Monday, October 27, 2008

Stone Cold

Title: Stone Cold
Author: David Baldacci
Date Finished: October 26, 2008
Pages: 544

David Baldacci is one of those authors that I have been meaning to pick up for quite a while, but always seem to end up reading something else. I was looking through our work library the other day and happened upon one of his books. So, I quickly picked it up and carried it to my desk. I usually try to find the first book that an author has written so that I don't miss any character development, but this time, I just decided to jump in wherever the book took me. Although this book does pick up in the middle of a series, I did not feel like I was missing any pertinent information that would hinder me from understanding what was going on. David Baldacci does a great job of character development and keeping the reader informed.

This book involves the elusive Camel Club members who are headed up by none other than Oliver Stone. This however, like several characters in this book, is not his real name. So many secrets are kept in this book, not only between friends, but between families as well. If government secrets, assassins, and mystery solving are of interest to you, I would highly recommend picking up this book.

Let me take a step back. The Camel Club consists of Oliver Stone, Milton Farb, Reuben Rhodes and Caleb Shaw. Each of these individuals plays an important role in the Club and are a unique piece of the puzzle. Some other star characters are Alex Ford (a Secret Service Agent), Annabelle Conroy, her father Paddy (who are both con artists), Carter Gray, Roger Simpson (both political figures), Ray Solomon (deceased), Harry Finn (complex individual living a double life), and a casino owner named Jerry Bagger.

Caleb works at a rare book store and gets a visit from Jerry Bagger while he is trying to find Annabelle. Caleb recognizes Jerry, but does his best to keep his cool and appear aloof. Meanwhile, Milton and Reuben are sent to Atlantic City to sniff out Bagger, not knowing he is in Washington D.C., on his own mission. Milton and Reuben, although trying to stay inconspicuous, end up drawing quite a bit of attention to themselves, and barely escape Atlantic City alive.

The Triple Sixes were a group of US Assassins, who in terms of public knowledge do not really exist. Some of their key members were Ray Solomon and Oliver Stone. The other members of this elite killing squad are being individually picked off and killed. What is the reasoning behind them being killed and why is the last thing they see a picture of them as a whole group? Carter Gray's house is blow-up a few hours after Oliver left. It is widely known that they are not on friendly terms, but did Oliver have something to do with the devastation? Did Carter really parish in the fire? A grave is dug up in Arlington's Memorial Cemetery and the name on the headstone is John Carr. Why is this significant to the Triple Sixes and what does this mean for Oliver?

While the Camel Club is trying to solve this mystery, they are also being used on another front to help Susan (whose real name is Annabelle) hid from the casino boss, Jerry Bagger that she just stole 4 millions dollars from. What past event drives Annabelle to put together such a detailed scheme again Jerry Bagger? Is there something in their past that links the two people together? Enter Paddy Conroy, Annabelle's father, who also conned Jerry Bagger in his past. Why does Annabelle hate her father and will they be able to make amends before one of them is taken away?

Although Oliver is the one who asked Annabelle to stay and fight back, he ends up having to abandon her when his own issues appear. Feeling bad about not being able to keep his word, Oliver calls his trusty friend and Secret Service Agent Alex Ford to come in and help her. There are not many people who know the true story behind Oliver Stone, but Alex does. They have worked together before and would trust their lives in the hands of each other, which in their world is a huge leap of faith. A Secret Service agent and a Con artist. You know that has to create a little bit of drama!

Harry Finn (also not his real name) has been brought up hearing bits and pieces about his fathers death. His mother, a Soviet spy, is hiding out in a nursing home, speaking incoherently when other are around, but speaks perfect Russian to her son. What caused her to go into hiding and what secrets does she know and has she told any of them to her one and only child? When a Soviet spy and an American spy get married, and you toss love into the mix of training, loyalty and honor, who converts to the other side and becomes a double agent? Could this have been the cause of his death? Treason is punishable by death in most places, back during this time.

Dirty politicians taking matters into their own hands. Nothing like that would ever happen, right? Ha! Both Carter Gray and Roger Simpson were involved in the spearheading of the Triple Sixes during and after the Vietnam war. Who used their political power to accomplish their own personal goals? Were the higher ups aware of what was playing out under their noses? Although this book poses lots of questions, each one of them is answered in due time. The drama that unfolds will leave you turning pages as fast as you can to find out what will happen next.

