Category Archives: Book Reviews

BLACK FLAGS, BLUE WATERS

Title:  Black Flags, Blue Waters

Author:  Eric Jay Dolin

Set against the backdrop of the Age of Exploration, Black Flags, Blue Waters reveals the epic history of American piracy’s “Golden Age”–1700s–when lawless pirates plied the coastal waters of North America and beyond.

Redefining pirate history with an economic and class analysis that takes it beyond the usual narrative of high-seas exploits, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin describes how American colonists  flouted British rule and supported outrageous pirates who brought much needed cash flow and helped emerging businesses obtain the goods and money they so desperately needed.  Dolin also explores common motivations for “turning pirate” and finds that many of these men were displaced seamen and veterans of Britain’s imperial wars who were seeking ways to survive in an uncertain economy.  Over the years, however, as the colonies strengthened their position in the New World, these early Americans–who had once relied on pirates to do their dirty work–turned on them, and by the 1720’s, pirates were virtually (and almost always violently) eliminated from the American Atlantic.

Augmenting his narrative with thrilling episodes of roguish glamour and extreme brutality, Dolin depicts the star pirates of this period–among them the towering Blackbeard, who blockaded the entire city of Charleston in 1718, the ill-fated Captain Kidd and sadistic Edward Low, who delighted in torturing his prey.  Re-creating rousing conflicts and naval battles, Dolin details the pirates’ manifold enemies, including Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop and Puritan minister Cotton Mather, who pressured captured pirates to repent before their inevitable demise on the public gallows.

In a work that upends popular misconceptions and cartoonish stereotypes, Dolin provides a wholly original account of the seafaring outlaws whose stories augment our understanding of the precarious nature of American colonial life.

BEHIND THE GRAND OLE OPRY CURTAIN

Title:  Behind the Grand Ole Opry Curtain

Author:  Robert K. Oermann

Any of its members will tell you, the Grand ole Opry is not a place—it’s a family.  And like all families, those who perform on the Opry stage have celebrated and suffered, experienced heart-wrenching tragedy and exhilarating triumphs.  They have embraced joy when their members found love and happiness, and they have grieved together for those they have lost.

We’ll her of stars who overcame tremendous adversity throughout the history of the Opry.  From Deford Bailey who rose to stardom despite being struck with polio during the epidemic of the early 1900’s through the devastating loss of Patsy Cline and five other Opry personalities in the same month, which prompted rumors of “The Opry Curse,” to the controversial romance between country star Vince Gill and Christian star Amy Grant.  These are stories that tell the heart of country–the lives lived that inspire that inspire the songs we love.

THE BRINK

Title:  The Brink

Author:  Marc Ambinder

The Cold War’s most dangerous moment:  a high-stakes and secretive game of nuclear brinksmanship that played out in the forest of Germany, in stealthy submarines underneath the Atlantic and Pacific, in hidden London compounds, in fortified bunkers and code rooms across the globe.  The year was 1983.  The world was on the brink.  And American spies were missing the warning signals.

Mark Ambinder explains the anxious period between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1982 to 1984, with the Abele archer 83 war game as the fulcrum of the tension.  With astonishing and clarifying new details, he recounts the scary series of close encounters that tested the limits of ordinary men and powerful leaders.  Ambinder explains how political leadership triumphed over misunderstandings and the strife of interests, helping the two countries work toward a fragile peace.

The Brink provides one of the most comprehensive and chilling descriptions of the nuclear command and control process, from intelligence warnings to the composition of the nuclear codes themselves.  Ambinder reveals, with significant new reporting, the full story of the much-whispered-about continuity of government program that President Regan built up to give the presidency a chance to survive a bolt-from-the-blue attack.  He also provides glimpses into the secret world of preemptive electronic attack that scared the Soviet Union into action.  Amvinder’s account reads like a thriller, as  it recounts the spy-versus-spy games that kept both countries–and the world–in check.

From geopolitics in Moscow and Washington, to sweat-caked soldiers fighting in the trenches of the Cold war, to high-stakes war games across NATO and the Warsaw Pact, this book serves as the definitive intelligence, nuclear, and national security history of one of the most precarious times in recent memory.

