our hero Dan in the ensuing pages. I highly recommend this enlightening novel, so go out and buy your own copy.


The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris
The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris
by Tilar J. Mazzeo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.13
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This was a marvelous read that dealt with the occupation of Paris..., May 4, 2014
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This was a marvelous read that dealt with the occupation of Paris (1940-1944), but more so with the occupants of the Hotel Ritz. The blood and guts were there, but somewhat muffled since the main focus was on the exotic residents of the famous hotel (opened in 1898). Tilar J. Mazzeo is part of that new group of authors that write non-fiction, but make it read like a novel. It was executed with skill and efficiency with almost every chapter ending in a cliffhanger. The book actually has a cast of characters, which I found accommodating considering all those French and German names. I’m dumbfounded that Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre were not regulars at the hotel (joking). But guess who comes to the Ritz for an extended stay at the end of the occupation? Casablanca’s Ingrid Bergman, who surprisingly falls in love with another sometime resident, Robert Capa, the famous American war photographer. I realize some reviewers object to what I found intriguing, but that’s why there are “different strokes for different folks” (I love my idioms). Mazzeo’s narration made for a intoxicating (by the way, champagne was the drink of choice) and credible romp through those turbulent years, backed by twenty three pages of notes and ten pages of selected bibliography. One tries to guess who is the spy, double agent, collaborator, or member of the French resistance amongst the hotel staff and inhabitants throughout this stimulating book. Wow, enough said for the opening paragraph.

On June 14 1940, 300,000 germans occupy Paris, while the great (ha) Charles de Gaulle heads out of town. Also leaving ahead of the German invasion are the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, yes the same Edward VIII who abdicated the throne of England for twice divorced Wallis Simpson. Luckily, Winston Churchill sent them in exile to Bermuda till the war’s end (the ex-King was thought to be sympathetic to Hitler). Ernest Hemingway and his artsy group were also long time frequent residents who vacated. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring moved into a sprawling suite taking up an entire floor. On page nineteen, we find out that…”one half of the Hotel Ritz was an exclusive retreat for German private indulgence, on the rue Cambon side of the ancient palace and in the bars and restaurant the hotel remained open to the public.” After the Germans take over the Ritz, Mazzeo gives the reader some background on the hotel from 1898 till the German arrival. I found these chapters very interesting, especially the part where the artist and intellectuals out maneuvered the noble traditionalist (the privileged) for dominance of the bars and rooms. Also provided was the reason for the two sides clashing... the famous Alfred Dreyfus (a framed Jewish artillery officer) treason trial. I also enjoyed the story of Marcel Proust, a social climber, who wrote one of France’s great books, "In Search of Lost Time" , which was written in seven parts between 1913-1927.

Once the Germans take over the Hotel Ritz, we find out that Herr Goring is a morphine addict. A German doctor from Cologne supposedly had a “wonder cure” and “There in the Hotel Ritz, the doctor would come to submerge Goring in a tub of water, give him injections, then submerge him again, for hours and hours,” the staff remembered. “We had to bring the professor piles of towels and lots of food, because the procedure made Goring ravenous.” On page fifty one, we find out…”That the previous occupant of Goring's suite was a certain Laura Mae Corrigan, the widow of a midwestern steel industrialist...Her monthly income in the summer of 1940 was $800,000.” Corrigan sold many treasures to the Reichsmarschall and Adolf Hitler. “She cashed out-some said she sold out-to the Nazis.” This is one of many chapters containing the escapades of the residents of the hotel. Another sidebar to this book is the battle of wits between journalists Ernest Hemingway, Robert Capa, Martha Gellhorn, and Mary Welsh to be the first to land on Normandy Beach during the allied invasion in August 1944. Their sexual affairs are another story in this rousing book. Previously, I hinted to you that this book was filled with juicy information, am I right so far? Meanwhile, Frank Meier, the longtime bartender at the Ritz is passing information along to the French Resistance. The Germans didn’t know he was Jewish. And surprisingly, the plot to kill Hitler (Operation Valkyrie) was hatched at the grand Hotel Ritz.

The poop hits the fan when Hitler orders General Dietrich Von Choltitz into Paris in August 1944 to plunder all the treasures and artwork and then upon leaving... burn Paris to the ground! Do you remember that famous film "Is Paris Burning?" Believe it or not, I only touched on a few chapters of this exciting book. To get the rest of the scoop, get your own copy, but read slowly because you are not going to want this book to end. I highly recommend this book, but not to those World War II aficionados who only want the facts involving the strategy and results of the war. You will not find that in this book.


