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Das Doppelte Lottchen (German Edition)
Das Doppelte Lottchen (German Edition)
by Erich Kastner
Edition: Paperback
2 used & new from $13.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Ein ausgezeichneter erster wirklicher deutscher Roman, January 30, 2015
An A level challenge based on a vocabulary of approximately 600 words, Easy Readers has created an interesting, challenging read appropriate to second year students of the German language. The difficulty level at which the publishers have set this abridged and modified version of Erich Kästner's classic children's novel is perfect. The first couple of chapters seem heavy going indeed and the easily discouraged student, forced to resort to a dictionary on numerous occasions might be tempted to set the book aside as simply beyond his or her capabilities. But the more persevering student soon discovers (as I did to my surprised delight) that he or she is reading (slowly, to be sure) but without the assistance of any dictionary at all and relying solely on context to determine the meaning of never before seen words and brand new colloquial German sentence structures.

What's even better is that „Das doppelte Lottchen”, as the basis for the well-known English story, "The Parent Trap" is a REAL story with real emotions and real outcomes. I found that I was enjoying reading the story for its own sake ... NOT just because I was assigned the reading as part of a German class.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss


House of Secrets (House of Secrets series Book 1)
House of Secrets (House of Secrets series Book 1)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $7.59

1.0 out of 5 stars Childishly insulting to an intelligent young reader!, January 30, 2015
A random collection of criticisms of a book that has earned many more than I care to take the time to write:

Even without referring to a poorly conceived, wandering plot line that seems to be headed simultaneously in several different directions without any single plot direction ever really reaching adequate resolution, it has to be said that the writing in this story is at best stilted and outrageously amateurish.

Apparently the story is directed at young readers in grades 4 to 8 but it is difficult to imagine anyone in that age group understanding musical references to Mick Jagger or Styx, American cultural references to the cartoon Scooby Doo, or British historical cultural references to such terms as "above stairs" and "below stairs".

The use of random Latin quotations as magical spells sounds rather familiar and derivative at best (or should one call it actual plagiarism?) from another young adult series we're all familiar with. The device of simply saying the words backwards to undo the spell was trite and ridiculous even for a child's novel.

Strongly recommended against. There's little enough precious reading time in this world.

Paul Weiss


The Devil's Bones (Body Farm Novel Book 3)
The Devil's Bones (Body Farm Novel Book 3)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $4.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Much, much weaker than the first two novels in the series!, January 29, 2015
Publisher's Weekly's criticism of THE DEVIL'S BONES was short, sweet and very to the point, "The lack of a strong central plot undercuts the third forensic thriller by bestseller Bass, the team of Dr. Bill Bass, founder of Tennessee's world-renowned Body Farm, and journalist Jon Jefferson (after 2007's Flesh and Bone). Two cases occupy Dr. Bass's fictional alter ego, Dr. Bill Brockton—the death of Mary Latham, a 47-year-old Knoxville native, whose charred remains were found in a burned-out car, and a disreputable Georgia crematorium that simply dumped bodies on its grounds. These probes soon take a backseat to a cat-and-mouse game with the doctor's arch nemesis, Garland Hamilton, who tried to frame him for murder in Flesh and Bone."

The forensic science underpinnings of the novel were as informative, as entertaining and as educational as ever. The Body Farm's research into the different effects of fire, accidental, homicidal, suicidal, in a crematorium or otherwise, on "green" bones (those from a recently deceased body) versus bones that had already dried in a corpse decease4d for a longer period of time was absolutely fascinating. But that's the good news.

SPOILER ALERT (WELL, SORTA ... )!

There actually is very little to spoil here. The story line about the fraudulent crematorium was pedestrian and barely workmanlike. The fraud that was perpetrated on the unsuspecting grieving relations was criminal, to be sure, but there wasn't a live criminal in sight. Take a report from a friend that the "cremains" of his recently deceased aunt didn't seem quite right (check). Find the near-hidden crematorium (check). Deal with a very nasty guard dog (check). Trip across in excess of one hundred decomposing and most definitely UN-cremated corpses (check). Case closed and hand it over to the police for closure (check, end of story).

The more action-oriented story line of Dr Brockton's encounter with his escaped nemesis, Garland Hamilton, was very much over-written, over the top and really quite cartoonish. Not up to the calibre that I had come to expect from this fine writing team

Such a shame. Not recommended although I'll press on to number four to see if they can return to form.

