Tag Archives: March book releases

Tinker Tailor

writer sailor

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds chronicles Ernest Hemingway’s time as a spy and his involvement in politics on the world stage during the years 1935 through 1961.

As to credibility, Reynolds was a Marine for 30 years, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and eventually became the curator of the CIA Museum.  He references 107 primary sources and each chapter is replete with citations to support his claims.

While Writer, Sailor is almost certainly factually accurate, I am not certain this book entirely succeeds.

The book chronicles some aspects of Hemingway’s personal life such as his downward spiral into depression, his four wives, and his extremely excessive alcohol intake; though this is not news, nor is it the main point.  Reynolds also tries to tie some of Hemingway’s writing to his wartime experiences, particularly with For Whom the Bell Tolls and his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then his final book, The Old Man and the Sea.  He also name drops quite a bit.  For example, correspondence with Archibald MacLeish and his friendship with John Dos Passos are frequently referenced.  The book tells of Hemingway’s love of Cuba and briefly alludes to some interactions with Batista and Castro.  But, again, there is not much new ground covered here.

What would be considered new ground for most is Hemingway’s dalliance with the Soviet NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, and involvement with the American OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.  Hemingway was not a Communist, and perhaps not even a Socialist, but he hated Fascism and during the 1930s was disappointed in America’s lack of resolve to fight against it.  He was particularly upset with the Pearl Harbor attack, which he believed was due to complete negligence on the part of the American government.

Hemingway’s travels during this time are discussed.  How he managed to get around on both official and personal business is interesting at times.  One of the most interesting stories is the chapter on Pilar, Hemingway’s cabin cruiser, and its role as a spy ship in 1942 and 1943.  This would prove to be the most significant of Hemingway’s wartime adventures.

writer, sailor, soldier, spy back cover

Most Hemingway buffs and literary scholars would find nothing of interest in this work.  But while it succeeds in chronicling his adventures – and there are some interesting tidbits to be gleaned among the way, the truth is that Hemingway’s involvement as a spy did not seem to lead to any major intelligence that impacted the outcome of the war – or particular battles – in any way.  If so, it was not evident in the pages of this book.

Recommended, with the reservation that the book seems to promise more than it delivers.

Dave Moyer.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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The Book Of My Life

our-short-history

Our Short History: A Novel by Lauren Grodstein (Algonquin, $26.95, 352 pages)

It’s admittedly early in 2017, but I suspect that this may well wind up as one of the best novels of the year.

Grodstein’s novel is about Karen Neulander, a powerful and successful political consultant in New York City.  Karen has fought a tough battle with ovarian cancer.  As we meet her, her cancer is in remission but is likely to return.  Karen’s doctors have been doing all they can to extend her life but can offer her, at best, no more than an additional 48 to 60 months.  (They cannot promise her that she will have the best quality of life in the time that remains.)

Karen relies on her younger sister Allie – a wife and mother and Seattle resident, to take care of both her and her six-year-old son Jake.  Jake represents absolutely everything that matters to Karen.  She will willingly surrender her career, her health, her life if it means that Jake will be alright.

“The truth is that even more than I want to be healthy, I want you to be okay.  Even more than I want to live forever, I want you to live forever…  Thank you, baby boy.  For as long as I’ve known you, you have given me the strength I need to keep on living.  I look at you and I feel strong.  Every day you help me feel strong.”  

Karen comes to realize that Allie can take her place and serve as a replacement mother to Jake once she dies.  But then the best laid plans evaporate as Jake decides that he wants to meet his father, Dave.  Dave never wanted children.  When he and Karen were together, Dave pressured her to abort the child she was carrying.  This led Karen to walk out on the relationship and to sever all contact with Dave.

Karen must now decide whether to connect Jake with the man who literally wished his son had never been born – a man she still loves but detests, or to refuse Jake’s request in order to protect herself.  Either way the outcome is likely to be unpleasant.  As part of her personal care, Karen decides to write a history of her life with Jake; that personal journal – full of good times, but also hard truths, blemishes and defeats, is this novel.  (It’s meant to be read by Jake decades after Karen’s passing.)

This is Grodstein’s sixth novel but it reads like a debut work.  It has the voice of a writer attacking a story while narrating it with a quiet confidence.  In that, it calls to mind Audrey Niffenegger’s brilliant Her Fearful Symmetry.    

Grodstein permits the reader to live, for a period, the life of a terminal cancer patient.  It is hardly a pleasant experience, nor is it meant to be.  She allows us to see that even in human pain and suffering, existence has a purpose.  Karen has found her purpose; in this, she is a lucky person.

In the words of author Celeste Ng, “This novel will leave you appreciating both the messiness of life and the immense depths of love.”  Well said.

