Medical student Van Savatch has resigned UCLA to become an army medevac pilot in a bitter Asian war, for he must hide a critical secret threatening not only his close relationship with his family, but his life. He worries about which army will kill him first, the NVA, the Viet Cong ... or the American army if his fellow soldiers learn the truth. As Van struggles to cope with this triple-edged deadly threat, cataclysmic changes are wrought upon him and the men and women caught in hell with him.

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 October 2009 Book Reviews:



Mass Casualties

by SPC Michael Anthony

reviewed by Jon Land




I spend that night operating on someone only to have them die a few hours later in the ICU.  I read stories of friends going to concerts and frat parties. I should be there with them.  This isn’t how a twenty year old should be spending his glory years. 

Much will be written about the Iraq War in years to come, but it’s difficult to envision any of it ever topping Michael Anthony’s Mass Casualties.  The book is subtitled A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception and Dishonor in Iraq, but even that does little justice to Anthony’s raw, unfiltered look at the heartache and misery he found himself surrounded by. 

Anthony’s one-year tour was spent alternately dodging mortar fire and spending long, sleep-deprived hours in operating rooms where medical teams struggled frantically to stitch similarly young lives back together.  All the staples of war from classics like The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien or A Rumor of War by Phillip Caputo are here, from the disillusionment to the mind-numbing detachment to the utterly pointless political infighting.  The difference is those books were at least mostly fiction, while Anthony’s real-life tale is presented in riveting diary form.

Slight, short and to the point, Mass Casualties is destined to become a classic of its kind.  Anthony’s prose is draped in caution, a warning sign flashed before the eyes of the jingoistic sensibilities of those who strut their patriotism before a curtain of deferments.



The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood

by Nicholas Meyer

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale




At the start of his memoir, Meyer says that he's already told a lot of these stories on various DVD commentaries. True, but here, in the tale of his adventures as a writer and director, we get the detailed versions. For example, Meyer's commentary on Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan has some obvious edits. I'd always assumed they were for length, now I see that they were to not upset the Writers Guild.  Regardless of whose name appears in the credits, Meyer himself wrote the screenplay, taking elements from five previous scripts and weaving them into his own unique creation, a sort of Horatio Hornblower naval adventure steeped in Melville and Dickens. Meyer is also the writer and / or director of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and the H.G. Wells vs. Jack the Ripper classic Time After Time, but fans of these, as well his other projects, will be disappointed by this book. While he devotes a few pages to his other projects (Sommersby gets all of three pages), this book is, after all, called, The View from the Bridge. It's Meyer's two Trek films (#2 Khan and #6 The Undiscovered Country) that comprise the bulk of the book, and those fans will not be disappointed. Yes, those were Ricardo Montalban's own pecs.


The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

by Elna Baker

reviewed by A.B. Mead




Stand-up comedian Baker melds comedy with pathos in her memoir of growing up Mormon and then moving to New York, with all its inevitable complications. These are crystallized in the form of the annual event that gives the book its title:  Every year you attend marks another year you have failed to fulfill the ultimate Mormon earthly destiny of starting a family. Can a nice girl whose fondest dream is to marry a returned missionary in a temple, and, of course, remain a virgin until her wedding night, survive in the world capital of sin? Baker keeps readers turning the pages with one of the oldest structures in existence:  Will She or Won't She? Will she stick with her religious upbringing or have sex with one of her boyfriends? Will she stay Mormon or give up her faith? After she loses 80 pounds will she still be able to be funny, or will being “the pretty one” completely change her personality? The result is a fast-paced, frothy sort of (No) Sex (Nor Caffeine) in the City. Humor can come from embarrassment and pain, and Baker doesn't shirk from either, which means that for a funny book, parts can be rather sad. Along with her romantic trials, she is doubting her religion. For her it's either Mormonism or atheism. At no point does she she consider any other faith. Readers may wonder if some middle-ground religion might have brought her less angst, but stability and happiness aren't funny.






