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Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories
Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories
by Adam Braver
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars The Positives Are Too Few, 8 Mar. 2003
"Mr. Lincoln's Wars", is a collection of 13 stories that are presented as forming a novel. I would agree there is some latitude in what constitutes a novel, but an overall coherence of timeline and sequencing would seem to be a reasonable expectation. Of these thirteen stories there are a few that are very well done, most are quite ordinary, and some are notable for only how tasteless they are.
I don't know what the author's goals were with this collection but he tells no story. He shares some poignant moments that demonstrate he clearly can summon skill from his pen, and then with the next tale will sink well below mediocrity to unseemly narrative that is notable for being graphic, or to some, I would suggest offensive.
One of the highlights was a story of President Lincoln visiting a battlefield still occupied by men waiting to be treated, another well done story imagines the private meeting of Lincoln and another man accused of being crazy, a subject he shares with Lincoln. It is during stories like these that I wondered why the author did not wait until he had a collection of stories of this caliber as opposed to many that were included. The low points included the events surrounding the actions of a woman who is told she is recently widowed, and an autopsy performed on the assassinated President that had nothing to offer other than gore. The latter may appeal to some but it was out of place in this book, but unfortunately not the low point.
Author Adam Braver clearly can write a good story. This collection of stories does not constitute a novel, and if judged by its weaker links would not even garner the two star rating I struggled to give it.

No Title Available

3.0 out of 5 stars Suffers From Being In Between, 8 Mar. 2003
These comments are for book number three, Dominion War Tunnel Through The Stars", in the four part Dominion War Star Trek Series. Books one and three center on the TNG cast, or parts of it, and the second is primarily Deep Space 9. The final book, number 4 is going to bring both groups together and will likely bring the story back up to the quality of the first two books.
This book also spreads itself a bit thin as it tries to cover a variety of side stories around a central event in the Badlands and a variety of other names from the genre of Western Movies that get a bit annoying to read about continually. There is the Enterprise in space dock and its attendant issues, Data on his mission, the artificial wormhole, and one of my favorite characters under the name of Boothby that is described as looking so strange as to be almost comical.
The ship Orb of Peace is turned in to a flying platform for paranoia. The trouble is that for anyone who is familiar with the adversaries the Federation is facing, trying to sustain a level of tension and mystery as to what that foe might be is a bit of a stretch. Of the three books I have read thus far this is the weakest. Presuming the final book is as good as the first two, the four book cycle, taken in its entirety will still be worthwhile for Trek fans.

Chopin's Funeral
Chopin's Funeral
by Benita Eisler
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Portion of His Brief Life, 7 Mar. 2003
This review is from: Chopin's Funeral (Hardcover)
Author Benita Eisler presents a slice of this great composer's all too brief life in her new book, "Chopin's Funeral". This is a very enjoyable book that will best be appreciated by persons that already have a familiarity with his work and life, and are as interested in commentary on specific compositions as they are on the man himself. The book also includes peers of Chopin's like List and Berlioz, and the story is also dominated by Chopin's tumultuous relationship with the writer George Sand.
The book is fairly brief and whether or not it will be a favorite read of a given person will largely depend on what knowledge you are hoping to gain. Mine was limited on Chopin prior to this book, so for me too much time was spent on reviews of specific pieces. If this is one of many Chopin biographies you have read you will likely be well rewarded. I found the author's comments on his compositions to be too lengthy in a comparatively short book, and they are clearly written by a lover of Chopin. I found them florid in their style, "proto-impressionist, light-filled buoyancy, chromatic tag, a sensuous pleasure", that go on for paragraph after paragraph and occupy a good deal of this short work. These are not expositions of what he created as opposed to rave reviews.
The book is very good. Just how well it will be for a given person will depend on what you already bring with you prior to this read.

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
by Ross King
Edition: Hardcover

