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Review: The Litigators by John Grisham

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The Litigators book coverI can’t speak for all readers, but I can’t help but notice that every time I read a John Grisham book I learn something new about the law and the role of attorney specialization. Added to the knowledge I have accrued over the years watching Judge Judy, this makes me pretty much a paralegal prospect. (Don’t co-sign for poor risks.)

Grisham’s latest endeavor, The Litigators, is about such lawyers, those who go to court over a suit and argue before a judge and often a jury. David Zinc, a Harvard Law School graduate, was not a trained litigator. He worked for a large specialized law firm in a Chicago high rise with long hours and good money. Unfortunately, the work was sucking the life force from him, and he snapped. He couldn’t get his body into the office and went on a day-long bender at a local bar. It was this set of circumstances that landed him at the door of Finley & Figg, a two man operation adept at ambulance chasing, DUI’s and quickie divorces. Finley & Figg found room for Zinc where he happily did legwork for this boutique law firm.

One of the lawyers uncovered the fact that a pharmaceutical company was being sued over a cholesterol drug that could have bad side effects. Thinking this was a good way to enter high stakes tort law, a partner recruited as many users of the drug as he could find and signed them up, promising them a big payday. Of course, Finley and Figg were in way over their heads and had no idea that the expert witnesses that had to be hired required huge sums. The pharmaceutical company, on the other hand, had many more resources, and it became David vs. Goliath.

Meanwhile, Zinc gets more and more involved to the point where he becomes part of the litigation team where his expertise is nil. In addition, Zinc learns of a child suffering from lead paint poisoning. Upon further investigation, he finds the source of the lead paint and moves forward with that product liability suit. It’s all very fast-paced and highly instructive.

Don’t miss The Litigators: law at its most tensely dramatic.

I give the book 3 7/8 litigious societies.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: 11/22/63

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What would you change if you could turn back time? Would your life improve or would it just cause more unforseen problems? This butterfly effect is at the heart of Stephen King’s latest opus, 11/22/63.

On 11/22/63 I was a student teacher at Springfield Commerce High School when the principal came into the class to report that President Kennedy had been shot. When one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, wrote a huge book about that history-altering event, I wasn’t sure I was up to reliving that moment. But I did.

I should have known that King would use that event in time travel mode to entertain and engross the reader yet again. The book cannot help but be somewhat political as it involves in part Lee Harvey Oswald, his time in Russia and his growing dissatisfaction with the U.S. government and life in general. King includes Oswald’s relationship with his wife Marina and how she coped with a new country and a semi-deranged, abusive husband.

As though this is not enough drama and great storytelling, King’s main character, Jake Epping, falls in love with a school librarian on his trip to the past. Including a pretty good love story is a departure for King, but it works very well. The reader wonders how Jake is going to bring his love back to 2011 when he returns after his mission.

There are many wonderful, keenly written moments in 11/22/63, but I was struck by how nostalgic I became for the late 50′s and early 60′s. Sure, people were smoking a lot more then and there was pollution galore, but didn’t the frosted root beer taste great? Wasn’t the music outstanding?

In Stephen King’s long illustrious career, he has written some bizarre, gory, supernatural and far-fetched material, most of which I liked. Just not at night. This book is unique for him and can be enjoyed and appreciated by those readers who may not have chosen to enter his fertile imagination before. This is an adult book with many level of literacy excellence.

Remember, life turns on a dime…

I give the book 4 sock hops.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

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Only Time Will Tell book coverI have been on the lookout for a new Jeffrey Archer novel after having read his book of short stories, “And Thereby Hangs a Tale.” There it was on the new book shelf just waiting for me: Only Time Will Tell.

Encompassing the years between World War 1 and World War 11, Only Time Will Tell is a Dickens-style tale of a young man brought up with limited means who has a gift.

Harry Clifton is the boy in question whose mother Maisie tells him that his father was lost in the war. Harry is destined to be a dockworker like his father and uncle until he is discovered by a benefactor and given a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school in England.

