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GIBRALTAR: THE GREATEST SIEGE IN BRITISH HISTORY  by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins  (2018)  Yes, the Siege of
Gibraltar by the Spanish and French from 1779 was the longest siege in the history of Great Britain, and possibly the longest in the
history of the world. (The authors say it is, but they don't sound too convinced about it.) The book is exhaustive in its research and its
recounting of the long, long four-year siege of "The Rock". The authors start off by saying that the siege was actually an integral part of
the American Revolution. Thousands of troops which might have been deployed in South Carolina or Virginia were sent to Gibraltar
instead, leaving British forces in the American colonies vulnerable to the combined efforts of the Americans and French. The authors go
on to say that the British made an informed decision that they'd rather keep Gibraltar than the American colonies. (You may have heard
that already, but it was news to me.)  I didn't think I'd be much interested in the interminable comings and goings of the siege-ees, but
the authors do a very nice job of incorporating the letters and journals of the participants into the work to make it compelling on a
personal level. If you think of yourself as a student of the history of the American Revolution (or military history in general), I
recommend you check it out! (12/27/2018)

AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING   by Hank Green  (2018)  This is Mr. Green's first novel, and I suspect that if his first is
representative of what we can expect from him in the future, we're going to be enjoying his work for a long time.  The "Thing" in the
title are 64 sentient beings who appear overnight in the major cities of the world-and just stand there doing nothing. The young millennial
woman who is the first to commit the New York being to social media is April May, and as soon as she uploads her first YouTube
video, the book becomes about her. (Which is good, because the "beings"are just standing there doing nothing for months.) April names
the New York being "Carl", so naturally all 64 around the world are referred to as "the Carls." The majority of the book is about how
April adjusts to sudden fame and wealth, and how she quickly becomes concerned with "branding" herself to make sure she remains at
the center of the attraction.  How she does that goes deep into the weeds about how narratives are shaped in the media, and for a while
I thought the book might try to morph into some sort of commentary on the current political situation in the country, but mercifully, it
does not. So if you're interested in self-absorbed millennials, you could do a lot worse than this book.  (12/25/2018)

DARK SACRED NIGHT  by Michael Connelly  (2018)  I've liked Mr. Connelly's "Harry Bosch" novels for a long time.  (Go ahead and
look through the past comments. I'll wait.) Harry Bosch is an old-time detective who worked for years at the Hollywood Division of the
LAPD, solving all sorts of sordid things.  Now he's off the force, but still interested in cold cases. Here, he joins forces with a
twenty-something female detective from the night shift of the Hollywood Division (they call it "the late show") to try to solve an old
case involving the death of a young woman more than thirty years ago. The cover of this book says it's "A Ballard and Bosch Novel",
and as the book rolls along, it's clear that Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard will be having more adventures in the future. This is a very
good strategy by Mr. Connelly to keep his characters fresh (and diverse), so I give him credit for not letting his people go stale.  If
you've liked the Bosch novels in the past, you'll like this one.  If you're unfamiliar with the series, this is a good place to jump in at the
beginning of something new.  (12/23/2018)

BLOOD COMMUNION  by Anne Rice  (2018)  Ms. Rice goes to great pains to point out that the "chronicles" of the Vampire Lestat
have been unfolding for the last forty years.  (Hard to believe.)  Suffice to say that while Lestat has evolved-a little-beyond the "brat" he
was in the 80's, he's still the same old Lestat.  If it's been a while since you spent time with Lestat, this might be a good opportunity to
check him out.  (12/21/2018)

NOVEMBER ROAD: A NOVEL by Lou Berney  (2018)  begins irresistibly.  Carlos Marcello, the New Orleans crime boss, has
engineered the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Frank Guidry, one of his chief lieutenants has unwittingly participated in the crime
of the century by "planting" the getaway car in a parking lot in downtown Dallas. After the shooting, he's sent to Houston, where the
real shooter is holed up, to dispose of the car. He knows that Carlos will clean up the mess by making sure that everybody involved is
put down--including Frank.  He knows he's needs to put as much distance between himself and New Orleans as possible, so he heads
out cross-country to meet a trusted (maybe) friend in Las Vegas. Along the way, he meets Charlotte, a dissatisfied Oklahoma
housewife, who has taken her two kids and epileptic dog and fled from her alcoholic husband.  Up until this point, the book is terrific.
But as the cruise Route 66 across the Southwest, the air from the plot begins to leak like a carnival balloon. Charlotte may be heroic, but
she's a drag on the story. So when the book finally ends, and it's become all about her, we really don't care so much. There are great
supporting characters, like Marcello's henchwoman Seraphine, and the killer sent to track down and kill Frank. I would have loved to
have spent more time with them, but instead, the author has chosen to stick with Charlotte and her girls and dog. Too bad. November
Road isn't bad, but it is a missed opportunity. I would have preferred to watch the balloon soar to the stars than slowly deflate and sink
to the floor.  (10/20/2018)