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. King Stays on Point, 6 Mar. 2003
I enjoy reading biographies and Mr. King is one of the better writers when documenting those periods of European History he chooses. He wrote a wonderful book about Brunelleschi, and now offers readers and even more ambitious work on Michelangelo and Pope Julius II. Many writers seem to often stray, and are too sweeping and inclusive of other persons and events that also took place during the time they are documenting. Mr. King gives enough information to keep his subjects and their pursuits in context without diluting the premise of his books.
The painting of the Sistine Chapel may seem like too well worn a subject for another book but the author dispels so many misconceptions about the events that were involved in this creation that his clarifications are worth the read on their own. The book also includes magnificent color plates and numerous black and white drawings that make the book all the more interesting. But the images add to the book, they do not act as a crutch for an author lacking information.
Did Michelangelo paint while lying on his back, the book answers that question by sharing a letter and diagram of Michelangelo that he penned himself sharing the manner by which he worked? Were the frescoed ceiling and vaults designed and painted by Michelangelo on his own, how long did the work really take, and how close did the work come to be handed over to another artist before its completion?
The author also demonstrates the influence and politics that were a daily part of working for The Vatican and this particular Pope. Mr. King will share the discovery and rapid rise of the artist Raphael who was painting at The Vatican simultaneously with Michelangelo. Bramante who was to initiate the rebuilding of St. Peter's Cathedral was also always present, in the shadows or in front, scheming or openly attempting to influence who would gain specific commissions for the Pope. And there is also the famous/infamous Savonarola who held great influence with the artist who painted the 12,000sf ceiling at a time when approving of the doomed holy man could mean death to those who shared his thoughts.
I have no way of knowing which person or architectural marvel Mr. King will turn to next. He explores several fascinating people in this work that would fill several additional books. I only hope that he continues to produce these eminently readable and enjoyable studies of History and her participants.

The Good German
The Good German
by Joseph Kanon
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far More Than a Novel, 6 Mar. 2003
This review is from: The Good German (Hardcover)
"The Good German", by Joseph Kanon can be categorized by placement in a variety of genres, Thriller, Mystery, Historical Fiction, Love Story, and more. The work is certainly all of these, however I believe much more important is the study of twelve years of human behavior, presented within the context of events primarily following the close of The European phase of World War Two. I don't know that any other conflict has generated more literature than the one symbolized by the swastika, the word Holocaust, and the unprecedented Crimes Against Humanity Trials at Nuremberg. Superficially, the evil of the war is routinely placed with great ease. Even at this level it is hard to take issue with placing the blame on a man, the party he created, and the nation that joined that party, served in the SS, and made the crimes that took place possible. What happened when the fighting stopped, when the shooting war with The Axis ended, and the Cold War with The Soviet Union began? The latter had really begun prior to the first one ending.

The shades of gray that dominated the conduct of The Allies immediately following the end of hostilities, and the repercussions that would follow for decades, is brilliantly set side by side with conduct during the war. Mr. Kanon never minimizes any of the horror that took place; he questions none of the atrocities that were committed. He does bring post-war reality to his tale that cannot be said to match the actions of The Third Reich; he does however absolutely portray conduct on all sides, which traditional history would rather marginalize. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and while there were episodes of good versus evil, and events that were black and white, inconvenient shades of gray were everywhere.

Without exception all of the players in this book are guilty of some form of aberrant behavior, which outside of the circumstance of war would never be questioned as wrong. However when placed within the context of World War Two, which was unique for the range and intensity of the evil it spread, do the judgments and answers remain so clear?

A person is put on trial at war's end for collaborating with The Nazi SS; let us say the person facilitated the capture of Jews for transportation to death camps. The jury would probably not spend a great deal of time deliberating this example. Same example with a bit more detail, the person is a Jew who was given the option of pointing out other Jews in exchange for their life and the lives of their family. This offer comes after the ritual sadism of a SS interrogation. How many family members would choose death for themselves and their family? What would the readers of this book choose given the alternatives?

It is true that Nuremberg placed on trial and executed or imprisoned what could be referred to as the, "Marquis Players", of The Third Reich. Nice and neat, black and white. At war's end there were brilliant scientists that lead the world in rocketry, aircraft design, and a host of other sciences. If they had been placed on trial persons like Werner Van Braun would not have been working for NASA, he very likely would have been dead, or would have been in Spandau Prison. The Scenario that was viewed with more trepidation was these truly gifted minds would spend years on Soviet soil advancing Soviet capabilities, and that was not viewed as a risk worth taking. The result was each country that could, rounded up as many of these scientists as possible, together with their papers and families, we gathered ours and brought them to the US. Viewed as a strictly pragmatic choice, the decision to utilize these people with disregard for their wartime activities can be defended with ease. The defense also requires that ethics, morality, humanity, call it what you will, must be tossed over the side like so much ballast on a sinking ship. The selective enforcement of justice and the contortions of logic that these decisions demand are the core of this work. The presentation is little short of brilliant.

Replace the word German in the title with person, and you are much closer to the core of this book. Right and wrong is defined on a case-by-case basis, and is infinitely fluid. What Mr. Kanon has done is brought this conduct to bear on every level. Twisted decisions are as much a part of personal relationships as they are at the conference table at Potsdam. Deception is as routine between family members as it is with Stalin and whomever he speaks with. Every decision is reduced to only having to be justified for the moment it is contemplated. Once made, the past is shunted aside, and the future is clean. This expediency is as flawed long-term as it is without justification when made. The love story aspect is riddled with deception, crime, and repugnance. Yet you will likely be hoping for a happy ending for two of the participants. Take the same event out of the context of post World War Two Berlin, and the sympathy dissolves.