The description of life in the boys’ school not only reveals class distinctions but the regimen all students must follow in their studies, extra-curricular activities and the fierce competition to get to the next level of education. I found this insight into the British educational system enlightening.

The method Archer uses to reveal this complex tale is by introducing each main character in a narrative told from his point of view. Although it may seem redundant to hear about the same occurrence from various characters, I found it original and effective. After all, there’s more than one (or more) sides to every story.

It is clear to me that Jeffrey Archer is a great story-teller, but he also has a sense of history and is not afraid if writing sweeping, multi-generational works.

All of this discussion brings me to the fortuitous conclusion that this is the first in a series, The Clifton Chronicles. What a treat if you like tales of adventure, romance, treachery, intrigue and all those good things. 2012 is already looking upbeat for readers.

I give Only Time Will Tell 4 Oxford English Dictionaries.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

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Last Night in Twisted River book coverIf you’re in the mood for a long detail-oriented novel in the style of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp, John Irving is the man for you. This prolific author’s latest work, Last Night in Twisted River, is a saga worth the reader’s time.

Covering five decades and encompassing New Hampshire, Boston, Vermont, Toronto and the frozen landscape of Pointe au Barie Station, Ontario, Last Night in Twisted River traces the life and times of Dominic Baciagalupo and his son Daniel. Initially set in a logging camp in northern New Hampshire, Last Night in Twisted River begins with a tragedy and never lets up. In John Irving fashion, the characters become entwined in each other’s lives for better but often for worse. Dominic is the cook for the logging crew, and his young son observes and learns from this rough and tumble crowd. Unfortunately, there is an occurrence on the Last Night in Twisted River which sends Dominic and his son to Boston where they assume new identities. Thus, Cookie/Dominic Baciagalupo becomes Tony Angel and his son becomes Danny Angel.

The reader must truly be on his toes because in addition to name and identity changes, the author indulges in the technique “in medias res” where the reader is dropped into the middle of a situation unexpectedly. Eventually the reasoning becomes clear, but John Irving demands a lot of attention to his carefully scripted work. He’s a joy to read.

It would be pointless to get into all the subplots and numerous characters along the way, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Irving’s expert storytelling affords insight into the logging industry of northern New England in addition to many religious and political references which makes for an enriching reading experience. A keen sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.

This is another of those long complex novels whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I give the book 4 black bears.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Lauren Hillenbrand

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Unbroken book coverIn the field of non-fiction, Laura Hillenbrand has distinguished herself with the bestseller Seabiscuit. In a relatively short space of time her latest blockbuster Unbroken came on the scene. Subtitled “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption,” Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini.

The author, who did exhaustive research on this book, collaborated with Zamperini when he was in his 80’s to get all details possible. Since World War ll veterans are becoming fewer, it was important to note all the memories that could be retrieved. In this case Zamperini’s ordeal occurred in the Pacific when as an Army Air Force bombardier, he was shot down in 1943.

Zamperini and two other crew members were adrift on a makeshift life raft for weeks with basically no life-saving supplies, including food and water. They had to become resourceful and clever with what they could put together to catch fish and birds and even fight off encircling sharks. I think the killing and eating of an albatross or two was a bad luck move, however.

Unfortunately for these three, this was just the beginning of their ordeal. They were captured by the Japanese and sent to a series of POW camps, each worse than the one before. Because Zamperini was known as a world class runner, he was singled out for more intense punishment than the others.

Told in infinite detail, Unbroken is a testament to the human spirit which in this case survived under extreme duress. There are pictures throughout the book of Zamperini’s family, aircraft and fellow flyers. The author does not conclude the story with the end of the war and the POW’s release, but explains how difficult re-entry into civilian life was.

I remember watching “Victory at Sea” Sunday afternoons with its soaring music and battle scenes, but I never dreamed as a child that there were thousands of American POW’s held and abused at the same time.

Unbroken is a realistic look into one man’s experience that effected us all.
I give the book 4 life jackets.

