Sunday, June 14, 2009


Author: Alexander Waugh
Copyright 2008
Hardcover $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-385-52060-7
349 pages

As Americans, we are often viewed throughout the world as egocentrically centered.

I have personally experienced this while traveling through central Europe and was surprised and disturbed about my personal lack of knowledge of European history.

So I was drawn to this novel about the Wittgenstein family who were well-known in Austria in the late 19th and their influence into the 20th century.

The Wittgenstein family was known for their wealth, eccentricities, and talent. The combination did not always work harmoniously within the family, but music did seem to have a calming effect on its members. Some of the people who were visitors to their music room were Brahms, Strauss, and Mahler.

Karl Wittgenstein was the patriarch of the family, rising from being a runaway to making a large fortune in the steel and iron industry. He married a wealthy heiress and had eight children who he dreamed of continuing his legacy. Unfortunately, none of his children lived up to his expectations which made his relationships with them extremely difficult. Of the five sons, three committed suicide, one was a concert pianist, and the youngest is remembered as one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. The two surviving sons, although famous and successful, had difficulty with their talent and their relationships with others.

The book encompasses the family from Karl’s early life through the end of the Hapsburg dynasty experiencing both of World Wars and life in Austria during these times. Alexander Waugh is superb when viewing each family member objectively with their faults and gifts and intertwining their personal experiences into the history. Life in Vienna during the turn of the century and with the Hapsburg Empire declining, along with the Austria’s strong relationship with Hungary, makes fascinating reading especially with Germany constantly wanting to reunite and dominate Austria through both wars. The family was constantly threatened by their possible association of being Jewish and their attempts to prove their being non-Jews.

I was intrigued by this family since I remember when watching an episode of MASH years ago, the mention of a pianist who lost an arm during a war. Paul Wittgenstein had continued his career as a left-handed concert pianist who was known throughout the western world. He commissioned works for the left-hand from well-known composers such as Ravel, Prokofiev, and Benjamin Britten. His personal relations with each did not always live up to Paul’s expectation. Also, Paul did not always live up to the composers’ expectations either.

Being this is a biography of a family, there are actual pictures to assist in understanding and visualizing the family, the homes and the architecture, and even the final resting place. Alexander Waugh even has followed the descendants and carefully concludes the family history with their stories.

Alexander Waugh, who is the grandson of Evelyn Waugh, has also written FATHERS AND SONS, CLASSICAL MUSIC: A NEW WAY OF LISTENING, TIME, and GOD. He resides in Somerset, England with his family.

This is definitely a fascinating and readable history of the changes in life in Austria through terrifying times that changed the world.


Author: Jimmy Buffett
Copyright 2008
Back Bay Books – Little, Brown and Company
ISBN - 13: 978-0-316-11405-9
Trade paperback $ 14.99
257 pages

“Always remember, a cat looks down on a man, a dog looks up to a man, but a pig will look a man straight in the eye and see his equal.” – Winston Churchill

Usually Jimmy Buffett uses his life for his books, however, this time a friend agreed to give him this story complete with pictures of the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. When Jimmy first heard this story from Helen Bransford, he couldn’t wait to expand and fictionalize this story, complete with the pictures.

SWINE NOT begins in Tennessee with a family led by a single-mother living on a farm raising her twin preteens, a boy and a girl. The boy is gifted as a soccer player and the girl, as a fashion designer. Even the pig is an extremely gifted soccer goalie.

Their enjoyable, peaceful life changes abruptly when their mother is offered a position in New York as a pastry chef and a 4-star hotel. This position that she does accept includes moving the family, including the pets. All of them are a little surprised when they first see their house on the roof. It is essentially a greenhouse.

Adjusting to a completely different lifestyle seems rather seamless for all of them, except for the pig. To add to their troubles, the head chef has managed to have all exotic animals banned from the building. The twins immediately decide that their daily challenge is to hide, disguise, or smuggle the pig in and out of the building. Unfortunately for the pig, she is intelligent and misses her independence back in Tennessee and being separated from her own twin who lives someone in New York.

Jimmy Buffett has some unusual accomplishments such as having the #1 spot in both fiction and non-fiction of the New York Times Best Selling Lists with TALES FROM MARGARITAVILLE. He also has recorded over forty albums and has written many books which were based on his life. This is his first work based on a friend’s pig and developing a fictional story around it.

