Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nevada's Golden Age Of Gambling by Al W. Moe

Al W. Moe has written an interesting well-researched reference book about the start of gambling in Nevada, and the golden years of 1931-1981.  Two factors created Nevada as a gambling haven.  The first was the passage in 1931 of a state law authorizing gambling as a legal activity when done in a club licensed by the state.  The other factor was the building of the Hoover Dam nearby, with hundreds of men stuck in the desert with nothing much to do with their pay.  The clubs grew up to support them and then went nationwide with their advertising and customer draw.

Moe talks about the Mafia and underworld figures that started many of the most famous clubs.  He discusses Bugsy Siegel and other figures and documents which clubs they owned for how long.  He also devotes a chapter to Howard Hughes, who lived in Las Vegas his last years as a recluse.  Although he owned casinos, he wasn't involved enough to make sure they were profitable.

Most of the clubs and casinos changed hands many times over the years.  There was a core group of investors who owned them, but their interest in any one club was often short-lived and they would move on to another club.  Moe painstakingly researches and draws the trail of ownership of the various establishments. 

Hollywood and the entertainment world was always heavily involved, as the casino owners knew that having high calibre talent would draw customers.  Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack were fixtures, as was Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.  Many of the country's best African-American entertainment celebrities did stints in Nevada.  Along with the celebrities came famous gamblers such as Jimmy The Greek and others.

While Las Vegas is the town most people associate with gambling, Moe documents the other towns that allowed and thrived on gambling.  Lake Tahoe and Reno were two of the larger cities.  But there were many smaller towns also such as Elko, Winnrmucca, Sparks and Carson City.

This book is recommended for readers interested in the history of the gambling industry in Nevada.  Moe spent many years in the industry himself and his love for this area of the country is clear to the reader. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Phantom by Jo Nesbo

After his last case, the pursuit of the serial killer The Snowman, Harry Hole's life has changed.  He left the police force in Oslo and moved to Hong Kong to pursue a new life and try to escape the demons that pursue his dreams.  But, plans often don't work out as one plans, and Harry's plans are not working out either. 

Harry is drawn back to Oslo when news arrives that Oleg, the closest he will ever have to a son, has been arrested for murder.  The victim?  Oleg's best friend and unfortunately, his partner in crime and addiction, Gusto.  For both young men had become addicted to violin, the synthetic heroin that has overtaken the Oslo drug scene.  They soon turn to selling the drug to support their habits, and now Gusto is dead and Oleg fits the mold as the killer.  But Harry is not able to reconcile the young boy he loved and helped raise with a cold-blooded killer and drug addict. 

Harry is not a policeman anymore, but that hardly seems to matter.  His old friends on the force and in various jobs throughout the city still are willing to help him.  Soon, Harry has peeled away the skin of the setup Oleg has been fitted with, and is deep in the search for the men who have brought violin to Oslo, and those in the government and perhaps the police that have joined with them rather than stopping them.

Fans of the Nesbo series will not be disappointed, and those who are reading the series for the first time will be enthralled.  Harry is definitely not the average policeman, but there is no one better at determining the truth than this deeply flawed man.  The plot becomes increasingly tense as the book progresses, and the reader will find themselves putting the book down periodically just to take a break from the tension.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers who will be thrilled to read of another Harry Hole investigation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

The year is 1972, and Serena Frome has just graduated from Cambridge.  She hasn't exactly covered herself in academic glory and is unsure what to do with her life.  When she is recruited by M15, based on the recommendation of her tutor and lover, Tony, who worked for the service for many years she accepts.

Much to her dismay, women's liberation has not made its way through the doors of M15.  Women officers are delegated to secretarial work and expected to be grateful for the task.  After months of this, Serena is excited to be given a chance to do something worthwhile, something that will make a difference.  The service is starting a new operation; one that will support authors who seem to be fighting the liberal bent.  They will be given enough funds to allow them to concentrate on their writing without having to work at menial jobs.  In return, without the author realising it, the government's views will be out there serving as a counterpoint to the established liberal bent.   Serena, known as a reader, is given the task of signing up Tom Haley, an up and coming author.

Serena goes to meet Tom, posing as the employee of a foundation.  The foundation exists, it just doesn't advertise that its money comes from the government.  Tom is sceptical, but soon realises he can't pass up this marvelous opportunity.  Neither can he pass up Serena.  Soon they are madly in love, spending every weekend together.

The book focuses on the dilemma Serena faces.  She never expected to fall in love with Tom.  If she comes clean about how they came to meet, he will undoubtedly leave her for her deceit.  Of course, she would also lose her job.  But can she really continue to fool Tom about her part in his career?  Will he decide that he has no talent but that of echoing the sentiments the government finds most pleasing, or if so, can he ever forgive Serena?