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Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

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State of Wonder book coverIf it’s been a while since you’ve read a thrilling adventure story with more twists and turns than the tributaries of the Amazon River, you must read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Dr. Marina Singh did not start out to be Survivorwoman in the Amazon Rainforest; it just worked out that way. As a research scientist, she was used to being in a lab environment, but her boss sent her to Brazil to check up on Dr. Annick Swenson. Swenson had been several years deep in the rainforest with her team working on new fertility drugs and/or a malaria vaccine. She was not communicating, and her employers were desperate to hear of her progress.

As an aside, I think it appropriate to mention that Patchett is also the author of the acclaimed Bel Canto so her writing skills should come as no surprise. The following is an example of the kind of writing one can expect from Patchett. When Marina landed in the rainforest, “…every insect in the Amazon lifted its head from the leaf it was masticating and turned a slender antenna in her direction. She was a snack plate, a buffet line…”

With that as an example, one can only imagine the vivid descriptions to come of the Lakashi tribe, a fight with an anaconda, poison arrows shot her way, and a confrontation with cannibals.

In addition there is a personal story line with history going back to Marina’s days as an intern at Johns Hopkins where she was mentored by Dr. Swenson. There was a portion of the book that I thought lagged where Marina was kept waiting in the port of Manaus. It felt like so much treading of fetid water, but the action began in earnest when Marina finally ventured deep into the jungle and her long-awaited rendezvous with Dr. Swenson.

Be sure to join in the adventure; you’ll love State of Wonder.

I give the book 4 mosquito bites.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

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The Weird Sisters book cover“Double, double, toil and trouble.” So spoke the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for whom The Weird Sisters are named. This unusual novel by Eleanor Brown is filled with quotes from Shakespearean plays, which makes the book completely refreshing, surprising, and fun.

The three Andreas sisters’ father is a Shakespeare professor in a mid-west college so he named his daughters for heroines from Will’s plays–Rose (Rosalind), Bean (Bianca), and Cordy (Cordelia).

Naturally these women have different temperaments and life has carried them in opposite directions. Rose, the eldest, is an organizer who doesn’t think her sisters are capable of any decision-making. Bean, the middle child, chose an upscale life in New York City and succumbed to materialism, and Cordy, the baby of the family, became a wandering, aging hippie. The three sisters are reunited due to the illness of their mother and must face the problems they thought they had left behind.

Rose’s fiancé has gone to study in London, and he wants her to join him. She is torn between her love for him and her fear that her mother won’t be cared for properly in her absence.

Bean has returned from New York with a lavish, stylish wardrobe and a ton of debt. She sees no way out, even by using all her wiles.

Cordy seems the most out of the loop since her wandering existence did not exactly give her marketable skills.

As the sisters help their mother and simultaneously work on their own problems, they are comforted by the fact that they are in their childhood home with all the memories which that evokes. Their parents are still their anchor even with advancing age and illness.

The Weird Sisters is an excellent novel. It would certainly add to the reader’s enjoyment if some of the Shakespearean quotes rang a bell, but I think it works in any case.

As the Bard said, “All’s well that ends well.”

I give the book 3 9/10 cauldrons.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Emily and Einstein: A Novel of Second Chances by Linda Francis Lee

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Emily and Einstein book coverSet in the famous Dakota apartment building on New York’s Upper West Side, Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee is a surprisingly good novel which could have easily derailed into just so much fluff. What saves this book are the deeper meanings and significance the author imparts to the two main characters, Emily and her dog Einstein.

Emily Barlow is a feisty, hardworking young lady who experiences tragedy early in her married life. Emily’s husband, Sandy Portman, was a privileged young man whose family’s wealth and status landed him in the Dakota. We learn about his personality and background through the eyes of his wife and her dog, Einstein, which is rather strange. As the story progresses, Sandy turns out not to be a very good person.

After her husband’s sudden death, Emily picks up Einstein at the local animal shelter where she volunteers. Of course she is at a loss and grieving, but Einstein apparently senses her neediness and facilitates her eventual return to a new and improved outlook on life.

