User Reviews

Reviews by Uncle Will

Winnie the Pooh is not the only character that got his nose caught in the honey jar. Take the background story of Bernie Gunther - before the war started, he was a highly respected homicide investigator in Berlin. Once the Nazis took control, Bernie had to swallow his pride and political beliefs in order to survive. His comfort level went from a possible 10 to well below zero.


Gunther's goal became to stay below the radar of the maniacal regime that was slowly destroying his world. He was forced to wear a uniform and become part of the military machine. He went from being the "Berlin Bull" to the "Wehrmacht Wimp."


In March of 1943, the Wehrmacht High Command sends their prized criminal investigator to Smolensk to verify if thousands of Polish officers were executed and buried in a frozen field. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, smells a possible public relations coup. If Goebbels can get proof that the Russians mass-murdered thousands of defenseless enemy officers, the world's spotlight, fixed on the Nazi nation's atrocities, will dim drastically.


The last thing that Gunther wants is to be anywhere near the spotlight.  He has positioned himself well offstage and only wants his world back - as it once was. When he lands in Smolensk, no one is happy to see him...not the Germans in command of the invasion force, nor the Russians aiding them.  Even the Gestapo resents an "outsider" being assigned to investigate a matter that appears to have no major consequence in the Fatherland conquering Mother Russia.


Resentment leads to murder and cover-up. Gunther is forced to make some difficult decisions to remain breathing; however, he finds time to fall hopelessly in love with one of the forensic team sent to aid his investigation. . .but even that small prize has its steep price tag.   


Philip Kerr has written several books in this series.  It is not important to read them in order, since the outcome of WWII is well documented.  The writing is rich and the characters are complex.  If historical fiction is what you are looking for and you haven't tried Kerr yet, it is well worth the experience.

The Child Thief
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Who's excited? I'm excited! Found a new suspense/mystery/thriller author. His name's Dan Smith and all four of his published books will soon be available for checkout in our catalog: Dry Season; Dark Horizons; Red Winter; and The Child Thief (which is the subject of this review).
The setting is a remote valley, in the Ukraine, post WWII. The narrator is Luka, a darkened veteran of many Russian armies and many more bloody battles. What made him a survivor was the dream of returning to his hidden home, his enduring wife and the three children he's not seen in years.
It's hard times indeed in his small rural community. The elements are brutal and the food scarce. Firearms were banned by the new ruling class; however, Luka was able to smuggle home his beloved rifle, which is the main tool he uses to put food in the stomachs of his loved ones. Everyone in his community lives in daily fear that they will be discovered by the Stalinists and placed in forced labor camps.
While out hunting with his twin sons, Luka discovers a man, near-death, pulling a sled carrying two dead children. Common sense says why buy trouble...leave the man and the children to the wolves. But Luka is a humanitarian and brings the dying stranger into his home to heal him. When the community leaders learn that the dead-sled-children were abused, tortured, and likely used for feeding, they go on a killing frenzy themselves. Shortly thereafter, Luka's niece is kidnapped. It becomes clear to Luka that there's a stalking demon nearby and this steely soldier swears to track and rescue the child...but at what cost?
This book has a real feel to it.  The narrative is strong and the characters believable. It transported me to the frozen tundra where I did not want to leave until scores were settled.
Violet & Daisy
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Enjoying dark comedy or gallows humor (as it was originally referred to) is an acquired taste. It is said that when the condemned man climbed to the top of the gallows, where the noose was placed around his neck, he was asked if he had any last words--he quickly responded:  "...Look at all this rotted wood. I don't think it's safe up here..."

Violet & Daisy is a dark comedy. It has been placed in the "Action" genre in the stacks, but this is misleading. Sure, there are a couple of shoot-'em-up scenes; however, they play mostly for comic effect. The gunplay just enhances the absurd world that our two heroines exist in. 
Violet is played by Alexis Bledel, who grew up starring in "Gilmore Girls" for 7 years on TV. She is the brains and brawn of a pair of professional hit-men. Daisy is the younger, less experienced partner, who is played by Academy Award-nominated actress, Saoirse Ronan. Together, the two are hired by Danny Trejo to take out sad sack Michael, who has such a strong death wish that he double-downs on his likelihood to die.

