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Book Review: The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

Elizabeth Hadley Richardson was the first wife of author Ernest Hemingway; they married in 1921, after meeting in Chicago.  This historical novel tells her story, the fictionalized account of Ernest and Hadley’s time in Paris during the 1920s.

The Paris Wife

I knew nothing about Hadley Hemingway, but was drawn into the narrative as told by Paula McLain.  Their marriage was tumultuous, with all the usual troubles of newlyweds, including money troubles and issues associated with finding your own way in the world.  Hemingway was a heavy drinker, and the two regularly drank and fought.  Hadley struggled to find her way in a marriage where she felt overshadowed by Hemingway’s larger than life personality. 

The novel details the period when Hemingway was writing The Sun Also Rises, arguably his most famous novel.  The couple traveled to Pamplona, Spain several times, while he is researching and writing the book.

The two genuinely loved each other, but this novel explores the very real problem of love not being enough. 

I appreciated McLain’s writing style, and the fact that while fiction, she adhered to what is known about Hadley and her marriage to Hemingway.  I was drawn into her life, the trials she faced, and her strength in adversity.

Note: A Moveable Feast, a memoir of Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920s, chronicles the period when he was married to Hadley Richardson, and she was included in the book.  It was published posthumously in 1964, by Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary.  I might have to dig up a copy!

5 stars.

 

Book Review: Inferno

Inferno, by Dan Brown

You probably know author Dan Brown, and his main character Professor Robert Langdon from the well known book and movie, the DaVinci Code.  Langdon makes his return in this fast paced adventure novel, featuring more mystery and symbols to decode.

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)

Langdon wakes up in the hospital, not understanding where he is or what has happened for the last 36 hours.  He soon learns that someone is trying to kill him, and flees, with the assistance of the doctor who has been treating him in the hospital.  

He discovers he is Italy, and he begins the slow, erratic process of piecing together the story of where he’s been and what he’s been up to.  That is, in between dodging a well-armed and mysterious militia, and a solitary hitman (albeit a woman).  He knows he can’t get caught before he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, but what is it that he’s looking for?  

Langdon uses his talents to read the symbols, and learn what threat is facing the entire world.  Similar to his other novels, Brown weaves history into the story, with a plenty of historic sites and their stories woven in.  And let me just say, after COVID, this story hit a bit close to home…

And with other Dan Brown novels, this thriller has many twists and turns.  You never quite know where you are heading next!  

4 stars.

Book Review: Wild Fire

Wild Fire, by Nelson DeMille

On Columbus Day weekend, an agent for the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force goes missing while on an assignment in upstate New York during a surveillance of the Custer Hill Club.  

Wild Fire

Once his boss learns about the missing agent, Detective John Corey and his wife, FBI Agent Kate Mayfield, are assigned to look into the disappearance.  Unfortunately, they are soon pulled off the case.  However, Corey and Mayfield are convinced that something fishy is going on and they aren’t willing to give up so easily in the search for their friend.

They embark on a mission to find out what happened to their friend, and to figure out what kind of secret plot is going on at the Custer Hill Club.  Will they puzzle it out in time to save lives, before their colleagues find them and pull them away from their investigation?

This was the first Nelson DeMille book that I have read, but I was intrigued by this thriller.  Set in the post-9/11 days, the plot built on the Islamic terrorism threat, but with some very fascinating twists.  

I listened to the audio book version, and it was narrated by one of my favorite readers, Scott Brick.  He captures John Corey’s dry humor perfectly, and really manages to play on the relationship between John and his wife Kate.  

4 stars.  

Book Review: Lincoln’s Spies

Lincoln’s Spies, by Douglas C. Waller

Yes, I have to admit I’m a bit of an Abraham Lincoln nerd and definitely a Civil War buff.  I like reading about the less told stories of the Civil War, both North and South. 

When I found this book at the Barnes and Noble last year with Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket, I knew I had to get it!

Lincoln’s Spies is as its name suggests, a book about the spies and intelligence gatherers employed by the Union Army, either as paid employees or volunteers.  They ranged from excellent agents of information to corrupt and ineffective, but there can be no doubt that these spies helped the Union cause.

