Wheat Belly by William Davis

March 14, 2014

wheat belly Summary (from the publisher): Every day, over 200 million Americans consume food products made of wheat. As a result, over 100 million of them experience some form of adverse health effect, ranging from minor rashes and high blood sugar to the unattractive stomach bulges that preventive cardiologist William Davis calls “wheat bellies.” According to Davis, that excess fat has nothing to do with gluttony, sloth, or too much butter: It’s due to the whole grain wraps we eat for lunch.

After witnessing over 2,000 patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic—and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health. In Wheat Belly, Davis exposes the harmful effects of what is actually a product of genetic tinkering and agribusiness being sold to the American public as “wheat”—and provides readers with a user-friendly, step-by-step plan to navigate a new, wheat-free lifestyle. Informed by cutting-edge science and nutrition, along with case studies from men and women who have experienced life-changing transformations in their health after waving goodbye to wheat, Wheat Belly is an illuminating look at what is truly making Americans sick and an action plan to clear our plates of this seemingly benign ingredient.

Reaction:

As someone interested in a healthier diet, I’ve been looking into different opinions on carbs (which have always been my downfall). I don’t think they’re all bad for you, as some Atkins/Keto followers would have you believe. But I do believe in the nutritional differences between, say, a bowl of oatmeal and a brownie. Duh. Davis’ book seemed like another interesting piece of the puzzle. Going in, I didn’t have a firm opinion one way or the other about wheat. It was part of my diet and I do have an image of it being “healthy”, but I wasn’t exactly a champion of the grain, nor did I go out of my way to avoid it.

I have to say I was surprised by all the negative aspects of wheat Davis presents in this book. I had no idea that what we use today is so genetically different than wheat used in ancient times. I also had no idea that wheat was used in so many different products, including non-bread/non-bakery items where you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find it (think soy sauce or licorice). So if nothing else, Wheat Belly is making me take some longer looks at food labels (something I haven’t been doing much of recently).

Where this book turns a bit controversial (at least for me) is when Davis concludes that so many health problems stem from consuming wheat. Not over-consumption, mind you. Just simple consumption in any amount. I am naturally averse to extremes like this, and can’t believe — unless in cases of serious medical side-effects — that anyone would have to give up any and all wheat consumption just to be thin, fit, and healthy. Sure, wheat belly, I can buy that. Spikes and subsequent crashes in blood glucose levels…makes sense. But Davis goes even farther than that, and blames wheat consumption for everything from joint pain to skin problems and heart conditions. This is where he sort of lost me, but I kept reading anyway.

The rest of the book was filled with case studies, examples, and research that are intended to prop up Davis’ position. In this way, he makes a fairly convincing case; however, it would have been very helpful for Davis to discuss some counterpoints and show why those opposing views are wrong. He didn’t really do that, except to basically say: “Americans have been eating wheat products for 50 years and now there’s an obesity problem. Let’s cut out the wheat and watch the pounds melt away.” There could be plenty of other causes for the obesity epidemic besides wheat!

Rating:

I thought a lot of the information presented in Wheat Belly was eye-opening and useful. I was already on my way to cutting out most (but certainly not all) wheat products from my diet, and this book will likely serve as another catalyst in making the switch. I’m in no position to speak directly to the medical or scientific aspects of what Davis presents here, but at least he cites his sources and some of his conclusions seem to make sense. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain

March 9, 2014

kill you twice Plot summary (from the publisher): Nothing makes Portland detective Archie Sheridan happier than knowing that Beauty Killer Gretchen Lowell is locked away in a psych ward. Archie can finally heal from the near-fatal physical and emotional wounds she’s inflicted on him and start moving on with his life. Or can he? His latest case, involving a man who was mutilated and murdered in a public park in broad daylight, bears the stamp of an expert killer…and before long, Archie gets a message from Gretchen, who makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

Gretchen claims to have inside knowledge about the grisly Mount Tabor Park murder—and Archie can’t risk losing his only lead in the case. At least, that’s what he tells himself after he agrees to visit Gretchen…But the ties between Archie and Gretchen have always been stronger, deeper, and more complex than he’s willing to admit, even to himself. What game is Gretchen playing this time? And even more frightening, what long-hidden secrets from her past have been dredged up that someone would kill to protect?

