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Matt's rating system:

GO!  I liked the book a lot and recommend it to you without reservation.  (Comments in this category are also posted at amazon.com.)
CAUTION  I liked it, but your tastes may be different.
STOP!   I really didn't like the book at all.
YIELD  I recognize that there is merit here, but as I'm not a member of the target audience, I'm not sure my comments are useful.
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2015 Book Comments
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2016 Book Comments
HACKED  by Donna Brazille  (2017)  is the latest entry in the "If They'd Only Listened to Me" genre of political books. As you may
remember, Ms. Brazille (a native of Kenner) was a member of the Democratic National Committee who was tapped to become the party's
chair after WikiLeaks published copies of emails in the days before the 2016 Democratic convention showing that Debbie Wasserman
Schultz, the party chair, had openly colluded to rig the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton. Ms. Brazille describes herself as an
old-time "retail politician" who much preferred getting out and making personal contacts with potential voters to the 21st century electronic
targeting strategy the Clinton's campaign manager Robbie Mook had instituted. Ms. Brazille made it clear that although she
loved Hillary,
she had little use for the Clinton campaign team throughout the election, and that if they'd given her the resources she needed, she would
have found 81,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Maybe she's right. The "bombshells" in the book are that: 1) in
exchange for paying off the party's $20 million debt that had been left after the Obama years, Clinton's people were allowed to run the
party as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the campaign; and 2) the hacking of the DNC's computers freaked her out.  You may remember
that Ms. Brazille's name first came up in 2016, after WikiLeaks revealed that she as a commentator on CNN had fed questions to Hillary in
advance of a debate. In case you're wondering, Ms. Brazille says she doesn't remember doing that. Because Ms. Brazille has her own axes
to grind, this book isn't nearly as compelling as
Shattered and perhaps other books that were written by reporters who covered the
campaign. (12/16/2017)

THE GIRL WHO LIVED  by Christopher Greyson  (2017)  sounds like a Lisbeth Salander book, but it's not. (It's actually much better
than the one you'll read about in the next paragraph.)  This girl, Faith Winters, witnessed the brutal murders of her father, sister and two
other people when she was 13-years-old. Now, ten years and several psychiatric institutions later, she's being released into society as a
potentially suicidal alcoholic who believes that the police story about her father killing the others before taking his own life isn't true and
that the real killers-one of whom she can only describe as "Rat Face"--are still at large. In the interim, Faith's mother has coped by
remarrying and writing a book about her daughter's experience called--naturally--
The Girl Who Lived.  Mr. Greyson is an excellent writer
who leads skillfully us through Faith's never-ending series of bad decisions. I liked the book a lot and look forward to seeing more from
Mr. Greyson.  (12/16/2017)

THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE  by David Lagerkrantz  (2017)  Do not imagine that this is something that was written
by the late Stieg Larsson. It's based on the characters from the
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but you'd scarcely recognize them here.
Lisbeth Salander spends most of her time in jail, where she interacts with hardly anyone but warden she bullies, the falsely-accused inmate
she champions and the bully she humiliates. None of them are worthy of your attention. Meanwhile, the book spends A LOT of time with
the supercillious "journalist" ("muckraker" is probably more accurate) Mikael Blomkvist, who interacts with an even less interesting cast of
characters. If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a ten; this is a two.  If you fall for the bait-and-switch after reading this, shame on
you.  (11/6/2017)

ORIGIN  by Dan Brown  (2017) Harvard professor of symbiology and religious iconography Robert Langdon is at it again. While his life it
not as endangered here as it was in
The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons and Inferno, there's still plenty of drama. He's invited to attend
a "world-shattering" announcement at the Guggenheim Bilbao given by an old-student who gives off serious Steve Jobs vibe.  Wouldn't you
just know that as he's about to announce that he has proof that all of the world's religions are bogus, he's shot between the eyes by a
hyper-religious retired admiral of the Spanish Navy.  Is the villain working alone? Or is the stooge of Spain's most powerful Catholic
archbishop? Or perhaps the "pope" of some sort of zealous off-shoot of the Catholic Church. Regardless of the greater scheme, Langdon
and his sidekick
du jour, a beautiful woman who is both the director of the Guggenheim Museum and the fiancee' of the Crown Prince of
Spain--who might have had something to do with the murder.  It's all very Dan Brown.  Once again, I'm in awe of Brown's ability to pull
off the entire plot of this novel during a 24-hour-period.  It's a device that's been somewhat unnerving in the past, but it seems to work
here.  This plot isn't quite as outrageous as some of his other works, and for this reason, some may think that Origin is too tame. Some of
the sub-plots (the dying King of Spain and his lover, for one) are kind of pointless and unnecessary, but on the whole, Iliked it.  (11/4/2017)

