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Update September 2017


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Book Review
 

Update September 30, 2017

‘The Romanov Ransom’ doesn’t disappoint

Jeff Ayers

“The Romanov Ransom (A Sam and Remi Fargo Adventure)” (Putnam), by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell

Sam and Remi Fargo tackle a historical conspiracy that involves the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Germans at the end of World War II in “The Romanov Ransom” by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell.

The Fargos are getting ready to celebrate an anniversary when they learn that several youths they’re sponsoring through their foundation, who are related to Selma their head researcher, have vanished.  They put their plans on hold and fly to where they were last seen.

The two were exploring a historical rumor that a plane carrying the wealth of the Romanov family that was to be used to pay for their freedom in 1917 was hidden away, and the Nazis uncovered its whereabouts during the war.  Stealing the treasure in 1947, the Germans had a bold plan to bomb Russia and blame the deed on the United States to launch World War III.  The plane crashed and was lost until now.

Several factions see the countless millions from the Romanov Ransom as a way for descendants from that previous era to launch either a Fourth Reich or the initial plan from 1947 to start another war.  History might have some of the details wrong, but the threat is terrifyingly real.  Can the Fargos recover the missing treasure before it’s too late?

Cussler teaming with Burcell for this Fargo adventure continues the trend of quality writing and an extra-fast pace tossed in with some thrilling history.  Fans of this series expect nothing less, and “The Romanov Ransom” doesn’t disappoint. (AP)


Update September 23, 2017

Tammet takes readers on thought-provoking tour of words

Christina Ledbetter

“Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing” (Little, Brown and Company), by Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet’s understanding of language began with numbers.  When he saw white flakes falling from the sky, though he pointed out the window and exclaimed “Snow” to his parents, his mind latched onto the number 89.  But while numbers ruled his thoughts, eventually words — rich, buoyant, pliable words — edged their way into his fascination, triggering a ferocious zeal for languages.

In his collection of essays, “Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing,” Tammet takes readers on a cerebral jaunt though spoken, printed, championed and neglected words.  In one essay, he burrows into the origins of Esperanto, roams through the history and expounds upon its current state, all with poetic prose.  In another, a sign-language user coaxes the author’s hands into meaning.  Dictionary bosses in France explain the nuances of allowing this definition or that one onto pages, and from those who study the telephone, we learn why answering “Hello” bested “Ahoy” regarding the proper fashion to answer a call.

Tammet explores some cultures’ efforts to preserve nearly forgotten vocabularies, providing a snapshot of a language’s possible final moments, when the last handful of elders maintain only a rusty collection of phrases held over from childhood.  Later, a missionary recounts the complexity of translating Jesus’ teachings of sowing and seeds for the 4,000 Amanab speakers in a remote village of Papua New Guinea who possess no word for plow.  Each essay quaintly reveals intricacies embedded in the way humans communicate, from parents in Iceland grappling with authorities over what they can name their daughter to the African writer fighting for youth to read in their mother tongues.

Through Tammet’s beautifully written explanations of the way his mind comprehends words (many words — the author speaks 11 languages), readers may discover trapdoors flinging open in their own brains, revealing head-cocking perspectives on how to get one’s point across. (AP)


Update September 16, 2017

Rushdie crafts modern masterpiece in ‘The Golden House’

Rob Merrill

“The Golden House” (Random House), by Salman Rushdie

If you read a lot of fiction, you know that every once in a while you stumble upon a book that transports you, telling a story full of wonder and leaving you marveling at how it ever came out of the author’s head.

“The Golden House’ is one of those books.

The title refers to the lower Manhattan residence of the Golden family.  It’s the home of Nero and his three sons, Apu, Petya and D.  The narrator is a neighbor named Rene, an aspiring filmmaker who realizes the Goldens have a story to tell.

And what a story.  With a patriarch named Nero, it’s a tale borne of tragedy doomed to end with even more, but Salman Rushdie grounds it in realism, setting it against contemporary politics and culture.  The year is current, but instead of Donald Trump, Americans elect “The Joker” — “his hair green and luminous with triumph.”  There are plots that center around the Bombay mafia, terrorism and gender identity, and enough film references to stump even the most ardent cinephile.  Rushdie plays with narrative forms throughout as well — from Rene’s first-person account to character monologues to entire scenes imagined as a screenplay, complete with stage directions.