True Compass: A Memoir

by Edward M. Kennedy

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale




Kennedy lays bare all of his faults, seeking atonement and presenting a political life whose theme is that as much as his family name may have helped him, he still did things the old-fashioned way: by shaking hands, marching in St. Patrick's Day parades, and listening to the people. He writes lovingly of his brothers and tells tales of campaigning for Jack in 1959 (he had to ride a bucking bronco in order to earn the right to speak to a Montana nominating convention) as well as long talks with the president that would guide him in future years. The crash of his private plane in 1964 put him in the hospital for six months. Kennedy was fortunate enough to be able to afford that, but he was surrounded by those for whom “the cost of being healed was often as great a hardship as the disease itself.” The result was a four-decade struggle to bring health care to the poor. Forty-six years in the senate allows Kennedy to comment on much of recent history. He provides insights into Viet Nam and Civil Rights (a long-time Kennedy interest:  his own grandfather had been turned away from jobs by signs reading “No Irish Need Apply.”). Jimmy Carter comes off as a shrewd tactician who was ultimately ineffectual as president. Ronald Reagan, though his personality “lit up a room,” frequently had no idea what was going on and had serious trouble focusing his attention. If the book has a weakness, it's that it sometimes assumes that the reader already knows the story and Kennedy is just here to clear up a few facts:  “I turned on the television news again. My mind went black. ” What has just happened offstage is the assassination of his brother Bobby.







The Affinity Bridge: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation

George Mann

reviewed by Scott Pearson



A likable steampunk yarn with a rousing conclusion, The Affinity Bridge is marred by repetitions that needed some judicious editing. Like a serial, each chapter reiterates plot points as if the reader may have missed the previous installments. Newbury, an anthropologist who also works as a special agent of the queen, tells Chief Inspector Bainbridge of Scotland Yard a ghost story: “There’s a case from about twelve years ago. A bobby who was murdered by a gang of petty thieves. . . . After the last of the thieves turned up dead, the ‘glowing bobby’ was never seen again.” When the same subject comes up with Newbury’s new assistant, spunky Victoria Hobbes, instead of a narrative recap such as “Newbury repeated the story he had recently told to Bainbridge,” we get the entire story again in similar dialogue: “About twelve years ago, there was a disturbing case . . . in which a gang of petty thieves were discovered. . . . Once they were all dead, the ‘glowing bobby’ disappeared, never to be seen again.”  

Redundancies aside, Mann develops several entertaining steampunk elements: airships, clockwork automata, and a creepy Queen Victoria with life-supporting tubes trailing behind as her wheelchair rolls toward Newbury in a darkened room. Although some disparate story threads are there only to set up future books (and one seems to do nothing at all), some surprising connections between separate cases tie most things together in the book’s increasingly action-filled final third. An uneven but promising start to the adventures of Newbury and Hobbes.





The Lost Symbol

by Dan Brown

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale



Robert Langdon is back, and this time he's in Washington, D.C. The good news is that Brown has not been made redundant by his imitators, and he continues to work his magic by building fictional connections between actual objects like Brumidi's fresco of George Washington becoming a god, and historical ideas, like the universal brotherhood espoused by the Freemasons. As he did with Rome and Paris before, Brown takes us on a tour of Washington packed with secret history:  Vestal Virgins in the Capitol building, the conveyor-belt bowels of the Library of Congress . . . there’s even a few things hidden in the National Cathedral that you’ll want to look for during your next visit. An old friend and mentor of Langdon's has been captured by a tattooed evil-doer who is trying to force Langdon to help him locate the Mason's treasure trove of ancient knowledge. Is it within a giant pyramid hidden somewhere in the District? Does it have anything to do with the emerging science of Noetics, the ability to tap the full potential of the human mind and possibly change physical reality by brain waves alone? Readers of the earlier Langdon novels might be tired of the Clue-A-leads-to-Clue-B-leads-to-Clue-C structure, and the combination of physics and mysticism isn’t likely to generate as much discussion and controversy as the “revelations” of The DaVinci Code. But Brown's books always make you feel like you're being let in on mysterious secrets, and that keeps readers happily running alongside Langdon, eager to learn the next arcane fact and solve the next puzzle.





Pursuit of Honor

Vince Flynn

reviewed by Jon Land


Vince Flynn’s latest devastatingly effective thriller opens in almost typical fashion.  I say almost because we never actually see the “series of explosions [that tear] through Washington, D.C., killing 185 and wounding hundreds.”  The book starts after that Flynn staple has already occurred, setting the stage for a different, and more ambitious, tale. 

With three of the terrorists responsible missing and the FBI hapless to catch them, super operative Mitch Rapp finds himself disillusioned with pretty much everything, especially his thankless superiors, and including his younger protégé Mike Nash, who seems suddenly reluctant to follow in his mentor’s murderous footsteps.  No longer free to trample on the civil rights of his targets, this is Rapp, and Flynn, cast as anachronisms in a post-Bush/Cheney world where the U.S. Constitution is required reading.  More Le Carre than Ludlum, with Rapp cast as a spy alone in the cold.  That is, until higher powers determine that he’s the best shot they’ve got to catch the al-Qaeda fugitives who are planning an even bigger attack. 