THE CUBAN AFFAIR  by Nelson DeMille  (2017) is a 433-page cliche', but I can see it as an agreeable airplane or beach companion.  
Ruggedly handsome Mac, an Ivy League dropout is a fishing guide in Key West. One night, some CUBANS WITH SECRETS turn up and
offer him $3 million to help smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars of cash and other assets out of Cuba.  The assets were allegedly stolen
from Cubans who were forced to leave their wealth behind as they fled Castro. It's an ethical dilemma for a couple of pages, but then he
realizes what $3 million can buy and the show is on. Naturally, he accompanied by a beautiful woman who somehow resists his charms
for a couple of chapters before surrendering.  Chaos ensues in slow motion as Mac and the beautiful Sara poke around old Havana, looking
for relics of her family's past. There's really not a lot of action until the very end--and then the book ends badly. Meh. (11/1/2017)

THE LOST ORDER   by Steve Berry  (2017)  The beach reading season draws to a close (sputters to a halt?) with the latest from Steve  
(I remember when he was "Steven") Berry. In the next couple of paragraphs, I wonder aloud about how Brad Thor's Scot Harvath and
Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp are getting a little more domestic as they get older, but that goes double for Berry's Cotton Malone. Yeah, he gets
to shoot somebody at the end, but for most of the book, he's Uber-ing around the District of Columbia while other people are doing more
interesting things. Naturally, I have no way of knowing, but I seriously suspect that Berry wrote this book exactly the way he wanted it
about a secret (but absolutely legal) plot to "take over" the government by Congress (by the way, isn't that their job?), read over it and
decided that it wasn't nearly "thrillery" enough, and then ladled a half-baked story about a secret fortune that he was probably saving for
another book over it. In this book, secondary characters like a former President, Cotton's boss, and Cotton's girlfriend, the lovely
Cassiopeia, do most of the heavy plot-lifting while Cotton tries to connect with his inner redneck by following the trail of his
great-grandfather, a spy for the Confederacy. The Lost Order starts slow.
Real slow. The first couple hundred pages are lethal-but it does
pick up toward the end. If you're thinking you'd like to read a good Cotton Malone book, go back and read one of the earlier books.
They're a lot more fun. (P.S.: The current climate of political correctness has nothing to do with the experience of reading the book, but I
suspect that
The Lost Order will be the last "mainstream" book you'll see for quite a while that ascribes honorable intentions to any of the
men of the Confederacy. Sad, but the world we live in.) (9/18/2017)

USE OF FORCE  by Brad Thor (2017)  Scot Harvath? Or Mitch Rapp?  In case you're wondering, Mitch Rapp is the lead dog in Vince
Flynn and Kyle Mills' series of novels (next paragraph), and Scot Harvath has been the star of who knows how many novels by Brad Thor.
Both are in their late thirties, very good-looking, have insane organizational and motivational skills, intense loyalty to their friends and
minions, and no fear. Curiously, they're both in a place in their personal lives where they're caught up in the idea of settling down, but
those thoughts may just be red herrings that the authors are throwing at us to make us think that Rapp and Harvath aren't complete
sociopaths. Harvath is a SoCal boy and Rapp is from somewhere in the middle, but as far as differences go, that's about it. The differences
between reading novels about the two are all about the authors. Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills (who apparently does his writing), seem to be a
little less interesting in what Ronald Reagan called the definition of war--killing people and breaking things. In Brad Thor's world, no World
Heritage Site is safe.  In
Use of Force, the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Spain and the Tuilleries Garden in Paris are reduced to
ashes without a second thought before the evildoers strike out for even bigger fish. Both Flynn/Mills and Thor are adept at keeping the
pages turning. They hook you fast and keep you interested. Yet, when the adrenaline rush at the end of each book is over, you look back
and wonder if your time might have been better spent elsewhere. These authors are clearly not stupid. They know their job is to keep you
hooked for a few hours, and they do it well. The characters are what they are, and regarding the plot of
Use of Force, does it really
matter? (9/17/2017)

