THE SECRET OF THE NIGHTINGALE PALACE, a novel by Dana Sachs, is a road trip novel but more than that it explores a grandmother/granddaughter relationship. Anna, a thirty-five year old widow has trouble finding her footing after her husband illness and death. Goldie, Anna’s feisty twice-widowed grandmother, decides its time to bury a 5-year rift between the two of them and break Anna out of her rut. The plan is to drive Goldie’s Rolls Royce from New York to San Francisco to return a piece of art in Goldie’s care for 60 years.
The Elephant Keeper’s Children is a nearly 500 page book about a 14 year-old boy’s adventures while in pursuit of his absent parents. If this sound a little like Harry Potter, the similarities end there. Martin Aitken translates Heog’s book to English for the first time, sharing an existentialist journey through Denmark.
Petrus and sister Tilte, precocious beyond their teenage years, are detained by the authorities because their parents have gone missing. It doesn’t take long to figure out that their parents are being pursued by the police and a ragtag team of Danish authorities and it becomes a race against time to find out what their parents are up to before the authorities.
This may sound like a young adult novel but it’s themes and characters are decidedly more adult, than young. Petrus and Tilte are on a spiritual journey that includes befriending a Buddhist sex therapist, a heroin-addicted Count and a prostitute with anger issues.
A 14 year old, obsessed with football and finding enlightenment, is a humorous hero of a winding, entertaining tale. Hoeg is most notable as the author of Simila’s Sense of Sense. You’ll find The Elephant Keeper’s Children a less violent, equally mystical novel.
The field of adventure and military fiction is pretty clogged these days. Lots of armchair warriors or those with dubious “snake eating” creds fill the physical and virtual bookshelves of popular fiction. There are a handful of bonafide fighters turned novelists out there and Dalton Fury is one of them.
Fury, a pen name, is a former officer in the elite “Delta Force” and authored an early non-fiction take on the efforts to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. After that book Fury branched out and created a fictional, battered and outsider Delta operator in Kolt Raynor. Raynor appeared in Black Site, Fury’s inaugural action fiction tale that was fast paced and enjoyable. Fury follows-up Black Site with a new Raynor adventure, Tier One Wild.
Raynor, once an outcast from the special operations mainstream, has now been re-qualified and is welcomed back to the world of Delta in an adventure story that hopscotches around the globe hitting every conceivable hotspot. The story opens with audacious action as Raynor and his small team of shooters literally descend from the night sky to assault a hijacked jetliner. Thing is, Fury doesn’t make it a simple land, creep and linear assault. Nope, the adventure quotient immediately amps up as the jet starts to take off and the Raynor team lands ON the accelerating aircraft. What follows is a quick, brutal action of close quarters battle.
From there, Tier One Wild bounces from India, to the United States, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Surface to air missiles are on the loose and Raynor’s team needs to stay one step ahead of the terrorist band, led by an American ex-pat turned radical. Ultimately, the trail takes bullet spewing twists and turns to a conclusion where Raynor must take action by his own hand.
The technical details, gear and guns are punctuation to a kinetic story. The “bad guy” Abu al-Amriki appears as a mad, calculating master mind in Black Site and his story arc effectively propels forward into Tier One Wild without getting bogged down in typical xenophobic characterizations.
As military thrillers go, Tier One Wild has a clear story, clear characters and smooth, rapid pacing. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ve probably already picked up Fury’s work. If on the fence about military adventure fiction, this book is a good entree to the crowded field.
Tier One Wild by Dalton Fury was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums
Set in the near primordial Scandinavian wilderness, The Ritual follows a group of friends on a hiking holiday. Like Deliverance fused with dark pagan rites, The Ritual plunges the men into physical and mental peril fairly quickly by splashing the reader with the right amount of mood and gore.
