Saturday, March 28, 2015

DEAD WAKE by Eric Larson

DEAD WAKE   by Eric Larson
DEAD WAKE, the beautifully detailed history of the events leading up to and after the sinking of the Lusitania, is written in Larson’s style of presenting well-known facts and events in the manner of a well plotted mystery. Using both famous and obscure persons, Larson fleshes out the event that ultimately leads to the United States entering World War II.  He contrasts the tension generated by the ship speeding to disaster with the courtship of the widowed and lonely President Wilson and the discord between Winston Churchill and Jacky Fisher in the British Admiralty. The action moves between the Lusitania, the U-20, President Wilson, and the Admiralty.
Book groups will find the history intriguing and lead to a good discussion of the merits of attacking “innocent” targets during war.  Participants will also enjoy a discussion of the courtship between the President and Edith Galt, a “distracted” President during a time of international tension, the safety measures taken on board ship, and the actions (or inaction) of various passengers and ship crew.
A map of the entire area traversed by the U-20 and the Lusitania would be helpful in following the routes. I was frustrated by failing to find points mentioned (and important) noted on the end paper map. A listing of the persons encountered in the book with a brief description would be helpful in identifying the many passengers on the Lusitania when they are re-encountered in widely separated parts of the book. For real history buffs, the end notes are generous and detailed.
5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits

Three children who survive the destruction of their orthodox Jewish communities during WWII are followed throughout their lives. One survives because his Catholic nanny hides him as her son until he is “restored” to Judaism after the war. One survives because that same boy prevents her from following her mother and father to certain death. The third survives because her family is fortunate enough to escape to neutral land and then Paris after the war. 
The aftermath of the war influences all the decisions, secrets and separations that follow them all their lives. The Ultra orthodox community is sympathetically rendered as is the decision of one of the three to leave that insular and confining faith.
The characters and faith are presented with clarity. Book groups will discover the lifestyle of the orthodox and its ramifications.  A discussion of the decisions of the three characters and the decision of  a granddaughter should lead to a lively conversation.
4 of 5 stars

Monday, March 9, 2015


FEBRUARY FEVER  by Jess Lourey
If you like trains and cozy murder, you will like February Fever.  Mira, the heroine of the story is a librarian with a problem – murder follows her.  Every month another dead body is discovered and Mira helps solve the mystery.  February finds Mira, her co-worker Mrs. Berns and snowboarder friend Jed on a Single-Mingle Valentine’s Day Train chugging to Portland. 
Comedy ensues as the travelers explore the train and engage with other passengers. The train gets stuck in a snow storm and a murder victim is discovered.  The plot may be familiar, but the execution is well done.  Mrs. Berns ranges from quirky to somewhat annoying, but the other characters are fun to have around.  You will enjoy the ride, learn a bit about train travel in the modern era and solve the murder along with Mira and a cast of red herrings.
3 of 5 stars.  Enjoyable, but not great literature. The seventh book in the series.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

THE FIFTH GOSPEL by Ian Caldwell

THE FIFTH GOSPEL  by Ian Caldwell
What a great book! The writer gives you a feast for the intellect while presenting a spell binding murder mystery. It might help if you have a bit of Biblical or Christian knowledge, but if you don’t, it will be liberally supplied without preaching. The schism between the Eastern (Orthodox) Church and the Roman Church is a major part of the plot.  The schism plays out in the family that is the center of THE FIFTH GOSPEL. One brother is a Roman Priest, the other an Eastern Christian priest.  The victim is a lay person who is investigating the provenance of the Shroud of Turin with the help of both brothers.
The writing is clear and fluid. The characters are well rounded and interesting personalities.  The plot is slowly revealed through the machinations and hierarchy of the Country that is Vatican City.  You will be drawn into the plot, the family, the Vatican and the Church as the tale unfolds. 
Book groups will discover many avenues to discuss – family, faith, church, power, crime, punishment, divorce, suicide, among them.
5 of 5 stars