ENEMY OF THE STATE: A MITCH RAPP NOVEL  by Kyle Mills (2017)  The words on the cover of this novel in the biggest font are
"Vince Flynn", who created the character Mitch Rapp seventeen (or maybe a zillion) novels ago, but has since stepped away (or died, for
all I know) and left Mitch Rapp to the devices of Kyle Mills, who's written the last three books. Mr. Mills can keep the reader's stomach
turning as well as Mr. Flynn could, and this tale of CIA
wunderkind Rapp is as good as any I've read. ISIS sympathizers in the Middle East
are up to no-damn-good, and Rapp bends technology and adrenaline to his will to take them out in a holocaust of bullets, bombs and the
occasional machete. I'm not sure it means anything that women and children are beginning to occupy a more prominent place in Rapp's
world. Mills and Flynn before him don't seem to mind taking out a truly sympathetic character from time to time, so one of the thrills (for
lack of a better word) of reading Rapp novels is seeing whether this is the book where a spouse, child or best friend goes down. It would
be cheating to tell you if such a thing happens here, so you'll have to find out for yourself. Like the rest of the Rapp novels, this is a quick
read for an airplane, beach or rainy weekend. (9/15/2017)

THE FALLEN  by Ace Atkins  (2017)  If you've been here before, you know that I've been saying that Ace Atkins is the finest author now
working in Mississippi for almost a decade. I wasn't crazy about the Spenser novels in which he was aping Robert B. Parker, but if they
gave him time and money to write "real" books like his "Quinn Colson" novels, then what the heck. Now he does indeed appear to be
focusing on his own characters, and I'm happy for that.  However. I'm sure that there are people like the people he describes in his books
in Mississippi--I've never met them in the last sixty-something years, but I have no doubt they could be there somewhere. Regardless of
who he was putting on a page, Atkins always seemed to be respecting his characters.  Now, I'm not so sure. I'm sensing contempt rising
to the surface. Toothless idiots watch Fox News. All elected officials in Mississippi are crooked. Criminal gangs wear Donald Trump
masks. I'm sure these kinds of things earn Atkins a seat at the cool kids table at the National Book Awards dinner, but the people who
buy his books and read them could be getting to the point where they've had enough. Atkins is a brilliant writer who can do
anything. I hope his next project will be something that engages him and not another
Walking Tall rehash. (9/14/2017)

THE ADDRESS  by Fiona Davis  Is it fair to say that I didn't particularly care for this book because I'm a guy? Sexist?  I hope not
because I think I'd really enjoy a good novel about the opening of the Dakota Apartment House on Central Park West in 1885. Doesn't that
sound like a great set-up? I thought so anyway, but then the story in question turned out to be one of those
Notebook plots about the
great-granddaughter of the brave woman named Sarah Smythe who came to America to be the Dakota's first "lady managerette." The
great-granddaughter is a strung-out yuppie interior designer in the 1980's who learns  Great Grandma's story as she's renovating an
apartment that's been in the family forever. Sarah's story was sufficiently interesting without constantly cutting away from it to update us
on the latest AA meeting that the great-granddaughter attended. If you're one of the millions and millions who LOVED
The Notebook, you'll
probably like The Address.  Good for you.  (9/13/2017)

SHATTERED: INSIDE HILLARY CLINTON'S DOOMED CAMPAIGN   by Jonathan Allen and Annie Parnes   (2017)   I've said a
number of times that I was so consumed by the Baton Rouge mayoral campaign in 2016 that I paid little attention to the Presidential
campaign. Every time I did look in on it, I was assured by our wonderful media that it was in the bag for Hillary and that there was no
point in paying too much attention. I was so exhausted on Election Night that I went straight home from a party I'd been staffing and fell
into bed at 11:00. I had no idea who the new President would be until I turned on the radio the next morning at 7:00. Even then, I had to
hear the news a couple of times to be sure I'd heard it correctly. I wasn't
shattered (far from it), but I was shocked.  What the heck
Shattered is fascinating, and--unique in reportage since the election--puts the blame for Clinton's loss squarely where it
belongs--on the shoulders of one Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since the election, listening to Clinton and her supporters blame everything and
everyone for the loss has raised
schadenfreude to the level of festival. Allen and Parnes provide proof on practically every page that HRC
was just never someone with either the charisma or the character to be President. Three points came through the narrative to me: 1) It
would be interesting to know how much of the material that is not complimentary to Mrs. Clinton would have made it into this book if she
had won?  I suspect not much. 2) It's telling how Clinton has said since the end of the campaign that  her campaign "did everything right"
and the election was stolen from her--despite evidence to the contrary; and 3) why the hell didn't we hear about any of this stuff while the
election was going on?  The answer to the last question is that the authors say they conducted all their interviews "on background",
promising that none of what they found would be printed until after the election.
 Shattered is fascinating.  (5/30/2017)

