Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Cold Vengeance

Cold Vengeance is Preston and Child's latest addition to the Pendergast series. It continues the story of Pendergast's hunt for his wife Helen. The book starts with Pendergsat being shot in the chest by his brother-in-law Judson Esterhazy. Esterhazy tells the police the shooting was a tragic hunting accident, but when he takes them to the shooting site, there is no body.

While this is taking place in Scotland, Constance (Pendergast's niece) is being moved to a mental institution after having claimed to have thrown her infant son off a moving boat. She is being housed in the same institution and secure room that her Great Aunt Cornelia was. Several other characters from previous books make reappearances: Corrie Swanson shows up at D'Agosta's office seeking Pendergast's whereabouts. He had an appointment with her and he missed it, something he has never done. D'Agosta knows nothing.

In Mississippi, a reporter is investigating the reappearance of the Brodie's - a couple who faked their own suicides and disappearance. The Brodie's are murdered shortly after an article appears in the local paper describing their escapades. Esterhazy thinks it may be something called the Covenant. A shadowy group he has had dealings with in the past. Esterhazy is not happy to hear the Pendergast may have survived the shooting and he hatches a plan to get back at Pendergast by using Constance.

Pendergast's search for his wife, whom he now believes is missing and not dead, takes him back to New York, a secret military institution and into the home of a Nazi hunter. Turns out that Helen ( and Esterhazy, her brother) are related to Wolfgang Faust - the "Dachau Doctor." The book contains the usual twists and turns and Pendergast's considerably skills are on display as usual. The story line leaves enough open ends that a sequel is certain.

What is not the same with this book ( and the previous one Fever Dream) is the delicious creepiness that accompanied the early books in the Pendergast series. I miss that.

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The Lantern

I tend to tread carefully when people tell me a book is just as good as some other book or that it is one of the best books ever written. The Lantern has been compared to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. And in some ways they are similar.

The Lantern starts off when a couple meets. She is a translator and he is a mysterious business man of independent means. After a whirlwind romance they move in together in a falling down mansion in France. Les Genevriers has been abandoned for years and was in total disrepair but Eve and Dom loved it. Dom bought the house and the surrounding lands and they began their solitary life together. They didn't marry - because Dom's first wife Rachel was a constant presence.

The story line moves between the present with Eve and Dom in the house and the past whose voice is Benedicte, one of the last of the family of the original owners. Benedicte is haunted by the ghost of her brother Pierre - who as a boy was a menace to himself and others. Benedicte tells the story of her life as a child and of the treasure that is supposed to be buried on the property.

Eve, who is blissful in her ignorance of Dom's previous life is increasing haunted by sights and sounds that she can't quite explain. Smells, breezes, strange lanterns left lighted on the path all have her concerned. At a dinner with some of their neighbors, Eve is introduced to Sabine. The conversation turns to the alleged ghosts and strange happenings that occur in the village and at Les Genevries. Sabine believes that she has met Dom before but he denies it. This encounter with Sabine has Eve wondering about Dom's previous life and his first wife. As Sabine and Eve become closer as friends, Eve becomes more insistent that Dom tell her about Rachel.

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Lady Blue Eyes

Celebrity tell-alls are not necessarily my cup of tea, but when I saw that Barbara Sinatra was coming out with the book Lady Blue Eyes, I was interested. Barbara was not only Frank Sinatra's fourth and final wife (staying married to him until his death in 1998) but she was married to Zeppo Marx as well for a number of years. I'm a big Marx Brothers fan and there are a number of fun Chico, Harpo and Groucho anecdotes through this book. Apparently Groucho (in his 80s at the time) was one of the few people who criticized Frank to his face when Barbara decided to divorce Zeppo and live with Frank.

Barbara Sinatra grew up in a small town in Missouri and was able to parlay her tall blonde looks into a modelling career in Las Vegas. She would eventually move to L.A. to marry Zeppo, who was actually her second husband (though her only child, a son, came from the first marriage). Zeppo was much older and Barbara tells us that this was a marriage for financial security, though she expresses very few ill feelings towards Zeppo. Frank Sinatra was a neighbor and over time the two of them became close, allowing Frank to woo her away from Zeppo and eventually marry her.