FRENCH EXIT  by Patrick DeWitt  (2018)  It's my own fault.  I'll read anything about Paris-even the story of a 60-ish New York
grande dame who burns through all her dead husband's money and moves to Paris with her useless 30-ish son to escape the humiliation
of being poor in New York.  The mother is so headstrong, and the son is such a schlub that you know that neither of them is going to
learn anything useful that might lead to an enlightened or enjoyable life. A big part of reading about Paris is reading about what the
characters do in the most amazing of cities.  Here, the answer is "not much." And the fact that they're not that interesting to start with
doesn't help.  (9/27/2018)

RED WAR: A MITCH RAPP NOVEL   by Vince Flynn  (2018)   In this, the 800th Mitch Rapp novel, our hero saves the world from
pesky Russians who have just HAD IT that they're not a superpower any more. The Mitch Rapp novels are a notch above most spy
novels as: 1) they are written by the guy who's name is in the biggest print on the cover; and 2) the author realizes that he's been writing
this character for well over a decade now, and he needs to acknowledge that the character is aging and might want to have a personal
life at some point. Mitch still isn't a character that the reader can identify with or have much in the way of empathy-but at least he is a
character.  (9/10/2018)


THE SINNERS: A QUINN COLSON NOVEL   by Ace Atkins  (2018)  My love-hate relationship with Ace Atkins continues.  I love
that he can sear words onto a page like few other people on the planet and tell a story that shakes you to your core.  And I hate that he
views my native state as a cesspit for human debris. I forgot to look to see how many Quinn Colson novels there are, but each of them
burrows a little deeper in to Atkins' fictional Tibbeha County, which now rivals Yoknapatawpha for the highest ratio of trash in the
general population. The plot-like all the other Colson novels-is about drugs, whores and eating large quantities of fried catfish, but it
really doesn't matter what it's about.  You know that by the end, some beloved character is going to be near death, and Sheriff Colson is
going to have to beat the crap out of somebody to wreak vengeance.  The joy of these books is reading them paragraph to paragraph to
revel in Atkins' Hemingway-esque spare prose, which never disappoints. Like most novels in a series, it helps if you start at the
beginning, and I'd certainly recommend that to you, if you haven't read any of them already. You certainly won't be disappointed.  
(7/27/2018)

YOU'RE ON AN AIRPLANE: A SELF-MYTHOLOGIZING MEMOIR   by Parker Posey   (2018)  That Parker Posey is a sly boots,
al right--making us think that she's written an autobiography. Over 300+ pages, there are entire chapters about yoga and pottery, and
even a detailed discussion of Erich von Stroheim. There are recipes and
dozens of pictures of Posey doing yoga, dressing up her dog,
and miscellaneous squiggles. What there's not is a lot of information about the artist formerly known as Parker Posey. I actually feel as
if I know less about her now than I did when I picked up the book. Which in a weird way, I kind of get. Someone like Posey, who's
probably got a lot of obsessed weirdo indie film fans stalking her probably doesn't want to be putting too much of herself into
circulation. That's swell, but if that's the way you're going to play, don't be charging people twenty-eight bucks for this mess.  
(7/29/2018)

THE FORGOTTEN ROAD: A NOVEL   by Richard Paul Evans   (2018)  Well, once again, I've stumbled into the middle book of a
trilogy without reading the first book (
The Broken Road).  That's fine with me because I didn't get that much out of this one. I read its
257 itty bitty pages in less than two hours. In a nutshell, a guy succeeds in making people think he's dead and decides to walk Route 66
from Chicago to Santa Monica to get his wife (Monica, get it?) back.  The book is so short that you really don't even feel like you're on
a journey, even if the prose is broken up regularly with Burma Shave signs (which were a lot more clever in my recollection than they
are on the pages, but I digress). He's rich, so the epiphanies of the road don't start rolling in until he gets robbed and experience life
without money in the Texas Panhandle.  There's not much here, but like I said, it goes by fast.  The third book (
The Road Home) is
already in production. If it's the same size as this one, I suspect that the three of them would make one decent-sized book. But Mr.
Evans is making twenty bucks a pop off the installments, so why go and do something stupid like that? (July 31, 2018)

THE FALLEN   by David Baldacci   (2018)  Mr. Baldacci's book is an embarrassment of riches.  There so many characters and so
much plot that he could have given some of the excess to Richard Paul Evans to pad out
The Forgotten Road.  FBI guy and gal Amos
Decker and Alex Jamison have already appeared in four novels. (Sorry I haven't had a chance to read them, but I've had things to do.)
Here, they're on vacation at Jamison's sister's house in rural Pennsylvania, in a town so hollowed out by economics and the opioid
crisis, that there's really not much left.  But as it happens, two DEA agents are murdered practically under their noses, so naturally they
have to assist the local police in the investigation.  I'm going to stop here with the plot.  There's just too much of it. Suffice to say that
Mr. Baldacci has turned in yet another page-turner that doesn't let you put it down. He's written dozens of books just like this one, so if
you liked any of those, you'll like this one as well.  (8/2/2018)