MISSISSIPPI BLOOD   by Greg Iles  (2017)   Greg Iles should be ashamed of himself. So much talent. Perfect words and lyrical
sentences just drip from his laptop. To the lament of tourism and economic development agencies in Mississippi and Louisiana, he uses his
gifts to rip up the painstakingly-constructed veil of racial tolerance that's only recently begun to settle over his home state. Mississippi
Blood is the third (and, I hope, last) in a series of books about Penn Cage, wealthy man-about-town, former Houston district attorney,
best-selling author and current mayor of Natchez. Over the decades, Cage's family has been hip-deep in the racial revolution that's
re-shaped his community and state (including the part of Mississippi that's across the Mississippi River in Concordia Parish, Louisiana),
and after three books, thousands of pages, the family's chickens have come home to roost. Just as Cage himself is not someone who does
or could exist in the real world, he's surrounded by equally larger than life role players, including a beautiful young African-American
soldier who nows teaches at Emory and recently won the National Book Award, a Texas Ranger for whom few rules apply, a
twenty-year-old local girl who decided to drop out of Harvard to take care of his daughter, a heroic Civil Rights Era "legal lion" who just
happens to live in the next town and a passel of unspeakably evil former Klansmen who have sworn revenge on Cage on his family.
Regardless of how much the plot folds back and forth over itself, you can't put the book down. (I read it in one sitting, finally getting to
bed at 5:15 this morning.)  But I'm sorry to say, Mississippi Blood doesn't get any better as it goes along. Regardless of how much
mayhem unspools during the course of a day, you know that something even more awful is waiting on the next page. And by the time that
the final showdown that we've known has been coming for the past three books finally happens, our credulity is so strained that it seems
like an anti-climax. In a nutshell, Mr. Iles gives us a brilliant routine, but by the end, he doesn't stick the landing. (5/9/2017)

MARCH, 1917: ON THE BRINK OF WAR AND REVOLUTION   by Will Englund  (2017)  I guess I'm just a sucker for these books
that telescope world events into a specific time period (
1493 is still the best of the bunch), but generally speaking they're better when they
tell a coherent story that allows you to understand how people were experiencing during the time period being discussed. Much of what's
in this book mirrors
Caught in the Revolution (see below), a much better book. The book focuses on events in Washington and Petrograd,
but also tosses in a narrative about the first female member of the House of Representatives and the fishing trip that Theodore Roosevelt
took to Florida that month.  Neither story really enhances the book, which focuses most of its attention on Woodrow Wilson, who spent
most of the month sick in bed. It's never been easy for an author to make Wilson interesting, and I'm sorry to have to report that Mr.
Englund doesn't do much better than anyone else. If you're interested in the topic, scroll down to Ms. Rappaport's
Caught in the
.  You'll thank me.  (5/6/2017)

PRAETORIAN: THE RISE AND FALL OF ROME'S IMPERIAL BODYGUARD   by Guy de la Bedoyere  (2017)  People who are
more knowledgeable than I have probably known for years that much of what we know today about the history of the Roman Empire has
come from studying coins that were minted during the reigns of various emperors. This was made clear to me in
The Triumph of Empire
by Michael Kulikowski (below) and underscored by Mr. de la Bedoyere's (hereinafter referred to as "Guy") work in
Praetorian. While Guy
focuses his attention on the thousand or so soldiers who acted (usually) as the emperor's bodyguard, he covers most of the same material
as Mr. Kulkowski--and frankly, Mr. Kulikowski does it better. As is the problem with practically every history of the empire, hundreds of
years of history get condensed into a couple of hundred pages of exposition, and just as we're getting used to Goridianus I, he gets bumped
off on the next page by Goridianus II and then Goridianus III. It's a difficult story to tell, and unfortunately, Guy's workman-like prose
isn't as engaging as it needs to be. If you're interested in reading about the Roman's, go for
The Triumph of Empire.  (4/24/2017)