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Susan Ward was once again the strongest character in the book. She far outshines Archie at this point, and I find her scenes to be much more interesting than anything he’s involved in. That kind of shows you how far Archie has fallen.
  • Leo’s secret is finally out! So now Susan realizes she’s dating an undercover DEA agent instead of a “lawyer” whose father is a major drug kingpin. Leo got to break the news in spectacular fashion too, by busting in on the church standoff at the end and rescuing everybody. I liked that scene.
  • The case in this book was actually fairly intriguing. The killer was obviously motivated by Gretchen, but I couldn’t quite figure out their connection, which kept me turning the pages.
  • It was good to finally get some of Gretchen’s backstory, though the troubled, abused, pregnant teen/foster kid angle wasn’t very original.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t believe for one second that some hot young thing would prance around in a bikini and practically throw herself at Archie. Seriously? Yeah, I get that some women like “damaged goods”, but this Rachel character was going way too far. In fact, I thought she might have been Gretchen’s daughter and was knowingly seducing Archie to fuck with his head a little more — that’s how unbelievable the whole scenario was.
  • And speaking of women who have no business being attracted to Archie, why would Susan still want him now that she has Leo and knows about Leo’s good side? Ugh, it doesn’t make sense! What makes it even worse, of course, is that Archie is “still not over” Gretchen. GAG!!!!
  • So Gretchen escapes from yet another detention facility. Good god, this is getting old! Yes, this time she had help from a police officer, so it was slightly more believable than the time she got her shrink to fall under her spell (cue eye-roll), but still. It just makes everyone connected to Portland law enforcement look stunningly incompetent.
  • Want even more proof of their incompetence? Knowing that this serial killer is out on the loose, they still allow her enough space to meet with Archie? WTF?! The meeting point was supposedly “surrounded” by snipers and SWAT units, but — surprise, surprise! — Gretchen manages to slip through the perimeter simply by causing an explosive device to go off. Why, oh WHY would the police let Gretchen lounge around in the grass with Archie having a lengthy, casual chat AND NOT MOVE IN UNTIL SHE WAS READY TO LEAVE??? It’s not like they needed to wait for her to confess to something!!
  • Of course now that Gretchen is on the loose, there’s going to be at least one more book about her and Archie. Sigh. Let’s hope the series ends there, because Cain has milked the “relationship” between Archie and Gretchen long enough. The whole situation already strains credibility, and prolonging the farce isn’t going to do much good. Keep Archie and Susan, lose Gretchen, and get some new antagonists in the mix.
  • Although I did like new murder case, I thought it was a bit too convenient that both the killer and his small-town sheriff sister were operating under false identities and were in fact Gretchen’s old foster siblings.

Rating:

Kill You Twice was quite a step up from the previous two books in the Archie Sheridan-Gretchen Lowell series, and had a number of positive points that made it an interesting enough read. That said, Gretchen Lowell has overstayed her welcome and ought to be dealt with once and for all. It’s time for Archie — and author Cain — to move on from her. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

March 6, 2014

the longest ride sparks Plot summary (from the publisher): Ira Levinson is in trouble. Ninety-one years old and stranded and injured after a car crash, he struggles to retain consciousness until a blurry image materializes beside him: his beloved wife Ruth, who passed away nine years ago. Urging him to hang on, she forces him to remain alert by recounting the stories of their lifetime together – how they met, the precious paintings they collected together, the dark days of WWII and its effect on them and their families. Ira knows that Ruth can’t possibly be in the car with him, but he clings to her words and his memories, reliving the sorrows and everyday joys that defined their marriage.

A few miles away, at a local bull-riding event, a Wake Forest College senior’s life is about to change. Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school. Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward — even life and death – loom large in everyday life. As she and Luke fall in love, Sophia finds herself imagining a future far removed from her plans — a future that Luke has the power to rewrite . . . if the secret he’s keeping doesn’t destroy it first.