Paul Weiss


Deadly Slipper: A Novel of Death in the Dordogne
Deadly Slipper: A Novel of Death in the Dordogne

4.0 out of 5 stars Plot, characters and setting ... tough to ask more of a good mystery!, January 23, 2015
Michelle Wan's entrancing debut novel, DEADLY SLIPPER, offers the cozy mystery lover - that most crowded of well-thumbed genres - a combination of characters, setting and tightly constructed plot that has to be characterized as entirely unique.

Mara Dunn, a young Canadian woman, troubled by the unsolved disappearance of her twin sister while on a hiking trip in the Dordogne Valley in France, has moved to France to (What else? You guessed it, of course.), bring her untested amateur sleuthing skills to bear on the problem. When she serendipitously discovers her sister's camera, she sees that it contains an unexposed roll of local wildflower photos, and, in particular, one of an extremely rare if not previously undiscovered orchid species. At this point, Ms Wan introduces us to Julian Wood, floral expert extraordinaire, the local expatriate British geek, horticulturist, landscape designer and semi-professional orchidologist, whose help Mara Dunn enlists to use the photos to track what was possibly the last hike her sister took before she disappeared.

If it's hair-raising high speed chases, graphic gore and violence, stomach churning plot twists, or noir psychological mind games that you look for in your mysteries, I'm afraid you're going to have to look elsewhere. If your tastes, on the other hand, run to more slowly paced mysteries starring well-developed carefully crafted characters with a touch of mildly exaggerated traits but stopping short of cartoonish caricatures; a soupçon of hesitant, confused romance (no sweaty groping or heavy breathing to be found anywhere); and a deep, rich, honeyed, mellifluous description of place that will have you convinced you have been transported to the center of the Dordogne Valley in south central France, then DEADLY SLIPPER is the book for you.

Witness this mouth-watering description of a decadent, obviously French, mid-day meal offered at a local bistro:

"Julian had the prix fixe of the day: a terrine of aubergine for starters, followed by the sprats, hot, crisp, and dressed in garlic and coarse salt. They were accompanied by potatoes and spring asparagus poached in butter. He ordered a pichet of local white."

or this evocative description of a rich forest, so typical of the Dordogne valley:

" ... they plunged into shady woodland. Helleborines, each plant bearing clusters of delicately nodding white bells, embroidered the shoulders of their path. Eventually, beech and pine gave way to a dense forest of oaks and chestnuts whose branches met overhead, creating a greenish net of light that shivered down through the leafy canopy. Here great vines hung like curtains, and ferns carpeted the forest floor. The air was fresh and cool, redolent of leaf mulch and growing things."

It's OK to wake up now! You're not really there. You're just at home in front of your computer reading this. But it certainly is easy to picture, isn't it?

If there's any criticism to be made of Ms Wan's first effort, it's only that the identity of the culprit, while not obvious, is a teeny bit predictable. But the circumstances surrounding Ms Wan's climax, dénouement and resolution of any remaining plot strings and loose ends is more than enough to make up for this mild shortcoming.

Great job, Ms Wan. Highly recommended. I've already ordered THE ORCHID SHROUD, number two in your series and I'm looking forward to it with bated breath.

Paul Weiss


Sycamore Row: A Novel (Jake Brigance Book 2)
Sycamore Row: A Novel (Jake Brigance Book 2)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $5.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story of racism in 20th century Mississippi!, January 18, 2015
Seth Hubbard is a wealthy white man. In fact, he's one of the wealthiest that Ford County, Mississippi, has ever known. But, in his final days, ravaged by the pain of terminal lung cancer, he revokes his previous will, carefully crafted to evade the predations of the IRS, and hand writes a holographic will leaving all of his money to his black housekeeper whom he has known for less than three years. In the process, he heartlessly, vindictively, quite cruelly and to all appearances, entirely capriciously disinherits his son, his daughter and all of his grandchildren. After mailing the will and explicit instructions as to how to deal with it to lawyer, Jake Brigance, he summarily kills himself by hanging. The questions, of course, are obvious. Did Seth Hubbard, given the pain he was certainly suffering and the effects of the drugs that he was taking, retain testamentary capacity and, even if he did, had he been unduly influenced by a wily black woman to change his will in her favour?

The USA of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century would probably like to view itself as a post-racial society. But John Grisham's SYCAMORE ROW, a superbly told, moving and completely compelling story, portrays deep south rural Mississippi as anything but. The drama of the civic trial testing the validity of Seth Hubbard's will manages to be at once banal and work-a-day as well as totally gripping. And the conclusion, well, you'll have to read it for yourself. You'll realize that John Grisham could not possibly choose the enormous cop-out of having a mistrial declared without killing the novel entirely so you'll also be aware that he had to choose one side or another.