Yet for some reason, the methodical, almost tedious wandering around the woods bogged down the book. Instead of building tension with each tread forward into the pine labyrinth we found The Ritual circling back over the same ground. Perhaps this was the intent, leaving the reader bewildered and lost in the woods as the soon-to-be victims. The characters were a mix of cliche unlikable and reluctant heroic. And the struggle against each other, as well as a possible demon in the woods worked…but…
We wanted a bit more kinetics with the story, for when the plot did change and the characters did fall away we found ourselves worn out by the slow build-up and not eager to see what happened next. And since we were left to wander with our imagination through some of the woodland ploddings, we found the plot twist at the end was pretty obvious and diminished in gravitas.
At 415 pages in paperback, The Ritual would have been a taut, cracker jack scary story of backwoods pagan horrors by lopping off 100 pages. Instead, we felt like a cool short novel was stretched into something that diminished its impact. Horror should be like drinking liquor, served neat and not watered down. That only softens the punch.
Overall, The Ritual has flashes of creep and weirdness that please the reader, but the devices and stretching knocked it down a few pegs.
The Ritual by Adam Nevill was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums.
With today’s release of Zero Dark Thirty, the fictional portrayal of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. and last year’s launch of a first hand account of the raid that got the wanted terrorist, No Easy Day, the shadowy manhunt and assault has been thrust into the spotlight. The book’s release was not without controversy in a charged political environment, as well as cries of betrayal of secrecy from the community which former U.S. Navy SEAL Mark Owen served in.
However, strip away the noise, the haranguing and political posturing, what about the book itself? Having read dozens of contemporary military biographies and histories we cannot think of a single instance where information revealed wasn’t well known by scholars on the subject or easily accessible through magazines or industry journals. And No Easy Day falls squarely in that no great secret revealed class. What it does do is provide a clear, first-person account of the most momentous American history event of this century thus far. Co-written with journalist Kevin Maurer, No Easy Day follows not only Owen’s mission to find Bin Laden, but also his journey from novice SEAL to experienced member of the Navy’s most elite counter-terrorist team, DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six.
Owen and Maurer guide the reader through the nuts and bolts of selection to DEVGRU, the men that inhabit the legendary special operations team and the missions that drove the Alaskan-born SEAL from Virginia to every violent far-flung corner of the world. Owen gives the reader brief glimpses into the staggering operational tempo he and fellow Tier One operators have endured since 9/11. We fly from Iraq to Afghanistan, fight and withdraw, train for days, weary and worn, to then turn back around and ramp up for the next mission.
No Easy Day is also a work-man like look at the tip of the special operations spear here in the United States. It portrays the men of DEVGRU not as super human beings, glamorized by the familiarity lacking mainstream media or romanticized by the fans of both genders, but as blue collar soldiers. Men who have lockers filled with the most high-tech, yet deadly,and expensive tools fielded today. They love Taco Bell and obsess over the finest brewed coffee. They are the best soldiers we have and they normally inhabit the shadows. Yet when the burden of history, like that of the Bin Laden raid, weighs down it may be time to partially pull back the curtain for a view into their world.
So, you are curious about the Bin Laden raid itself and how much is revealed in the book? Well, it clears up some details and provides a methodical account, taking you through the days before to the thunderous accolades after. But it’s the intense lead up, the heavy training, the clear all obstacles efforts undertaken to ensure this operation would take place. The training, the dozens of walk through, the what ifs gamed out to the end, all provide the most insight into the historical event that would follow. And its in the hours before lifting off in the special operations Black Hawks do we see the gravity of the mission and how it effects not only Owen, but his fellow SEALs.
Overall, No Easy Day is a good first look at Bin Laden’s demise. And perhaps in the coming years equally as informed works on the operation will emerge and not be weighed down with political posturing and angry rhetoric. We have been given a rare opportunity to hear about this special moment in history and to get it from the point of view of one who was there. Think of historical events in the past 100 years that have become almost mythic, dogged by conspiracy and wild counter claims. No Easy Day provides the first data point for the history of the coming generations.