Ira and Ruth. Sophia and Luke. Two couples who have little in common, and who are separated by years and experience. Yet their lives will converge with unexpected poignancy, reminding us all that even the most difficult decisions can yield extraordinary journeys: beyond despair, beyond death, to the farthest reaches of the human heart.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Note: For those of you that just want to know the connection between the Ira story and Luke/Sophia, check under the spoiler bar. Luke and Sophia find Ira trapped in his car, and call the paramedics for help. Ira makes it as far as the hospital, but subsequently dies. Later, Luke and Sophia go to Ira’s art auction. Up first is the childish painting Danny (Ruth’s old student) made of Ruth. None of the bigwig collectors bids on it. Luke finally does and wins it, whereupon Ira’s lawyer informs everyone that Ira insisted on bequeathing his entire collection to whomever bought that painting of Ruth.

Liked:

  • Luke and his mother were fairly interesting characters. Sure, he was a little too perfect to be true, in that typical Sparks protagonist way, but I was able to overlook it here. Maybe because I don’t often encounter characters that are ranked in the PBR circuit!

Disliked:

  • The ending was so totally ridiculous that I don’t even want to waste my time spelling out everything that I hated about it. Suffice to say, it was eye-rollingly bad. Ugh.
  • The Ira parts were completely boring to me. There wasn’t a single redeeming factor in that storyline at all. I didn’t get the idea that he and Ruth had a love affair for the ages, so his constant yearning for her just felt overwrought. And let’s not even go into the spirit angle. Is this something that Sparks does a lot?? There was also a spirit present in Safe Haven, right? Good grief.
  • Sophia was annoying and whiny. She was the kind of “I’m too good for my peers” snob that I can’t stand and that I ran into far too many times in college. Ooh, look at the “drunk slobs” that actually enjoy parties and having a social life. God forbid!
  • Whenever Ira started rambling about his art collection, Black Mountain College, and his and Ruth’s anniversary traditions, I fell asleep. Again, it was boring, not romantic.

Rating:

While I freely admit that I don’t fit Sparks’ target demographic, I have enjoyed some of his stuff in the past, so I don’t automatically dismiss his work. However, The Longest Ride is easily the worst of his books that I’ve read. It is tedious, two out of the three main characters are extremely dull, and the end just makes a mockery of the whole thing. I give it 1 star out of 5.

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Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie

March 3, 2014

passenger to frankfurt Plot summary (from the publisher): Sir Stafford Nye’s flight home from Malaya takes an unexpected twist when a young woman confides in him that someone is trying to kill her. In a moment of weakness, he agrees to lend her his passport. Unwittingly, the diplomat has put his own life on the line. When he meets the mystery woman again, she is a different person, and he finds himself drawn into a battle against an invisible – and altogether more dangerous – enemy…

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The setup for this one was vaguely promising. Although I had a hard time believing that someone in the diplomatic corps would so easily give up his passport, I was willing to withhold judgment until I saw where the plot was going.

Disliked:

  • I think Christie was about 80 years old when she wrote this book, and it showed. She really came off as out of touch in this one. Many of the ideas (fears) she posited about the youth were just too far-fetched to hold even a piece of fiction together.
  • The plot was extremely convoluted and embarrassingly naive. At the beginning of the book Christie warns the reader that something like this “could happen,” but there’s just no way. She truly believed that the youth of the world would unite and revolt with some random big, fat, whale of a woman pulling the strings? WTF???
  • The “son of Hitler” as Young Siegfried/youth revolt leader part of the book seemed sort of interesting at first, but then went completely off the rails (along with the rest of the plot).
  • I know I’ve used the term “plot” a couple times already, but that’s actually an exaggeration. There was very little in this book that resembles a coherent plot; instead, it’s mostly a lot of Christie’s personal worldview delivered in a rambling way.
  • A marriage between Sir Stafford Nye and the countess (I’ve already forgotten her name…Renata, was it? In any case, I’m talking about the eponymous passenger to Frankfurt) at the end of the book. Seriously? That development (though a favorite of Christie’s) was totally out of place here. We barely got to know the characters anyway, so what was the point of having them get married?

Rating:
I’ve made it a personal mission to read every Agatha Christie mystery novel, and unfortunately that means I have to endure truly horrid efforts such as Passenger to Frankfurt. This was easily her worst book and one that a casual reader of Christie’s work should just skip. I give it 1 star out of 5.

