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Review: Death Angel by Linda Fairstein

Posted by bethg on

Death AngelWelcome to the world of Alexandra Cooper, an assistant district attorney in New York City and her partner, Mike Chapman. Although this is Alex’s fourteenth appearance in a novel, it is my first meeting. Her creator, Linda Fairstein, has reprised Alex’s role in the current Death Angel. Prepare yourself to be immersed in a tale intelligently written, captivating and instructive.

There are two main settings in Death Angel–Central Park in New York City and The Dakota, an historic luxury apartment building located on the west side of the park. Both are historically significant and both have stories to tell.

For example, The Dakota first came into prominence as the setting of Rosemary’s Baby, a nightmare unto itself. Also, years later it was the site of John Lennon’s death. As seen through Fairstein’s eyes there are other mysterious happenings on the upper floors overlooking the park.

The story commences with Alex and her partner being asked to investigate the circumstance surrounding the discovery of a body under a bridge in Central Park. Since there is a history of many attacks on those in the park including homeless and runaways, the case looks daunting. The rich and little known history of the park is woven throughout the narrative including the architects , the foresight of those who saw the need to set aside park land to avoid urban sprawl and the care offered to the park to this day. It is a great history lesson.

There is shocking realism on display, which is not unusual since Fairstein is a legal expert on crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence. Although the park is a sanctuary for thousands of New Yorkers and tourists alike, it is also the hunting ground for a deranged killer or two.

The core group of characters seen in Death Angel reveal behind-the-scenes techniques of those in charge of the protection of citizens. Their ability to follow the smallest of clues is instructive and enlightening.

In addition to learning about the history of Central Park, I also was reminded that it is not a good idea to walk alone there after dark with headphones on. Just saying…

Happy reading from Beverly!


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Review a Book!

Posted by bethg on

The Grafton Public Library welcomes reviews of books, music, movies, and games for our website. Some things you might include (but you don’t necessarily have to):

What is the story about?
What do you like about it?
Who might like this item?

To send a review, use the Contact Us form. Please include the title and author (if applicable), and an explanation of what you liked or didn’t like about the book and why. We will list only first names unless you provide an alias or tell us you would like to remain anonymous. If you’re a student or under the age of 18, please check with your parents before sending a review.

Reviews can be of varying lengths, but two or three paragraphs, or around 250-300 words, is ideal. Using proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar makes your review easy for others to read.

You don’t have to like a book in order to review it, but please don’t express your disdain with vulgar, slanderous, or defamatory language. Keep your audience in mind–anyone, including children and grandmothers, may read your review. We can’t accept reviews that may be offensive. Focus on the merit of the work, not the author.

Once we receive your review, we will check the online catalog and create a link in your review to your book so others can place requests. You should see your review posted on the website in a day or two after you submit it.

Happy reading, and have fun writing!

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Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Posted by bethg on

The Paris Wife book coverWhen it comes to learning about famous literary or historic figures, it pays to listen to the spouses’ point of view. Such was the case in The Aviator’s Wife  about Ann Morrow Lindbergh and so it is about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife in The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain.

Hadley and Hemingway (H & H) met in Chicago in 1920 when she was 28 and he was 21. An aspiring writer, Hemingway worked at low-paying newspaper jobs before it occurred to him that given time and space, he could write about his own experiences, of which he would have plenty.

He was encouraged by Sherwood Anderson to go to Paris where all the action was. It was the Jazz Age in Paris, and Hemingway lived a bohemian lifestyle with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce to name a few. It was a fast-living, hard-drinking crowd with no apparent family values. When H & H had a son, Hadley could no longer keep up, and her husband’s interest and eyes wandered.

As much as she disliked bull-fighting, Hadley would accompany her husband to Pamplona, where he actually participated in amateur bullfighting. In addition, beside the fact that Hadley could no longer hold her husband’s interest, she seemed unaware that other women were flirting openly with him and in active pursuit mode.

