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Cynthia K. Robertson RSS Feed (beverly, new jersey USA)
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Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans
by Gary Krist
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but depressing..., September 29, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, so selecting Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist through Amazon Vine was a natural for me. The entire history of New Orleans is rich and varied, and Krist gives us a quick lesson on the history of the Crescent City. But the focus of Empire of Sin is what Krist calls the 30 year civil war that New Orleans waged with itself over the Storyville District. This is a story that is equally fascinating and depressing.

New Orleans has often been called the Sodom of the South. Up until the late 1800s, “gambling, prostitution, street violence, and bawdy entertainment had been a prominent feature of the city's life for its entire history.” But as brothels and gaming houses started moving into residential areas, a move began to make the city more respectable. Alderman Sidney Story came up with the idea to move all vice to an area that became known as Storyville. And for 30 years, between 1897 and 1917, business was booming. But soon, even this small pocket of vice became unacceptable to social reformers, clergymen, and even the US Military.

Empire of Sin is a story of culture, sex, music, organized crime, and Jim Crow. It pits politicians against businessmen, and businessmen against law enforcement. It features violence, murders, riots, vigilante justice, and lynchings. It counters Americans against immigrants (mostly Italians), and the Black Hand against the Italian Mafia. It features social reformers and the US Military trying to regulate morality. It is the battle by white leaders to suppress the new black music, Jazz. And it is a war to fully segregate a city that for centuries had a large population of black and white creoles who intermingled and intermarried. These actions not only contributed to the Great Migration of blacks to the north, but the city razed almost the entire Storyville District (including beautiful Victorian mansions along Basin Street) to create a public housing project. What happened to Storyville was ultimately depressing, and even today, it is ugly to read this history.

Empire of Sin is the second book that I have ready by Gary Krist, the first being City of Scoundrels. My one complaint with Empire of Sin is that Krist does jump around quite a bit, which I think detracts from the flow of the story. Also, I'm not sure that the Axman is really part of this story, and the case is still unsolved. But I did enjoy so much of the history that he presents—especially the history of Jazz. I'm hoping to travel to New Orleans sometime next year and hope to see some of the places that Krist writes about that are still standing.


Five: A Novel
Five: A Novel
by Ursula Poznanski
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Good psychological thriller..., September 29, 2014
This review is from: Five: A Novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As one of 6 million active geocachers, I was surprised to see a new mystery on the Amazon Vine list that used a geocaching-theme. Ursula Archer has written other books, but Five: A Novel is her first adult mystery and very good first effort. I especially liked that it took place in Austria, where geocaching protocol is slightly different than in the United States.

Beatrice Kaspary and Florin Wenninger are called to the scene when a farmer discovers a dead woman in his cow pasture. Kaspary and Wenninger are homicide detectives who work for the Salzburg State Office of Criminal Investigation. With hands tied behind her back, the one strange find on the body is that numbers were tattooed to the soles of her feet. It takes a little figuring before the detectives realize that the numbers are GPS coordinates. One of their colleagues is a geocacher, and he gets assigned to help with the case because of his hobby. Soon, they're involved in a geocaching chase, but instead of looking for treasures, they're finding body parts and dead bodies. The entire time, the killer is toying with them and taunting them for being incompetent. But Kaspary and Wenninger also figure out that in playing the killer's game, they are also lending him assistance. This psychological thriller had me guessing until the end.

Archer is a good writer and I enjoyed her descriptions of things. At one point, Kaspary “had never described to the belief that dead people looked like they were sleeping. They looked like a foreign species. Shockingly different, even if they had died peacefully.” But I did get more than tired of the drama with her ex-husband and also, the description of every cup of coffee she ever made or drank. I don't think that these things added to the story. But overall, Five is a fine read and you don't have to be a geocacher to enjoy this book. In fact, it might be a good introduction to geocaching, although geocachers tend to be kind, gentle people—unlike in the book.


Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel
Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., September 28, 2014
Another long car trip...another Jack Reacher thriller. Our departure just happened to occur right after Lee Child published his new novel, Personal. This is book 19 in his Jack Reacher series and is read by Dick Hill. My husband and I enjoyed Personal, although it is not without some issues.