For the past few years, I've been saving up new books about my favorite subject and reading them in April. (You can go back and check.
I'll wait here.) I don't know why. I just do. So here it is April again, and while I'm somewhat disappointed that I've seen hardly any news
books about French history in the stores lately, I'll push on with what I have and hope that I'll stumble on some new finds as the month
rolls along.

Her name was Louise Delabigne. As her life rolled along, she would gentrify her name into Valtesse de la Bigne, dub herself a countess, and
write letters and missives under the telling
nom de plume of Ego. In reality, she was a prostitute in a city that had a military-style rank
structure for women involved in such activities. At the low end of the scale were the
grisettes, and lorettes. With luck and determination,
women could work their way up to
courtesan and in rare cases, grande horizontales. The woman who called herself Ego was definitely the
last. During her thirty-odd year career of making herself indispensable to men, she helped a number of previously well-off men into
penniless ruin, but that was the game. Ms. Hewitt does an admirable job of describing how it happened. She lifts her heroine out of the
gutter to a point where she's pestering a cabinet minister to start a war in--of all places--Vietnam, but she never lets us forget that in the
end, prostitution is a business. In the book's best line, Valtesse chastises another courtesan for letting a man see her legs without paying for
the privilege. If prostitution at the dawn of the
Belle Epoque interests you, here's your book.  (4/10/2017)

I'm sorry to say that this book is as much of a mish-mash as its title. In a nutshell, the main story-line in the book is an investigation into
allegations that one of the mistresses of Louis XIV tried to poison a rival. Allegedly, she contacts a woman in Paris who's might quite a
career out of poisoning people, and we're given all sorts of facts and speculations about how that happened. Ms. Tucker is both a
professor of French and Italian and teaches medical ethics at Vanderbilt University. She says she's spent years researching this story. I
don't doubt that's true, but I do wish she'd spent a little more time on the writing and editing part.  The story is broken up and told in such
a way that the reader (i.e., me) gets really tired of the "Meanwhile in another part of town..." meme. This is probably a very interesting
story.  It just doesn't read like one.  (4/30/2017)

THE GULF: THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN SEA   by Jack E. Davis  (2017)  This is one of those books that's so good that I
sometimes think it's the kind of big book I'd write if that were something I'd do. Mr. Davis is a professor of environmental history at the
University of Florida, and his book fairly oozes with proof that he thinks that the Gulf of Mexico is a wonder of the world that humans
aren't doing their part to preserve. And as anybody knows who has seen it or felt its touch, the Gulf is a wonder. Mr. Davis traces the
story of human interaction with the gulf, from the Indians who lived along its shores who built shell mounds that still exist, the Europeans
who traipsed along its shores looking for treasure--oblivious to the embarrassment of riches all around them, to the fisherman who
depended on its bounty for their livelihood to the oil men who depended on it for their fortunes to Walter Anderson, the unofficial hero of
the book, who asked nothing of the Gulf than to allow him to be a part of it. We're told the stories of the birds, the fish, the reptiles and the
insects that made the Gulf what it is. Mr. Davis wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't throw in some dire warnings about what could
happen if we don't start taking care of the 600,000 square-mile treasure that's been handed to us. But he makes his very powerful points in
a way that doesn't make the reading want to stop reading, and he even offers hope for a better, cleaner future. Even if you don't live in a
part of the country where one's life can be divined by how one relates to the Gulf of Mexico, I think this book should be studied and
enjoyed.  (4/6/2017)

