Thursday, November 19, 2015


    A debut novel usually piques my attention and eagerness - those feelings were doubled when I saw that Dark Reservations was the winner of the 2014 Tony Hillerman Prize.  Very sorry to say that it did not live up to my expectations.  On the plus side were the author’s descriptions of New Mexico - its cities, deserts and plateaus.  On the negative side I struggled with a multi-layered plot and characters that did not win me save for one whom we lost early on.

    The novel is presented in what may be called a series of vignettes being related from the points of views of different characters.  (One of whom seemed a likely suspect but then disappeared and one wonders why he appeared in the first place.)  The story centers on Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent Joe Evers, man who has been hurt deeply both personally and professionally.  He lost his beloved wife and botched an important case.  Considered washed-up and a loser by his cohorts Joe takes refuge in drinking too much and anticipating early retirement - just three months away.

    Then what’s left of a car that belonged to New Mexico Congressman Arlen Edgerton who disappeared in 1988 is found in a way out corner of the Navajo reservation.  At the time of the congressman’s disappearance the rumor mill found him guilty of corruption, taking a pot of money and carrying on with his secretary, Faye Hannaway, who vanished with him as did his driver, Nicholas Garcia.  Joe’s supervisor gives the investigation to him.

    Any reopening of this case would have a major effect on numerous folks including Edgerton’s widow who is leading in the New Mexico governor’s race, Arthur Othmann, a too rich crooked art collector, William Tom, an ex Navajo Nation president, and Kendall Holmes, an important senator.  Any one of these might have reason to put up roadblocks for Joe - and there are many.

    Really do wish I could be more positive about Dark Reservations but between a set-up that could be seen from a mile away yet the experienced Joe strolls right into it and repetitions of the denigrations and betrayals hurled at Joe the story line disappointed.

THE PHAROAH'S SECRET by Clive Cussler Audio Edition

    Clive Cussler has received more raves for his books than most of can count, and in my opinion he deserves every accolade.  He can spin a yarn that keeps me up all night reading or in this case listening as his latest Kurt Austin adventure is read by the estimable Scott Brick.

    This time out Kurt and Joe are facing one of the most determined enemies imaginable - he’s a former member of the secret police force of the Mubarak government.  He’s ruthless to a T and bent on building a new Egyptian empire every bit as wonderful as one seen in the days of the Pharoahs.

    To this end he’s manipulating a newly found aquifer that is underneath most of the Sahara - he will allow those who will follow him to have water and live while the rest perish.  As if that were not enough he has an even deadlier weapon - the Black Mist.  This was discovered in the City of the Dead and is believed to take life from the living and give it to the dead.

            It is the present day on Lampedusa when a ship releases a deadly poison which soon kills everyone on the island.  Kurt and the NUMA team respond to this distress call and try to understand what caused this carnage not knowing who his enemy is and what he is capable of doing.

    One more aces tale from the inimitable Cussler!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

THE MURALIST by B. A. Shapiro

Following on the heels of her highly successful The Art Forger author Shapiro returns tp the world of art and what a fascinating journey it is!  She tells her story in  brief chapters alternating between the beginnings of Abstract Expressionism during the Depression and the eve of World War II and the present day.

We hear the voice of the title figure, the muralist Alizee Benoit 1n 1939; she is beautiful, enormously talented and works for the WPA.  She lives in a cold water flat in Greenwich Village, and is worried about her Jewish relatives in Europe so soon takes an active part in agitating to allow more visas to be made available.  Purely by happenstance she meets Eleanor Roosevelt who tries to help her.  Through Alizee we meet her contemporaries - Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and more.  Then quite abruptly she disappears apparently without a trace.

In the present day her great-niece Danielle Abrams works for an auction house, Christie’s, and wants to know what happened to Alizee.  Perhaps “wants to know” is too gentle an expression as finding out what really happened to her aunt has become tantamount to an obsession.  When Danielle discovers paintings hidden on the backs of what might be masterpieces by the likes of Pollock and Rothko, she becomes determined to discover the identity of the artist who created them while hoping it is her aunt.  If it is as she wants to believe then perhaps she can also discover what happened to her aunt and who was responsible for her disappearance.