SPYING ON WHALES: THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF EARTH'S MOST AWESOME CREATURES  by Nick Pyenson
(2018)  So I'm spending a lot more time with marine biologists these days, so I feel a bit compelled to know what the heck they're
talking about. If you're not particularly confident of your knowledge of marine mammals, Mr. Pyenson's book is an excellent place to
start.  In his day job, he's the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. So he knows his
whales. I think the fact that he spends a lot of time explaining his exhibits to casual visitors as well as academic types greatly enhances
his ability to talk about his favorite subject to non-professional readers like me. (And if you doubt that whales are his favorite subject,
read the title of the book again.) The early pages are chock full of interesting.  My two favorite nuggets are: 1) whales were originally
land mammals who walked on four legs (think of a long-legged, less scaly alligator) and evolved into the present form after they moved
to the sea; and 2) in a 120-foot blue whale (the largest living thing
ever to live on the planet), there are a quadrillion miles of arteries,
veins and capillaries. As the title suggests, Mr. Pyenson divides his book into the past, present and future of whales. In reading the
book, I found the past to be fascinating. The present is sort of a travelogue of places around the world he's been to dig up whale bones,
and the future is the kind environmental call to action that you could probably write yourself. If you're interested in the subject, this
book is an excellent place to start. If not, it's probably a bit pedagogical.  (7/26/2018)

CITY OF DEVILS: THE TWO MEN WHO RULED THE UNDERWORLD OF OLD SHANGHAI   by Paul French  (2018)  You'd
think that a book with a title like that would be catnip to somebody like me who loves Shanghai and can't get enough of its boisterous,
colorful past. And clearly it was Catnip-i bought the book.  But I didn't love the book.  The book jacket tells us that Mr. French's last
boo,
Midnight in Peking, won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Non-Fiction, to which I
say--That's great.  I'm sure your mom is really proud. The subject matter certainly has potential-it's the story of a Viennese dancer and a
ex-convict from Tulsa who do indeed rule part of the Shanghai underworld in the 1930's.  (Shanghai has a lot of underworld. Two guys
can't do it by themselves.) My problem with the book is that Mr. French chooses to tell his story as if he's some sort of latter-day
Damon Runyon, partially with lots of gratuitous obscenities (yes, I do know it when I see it) and lots of alleged vernacular from the
time that just sounds like he's trying too hard.  The book even has a glossary to tell you what "Americanski durak", "blind pig", "bucko
mate", "Cadillac", "cosh" and lots of other terms mean. While the story was compelling, the writing was irritating as all get out. If you're
looking for a great book about Shanghai in the old days, this isn't it. (7/22/2018)

SPY MASTER: A THRILLER  by Brad Thor  (2018)  I'm at the point where I give authors the benefit of the doubt if there's only one
name listed as "Author".  To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Thor writes his own books, and he writes them well. Spy Master is the
400th book in the series about super spy Scot Harvath. This time he's thwarting a Russian plot to invade Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
But in the bigger picture of Scot Harvath's world, the reader can see that Mr. Thor is moving Harvath ever closer to time when he's just
too dang old to be traveling the world and beating the crap out of the people.  I suspect that in the next book, we'll find him replacing his
boss, the dying Reed Carlton as the top dog of the Carlton Group.  If you're an
Archer fan, he's going to become Mallory Archer.
Personal growth in these kinds of books is always a good sign, Mr. Thor does not disappoint. It's almost as gratifying to read about
how Harvath is "bringing along" a team that will replace him at some point.  (One wonders if those younger team members will be the
central characters in Thor's work in the future.)  If you like international spy thrillers, Thor never disappoints, and he doesn't here.  
(7/9/2018)

WARLIGHT:  A NOVEL  by Michael Ondaatje  (2018)  Mr. Ondaatje is a terrific writer, but in his 20th bo'reok, his characters are
built up and then taken away from you.  Narrated by Nathaniel, a London teenager whose parents mysteriously leave him and his sister
in the care of two men who may be criminals in 1946 after the father is transferred by his business to the Far East. So we meet the
sister and the mysterious "caregivers" and decide we kind of like them. Then they go away, to be replaced by the mother, who has a lot
of secrets. OK, we're cool with that, but then she goes away.  Then we get the story of a semi-random stranger, who by now we've
been conditioned not to miss when he disappears. Thankfully, we're in the company of Nathaniel the narrator all the way through, but
he's really not as interesting as--well, anybody else in the book. There are others who come and go and later turn up again, but by the
end of the book, we're just kind of tired of all of them. The book begins as big as a carnival balloon, but by the end, all of the interest
has leaked out and we're left with memories of what could have been.  (7/7/2018)

THE PHARAOH KEY   by Preston & Child  (2018)   This is the fifth and (apparently) final book in a series of five by Douglas Preston
and Lincoln Child about a Sterling Archer-esque spy named Gideon Crew. I have not read the first four, but I liked this one well enough,
so I might check them out. The plot in a nutshell is that the ISIS-like spy agency that Sterli--I mean Gideon works for has been shut
down, and on the day that Gideon is in the office to clean out his desk, a computer that's apparently been sitting in a corner for five
years beeps and indicates that the program it's been working on for all those years is finally finished. And wouldn't you know? It's a
treasure map for something hidden in the cobra-infested Egyptian desert. So Gideon and Manny Garza, a co-worker who is also now
out of a job decide that there's nothing to do but to go get it.  And they do.  The bulk of the book is about their travels through said
cobra-infested desert, where they meet all sorts of mayhem and disaster, as well as a mysterious and beautiful blonde, and a tribe of
Coptic Egyptians who decide that Manny is their new god.  The book has all kinds of action and adventure, and the authors have given
the work a nice "Man Who Would Be King" vibe that lifts the book considerably. The Pharaoh Key is mostly hooey, but it's good beach
reading hooey, so check it out. (6/25/2018)