How he achieves that in a way that will leave fans of both sides of the issue satisfied is amazing. Grisham's dénouement will not only please you but it will move you and, possibly, just possibly, it will move the USA toward that post-racial society that has so far remained just a societal dream.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss


Does GOD Ever Speak through CATS?
Does GOD Ever Speak through CATS?
Price: $4.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well, of course, he does! But the ..., January 11, 2015
Well, of course, he does! But the odd part is that the Christians don't realize they've been getting it wrong all of these years. Why do you think that the Egyptians worshiped their cats? Horus and Isis rock!


Deliver Us from Evil (A. Shaw Book 2)
Deliver Us from Evil (A. Shaw Book 2)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extradition? We don't need no steenking extradition!, January 7, 2015
I doubt if anyone ever accused David Baldacci of writing literary masterpieces replete with symbolism, satire, social commentary, foreshadowing, onomatopoeia, allegory, alliteration, pathetic fallacy, subliminal moral messages or any of those things that our English teachers were wont to torture their students with. But if you're looking for a solid, entertaining thriller, a compelling plot line that is not only always innovative but can be counted on for an unexpected twist or three, and a series of educational, informative and always fascinating "info-dump" side bar essays that are used to further the plot without ever threatening to derail it or slow it down - then Baldacci's books are what you're looking for and DELIVER US FROM EVIL is no exception.

A. Shaw (Shaw contends that the A doesn't stand for anything at all!), a globetrotting undercover operative for a shadowy black ops quasi-government organization, delivers slippery bad guys to well-deserved justice anywhere in the world. This time around his target is Evan Waller, a wealthy Canadian businessman who has earned his pile human trafficking - selling Asian women into prostitution and sex slavery. When Waller stepped into the arena of international politics and terrorism by deciding to sell smuggled highly enriched uranium to a middle eastern terrorist cell, Shaw's controllers knew enough was enough and Waller became a takedown target. What Shaw doesn't know is that Waller is actually an alias for Fedir Kuchin, a savage, blood-thirsty, post WW II ex-KBG officer responsible for the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians in the period following WW II and Stalin's iron-fisted rule over Russia. As such, Kuchin aka Waller is the current target of a second undercover group whose mission is the termination of war criminals who have evaded justice and slipped through the world's cracks.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL tells a remarkable, hair-raising story of two undercover groups working unbeknownst to one another toward a similar end. And what they don't know about one another might be enough to allow a vicious, sadistic soldier who has obviously learned to survive against all odds to evade capture once again.

As you are relentlessly pulled through the story, take note of those side-bar essays - a brief history of a relatively unknown genocidal event, the Holodomor, the relentless "death by hunger" of thousands of Ukrainian dissidents and civilians; the technical details of the use of HEU (highly enriched uranium) versus plutonium in tactical nuclear weapons; the evolution of the bizarre artistry of the Spanish painter, Francisco Goya; a remarkable, vivid description of the bleak, semi-polar landscape of the coastal tundra of Labrador; and more.

It's worth observing that at the close of the novel, every last plot thread is tied up and closed out superbly. But there are a couple of open-ended ideas concerning the development of Baldacci's characters that would lead one to believe that Baldacci has a third novel in the series in mind. I'll look forward to that.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2015 10:07 AM PST


Among the Impostors (Shadow Children)
Among the Impostors (Shadow Children)
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $7.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Tris Prior, Katniss Everdeen and Thomas Edison have got company!, January 2, 2015
Luke Garner is a 3rd child in a famine-stricken, dystopian, totalitarian world governed by strict population control laws which condemn a third child to death merely by virtue of its existence. To exist and hide with a false name and false identification renders the offense an aggravated crime punishable by death by torture at the government's choice. Jake Talbot, a civil servant working for the population police, is actually a grieving father whose daughter Jen, also a third child, was summarily murdered by the government for the crime of attempting to stand up for her rights and for the rights of other children like her who didn't ask to be brought into this difficult world. Because Luke failed to find the courage to stand beside Jen at the anti-government protest rally where she met her death, he finds himself unexpectedly alive but angry and conflicted about his survival. Likewise, Jake, who was unable to protect his daughter, now has courageously chosen to put his own life in jeopardy by providing Luke with a false name, false identification and a school placement where he can at least live openly in the real world.