The reader who makes it to the final pages of Our Short History will have paid a price – in smiles, laughter, heartbreak, fear and tears.  It’s a price well worth paying as Grodstein’s story is a nearly perfect representation of the notion that everything in life – painful and pleasing, has relevance.  One’s life is lived not in days or weeks, but over years and decades.

This is a literally breathtaking, life affirming work.  It’s not a ghost story like Her Fearful Symmetry, but it’s written from the perspective of a woman who knows that her time on earth is limited.  (After she’s gone, the “short history” – the personal story she’s recorded – will communicate with her son in a ghostly fashion.)  Our Short History is beautifully, finely written and haunting in its own way.  Look for it in March.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

 

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A Step Back in Time

taxidermist 2

The Taxidermist’s Daughter: A Novel by Kate Mosse (William Morrow, $26.99, 412 pages)

In a remote village near the English coast, residents gather in a misty churchyard. It is St. Mark’s Eve, when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk.

Alone in the crowd is Constancia Gifford, the taxidermist’s daughter. Twenty-two and unmarried, she lives with her father on the fringes of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered on the remains of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered with the remains of his once world-famous museum of taxidermy. No one speaks of why the museum was shuttered or how the Giffords sank so low.

As the last peal of the midnight bell fades to silence, a woman is found dead – a stranger Connie noticed near the church.

A step back in time brings us to the early 1900s in Fishbourne, Chicester, West Sussex England. The author Kate Mosse (New York Times bestselling author of Labyrinth) is an accomplished writer of novels, non-fiction books and plays. Her writing style is consistent with the time she portrays. The specificity with which she slowly and gently unfolds her grisly tale is riveting, especially in light of the super fast action/thriller/mysteries we see today.

The physical book alerts the reader to the crafting and care embodied in The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Deckle pages add a touch of aged elegance, as do the illustrations marking each of the three parts of the tale and the start of each chapter. There is a detailed map of Fishbourne circa 1912 up front, which adds dimension and a sense of relationship between the sites where the action takes place. Readers would be wise to use a Post-It or page marker for ease in referencing the map. The Deckle edged pages are a bit difficult to separate for leafing back to the map.

taxidermist

Connie, the taxidermist’s daughter, lives with her father, Gifford, on an isolated marshland in an old house. A sequence of events in the marsh, nearby town and church is set forth by an unseen narrator in one type font and a series of first-person missives in a flowing italic font is interspersed between events. The missives are haunting and threatening. Clearly, there is a past deed that warrants retribution.

A murky mystery unravels as though the past is meeting up with the present. Author Mosse provides a wealth of information about the indigenous birds and plants of Fishbourne. The detail with which she lays out Connie’s skillful practice of taxidermy approaches textbook accuracy.

Be very aware that this tale is not for the casual reader of English mysteries. There is much to be learned within these pages both in terms of technical knowledge and human psychology.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 29, 2016.

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Savory Stories

Reader, I Married Him Amazon

Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre; Edited by Tracy Chevalier (An Anthology; William Morrow, $15.99, 304 pages)

The concept of a short story collection is not new. What is new, at least to this reviewer, is the breadth of topics covered by the 21 well-known female authors who contributed to the collection titled, Reader, I Married Him. The variety of voices and themes of these short stories are tied to the quote from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Jane Eyre is a favorite of many readers and as such is an excellent jumping off point or conclusion for authors. Tracy Chevalier, also a celebrated author as well as the editor of this collection, sets up the premise in her forward. Each story has its own pace and locale; however, all of them touch on the premise set forth in the book’s title. A wide variety of cultures are woven into the book. Many are indicative of the author’s roots. Most of the authors are English-speaking and based in the UK, Canada and the USA. Also, many of them are professors at well-regarded institutions of higher learning.

Reader, I Married Him back cover

Reader, I Married Him is not a breezy read to be tucked in with one’s swimsuit and sandals along with sunblock and a floppy hat. Rather, it is meant to be deliciously savored one story at a time. A brisk read may be confusing and cheat the reader out of the quirky and sometimes deeply moving sentiments offered by these masters of their craft.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by HarperCollins Publishers. This book will be released on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

Reader, I Married Him

These are the writers who contributed to Reader, I Married Him: Tracy Chevalier, Tessa Hadley, Helen Dunmore, Kirsty Gunn, Joanna Briscoe, Jane Gardam, Emma Donoghue, Susan Hill, Francine Prose, Elif Shafak, Evie Wyld, Patricia Park, Salley Vickers, Nadifa Mohamed, Esther Freud, Linda Grant, Sarah Hall, Lionel Shriver, Audrey Niffenegger, Namwall Serpell, and Elizabeth McCracken.

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Friend of the Devil

Past Crimes Hamilton

Past Crimes: A Novel by Glen Erik Hamilton (William Morrow, $26.99, 321 pages)

They drill politeness into the Seattle cops with six-inch galvanized screws. It always amused Dono, and I was starting to get the joke.

