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Review: The Racketeer by John Grisham

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The Racketeer coverOne of the reasons I have always enjoyed the legal thrillers of John Grisham is I believed, as a lawyer, he knew what he was talking about. With each new book I learned something new about the law, especially the need to retain the highest quality defense. In his latest book, however, I’m not sure what he’s getting at. The Racketeer, which is one who retains money illegally, perplexed me. What on earth is going on?

Malcolm Bannister is doing time in a Federal prison camp near Frostburg, MD As an attorney unfairly convicted of a white collar crime, Bannister is approached by inmates who want his expertise and legal advice in filing appeals. It is information he received from one of his fellow inmates that drives the story.

A federal judge has been murdered, and the FBI has no leads. Bannister, however, has inside information on the crime and cuts a deal with the FBI. Under rule 35 of the Federal rules of criminal procedure, an inmate may gain a pardon or reduced sentence by solving a crime. In this case, there is the Witness Protection Program, a new identity and a huge reward as soon as the Grand Jury hands down an indictment. But things are not as they seem.

Bannister is wilier than the reader assumes, and his double-crossing defies understanding and any sympathy. The linear movement of the story ceases, and soon the reader has to contend with a huge ruse with a major character never seen or alluded to before.

Eventually, the two plots come together to make some sense, but by this time I’ve checked out. There are too many banks ,too many visits to safety deposit boxes, too many trips to Jamaica and Antigua in a private jet and too much exploitation of the law for me.

I can understand the use of clues, schemes, conspiracies, drug money greed and corruption, but when the author in the Author’s Note admits to laziness, lack of research and all those things that bring credence to his work, I feel duped. Hasn’t he heard about the 5th Amendment? Is there such a thing as rule 35? I’m too lazy to look it up.

This might be a good read when you’re heading to Antigua in your private jet to move illegally gained funds.

I give The Racketeer 3 hammocks and a pina colada.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: San Miguel by T.C. Boyle

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San Miguel book coverPrepare yourself for a short ocean voyage from Santa Barbara, CA to the island of San Miguel, the westernmost of the Channel Islands. If the voyage feels familiar, it’s because author T.C. Boyle loves these islands and visited Anacapa Island in his last book, When the Killing’s Done.

His newest book, San Miguel, has the same spirit as his previous work, but it is not as plot-driven. It depends mostly on three strong female characters: Marantha Waters, her adopted daughter Edith and Elise Lester.

It was the late 19th century , and Marantha Waters did not enjoy good health. Her husband Will, a Civil War veteran, thought the fresh air of an island sheep ranch would be just the thing. Unfortunately, the sense of isolation, the relentless wind, sand and the ever-present sheep did not improve her health. Although Marantha had kitchen help, life on the island was still very hard on her, and she relied on her adopted daughter Edith.

As Edith grows, she longs to leave the island and her over-bearing stepfather, but escape is not easy. The author doesn’t spend much time on Edith’s fate, and I felt I wanted more from this story line.

We then skip to 1930 when another family arrives to work the ranch. Elise, age 38, and her husband Herbie have high hopes but soon experience the privations of the previous families. Mutton is always on the menu.

The story becomes a day by day journal of their existence, replete with all that nature can throw at them and a complete sense of seclusion. Actually, Elise becomes adept at making a life for her family which grew with the birth of two daughters.

When World War II began, the Pacific coast was not quite as safe as it used to be, provision delivery was sporadic and everyone was on edge.

Since anything written by T.C.Boyle is better than most anything I’ve recently read, I can forgive the unevenness of the story.  Although it goes in spurts and starts, I never lost interest.

I encourage readers to give T.C. Boyle a chance. He’s so worth it.

I give the book 3 7/8 California dreams.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

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A Hologram for the King book coverIt is not unheard of in the present day global economy for American businessmen to travel all over the world. In Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King, the businessman is Alan Clay and the destination is Saudi Arabia.

Clay is a 54-year-old businessman who is looking for a big payday in the lucrative technology field. He is divorced, almost broke, depressed and needy. He and three associates meet daily in a large white tent in the Saudi Arabian sun with intermittent air-conditioning and no Wi-fi. Their state of the art presentation for King Adullah featuring holograms is at the heart of the story, but the King is very elusive. Therefore, out of boredom they play on their computers and nap in the heat. Alan, on the other hand, wanders about what is supposed to become King Abdullah Economic City and gets into difficult and often dangerous situations.

While in his hotel room he frets about the past, especially the loss of the industries that sustained him in his earlier years. Unfortunately, these industries had since relocated to other parts of the world. He writes letters to his daughter in college which he never sends. He doesn’t know how to tell her there’s no money for next semester’s tuition.

Although I initially rooted for Alan in his quest for success, it became clear to me that he was not a sympathetic character. It was not just that he was over his head in this big deal, but that he sabotaged himself with ridiculous behaviors and even descended into self-mutilation while under the influence.

