Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time of the Wolf, a Kindle book by J. Sydney Jones

You may recall that I reviewed a book by J. Sydney Jones several months ago, The Silence that was set in Vienna in the early 20th century. When I learned that he was reissuing an earlier work as a Kindle book, I immediately bought it. This one is quite different. I had to keep reminding myself that Jones had written it. It is also set in Austria but this one occurs during the Nazi occupation of that country.

The main character, Gunther Radok, is a cop who unhappily works with Nazi forces to catch black marketeers. Then he receives a message from General von Tratten who had sheltered him and his family when Radok was a child. The man is now dead but had been like a father to him. He follows up and discovers that he has been entrusted with documents that prove the plan of the Final Solution. He is to get them out of Austria to the Allies in time for them to take action before the first Jews are delivered to Auschwitz. Be forewarned that if you are easily offended this isn't a book for you. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination and the violence can be stomach turning. We are talking about Nazi torture and murder here.

The characters are perfectly drawn although Lt. Col. Krahl, the main person hunting Radok and the woman with him, is just shy of a caricature. His underling, Wolf Hartmann, is one of the most hateful sociopaths you'll ever encounter. To provide some relief there is a beautiful love story between Radok and Frieda Lassen that is nicely done. Jones places much importance on the sense of place in his work so the settings are superb. You feel like you're in the streets of an Austrian town or in the mountains as they try to get to Switzerland. I enjoy that aspect of Jones' books. I do recommend this book but only if you have a strong stomach. Be forewarned that you will have trouble putting down your Kindle. I was almost apoplectic when my battery ran down just at a critical point near the end of the book.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie: "Julia"

"Julia" is an old movie (1977) starring Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as her lifelong friend Julia. I had always been curious about it so I ordered it from Netflix.

The movie also stars Jason Robards as Lillian's long-time off-and-on lover Dashiel Hammett. They appear to be an older man and younger woman in the movie but in reality she was 12 years older than him. They met in Hollywood when she was a screenwriter for a studio. The star power in the movie was enough to draw me in, but the story is an edge-of-the-seat scary one that I loved.

Actually there was no Julia, although Hellman and Hammett always claimed the story was true. It is based on a chapter of Hellman's book Pentimento. In the movie they are girlhood friends with Julia as the leader and Lillian as devoted follower. As adults, gossip spreads that they are lovers, an assumption that is maddening to Hellman. Then Julia goes abroad to study and ends up in medical school in Vienna as the Nazi's are taking over. Nazi youth swarm the medical school, kill many of the men, and beat Julia almost to death. She loses a leg, and then is whisked off to another hospital and Lillian can't find her.

The best part of the movie is when Jewish Hellman delivers money to Julia in Berlin to help get people out of Germany. She goes from Paris to Moscow by train with a stop in Berlin. I was a nervous wreck; so was she of course.

I've told too much of the story but there is more and if you haven't seen it, I do recommend it. The coincidental fact that I'm reading a novel about Nazi Germany just added to my tension while watching the movie but this is well worth watching.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fallen Angels by Connie Dial

LAPD Captain Josie Corsino of the Hollywood Division has a boatload of problems in this great little novel written by a woman who worked for the LAPD for 27 years. First, a young movie star/celebrity is murdered and the chief suspect is a city councilman's son. The son just happens to be the best friend of Corsino's son. There are suspicions of police corruption, so she doesn't know for sure who she can trust nor does she know how high up the corruption might go. And to top it all off, her husband announces that he has resigned his job in the DA's office, opened a private practice, and needs some time to himself to think things through. Any one of those troubles would flatten some people, but Josie Corsino is not "some people."

Corsino is not superwoman though. I really like this character. For one thing, when she is in danger, she reacts like anyone else would. I have absolutely nothing in common with her except that we're both women, but I identified with her because she's sensible, has trouble coping sometimes, and is determined to do her job well, let the cards fall where they may.

The plot of this story and the police and local government characters are all believable and interesting enough to keep you turning pages. I enjoyed the character of Corsino's son, David, as well. An accomplished pianist, he is floundering a bit in his early 20s as he seeks his own way. The fact that his mother doesn't approve and wants him to go to a good music school, Julliard comes to mind, sounds just like what most mothers would do.

Through all the turmoil, personal and crime related both, Josie Corsino stays true to her beliefs and confronts each issue with the strength of her convictions. This is Dial's third novel, but I believe it's the first of the Josie Corsino stories. I'm definitely sold, and will certainly find Internal Affairs and The Broken Blue Line to read. I highly recommend this book which was sent to me by The Permanent Press.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Happened to Winter?

This unusually warm March hadn't really captured my attention so much until yesterday when I learned that Chicago and other spots north were warmer than Phoenix for the day. Now just wait a minute! What's going on here?