When Guerin spoke again, his voice was level and hard enough to skate on. “If you go around looking for your grandfather’s associates, firing off any question that comes into your head, then we could lose a chance to build a case against someone. He could walk.”

This first novel by author Glen Erik Hamilton is semi-autobiographical. The early life of the narrator, Van Shaw, mirrors that of the author. Seattle, boating and bad behavior are what they have in common. Van Shaw is a wounded Army veteran on leave back home in Seattle. His experience in Afghanistan put him into a special class of soldier, one who has endured combat situations far more disturbing than most guys could handle.

Shaw has a complicated past that includes a broken family with long-standing grudges. He has received a letter from his grandfather, Dono. The two of them have been estranged for a while. The backstory is complicated and the author uses flashbacks to lead the reader through Shaw’s apprentice years at his grandfather’s side pulling burglary jobs, all the while learning the tricks of thievery, large and small.

The story line meanders bit as it picks up threads that form a general fabric of Shaw’s and Dono’s lives. As threads are added, the momentum builds. The reader is pulled into a messy set of situations. (Suffice it to say that Shaw becomes a prime suspect in a crime.) Hamilton keeps his end game in focus and delivers a satisfying read.

This is the promised first of a series of Van Shaw novels. Hamilton has laid the groundwork for a complex character who is likeable but troubling. (A friend of the devil, if you will.) Lee Child’s Jack Reacher comes to mind.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (Crown Business, $30.00, 464 pages)

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” Steve Jobs

Schlender and Tetzeli Connect the Dots

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” These words from Maxwell Scott seemed to have come to life in Walter Isaacson’s earlier-released biography of Steve Jobs. Isaacson’s version of Jobs’ story relied on commonly stated “facts” about Jobs, which have become the stuff of legend. And these facts strongly emphasized the less desirable aspects of Jobs’ personality and aggressive leadership style.

This new bio by Brent Schendler and Rick Tetzeli presents a kinder, gentler account of the man who co-founded and led Apple Computer; it seeks to get past “The cliche that Steve Jobs was half genius, half a–hole.” And it largely succeeds by emphasizing that any shortcomings on Jobs’ part were due to his dedication to Apple Computer: “He put the needs of the company ahead of any (personal or) work relationship.” That dedication produced the most successful technology company in the world. (It may also have led Jobs to delay cancer surgery that might have spared his life. When he later had the surgery, he was given only a “50-50” chance of living for five years; he survived for seven post-surgery years.)

This excellent account allows one to get to know Jobs as a living, breathing human being – an imperfect, fully goal-oriented man full of “deep restlessness.” Becoming Steve Jobs is such an effective telling of Jobs’ life story that at the conclusion of the book the reader will grieve his death – the world’s loss, all over again.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Becoming Steve Jobs was released on March 24, 2015.

“In this deeply researched book, you’ll find the most truthful portrait of the real Steve Jobs.” Marc Andreessen

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Bossa Nova Baby

The Hormone Reset Diet (nook book)

The Hormone Reset Diet: Heal Your Metabolism to Lose Up to 15 Pounds in 21 Days by Sara Gottfried, M.D. (HarperOne, $27,99, 322 pages)

Dr. Gottfried is a well-qualified and well-educated physician who has developed her own methodology for achieving hormone balance for women who have had trouble in the past with shedding and keeping off excess weight.

Dr. Sara, as she is called in the glowing forward by Mark Hyman, M.D., is a Harvard-educated gynecologist. She has had her own bouts of stubborn weight gain and her body’s resistance to its loss. Dr. Sara seems like a buddy who can walk the reader through a helpful self-diagnosis. Ever the professional, she reminds her reader to check with their personal physician to assure proper oversight of the reset process.

A self-help author, who is friendly, yet not patronizing or dictatorial, is just what a woman needs when confronting unyielding pounds and inches. Dr. Sara strikes a comfortable balance between medical professional and helper. Readers are walked through each of seven phases of what she calls “hormone reset.”

Although there are ample citations for the conclusions and methodology Dr. Sara provides, at times she can be more than a bit repetitive. The result at first was confusion for this reader-reviewer. By the sixth chapter, it became obvious that a single reading would not be adequate prior to embarking on the 21-day plan.

Readers should note that while the plan is less costly than using a personalized plan developed by a diet doctor or endocrinologist, it does require expenditures of money, time and emotional commitment. This is serious business, not your usual cheerleading and gimmicks found in many self-help diet books.

Hormone Reset Diet book (rear cover)

Meal plans for each of the seven hormone resets and the recipes are provided at the back of the book. All in all, this appears to be a comprehensive and most likely useful approach for women who want to achieve a “normal weight” – a weight appropriate for their body size and frame; women who have not yet succeeded with meeting the goal through healthy eating and exercise.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 15, 2015.

Dr. Mark Hyman is the author of The Blood Sugar Solution.

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