10 Quick Book Reviews
1. Mary Mary by James Patterson
A fast-paced murder mystery about a serial killer, killing Hollywood celebrities in a most vicious way and then communicating the gruesome details to an editor at the Los Angeles Times about each murder. FBI Agent, Alex Cross, is called in from Washington, D.C., to head up the investigation. Inevitably, he clashes with the press, the paparazzi and the L.A.P.D. This was an easy read, with some interesting red herrings, twists and turns.
2. 1776 by David McCullough
This Pulitzer-Prize winning book describes the background, characters, and human stories of members of General George Washington’s Army during the year of the Declaration of Independence. As with most wars and historical events, the tide of human endeavors could have turned either way. In theory, the British should have won, and America’s hope for independence would have been dashed. This extensively researched book is a powerful drama, which brilliantly captures the times and keeps the reader glued to the page.
3. In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta Ahmed
I would not have read this book, if I hadn’t personally met Qanta at an Author’s Weekend in Kentucky, sponsored by the Lexington Public Library. But, I found this eloquently written book provided a fascinating insight into women’s lives in the Saudi Kingdom, with all its religious fervor, shaming, racism, religious police, and anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. It certainly was a real eye opener for me to read about this oppressive society, even more so because it has long been considered an ally of the United States.
4. The Icarus Factor by Rod McQueen
This unauthorized biography is about Edgar Bronfman, Jr. who sold the “family jewels,” Seagram & Company, to the French media giant, Vivendi, in a $34 billion deal. Ultimately, this sale resulted in the Bronfman family losing over $6 billion, for which Edgar, Jr. bore the brunt of the scorn for his controversial corporate decisions. The general consensus was that Edgar, Jr. was “star struck,” and hence sold Seagram’s holding in DuPont to buy into Hollywood. This book provides fascinating reading and a good insight into the Bronfman family dynasty. In some ways, however, I think the criticisms of Edgar, Jr. were unfair. Undoubtedly, he made some disastrous business decisions, but one should remember that his father, Edgar, Sr. and uncle, Charles, together with an experienced Board of Directors, gave him their blessing and approval.
5. Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
This is a fascinating novel about the Civil War vividly seen through the eyes of a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation. The book is meticulously researched and provides an intriguing historical look at this heart-wrenching period in America’s history. There are a wealth of interesting characters, both slave-owners and slaves, who lived in Virginia during those turbulent times, and the reader obtains an understanding of the culture, behavior, and attitudes of southern families of that period.
6. The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
This book received rave reviews from the New York Times, but I found it disappointing and not up to some of Furst’s previous offerings. The premise was interesting, a French diplomat in Warsaw in the summer of 1939 is working behind the scenes to try and stop the German invasion of Poland that would ultimately lead to the Second World War. However, I found the main character less than intriguing, and the action was slow, with few subplots to the main story.
7. A Most Wanted Man by John le Carré
John le Carré always serves up intriguing fare. His characters are always complicated and his stories inevitably have many twists and turns that test the readers’ imagination and concentration. However, I found this story not to be one of his best. It is an up-to-date tale involving Turkish Muslims living in Hamburg Germany and a wanted terrorist, who is the son of a Red Army Colonel who has deposited significant assets at a British-owned Hamburg bank. There are considerable rivalries between the various international intelligence agencies and the local police and sympathy for the terrorist who is not the threat that has been portrayed. None of the characters however are particularly memorable or convincing.
8. Exile by Richard North Patterson
This is a gripping legal thriller. The main character – a Jewish U.S. Prosecutor in San Francisco – had a serious love affair with a Palestinian woman more than ten years earlier while they were both at Harvard Law School. The Israeli Prime Minister is in San Francisco to make a speech about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but is assassinated by two suicide bombers. Subsequent police investigations lead to the arrest of the Palestinian woman and her husband. She contacts her former lover, to seek his representation in this case. He risks his whole career to defend her. I enjoyed this fast-paced political/legal story.
9. The Cap by Roman Frister
This is a book about the Holocaust, but with the focus on staying alive in a Concentration Camp. A very tough book to read, which strips away the prisoner’s soul, conscience, and morals in the battle against starvation and survival. It is a brutal compelling but truly honest story of one man’s desperation to stay live despite the daily horrors around him. We find out what man is prepared to do and endure to exist for one more day. This is not a book to be enjoyed, but it looks at the Holocaust from a truly different perspective, not of heroes or cowards or brutality or kindness, but in the moral challenges faced daily by the poor souls who suffered and died through these days of human history.
10. The House of Wittgenstein by Alexander Waugh
This is a long fascinating history of a well-known, extremely wealthy Viennese family that covers a period from the late 19th Century through to the 1960’s. The family dominated by the Patriarch and founder of the family’s wealth, Karl Wittgenstein, suffered more than their share of tragedies with multiple suicides, mental breakdowns, and unhappy marriages. However, some members of the family also had considerable creative talent, including the famous pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm fighting the Russians in the First World War, but continued a career as a one-handed pianist, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, an academic genius, who spent a good part of his life in England. The 1929 Stock Market Crash decimated the family fortune, and the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, led to the elimination of most of what was left of the family’s wealth.