The book explores in depth the intelligence gathered by Allan Pinkerton and his agents; both the good information and the garbage.  Pinkerton uncovered a likely plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way in to Washington D.C. after his election, and they were able to protect the President-elect.  However, Pinkerton was a huge supporter of General George McClellan and provided grossly inflated Confederate troop numbers, which contributed to McClellan’s unwillingness to aggressively attack Lee’s Army and significantly prolonged the war.

It discusses Lafayette Baker, whose intelligence was often more accurate, but concerns about corruption and side schemes to cash in on government payouts tainted his positive contributions.  And most importantly, Baker did not ferret out the plot to assassinate Lincoln in April 1865, resulting in John Wilkes Booth shooting the President at Ford’s Theatre. 

The author devotes time to George Sharpe, one of the unsung heroes of Army intelligence.  He brought accurate information in with a ring of agents working throughout the south.  General Grant came to rely on Sharpe’s reports.

And last but certainly not least, Elizabeth Van Lew.  A Richmond society woman, she supported the northern cause and used her own money to collect intelligence, and to support Northern soldiers languishing in Richmond’s Confederate prisons.  She was paid a pittance by the U.S. Government for her work, which Stanton considered invaluable.  She risked her reputation and her life to continue supplying information, even as the Confederate authorities investigated her.  She was shunned and ostracized by her southern neighbors and died deeply in debt after the war.  She was a true hero.

The author weaves these stories in with the battles of the war, and examined these characters with such depth that they were three dimensional.  They all had their motives and they all had positive and negative attributes, and Waller brought them to life. 

It was well researched and well written, with nearly a third of the book being footnotes and bibliography.  It is not an easy read, but well worth it.

4 stars.

 

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

This historical novel is based on a true story, and interviews with Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who ends up being sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex of concentration camps during World War II.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #1)

Lale speaks multiple languages, so he is chosen to be the one who tattoos prisoner numbers on the new arrivals to the camps.  That is, of course, the prisoners who are selected to live, and are not immediately sent to the gas chambers.

Lale resigns himself to his gruesome task and the fact that he receives privileges as a result of his position that others in the camp do not.  One day, he meets a young woman who captures his eye, and his heart.  He decides in that moment, that he will marry her.  But he does not even know who she is.

Lale seeks her out and courts her, a love story in a place of unspeakable horror.  Lale and Gita vow to remain strong for each other, so they can survive the camp together.  Lale begins to use the relative freedom he has to get extra food for the camp prisoners, but he is risking his life to do it.

This story is one that documents the incredible atrocities that occurred that Auschwitz and Birkenau, but also is the story of hope and survival.

Despite the amazing story and the fact that it is true, I found myself not being able to get into it.  I felt that the writing was superficial and glossed over the weight of what truly happened in these concentration camps.  I had a hard time feeling connected to the characters and the tragedies they experienced, because of the lack of depth in the story-telling.  I learned later that the story was originally written as a screenplay, which may explain the more superficial writing style.

It was still a good book, but I felt it could have been so much more.  

3 stars.

Book Review: All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

I watched this movie when it came out in 2000, but I had never read the book.   Interestingly, I feel like I liked the movie, but don’t really remember anything about it clearly.  So, on to the book!

All The Pretty Horses

John Grady Cole is a teenager from a ranching family, whose childhood ranch is sold off after his grandfather dies.  He and a friend decide to head down to Mexico to work on a ranch.  It is set in 1949 according to other reviews, but the novel does not make it very clear.

John and his friend Lacey meet up with another teen named Jimmy along the way, and once in Mexico, they get into trouble when Jimmy loses his horse in a thunderstorm.  They end up finding the horse in a nearby village, but its ownership is no longer clear.  And that, is where the trouble begins…

In true Cormac McCarthy fashion, it is a very dark novel.  The young men learn about the dark side of men and power.  In my mind while listening to the audiobook version, I see a world of gray.  McCarthy’s prose is very lyrical, but the book is depressing, with no happy endings.  My overall impression: not great, not terrible, and definitely a book to make you feel better about your own circumstances in life.  