Joseph Kanon has written a remarkable book that deals with one of the darkest periods of human behavior. He does this without rancor, without preaching, without offering only two colors to place each decision in. To write such a work not only pays tribute to the mind of the author, but also the adroitness with which he presents very real moral labyrinths. I found myself at once wishing this was a pure scholarly history book, and at the same moments being pleased with the novel form the author chose. His format allows for more dispassionate reasoned contemplation because it is a novel, and not a heavily footnoted documentary. Either method would likely bring the reader to the same end; however Mr. Kanon's is much more user-friendly.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2010 10:47 PM BST

The Company of Strangers
The Company of Strangers
by Robert Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional, 6 Mar. 2003
Author Robert Wilson has written 5 novels; unfortunately for readers this is only the second that has been offered The U.S. His debut, 'A Small Death Is Lisbon', was a very good book and was recognized with literary honors. 'The Company Of Strangers', elevates his work to an even higher level, which if he continues to maintain will place him amongst the great writers of espionage/thriller/mystery. For those unfamiliar with his work I believe the best comparison would be Mr. John LeCarre's earlier works, and some of the best that Mr. Robert Ludlum ever wrote. These are not techno-thrillers where plot and theme are replaced by endless descriptions of military hardware. Mr. Wilson writes detailed character studies that are as complex as the situations he places them in; when these aspects are combined with the talent to tell a great story that spans decades, this is an author who gives a reader all that can be expected from a great novel.

The time line will take you from London of WWII, to the dawning of Glasnost in The Soviet Union, with stops in Berlin East and West, Lisbon and other locales. The book is about spies, very human, not the 007 Hollywood varieties. The motivation of why they work for a cause or country, what may make them turn, and sometimes turn once again is beautifully written and marvelously complex. The writer explores what takes place when an agent during a war finds that the country he once served, or perhaps betrayed, once the war concludes is now in the enemy's camp. Who is his new master, who does he deceive this time if deception is the choice? Does an agent serving a foreign power that becomes the victor continue to serve, or are the ideals he thought were being served proving to have been a fraud and new choices are made?

The agents that take center stage in this book are all presented in various levels of detail, however none are vague. In the midst of the wild swings in world politics a variety of people have their beliefs confirmed, betrayed, and have their personal motives subjected to doubt. Do they spy as an act of revenge, a perceived wrong that was inflicted, is the spying based on theology, or is it monetary, or is it the game itself that is the attraction?

In addition to all that I have mentioned, there is much more, and there are few authors who could carry out the complexity of plot without it become cloudy, and he includes revelations that in most hands would be cliché© at best, and more than likely laughable.

'The Company Of Strangers', does not wind down as the end arrives. The author literally brings his story to the conclusion on the final page. Mr. Wilson also has not succumbed to churning out work and presenting it in a brief and incomplete manner. He takes all the time he needs, and if that requires the better part of 500 pages, that is what he uses. You have the sense that you are reading exactly what the writer intended. His goal was to produce a great book, not a shallow utilitarian read, written with an eye toward a screenplay, or any other secondary use.

This man is a brilliant writer; I recommend his work without condition.

A Small Death in Lisbon
A Small Death in Lisbon
by Robert Wilson
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Well Done, 6 Mar. 2003
The Golden Dagger Award first introduced me to the work of Michael Dibdin and his, "Aurelio Zen" series. For the second time this award has brought about another new Author who writes a phenomenal tale. "A Small Death In Lisbon", by Robert Wilson is not his first work, but unfortunately is the only writing of his available in the US at present. This book should change that status.

This work does not just shift between 2 points in time; rather it brings forward one storyline from decades ago to mesh perfectly with the second storyline, which is contemporary. The initial flare is that there is no hint as to how these two stories and their characters will ever mesh much less come together in a beautifully crafted and simple penultimate end. The final series of pages reveal an incredibly complex ending that is as true and clever as it is intricate.

Both storylines contain extreme examples of human behavior that might be too graphic for some. I would compare it to the series centering on Hannibal Lechter, the circumstances are at times extreme and very unpleasant, but they are not gratuitous. The book unfolds from Nazi Germany and wartime Lisbon, all the way to Lisbon, as it exists in a contemporary time. The political upheavals and the groups that cause and enforce them are at times brutal, but it is as it took place when Historical Events are included.
This is a very good tale whether mysteries are normally your choice or not. The book is very well written, extremely complex while never contrived or cliché, and the Author does not show his last card until almost the last few paragraphs.