Former Army MP and current nomad Jack Reacher is traveling by bus near a military base. He picks up a discarded copy of Stars and Stripes and finds a personal advertisement directing him to call a one-star general with whom he's had previous dealings. In a flash, he's being flown to Fort Bragg and it turns out that the Army (and the CIA and the State Department) need his services. A sniper took a shot at the French president, but it's not just any sniper. This shooter is one of the elite who can hit a target at ¾ mile away and he appears to have military training. Reacher once put such a sniper in jail, John Kott. Those trying to prevent a catastrophe at the coming G-8 Conference set for London are betting that Reacher can once again track down Kott. Of course, the chase will mean that Reacher will be acting on his own. Plus, he's given a rookie CIA agent, Casey Nice, to baby sit him. But not only is Reacher after the sniper, but he also has to battle a local gang and the Serbian Mafia. And there is always the possibility that Reacher is the real target.

Entertaining—yes. Hokey—absolutely. But Personal suffers from a variety of maladies. First, the descriptions go way overboard in this novel, and the beginning of this book was especially slow in getting started. Although it was nice that Reacher avoids any sexual activity in Personal, Casey Nice was more like a daughter. I was thoroughly tired of the neurotic, untested agent very quickly. Also, the possibility that the Army (or the CIA or the State Department) recruiting anyone on the outside for an operation is pretty laughable. We all know that these groups don't play well with others.

Still, a Lee Child with some issues is better than a lot of other authors at their best, and Child will continue to be our go-to author when taking long car trips.


The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
by Ken Burns
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $37.95
58 used & new from $29.50

72 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magestic book for a larger-than life family..., September 9, 2014
I was in high school when Eleanor and Franklin by Joseph P. Lash was published, and it started me on a life-long fascination with the Roosevelt family. I have quite an extensive collection of Roosevelt books, and I never tire of reading anything new. I found out last year that Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward were going to debut a 14 hour mini-series on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor in September 2014 and I have been counting the days ever since. Well, that time is finally here! Their companion book, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, was published today to supplement the series, and I am thoroughly enchanted. Although this coffee table-style book has over 700 photos, it also contains a strong and well-written narrative about the lives of these three remarkable people.

The Roosevelts were a noteworthy and prolific family, descended from Claes Martertenszen van Roosevelt who settled in New York in 1644. Two branches of the family were the Oyster Bay Roosevelts (Teddy’s family) and the Hyde Park Roosevelt’s (FDR’s family). Eleanor was the bridge between to two branches, being the niece of Teddy and the wife of FDR. Although the branches were different in many ways, including political affiliation, they both had a love of the land, a sense of duty to others, family tragedies, and great ambition. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History covers the large lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. Teddy and FDR were natural leaders, and FDR set his career path to emulate that of his older cousin. Eleanor was a more reluctant leader, taking on a bigger role only after FDR came down with polio. In reading this book, I was haunted by so much of the Roosevelt history. Teddy’s first wife and mother die on the same day, two days after the birth of his daughter. Eleanor’s parents and her younger brother die young. Both branches were plagued by alcoholism. Franklin, a mama’s boy, was unwilling to cut the apron strings and was unfaithful to the emotionally fragile Eleanor. Teddy’s youngest son, Quentin, was killed in World War I. The Oyster Bay and the Hyde Park branches had a falling out when FDR went into politics as a Democrat, and they continued to feud long after Teddy was dead. And although Eleanor and FDR might have been a power-couple in many ways and loved each other more than they would admit, they found the most happiness in other people.

The photographs in The Roosevelts are worth the price of the book. Many of them have never been published before and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. It is especially haunting to see modern-day pictures of intimate objects owned and worn by the Roosevelts. There is Eleanor’s engagement ring and her engagement pendant with teeth-marks from her babies. There is a photo of the lucky campaign hat worn by FDR during all four of his presidential campaigns. It was raffled off after the third election, but returned to FDR in time for the fourth. There’s a glass case with a bullet hole that most likely saved Teddy’s life. And there is a beautiful Cartier watch given to FDR’s mother when his father found out she was pregnant with FDR. There are campaign buttons and posters, wedding and baby pictures, maps, magazine and newspaper articles, postcards, political cartoons, formal portraits and candids, pictures of Roosevelts at work and at play, houses and the White House, family pets, etc. This book is also filled with fun stories and ironic anecdotes. Someone asked Teddy why he couldn’t do anything to control his wayward daughter, Alice. “’I can be President of the United States,’ her exasperated father once told a friend, ‘or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!’” Another story has FDR visiting Grover Cleveland in the White House when he was five. “As they were leaving, the weary president shook Franklin’s hand and said, ‘My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be president of the United States.’”