SWINE NOT is relaxing, fun, and light reading. This book would be great for reading while on the beach or just kicking back and enjoying a good book.


Author: Wally Lamb
Copyright 2008
Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-06-039349-6
Hard Cover $29.95
752 pages
Fiction – Domestic & Psychological

Some things are just hard to describe such as this book, THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED. To cover as many issues such as the Columbine tragedy, the Civil War, posttraumatic stress syndrome, vehicular homicide, family history, women’s rights, and the prison system seems a bit overwhelming, but in this particular novel which is essentially the journey of Caelum Quirk and his wife, Maureen, it works.

Caelum Quirk is on his third marriage to his younger wife, Maureen. Maureen had an affair with another man and when Caelum was informed about this, he assaulted the other man. Due to this, Caelum as a high-school English teacher and Maureen as a nurse found it might be in their best interests to start over and to relocate to a different part of the country. They were delighted to both be hired by an area school in Littleton, Colorado and work at Columbine High School.

Life seemed to be quiet and the two attempted to reconnect again until Caelum received a phone call informing him that his aunt in Connecticut had just had a stroke and probably would not be able to live alone any longer. Caelum immediately made plans to return to his home with Maureen following in a few days.

While Caelum was visiting in Connecticut, his aunt had another stroke and died. While he was planning the funeral arrangements, the Columbine tragedy occurred and to make matters worse, Maureen had been in the library during the attack. She had hidden herself in a cabinet. As soon as Caelum heard what had happened, he immediately started phoning her and received no answers. So, he quickly flew back to Colorado and began searching for her. When he finally found her, little did he know, that life would never again be the same for them.

This book is their journey.

The characterization is extremely realistic with each person definitely having their own voice, personality, and ambitions. The organization is exceptionally smooth with numerous settings in time and place appearing seamless. The strength of this novel is the powerful message that unifies the stories.

Probably the weakest section of this novel is the depressive feelings from those suffering the posttraumatic stress and how each person was affected by it. Yes, that part was needed in order to actually understand though, how others overcame it and why some people never did.
Wally Lamb has written two others novels, SHE’S COME UNDONE and I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE. Both of which I would recommend to everyone. Although different in theme, I found THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED the most enriching of the three. Mr. Lamb writes from his own experiences as a volunteer facilitator for a writing workshop in a women’s prison in Connecticut.

Even though this is a lengthy novel, it reads quickly and is well worth the time. I won’t spoil the message but I sincerely hope that others take the time to read and learn from this character in THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED.


By Inger Frimansson
Translation from Swedish by Laura Wideburg Caravel
Mystery/Pleasure Book Studio
ISBN 978-1-929355-56-3
April 15, 2009
Trade Paperback
280 pages

ISLAND OF THE NAKED WOMEN is a Swedish psychological thriller based on a legend about a nearby island, Shame Island. The island is deserted and frequently the villagers leave their cattle to graze during the summer months. Supposedly in earlier times, women who were unfaithful were left on this deserted island to die without food, water, or their clothes. Most of them either drowned themselves or froze to death.

Tobias Elmkvist is a successful mystery writer who returns to his home to help his father. His father, who is elderly and has seldom been ill, fell from the hayloft onto cement, breaking his back and his leg. Tobias uncomfortable with the situation since his mother left his father and took her with him to the city when he was 10-years old. Since then, Tobias has had little contact with the man. Only because he is needed for the difficult farm work does he make this decision to help out on the farm. He feels extremely awkward since his father has a much younger woman, Sabina, and her mentally challenged son, Adam, living with them. The child is actually a grown man who sings like Elvis but has the maturity and brain of a child.

Also helping on the farm is Hardy who instantly feels instantly threatened by Tobias’s notoriety. While on the island to move the grazing cattle back to the mainland, one of the animals is missing. Tobias searches for the steer only to find it in a crevice wedged in between the rocks and obviously hurt. While he is deciding what to do, the dog and Hardy come along. Hardy immediately climbs down to the animal and kicks it causing an instant argument between the two. Hardy attempts to humiliate Tobias and his city ways by calling him “Mr. Veterinarian” while Tobias attempts to show sympathy for the animal. Hardy settles the argument by shooting the steer.

