Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Aviator's Wife (Melanie Benjamin)

One of the most famous historical figures of all time has to be Charles Lindbergh.  Lucky Lindy is not just known for his amazing solo plane trip but also for the tragic kidnapping and death of his firstborn son.  The debate also continues on whether or not he was a a Nazi sympathizer.  In Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator's Wife, he is certainly not made out to be very likable, and Benjamin obviously sides with his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a noted author and aviator in her own right.

In this work of historical fiction, Benjamin digs deep into the unlikely marriage of Anne and Charles, from their first meeting to their first flight together to their often dysfunctional life.  She starts The Aviator's Wife from the time after Lindbergh's flight, when he was an iconic celebrity and one of the most known people in the world.  After Charles's and Anne's marriage and subsequent arrival of their son, the reader is taken through the heartbreaking time of the kidnapping, after which neither one would ever be the same.

Even though Benjamin always does her research, this novel is a hard sell.  She definitely does not make Charles out to be the greatest guy in the world, but I found myself not liking Anne very much as well.  By the end of the novel, they've both done things that make it hard for a reader to sympathize with them and therefore, want to go on their journey with them.  I strongly recommend one of Benjamin's other novels, Alice I Have Been, about the true Alice in Wonderland, for a much stronger work.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Curtain Falls (Stefanie Pintoff)

A Curtain Falls by Stefanie Pintoff is the sequel to the Edgar Award finalist In the Shadow of Gotham.  My book club picked the sequel to read so I needed to tackle this one before the first.  I was a little apprehensive, because I thought I would have needed some background, but I needn’t have worried.  A Curtain Falls is a true mystery in its own right and a darn good one at that.

Set in New York City in one of my favorite time periods, the early 1900s, Detective Simon Zeile has been asked to help on another case.  A serial killer is on the loose, murdering chorus girls in their theater houses, and arranging them in macabre positions.  Zeile is asked to keep details very hush-hush, as all relevant theaters belong to Charles Frohman, a very wealthy and powerful owner.  With his gang of motley assistants, Zeile rushes to solve the case before the next killing.

This is definitely a quick page turner, and I must admit I was not able to predict the ending.  While obviously not on the same level as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, Pintoff succeeds in keeping the reader guessing and building suspense.  I look forward to reading In the Shadow of Gotham to get to know the history of Simon Zeile.


Monday, November 5, 2012

The Presidents Club (Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy)

The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy is a comprehensive read into the lives of ex-Presidents upon their departure from the Presidency and into "private" life, from Herbert Hoover through to George W. Bush. Stories are interwoven through the narrative of "the club", ranging from the work that Hoover provided to Harry Truman in providing food to Western Europe to the partnerships between Bill Clinton and both Bush presidencies in dealing with natural disasters abroad and at home.

The writers approach each former President without bias, pulling in details from people who were in the inner circles of various administrations to people impacted by the work these men did in public service. Each story wove into the connections, rivalries, and friendships that these men developed, as well as their willingness to protect office over party in many instances. Their wisdom in various arenas (Nixon with foreign policy, Hoover with commerce and facilitating action, Carter in negotiation) aided...and sometimes hindered administrations, but the wisdom provided helped shape each successive administration and build new legacies from prior administrations. In some cases, unlikely friendships developed and in others, friendly rivalries intensified.

The work is not brief -- coming in at 530 pages -- but the book serves as a great story and thorough read for the history buff and for the political junkie. Largely true to chronological order, The Presidents Club is a solid, thorough historical account that had me laughing at some points, shaking my head in others, and kept me intrigued to know more about the people that held the office and how they lived their lives once they left the Presidency.  Gibbs and Duffy have taken care to ensure that stories are well-cited, resourced, and lacking the bias that sometimes can cloud a good political book.