Friday, October 25, 2013

The Winter People (Jennifer McMahon)

Bottom line…Jennifer McMahon is one of my favorite authors (probably only behind Jodi Picoult).  You can tell that every single page of her novels is crafted with the utmost care and designed to creep the heck out of you, her reader.  The Winter People is one of her scariest yet and is utterly suspenseful and strangely moving at the same time.

Alternating between the early part of the 1900s and present day, this is the story of how far someone would go to see a lost loved one again.  In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea is living with her husband, Martin, and her beloved daughter, Gertie.  Sara is completely devoted to Gertie, and when she loses her in a freak accident, seemingly goes out of her mind.  All along, she’s kept a diary; she hides the last few pages containing fragile information in a secret hiding place in her house.  In present day, Ruthie, Fawn, and Alice (their mother) are living in Sara’s old house, which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Sara and Gertie.  One day, they discover their mom missing and go to great lengths to find her.  This will take them into dangerous territory, crossing paths with people who desperately want to find either Alice or those pages at any cost.

While not my favorite McMahon novel (I didn’t find it as multilayered as the others), it still proves that she’s one of the most talented authors writing today.  The Winter People chews you up and spits you out until you don’t think you can be creeped out anymore. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blood of the Lamb (Sam Cabot)

Blood of the Lamb by Sam Cabot (actually the pseudonym for S.J. Rozan and Carlos Dews) combines the Church mystery of The DaVinci Code with the vampires of Twilight.  While it certainly has its share of suspenseful and heartpounding moments, the ending is just so ridiculous that I wanted to throw the book against the wall.

Father Thomas Kelly has been called to Rome by his mentor and new Vatican librarian, Cardinal Cossa.  Cossa desperately needs Kelly’s help in finding the Concordat, an ancient manuscript hidden by poet Mario Damiani that threatens to bring down the Church if it’s ever made public.  Kelly gets help from Livia Pietro, a local woman who wants to find the Concordat for her own reasons.  As Kelly and Pietro race to discover its hiding place, they realize that they are not the only ones who want to find it.

There were chapters of Blood of the Lamb that were real cliffhangers and made me want to keep reading; and then there were other parts that were dry as a bone.  It makes me wonder if the two authors wrote the chapters separately because the sections seemed a little disconnected.  And as I said, the last few chapters really made me kick myself for wasting my time with this book.  Blood of the Lamb could have been great, but unfortunately did not achieve its goal.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Tenth Witness (Leonard Rosen)

For some reason that I am still trying to figure out, I found that I could not read more than a chapter at a time of Leonard Rosen’s The Tenth Witness.  On vacation, I was planning to read the last half but was just too relaxed on the beach to conquer the challenging read Rosen throws our way.  I think what made it so difficult for me was the combination of scientific and engineering principles coupled with trying to keep numerous characters straight.

The Tenth Witness is the prequel to the award-winning All Cry Chaos, which also features Henri Poincare as the main character.  In the latest novel, we go back in time to show how Poincare became an agent for Interpol.  On a barge in Germany, he and his engineering partner think they are sitting over a shipwreck filled with gold.  As Poincare is leading the expedition, he meets and falls in love with Liesel Kraus, the wealthy daughter of the late steel tycoon, Otto Kraus.  Otto had been compared to Oskar Schindler during the Holocaust, but research Poincare discovers points to the fact that he was anything but helpful to the Jews.  These findings put him in serious danger with the Kraus family and their friends, who will do anything to keep this secret hidden.

This is a difficult book to get through and almost seemed disconnected at times.  Some parts had my heart pounding and some were very dry.  However, the ending really makes up for it and was the best part of the book.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Their Life's Work (Gary Pomerantz)

Gary Pomerantz's Their Life's Work chronicles the four-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, both on and off the field. The title of the book refers to an oft-cited phrase first used by Cleveland Browns founder and coach Paul Brown and adopted by Steeler coach Chuck Noll, referring to how football is merely a phase in one's life and prepares for the decades of life that is to come.

Pomerantz details multiple pieces -- from the Rooney family, who owned the Steelers, to the players that made up the roster, to the city itself and its gradual embrace of the team. The 1970s Steelers were not only talented but also star-crossed, as the ravages of football dealt a heavy toll on the team after the game. Several players from the decade have passed on prematurely for a litany of reasons; Pomerantz chronicles the challenges and pitfalls of former players as they progress through life, and in one man's case, how his post-football career has arguably been much more successful and appreciated by fans than what happened while he was on the field.

Their Life's Work reads like a history of the Steelers and a multiple biographical sketch of many of the 1970s Steelers, which is great if you are a fan of professional football and especially a fan of the team. Pomerantz does an effective job of weaving the rise of the Steelers, their triumphs on the field and what their struggles have been since retirement. It is a great read for any Steelers fan.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fourth and Long (John U. Bacon)

John U. Bacon's Fourth and Long: The Fight For The Soul Of College Football is a review of the 2012 Big Ten college football season, featuring the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of four various college football teams. From the tragedy at Penn State, to the tribulation of Ohio State not being able to play in a bowl game, to the triumphs of a rising Northwestern program, Bacon whips from State College to Evanston to Columbus to Ann Arbor to beyond, profiling each of these schools on and off the field.

For fans of college football, Bacon provides a thorough critique of the changing face of college sports, with playoff games soon to enter the landscape and the increased focus on marketing; he also refers to college football as a brand and less a tradition while universities increase what they charge fans for tickets and for access to the program.  Bacon shuns these tactics and lifts up the ideal of what college sports has been looked to -- the success of student-athletes at Northwestern winning despite having "less" athletic talent, as well as how Bill O'Brien won over a football team...and its his hard work in saving his roster and rallying his team in light of what occurred in State College and the punishment handed down to Penn State University.

Fourth and Long provides a solid analysis of the state of college football from multiple angles while not tackling too many issues at once. His deft ability to bounce between school, situation, and scenario does not leave any stone unturned, yet leaves the reader easily able to follow along without getting lost in the story.  For fans of college football, especially Big 10 Conference football, Bacon's book is a must-read and one that will likely be enjoyed by all.