CIRCE by Madeline Miller  (2018)  I circled around the book in bookstores for a couple of months, thinking that it the "Circe" in the
title was a modern character and the story was one the hundreds of books that no one would a woman would love. (Not that there's
anything wrong with that.) Then I read something that suggested that this is "the" Circe of Greek mythology, and my interest was
renewed. I figured that there was still going to be some sort of feminist spin on the story, but I read it anyway. And I was right.  Ms.
Miller does put a feminist spin on the story of the daughter of Oceanus, but it's entirely appropriate, entirely readable and entirely
enjoyable. It's been a long time since I read Edith Hamilton, so I've forgotten whether Circe was as involved with so many other gods,
demigods, and others, but I'm going to take Ms. Miller's word for it and say she was. (I suspect that she jumps the shark with
Telemachus, son of Odysseus, at the end, but I'm willing to let that slide.) The story of Circe is timeless, and Ms. Miller has given it a
modern-and equally timeless-spin. (6/22/2018)

ADJUSTMENT DAY  by Chuck Palahniuk  (2018)  Perhaps all you really need to know about this book is that it was written by the
author of
Fight Club.  Hundreds of years ago (or whenever the movie came out) I said on one of these pages that the first half of Fight
Club
is the greatest movie ever made. (If you want to look it up, I'll wait.)  But by the end the movie, it was sunk by its own
incoherence. Ditto
Adjustment Day.  It starts off with the people who are doing their best to wreck American civilization--corrupt
media, academics and politicians-getting their comeuppance as people with a little common sense decide they've had enough.  Then the
story goes full-goose-loony as African-Americans are consigned to the southern states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida
which become the Martin Luther Kingdom; and white people get the rest of the country, except for California, which becomes
"Gaysia".  (Surprisingly, it is the "Kingdom" that fare the best; it blossoms as something like Wakanda, as the folks elsewhere consume
their "klanburgers" at the local diner.) After the klanburgers, the story gets even sillier, and you're ready for Mr. Palahniuk to wrap it up.
I don't think I'd ever advise you to read half a book-book-but I certainly can't advise you to read all of this one.  (6/18/2018)

THE THIEF; A NOVEL OF THE BLACK DAGGER BROTHERHOOD  by J. R. Ward  (2018) J. R. Ward could be the Nikola Tesla
of vampire novelists. Her writing is electric, and she can put paragraphs together in a way that makes your heart rush. That's the good
news about
The Thief. The bad news is that it's a fairly standard vampire story set in the fictional metropolis of Caldwell, New York,
(think of Albany as a real city) where vampires must stick together to avoid the notice of humans, even as they control every move of
the
lessers. In some prior book, Sola Morte, a.k.a. Marisol, a young Latina, has bonded with one of the vampire leaders, but has escaped
the compound to try to lead a comparatively normal life with her grandmother in one of the less glamorous neighborhoods of Miami
Beach. She's quickly sucked backed into the life, so to speak, and she's back in Caldwell, helping her lover regain his strength after
some random ordeal and eventually defend his turf.  Like I said, standard vampire stuff.  So while the writing is great and you're held in
thrall for the first half of the book or so, you eventually realize that this story isn't really going anyplace interesting and start to weary of
it all.  (6/13/2018)

TO DIE BUT ONCE: A MAISIE DOBBS NOVEL  by Jacqueline Windspear (2018)  For a novel about somebody named Maisie, it's
not bad. Maisie is a female private investigator with some sort of loose connection to Scotland Yard in 1940.  The story is set against a
background of the Dunkirk evacuation. A seventeen-year-old friend of the family dies under suspicious circumstances while he's
supposed to be applying flame-retardant chemicals to top secret radar stations along the Kentish coast. So whodunit? The painting
contractor who pulled political strings to get the contract? The suspicious friend of the family with a criminal past? The brother and
sister who are clearly up to no good? Maisie and her partner Billy track down the clues and formulate hypotheses-which is both the
strength and weakness of the book. The author gives both Maisie and Billy rich backstories that are both detailed and profoundly
uninteresting. Their hunt for clues apparently goes on for days and days, as they schedule much less interesting aspects of their private
lives around the occasional visit to suspects, physicians and policemen.  The slow pace doesn't bother me-it's rather nice, actually-but
the activities that fill their days really didn't interest me at all.  If you're looking for a good beach read, this probably isn't it.  (6/11/2018)

THE CAST  by Danielle Steel  (2018)  You can check my old pages, but take my word for it: I've never read a Danielle Steel book. This
one was a gift, so what the heck. I have nothing useful to say about this book.  When I finally figured out that no one was going to be
murdered, my mild interest waned considerably, and I finished the book only because everybody in the book was so nice, and I didn't
want to be rude by tossing them aside until the not-so-bitter end. Ms. Steel has sold billions of books, and I assume that they're all
something like this, so you probably already know everything you need to know about her and her
modus operandi.  So why are you
reading this?  If you think you might like the book, you've probably already read it.  (6/9/2018)