After the publication of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, I can’t wait to watch the series. I’m sure that I will go to this book again and again throughout the coming weeks, and beyond.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2014 11:06 AM PDT


Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.26

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Would make a blockbuster movie..., September 7, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If any book should be made into a blockbuster movie, it’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann. Tinseltown has it all—murders, rising and falling stars, movie moguls, Prohibition, extortionists, civic reformers, etc. Just add hooch and illegal drugs and stir. It makes for an explosive combination.

The centerpiece of Tinseltown is the murder of famed director, William Desmond Taylor—still unsolved to this day. His killing brought out his many secrets including the fact that his name wasn’t even William Desmond Taylor. Two female stars were directly linked to Taylor and they were suspects for a time. During this same period, Fatty Arbuckle is on trial for the brutal rape and death of Virginia Rappe at a wild party. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are addicted to illegal drugs and alcohol (also illegal). Adolph Zukor and his colleagues run their companies with iron fists. During the days of silent films, big stars belonged to studios, who not only produced the films but then showed them in their theaters (something the FTC will eventually target). During this same period, a group of “church ladies,” flush from their success in finally pushing through Prohibition now feel it their duty to regulate morality through Hollywood movies. Zukor knows that for the film industry, “the greatest threats it faced were in those civic reformers and church ladies who saw the handiwork of Satan in silvery shadowplays that flickered across the nation’s screens. Movies glorified sex and sin, these bluenoses charged, and the movie players, with all their affairs and divorces, were agents of the devil.” The effects of their efforts will be felt for over 35 years.

One of the most fascinating men in Tinseltown is Adolph Zukor, president of Famous Players-Lasky and Paramount Studios. This movie mogul had a vision of the future. “Zukor envisioned longer, more complex narratives for films. He took the movies out of their makeshift storefront theaters and enshrined them in grand palaces of entertainment.” He also saw movies moving beyond silent, and beyond black and white. “What if someday they could be synchronized with music scores? What if they could be shot in color? What if movies could talk?” He also imagined a time when movies could be seen at home “on devices not yet invented.” Zukor lived until 1976, when he died at the age of 103—ultimately seeing his dreams become reality.

I know very little about the early days of Hollywood, and Cann gives us a fascinating look at this particular window in time. Most of these stars who were very big names are now mostly forgotten. I found Cann’s tabloid-style writing well suited to this story. And although some have complained that it is too long, I disagree. It’s not just a story about Taylor’s murder—it’s so much more. Think Devil in the White City or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There are a lot of patches in this quilt.

I only have two complaints about Tinseltown. First, there are no photos in the Vine edition, although there are plenty to be found online. I assume the published book will include many. The second and more serious charge is that Cann does not solve the murder of William Desmond Taylor. Although he speculates on who may have committed the crime, he has no hard evidence or concrete proof. Otherwise, I found Tinseltown to be thoroughly enjoyable and learned a lot about the early days of the film industry.


Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors
Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $12.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Another tragic chapter in our history..., September 6, 2014
I am always amazed at how many stories there are about Abraham Lincoln that have yet to be told. Gustav Niebuhr provides the reader with a fascinating but tragic tale of the Dakota War of 1862 in Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors. As with most histories of the American Indian, Lincoln’s Bishop does not have a happy ending, although things could have been worse.

Bishop Henry B. Whipple was an Episcopal priest who became the first bishop of Minnesota. A new state, Minnesota needed a bishop and Whipple actually took a decrease in pay to minister to the residents and the Indian population. Unlike many Americans at that time, Whipple believed that Indians had souls and he spent time traveling through Indian territory, converting, preaching, and worshipping with these natives. It also did not take him long to realize that the Office of Indian Affairs “was brutally, dangerously corrupt and needed a thorough reform in the name of peace and the nation’s standing with God.” He also believed that bad treaties, ignorant agents, and greedy and self-serving traders had turned the Dakota into a tribe beset by poverty. Niebuhr details the Dakota War of 1862 which was caused by the very things that Whipple warned about. Unlike President James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln returns Whipple’s letters and even meets with him in the White House. “What the bishop managed to do was set the war [Dakota War of 1862] within the context of federal government corruption and ineptitude. He created for Lincoln a lens through which to view the war.” Unfortunately, Lincoln didn’t live long enough to live up to his promise to Whipple “to address America’s other racial sin after first dealing with slavery and secession.”

