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Update April 2018


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Book Review
 

April 21, 2018 - April 27, 2018

Jo Nesbo’s ‘Macbeth’ is recast of Shakespeare play

Jonathan Elderfield

“Macbeth” is a modern-day drug-war, power-struggle, double-cross, lawmen-versus-gangsters recast of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, “Macbeth.”

Set in an unnamed and dreary industrial town populated by addicts and drug gangs, police and politicians, the story matches much of the bard’s story with a power-mad couple, Inspector Macbeth, who leads the SWAT team, and his Lady, the owner of a high-end casino seeking to seize control of the law-and-order establishment and thus domination of the entire town.

After a long-standing police chief dies and one of the town’s drug gangs is all but eradicated in a raid, Macbeth receives a prophesy foretelling that he will become chief of police. Once the message is received, Lady and Macbeth connive to bring the prediction to fruition. What follows is a series of bloodbaths, double crosses, attempted cover-ups, intimidations and threats. Characters succumb to fear and paranoia, with political ambition and blood lust rampant.

The relationship of love and loyalty between Macbeth and Lady is the most engrossing aspect of the story. Macbeth loves Lady, and she manipulates him, forcing him to action when he expresses doubt. As the story progresses, the power dynamic changes and he becomes more assertive, while she loses her grip on reality.

The opening vignette, a raindrop making a long inevitable fall to earth, may be the obvious metaphor for Nesbo’s tale: the fall of man is as inevitable as a raindrop coming to the ground. We know that the ambitious Macbeth will fall, but with Lady at his side and urging him forward most of the way, we’re still eager to see how far the protagonist climbs before he comes crashing down. (AP)


April 14, 2018 - April 20, 2018

Book shows Apollo 8 was a big risk for 3 astronauts

Michael Hill

“Rocket Men” (Random House), by Robert Kurson

The first astronauts to orbit the moon ended their 1968 Christmas Eve television broadcast with a personal message for the people of Earth.

No one knew what the three Apollo 8 astronauts would say — not their worried wives 240,000 miles away nor the buttoned-down NASA engineers who meticulously planned every moment of the high-stakes mission to reach the moon before the Soviets.

With the moon showing on TV screens, Bill Anders began reading: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth ...” Then Jim Lovell and Frank Borman followed by reading a few lines each from the book of Genesis.  The plain voices reading the Bible’s creation story made grown men weep, Kurson writes, and sent people outside to peer at the sky in wonder.

Sweet moments like this punctuate this mostly engrossing book about the historic but sometimes overlooked Apollo 8 mission.  Neil Armstrong and company will always get top billing among astronauts for landing on the moon in 1969, but first someone had to show it was even possible to get there and back.

By 1968, the Soviets appeared poised to launch and deal Americans yet another in a series of space-related humiliations dating back to Sputnik.  NASA was determined to get there first, even if it meant dramatically compressing the timeline.

Kurson’s conception-to-splashdown reporting had the cooperation from the astronauts and their wives, giving him invaluable details of what happened inside the astronaut’s capsule and in their homes below.  Most readers already know how the mission turned out (success!), but Kurson builds suspense around a mind-bendingly complex and dangerous journey.

One NASA official explained that with Apollo 8’s 5.6 million parts and 1.5 million systems, even if the mission went 99.9 percent right, there would be 5,600 defects.  Borman, Lovell and Anders knew full well there was a very real chance the tiny capsule could become their tomb.

Their wives knew it, too. Marilyn Lovell, Susan Borman and Valerie Anders shared all of their husbands’ anxiety and got almost none of their glory.  Their fate was to keep brave faces for the press photographers and to wait to hear their husbands’ voices on the squawk boxes installed in their homes. Just in case, Susan Borman sat at her kitchen table to write her husband’s eulogy.  The three women provide the most poignant moments in the book. (AP)


Update April 7, 2018 - April 13, 2018

‘Bishop’s Pawn’ is Steve Berry’s most personal novel to date

Jeff Ayers

“The Bishop’s Pawn” (Minotaur), by Steve Berry

Before Cotton Malone worked with Stephanie Nelle and the Magellan Billet, he was a Navy lawyer who seemed to get cases that kept him busy, but weren’t intellectually challenging.

When Nelle approaches him with a simple assignment, Malone cannot say no.  A vessel containing a rare 1933 Double Eagle has sunk near Dry Tortugas National Park, just over 70 miles from Key West, Florida.  His mission is to retrieve the case with the coin from the sunken ship and give it to Nelle. When he arrives, he quickly learns that he’s not the only one trying to get the case.

The coin plays only a tiny part of a much bolder plot when he learns the case is somewhat heavy and actually contains classified files.  The contents reveal what really happened on April 4, 1968, the day of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Since the story showcases Cotton Malone’s first mission, it creates a lack of suspense regarding his safety because readers know he will come out just fine.  So Berry has to create a compelling historical mystery with a terrific payoff to compensate — and he nails it.  To further his experimentation, Berry writes Malone’s story in first person rather than third person using multiple points of view.  Narrowing it to just Malone’s perspective makes the story tighter while providing a more insightful look into Berry’s hero.  It also makes it Berry’s most personal novel to date. (AP)


March 31, 2018 - April 6, 2018

‘Broken Girls’ mixes supernatural tale with gripping mystery

Oline H. Cogdill

Simone St. James’ sixth stand-alone novel mixes a creepy supernatural tale, complete with ghosts and things that go bump in the night, with a gripping mystery.

“The Broken Girls” also works well as a story about unshakeable friendship, parenting issues, obsession and sexism folded into a satisfying plot that straddles two eras of time.

The broken girls are those who end up in Idlewild Hall, “the boarding school of last resort, where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls.”  Four of the girls who are roommates at Idlewild in 1950 — Katie, CeCe, Roberta and Sonia — refuse to be broken by the school’s strict rules and the abandonment of their families.

Located in “the backwoods of Vermont,” the castlelike fortress is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Mary Hand, a young woman who once lived there.

In 2014, the now shuttered Idlewild haunts Vermont journalist Fiona Sheridan, whose sister’s body was found on the school’s grounds 20 years ago.  Deb Sheridan’s boyfriend was convicted and he is still in prison for her murder.  But Fiona is obsessed with the murder and believes the truth didn’t come out in court.  When a family with no local ties buys Idlewild, Fiona seizes on the chance to do a story on the school — and further investigate her sister’s murder.  The story intensifies when the remains of another girl are found buried on the grounds.

“The Broken Girls” smoothly alternates between the two eras, capturing the idiosyncrasies of each.  Fear and distrust permeate the scenes of the 1950s, while Fiona’s terrors come from within her. The roommates’ bonds and strength serve these naive teens well, while Fiona’s support system is lacking.

St. James blankets Idlewild with an evocative atmosphere that makes the appearance of a ghost seem real.  The school’s abandoned rooms with rotting furniture, dripping water and a chill that permeates the building add to the deliciously creepy feeling.  Sure, these are cliches of supernatural and horror, but St. James makes the tropes seem fresh. (AP)


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Jo Nesbo’s ‘Macbeth’ is recast of Shakespeare play


Book shows Apollo 8 was a big risk for 3 astronauts


‘Bishop’s Pawn’ is Steve Berry’s most personal novel to date


‘Broken Girls’ mixes supernatural tale with gripping mystery


 



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