I will definitely pick up another one of David Baldacci's books, but I'll try to get them in order next time!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nothing Lasts Forever

Title: Nothing Lasts Forever
Author: Sidney Sheldon
Date Finished: October 22, 2008
Pages: 400

This was my first book by Sidney Sheldon and I have since added a few more of his books to my TBR pile! This author was recommended to me by my Dad, who has very similar taste in literature as I do. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for a while, like several others, and I finally took the time to pick it up and open it and boy am very glad I did. Mr. Sheldon's writing style is very easy to read and flows like silk. He gives great picturesque descriptions of his characters and keeps the pace up so you do not lose interest in the story unfolding before you.

I love a great mystery and the storyline was very intriguing. I loved the way he made the majority of the story a flashback. Like with movies I watch, I always try to figure out who did it before the answers are revealed. The story opens in present day in a courtroom, with Dr. Paige Taylor standing trial for the death of a patient. The catch is that when her patient died, he left her a very large sum of money, and cut his wife out of the will. She claims it was a mercy kill and that her patient begged her to help him end his life, but did she help him reach the other side out of compassion or greed? The question on everyones mind is, did she kill the guy for his money? It is said around the hospital that this patient greatly disliked Dr. Taylor and was often very critical of her skills. Was she taking out her revenge on a unruly patient, or helping a man find peace and comfort?

From there, the story flashes back five years, to when Dr. Paige Taylor and two other women, Honey Taft and Kat Hunter, are the only three females in a group of new residents. The girls quickly form a bond and their lives are dramatically changed. They are constantly harassed by the male doctors, who are always hitting on them, and criticizing their skills, making it known that they think a woman's place is not in the OR with the men but at home cooking and cleaning.

Kate "Kat" Hunter faces her own set of issues being that she's a black doctor trying to pave a way for herself while always taking care of her delinquent bother. Being traumatized (molested) as a child by her step-father, Kat eventually ran away from home and moved in with a relative. Having left her brother in that environment she felt it was her job to care for him in any way she can. Kat is always sending large amounts of money to bail her brother out of whatever new situation he has gotten himself into. This becomes a huge issue as the story unfolds.

Betty Lou "Honey" Taft came out of medical school with incredibly high scores and has great letters of recommendation in her file, so why is it that she's always messing up with diagnoses and recommendations during rounds? These errors only seem to occur during the morning rounds, so what is she doing differently during the day to improve?? There is a hint of a scandal in her past that you are given sneak peeks of throughout but what could a nice person like Honey have done to be run out of her prior town? Honey comes from a career driven family that includes several other doctors. While in school, Honey mentioned to her father that she would like to be a nurse, since she has such a caring and giving nature, but this infuriated her father and he basically told her that Taft's were not nurses, they were doctors. Does her family have something to do with the situation she is currently in??

Dr. Paige Taylor spent her childhood growing up in Third World Countries while her father was a doctor with WHO (World Health Organization) along with another family. She grows up with Alfred Turner who promises her that they will be together some day when they grow-up and he finishes his work in Africa. As Paige anxiously awaits his return so they can get married, she ends up quite surprised when she opens her front door. Has he come back to claim his childhood love??

If you are interested in a murder drama with a mixture of romance and suspense I would recommend putting this book on your list! The characters are very likable and provide the right amount of drama to keep you turning those pages.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Giveaway Alert!

Giveaway alert!!!

Trish is giving away a copy of Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies. Click (here) to be entered. You can be entered up to three time by following the instructions on her page. The drawing will be held on Thursday, October 30th at 6:30 a.m. (Central Time).
If you have not read the Diary of Anne Frank, I would very much recommend it. It is a heartbreaking book written by a young girl as she is experiencing life as a Jew in Germany during World War II. The different between this book and others that have been written is often times, the other books are written after the war is over and take on a more reflective tone, where as this was writting while it was happening in the diary of a young woman. Her family goes into hiding and are there are eight people sharing a very small space for quite some time. Always having to keep quite and not being able to play outside with other children would be a very hard thing for someone young to endure.
Good Luck to you all!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Hot House Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

Title: The Hot House Life Inside Leavenworth Prison
Author: Pete Earley
Date Finished: October 19, 2008
Pages: 441

I have really been on a non-fiction kick lately, in hopes of expanding my reading base. It has always been so much easier for me to pick up a fiction book and get lost in whatever world the story puts me in. For non-fiction I have this horrible idea that it's going to be a harder read and I won't enjoy it as much, which is completely FALSE!!! At my office, you get a sense of what genre's people like by what you see them reading in the lunch room. About a year ago, I noticed that one of the girls always has non-fiction books based on prisons, true crime, and maybe even a few biographies. I have always been intrigued by these topics, but wasn't really sure where to even being to find a good/interesting book. So, the other day, I just asked her if she had a favorite book, or how she went about choosing the ones she reads. She happened to have one of her favorites sitting on her desk and let me borrow it!