A Hologram for the King is a novel for our time. Anyone interested in business and how the world’s economy turns will enjoy it most. The author certainly sells it in a more readable fashion than the previous A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which baffled me.

Also, for those who still enjoy holding a book, the cover is outstanding.

I give the book 3 ½ Arabian Nights.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham

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Tumbleweeds book coverIn the small panhandle town of Kersey, Texas three 11-year-olds become elementary school classmates. Cathy Benson, an orphaned, privileged Californian, and best friends John Caldwell and Trey Don Hall form an inseparable triumvirate.

This is the premise of Leila Meacham’s sprawling saga, Tumbleweeds, as vast as Texas itself. John and Trey Don were given the task of guiding and protecting Cathy through her early school years, but as time passed their relationship became a love triangle. Trey Don was the self-assured, talented quarterback of the high school football squad, and John was his receiver.

Their talents were noted by scouts, and they received college football scholarships to Florida. Cathy was also to attend as a pre-med student. Unfortunately that was not to be. Unforeseen circumstances intervened- John went to Loyola to become a Jesuit, Cathy remained in Kersey and Trey Don went alone to Florida. The events leading to this separation are compelling and dramatic, not to mention life-altering.

On one level this story reminds me of “Friday Night Lights” since Texas loves its schoolboy football so much, but Tumbleweeds is about much more than football. It is about character, truthfulness, loyalty, love and family. It also proves that one unfortunate incident can change the course of many lives.

What Meachem does is follow the three lives through forty years and traces their progress and feelings toward one another through all life’s challenges. The action increases dramatically in the last quarter of the book as mystery after mystery is revealed to all concerned including law enforcement, and the three are left with the aftermath.

Tumbleweeds falls into the “blind find” category and was an unexpected pleasure. It’s easy reading with an important message. Go, Bobcats!

I give the book 3 7/8 first downs.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Capital by John Lanchester

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Capital book coverWelcome to the world of financial markets crashing and burning and those whose livelihood is adversely affected. Add to this a neighborhood in London, Pepys Road, whose residents have their own drama and you have an instructive and entertaining book of our times: Capital, by John Lanchester.

Roger works for an investment company and earns a great deal, but his wife is a shopaholic and can’t stop spending, even when things go badly for them.

Petunia is an elderly woman who is very ill and has a daughter who nurses her. The daughter is guilt-ridden because she has to leave her own family to care for her mother.

The Kamal family from Pakistan have a family-owned shop on the street and work hard at making a living. Some of the sons work harder than others.

Freddy Komo, a young soccer prospect from Senegal, is set up on Pepys Road, and he and his father Patrick have to learn western ways and how to handle large sums of money.

Added to this group of residents is Quentina, an illegal, who somehow managed to get a job giving out parking tickets. Things do not go well for her when her identity is revealed.

In the midst of all the daily goings on, postcards begin to arrive at the doors of the residents of Pepys Road that state, ”We Want What You Have.” This veiled threat continues and intensifies which makes everyone uneasy.

It’s always an unexpected pleasure when an author new to me delivers such a complete, nuanced piece of literature. I can’t help but compare Lanchester to Tom Wolfe and his work, A Man in Full. That’s high praise, indeed.

I give Capital 4 leveraged buyouts.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

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The Night Strangers book coverWhy are there so many greenhouses in the White Mountains village of Beth, New Hampshire? Are the women who tend these gardens truly interested in their health benefits or is there something sinister going on?

Chris Bohjalian, a very successful author, has written a ghost story/human drama with such a plot line in The Night Strangers. At the heart of this story is Chip Linton, an airplane pilot. His plane was downed by a flock of geese sucked into his jet engines as he flew over Lake Champlain. Hopeful of another Sully Sullenberger Miracle on the Hudson landing, Linton was unsuccessful, his plane crashed and many passengers died, 39 to be exact.

The survivor guilt was too much on Linton so he moved from Pennsylvania to a rural area in northern New Hampshire where he, his wife and their 10 year old twin daughters started a new life. They chose an older home with many nooks, crannies, hidden staircases and, of course, an earthen area of the cellar which housed an old wooden door sealed shut with 39 large bolts. What a coincidence.

Bohjalian is a master at building suspense as this story unfolds. Linton is left at home working on the house with the creepy wallpaper, the 39 bolt door and apparitions. How much of the goings on are the result of the overactive imagination of a traumatized man and how many are real is for the reader to decide.

Many of the women of the village are overly solicitous to the family and fawn all over the twins. They bring over many covered dishes, and the family is encouraged to partake of their hospitality. The brownies and cookies, however, have an aftertaste.

There were moments when I felt this book might descend into an Amityville Horror remake, but the author has a human touch combined with a psychological component that is hard to resist. He’s an excellent writer.

I recommend this book for its originality, non-formula ending, and insight into a family in crisis.