AMONG THE IMPOSTERS is a story of the search for courage to stand up to a totalitarian government; the coming of age realization that there are false people in the world who would claim friendship but offer betrayal for their own venal purposes; the ancillary realization that, from time to time, life offers only choices which represent variations on ugly outcomes; that maturity and growing sometimes means choosing and accepting the least of all possible evils. It's also worth pointing out that, as a young adult novel, AMONG THE IMPOSTERS also cleverly plays up the value of education, study and motivation without slipping into the trap of preaching or scolding recalcitrant or perhaps unmotivated young students.

If you have yet to read AMONG THE HIDDEN, do yourself a favour and set this book aside for a spell. Go back and start at the beginning of the SHADOW CHILDREN series, a most worthy addition to the growing canon of young adult literature, a genre that has blossomed most wonderfully in the last twenty years. The books are short (no more than 3 to 4 hours for a typical adult reader, I should think) but they are powerful, moving, absorbing, and compelling - so much so that I wonder if a typical young adult reader is capable of absorbing all of the messages that Margaret Peterson Haddix has actually put on offer. Maybe or maybe not? ... but I'm positive that any young reader will enjoy it and put on their thinking cap to consider what they've read when they're finished.

I'm looking forward with bated breath to reading AMONG THE BETRAYED.

Paul Weiss


The Book of Negroes: A Novel (Movie Tie-in Edition)  (Movie Tie-in Editions)
The Book of Negroes: A Novel (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Movie Tie-in Editions)
by Lawrence Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.59
69 used & new from $7.45

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving indictment of Canada's part in the history of slavery!, January 1, 2015
Many of us will remember being moved to tears by the power and depth of "Roots", Alex Haley's compelling novel on the slave trade that was published almost 40 years ago. Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes" gives contemporary readers the opportunity to savour a very similar novel and to experience the horror, shame and embarrassment of acknowledging that such abhorrent conduct towards black people is an indelible part of North America's past.

I was fascinated to discover that the "Book of Negroes" is a real historical document. It painstakingly lists the names and details of freed Loyalist slaves who chose to leave the United States to go to Canada, a difficult and frightening decision that, for them, must have seemed no less daunting than the Israelite's search for the Promised Land. To my shame as a Canadian, many of the blacks who were part of this migration discovered that their treatment in Nova Scotia was just as reactionary and oppressive as that which they had hoped to leave behind as freed slaves in the northern states of New England.

Constructing his novel around the fact of this amazing document, Lawrence Hill has presented "The Book of Negroes" as a fictionalized autobiography. Aminata Diallo, a precocious and brave young girl kidnapped from her village in West Africa, marched in chains to the Atlantic coast, squashed into the hold of a stifling, disease-ridden slaver and shipped to South Carolina where she was sold as a slave, tells her own story. We hear of the love and loss of her husband, her life as a slave under multiple owners, her migration to Nova Scotia from New York, her return to Freetown in Sierra Leone and, ultimately, her trip to England and the presentation of her fascinating but appalling story to the British people through the members of British Parliament seeking to abolish slavery.

The history that Lawrence Hill presents to us is at once spellbinding and repulsive. The incredible art and archival material that Hill has chosen to accompany the text in the illustrated edition starkly bring the story to life. We are reminded that, while "The Book of Negroes" is a novel, it is based in a reality, the horror of which is almost impossible to exaggerate. As a Canadian, I felt, frankly, that I had been soundly slapped for an entirely unwarranted sanctimonious attitude. Until I read "The Book of Negroes", I was blissfully unaware of the extent of Canada's involvement in the ugliness that was the treatment of ostensibly free black people when they moved to Canada.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.97
108 used & new from $7.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Science writing that should be considered mandatory reading!, December 28, 2014
Elizabeth Kolbert has achieved a great deal with THE SIXTH EXTINCTION. A book that combines natural history, current news, science, paleontology, history and even, to a certain extent, sociology in a package that is entertaining, informative and eminently readable to the point of being compelling is quite an accomplishment! It's a cautionary tale, to be sure, that bleakly outlines the devastating effect that Homo Sapiens has had and is having having on its environment since our arrival some 100,000 years ago.While THE SIXTH EXTINCTION deftly avoids falling into the trap of becoming a left-wing tree hugger's manifesto, it unequivocally suggests that our effect on the world, including the recipe for our own demise as a species, may have already been put irreversibly in place. Certainly, the take away from the book is that, if we are to have any hope at all for rescuing the myriad species around us from shuffling off this mortal coil forever, the time to act is yesterday!

Paul Weiss


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