I did not want to put this book down. It was so interesting, and I just got caught up in their world, or at least as close as my mind would allow. Obviously this is something that you would have to have experienced before to really understand, and I can thankfully say that I have never, nor ever plan to be part of the prison crowd. Let me just say that Pete Earley is a very brave man. He spent two years, 1987-1989, going into Leavenworth Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas without protection, to get the "true stories" that he shares. Some history that I was able to pick up on Leavenworth, it was built to resemble the Capitol in Washington D.C., and has a dome and all, obviously it is not made out of the same material. This was the first federal prison built, and is a level 5, Maximum security prison. The inmates are all males, and the majority of the prison staff are male as well. Those females that do venture to work there, are often times kept in assistant/secretary/school teacher type roles, and not guards.

Pete Earley not only interviews the inmates, but the guards as well. Some of them tell about their crimes and their lives inside the prison, others talk about their families and their lives before prison. One of the big controversies that first happens in this book is that the newly appointed warden is a black man. This upsets not only the AB (Aryan Brotherhood) inmates, but also those guards who are resistant to be taking orders from a black man. Some of the inmates that Earley talks to are: Carl Bowles, Thomas Little, Thomas Silverstein, Dallas Scott and Norman Bucklew (whose name was changed to protect him). The guards and other prison workers were: Warden Matthews, Eddie Geouge, Bill Slack, and Elke Shoats.

Thomas Silverstein was one of the most talked about prisoners during this two year period. He was kept in an isolated cell, with no human contact (solitary confinement) and the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. The only human interaction would be with the two guards that are posted outside his cell, but because he killed a guard, they will not speak to him. Although a very creative artist, he is denied drawing materials for quite some time as a reminder of who is in charge. There is a picture of one of this sketches in the book, and I was incredibly impressed with his artistic ability.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking what life would be like to be a guard at a prison. From the accounts that are shared with Pete Earley, it sounds like there is a fine-line between home and work life, that is quite often blurred. One account, the guy ends up being shot, with a shotgun, by his own children. As the story unfolds it turns out that he was very abusive at home, and the kids finally got sick of it and took matters into their own hands. When you are constantly trying to prove your authority and keep others in check, it would be hard to turn that off when you weren't on the clock. It would be hard to leave this kind of work "at the office" at the end of the day. You would almost be inhumane if you were able to do that on a daily basis and not let the work effect you.

Carl Bowles, one of the inmates, has been in prison for the majority of his life, and is very respected/feared within Leavenworth. He likes to pick new inmates and take them under his wing. The guards and other inmates will often snicker that Carl is only picking the new meat so that they can be his "wife" on the inside. Carl talked to Thomas Little when he arrives and makes it clear that if you don't want anyone to mess with you there are three things you can do. You can team up with someone for protection, let them mess with you, or kill them. Thomas decides to take Carl up on his offer and they form quite a friendship. Carl explains to Thomas, after he hears other inmates calling him Carl's "wife" that after spending so much of his life in prison, he is just looking for someone that he can form a tight bond with. Of course he has sexual desires, but those can be taken care of. It is much harder to connect with someone on a more intimate basis while in prison. Someone you can talk to, and share things with, someone who really understands what you go through on a daily basis, and he found this companion in Thomas Little. Carl also goes out of his way to help have Thomas transferred to a lower level prison. Thomas is a first time offender and his crime was a bank robbery. Carl, after coaching Thomas what to ask, finds out that Thomas has been listed as an escape risk and that is why he was sent to Leavenworth. Apparently at the jail Thomas was being held in, the guard allegedly found Thomas' cell bars had been sawed through, and instead of proving that Thomas was the one that did it, they just made a note in his file and off to Leavenworth he went.