CARMINE THE SNAKE

Title:  Carmine the Snake

Author:  Frank Dimatteo & Michael Menson

In the golden age of organized crime, Carmine “The Snake” Persico was the King of the Streets.  The defacto boss of the Colombo Mafia family since the 1970s, he oversaw gang wars, murders,  major rackets, even from prison.  He is suspected of personally murdering as many as 60 people and ordering the hits of hundreds more.  Sentenced to 139 years in the fed, he continued to exert power over a vast criminal empire from behind bars.  His brutal rise and bloody reign is the stuff of legend.

In his blistering street-level account, “Mafia survivor” Frank Dimatteo teams up with true-crime master Michael Benson to take down one of the most notorious figures in the American La Costa Nostra.  This is the real inside story of Carmine “The Snake” Persico, from his crime-filled childhood on the streets of Brooklyn to the long-term jail sentences that didn’t stop him from controlling his criminal empire with the help of his brother, the equally kill-crazy Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico.

His deadly teen years as leader of the fearsome Garfield Boys.  His recruitment into the Profaci–later the Colombo–crime family.  His bloody betrayal of the Gallo brothers..  Anastasia–the Lord High Executioner of Murder, Inc.–as he sat in a barbershop chair getting a shave.  The terror he struck into the hearts of the New York Mafia’s other families, and even his own crews.  And the  many courtroom trials where Persico walked after witnesses came down with sudden cases of amnesia.

Today, Carmine “The Snake” Persico schmoozes with Ponzi king Bernard Madoff behind bars where at age 84 his legend, packed as it is with coldblooded brutality, continues to inspire goodfellas everywhere.

 

FRUIT OF THE DRUNKEN TREE

Title:  Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Author:  Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to their gated community in Bogota, but the threats of kidnapping, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to befriend the aloof teenager.  But Petrona’s mysterious behavior conceals a powerful yearning.  She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the riptide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction.  As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amid the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

Inspired by the author’s own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree portrays two very different but inextricably linked coming-of-age stories.  In lush prose, Rojas Contreras has written a powerful testament fo the impossible choices women and girls are often forced to make in the face of violence and to the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.

THE ICE MAN

 

Title:  The Ice Man

Author:  P. T. Deutermann

In 1942, off the port city of Nazaire in occupied France, a United States Navy S-class submarine assigned to the Royal Navy lurks just outside the borders of the minefield protecting a German U-boat base.  Lieutenant Commander Malachi Stormes, the boat’s skipper, patrols dangerously close to the minefield entrance and manages to trap and sink three outbound U-boats in one spectacular attack.  Britain decorates him, and the U.S. Navy promotes him and then gives him command of a brand-new class of submarine, a fleet boat called Firefish.  Based in Perth, Australia, having been driven out of the Philippines by the Japanese juggernaut, the Perth boats are the only American forces capable of hitting the Japanese in the western Pacific.

Stormes with his cold, steely-eyed focus on killing Japanese ships, is an enigma to his officers and crew, especially when it becomes clear that he is willing to take huge chances to achieve results.  Firefish sinks more ships than any Perth boat on her first war patrol, but Stormes’s  unconvential tactics frighten his crew.  Driven by a past steeped in the whiskey-haunted violence of the Kentucky coal fields, with psychological scars that torment his sleep and close him off from personal relationships, Stormes is nicknamed the Iceman.  His crew is proud of their boat’s accomplishments but wonder if their iron-willie skipper will bring them home alive.

With intense action and featuring authentic submarine tactics in the early years of the Pacific war, The Iceman continues P.T. Deutemann’s masterful, award-winning cycle of thrillers set during World War II.

 

WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY

Title:  Whiskey When We’re Dry

Author:  John Larison

In the spring of 1885, seventeen-year-old Jessilyn Harney finds herself orphaned and alone on her family’s homestead.  Desperate to fend off starvation and predatory neighbors, she cuts her hair, binds her chest, saddles her beloved mare, and sets off across the mountains to find her outlaw brother, Noah, and bring him home.  On her quest, Jess a talented sharpshooter, lands in the employ of the territory’s violent, capricious Governor, wh9ose militia is hunting Noah–dead or alive.