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A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

February 27, 2014

a for alibi Plot summary (from the publisher): A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.

Eight years ago, Nikki Fife was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer.

If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer—and sharper—than she imagined.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Kinsey Millhone seems like a decent character. I wasn’t overly impressed by her, but she didn’t have any traits that totally annoyed me, either. She came off as a less humorous Stephanie Plum (though I’m not sure which character predates the other).
  • I liked that Grafton allowed Kinsey to have some flaws. She was at least indirectly responsible for getting that blackjack dealer killed, and rightly beat herself up over the fact. Kinsey is not an always right, my way or the highway kind of investigator. She will make mistakes — and hopefully learn from them.
  • While SoCal isn’t the most original setting for a mystery series, I like this choice. Many of the landmarks are familiar (even to someone who has never actually been there) and there are tons of possibilities for future plots.

Disliked:

  • I hated everything having to do with Kinsey’s sex life. First, how utterly trite that the guy she starts sleeping with (in the middle of her investigation, no less) ends up being the killer. Give me a break. Second, I really did not need to read the somewhat graphic description of what those two did in bed. If I wanted crap like that, I’d pick up a Harlequin. I truly hope this isn’t going to be a recurring theme.
  • The insurance fraud case just seemed completely unnecessary. What was the point of that? Just to show us that Kinsey had other cases/sources of income? Meh. Boring.
  • What was up with all those mentions of jogging? Sure, tell us once or twice that Millhone runs, just to let us know that she exercises and is in relatively good taste. But bringing it up throughout the book felt as superfluous as telling us that Kinsey brushes her teeth before bed every night.
  • The main mystery wasn’t very interesting. It should have been, what with the client having served 8 years for a murder she didn’t commit. But the result was actually rather bland.
  • Rating:

    I’ve been wanting to try Sue Grafton’s alphabet series for years, and finally got around to it. While A is for Alibi hardly knocked my socks off, it wasn’t all that bad. I’m willing to give the author a few more looks.

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Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

February 21, 2014

lamb bonnie nadzam Plot summary (from the publisher): Lamb traces the self-discovery of David Lamb, a narcissistic middle aged man with a tendency toward dishonesty, in the weeks following the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. Hoping to regain some faith in his own goodness, he turns his attention to Tommie, an awkward and unpopular eleven-year-old girl. Lamb is convinced that he can help her avoid a destiny of apathy and emptiness, and even comes to believe that his devotion to Tommie is in her best interest. But when Lamb decides to abduct a willing Tommie for a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies, planning to initiate her into the beauty of the mountain wilderness, they are both shaken in ways neither of them expects.

Lamb is a masterful exploration of the dynamics of love and dependency that challenges the boundaries between adolescence and adulthood, confronts preconceived notions about conventional morality, and exposes mankind’s eroded relationship with nature.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • In the beginning, it was fascinating to see how David “groomed” Tommie to keep going with him. Even when she started to get scared and wanted to return home, David was able to manipulate her and talk her out of it — always making it seem like it was her choice to stick around.
  • I appreciated that there was no explicit sex scene. In reading other reviews of this book, I find that people can’t even agree about whether or not David actually molested/raped Tommie. Some say that he did (but that Nadzam treated it so subtly it was easy to miss); others say he never got around to it. I personally think he did — and I think it happened on that first (or second?? I forget now) night when he told Tommie the story about the horse (or whatever the hell it was). There was a point in the story when David was supposedly nuzzling up under the horse and “kissing” it or something, and Tommie interjects with something like “Eww, why are you doing that to my neck?” This is not an exact retelling, as I borrowed the book from the library and no longer have a copy to reference. But this is when I think David made his move.
  • As abhorrent as the circumstances were, Nadzam did a good job of making Tommie’s actions at least somewhat believable. Sure, Nadzam used the standard shorthand of a troubled home life, no real friends, and general discontent to bolster Tommie’s decision, but it fit.