CAUGHT IN THE REVOLUTION  by Helen Rappaport   (2016)  Ms. Rappaport is a self-described specialist in Russian history who lives
in West Dorset and has written extensively on it. Her latest effort presents anecdotal accounts of the February and October 1917
revolutions from the points-of-view of American, British and French nationals who lived in Petrograd and were caught in the middle of the
upheaval. She has drawn on the experiences of the ambassadors of those three nations, their aides, journalists (including John Reed and
Louise Bryant) who covered the proceedings, nurse who had gone to Petrograd to nurse Russian soldiers and others. While it is not a
comprehensive history of the revolution, I quite like the way Ms. Rappaport focused on the experiences of the non-Russians. I was very
impressed by the way she told us who all the characters were, allowed us to get to know them a little bit and kept them all moving
forward. Well done!  (3/22/2017)

I felt silly just typing the subtitle of the book. Mostly, this book features three people in Shanghai in the 30's and 40's. One, Indian-born
Victor Sassoon, but the world-famous Cathay Hotel on the Bund and was rumored to be the richest man in town. A second, (Ms.) Mickey
Hahn, St. Louis author who went to the fabulous Orient in search of adventure and excitement; and third, Zau Sinmay, a Shanghai author,
poet, publisher and opium-fiend. The three did indeed form a love triangle of sorts, but the author doesn't mention anybody who might
have "forbade" it. And I suppose that some of their antics before and during the Japanese invasion and occupation during the Second World
War might have qualified as "intrigue", but the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Taras Grescoe has written lots of things, and
in this instance, he lays out the facts of these people's lives, but at no point do I feel as if I "know" them. If you
love Shanghai like I do, the
book may be enough for you. Otherwise, you're going to find that the text doesn't live up to the promise of the title. (3/16/2017)

see where Mr. Kulikowski has written a book prior to this one, although as head of the History Department at Penn State, I'm sure he has.
It seems that this should be the second book in a Roman Empire trilogy because it omits Julius Caesar, Augustus, Claudius, Nero and
Titus--all the people you think you know--and joins the story in progress as the Emperor Hadrian takes the purple in 117 AD and starts
building the wall that presumably the people of Scotland had to pay for. He takes us through the next 233 years up until the advent of Julian
in 350 AD. There can be no doubt that this is a work of outstanding scholarship. Despite the fact that he seems to have gleaned much of
his information from looking at coins (I'm serious), he provides a detailed analysis of who did what when and where. It's not his fault that
his subjects are bewilderingly named and keep making the same mistakes over and over. (If you want to blame somebody, try somebody
liked the Emperor Constantine who named his children Constantinus, Constantius, Constantia and Constans. And a case could be made that
the vast majority of the fifty men covered in the scope of this book died of complications from hubris. It's a difficult read, but it has its
rewards. For example, I don't think I ever knew that Constantine was one of four emperors who served concurrently-the empire was so
big, they had to divide it up, and the emperor who ruled from Rome wasn't always the big dog. In fact, he usually wasn't. Mr. Kulikowski
promises a second volume which will presumably take us up the fall of Constantinople in 1453. I'm going to need to get some rest to get
ready for it.  (2/1/2016)

MISS ELLA: COMMANDER'S PALACE by Ella Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin  (2016)  In the twelve years I lived in New Orleans
prior to Hurricane Katrina, I spent way too much time at Commander's Palace. My job "required" me to take people to dinner when they
came to New Orleans, and everybody who came either already knew about the restaurant and wanted to go, or they wanted an experience
they'd remember. I had the magic phone number that guaranteed that a table would be found even though the place had been booked for
weeks, they knew which corner of the Garden Room was my favorite, and they knew how to make guests feel even more special than the
800 or so other special guests they'd served that day. Also, I served with the author on the board of an organization that did good things. In
those pre-disaster days, the city was languishing, and Ti had the brainchild of a public relations campaign that would do nothing more or
less than make people in New Orleans feel better about themselves. Since I'd always thought that folks in New Orleans had a fairly healthy
opinion of themselves, I scoffed at first, but when the levees broke,"New Orleans: Proud to Call It Home" became a rallying cry for
rebuilding the city. All of which leads me to this book, which is a wonderful memoir by written by Ella Brennan and her daughter Ti. If you
ever wondered where the idea of "Breakfast at Brennan's" came from, or what's with the aqua paint job on the restaurant, this is the book
you want. Informative and entertaining, you'll enjoy reading about how the Washington Street institution came be thought of as the best
restaurant in America. (1/24/2016)