TWISTED PREY: A LUCAS DAVENPORT NOVEL by John Sandford  (2018)  This is yet another book of a series whose earlier
books are much more interesting than this one-I hope. To be honest, I really couldn't relate to it at all. Lucas Davenport is a genius
software designer who sold his company for $40 million and became-a U. S. Marshal. Well, who wouldn't. I don't know what he did in
his earlier books, but in this one, he investigates the attempted murder of one psychotic Republican U. S. Senator from Minnesota-by
another psychotic Republican U.S. Senator from Minnesota. (Quick. Name two Republicans from Minnesota.) Other than several
manifestations of what is becoming known as the "Deep State" in Washington, nothing in this book felt real or even possible. Worse,
none of the characters were either identifiable or sufficiently noble of evil to sustain your interest. Read at your own risk.  (6/7/2018)

THE DISAPPEARED   by C. J. Box  (2018)  I was excited to read that this book is about British women who go to dude ranches in
Wyoming because I actually know some British women who go to dude ranches in Wyoming. (I get around.) That concept makes the
beginning and end of my connection with Mr. Box's book. Turns out the British women in question go to said dude ranches to pick up
young cowboys. One of them goes missing and legendary Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett who's appearing in 18th entry in this
series. If you've never read one of these books, I'm sure you'd find
The Disappeared to be a satisfying read. If you're familiar with the
series, you know that Joe will be at odds with his bureaucratic overlords, his friend Nate will espouse a conspiracy theory about
somebody or somebodys plotting against the great Wyoming outdoors, and Joe's truck will be doomed. There's no doubt that Mr. Box
is an excellent writer, but maybe 18 is enough.  (5/29/2018)

NOIR   by Christopher Moore  (2018)  This could turn out to be my favorite book of the year. The author of You Suck, The Stupidest
Angel
, and Island of the Sequined Love Nun has further solidified himself as the Carl Hiassen of the New Millennium. (Sorry, Mr.
Hiassen, you were a candidate for the job, but someone with a pulse actually got it.) As you can probably guess, Noir is set in San
Francisco (apparently L.A. was booked) in 1947, when guys sometimes got away with calling women "Toots" and aliens were crashing
into the desert near Roswell. Sammy "Two Toes" Tiffin is a bartender with a broken foot who meets Stilton (a.k.a., "The Cheese")
who's a war widow with a broken heart. Their antics are narrated in a rather straightforward manner until a couple of unlikely
characters named Petey and Moonman turn up and turn the story on its head. I would love to see this book turned into to a movie. With
the right cast (I could see Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), it could be wonderful. As for Petey and Moonman, I could
see--well, you'll have to use your imagination-or just read the book. (5/21/2018)

THE HELLFIRE CLUB   by Jake Tapper  (2018) is a joyless slog through Washington in the 1950's that name checks everybody from
the Dulles brothers to the Kennedy brothers to Ike and McCarthy to Kefauver and Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Tapper knows what he's doing
by including so many "real" people because they're so much more interesting than the fictional characters who are doing things and
having things done to them. The central character his an overprivileged academician from Manhattan (project much, Mr. Tapper) who's
dad gets him to fill a vacated term in the House of Representatives. Mr. Tapper would probably tell you that the character is an idealist.
In reality-and the plot of the book backs me up on this, he's just a dope. Naturally, he has a hot academician wife who's up for sex on
the living room floor even though she's pregnant, a loyal African-American friend, and Jackie Kennedy as a next-door neighbor who
walks over and knocks on the front door to check on him when she hears some bad news. I suppose that it would be interesting to
know if the Hellfire Club was ever a real thing (Mr. Tapper says that Benjamin Franklin discovered them in England and started a
chapter in colonies), but if they were, they were a pretty boring outfit by the time Mr. Tapper got through with them. (5/18/2018)

LEONARDO da VINCI   by Walter Isaacson  (2017)  Leonardo has always been one of those very few "larger than life" people in the
history of the world, and he remains supernatural despite Mr. Isaacson's efforts to knock him into human shape. No offense to Mr.
Isaacson's generally excellent writing, but the best thing about the book is the extraordinary quality of the paper it's written on that
allows for high quality reproductions of practically all of Leonardo's known works of art that the reader can actually refer to as
Isaacson is commenting on them on a nearby page.I know this doesn't sound like a big thing, but for me, it really helped me to
understand why the master's works are appreciated in the way that they are. This isn't the most "in-depth" bio you'll ever read, and
frankly, the book tells you as much about its author as it does about its subject, but it's still a worthy addition to the Leonardo canon.
(5/11/2018)