Disliked:

  • As interesting as it was to see David manipulate Tommie into staying early on, these types of talks/scenes recurred so often that I got tired of them. I get that Nadzam was probably trying to show that Tommie was never 100% in favor of the plan, but that didn’t prevent certain passages from becoming eye-rollingly repetitive.
  • I didn’t like the non-ending of David dropping Tommie off on her street and then driving away unscathed (while she chased after him, no less). I wish David had had to face some real consequences upon returning.
  • The book dragged in other places, too. This wasn’t exactly a page-turner.

Rating:

I was a bit hesitant to read Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam because of the disturbing premise, but found the author’s treatment of the topic to be tasteful (as far as that’s possible). There was a kind of perverse fascination in reading about how an experienced pedophile went about his business, but that soon wore off and I expected more substance out of the story. The author does’t really deliver on that point, which is why I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

February 17, 2014

and-when-she-was-good Plot summary (from the publisher): Perennial New York Times and nationally bestselling author and acclaimed multiple–prize winner Laura Lippman delivers a brilliant novel about a woman with a secret life who is forced to make desperate choices to save her son and herself.

When Hector Lewis told his daughter that she had a nothing face, it was just another bit of tossed-off cruelty from a man who specialized in harsh words and harsher deeds. But twenty years later, Heloise considers it a blessing to be a person who knows how to avoid attention. In the comfortable suburb where she lives, she’s just a mom, the youngish widow with a forgettable job who somehow never misses a soccer game or a school play. In the state capitol, she’s the redheaded lobbyist with a good cause and a mediocre track record.

But in discreet hotel rooms throughout the area, she’s the woman of your dreams—if you can afford her hourly fee.

For more than a decade, Heloise has believed she is safe. She has created a rigidly compartmentalized life, maintaining no real friendships, trusting few confidantes. Only now her secret life, a life she was forced to build after the legitimate world turned its back on her, is under siege. Her once oblivious accountant is asking loaded questions. Her longtime protector is hinting at new, mysterious dangers. Her employees can’t be trusted. One county over, another so-called suburban madam has been found dead in her car, a suicide. Or is it?

Nothing is as it seems as Heloise faces a midlife crisis with much higher stakes than most will ever know.

And then she learns that her son’s father might be released from prison, which is problematic because he doesn’t know he has a son. The killer and former pimp also doesn’t realize that he’s serving a life sentence because Heloise betrayed him. But he’s clearly beginning to suspect that Heloise has been holding something back all these years.

With no formal education, no real family, and no friends, Heloise has to remake her life—again. Disappearing will be the easy part. She’s done it before and she can do it again. A new name and a new place aren’t hard to come by if you know the right people. The trick will be living long enough to start a new life.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I liked how Lippman showed that no matter what Heloise did to improve herself (taking online business classes, reading through endless lists of “great books,” etc.) she would always be dismissed as “just a whore” by those that knew her. That seemed like a fairly realistic, albeit harsh, reaction — and was actually a lot more believable than if Heloise were to miraculously turn into a great lobbyist.
  • Despite the nonlinear time line that wove numerous flashbacks into the main narrative (a technique I normally don’t like), I found that Lippman was able to hold my attention more often than not. This book only had a few slow spots, and those didn’t last very long at all.
  • I thought Lippman’s portrayal of Heloise’s interactions with the other mothers was very accurate. I’m in much the same situation (not because of my job, lol), and could instantly identify with how Heloise felt: more comfortable standing near the fathers; wanting to remain aloof, yet at the same time feeling hurt that her aloofness was so readily accepted). Everything rang true.

Disliked:

  • Heloise wasn’t a very interesting character. I mean, I was definitely rooting for her to get the upper hand over Val, but she was so bland and blase about everything that I often felt I had more of a stake in what was happening in her life than she did.
  • For someone who was supposedly smart, Heloise acted very stupidly. How could she possibly think that Val didn’t know exactly what was going on in her life? He was so controlling before he went to prison that there’s no way he would relinquish that control just because he was locked away. He had money coming in, and I have no doubt that he used that money on investigators/his brother to track Heloise from time to time to make sure she wasn’t holding out on him. How could Heloise think anything, let alone something as big as a child, could be kept from Val???
  • Speaking of Val, why did Heloise stay in the general vicinity and keep visiting him for all those years? Yes, I can see how she might do so initially, as he was her abuser and she felt she had nowhere else to go. But after getting set up with her service and learning how to run it, there’s no reason she couldn’t have disappeared and replicated the business model anywhere else in the country. And if she had acted quickly enough, the whole “Scott wants to stay in school with his friends” argument would have been moot.