COUNTDOWN TO PEARL HARBOR: THE TWELVE DAYS TO THE ATTACK  by Steve Twomey (2016)  He doesn't say as much,
but I think that Mr. Twomey wrote this book to address the concerns of conspiracy theorists who have long said that FDR and the
American intelligence knew that the Japanese carriers in the early days of December 1941, and did nothing to stop the attack. Their motive,
allegedly, was speeding up the immersion of the United States into the Second World War. The conspiracy theorists make compelling
points-mainly that the code-breakers in Washington that the Japanese had declared war a full two hours before the plans appeared over
Pearl Harbor, and no one in Washington thought to pick up a telephone to let anybody in Hawaii know about it. But in point of fact,
nobody-except for Admiral Yamamoto and his fleet--imagined that the Empire of Japan would dare attack the United States in Hawaii.  The
Philippines, sure (not that anybody picked up a phone to Manila, either), but Oahu? They didn't even think it was
possible, and that
assumption would prove fatal to over 2000 sailors and airmen who died that day.  The chief pleasures of this book are getting to know
Kimmel and Stark, the navy and army chiefs in Hawaii who had done so much to prepare their forces to fight back that day but still lost
their careers because-well, it had to be
somebody's fault. Mr. Twomey is a fine writer, and while this is not a comprehensive summary of
Pearl Harbor, those who are interested in learning more about the key players will find it compelling. (1/19/2016)

THE PLOTS AGAINST HITLER  by Danny Orbach  (2016)  That this book is not particularly thick suggests that the plots against Hitler
were rather fewer in number than one would have hoped, and that is indeed the case. What few "plots" there were the brainchildren of very
well placed Nazis who weren't really suffering all that much under the Third Reich, although it has to be noted that most of them paid for
their machinations with their lives. While there were (hopefully) lots of plots that we may never learn of, the ones covered in this book are
those that you've probably heard of already--Elser, Witzleben, von Stauffenberg. While Mr. Orbach, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, used new and previously unearthed resources, he really doesn't bring a lot to the table that is both new and particularly
surprising. What he does do is that he re-examines the context in which German plotters are held in the minds of German historians. He
says that at the end of WWII, the plotters were revered as conscientious heroes and composed the underground that demonstrated that not
all Germans were "good Nazis."  Later, the motives of the plotters were dissected and sometimes reassigned. It was argued that some
disagreed with the way Hitler was running the war, or they didn't like the Hitler was treating the officer class of the
Wehrmacht--whatever.  Mr. Orbach seems to want to restore the reputations of those who schemed against the Third Reich as patriots
and men of conscience-which most certainly most of them were.  Mr. Orbach is a good writer, and if these exploits are unknown to you, I
can recommend this book highly.  If you're already familiar with the material, you can probably skip it.  
PS: Reading this book made me
realize how much better the Tom Cruise movie
Valkyrie could have been if they had just stuck with the story of Count von Stauffenberg,
instead of adding unrelated other plots as filler.

by Greg Mitchell  (2016)   If you're looking at this title, the devil is in the details.  As it turns out, not that many people got out of East
Berlin via tunnel.  In the early 1960's, hiding under the back seat of an Opel Kadett was a much more effective way of escaping to freedom
in the divided city. This book does an admirable job of documenting five or six of the couple of dozen or so attempts that were made in
1962. Likewise, he admirably documents the efforts of East German Intelligence (the Stasi) to seek out the
fluchthelfer. It's clear that
either Mr. Mitchell or his researcher spent a long time sifting through declassified Stasi documents to produce this work. In that effort, the
book is excellent.  However, a closer examination of the title suggests some attention to a couple of efforts by rivals CBS and NBC to
document the tunnelers. It's pretty clear that the Kennedy information had a few things on the plate in the fall of 1962 (Cuba, Ole Miss,
etc.) without worrying about offending the Russians by defending a couple of documentaries from rival television networks. The
administration worked hard to spike the doc's with mixed success, and it's fairly obvious this was the part of the story that most interested
in Mr. Mitchell.  That's okay with me, but if you're picking up this book and thinking that you're getting an exhaustive history of the
desperate spelunkers in Berlin, you're only going to be half right.  (1/6/2016)