THE CITY OF LOST FORTUNES by Bryan Camp  (2018)  If you follow this page at all (I know you don't, but I can dream), you
know that I hardly ever gush about a new writer.  In fact, I can't remember
ever doing such a thing. But a new voice has arisen from
our midst, and I'm very excited.  Bryan Camp starting writing
The City of Lost Fortunes in the back seat of his parents' car when they
were evacuating New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.  Considering that was thirteen years ago, I'm not sure how prolific he's going
to be in the future, but if his first book is any indication, we can look forward to good things in the future.  Not since the Vampire
Lestat was haunting the cemetery across from Commander's Palace has the New Orleans vampire/zombie/voodoo/demigod community
been so well presented. Mr. Camp expertly walks the tightrope between reality and fantasy as the tells the story of a son of a god named
Jude Dubuisson, whose curious supernatural talent is that he can find things that have been lost. He's been in a funk since Katrina,
spending most of his time at a card table selling his services to tourists wondering where they lost their earrings. Jude's inertia has left a
hole in the demigod community, which like nature, abhors a vacuum. The book unfolds as every god in the city (many more than you
might imagine), vampire, zombie and voodoo priest complicate his efforts to solve murders and reclaim his own lost destiny. I loved this
book. At the risk of sounding like somebody's grandfather, I regret that every paragraph held an f-bomb or two. But I got over it, and
although I would advise you to keep the book away from the kids, I think you'll like it quite a lot.  (5/9/2018)

RED ALERT  by James Patterson and Marshall Karp  (2018)  and DARK IN DEATH by J. D. Robb (2018)   At a time in the world
when there seem to be BILLIONS of new fiction writers, it seems that most of the books that people are reading are written by the
same six or seven people.  Two of those people are James Patterson and J. D. Robb.  In their most recent efforts, the list of their "other
works" ran to a combined six pages. Patterson seems to be the worst offender.  He seems to have blurred the definitions of the terms
"take a meeting" and "write a book. So many books sold in his name are "co-written" by other people, that I really can't even tell you
much about what Mr. Patterson's writing because I don't know I'd recognize it if I saw it. I can tell you that I liked
Red Alert. The
story of a NYPD unit dedicated only to crimes by and against the city's one percent is bound to be kind of fun, and it is. J. D. Robb's
work is notable because all of her many, many books have the word "Death" in the title.  It must kill her that someone beat her to
Death
in the Afternoon
.  I found Dark in Death to be a long, horrible slog.  The premise is good: somebody out there thinks they've been done
dirty by a writer of murder fiction has started killing people in a way that the writer describes in her books. But
D in D is set in a near
future where recognizable things have new names and people are exploring new and less interesting ways to be irritating. Ms. Robb is a
good writer, but this one just didn't do it for me.  (5/6/2018)

BISHOP'S PAWN by Steve Berry (2018)   I've been reading Mr. Berry's work with diminishing returns since the beginning, and I've
finally burned out on Cotton Malone. Mr. Berry tells us that this is the first time that he's ever told a story from the point-of-view of just
one person (Malone), and the extra time we get to spend with him doesn't make us like him any better. And during the three days we
spend with him crashing around the State of Florida from Key West to St. Augustine and Micanopy to the Magic Kingdom, we don't
really have an opportunity to get to know him any better. The story here is controversial at best. It lays out a theory of Martin Luther
King's assassination that will confound anybody who lived through the era and might possibly enrage some who are emotionally invested
in Dr. King and his work. I"m not saying that Mr. Berry "jumps the shark" with this one, but he does take a running leap and kind of
tumbles over it.  If you're interested in the work of Steve Berry, go back and read some of his earlier, more exuberant works and put
this one at the end of the queue.  (5/2/2018)

AGENT IN PLACE: A GRAY MAN NOVEL   by Mark Greaney  (2018)  This book is a perfect example of why "Literature" and
"Fiction" are two separate sections of the book store. I was engrossed by this book over one Saturday afternoon and evening, but by the
following Monday, I'd forgotten practically everything about it. The book is not as generic as the title sounds, but while Mr. Greaney
certainly knows how unspool a thriller, it's not a story that sticks with you. Court Gentry is a former Special Forces/spook/superhero
who now prowls the planet as a free agent, taking out trained assassins a half-dozen at a time. If he's in Paris and finds out he needs to
sneak into Syria on a Tuesday afternoon, he's in Damascus the next morning as part of a force of mercenaries. It's hard to believe, but
Mr. Greaney is a good writer who propels the story at breakneck speed and doesn't waste time developing characters.  If this is your
kind of thing, this is your thing. 4/30/2018)

THE ESCAPE ARTIST   by Brad Meltzer  (2018) I've praised Mr. Meltzer in the past, and I will continue to do so. But having said that,
I scanned the list of his others book inside the front cover, and even though I know I've read several of them, I couldn't tell you one
memorable thing about any of them. And I know I've read some of them because in the last one (
The House of Secrets, I guess), there
was a bonus chapter at the end that was actually a chapter from this book. Reading it was a
deja vu experience. (Note to book
marketers: Adding a chapter from an upcoming book to a novel is NOT a good way to spread the word about the next book.  But I
digress.)  This one is about a bright girl with a truly miserable childhood who grows up to be the U.S. Army's Artist in Residence. (I
guess there is such a thing.)  In the process of going about her job, she stumbles into a larger plot to rip off a significant portion of the
military budget. An unlikely hero comes to her rescue (to be politically correct, they save each other) in the highly unlikely form of a
middle-aged mortician from the military's own unofficial funeral home, the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The story was a good
one, but it's sabotaged by frequent flashbacks to the heroine's childhood. Those flashback eventually pay off, but as the story is
unfolding, they're kind of aggravating. This book about the air force is a good airplane book. You'll be compelled to keep reading it
during your flight, but you'll have forgotten everything about it by the time you clear baggage claim. (4/27/2018)