As an Episcopalian, I was also fascinated by some of the Civil War history of the Episcopal Church. I did not know that the national church was split in two, north and south, just like our country. I also never knew that Lincoln sent Bishop Charles McIlvaine of Ohio to Great Britain to convince his fellow Anglicans against recognizing the Confederacy as a sovereign nation.

You will have to read Lincoln’s Bishop to discover what happened to those 300 Sioux warriors. But I think it’s good that Bishop Henry Whipple is finally getting his due. It’s about time someone recognizes his accomplishments and brings them to light.


The Rough Guide to New Orleans (Rough Guide to...)
The Rough Guide to New Orleans (Rough Guide to...)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good go-to guide to the Crescent City..., September 6, 2014
I am starting to plan for a trip to New Orleans in 2015, so I decided to check out Rough Guide to New Orleans by Samantha Cook. This guide is wonderful in almost every aspect except for hotels. Otherwise, it’s a go-to book for almost every aspect of visiting New Orleans.

My husband and I love the Crescent City and have been there several times. After doing the usual things in the past, we’re looking to expand our experiences. Rough Guide certainly provides a lot of choices and a lot of suggestions. It also provides a good knowledge-base post-Katrina. It includes everything from tours, to historic buildings, to boat rides, to music, to clubs, to cemeteries, to modes of transportation, etc. For those who loved the HBO series, Treme’, you will find many of the sights and sounds and restaurants and clubs and even musicians that are featured in this wonderful show. Cook also doesn’t sugar-coat the crime in New Orleans and gives suggestions for keeping safe. My only complaint is that I thought the hotel section a bit light. Since my husband and I will be traveling with our mini-poodle, I am especially interested in pet-friendly hotels. I will have to use one of the pet-friendly websites on the internet, instead.

Still, Rough Guide to New Orleans is a great book to travel with, and having it on my Kindle will allow me to keep it at my fingertips for our entire trip.


Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Top Secret Twenty-One: A Stephanie Plum Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More entertaining than she's been for awhile..., September 6, 2014
As a long time fan of Janet Evanovich, I’ve been less than happy with her later efforts. For this reason, I have stopped purchasing her books, and instead, pick them up from my local library. After reading Top Secret Twenty-One, I’m happy to report that at least this novel is more entertaining than probably the last 4 or 5 books that she’s written in her Stephanie Plum series. And isn’t that why most of us read the exploits of the Trenton bounty hunter?

As with most of Evanovich’s books, Stephanie Plum stumble-bumbles through the apprehension of her bail skips. Plum is on the hunt for Jimmy Poletti, a used car dealer who is selling a lot more than used cars. Unfortunately, Poletti has gone AWOL and his closest friends are showing up dead. When Poletti’s bookkeeper barely escapes the firebombing of his apartment, short and obnoxious Randy Briggs, shows up on Plum’s doorstep—looking for a place to stay. Plum plans to use him as bait to capture Poletti. At the same time, someone is using sophisticated methods to kill Ranger. He uses Plum to find out who is behind the danger.

Ok—most things are still the same. Lula still wears Spandex outfits too small and dyes her hair outrageous colors. Grandma Mazur still packs heat and spends major time at viewings. Plum’s mother cooks nonstop and takes a nip when Plum’s world is out of control. And there still is the unresolved question of whether Plum wants Joe Morelli or Ranger. But I thought that there were a lot more laughs in Top Secret Twenty-One, and one scene caused tears to roll down my cheeks from laughing so hard. Plus I thought that novel 21 was a little less stupid. Well, then again—there were those Chihuahuas and the rocket launcher.

So, I’m a sucker. I’ll keep reading Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I just won’t be rushing out to buy them when they’re first published.


Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America
Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America
by Murray Dubin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.84
50 used & new from $4.12

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterwork that will haunt you long after you've finished reading..., August 28, 2014
I was born in Philadelphia and have lived my entire life in her shadow. I thought that I had a good knowledge of Philadelphia’s history—that is until I read Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America by Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin. What I discovered is that when it came to the treatment of blacks in 19th Century Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love was rarely brotherly and certainly not loving. This magnificent book was outrageous, haunting, heartbreaking, and yet uplifting. It’s a book that you will think about long after you’ve finished reading. It’s that good.