Hardy’s one likable quality is his relationship with Adam. Hardy is able to bring out the best singing from this Elvis impersonator. He even calls himself Adam’s manager. The conflict between the two continues until Hardy observes the one-time sexual relationship between Sabina and Tobias. When Tobias discovers their witness, he knows immediately that both of them will be blackmailed forever by Hardy unless Tobias kills him.

What will he do to protect his family? How is anyone safe from someone like Hardy?

The characters are believable, especially their flaws. The tension is the driving force with everyone looking for a resolution. The story is almost too real. When you finish the last page, you continue to think about what happened. This is a psychological thriller at its best. Considering that this novel was written originally in Swedish, and then translated into English, this is further amazing about the command of the driving force of this story.


Author: Margit Liesche
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN: 978-1-59058-579-5
Hardcover $ 24.95
295 pages
Historical Mystery

Women’s contributions during the wartime years have always been overshadowed by the men’s, especially those brave heroes who risked their lives for others. A story about Hollywood’s contribution to World War II and the women who were the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASP, is well overdue. HOLLYWOOD BUZZ accomplishes this while basing the story on many actual historical people and events.

Pucci Lewis is asked by the legendary Jackie Cochran to advise a Hollywood documentary about the true women pilots who are contributing to the war effort while also discretely investigating the plane crash of a fellow WASP pilot. HOLLYWOOD BUZZ immediately transports you back to the 1940s in Hollywood with the lifestyle, the clothes, the celebrities, the threats of attacks by the Japanese, smuggling, drug usage, the problems of being Hungarian, Italian, or Japanese, and especially espionage.

This is a novel that is easy to immediately to relate to the celebrity and the normal people characters. With many of the legendary celebrities like Betty Grable, Bette Davis, Bela Lugosi, Clark Gable, and references to “Gone with the Wind” the story has the feeling of being more realistic. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the problems that Bela Lugosi was having at this time.

Another aspect that added to the realism was the problems of the writers, producers, and directors with any production. Most people outside the movie industry do not realize that although the business looks glamorous, much of the day-to-day processes are hard work, long hours, and dealing effectively with difficult people.

My one criticism of this book is that it does rely a little on the previous book, LIPSTICK AND LIES. HOLLYWOOD BUZZ does work as a standalone book, but really is easier to understand after reading the first book.

The book causes constant wondering about who is responsible for sabotaging the aircraft and also how go change the image of Hollywood’s view of women to the actual lives of being a WASP. The characters, especially Jackie Cochran and Bela Lugosi, were more than real people, they had a purpose and a mission for the betterment of others. Their commitment to helping others is the true realism in this delightful book.

Margit Liesche comes from a family of Hungarian refugees who were a missionary family while serving in China. She was born in Ohio and currently lives in California.


The Crimson Petal and the White
by Michael Faber
Paperback $10.50
Hartcourt Books 2002
ISBN 0 15100692X

Oh, to be engulfed with the poetic flow of words as in a Dickens’ novel was how I felt upon reading The Crimson Petal and the White. With the escape of this book, I was vividly transported into the nineteenth century and feeling for the prostitute, Sugar. Any book that has me identifying and longing for the better life for Sugar needs to be noticed by all readers.

The Crimson Petal and the White is a story of one woman, a prostitute named Sugar.

Sugar is an exceptional hooker in that she does things that other prostitutes will not do, and she is considered to be a little higher in the hierarchy. William Rackham is a dreamer who dreams of being a novelist. When we meet him, he is having financial problems since his father will not allow him to have more money until William is willing to show interest in the family business of perfume making. With Sugar’s help and inspiration, William takes over the business and becomes financially profitable. William is also married to a woman who has given birth to a child, Sophie, but neither parent visits or spends any time or interest for the child. Agnes, William’s wife, really believes she is dying when she has her infrequent monthly visits and does not have any relationship with her husband. Sugar is actually bought by William for his personal use. He hears of her reputation from his friends, but secretly hides their relationship while providing all her needs. Sugar actually spends her days waiting for William as well as spying of the family. During her walks to see where William really is, Agnes sees Sugar in a white dress and identifies Sugar as her own personal guardian angel. Sugar eventually convinces William to move her into his home and to allow her to be Sophie’s new governess. Their relationship changes with the move, even though there still are a few personal visits. William rejects Sugar more while she is also building a loving and trusting relationship with Sophie, William’s daughter. Sugar is discovered to be pregnant by a doctor and is then dismissed for carrying William’s child and for fulfilling William’s needs at that time. William feels this would be an embarrassment to him. So what happens to Sugar? I’m not telling.