Obviously, the reason to pick up this book is for the anecdotes, and while Barbara provides plenty of them, they mostly focus on an older crew. Sinatra's buddy Jilly is a major part of the stories as is Frank Sinatra's mother (both of whom died in tragic accidents at an advanced age). Frank's supposed ties to organized crime are addressed as is his drinking and occasional foul moods, but for the most part this is a feel-good love story. Frank truly seemed to find the right woman at the right time.

The latter half of this book is essentially devoted to Frank's domesticity. After retiring from performing in the mid-seventies he was eventually lured back on the road, though you get the sense that his skills were declining in his last decade of performing. Barbara Sinatra has been focused on charitable activities in the latter part of her life and she details these, along with Frank's contributions. While the first half of the book certainly has plenty of drinking, fighting, carousing and practical jokes, you won't get to see the raucous mob-connected Sinatra portrayed in other biographies.

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Unbroken

When I finished Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. A World War II story of survival, resilience and redemption. I actually felt guilty that I was sitting in a nice comfy chair with a stack of oreos next to me. And I was exhausted.

The story about Louis Zamperini is indeed one of survival. Zamperini was not a model child. He gave his parents a hard time, but his older brother Pete would not give up on him. Pete trained Louis to run. Trading on Louis' natural ability to run at great speed (mostly away from police) Pete turned him into a world class runner. At one point the world record belonged to Zamperini and it looked like he would be the first man to break the 4 minute mile mark. He competed in the 1936 Olympics and seemed to be on his way - then World War II intervened.

Louie joined the air corps and was trained to be a bombardier. His brother Pete was a naval chief petty officer stationed in San Diego. Louie's flight group was assigned to a B-24D known as the "flying coffin." Trained not only to sight bombs but survive a crash, Louie rapidly developed his skills. The plane, named Super Man was sent to Oahu for battle. After some fierce air battles the Super Man could no longer fly. Louie's group was given the Green Hornet a plane that had been patched together. 30 to 40 sorties was the expected tour for the flight crews. Louie's tour was much longer.

On May 27, 1943 Louie boarded the Green Hornet. The plane took off but never arrived at the agreed site. It had crashed. The plane was woefully under supplied. Not enough life vests, food or survival gear for the men who actually survived the crash and the sharks.

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Dog Days of Summer...The New Yorkers

The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Schine, is a light and charming story about a group of single people in New York City's Upper West Side. It is an urban fable whose characters are linked by their loveable dogs. The cast includes Jody, a spunky music teacher who labels herself a spinster, takes up knitting, and worries her nights away. Believing she should own a cat (more in keeping with the spinster life), she none-the-less falls in love with an elderly pit-bull mix. Found by the ASPCA wandering the streets emaciated and covered with ticks, this gentle dog is adopted by Jody. She bestows her with the dignified name of Beatrice. Given Cathleen Schine's love of literary allusions, one wonders if she named the mutt after Dante's muse, Beatrice Portinari--the inspiration for his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (1308-1321).

This novel abounds in funny characters. We have the handsome but stuffy, Everett. He is a 50-year-old chemist who falls, not for the 26-year-old Polly, with whom he is having an affair, but with her exuberant puppy, Howdy. While dog-sitting for Polly, Everett takes Howdy on walks through central park. He becomes a part of the dog-walking society around him and ceases to feel so alone.

It seemed almost incomprehensible to Everett. He had lived with this dog for five days. In five days, his life had come alive for him. His street was full of people, and his city was full of streets. His park, once nothing more than a grand exercise track, was now a landscape, a lawn, a garden, a thicket, a boulder, a swamp ( pp. 209-210).

Other colorful characters include George, Polly's brother; Simon, Jody's self-centered boyfriend, Jamie, owner of the Cheers-like restaurant where patrons and their dogs are welcome, and Doris, the woman who hates dogs and wants to bar them from public places. Part of the action involves Doris, with her orange skin and not-so-repressed anger, hatching schemes with the city councilman.

The New Yorkers would be especially liked by singles in their 20's or 30's, or by those seeking a book with wonderfully comedic passages. As always, Cathleen Schine's writing sparkles. You don't have to be a dog-lover to enjoy this book, but it helps.

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