It was interesting to see what the different guards and inmates chose to talk to Pete about. Even though some of these guys are very dangerous people and have committed heinous crimes, they were very open and honest with Pete in regards to a variety of topics. Some wanted to talk about their families, or how they were better suited in prison than the outside world. Inside, they knew the rules and how to handle themselves, but if you open the gates, it becomes a whole new ballgame. Most of the inmates that were released ended up back inside within a year or two. Sometimes when you've lived one way of life for so long, it's hard to reprogram yourself and adjust to being a part of society again. There were even a few guys who preferred being behind bars than out on the streets.

This book was very much outside of my usual realm, but it was very mind-opening and I know it will stay with me for quite some time. I would really like to read something else along these same lines, and if you have any suggestions, they would be much appreciated. If any of this interests you, I would really recommend picking up this book. It is an eye-opening experience and a great read!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Date Finished: Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Pages: 576

I was told about this book from a friend of mine, Trish, (here) a couple of months ago and after hearing about it decided that it would be a great book to add to my list for the Bang Bang Challenge (which is my first challenge ever!). I have to admit that it took me a couple of chapters to really get into the book. The more I read the more I enjoyed the unique writing style of Markus Zusak. For those of you who are not familiar with this book, I would most definitely recommend it if you are interested in the World War II era, or if you are intrigued by the idea that the narrator of this book is Death!

Death first encounters the book thief when she is 9 years old, when he comes to take her brother on a dreary train platform. The children were being escorted by their mother to a small town in Germany where they would be passed over to Foster parents. Even though he is not there to take her, Death becomes fascinated by the book thief and is there to witness her commit her first act thievery when she picks up a book that fell from the pocket of one of the gravediggers from the cemetary where her brother has just been laid to rest. At this point in her life, Liesel Meminger, cannot yet read the book she has picked up, but wants desperately to know how. This book holds a special place in her heart, because it reminds her of her brother.

Liesel forms a strong bond with her foster dad, who plays the accordian and teachs her to read. There is quite a story behind her dad playing the accordian and it eventually causes some difficulties for her family in the future. Being persued by Rudy, her neighbor, Liesel is always turning down his requests for a kiss when he does something to help her. She grows to be very fond of Rudy, but will he ever get that much anitcipated kiss from his love?? While helping to deliever and pick up laundy for her mother from the townspeople, Liesel develops an interesting relationship with the Mayor's wife. She allows Liesel to eventually come into her home and the first place she takes her is into the library. Liesel automatically assumes that the books are the Mayor's, to which she is later proven wrong.

After yelling at the Mayor's wife after her mother's services are no longer needed, Liesel with the help of Rudy, decide to go back to the Mayor's house and steal a book. The book thief appears several times, but only takes one book at a time. One day, when they ride up, they notice that there is a book propped against the window where they enter, and it happens to be a dictionary. Another time, there is a plate of cookies that has been left in the library, and Liesel suddenly realizes that the Mayor's wife knows she has been entering the library and has left these items for her on purpose. Will she eventually approach the Mayor's wife and thank her, or will she continue to sneak in and out of the window with her newly chosen book?

As the book begins to come to an end, Death gives you some information ahead of time, in his mind to help soften the blow of the information. He is at times very compassionate, espeically when the air raides are happening and he is having to gather several children in his hands. This time period was a very busy time for death and he was often working days on end without a break.

I found Death to be quite commical at times, and really enjoyed hearing his point of view. I love the importance that is placed on words during this book. Especially in a time when words could really impact those around you. As the story progresses, Liesel continues to hear the word "Communist," but every time she asks someone what that means, she get a run-around answer. As she continues to piece together a definition, she realizes that her own mother was one, and asks her foster father if this is the reason she was seperated from her mother. Not wanting to ever lie to her, he shakes his head yes, and another mystery is solved.

I will not give away any spoliers, but I did want to share one of my favorite parts of this book with you. I love the way that the book ends. It is a short sentence by Death that pretty much sums up everything. "I am haunted by humans." (p.550) This sentence continues to give me chills, but I feel that it is a very powerful sentence. I fell in love with the characters in this book and was continuously surprised by Death's reactions and point of view throughout the story. When I first learned that the narrator was going to be Death, I expected a very dreary and heartbreaking book, but I was very happily surprised when I learned that was not going to be the case. If you get a chance to read this book, I would definitely recommend it!