3 stars.

Book Review: The Columbus Affair

The Columbus Affair, by Steve Berry

I’m back with another Steve Berry book, but this time from a different line of his adventure novels.

The Columbus Affair

In the Columbus Affair, Tom Sagan is a former investigative journalist who was discredited as a result of a fraudulent article he wrote.  He is depressed and suicidal, until he learns that his daughter is in trouble.  

Bad men are insisting that Tom exhume his father’s remains and turn over a packet of information that was buried with him, in order to save his daughter.  But what does it contain?  Tom decides he can’t just give up this information so easily, and starts to investigate to discover why they are so interested. 

Tom and his daughter end up an around the world adventure looking for a lost treasure left in the New World by Christopher Columbus, that has been hidden and protected for the last 500 years by a series of guardians.  But what makes this story even more unusual is the fact that the the treasure will challenge everything we thought we knew about Columbus and his journey to discover the New World.

This book was interesting, and Scott Brick did a great job narrating the audiobook.  It was not nearly as compelling as Berry’s Cotton Malone series though.

3 stars.

 

Book Review: Compulsion

Compulsion, by Jonathan Kellerman

An elderly woman is stabbed to death outside her home when she goes out to grab her morning paper.  A young woman disappears on her way home from a nightclub.  At first, there is nothing similar about these two cases.  But soon enough, investigators begin to ask, how are these two crimes connected?  

Compulsion (Alex Delaware, #22)

Detective Milo Sturgis and Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychologist who gets pulled in to assist with investigations, dive into the case, trying to connect the dots in a series of murders that seem to have nothing in common except flashy, black cars.  Will they make it in time to prevent another murder?

This book was a quick read with plenty to keep you entertained.  

3 stars.

Book Review: A Higher Call

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II, by Adam Makos

A Higher Call is the true story of two World War II pilots, German fighter pilot and Ace Lieutenant Franz Stigler, and American B17F bomber pilot Second Lieutenant Charles Brown.  These two men fought for separate countries, in a war where brutal losses occurred.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

The two men’s lives intersected by chance after an American bombing raid on Germany a few days before Christmas 1943.  Both men’s lives were forever changed by a few moments of compassion shown over the skies of Germany.  Neither man could talk about the experience during the war, but each of them remembered it, and decided to try to find each other more than 40 years later.

The book shifts back and forth between Franz and Charlie’s story, detailing their experiences during their childhoods, and the war.  These stories are not for the faint of heart.  Both men witnessed, and were involved in, well, a war.  They watched men shot out of the sky, burned alive, shot while trying to escape, and saw the devastation inflicted upon the civilians in the war-torn countries of Europe and North Africa.  In a word, it was horrific, and there were multiple times I broke down in tears listening to the retelling of their experience.  

If you have any interest in history, or any interest in understanding the complex experience of war, which led one man to show compassion for his enemy, you will want to read this book.  

5 stars. 

Book Review: The Charlemagne Pursuit

The Charlemagne Pursuit, by Steve Berry

This is another in the series following Cotton Malone, a former Justice Department agent, who owns a rare book shop in Copenhagen.  But somehow he keeps managing to get pulled back into the adventures he tried so hard to leave behind.

The Charlemagne Pursuit (Cotton Malone, #4)

Malone brings it upon himself this time, as conversations with his son lead him into a new desire to learn the truth behind his father’s death in 1971.  He knows that he died in a submarine accident in the North Atlantic, but what went wrong?  

Malone asks his former boss to get him a copy of the still classified file, which leads him on a pursuit he never expected.  His father, in fact, did not die in the North Atlantic, but instead while on a mission in Antarctica.  But why?

Malone learns that as he is trying to learn why his father died, there are powerful men who want to ensure that the secret never comes out.  His pursuit to find out the truth leads him to uncover the ancient secrets that his opponents don’t want him to know.  

As usual, this is a fast paced book with several twists and turns.  Unfortunately, I feel like this novel sort of fell flat on the believability index.  It was disappointing, because I never really bought it since the story is just a bit outside of the realm of reality.  That said, it was still an interesting read.  

3 stars.