Unconditionally Recommended!

The Runner
The Runner
by Christopher Reich
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reich Strikes Again!, 6 Mar. 2003
This review is from: The Runner (Paperback)
This book is every bit as good as his first, "Numbered Account"; in fact I liked it even more.

Mr. Reich does not take the easy way out by using basic historical fact and fictionalizing the balance of his book. The result is still Fiction, but researched with a Historian's eye, and some clever "what if?" scenarios. The result is a hybrid that is truly interesting and not just entertainment. I believe this allowed him to bring "The Runner" to a reader that is fresh book, even though the main event it is based upon is not.

The book has some nice plot twists, what makes them so slick, is that they are not so transparent that they reveal the balance of the book when the first hint appears. When you think you may have the story line solved, another bit comes along, and Mr. Reich pulls the carpet from beneath you
Mr. Reich is no one time winner. If this second effort is any indicator of the future, the next dozen will only continue his success.

Buy it. No regrets.

The First Billion
The First Billion
by Christopher Reich
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Three for Three, 6 Mar. 2003
This review is from: The First Billion (Hardcover)
Christopher Reich has produced his third novel, "The First Billion", and it is a worthy addition to the first two books he offered readers. New authors always seem to be more harshly judged than their more veteran peers which I find quite unfair. The author who is arguably the most successful writer in the whole techno-thriller spy genre has just released his newest book, and while I am in the minority in that I enjoyed the novel, it has been overwhelmingly thrashed. No author is going to produce the perfect book each time out, and no author is going to have an easy time when his or her first book was as successful as Mr. Reich's first work, "Numbered Account". His first book remains my favorite of the three, and I would place his newest at number two, with, "The Runner", third. And even though placed third the book was well above the average of much of the production line derivative nonsense that fill bookshelves be they real or in cyberspace.
This book is weak in two areas from my standpoint. The author became a bit cliché when he decided to have a former pilot head a securities firm, and then names it Black Jet Securities. Tying a series of names or forced events to the character's former profession become tiresome when overused. Having the same character purchase a military attack jet on his American Express card also was hard to read without wincing. The other part I had difficulty with was a side story that didn't really seem to be necessary. It served more as a distraction than as a key element to an otherwise good tale. While dealing with what has emerged from the former USSR is fine, dredging up behavior that harkens to the cold war is becoming a bit overused.
Mr. Reich is very good when sticking with his expertise in finance, and staying close to that theme made, "Numbered Account", so very good. And in this book, when focusing on the enormous risks and difficulties of bringing a Russian based technology company public on the NYSE, the book is at its best. He is a talented author, and I hope he gets back to what he is best at. He has shown he does not need to travel the paths that others have already beaten to a pulp. "The First Billion" will not likely be your favorite book by Mr. Reich; it is still a worthwhile read that is well above the majority of the competition.

Almost There
Almost There
by Nuala O'Faolain
Edition: Hardcover

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Brutal, 5 Mar. 2003
This review is from: Almost There (Hardcover)
This is the first book I have read by author Nuala O'Faolain, but it far from the first autobiographical piece I've read. The latter part of my opening comment allows me to state without reservation that I have never read a more brutally and painfully candid work. Using the word beautiful may seem contradictory but it is her unstinting honesty about everyone, herself most of all, that makes this such a remarkable memoir. I don't think I would have gotten through the book if she had only been candid about everyone except herself. Her willingness to place herself, fears, regrets and anger out on view for the world to read is nothing short of remarkable.
This book covers about 6 years from her first memoir which apparently had the same sort of candor although she did offer it to people who were included prior to its publication. How much she may have changed is not entirely clear, but judging by what was included here I doubt she changed very much.
The book is also a philosophical exercise by a woman who has seen the majority of her life and is brutally honest about what she is and is not willing to do with the balance of the 16 and three-quarter years the actuarial tables allot to her. Initially the most startling part of the book was toward the end when she spoke of the 8 year old daughter of her partner. At first I was put off, and then my reaction changed completely. If there has ever been a case of the truth hurts, and the truth will set you free, in a manner of speaking, this lady has written it.
I don't know how many males will read this book but they should. Much of what she discusses is not bounded by gender, and when there are gender specific issues there are plenty of issues that males can plug in. This is not an easy book to read but when I finally finished I found myself hoping for all the best for Ms. O'Faolain and anyone else who has experienced the pain she has. If we all could view our lives with such honesty, my guess is the level of pain in most lives would be greatly diminished.
Ms. Nuala O'Faolain, I wish you all the best!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 22, 2010 10:22 PM BST

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