As Hemingway’s work goes, I was never a big fan of The Old Man and the Sea with its simple declarative sentences, but I am curious to read The Sun Also Rises, which was written when he was married to Hadley.

Although this may not be the most stylistically perfect book, it provides insight into an American icon and what drove him. It also is a further reminder that often the most famous, intelligent, talented and handsome of men do not make the best husbands or fathers–Charles Lindbergh and Ernest Hemingway being prime examples.

In any case, Papa Hemingway, Hadley and Paris make for a good literary experience.

I give the book 3 9/10 picadors.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

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A Hundred Flowers bookcoverWhat could be more refreshing to a reader than an historical, cross-cultural novel that’s fast and easy to read? Gail Tsukiyama has done it again in A Hundred Flowers. The author became known to me last year in the powerful Women of Silk, and she has followed up with an equally impressive work.

Set in 1957 China, A Hundred Flowers refers to Chairman Mao’s admonition that there be a new intellectual openness where ideas could flourish. Unfortunately, that was a ruse to identify dissidents who were arrested and sent to far-off labor camps for re-education.

This is the situation in the home of Kai Ling, an herbalist in the village of Guangzhou, China. Her husband Seng was arrested for writing a letter perceived to be anti-government, and she has heard little from him since he was sent away.

Kai Ling lives with her young son Tao, her father-in-law Wei and a family friend Auntie Song, and they pass each day together awaiting word from Sang.

The characters take turns narrating the story from their own perspective, and it is clear that each of them is suffering in their own way, some of it guilt. They long for the happy days of the past and look forward hopefully to the future, but the present is not that easy to endure.

To add to the turmoil in the home that Kai Ying has to manage, Wei falls from the kapok tree and has serious injuries. All the family members aid in his recovery by making special medicinal soups, reading to him and in general trying to keep his spirits up. He doesn’t understand why his father has been away so long.

In addition another character appears who has her own set of problems–-Suying. She is very young, starving, homeless and pregnant. Although this event could add more turmoil to this embattled family, the baby generates a caring attitude among all the family members and diverts their attention from
their own problems.

Because of the author’s previous work, I was not surprised at how deep this deceptively simply stated book is. It somehow gently points out the tribulations everyone goes through to one degree or another and learning how to cope with them.

It’s time to smell the flowers–A Hundred Flowers.

I give the book 4 herbal teas.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

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Flight BehaviorIt has been many years since I read Barbara Kingsolver’s transcendent novel, The Poisonwood Bible. Her latest work does not take place in far-away Africa, however, but in rural Tennessee. This is an area the author knows well since she and her family live on a farm in Appalachia. It is the setting for Flight Behavior.

Dellarobia Turnbowis a young mother toiling on a family farm. As she climbs a nearby mountain one day on her way to a tryst, she sees a remarkable sight. Through a clearing of trees, she sees a sea of quivering red which turns out to be monarch butterflies who have lost their way. Their natural habitat, a mountain in Mexico, has been deforested with resulting landslides, and the monarchs somehow found their way to Tennessee.

This cautionary tale of the environment gone awry is a major theme in the story. As scientists arrive on the scene to assess the situation, Dellarobia, named after the wreath, becomes active in the research involved. Her education had been halted due to the responsibilities of parenthood, but her natural curiosity and innate intelligence took over.

In addition to this tale of climate change is the story of a woman who has found her life tedious and unfulfilling. She has lost connection with her husband, lives in a home owned by her in-laws and poverty is grinding her down. Then came the monarchs. How she deal with these elements, including the church and the arriving scientists and media is a unique look into an all too possible situation.

Thanks to Barbara Kingsolver, the reader is given a view of a style of life not ordinarily mentioned. I do not find her preachy at all, just realistic. At one point in the book, for example, the locals are warned by the scientists about leaving a smaller carbon footprint-–they could perhaps fly less. This advice was given to people who had never had occasion to cross the state line.

If you haven’t done so yet, become acquainted with the world of Barbara Kingsolver; Flight Behavior would be a great start.

I give the book 4 recycled water bottles.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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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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