THE WANTED: A THRILLER   by Robert Crais  (2018)  I suppose an author can call his book whatever he wants, calling The
Wanted
a "thriller" is something of a stretch. It was compelling and well-written (which is enough), but not necessarily thrilling. Two
high school knuckleheads in Los Angeles and another knucklehead envision themselves as this decade's answer to The Bling Ring and
eventually rob the homes of eighteen well-to-do West Angelenos. But one of the robbees had a secret stored on an old Apple Powerbook
that the knuckleheads stole and hired a couple of goons to find the kids and get the computer back-or perhaps just kill them. The single
mother of one of the knuckleheads a Rolex in her son's room and knows he's up to something. Getting no answers from the kid, she
hires attitudinal L.A. private detective Elvis Cole to find out what's up. And they're off. Mr. Crais is quite a good writer, and he knows
how to keep the plot humming along. Elvis Cole is perhaps the West Coast cousin of Robert B. Parker's Boston-based Spenser, and he
can handle himself in L.A's glitziest and crummiest neighborhoods. Near the end of the book, Elvis makes a field trip to Baton Rouge for
reasons totally unrelated to anything else going on in the book.  He has dinner at a place that sounds like Tsunami and referred to B.R. as
a "great little town." That alone is enough to recommend the book.  (4/25/2018)

THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT  by Chris Bohjalian (2018)   If I'd written this book myself, I'm sure I would have been very proud of it.
But strictly as a consumer, I wasn't much interested in the story of a 52-year-old flight attendant/tramp who's prone to black-out drunks
and sleeping with men who are usually fifteen years younger than herself. She wakes up in a hotel room next to some dude she picked
up on a flight to Dubai the day before and handles her situation in a realistic but not very interesting manner. There's a
not-terribly-convincing back-story about chemical weapons, but it might as well not exist and the 52-year-old women who are this
book's target market wouldn't miss it. As one of Patricia Fawcett's not-particularly-admirable heroines once said, "Not our thing,
darling."  (4/10/2018)

KING ZENO: A NOVEL by Nathaniel Rich  (2018) demands a lot of patience to read. It starts slow. Like, really slow. It's set in New
Orleans in 1918 as the doughboys are returning home from France to a city that's trying to reinvent itself-usually a good idea for New
Orleans, but the effort seldom ends well. Ax murders are taking place in various parts of town and cops who are in the twenties but are
already beaten down by life are trying to solve the mystery.  Mr. Rich is a good writer who's at his best when he's setting scenes.  
Standing between King Zeno and greatness is that it takes an awfully long time for the great scenes that have been created to become a
comprehensible narrative.  (4/1/2018)

MUNICH: A NOVEL  by Robert Harris (2018) sets a trap for itself that it can't quite escape.  It's set against the backdrop of British
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's last ditch effort to hold off Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia and the onset of World War II. In
Mr. Harris's book, an idealistic young German diplomat has irrefutable proof that Hitler has no intention of stopping is succession of
conquests after the inevitable takeover of Czechoslovakia, and he thinks that if he can get his evidence to Chamberlain in time, he can
head off the immediate appeasement of Hitler and provide an impetus for schemers in the German military to launch a coup against the
Fuhrer. The problem, of course, is that what happened at the Munich Conference in late September of 1938 is well-known, and we
know that the diplomat's plan is doomed to failure. The diplomat is aided in his efforts by an old college pal from Oxford who has risen
to a similar rank in the office of Prime Minister Chamberlain. In addition to knowing how the main plot-line will work out, Mr. Harris
dishes out a crumbling marriage for the British diplomat that feels superfluous and forced. Mr. Harris is a fine writer, but if feels as if
he's somewhat off his game in this outing. (Apropos of nothing, I was looking at a route map for Alitalia Airlines the other day. Did you
know that in Italian, "Munich" is "Monaco"?)

MRS: A NOVEL   by Caitlin Macy  (2018)   The publishers would have you believe that Ms. Macy is the Edith Wharton of the 21st
century, and her book is a comedy of manners of present-day upper middle-class life in Manhattan. Perhaps factually correct, I don't
think Ms. Macy would blame me too much for saying that she's no Edith Wharton. And 2018 New York is certainly no Age of
Innocence. It's hard to write a comedy of manners about people who have none. Coarseness reigns, with rape and theft being the order
of the day.  I don't doubt that Ms. Macy presents a credible picture of what passes for polite society in New York. I'm just saying that
the current gilded age is about as lustrous as the cheap plastic tape that passes as chrome trim on a Chevy Mailibu.  (2/28/2018)