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW   by Amor Towles  (2016)  Before I started banging out this scintillating analysis, I had to check the front
of the book to be sure that it was indeed published in 2016.
Gentleman is so understated and--I don't think I've ever used this word in a
book comment before--
sophisticated that it seems out of step with almost any other current mystery you'll find in your local bookstore or
internet vendor.  Twenty-something Alexander Rostov, a count in pre-Revolutionary Russia deemed by the court to be a "former person",
but as he is credited with writing a poem that called for Revolution in his younger days, he is spared a bullet in the back of the head or
Siberia and sentenced to spend the rest of his days in the plush Hotel Metropol on Theater Square in Moscow. And he does. Splendidly.
Despite the obvious limitations, the life he creates for himself over the next thirty years is so rich and full that another character ultimately
refers to him as "the luckiest man in Russia." The writing is splendid, the characters are rich (figuratively), and the story unfolds
magnificently. I can't imagine anyone not liking this book.  (1/3/2016)

SURRENDER, NEW YORK  by Caleb Carr (2016)   The trick for mystery writers is to manipulate the reader without letting us know that
is what he or she is doing.  I'm not particularly good at it, but I hope to get better. In
The Alienist, Caleb Carr established that he is a
master of it. So it was more of a shock than a disappointment to find that he didn't carry that vibe into
Surrender, New York, a modern-day
mystery set in the small upstate burg of the same name. Characters in
Surrender defy plausibility by doing odd things that people in those
positions just don't do.  Of course, if people didn't do "stupid stuff" (to quote our soon-to-be-departed President) there would be no fiction
in the first place, but some of the decisions that are made in
Surrender just defy reason, and make you wonder whether Mr. Carr is just
messing with us or just being lazy. I'm sure it's not the latter, because some of the characters he creates in
Surrender are wonderful, and
he's never been accused of not writing beautifully. If you're looking for a great book about crime in New York (or anywhere), check out
The Alienist. Surrender can wait. (1/2/2016)

THE MIDNIGHT ASSASSIN  by Skip Hollandsworth  (2016)   God bless Mr. Hollandsworth.  The Midnight Assassin is based on a series
of crimes committed in the late 1880's that pre-date Jack the Ripper and are considered to be the first instance of a serial killer in America.  
Seven women (I think), five black "serving girls" and two white women, were pulled from their beds, bludgeoned and butchered in Austin,
Texas. The killer was never found. Unfortunately, when: a) the victims aren't particularly interesting; b) there are no clues who the
perpetrator might be; and c) the public officials and law enforcement officers whose job it is to solve the case can't get their acts together;
there's not a lot for an author to do besides describe the
mise-en-scene of Austin in the 18880's. This Mr. Hollandsworth does admirably.
The most memorable activity in the book is the mayor of Austin, fighting for his political life, calling in the world-famous Pinkerton
Detective Agency to help solve the crimes. The problem is that he doesn't call the world-famous Pinkerton Agency headed by William
Pinkerton, he calls the sham Pinkerton Detective Agency headed by
Matt Pinkerton. Those Pinkertons make an even bigger mess of the
case than existed already, and when the public learns that the mayor has hushed up spending over $3000 of the city's money to hire the
wrong detectives, they boot him out of office. At the end of the book, Mr. Hollandsworth asks readers who might have information about
the case to contact him. I hope they do.  Meanwhile, I think I could have waited for that information before spending $27 to read what
little information currently available.  (1/1/2016)

BY GASLIGHT  by Steven Price  (2016)   I'm guessing that those people out there who think that Benedict Cumberbatch makes a better
modern-day Sherlock Holmes than Jonny Lee Miller might like
By Gaslight. Sentence for sentence and paragraph for paragraph, it's an
amazing achievement. It defies time and space to tell the story of the afore-mentioned William Pinkerton search for the man named Shade
who had also been his father's nemesis in the polluted and profane streets of London. Indeed the fog could be a character in the book.
fog was everywhere, always drifting through the streets and pulling apart low to the ground, a living thing. Some nights it gave off a low
hiss, like steam escaping a valve.
There are 731 pages of sentences just like those--Mr. Price is a brilliant writer. But sometimes too much
of a good thing can just be too much. Just because Mr. Price can make the most mundane details of his characters' lives sound like poetry,
it doesn't mean that he should. Sometimes, movies run fifteen minutes too long (or in more woeful cases, an hour), and I kind of think that
this is what happened here.
By Gaslight is too much of a good thing.  (1/1/2016)