From numerous other readers, people tend to either love or strongly hate this book for a variety of reasons. People criticize the book for having too little action. We are dealing with human relationships between the characters in the book. I agree that it can not be easily made into an adventure movie, but aren’t people’s choices and situations also fascinating if discovered by a truly artistic writer?

Also, the ending has been criticized as being inconclusive. I felt closure for William and Agnes Rackman, easily said since Agnes died, but also easily said if the reader began to understand William and his values at the time.

Michael Faber has written other books, Under the Skin and Some Rain Must Fall. This Scottish writer has published in twenty other countries.

I definitely plan to read these other books. I found myself drawn to continually read this book with no regard to the 835 pages. It flowed as a river and as a truly artistic author writes.


Green Streak
by Daniel Hale and Matthew LaBrot
232 pages
ISBN: 1-929976-28-3
Top Publications, Ltd.
$ 8.95

Zeke with his best friend, Pow Wow Gao, really named Richard, is in New York City to participate in the in-line skating contest throughout the city. While getting refreshments, Zeke and Pow Wow are witnesses to a purse being snatched from an elderly lady by another skater, who is dressed all in green. Zeke follows the skater while Pow Wow stays with the injured woman. Zeke desperately follows the skater to an abandoned warehouse and watches as the purse is examined. When Zeke spies a prescription bottle, he logically concludes that the elderly woman probably needs her medication or she wouldn’t have kept it with her. Zeke then successfully sneaks in and takes the pill bottle. When he returns and the woman is in the hospital though, the label from the container is missing, but the medicine helps greatly so that the hospital then knows what she was taking.

Zeke Armstrong has a knack of being at just the right place when he is needed most. Zeke is a wonderful heroic example for all. He attempts to help others and keeps his priorities of caring at the top of his character.

This is a perfect book to be read aloud in the classroom. Each chapter is fairly short and filled with action. Also, almost every chapter ends in a cliff hanger.

Green Streak is the sequel to the Agatha Award-winning Red Card.

Daniel Hale with his nephew, Matthew LaBrot, are now collaborating on the next book in this series called White Out. Both live in Texas.


Author: Shirley A. Roe
Copyright 2008
Real Time Publishing, Limerick, Ireland
ISBN: 978-1-906806-51-4
Trade Paperback $15.95
199 pages
Historical Fiction

To become a memorable family living in the St. Louis, Missouri area in 1881 requires luck, hard work, courage, loyalty, and a commitment to living each day to the fullest. These are the qualities you see in almost every member of the Whittaker family.

The book revolves around Martha and Jeremy Whittaker who are looking forward to the reunion of their family. Martha is really the step-mother of the three grown men, Abraham who is coming from Mississippi, Ezekiel who is returning from England, with Isaac who lives with his wife and children nearby. Through an arranged marriage, Martha married their father, who later was killed. Martha established a strong relationship with the boys who all respected and loved her. Eventually, Martha remarried. To complicate the family though, she married her former husband’s brother and then gave birth to a daughter, Anna. This is their story and involves their extended families, joys, and problems.

THE WHITTAKER FAMILY REUNION is actually the third book in a series following the books, OF DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES and A CALL TO FAITH AND FREEDOM. This book does work as a standalone but it does rely somewhat on events and characters from previous books. Sometimes the number of characters in the chapters seemed to be a bit much, but it is understandable if the characters’ stories were in the previous books. Also, this particular book ends with a cliffhanger, requiring you to want to continue to read the next book in the series which should come out some time this year.

Shirley A. Roe spends her time traveling with her husband while researching for her novels. She lives and travels between Southern Ontario, Scotland, and Florida.

The novel was well-written and the story is quickly read. The characters are believable and the pacing is quick. The historical events seemed realistic and the time period was accurate. Overall, THE WHITTAKER FAMILY REUNION is an enjoyable and memorable book to read. I look forward to reading the previous two novels and the next one in this series.