As we drive around northeastern PA, we see blooming daffodils, grass turning green, geese flying north noisily, and forsythia and lilac nearly blooming in our own yard. The cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. are way ahead of schedule as well. We all wonder whether it will suddenly turn cold and snow, or is this it for the winter that never really happened?

The downside, I hear, is that allergy season will be unusually long and miserable, but I do hope the cold doesn't return until late next fall. Spring is good for the soul. As flowers bloom and grass grows, we unwrap ourselves from heavy coats and gloves and open ourselves up to the outdoors. We turn off the heat and open the house to bring in fresh air, and we (most of us anyhow) clean the house top to bottom which I suppose is also good for the soul although bad for the knees.

A good thing for where I live is that the natural gas industry was able to work all through the mild winter and things are happening fast. Their trucks and equipment tore up our road, but they paid to have it repaved so now it's better than it has been in a long time. Well pads and pipelines are popping up faster than the daffodils. When I see all the people working in this industry, I think how many more would be unemployed if we didn't have the Marcellus Shale. Not only that, the gas companies pay well. It's hard work but worth it. We're looking forward to royalty checks of course to take care of us in the future, but I've seen a lot of good come from the natural gas industry presence in our county.

When we moved here 17 years ago, this was a quiet place with many summer cottages. Now it's the site of a booming industry and the quiet is gone for the duration. I miss the peacefulness but it's good to see the benefit to the people. Next will be contractors remodeling and building, landscapers making everyone's yard look great, and the elderly people around here having a more secure and happy life. Not everyone agrees with me of course; this is just my take on what happening.

I'm in a very optimistic mood. Please, Mother Nature, don't snow on my hope and happiness.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chasing Midnight by Randy Wayne White

This is my second thrill-ride with Randy Wayne White. The first one I read and reviewed took place in and near a Florida lake and I was holding my breath half the time while I was reading it. This one is set on a private island just south of Sanibel Island, Florida. Doc Ford is White's hero, a marine biologist who manages to get into all kinds of scrapes.

This time he has wangled an invitation to a big party on Vanderbilt Island. A Russian billionaire has invited his peers from around the world to this party, apparently to sell them a new breed of sturgeon which would make them even richer. Caspian Sea sturgeon are being slaughtered indiscriminately and may soon disappear, so a breed that can produce caviar without the necessity of killing the fish to get the roe is in all their best interests. The party is a bore, especially when uninvited eco-warriors, we'll call them, show up ready to cause plenty of trouble. Ford escape to do a little diving; he's curious about the Russian's huge boat.

Thus it is that Ford is safely alone in the water when there is an explosion, all communication with the island is jammed, and hostages are taken. Soon someone comes gunning for Ford which begins this mystery in which you don't know whether ecologists or mobsters are the source of the problems. Ford's pal Tomlinson is, as usual, half stoned and doesn't recognize the danger until too late so he is one of the hostages and Ford fears he might be dead.

This is such an exciting story, well crafted and a page-turner. I love a book that insists you stay with it and to heck with everything else. That's Chasing Midnight. White has written a long list of Ford novels which I must make time for, as well as nonfiction books about fish and fishing. He also writes under the pen name Randy Striker.

I highly recommend Randy Wayne White's books and this one is a great example of his stories. I won the book from LibraryThing, and it was released for sale on March 6, 2012.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great Northern Express by Howard Frank Mosher

Howard Frank Mosher's account of his life as recalled during a cross-country book tour in a 20 year old car he calls the "Loser Cruiser" is guaranteed to make you laugh. I received it through Amazon Vine; it went on sale March 6, 2012.

After a diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer and his 65th birthday, Mosher decides to head out to independent bookstores all over the country to promote his new book. His beloved wife stays home so he imagines passengers to keep him company. It's his habit to talk to imaginary people even as he's walking down the street at home anyway so this is nothing new.

Home is northeastern Vermont, a place he describes so funny you'll hold your sides laughing. He and his wife moved there directly after Syracuse University to be teachers, and the school superintendent there judges days by whether they require two or three quarts of beer to get him through. The new teachers are told that their primary mission is to keep the kids out of the mill, i.e. a furniture factory in town.

This memoir sort of reminds me of William Least Heat Moon's travel memoirs, except that Mosher's trip is so much more hilarious. He stays in Motel 6 or a local dive, refusing to stay anywhere more upscale, and he meets the strangest people. However, this is also an homage to the surviving independent bookstores in this country. All readers, I'm sure, are aware that indies are becoming nearly extinct, but some of the ones still open are becoming quite famous. You'll recognize a few.

This author is so wacky it took me a little bit to decide if I liked the book but then it grew on me and I just drove my husband crazy reading sections to him from then on. By the way, the author and his car both survive to get back to Mrs. Mosher.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Movie Review: "Moneyball"

Partly due to the Academy Award nomination for Brad Pitt, this movie was one I hesitated to get from Netflix. Sometimes the overly hyped movies are duds and those nominations don't guarantee that I'll like the movie.