This book was also reviewed by:
Laura, Trish, (if you have one, please let me know!)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ride the Wind

Title: Ride the Wind
Author: Lucia St. Clair Robson
Date Finished: October 4, 2008
Pages: 562

When I found out that this was the next book my IRL book club was going to be reading, I was needless to say, less than thrilled. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I read a book that dealt with American Indians or even that time period. I learned about Quanah Parker while I was in school, but never really knew anything about his family. So, I sucked it up, opened the book and started reading. The first part of the book, had me furious and almost in tears. Lucia St. Clair Robson starts the book off with a raid on the Parker family stead and is quite graphic. I remember making a comment the next morning about how awful the Indians were to the whites and how I just did not understand their savage like qualities. But, I kept reading.

It took me a day or two to really stop and think, reorient my brain to how things were back then, to really understand and sympathize with the Indians. Before white man came over, they were free to roam the plains, feed their families, and live life as all those before them had. When the white man came over, with them came diseases, new weapons, and a whole new way of life. The Indians respected Mother Earth and were always careful to not destroy her, where as when the whites came over, they were harvesting and building houses and towns on top of what used to be acres up acres of rolling plains.

Lucia St. Clair Robson is a beautiful writer. Her descriptions are picturesque and so detail oriented that I felt like I could close my eyes and be standing there right beside them seeing the same things they were seeing. Her words were hypnotic and once I really got into the storyline, I could not put the book down. You really get to know the main characters and I found myself cheering them on, and worrying for their safety while they were on raids, or hunting for food in the winter for their families.

The prologue ends with "Not much happened in 1836," but for the Parker family, this was where their story really began. Cynthia Ann Parker was nine years old when she was taken from her white family by a young Comanche Warrior named Nocona "Wanderer." She was taken to replace the child that Sunrise and Takes Down the Lodge had lost, and they loved her like she was their own. Upon her arrival into their camp, she became immediate friends with Star Name, another girl fairly close to her age. Star Name was very patient and would pronounce every item she touched for Cynthia to repeat and answered all the questions she could. Cynthia's brother John was also taken captive and ended up living with another band, under Old Owl, whom her family wintered with.

Wanderer, true to his name, came and went from Cynthia's band, often rejoining his father, Iron Shirt's band. Cynthia who was named, Naduah "Keeps Warm With Us" was taught the importance of names from her Grandmother, Medicine Woman. Each of the warriors were named as a child, and then after they had their vision, they were given a new name in regards to their medicine, or spirit. As she grew up Naduah grew to love Wanderer and was always happier when he returned. She had a special way with his horse and he knew that she was something special. After getting a horse of her own, she learned how to communicate with her horse without vocal commands. The Indians were great riders and Wanderer, being the best, taught her how to teach her horse to give her signs, and to react to commands she gave with her legs to keep her hands free to protect herself. Learning how to mount a horse from different angles gave them more flexibility when engaging in raids, or when being attacked.

Eventually, when she is old enough, Wanderer comes to buy his bride with 100 horses. This was a huge statement of his love for her, since the people of his father's time had purchased their brides with two horses and some blankets. The majority of the War Chiefs had several wives to help with all the chores and also to allow some of them to join their man on raids. Wanderer, however, only wanted Naduah. Some of the other women gave her a hard time and told her that he didn't love her enough if he wasn't willing to marry others to help her with the chores. Naduah and Wanderer never saw it that way, and were quite happy with the way things were. After having Quanah, it was five years before they had another child. After giving him a second son, Pecan, she would have one more child, a daughter nicknamed Flower.

As families died off from cholera or small pox, those left behind were taken in by the remaining ones. Not only were a large percentage of their People dying from diseases they had never seen before, but as more people migrated to Texas and then on to California, the white men were killing off the buffalo's with their new gun and after skinning them, leaving them to rot in the fields. The "People" were very resourceful with the buffalo and every part was of significance to them. It became impossible for them to provide food for their families, because the guns were scaring off the remaining buffalo and those that were killed were wasted rotting in the elements.

There is a great amount of character development throughout the book that made it very enjoyable. I am very glad that I read this book and would recommend it to everyone. Even though it was not my usual cup of tea, it was very enjoyable and somewhat educational. I enjoyed Lucia St. Clair Robson's style and plan to pick up another book by her in the future.