Rating:

I primarily know Lippman from her Tess Monaghan series, but have to say that I think her standalones might be even better. I wasn’t exactly blown away by And When She Was Good, but it’s better than what the author contributes to the dime-a-dozen amateur P.I. genre. This book, despite an often boring main character, was entertaining enough to make me want more from Lippman outside of the Tess world. I give And When She Was Good 3 stars out of 5.

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The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

February 14, 2014

the aviators wife Plot summary (from the publisher): For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century—from the late twenties to the mid-sixties—and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator’s Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage—revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. With stunning power and grace, Melanie Benjamin provides new insight into what made this remarkable relationship endure.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • The part about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was well done. That was my favorite section of the book by far, though Benjamin didn’t spend nearly enough time on it as I thought she would.
  • I enjoyed reading about Anne and Charles flying together. I knew nothing at all about Anne Morrow before reading this novel, and was surprised to learn that she became a pretty decent pilot under Charles’s tutelage.
  • The portrayal of Lindbergh as one of the first true “celebrities” in American culture was rather fascinating. I think he would be horrified to know what the paparazzi and tabloids are like now.

Disliked:

  • The author’s writing style got on my nerves quite a bit. I hated how she portrayed Morrow as having a school girl crush on Charles for most of their married life and getting weak-kneed at the mere thought of being with him even after 30 years together or whatever. Those passages made the book feel like a trashy romance novel and just weren’t to my liking at all.
  • It was a real struggle to get through this book, as many of the chapters were filled with repetitive scenes of Anne whiling away the time while Charles was on yet another solo journey. At times this novel was so dull that I put it away in favor of “Life of Samuel Johnson”, which is not exactly a gripping tale in its own right.
  • The author didn’t do Anne Morrow much justice in terms of characterization. Morrow comes off as naive, weak, and simpering for much of the book, which apparently wasn’t what the real Anne was like at all. She seemed so dependent and sycophantic that all Charles had to do was keep giving her diamond necklaces and Tacori semi-mounts to get her to do what he wanted. I wish Benjamin had chosen to make Morrow stronger, smarter, and more resolute.
  • Anne’s reaction to learning about Charles’s various love affairs struck me as extremely hypocritical, given the fact that she had been shacking up with a mutual friend for years. Granted, much of her anger stemmed from the fact that Lindbergh had seven children out of wedlock, but that didn’t make her any less guilty in my eyes.

Rating:

It’s always hard to decide how to rate a work of historical fiction, especially when I don’t know much about the protagonists to begin with. So the only thing I can properly judge this book on is its entertainment value — and, unfortunately, The Aviator’s Wife just didn’t do much for me. The Anne Morrow in this book wasn’t someone I enjoyed spending time with and her mostly passive reactions to everything that went on around her made for some dull reading. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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The Confessor by Daniel Silva

February 13, 2014

the confessor Plot summary (from the publisher): Munich: The writer Benjamin Stern entered his flat to see a man standing there, leafing through his research, and said, “Who the hell are you?” In response, the man shot him. As Stern lay dying, the gunman murmured a few words in Latin, then he gathered the writer’s papers and left.

Venice: The art restorer Gabriel Allon applied a dab of paint carefully to the Bellini, then read the message thrust into his hands. Stern was dead; could he leave right away? With a sigh, the Mossad agent began to put his brushes away.

The Vatican: The priest named Pietro paced in the garden, thinking about the things he had discovered, the enemies he would make, the journey before him. Men would surely die, and he wished another could take it for him. But he knew that was not possible. In the weeks to come, the journeys of all three men will come together, following a trail of long-buried secrets and unthinkable deeds, leaving each one forever changed. And with them, the lives of millions . . .