If that sounds like a recipe for a jumbled mess, it’s not.  The narrator is never gone for long and his voice is so original and the story so propulsive that all the references and storytelling forms feel organic, not forced.  “I rued the day when I allowed myself ... to be drawn into the orbit of the Golden house ...” writes Rushdie as Rene, “After Hubris comes Nemesis: Adrasteia, the inescapable. ... To be untrue to thyself, youth!, that is the highest treason.  Even the strongest fortresses can be taken by a siege.  And the sky that we look upon may tumble and fall, and a mountain may crumble to the sea.”

Each turn of the page adds another piece to the unfolding puzzle.  Slowly, Rushdie relates the backstory of Nero and reveals the fates of his sons, all the while ensnaring his narrator in the story.  The final image, of a spinning camera circling the survivors, is dizzying, a fitting end to a novel that tackles more than a handful of universal truths while feeling wholly original. (AP)


Update September 9, 2017

Julia Keller tackles heroin in 24-hour crisis

 

Oline H. Cogdill

“Fast Falls the Night” (Minotaur) by Julia Keller

An ongoing theme in Julia Keller’s superior series about Raythune County prosecutor Bell Elkins is how these West Virginia residents maneuver when jobs are scarce but drugs have overrun the area.  Hope, though often in short supply, is the only thing to which they can cling.

Hope seems elusive in “Fast Falls the Night,” Keller’s excellent sixth novel that takes place during 24 hours, mainly in the town of Acker’s Gap.  By the end of the horrific day, 33 people will have overdosed from tainted heroin, three will have died from the drugs and two other deaths are directly related to the heroin that has been laced with an elephant tranquilizer.  The epidemic stretches thin the prosecutor’s office, the police, paramedics and hospital staff as each hour brings more overdoses.

The situation also brings a moral conundrum — how to treat addicts for whom few have sympathy.  “They’ve done it to themselves,” becomes a constant refrain.  But nothing happens in a vacuum as the problem seeps throughout the community.

Keller’s challenge, which she rises to beautifully, is making the reader care and understand why these people turned to drugs, without sanctioning their actions.  “Fast Falls the Night” is less a tale about drug overdoses and more about compassion and complex characters.  Connections run deep in this multi-generational area with its decades of secrets, stymieing the investigation to find the local dealer.

The balance in “Fast Falls the Night” comes from Bell and Sheriff’s Deputy Jake Oakes, both of whom, for different reasons, have chosen to live in the area.  Bell’s sense of justice and desire to make her hometown a better place propels her daily, both professionally and personally.

Bell’s strident personality can be off-putting to her co-workers, but her intentions are pure.  “Fast Falls the Night” finds her making some tough choices that will affect her future.  Jake came to police work almost accidently, but he shares Bell’s quest.  His development as an incisive detective and his personal growth throughout “Fast Falls the Night” is a revelation.

The 24-hour timeframe imbues a sense of urgency to the plot as Keller shows the day’s events through various points of views.  Keller also avoids the pitfalls of the TV drama “24,” in which Jack Bauer raced across Los Angeles in minutes.  Here, a cop really can quickly make it across town.

A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Keller again perfectly captures a community that, despite its struggles, will survive. (AP)


Update September 2, 2017

Historical thriller takes readers back to turbulent era

Jeff Ayers

“The Saboteur: a Novel” (Minotaur), by Andrew Gross

An engineer from Oslo attempts to disrupt the Nazi war machine at the height of World War II in “The Saboteur,” the latest historical thriller by Andrew Gross.

Kurt Nordstrum has lost his fiancee, and much of everything else he holds dear.  He sneaks back into his hometown and sees the full integration of German forces.  Nordstrum learns of an isolated factory hidden inside Norway where the Nazis are building a terrifying weapon.  With a few close friends, he hijacks a passenger ship bound for Germany and steers it toward England.  With the help of some British forces, they arrive in Scotland.  With the information in hand, they join a team of Norwegian Freedom Fighters with a suicidal mission to take out the factory.

Nordstrum becomes the go-to guy for the impossible missions to stop the onslaught and assist the Allied forces.  If he succeeds, his efforts will make the path to victory easier.  If he fails, the Germans will have a path to full domination.

Gross takes readers back in time to a turbulent and terrifying era.  Like his previous novel, “The One Man,” he immerses the reader in the 1940s with sympathetic characters while focusing on the lone wolf who faces impossible odds, but has no other choice.  He also uses real historical figures and events with some slight name changes, demonstrating that with a talented writer at the helm, the past can truly come alive.

“The Saboteur” is a terrific thriller. (AP)
 


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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘The Romanov Ransom’ doesn’t disappoint


Tammet takes readers on thought-provoking tour of words


Rushdie crafts modern masterpiece in ‘The Golden House’


Julia Keller tackles heroin in 24-hour crisis


Historical thriller takes readers back to turbulent era


 



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