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Update July 2018

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Book Review

July 21, 2018 - July 27, 2018

‘A Terrible Country’ is a wonderful novel


 Ann Levin

With the United States in an uproar about Russian meddling in its election, it’s a good time to brush up on the country’s former Cold War enemy. Here to help is Russian-born emigre Keith Gessen, whose hilarious, heartbreaking second novel, “A Terrible Country,” may be one of the best books you’ll read this year.

The novel is narrated by 33-year-old Andrei, who, like the author, is a Soviet Jew who came to the United States at age 6, and it recounts the year he spent in Moscow taking care of his aging grandmother.

He moved back on the eve of the 2008 financial meltdown at the behest of his businessman brother, Dima, who had to flee the country suddenly after getting on the wrong side of the oligarchs. While Andrei is initially put out by Dima’s request, he isn’t unhappy to leave New York. His girlfriend has just dumped him, and he’s hoping the change of scenery might jump-start his stalled academic career.

But unbeknownst to Andrei, Baba Seva has dementia and is hard of hearing. And since Dima has already sublet his apartment across the hall, Andrei has to move into their old bedroom. Oh, the humiliation!

One of the pleasures of the novel is listening to Andrei’s hyper-intelligent, wry and ironic voice. At times he can be petty and arrogant, self-righteous and ingratiating, not to mention slightly clueless about women. Here he is, noticing all the gorgeous blond women in black pencil skirts on Moscow’s streets. “I don’t know why I liked the fact that they all looked alike, but I did.”

But basically Andrei is a good guy who feels guilty when he gets impatient with his grandmother and offers up incisive, politically charged commentary on the sweeping changes under way in Putin’s Russia.

The other unforgettable character is Andrei’s grandmother, an indomitable force of nature. Gessen’s portrait of her is tender, and readers will be hard-pressed to find a more nuanced and poignant depiction of what it means to lose your memory.

Indeed, Baba Seva is the one who lends the novel its title. Early on, she can’t remember who Andrei is or why he’s in Moscow. When he reminds her, she gets upset. “This is a terrible country,” she says to him. “My (daughter) took you to America. Why did you come back?”

Gessen’s genius is in showing us how and why Russia is and isn’t a terrible country. And how, in its ruthless devotion to market capitalism, the former socialist state bears a striking resemblance to America and other Western nations. (AP)

July 14, 2018 - July 20, 2018

Martial arts icon Bruce Lee shines in new book

 Douglass K. Daniel

Martial arts icon Bruce Lee wanted to be known around the world, and he built the perfect platform to do so as an international film star.

A new biography by Matthew Polly explores with unusual depth the private life of this unlikely movie star, whose screen legacy relies on just a handful of films. Lee is best remembered for the movies “Fist of Fury” (1972) and “Enter the Dragon” (1973), released the month he died.

Filled with recollections from colleagues, friends and family, Polly’s “Bruce Lee: A Life” is proof that dogged research and sharp insight lie at the foundation of any successful biography. Its 600-plus pages suggest a definitive work to satisfy Lee’s fans and spark curiosity in a new generation.

Lee (1940-1973) was born in the U.S. and appeared in Hong Kong films as a child. A natural charmer even as a youngster, his antics away from the cameras threatened his future as he cultivated a reputation as a street fighter and bully who couldn’t control his temper.

Martial arts became his passion as well as a tool for self-discipline. Sent to Seattle as a teenager after his expulsion from private school and trouble with the law, Lee matured and found a sense of purpose — to revolutionize martial arts. He did so by mixing traditional kung fu with his own superfast, freewheeling fighting style.

On the West Coast he developed a following as a competitor and as a teacher. His Hollywood connections — actors Steve McQueen and James Coburn and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant — were among his students — led to the role of Kato on the short-lived TV series “The Green Hornet” (1966-67).

Few roles followed in an American entertainment industry that had little use for Asian actors beyond stereotypes. Stardom in Asia and beyond came via Hong Kong action films like “The Big Boss” (1971). Lee used that surprising success to start calling the shots on his films, though he made only a handful before his death at 32.

Lee’s accidental death was linked to brain swelling caused, some concluded, by a drug reaction, but Polly makes a convincing argument for heat stroke. What could have been a singular presence in world cinema instead became an endearing cult figure. (AP)

July 7, 2018 - July 13, 2018

‘The Anomaly’ slowly simmers as story groundwork is set up

Jeff Ayers

Rumors have swirled that early in the 20th century an explorer on the Colorado River discovered a cavern high up in the rocks of the Grand Canyon. The stories of what he found are fantastic and hard to believe, which is perfect for Nolan Moore, an archaeologist who hosts a conspiracy theory show that explores historical mysteries without actually solving anything. With his team of cameramen and experts for the region, Nolan decides to see if they can find this strange cave and prove the wild claims from that earlier time.

The trip starts off uneventfully for the team of men and women, but when they spot what might be the cave they are seeking, they immediately see the possibility of fame and fortune. For Moore, it’s a chance to finally be successful in proving one of the conspiracy theories that his show promotes. What they discover at first seems a bit odd, as the things they see differ from the historical account. The more they explore, the more mysterious it gets. From all appearances, someone tried to conceal the cave. While they discover the truth behind the cave, they will wish they had never found it.

Michael Rutger’s “The Anomaly” slowly simmers as the groundwork is set up. The exploration is also a bit slow going as well to keep the reader guessing as to what is honestly going on inside this cave. When the big reveal happens, it comes with a dose of horror, violence and complex science. Rutger has crafted an intriguing and, at times, somewhat graphic tale that’s never predictable and will appeal to fans of exploration and survival along with “The X-Files” crowd. (AP)

June 30, 2018 - July 6, 2018

Mystery after mystery builds in ‘The Pharaoh Key’

Jeff Ayers

Gideon Crew has nothing left to lose, so he decides to go out with a bang in “The Pharaoh Key,” Preston & Child’s latest — and supposedly final — story to feature their intrepid hero.

Effective Engineering Solutions has closed shop and fired everyone, including Crew. To make things worse, a checkup on his medical condition proves that it’s still a death sentence; he will be lucky to survive six months. So when former co-worker Manuel Garza asks for help to get answers from the elusive CEO of the now defunct company, Crew agrees. They are both denied an opportunity to talk to Eli Glinn, but while cleaning out the remainder of their stuff from their desks, they discover a computer that has completed a job it was assigned years ago to decipher strange writings on a stone tablet. The data indicates a possible treasure in the middle of a dangerous section of southwest Egypt, so they decide to abscond with the information and claim the potential rewards for themselves.

What they will uncover is both treacherous and surprising, and one person’s treasure is another person’s nightmare. The quest might kill them, but since Crew is on borrowed time anyway, he tries to remain unflappable.

Preston & Child write compelling stories, and this one invokes classic adventure novels from the early 20th century. Mystery after mystery builds into a finale that even savvy readers won’t see coming. If this truly is the last Gideon Crew novel, the authors have ended his escapades in grand style; fans will rejoice and newcomers will appreciate the sheer scope of everything. (AP)



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘A Terrible Country’ is a wonderful novel

Martial arts icon Bruce Lee shines in new book

‘The Anomaly’ slowly simmers as story groundwork is set up

Mystery after mystery builds in ‘The Pharaoh Key’


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