The Martian: A Novel
The Martian: A Novel
by Andy Weir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.16
92 used & new from $10.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What would you do if you were presumed dead and left stranded for 549 sol days..., April 15, 2014
This review is from: The Martian: A Novel (Hardcover)
What would you do if you were presumed dead and left stranded for 549 sol days (that’s an Earth day plus 39 minutes) on the planet Mars? Well, that’s the premise of this fresh new novel. It was an exhilarating story, although way too technical (for me) and somewhat predictable, but nonetheless well worth reading. Astronaut Mark Watney is injured and caught in a windstorm when Earth cancels the Mars mission because the MAV (Mars ascent vehicle) is about to tip over from the furious 175 kph winds. Wow, is that a tough situation, or what? The crew is leaving for Earth without you and the next mission to Mars is four years away. At least in Daniel Defoe’s 'Robinson Crusoe' (1719), Crusoe had his sidekick, Friday, to mingle with. And in Yann Martel’s 'Life of Pi' (2002), Pi had a Royal Bengal Tiger to share his 227 days at sea with. Can two consecutive sentences end in the same preposition? Probably not, but I write with Cormac McCarthy’s rules.

Anyway, I found the story difficult without a companion for Watney on Mars. What’s left is his scientific effort to stay alive and bore the reader with empirical evidence. I must admit that this is not my strong suit. I don’t understand how to make oxygen, water, or make dirt to plant potatoes on Mars. I struggled through many pages of this without the action and exploits that I expected. Maybe the story needed a Dan Simmons innuendo type allusion. Yet... I did like the book! With the MAV leaving to dock with the ship Hermes (which is orbiting Mars) and then take the crew back to Earth, Watney knows he is in big trouble. Since the crew doesn’t know that all communications on Mars have been destroyed by the storm, and coupled with the fact that Watney’s bio-monitor computer readout indicates that he is dead (they don’t know it’s broken), they leave. On page seven, Watney thinks to himself, “So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days.”

After Mark settles in, he decides to find Pathfinder (from the 1997 mission) and the rover, Sojourner, so he can acquire it’s radio and communicate with Earth. In the meantime, Satellites orbiting Mars send pictures back to NASA indicating that Watney is still alive. Watney gets to Pathfinder and finally communicates with NASA on sol day 97. The next 251 pages are much better in the excitement category, as NASA tries to figure out how to get Watney back, and as you can imagine, many things go wrong on Earth and Mars (finally). I realize that this novel had to be demanding to write since it’s not really science fiction. And I knew that we weren’t going to meet eerie green Martians, but still I expected a wee bit more calamity and intrigue. The postulation of the novel was so grand. I was hooked on the first sentence on page one…”I’m pretty much f***ed.” That’s as close as I can quote, if I want Amazon to okay this review. All in all, I have to recommend this novel by Andy Weir.


A Young Man in the Wild Blue Yonder: Thoughts of A B-25 Pilot in World War II
A Young Man in the Wild Blue Yonder: Thoughts of A B-25 Pilot in World War II
by David K. Hayward
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.38
23 used & new from $15.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars David K. Hayward writes a epistolary non-fiction work that reads like a scrapbook..., March 31, 2014
David K. Hayward writes a epistolary non-fiction work that reads like a scrapbook your neighbor would show to you. It is sprinkled with photos, sketches, cartoons and diary entries. World War II never seemed so pleasant. I mean that as a compliment. The war was there, but the blood and guts were not...great job Mr. Hayward. I recently read Adam Makos’s 'A Higher Call' , which was a more violent look at the war in the skies, albeit equally entertaining. In the introduction, Mr. Hayward explains why a 91-year old veteran of World War II would write a book. “The answer? Most of the writing has been done. It was a matter of putting the pieces together, like a jigsaw puzzle.” He is a man of his word, the book follows his three and a half years and fifty three missions in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations during World War II. Also patched throughout the book are his exploits during his down time and the details of his many reunions with the 22nd Bomb Squadron.

Mr. Hayward explains on page 121 what his job entailed…”I must emphasize that the mission of the B-25 medium bomber in the China-Burma-India Theater was not to attack population centers but rather non-civilian targets such as bridges, airfields, and ships used by the enemy to move it’s supplies.” Those missions are peppered throughout the book along with his stateside training with the many different bombers and fighters of the times. Surprising to me was the amount of young pilots that were killed during these non-combat training exercises. After Hayward’s 53 missions, he was assigned to Bolling Field in the District of Columbia. Until the war’s end, Lt. Hayward test flew aircraft recently repaired, flew mail to General George C. Marshall, flew ‘missing man’ formations during ceremonies, and co-piloted for the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, on internal missions. While this book was far from exciting, it does give the reader an ‘eyewitness account’ of how it was to be a participant of the war.

Hayward touches on the famous Doolittle bombing of Tokyo and Yokohama that began about four months after Japan’s December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Sixteen B25 Mitchells were launched from the USS Hornet in a mostly propaganda attack of Japan. On their return most of the U.S. bombers crashed or ditched before they reached the airfields in China. The prose and the book's tendencies seemed to me like ‘the man on the street’ was telling the story, which I think makes Hayward’s story somewhat charming. I know Mr. Hayward isn’t a noteworthy writer, but he kept me entertained. I think eyewitness accounts are invaluable to historians. I’m amazed that a man of 91 put his first book together... what took you so long? What’s next Lt. Hayward? I do recommend this “yeoman’s work”, by the way, no pun intended, Hayward’s brother served in the U.S. Navy during the war.


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