MADNESS IS BETTER THAN DEFEAT  by Ned Beauman  (2017)  I couldn't begin to give you a sensible impression of this book.
Suffice to say that Mr. Ned Beauman is an excellent writer who apparently wakes up each morning he's working on a manuscript and
just goes where the day takes him. In 1938, a movie company sets out to film a movie at a recently discovered Mayan pyramid in the
rain forest of Spanish Honduras, only to discover that they've been beaten to the site (by one day) by an expedition from New York who
has been dispatched to dismantle the pyramid and move it to some tycoon's estate on Long Island. The rival groups separate camps on
the pyramid and around its base and determine to wait for the other side to give in and go home.  But they don't. The two groups, both
cut off from news of the outside world for some reason, spend two decades in the jungle before matters are finally resolved. Along the
way, the groups are led by a former gossip columnist for a New York newspaper, and an escaped former Nazi who can't believe his
luck that he's stumbled upon the only dolts on the planet who don't know how WW2 turned out. If you read Madness in small doses, I
suppose you'd find it hilarious. Unfortunately, that's not the way I read books. I tend to pick them up and devour them until they're
gone-which is not a great way to read
Madness is Better Than Defeat. When read in this manner, the book is relentlessly inane and gives
you the impression that it's just going out of its way to be baroque. Perhaps that's part of Mr. Beauman's plan. The book's sense of
dementia is reinforced by the absence of chapters which might offer the reader an opportunity to stop and get away from the madness
for a while. (If that's the case, he's very clever. If not, well, he's just lazy.)  Madness is Better Than Defeat is a great read-just maybe
not all at once.  (2/20/2018)

GRANT  by Ron Chernow (2017)  Some people who have opinions about such things have said that U. S. Grant is our most underrated
president.  Over the past 150 years, he's had a bad rap because of scandals during his administration that really weren't his fault, except
for the fact that he appointed the criminals who committed the crimes. He certainly had a life. His career had crashed and burned by the
time the Civil War broke out. During that war, he revealed himself to be a brilliant tactician-even if those tactics were so mundane as to
use the crushing economic advantages of the North to exhaust the South. In the aftermath of the war, his steadfastness in upholding the
rights of newly-freed slaves in the South held the Jim Crow era off for another decade and was practically the only thing keeping the
nation from sliding back into war. In recent years, Chernow's Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies of Alexander Hamilton and George
Washington have been central to the resurrection of the reputations of those particular Founding Fathers. I'm not sure that he will be
able to stick the trifecta with Grant, as the 18th president was a quiet, humble man who never aspired to prominence--despite the fact
that he was the only President between Jackson and Wilson to serve two complete terms; after the completion of his second term, he
made a four-year circumnavigation of the world, during which he became the most popular man on the planet, and because his
memoirs-published posthumously-were the biggest selling set of books in the 19th century. I was so impressed with the book that I'm
planning a visit to Starkville to see the brand-new Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library. (1/31/2018)

PREDICTING PEARL HARBOR: BILLY MITCHELL AND THE PATH TO WAR   by Ronald J. Druz  (2017)   There's lots of
interesting information here, but I think that perhaps more of a focus is needed. There are three stories in this book.  Two of them are
about predicting Pearl Harbor, only one of them is about General Billy Mitchell, and one of them is about a Japanese Zero that crashed
on the island of Ni'ihau after Pearl Harbor. The bulk of the book is indeed about Billy Mitchell, an American hero who deserves a much
more expansive biography. Not only did he "predict Pearl Harbor", he was the architect of the carpet bombing aspect of "total war" that
would reach its zenith during World War II. Another part of the book is about General Homer Lea, a compelling figure in his own right
who deserves a more detailed biography. And the part of the book about the downed fighter is just sort of paper-clipped to the rest of
the story with the very labored observation that Billy Mitchell had once predicted that the Japanese would strike Oahu and other
Hawaiian islands from the mostly unpopulated Ni'ihau. If you're interested in the material, you'll enjoy most of the book. (1/18/2018)

MARVELLOUS THIEVES: SECRET AUTHORS OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS   by Paulo Lemos Horta  (2017)  So this book is the
epitome of "that kind of thing"-either you're interested in the subject matter, or-well, you're reading another book. I'm one of those folks
who have a particular interest in the book as it tells the story of three of the men who translated-and in some cases made up-and in
some cases stole the work of other writers. One of the tree, Sir Richard Francis Burton, is someone who's interested me for a long
time, and Mr. Horta presents him here with some interesting new insights I hadn't encountered before, so I was particularly interested in
his research. The other two translator/authors are Antoine Galland, who translated and wrote in French during the reign of Louis XIV,
and Edward WIlliam Lane, who translated and wrote in English in the early 19th century. I always knew that The Arabian Nights were
never really a work in Arabic; they were tales passed down through the centuries from all over the Arab world. This book provided
much interesting information about how the tales came to be accumulated and presented as a coherent and continuing story-to the
extent that they are.  So. If you like "that kind of thing," check it out.  (1/1/2018)
MATT'S RATING SYSTEM:

GO!   I liked the book a lot and recommend it to you without reservation.
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, but I'm not sure that my comments would be useful to anyone.

NOTE: The Sixth Day by CATHERINE COULTER and J. T. Ellison has finally pushed me over the edge. I will no longer comment
on product posing and "books" by brands posing as "authors." (Also looking at you. James Patterson and your various
ghostwriters.)  I'm sure Ms. Coulter will laugh all the way to the bank at my decision. That's her privilege, but enough's enough.
(5/29/2018)