Wrestling with her brother’s outlaw identity, and haunted by questions about her own, Jess must outmaneuver those who underestimate her to become a hero in her own right.

Told in Hess’s wholly original and unforgettable voice, Whiskey When We’re Dry is a stunning achievement, a propulsive quest for salvation and family, and a reckoning with the myths entwined with our history.

WHISTLE IN THE DARK

Title:  Whistle in the Dark

Author:  Emma Healey

Jen and Hugh Maddox have just survived every parent’s worst nightmare.

Relieved but still terrified, they sit by the hospital bedside of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Lana, who was found bloodied bruised, and disoriented after going missing for four days during a mother-daughter vacation in the country.

Lana won’t tell anyone what happened, and the police think the case is closed.  But Jen can[t leave it alone.  Lana is distant, hostile, and acting strangely; she stops going to school and always sleeps with the light on.

Jen is sure the answer lies in those four missing days.  Lana seems equally sure she’ll never speak of it.  Terrified of losing her all over again,  Jen has to do something.  But jhow do you rescue someone who has already been found?

Asking how well you can know even those closest to you, Whistle in the Dark is masterfully drawn, thought-provoking, and psychologically complex tale that affirms Emma Healey’s status as a writer at the top of her game.

 

 

A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS

Title:  A Noise Downstairs

Author:  Linwood Barclay

College professor Paul Davis is a normal guy with a normal life.  But that normal existence is turned upside down late one evening when he spots his colleague Kenneth driving in a suspicious manner along a deserted road.  Curious and concerned, Paul follows Kenneth, and catches him in a horrifying act–trying to dispose of two dead bodies.

That was eight months ago.

After nearly losing his own life that night, Paul is battling PTSD, depression, and severe problems at work and home.  To cheer him up, his worried wife, Charlotte, gives him a surprise present: a vintage typewriter–complete with ink ribbons and heavy round keys–because he’s always wanted one.  Paul heels inspired to write about the terrifying experience that damaged his life.  ” If I can look into the eyes of evil in the real world, “Paul explains, “maybe I won’t have to run from it in mu sleep.”

However, the typewriter soon becomes a source of anxiety itself.  Paul swears he can hear the keys clicking  in the early hours of the morning when everyone id in bed.  Charlotte and his son deny playing with the old-fashioned machine or hearing any strange sounds.  It is only Paul who can hear the noise he swears is coming from downstairs.  Are Paul’s claims real–or is he going off the rails as Charlotte fears?

Paul believes that the typewriter is connected to the dark events that night on the Post Road, as implausible as that seems.  After all, Kenneth is in prison and he worked alone.  so how could the typewriter have anything to do with the crime?  Increasingly tormented yet determined to discover the truth, Paul begins reinvestigating the deaths himself.

But that may not be the best thing to do.  Maybe Paul should just get rid of the typewriter.  Maybe he should stop asking questions and simply walk away while he can.  Because if he doesn’t his darkest nightmares just might come true.

 

 

PARADOX

Title:  Paradox

Author:  Catherine Coulter

With the unparalleled suspense and her trademark explosive twists, #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter delves into the terrifying mind of an escaped mental patient obsessed with revenge in this next installment of her riveting FBI series.  When he fails to kidnap five-year-old Sean Savich, agents Sherlock and Savich know they’re in his crosshairs and must find him before he continues with his kill lust.

Chief Ty Christie of Willicott, Maryland, witnesses a murder at dawn from the deck of her cottage on Lake Massey.  When dragging the lake, the divers not only find the murder victim, they also discover dozens of bones.  Even mores shocking is the identification of a unique belt buckle found among the remains.  Working together with Chief Christie, Savich and Sherlock soon discover a frightening connection between the bones and the escaped psychopath.

Paradox is a chilling  mix of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, old secrets that refuse to stay buried, and ruthless greed that keeps Savich and Sherlock and Chief y Christie working at high speed to uncover the truth before their own bones end up at the bottom of the lake.

Don’t miss Paradox, the twenty-second FBI thriller.