Filled with rich characters, remarkable prose, and a multilayered plot of uncommon intensity, this is the finest work yet by a new master of the art.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • It was good to see Gabriel Allon actually show some emotion (over Benjamin’s death), rather than just acting like a robot all the damn time. Protagonists need vulnerabilities in order to be believable.
  • I liked that Allon crashed during a high-speed motorcycle chase and actually suffered serious injuries that required a hospital stay and extensive recuperation time. Far too often, action heroes are able to handle themselves on any kind of vehicle and never crash. Or if they do, they walk away from the wreckage with nothing more than a few cuts and bruises. The aftermath of Allon’s crash was fairly realistic in this regard.

Disliked:

  • I’m getting a bit tired of the religious nature of Allon’s missions. I get that he’s Israeli intelligence, but does every plot have to hinge on…Jewishness? First it was settling an old score based on the Palestine-Israel conflict. Then it was rounding up war criminals from the Holocaust. Now it’s a Vatican conspiracy to remain silent during WWII in a conscious effort to facilitate German elimination of Jews, thereby elevating Catholicism somehow. Ugh, this is so tedious.
  • The pacing in this book seemed off. I usually like the way Silva tells his stories, even if I don’t particularly care for the content, but this one was very slow to get off the ground.
  • I hate how Silva’s characters become “violently ill” just from hearing stories of rape, torture, and other atrocities. Sure, these things are horrible, but would trained agents actually vomit from HEARING a story??? We’re not talking about a crime scene walk-through or gruesome photographs; just an oral retelling of a distant event. Give me a break.

Rating:

I was pretty high on the Gabriel Allon series after reading The Kill Artist, but the second and especially the third books were something of a letdown. I think I’m going to take a break from Silva for now or maybe just skip around to the best-reviewed books in the series. I give The Confessor 2 stars out of 5.

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Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff

February 10, 2014

frozen in timeSummary (from the publisher): On November 5, 1942, a US cargo plane slammed into the Greenland Ice Cap. Four days later, the B-17 assigned to the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on board survived, and the US military launched a daring rescue operation. But after picking up one man, the Grumman Duck amphibious plane flew into a severe storm and vanished.

Frozen in Time tells the story of these crashes and the fate of the survivors, bringing vividly to life their battle to endure 148 days of the brutal Arctic winter, until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen brought them to safety. Mitchell Zuckoff takes the reader deep into the most hostile environment on earth, through hurricane-force winds, vicious blizzards, and subzero temperatures.

Moving forward to today, he recounts the efforts of the Coast Guard and North South Polar Inc. – led by indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza – who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight and recover the remains of its crew.

Reaction:

I’d never heard of the crashes on the Greenland Ice Cap, but was immediately drawn into the story. I couldn’t believe that these men survived for 148 days in those extreme temperatures and horrid conditions. How bad were things? Even with regular supply drops and the firm knowledge that rescuers knew their exact location, the last three men left on the ice cap basically entered a suicide pact. After a bunch of failed rescue attempts, they finally told the would-be rescuers to forget about them. Think about that for a moment. Just…wow.

I thought Zuckoff did a relatively good job of telling the story. Most authors probably would have approached the book by giving detailed background information on the fliers leading up to “that fateful day,” but Zuckoff dives right in. The B-17 was down for the count within something like 20 pages, which as I said, had the effect of drawing me right in. Zuckoff then reveals bits of information about the stranded survivors throughout the rest of the narrative, so that by the end readers have at least some idea of what the men were like.

Many people have complained about the chapters dealing with the modern seek & find mission, of which Zuckoff was a part, saying those passages were boring and self-serving. But I liked them and took some comfort in knowing there are still people in the wold that care about bringing our soldiers — Benjamin Bottoms, John Pritchard, Jr., and Loren Howarth — even after all these years.

The book ends with what the search party finding what they think is the Duck, but the reader doesn’t get a definitive answer in Zuckoff’s pages. For the latest news of what is an apparently ongoing mission, interested readers can check Zuckoff’s blog. I skimmed part of it (it’s very long) and it seems that they still haven’t been able to unearth the Duck, but will continue to dig, presumably using excavation equipment or the kind of fine hand tools found at this website.

Rating:

I picked up Frozen in Time at my library because it was on a staff member’s personal “best of” list for 2013. It sounded interesting, and turned out to be just that. Sure, there were some boring parts, but on the whole this was a very engrossing read. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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