Archive for the ‘Book Review’ category

In theaters now: Julie and Julia

August 12, 2009

Julie Powell’s gamble of blogging her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking has certainly paid off, with her memoir now the impetus for the new movie, Julie and Julia. And who wouldn’t want to be portrayed by the cute Amy Adams?

Get the book at the Tunxis Library!  Check availability now.

Watch the movie trailer.

Liberty – Book Review

June 3, 2009

By: Garrison Keillor
Reviewed by: Paul McMahon

I decided to take a break from all of the murder and mayhem in the books that I have been reading when I saw a book by Garrison Keillor. And what a break it was.

The book is light and a quick read. There is a little threat of violence, but it gets dissipated. There is one gun shot, but it went through the ceiling of the Bunsen Ford dealership.

There is some sex, but not overbearing.

There is tons of humor of every kind.

The story is built around Clint Bunsen who is a top auto mechanic and the chairman for the sixth time of the Lake Wobegon Fourth of July Parade. Each of Clint’s parades have been better. The 5th got on CNN. This one will be on CNN live.

One reason the parades have gotten better is that he refuses to tolerate entrants such as the Norwegian Bachelor Farmers and their wagon full of high grade pig manure or the somewhat senile Sons of Canute. The result is a palace revolt which ends his chairmanship with the end of this year’s parade.

Keillor describes Clint’s mid-life crisis which is going on as the parade unfolds. 65-year old Clint shares his crisis with 30-something Angelica. Angelica has played Miss Liberty who is a living Statue of Liberty and about as far out as you can get. Last year Clint realized the Miss Liberty had nothing on under her robe. A lot of other observant people noticed it too. But Lake Wobegon being a conservative town in northern Minnesota does not bring things like this up. However Angelica is the crisis in Clint’s midlife and he has had a secret affair with her. The affair is not as secret as Clint thinks and which he will find out as the parade gets set up and begins to roll.

The Governor decides to come and sends his staff man to set things up. Clint thinks he might run for Congress since the incumbent resigned over an incident in the men’s room at the Minneapolis – Saint Paul airport.

The Governor is late. CNN is lost and Clint finally starts the parade without them. The parade is almost done when they show up. Clint puts the Governor is the last car with the mayor and just ahead of the children’s choir who had been banned by Clint after a poor performance and were sneaking in and also just ahead of the Sons of Canute who decided to show up anyway.

Because of CNN Clint orders the parade to continue to a side street and then come back to the start and do it again. Of course when you run something with a large group of volunteers who have little practice in precision and in listening to orders and getting them right the parade U-turns and starts coming down Main Street which is a little busy with the parade going up Main Street. The result is mass confusion which CNN broadcasts to 53 million people world-wide. One example of the confusion starts about halfway down page 239 where the Governor goes from the top of the short list for nomination as Vice President to toxic waste who would not be invited to Bin Laden’s birthday as he steps on Miss Liberty’s gown which is too long and in a few steps pulls it down and off and then trips and ends in a pose which is caught on camera by CNN and FaceBooked around the world.

I laughed till I cried as I read Keillor’s story. I think you will too.


Deadliest Strain – Book Review

May 11, 2009

Deadliest Strain

By: Jan Coffey
Reviewed by: Paul McMahon

Jan Coffey is the nom de plume of the husband and wife writing team of Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick.  They live in Litchfield County, Connecticut.  They have published 7 books.  Pages 392 and 393 have a final exam on the book and the characters — Jim was a college professor.

The couple spoke at the Tunxis Community College Writers Conference  this spring.  They talked about writing, sharing, how they handled conflicts and dealing with their editors.

The book:

Fahimah has spent over 5 years in the CIA clandestine prison system.  Her defense has been silence — turning herself inward so she could withstand the pressure without losing her mind.

Things are going fine (for the CIA) but are pretty tough for Fahimah.

Then some people arrive at an island on a very isolated lake in Maine where they have rented a cottage for a couple of weeks.  When they arrive they realize that there is another family staying in the second cottage on the island.  They are disappointed since they thought they had the island to themselves, but decide to make the best of it.  They begin to unpack and the kids — teens go to the other cottage to say “Hello!”  It is very quiet.  Too Quiet — they are all dead.  Destroyed by a flesh eating disease.  As it turns out they don’t have to worry about competition for the island — they are all dead too.

In the next scene the island is filled with people in hazmat suits.  All of the dead are wrapped in body bags and packed away to some government lab.

We soon meet Austyn, the protagonist who is an epidemiologist.  The scientists identify the bacteria that is having people for lunch as having the same DNA as found in a lab in Iraq.  A check with the CIA (after a pounding by the president) indicated that they have the person responsible for the Iraq lab in the CIA prison system.

Austyn and Newman, an FBI agent are soon on their way to Afghanistan where Fahimah is now in prison — part of the process used by the CIA is to keep moving the prisoners and time shifting them as well so that they are not sure of anything.

I thought the book was pretty good at this point, but now it gets really good!  Fahimah gradually begins to trust Austyn and vice versa.  I don’t want to disclose a lot because the authors have done a great job of character development.  Since Nikoo grew up in the Kurdish part of Iraq a lot of the story is based on what it is like there — no suicide bombers, no wacko clerics, etc.  The story crosses into Iran with a lot of insight as to what it is like there.

In the meantime small clusters of people are dying in the US — Something seems to set the bacteria off and the realization of what it is is intriguing.

Read it!  It is a well crafted mystery.  No murders or shoot  ’em ups.  The characters are believable and the story is believable.  In fact the Swine Flu came while I was reading the book and a lot of the news seemed to come  right out of the book.