I give the book 3 9/10 sprigs of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama

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Women of the SilkAs much as I try to keep up with current fiction and some non-fiction, I am gratified when a truly fine book from the past comes to my attention. Such is the case with Women of the Silk, by Gail Tsukiyama. When this book was initially published in 1991, I recall a friend recommended it in passing. It wasn’t until I met a fellow patron recently at the hair salon reading it that it finally clicked.

There are many levels of enjoyment to this book. First, it is of a normal length with short chapters for easy reading. Secondly, the prose is somehow soothing and restful , even when events occur that are not pleasant. Lastly, the subject matter was a revelation to me about a culture I knew little about–a true learning experience.

The main character in Women of the Silk is Pei, a Chinese girl living with her family in a rural Chinese village. Her father tends the fish ponds and mulberry groves, and it is a hard life. If daughters were not promised in marriage, they became a burden to their families. In Pei’s case her father just took her on a trip one day and dropped her off at a silk factory without a backward glance.

As hard as it was to be so abruptly separated from the family, Pei made friendships with her co-workers and those who housed her and cared for her. She made enough money to send to her family which was the incentive to begin with.

Beginning in 1926, Women of the Silk follows Pei through the next 20 years of her life with the sisterhood. In addition to life in the silk factory, the author inserts some history of the Far East which I was unaware of. Apparently the Japanese were invading China at the time prior to World War 11 so that danger coupled with the demise of the silk factory made for great social change and flight to Hong Kong.

It is always a good feeling to read a book where the main character faces great adversity and perseveres with dignity and courage. Readers like me who missed the boat in 1991 have a treat in store.

I give the book 3 7/8 silkworms.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

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Believing the Lie book coverIt seems like only yesterday that Elizabeth George wrote her last 600 + page mystery novel featuring Inspector Thomas Lynley. Although it is never too late to join this particular bandwagon, the need to know what came before in Lynley’s life becomes more important as this series continues.

In Believing the Lie, and there are plenty of lies to go around, Inspector Thomas Lynley is sent to Cumbria, a particularly scenic area of England on the Irish Sea. His job is to investigate an apparent drowning of a member of a prominent family. I will refrain from mentioning the names of all the family members of the deceased in order to prevent complete confusion.

What gives coherence and continuity to the story, however, is the appearance of some of the main players from previous Lynley novels – Simon and Deborah St. James, Barbara Havers and Superintendent Isabelle Ardery. I could have gone for more Barbara and Isabelle and less Simon and Deborah. However, in the author’s wisdom Elizabeth George chose to make Deborah a kind of undercover sleuth with disastrous results. She defies her superiors’ and her husband’s advice and basically runs amok.

Barbara, on the other hand, continues to be Lynley’s staunch right hand investigator. She is still working on her new regimen of stylish clothing and a fetching new hair-do as prescribed by Superintendent Ardery. I loved these portions of the book as they added humor to some otherwise deep, dark goings-on.

In addition, Lynley is trying to get on with his life after the tragic loss of his wife Helen , and he and Isabelle are having a hard time adjusting to the direction their relationship is heading.

In the meantime, there are numerous subplots to follow, including a reporter from a tabloid which requires him to search for sensational headlines even when none exist. What he does uncover, however, with the help of the feckless Deborah St. James is a different take on the story altogether that has no value to yellow journalism.

Amidst all the subplots, there are several torn-from-the-headlines topics that are not uplifting. It works in the context of a New Scotland Yard investigation, but the material may be troubling to some readers.

I hope to have gathered a few more members to the Elizabeth George bandwagon. It’s quite a ride.

I give the book 4 lie detectors.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Death Benefit by Robin Cook

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Death Benefit book coverReaders of the medical thriller genre are very familiar with Dr. Robin Cook’s work. This author of 30 previous books has updated his medical expertise with the advent of stem cell use and replacement organs in his latest effort, Death Benefit.

It is clear early in the book that Death Benefit has to do with insurance policies. Some Wall St. Wonders have developed a scheme to buy up life insurance policies of very ill people and cash in on the upcoming death benefits.

Unfortunately for them, two molecular geneticists are hard at work in a bio-safety lab at Columbia University Medical Center on organ replacement, specifically the pancreas, which will extend life expectancy for another 10 years. This, of course, throws off all the charts that had been devised to lure investors to the life insurance scam.

In the midst of all this intrigue is Pia Grazdani, a medical student at Columbia, who works closely with the researchers. She becomes directly involved in the fallout that occurs when the two opposing forces collide- research vs. greed.

As if this were not enough story line to follow, Cook introduces a mob element that stalks the lab and specifically Pia. This occurs rather late in the book as does the critical role of the Chief Medical Examiner.

If there was one shortcoming in this modern- medicine book, I would say it was uneven. As interesting as it is to hear about actuarial life insurance tables and medical jargon, the author spent an inordinate amount of time in the early part of the book on setting up the scam and not enough time on the solving of the case by the Chief Medical Examiner.

In any case, Robin Cook fans will rejoice that he has returned to the medical rotation and is in his office.

I give Death Benefit 3 ½ c.c.’s of insulin.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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