I should have listened to my gut. "Moneyball" disappointed me. Of course, nothing with Brad Pitt in it is bad; I mean just look at him. However, the story line wasn't really for a casual baseball fan like me. Pitt did the smokeless tobacco thing to look the part, but he just didn't strike me as a baseball type. The only part of the movie that rang true for me was his situation as a divorced father who dearly loved his daughter and was torn up that he couldn't be with her more.

"Moneyball" is about the Oakland A's and their low-budget attempts to field a decent baseball team. Pitt hires a guy who has a system on his computer to get "guys who can get on base," ignoring such normal criteria as age, pitching ability, fielding ability, and health. He takes a chance on several guys no one else wants. The story is about their struggles and then of course you know their success will follow. No surprises there; otherwise no movie.

If you live for baseball stats and know who is who is baseball, you'll love this movie. If you just like to watch a good game, or watch because some of the players are cute, don't get this movie unless you are such a big Brad Pitt fan you'd watch him in anything.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Brunswick Gardens by Anne Perry

It's been a long time since I had read an Anne Perry book. Not sure why except that there are so many other books I also want to read. Anyway, my friend gave me a box of books that included this Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novel. Good to read more about this delightful couple in mid-19th century England.

The characters are the best part of this novel which unfortunately drags in spots due to all of the characters' eternal, internal going over and over the possibility of others having committed the murder and/or the affair that apparently led to the murder. Thomas' investigation goes on slowly, but the interesting part of it is that the prime suspect in the murder is his former brother-in-law, a man Charlotte had been infatuated with until he married her sister. The sister died many years earlier and Dominic disappeared afterward until suddenly appearing as a minister in the house of his Church of England mentor where the murder takes place. Thomas still has ulterior motives in seeking evidence that Dominic is the killer.

The twists at the end of the story took me by surprise; I had things sort of backwards and I suspected the wrong person. Reading Anne Perry again was great fun, even through the lengthy musings, because the characters were so unique. I think I'll have to throw out my copy of this paperback because it's falling apart, but that tells me I'm only the latest of many readers to enjoy this book. I recommend it to historical mystery fans.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Just Like a Bad Penny, Here I Am Again

I didn't want to announce it publicly but we weren't just busy the past week, we were in Connecticut for the America East basketball tournament. Hartford was wall-to-wall athletes and sports enthusiasts over the weekend since the Big East Women's Tournament was also going on there. Good news of course for the hotels and restaurants in the area. I know other people don't mind telling when they will be away but I'm just not comfortable doing that.

We were so proud of Binghamton University's teams and everyone associated with the university at the conference tournament. Both of our teams won their first game and lost their second. Excellent results considering the teams' records this season, and they fought their behinds off, never giving up. Also our band, our cheerleaders and dance teams, and our coaching staffs were good sports and showed their talent well. Unfortunately, not every team can say the same. I do wish more of our fans had made the trip but the few of us who were there did our best to cheer on our teams.

Dave was happy to go a couple times to the seafood restaurant we like in Hartford so we could enjoy fried whole-belly clams and clam chowder, and he had a lobster roll which he swears contains the meat from a whole lobster. The place is just a bare-bones room off of a fish market but the food is outstanding and the staff is friendly and efficient. It's Tinkers just off Prospect Ave. near I84 if you're ever passing through Hartford.

The Goldroc Diner in the same area is good too. Sunday morning we were having breakfast there and behind me sat a man and two women. The man had a loud voice and was happy to voice his opinions on any controversial topic, sounding like Rush Limbaugh. One of the two women was his sister and both ladies were nuns. You can imagine the conversation when he talked about capitol punishment, abortion, birth control, etc. Finally his sister managed to steer the conversation to their childhood and then he was just funny. Apparently he was the youngest of a large family. He said his mother used to tie him to a tree in the front yard so he wouldn't run away and he would entertain himself all day. I figured his mother couldn't stand listening to him anymore. I told the waiter they should have a cover charge for entertainment that morning. Very funny!

At the tournament we saw old friends from other tournaments, other schools, and just had a great time until after the last game. That game had become too rough, both on and off the court, and as we were passing one team's bench on our way out, I guess the two teams were pushing and shoving. Anyway, I got caught in the mix-up and came away with bruises on my left foot and right leg. Thankfully a tall, strong young man was between me and the action. Otherwise I don't think I would have fared so well - you can imagine, me vs super-tall basketball players. Ouch!!

We came home Monday and got right back into catch-up mode, doctors' appointments, and grocery shopping. Now we probably won't be away until our August visit to Philadelphia, but I think we can use the time to work on our place. Spring rolling, mowing, planting, etc. are just around the corner and it's supposed to be in the high 50s today. I have spring fever soooo bad!