Little Pink House – Book Review

April 22, 2009

Little Pink House:  A True Story of Defiance and Courage

By:  Jeff Benedict

Reviewed by:  Paul McMahon

I had watched from afar as the horror story of eminent domain rage on in New London then though the courts of Connecticut and finally on to the Supreme Court.

I had a special interest since I grew up in Waterford (pronounced Watta-fud by us natives).  If you look at a map of New London County, you will notice two things.  1.  New London is a small if not the smallest city here in Connecticut.  2.  New London is completely surrounded by Waterford by land or by water.  As I grew up, New London was kind of enemy territory where we had to shop unless we wanted to go to Norwich (pronounced Nawtch by my aunt) which was almost a two day trip.  New London prospered until shopping centers came along.  It had room for the first round helped by highway construction that opened a lot of land.

Then new businesses opened up in Waterford, Groton and Montville.  New London realized that it really did not have much open land to support new development.  Then came to concept of redevelopment. New London decided to try it.  They used the approach used in Hartford on Front Street – move everybody out and tear everything down and build a new modern area.  Note the absence of the word neighborhood.  New London loved the concept and embraced it for its redevelopment even though it failed in Hartford.  New London did not handle it well.

The Rowland administration decided it wanted to do something in New London that would contribute to its fame and possible squeeze a few votes out of New London’s strong Democratic majority.  However, they did not want to let the New London City Council get its hands on the project.

The result was the reinstatement of the New London Development Commission (NLDC) which soon paved the road to Hell with state gold and so the story begins.

The author, Jeff Benedict, may be familiar to you.  He wrote Without Reservation which is how the Mashantuckets went from broke to very rich.  He did careful research and built a very readable story.

In Little Pink House he built an excellent story, conveying the emotions of the people involved, the despair as they encountered the machinations of the NLDC, the joy when they won a round.

After I finished the book I decided to go down an look at how things stood now.  It is about a 150 mile round trip including a little wandering in New London.

I made enlarged copies from the book of the aerial photos facing page 238 and 239.  They turned out to be helpful as most of the street signs are gone in the area.  The first photo was taken in 2000 and reflects the removal of a lot of the Navy facilities.  The second was taken in 2002.  A photo taken today in 2009 would only differ by the destruction of the homes that were taken to the Supreme Court.

I called my brother who still lives in Waterford to ask if he wanted to join me on a tour.  He said he and his wife would love to.  In fact they had just toured the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle the day before I called and had even met Tido Holtkamp who served on the Eagle when he was in the German Navy during World Wad II.  The Eagle is now stationed a the Coast Guard station on the Fort Trumbull grounds.

I drove down to Waterford and my brother’s wife drove us on a tour of the Fort Trumbull area.

We drove into the state park and parked.  My brother and I got out and walked around the fort.  We had never seen the fort before even though we had both taken a lifesaving course in the Fort Trumbull pool which was part of the merchant marine school during World War II.

What we found was that Fort Trumbull has been made into an extremely attractive seasonal state park.  The fort has been scrubbed clean and surrounded by lawns and walks.  The infamous sewer plant which was the curse of the neighborhood when the wind was wrong has been capped and no longer smells.  Several beautiful Pfizer buildings have been built and are operating on the New London Mills site which is a little north of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood which was the site of the eminent domain decision.

Before I left I had gone to the on-line revaluation records for New London and found that the only remaining Fort Trumbull property holder still in New London was Suzette Kelo.  As part of the settlement with NLDC she was allowed to move the house to a new site.  It is at 6 Chappell Street and is no longer pink and is now a very attractive yellow and appears to be a two apartment house.  Next door is an abandoned wreck of a house.

I recommend the book.  It is a lesson on what an uncontrolled government agency can do.  It shows how brutal the Connecticut Eminent Domain statute is (See the index).  The legislature has not changed the law.  How much a committed citizens group can do even though they lost, they lost at the Supreme Court and not when the first eviction document showed up.  While the Connecticut legislature has not changed the eminent domain statute many other states have.

Nose Down, Eyes Up – Book Review

March 25, 2009

Nose Down, Eyes Up

Reviewed by Paul McMahon

Dog on it – Book Review

March 18, 2009

Dog on it

by Spencer Quinn

Reviewed by:  Paul McMahon

We have had a pig book — The Pig Did it

A sheep book — Three Bags Full

And now we have a dog detective book — Dog on it

This is a crime story with a well constructed plot and told in the first person by Chet, a large somewhat mongrel dog.  Chet cannot communicate with Bernie, a human private eye, but some how he gets messages across.

I do not want to give the plot away as it is unique and makes the story interesting.

The author manages the plot and build the suspense all the way through.  He does a great job of presenting Chet’s thinking and Chet’s commentary on Bernie’s problems is delightful.

Whether you like dogs or not the story is fun and interesting.

I enjoyed it and I think you will too.

Greasing the Pinata – Book Review

March 5, 2009

Greasing the Pinata

By: Tim Maleeny
Reviewed by: Paul McMahon

Maleeny gets a lot of praise for being “a new prince of detective fiction.”  I would say he is getting ripe, but not ready for the big leagues.

The book has an interesting plot about how the Mexican drug lords are investing their money in “green” enterprises such as selling carbon credits earned by trapping the large amount of methane provided by 30,000 pigs and converting it into less harmful carbon dioxide.  Who cares if the amount of methane converted is overstated.  There are a lot of humorous events in the  story along with a few murders, etc.

A pretty good book, but not James Lee Burke.