No Easy Day by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums.
Hometown pride aside, Harpoon Brewery, their IPAs and seasonal brews produced on Northern Avenue are some of the best in these United States in our opinion. And at a recent gathering, friends and family arrived with many different beers to sample. A holiday party turned into an unintentional beer tasting.
As you can tell, beer runs in our veins and for that reason we joyfully consumed Brewed Awakening from Joshua Bernstein.
Brewed Awakening is a sort of all-purpose, comprehensive look at craft brewing in America, and worldwide. And it succeeds in its goal to inform and opine on the good, the bad and the ugly of the beer world. Don’t expect a dry take on the business and some nose-in-the-air analysis of the beers rolling off production lines large and small.
Brewed Awakening has the feel of a long form magazine article, hopping all over the map for profiles and perspectives from brewers large and small. The book also goes through the process of what makes a beer a beer, its components and processes; as well as what cred comes from being a craft beer.
Speaking about maps, the dust jacket of Brewed Awakenings folds out to reveal a massive infographic that splits off into dozens of nodes all the variety of beers found around the globe. From American Wheat Ale to Rauchbier, the maps serves as a quick view guide to the beer world.
Inside Brewed Awakenings Bernstein offers up several pages of beer recommendations from all the classes of brews. This was a fun exercise in seeing which of the dozens of recommendations we’d tried in our years of imbibing the amber liquid.
Now, as a beer book, the layout and design of the compact Brewed Awakenings has a little DNA in the foodie book world. As a result, the interior of Brewed Awakenings is smartly designed and attractively laid out. The look means nuggets of info and photos nestled into sturdy khaki colored pages.
A great little book about the world of beer, great for the novice or the long time enthusiast, Brewed Awakenings is a book you’ll eagerly drink up.
Brewed Awakenings by Joshua Bernstein was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums
Since the horrific day of September 11th, the world of Islam has become the focus of more Americans than ever before. And unfortunately, the information about the faith consumed by a many Americans was been shaped by those with political/business agendas, obsolete international strategies and even bigotry.
There have been some exceptions in print, but few with a crisp and calm perspectives on the entire history of the faith of over a billion human beings.
Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary is the history of world, from the perspective of Islam. Ansary, born in Afghanistan, undertakes an ambitious task. To provide a concise, clear headed but honest view of the world from the birth of Islam to its schism, wars, growth, glories and failures; to its maturity, slowing velocity and crisis of modernity.
Absolutely ambitious and sprawling, but somehow Ansary takes nearly 1,400 years of history and puts together one of the most outstanding, thought provoking pieces of non-fiction. Not overburdened with layers of footnotes and pompous intellectual posturing, Destiny Disrupted is simply excellent.
Perhaps Destiny Disrupted finds its most riveting and important stride with Ansary’s keen observations about Islam’s halt in growth, cultural innovation and broad thinking. Expansion and growth validated the truth of their religion, but starting with the brutal Mongol invasions through the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, the Middle World was faced with an insecure “modern” tomorrow.
Collective body blows coaxed out three distinct personalities attempting to shape the future of Islam, each brilliantly outlined by Ansary in the profiles of Abdul Wahhab of Arabia, India’s Sayyid Ahmad and Afghanistan/Iran’s Sayyid Jamaluddin-i-Afghan.
Each man, founders of conservative Wahhabism, secular modernist of the Aligarh Movement and Islamist Modernism respectively, is painted in vivid historical fashion by Ansary. Reading these profiles your mind races as you recognize modern figures, both rogues and respected thinkers, violent and peaceful, that promulgate the beliefs of these men.
Ansary’s clarity in ‘talking it out’ is exemplified as the book concludes. He writes that the current discord between the west and Muslim societies is not a “clash of civilizations,” but something more simple. Muslims and European off-shoots were peoples going places. As they crossed, they collided. And as Ansary writes, “the crashing is still going on.”