Shapiro has created two fascinating women who take us on an intriguing journey.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

THE OUTSIDER by Frederick Forsyth Audio Edition

    As an author who has given us amazingly true to life tales of intrigue for a number of years one would expect his memoir to hold extraordinary revelations, and The Outsider does just that.   Frederick Forsyth as most know is one of the most acclaimed writers of our time with such titles as The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War and The Odessa File to his credit.  His has been a life well lived as he is a former pilot and print and television reporter for Reuters and the BBC.  Need I mention all of his 15 novels and the fact that five movies and a television series have been made from his works?  Prepare yourself for a fascinating listen!

    We learn that he was the RAF’s youngest pilot at the age of 19 and was strafed by a MiG during the Nigerian Civil War and that’s just a sampling of his adventures.  Basically The Outsider is a series of vignettes which reveal how to a great extent his real life shaped his work.  He seems to have had an insatiable curiosity which took him from place to place, even during his correspondent days to France to cover the uprising against President Charles de Gaulle.  He relates these experiences frankly and ofttimes with a bit of self-effacing humor.

    In addition to the global history his life has covered there are also personal reflections - but, that’s for you to find out.

    English stage, film and television actor Robert Powell is an apt choice for narrator.  His delivery is flawless.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

THE OTHER DAUGHTER by Lauren Willig Audio Edition

How would it feel to suddenly discover that you are not the person you always believed you were?  If you have proof that you have been deceived, how would you react?  Would you seek revenge, plot against those who have duped you?  We discover how one person reacted to this scenario in the latest from Lauren Willig.

Raised to believe she is cut out for a working class life when we meet Rachel Woodley she is working in France as a governess.  She enjoys her work and is shocked to receive a five day old telegram telling her that her mother is seriously ill.  Rachel, of course, rushes to the small town in England where she was raised only to find that she is too late - her mother has died and the funeral has been held.

One shock such as that should be enough for anyone but Rachel receives a double whammy when going through her mother’s things she finds a clipping and photograph from a tony London magazine - it is a photo of her father, the man she had been told was dead, and his daughter.  He is an important man, an Earl, and the girl pictured with him is his legitimate daughter.

Shocked, hurt and furious Rachel assumes a new identity with the aid of others and moves to London intending to confront her father.  In not altogether plausible plotting she takes the name Vera Morton, is established in a ritzy London apartment complete with a fashionable wardrobe.  After she is coached on who’s who among the young and wealthy she feels ready to present herself to society.  She is determined to reveal to all her father’s falsities.

Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way as Rachel discovers that her father’s life is not at all what she imagined it to be, and she just may have met someone she can love.

What made all of this almost believable for this listener is the narrator’s rich, authentic British accent.  Nicola Barber’s voice is a pleasure to hear, and with it she beautifully conveys the various emotions that Rachel feels.  Barber has already won two Earphone Awards and a nomination for a 2015 Audie.  She is a really gifted performer who brings 1920s London and environs to life.

So, don’t be perplexed by some of the plot twists - simply enjoy.

- Gail Cooke


"The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat, which was not to Cat's liking.
She couldn't enthuse
About this cruise
When she was accustomed to Princess or Viking."

Sunday, October 11, 2015


What better way to mark the centennial of an icon’s birth than this lush richly detailed volume created with the wholehearted participation of Frank Sinatra’s three children, his friends and colleagues?  For many of us it seems only yesterday that a singer shortly to be known as The Voice captured the hearts of millions of teenagers who never dreamed that he was an entertainer of such amazing talent that he would become an Academy Award winning actor and one of the best selling recording artists of all time.  But he did this and more, and he did it in spades.

Sinatra 100 details all of this beginning with the bobby-soxer riots in the 1940s to his estimable recording and film career to the Rat Pack and days (nights) in Las Vegas.  Holding never before seen photos plus ones we well remember and memorabilia much of which as never been published.  There are over 400 illustrations both in color and black and white.  The intriguing text is based on personal interviews and conversations with Sinatra himself as well as with family and friends.  In addition you’ll find not to be missed forewords by Tony Bennett and Steve Wynn.

The book itself is large, coffee table size (approx. 11" by 14"), but how else to try to capture such an iconic figure?   Numerous exhibitions, symposiums, film screening, recordings and concerts are planned in cities throughout the world to mark the centennial of Sinatra’s birth - Sinatra 100 is a book you can keep to remember and enjoy for years to come.