There are moments when Flynn seems bred of the Glen Beck school of gonzo politics, but he’s no right-wing wacko.  Far from it.  In Pursuit of Honor, he turns the action inward from acts of violence to the consequences wreaked upon those who must clean up the mess.  Flynn already redefined the thriller forever after 9/11, and now he redefines it in equally spectacular fashion.



You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You: A Rat Pack Mystery

by Robert J. Randisi

reviewed by Kevin Lauderdale



Randisi's Rat Pack mysteries load 1960's-era glamour, celebrity cameos, and thrills into sharp packages that keep mystery readers as well as fans of “The Summit” (as Frank Sinatra liked to call his close circle of friends) coming back for more. Eddie Gianelli is casino pit boss at the Sands in Las Vegas. Along with his regular duties, he's frequently assigned to help out entertainers with their more personal problems. Here Dean Martin wants Eddie to keep an eye on friend Marilyn Monroe, who's starting to crack. She thinks someone is trailing her. Is it the Mob? FBI director J. Edgar Hoover? The Kennedys? Does it have anything to do with the death of Clark Gable, whom she put under tremendous stress while filming The Misfits? Or is it just the pills and booze? Though the plot is Marilyn-centric (and you can't go wrong with that), there's plenty of Dean and Frank as well. (Sammy Davis, Jr. gets only a handful of lines—though he was at the center of last year's Hey There (You With the Gun in Your Hand)—and Peter Lawford, appropriately enough, only four words.) Marilyn is staying at Frank's house in Palm Springs while he supervises renovations to accommodate a visit from President John F. Kennedy. Sinatra has convinced himself that his place is going to become the Western White House. He's even installed a helipad. Eddie and his pal / muscle-man Jerry Epstein move effortlessly through L.A., Palm Springs, and Vegas, sparring with cops, searching for a missing person, and all the while becoming increasingly aware of Monroe as a person, not just a sex symbol. “Now she's like my little sister,” Jerry tells Eddie. “I hate you for that.”





Dracula: The Un-Dead

by Dacre Stoker and
     Ian Holt

reviewed by Scott Pearson



Dracula: The Un-Dead, a sequel to Bram Stoker’s novel, is entertaining, but flawed. Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew, protests in his author's note that “so many books and films . . . strayed from Bram's vision.” But he and his coauthor also reimagine Dracula, often adopting ideas introduced by those other versions: Dracula's romantic relationship with Mina and vampires bursting into flames in the sun. This is enabled by a layer of metafiction that includes Bram as a character and reveals that the novel was adapted from a true story. The conceit exists only to justify the revisionism: Bram quickly disappears and the sequel replaces key plot elements of Dracula with a “true” story involving Jack the Ripper, accomplished by shoving the original setting back to 1888. The heroes of Dracula never understood their situation, their victories were hollow, and, twenty-five years later (the setting of The Un-Dead), they are still psychologically damaged and are being vengefully murdered. It's all rather convoluted and a bleak ending for the classic characters (except for one whose current position is unintentionally laughable). Nevertheless, Un-Dead manages to be engaging, the action sequences are bold and cinematic, and it builds to a climactic showdown in Whitby. Unfortunately, a final chapter arbitrarily shoehorns another historical event into the narrative for little reason—other than, perhaps, a set-up for a further sequel. A likable-enough diversion for vampire readers, but not the straight sequel one expects given the hype surrounding the family name of the author.



Young Adult



A Brief History of Montmaray

by Michelle Cooper

reviewed by Hayden Bass




It’s 1936, and Sophie is the princess of a tiny kingdom with a dwindling number of subjects.  She and her family are the last remaining members of the royal FitzOsbourne family, and they live in a crumbling castle on the tiny (fictional) island of Montmaray, off the coast of Spain.  In a journal she receives as a sixteenth birthday present, Sophie records her first crush (on the housekeeper’s son, Simon), the madness of her uncle, King John, the ramblings of her tomboy younger sister, Henry, and her admiration of her beautiful older cousin, Veronica.  But even in a place as remote as Montmaray, world events begin to encroach, eventually materializing in the form of German officers who threaten the island, necessitating a dangerous evacuation attempt.  Though the characters of Brief History are not quite as memorable as those of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (1948), History will appeal to fans of that book eager for another eccentric 1930’s European family, living romantically amid the ruins of grandeur.