Michael is played by James Gandolfini, the actor who died last June at the age of 51. Michael is trying desperately to atone for his bad behavior as a widowed father, and ameliorate his teenage daughter's resentment. His wife, (her mother), passed away years back and Michael failed in his fatherly responsibilities...or at least failed in his daughter's eyes.  
Violet & Daisy are motivated by high fashion and a lack of conscience. The contracts they fulfill buy them pretty clothes. The secret to their success seems to be that they never have to have any contact with their victims. Who knows what would happen if they ever had to make eye contact or worse yet, speak to their victims before "poppin'em."  Maybe a movie might be made about that!

 

In 1955 my hero was Davy Crockett. Back then I even thought I knew the words to the Disney TV theme "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" by Bill Hayes. My version went something like this:  "...Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greatest state in the land of the free. Killed him a 'bar' when he was only three. Ran around the woods in his coonskin BVDs!..."  Hey, I was only five years old. The days of the coonskin craze have long passed.  So, imagine my delight when I found  Bob Thompson's new biography Born On A Mountaintop: On The Road With Davy Crockett And The Ghosts Of The Wild Frontier in our Marketplace.

Bob Thompson, former feature writer for the Washington Post, has an easy-going writing style. Thompson explores the many myths and magic of the Davy Crockett lore. Reading this book is like watching a bloodhound tracking a scent...no stone is left unturned.

One chapter outlines why Walt Disney chose Fess Parker to star in his TV studio's project after viewing a scene from the 1954 film "Them." There is discussion about why it took so long for John Wayne to complete his 1960 film "The Alamo." And of course there is the comparison between Wayne's interpretation of Davy Crockett and Billy Bob Thornton's, as viewed in his 2004 release of "The Alamo."

In a lot of ways Davy Crockett helped perpetrate many of the popular myths about his life. One notion that is still controversial today is how he died at the Alamo. If he was alive today, he most likely could add "spin doctor" to his resume.
Zombie, Illinois
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A few of us were in the AHML Call Center a couple of months ago trying to select trending topics for the Marketplace. World War Z was being released at the theaters that upcoming Friday, so I chose the Zombie genre. Book titles were furiously flying around when Jeremy proposed Zombie, Illinois. It got a big laugh, mostly because we thought he was joking...tossing out a gag title.
Turns out it was no joke. Author Scott Kenemore is carving out a small niche for himself in the ever-growing zombie genre. His two previous books were: Zombie, Ohio: A Tale Of The Undead and Zombies Vs. Nazis : A Lost History Of  The Walking Dead.  Although this book's entitled Zombie, Illinois, it could have easily instead be called "Zombie, Chicago."

The story takes places entirely in Chicago, on the night that zombies literately hit the beach.  It is told in alternating first-person narratives from the perspective of its three main characters: Ben Bennington, Pastor Leopold Mack and Maria Ramirez. Ben is a reporter for "Brain's Chicago Business." He's a lonely, outta-shape, middle-age hack that’s always on the hunt for that one big scoop that will launch his stagnant career.  Pastor Mack heads the congregation of "The Church of Heaven's God in Christ Lord Jesus." Though the church's name is more than a mouthful, Mack has the undying respect of his flock and some deep-hidden skeletons stashed in his closet. Maria's closet also contains some dark secrets, but what you see is mostly what you get.  She is the drummer for a female Chicago-based rock band that is moderately popular.  Can she help it that her old man is a former wife-beater and child-abuser who has transformed himself into a prominent city alderman?

The plot is simplistic: Zombies arrive and begin to eat their way through the city while the graveyards expel tons of reinforcements. The corrupt city leaders choose sides and try to use this apocalyptic catastrophe to position themselves into power. Our three reluctant heroes join forces and for selfish reasons try to save themselves and their city.

From chapter to chapter it becomes obvious that Kenemore cannot be a Chicago native. His jaded view of our city seems to rise at times to comic proportions. Poetic license forces one to give him credit where credit may or may not be due, although the many references to Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods, on the most part, remain accurate. The narrative style makes it refreshingly different for a zombie novel.  I will not spoil the story by disclosing whether the zombies are fast-moving or operate in slow-motion.  Sorry, you'll have to read the book.