Out of necessity, I am leaving out key information that would be in the spoiler category. As I was saying…Not only does Emily have to deal with the loss of her husband, but she is being evicted by her mother-in-law from the fabulous apartment because Sandy never bothered to change the deed. Her work at a publishing firm is suffering, and her long lost sister Jordan descends and is basically no help.

The reader needs to suspend disbelief when reading Emily and Einstein, but the issues that arise about second chances, self-worth, and lots of karma are reality-based. A great sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either. I could have done without all the running scenes in Central Park where Emily is training for the New York Marathon, but it was something her husband had always wanted to do, so it did fit into the story line.

Lastly, thanks to the library patron who recommended this book. I owe you one.

I give Emily and Einstein 3 ½ Milk Bones.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Miles to Go by Richard Paul Evans

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Miles To GoWritten as a journal in novel form, Miles to Go by Richard Paul Evans is the second in The Walk series. It’s not really necessary to have read the first one, however. The author is glad to fill the reader in.

Basically Alan Christofferson has set off on a quest of hope. Through a series of life-changing occurrences, he finds himself recovering from stab wounds in a Spokane hospital. All he wants to do is recover enough to walk to Key West, Florida, to forget the past and look for a reason to live, I guess.

A stranger appears in his hospital room and offers him a place to stay while he is recuperating. Her name is Angel. Honestly, it’s Angel. Since Alan is homeless with no prospects in sight, he agrees. As it turns out, Alan begins to learn about Angel’s background, and he in turn helps her.

The lack of subtlety and nuance in this book is pronounced. I believe what the author is broadly hinting at is that there are people in our lives willing to help out in the most trying times. For example, when he was able to get back on the road, Alan met Kailamai, a teenage runaway. It is soon revealed that she has had a horrendous childhood and been placed in a series of foster homes, some of which were inappropriate placements. Through all this turmoil she is somehow upbeat, independent and a good traveling companion. Alan of course eventually introduces her to Angel.

After Kailamai, Miles to Go becomes a travelogue about what not to miss at Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse mountain sculpture. He’s not too impressed by the sights or lack of sights in Wyoming. At this point the line between fiction and non-fiction becomes blurred, and the author has become Alan.

Miles to Go has some spurts of philosophy, good advice and humor, but the author can’t seem to decide on the focus. He’s walking towards a goal, hopefully meeting more good souls and fewer thugs. I wish him well, but I don’t think I’ll join him on the third leg of the trip. Florida is a long way.

I give the book 3 last walks.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

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Minding Frankie book coverMaeve Binchy is a familiar name among readers who enjoy the doings of a close-knit Irish community in Dublin. Especially in the recent past, Binchy has focused on a particular group of people who reappear in ensuing books. This is the case in Minding Frankie.

The Frankie in question is a baby girl who was not born into the most ideal circumstances. Her mother did not survive childbirth, and Noel, the alleged father, was in no position to assume a solitary parenting role. Hence, many folk kicked in minding Frankie.

What makes the story work is that these people were in a neighborhood within walking distance of each other and were able to hand off care of Frankie in shifts while Noel worked and went to night school to improve his job skills.

I will not go through the list of supporting characters who mind Frankie, but each had his own story to be told and his own particular interest in this small family unit. A cousin from America arrived and was the organizer type. She encouraged a recent retiree to go into the pet-walking business, opened a thrift shop for the church, and worked to erect a statue of a local patron saint.

The social worker who was in charge of Noel and Frankie’s case was more than diligent and was often popping in to see if the child was indeed well cared for. She had a couple in mind who really wanted to adopt so she was watchful of any transgression on Noel’s part. The fact that he was a recovering alcoholic put more stress on the situation.

If there is any redundancy in Binchy’s work, it is the fact that many of the characters from previous novels open restaurants. As I read this book, I found those familiar characters and had a hard time differentiating them from the new cast starting up the same kind of business.

Nevertheless there is enough new material offered on the reading menu to make the book a success. It’s all about unconventional families, their relationships, and the care and love they show each other. It’s what makes Maeve Binchy so successful. Plus, what’s not to like about a newborn minded by so many folk?

I give the book Minding Frankie 3 5/8 nappies.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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