Today when we think of civil rights heroes, we think of 20th Century activists like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Most don’t realize that the battle for civil rights reaches back into the 1800s. Philadelphia had a large population of free blacks, and they worked hard for equal rights. Although the book centers on Octavius Valentine Catto, the authors showcase many local heroes including Jacob C. White, Jr., Charlotte Forten, Caroline LeCount, Henry Garnet, Fanny Jackson Coppin, William Still, etc. They fought for the end of slavery. They pushed for quality education for black students by black teachers. They waged a battle to integrate streetcars. They lobbied for the right to vote (something denied free blacks in Pennsylvania since 1838). They played baseball and petitioned to have their teams recognized by local and national groups. They were highly educated, were leaders in their churches and participated in literary, scientific, and social clubs. They were the rock stars of their time. Yet their successes were often negated by Irish-mob rule that was backed by the Democratic Party. Feeling threatened by the growing rights of blacks, the Irish mobs resorted to violence, intimidation and even murder. These actions usually went unpunished and were often supported by the police. This is a very black mark on Philadelphia history.

Biddle and Dubin give their readers a finely crafted and meticulously researched story that benefits from their many years working for the Philadelphia Inquirer. They have a way of turning a sentence into a well-crafted work of art. In describing the relatively new Democratic Party, “Founded in the 1830s, the party stretched one arm to Southern slaveholders and the other to Northern workers, a surprisingly good fit in the same coat of white supremacy.” They also include some amazing quotes and stories from journals and letters and diaries and speeches. On Emancipation Day, Colonel Thomas W. Higginson wrote of a gathering in Port Royal, SC of white soldiers, black freemen, and former slaves. After the Emancipation Proclamation was read, three people (an old man and two younger women) started singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Higginson writes “I never saw anything so electric; it made all other words cheap, it seemed the choked voice of a race, at last unloosed; nothing could be more wonderfully unconscious; art could not have dreamed of a tribute to the day of jubilee that should be so affecting; history will not believe it; and when I came to speak of it, after it was silent, tears were everywhere.” Yet, there is a sadness to Tasting Freedom in that the words of those 19th Century orators are still relevant in 2014.

I had the pleasure of seeing Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin recently for a Juneteenth Day event in Beverly, NJ. The passion that they show for Tasting Freedom and the characters that they wrote about is just as strong as when this book was published four years ago. We owe the authors a great debt for introducing these brave Philadelphia civil rights heroes from the 1800s to a new generation.


Boy21 (Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)
Boy21 (Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Boys to men..., August 28, 2014
Matthew Quick’s Boy21 is published as a book for young adults, but that shouldn’t keep regular adults from reading this moving novel about two teenage boys moving toward manhood. As with all Quick novels, his characters are engaging, their issues are moving, and his writing is first-rate.

Finley McManus lives in fictional Bellmont on the outskirts of Philadelphia. “Bellmont’s too complicated for me to explain in a sentence. The drugs, the violence, the racial tension, the Irish mob—how do you explain who runs the town when you could get killed just for saying the words Irish job? I keep my mouth shut.” In fact, McManus spends most of his life just keeping his mouth shut. Living with his father and grandfather, he lives to play basketball and dates the star of the women’s team, Erin. Before his junior year, Coach comes around to ask McManus a favor: Russell Washington Allen, an unbelievably talented high school basketball star lost his parents in a tragic way. He is coming to Bellmont to live with his grandparents under an assumed name. Coach asks McManus to take Allen under his wing. McManus and Allen are a strange pair. McManus is white, Allen is black. McManus works tremendously hard at basketball, but for Allen, it’s a natural gift. But McManus was also exposed to tragedy, which he has never properly death with. This unusual friendship will help boy boys to heal and teach McManus that there are more important things than basketball.

At first, Allen tells everyone that he is from outer space and calls himself Boy21, although he has to suppress is “otherworldly” self when at school. Told in the first person, McManus has to tip-toe through his evolving friendship with Allen. And while McManus does help Allen move past the loss of his parents, Allen returns the favor in ways McManus never expected. As a retired teacher, I am always amazed at the process whereby a boy becomes a man, and Boy21 shows how two young men navigate the shoals of their teenage years as they move forward to become adults. Matthew Quick is a master at taking a peek inside the brain of a male teen and sharing it with his readers. We are much richer for his efforts.


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