Also a realist, Ansary notes that both blocs are at times incompatible, yet, “There can be no sensible argument, however, until both sides are using the same terms and mean the same things by those terms.”
Destiny Disrupted goes a long way at assembling a piece of human history long neglected or skewed by western historians speaking in non-analogous terms and meanings.
Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary was purchased for review by Boston Book Bums
When it comes to elite military forces today, Royal Marines Commando are in the top tier. Not special operations, say like the Special Air Service or Special Forces, the Commandos are a select shipborne light infantry unit.
Closer to the United States Army Rangers in use and capabilities, the British commando is a tough fighting force normally filled with physically able young men. That is why the premise of the non-fiction work, Commando, piqued our interest. Author Chris Terrill was a journalist who decided he wanted to try to pass the grueling and dangerous eight-month Royal Marines Commando selection process, at the age of 55.
Most candidates in their late teens fail of Commando selection. And those that make it through to earn their green “lid” are some of the best soldiers any country has to offer.
Terrill’s ability to live, train and eventually deploy to Afghanistan alongside fighting Royal Marines was a rare and unique opportunity. It would be like a reporter running through SEALS Basic Underwater Demolition School (their selection/book camp) and writing a warts and all piece.
It would never happen. But we are lucky that Terrill was given the chance and the book pays off brilliantly.
The 50 + year-old Terrill suffers all the foot splitting blisters, back bending aches and deep pains of fatigue with the other would-be commandos. We cannot stress enough the unyielding physical and mental demands put on commando candidates. Terrill’s time with a troop of soldiers leaves you exhausted and thankful that such tough and focused men emerge from the crucible.
Another fulfilling component to Terrill’s Commando are the profiles and relationships he develops with the commando selectees. We see them build each other up, we see them struggle falter and fail. This is a hard life, that of a Commando, but you don’t get there by having someone hold your hand and tuck you into bed at night.
You read such distinct personalities that enter, wash-out or emerge successful from Commando selection. They are young and immature, or worldly and focused, all so very different, yet united with the desire to become a Commando. The camaraderie and sense of belonging is reinforced by Terrill’s own experiences through selection.
Commando is a book that gives hope that, even as you get older, there is a trick or two mentally and a strain or two physically that can be brought to bear to prove one’s worth.
Commando by Chris Terrill was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums
You may know John Lithgow’s from 3rd Rock from Sun, Broadway or perhaps you caught is one-man show a couple of years ago but you’ve never seen the side he shares in his new book, DRAMA: AN ACTOR’S EDUCATION.
Lithgow’s spend a month back in 2002, helping his ailing father. Desperate to cheer his depressed dad, Lithgow’s resorted to a childhood favorite book and read stories to man who use to be the reader when John was a wee listener. This experience inspired Lithgow’s one-man show and was the seed for his new biography.
The biography starts at the beginning, John’s first walk-on in a play when he was four. He spends amble time discussing his childhood, which was shaped largely by his father’s work as a director, actor and manager of theater. His father’s work allowed for the first protected glimpses at an acting life and presented Lithgow’s with his only identified childhood trauma…. being the new kid in town, over and over again.
Lithgow describes his years at Harvard, as Fulbright Scholar and the final realization that he wanted to be an actor. Details of his early years trying to break into the NY theater scene are enjoyable for a theater outsider but are probably even more so for those in the know. There is some name-dropping which feeds the reader’s curiosity but Lithgow’s has too much decorum for anything salacious. When Lithgow does spill the beans, he is effusive in his praise, delicate in his criticism and chivalrous when he kisses and tells.
But all that is beside the point because really this is a story of a complicated father/son relationship, where Lithgow battles between respect for his father’s work, guilt for surpassing his father professionally and regret for not knowing the man better.
The entertainer does what he does best in DRAMA, gives a funny but touching performance.
Drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow was received for free by the Boston Book Bums