The Hotel Under the Sand

by Kage Baker

reviewed by A.B. Mead




Part The Wizard of Oz, part Alice in Wonderland, Baker's short novel strands young Emma Rose on a desert island. Lucky for her, she has the two necessities for succeeding at an adventure:  cleverness and bravery. It's not too long before she's accompanied by the ghostly, but very proper, Winston the Bell Captain as they locate the Grand Wenlocke hotel, once buried by the island's sands but now unearthed (literally) by a bit of Emma's survival strategy. As they explore, they meet the Cook, herself preserved in time for a century by Mr. Wenlocke's Patented New Advanced Practical Temporal Difference Engine. It's not too long before comic pirate Ned Doubloon (“Who said anything about pillaging?” he asks as a cutlass falls from under his coat.) arrives, and the quest is on for a lost treasure hidden somewhere in the hotel. Despite the presence of strange guests and a dastardly villain, Emma continues to decipher clues and do the laundry. But Emma is not just a soulless puzzle-solving machine. She knows herself. Faced with a clue protected by a device that distracts you by showing you something you've lost, Emma demurs. “I've lost an awful lot.  I don't want to see any illusions.” Sage indeed. While staying light-hearted and filled with old-fashioned adventure, this book also projects the values of hard work (the adults have all worked their way up from the bottom) and perseverance.



Once Was Lost

by Sara Zarr

reviewed by Hayden Bass




Sam (Samara, not Samantha) has lost her faith.  She can’t share this information with anyone because her father is a popular, dynamic preacher, and a leader in their small town.  And she’s lonely.  Her mother is in rehab after a DUI, and her father is too busy serving his congregation to have a conversation with her.  The other teens in her church youth group don’t include her in any potentially non-Christian social activities they enjoy on weekends (for fear that she will tell her father about them).  When Jody, another girl in the youth group, is kidnapped, the whole town pitches in to try to find her. But as the days pass, her reappearance seems less and less likely—even less likely than the burgeoning relationship between Sam and Nick, Jody’s older brother.  Though some teens may be frustrated that Sam never quite tells her dad how much he’s hurt her, and the resolution to Jody’s story is surprisingly abrupt, Sam is a well-drawn and likeable character who will appeal to high school readers looking for sophisticated realistic fiction.


My Reading Log
  by Jeff Ayers, Associate Editor



Karen Vail, FBI Profiler from The 7th Victim, returns in Crush.  (Vanguard Press, $25.95).  A necessary vacation ends up being more work for her as she can’t stop herself from helping the police in the wine country of Napa Valley solve a serial set of murders.  Fascinating facts about the wine industry mix with suspense and shocks.







I grew up watching game shows, and Television Game Show Hosts (McFarland, $35) brought my childhood back and exposed me to history I was completely unfamiliar with.  Thirty-two hosts are profiled, and the author, David Baber, delved deep into research to provide a compelling account of the game show industry and what qualifies someone to be a host.  Even the names I’ve never heard or didn’t particularly like were worthwhile reading!






The latest edition of Charlie Brown and the gang, Complete Peanuts 1973-1974 (Fantagraphics, $28.99) compiles more strips I remember from my childhood.  (I’ve got a nostalgia theme going…)  Anyway, if you loved this as a kid or even an adult, it’s a must add to your collection. 




Dewey the librarian and his co-workers at the Mallville Public Library continue to have adventures that ring true more than the non-library person would realize.  The latest collection of strips from the web comic Unshelved, Reader’s Advisory (Overdue Media, $17.95), continues the hilarious tradition of guaranteed laughs and chuckles while exposing the library world. 



While waiting for the next Clive Cussler or James Rollins to ignite the adventure in your reading, Andy McDermott has arrived from England to fuel the flames.  Hunt For Atlantis (Bantam, $7.99) introduces archaeologist Nina Wilde and her bodyguard, Eddie Chase, in a non-stop action adventure history page-turner.  The sequel, The Tomb of Hercules, arrives in stores at the end of October.







A father drops his daughter off and work and she never comes home in Linwood Barclay’s latest suburban thriller, Fear the Worst. (Bantam, $24.00).  When he goes to her work to see if anyone has an idea of where she is, he finds that no one there has ever heard of her.  Paranoia and deceit abound in this intriguing puzzler.







Forget Patricia Cornwell.  If you enjoy a good, solid, forensic mystery, try Evidence of Murder by Lisa Black.  (Morrow, $24.99).  A dead body is found with no evidence of any foul play and the autopsy provides no clues. Forensic investigator Theresa MacLean investigates this strange case that readers of cozies and watchers of CSI will enjoy. 






See you next month.





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