McEwan has written an interesting story, full of plots and counterplots, ethical dilemmas and the ways we fool ourselves to get what we want.  There are layers upon layers of intricate plans and secrets, betrayals and loyalties which are tested.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for those interested in how love can work and if it can ever survive betrayal.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Malice Of Fortune by Michael Ennis

The year is 1503 and the place, Italy.  The country is caught up in a maze of intrigue as Popes and Princes and men of influence all maneuver to control the different principalities that make up the country.  Under the political maze, another fear exists.  Women are being killed and dismembered, their bodies used to play a game of influence by creating fear and wonder.

Many of the players' names are still known today.  Pope Alexander VI, who before he became pope was Rodrigo Borgia of the influential Borgia family.  Leonardo Da Vinci, who in addition to his painting, roamed the halls of influence, valued because of his architectural and scientific knowledge.  Niccolo Machiavelli, most famous now for his book, The Prince, which details the routes of power and the options for gaining it while clearly dissecting human behavior.  Duke Valentino (Cesare Borgia), who was The Prince Machiavelli wrote of.   He is the bastard son of Pope Alexander and spends his life trying to gain his approval.

As the book opens, Valentino is using his armies to try to unite Italy.  Machiavelli is serving as an emissary for Florence and follows Valentino to report his actions back to the city leaders.  He meets Damiata, the most famous courtesan of the time.  She has had relationships with Valentino and his brother, by whom she had a son.  The Pope, who mourns his son's death and suspects, Damaita of being involved in the plot, kidnaps her son and tells her that he will keep him until she learns the truth of the plot that resulted in his son's death.  Suspecting that Valentino is involved, she also ends up in the town where he has his headquarters.  She meets Machiavelli and they join forces as they attempt to unravel Valentino's intentions, find his brother Juan's murderer and discover who is killing prostitutes and witches in such a grisly fashion.

This is a wonderful book.  Lush language, court intrigue, the first serial killer, deceptions and far-reaching plans, a political observer who may be the first forensic profiler, all pull the reader in and entwine them in the plot and language. The events call on enough historical fact to make the plot seem entirely believable and the reader is fascinated by the personalities and their complex interactions.  This book is recommended for lovers of historical fiction as well as for mystery fans and anyone interested in a compelling read.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Zhung is a young Chinese girl who is sent to London for a year to learn English by her parents, factory owners, so that she can fit more easily into the new Chinese economy.  She arrives with very little English, tossed into the ocean of new faces, words, meals, customs and cultures.  Her most useful possession is her Chinese-English dictionary, which she uses incessantly as she tries to learn enough to maneuver through this foreign environment.

Her days are taken by attendance at the English language school; her nights are lonely since she knows no one and has no idea where she might go.  Finally, she discovers the cinema and starts going there at night.  She meets a man there and moves in with him within a week or two of their meeting date.  She lives with him for the next year, experiencing England through his eyes and how he perceives the world to work. 

Zhuang, or 'Z' as she comes to be known for convenience, finds the gap between how she has experienced the world and how her lover does to be extremely wide and difficult to bridge.  To her, moving in with her lover means they are exclusive and that he will satisfy every need she has.  To him, while he professes to love her, his need is for some space and time for him to pursue his relationships with his friends and even former lovers.  Z has a difficult time understanding this.  Their time together is marked by her attempts to get her lover to commit to only her, and to his withdrawal and anger at her attempts to restrict his life.  Throughout the time, she learns more and more about the English language, but the English outlook on life continues to elude her.

Xiao has created an interesting novel.  Each segment is started with a word from the dictionary, the definition of that word in a formal sense, and then how Z experiences what that concept means in this foreign environment.  The reader is allowed to watch her grow and learn and to see how her culture differs from the one she finds herself in.  This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and for those interested in how people relate to each other.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Carry The One by Carol Anshaw

Our lives all contain momentous minutes.  Minutes when our world changes, sometimes joyfully, sometimes tragically.  Moments when a decision made echoes down the years following.  Carry The One is about such a minute.

The book follows the lives of three siblings, Carmen, Alice and Nick.  Their momentous moment happens after Carmen's wedding to Matt.  After the reception, everyone piles into a car, too high to be driving but full of bravo and a belief in their invincibility.  As the careen through the night, suddenly there is a young girl running across the road.  They hit her and she dies at the scene. 

Over the years following, the siblings continue to live their lives.  They fall in an out of relationships, start and end careers, try to find meaning in their lives.  Regardless, that one moment has ensured that they will always be different, that they will always 'carry the one'.

Anshaw has created a stunning novel.  The story is told in brief vignettes, flashes of their lives that carry the book forward through the decades.  The story is tightly plotted but the flash of each scene hides the complexity of the skill it has taken to create this work.  I heard a lot of buzz about this book, and it is definitely well deserved.  Carry The One will be on many Best of 2012 lists.  This book is recommended for readers interested in how life works, how our decisions influence what happens afterwards.  It is an excellent book by an excellent author.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Edge Of Black by J.T. Ellison

It's happened again, this time in Washington, D.C.  Someone has released a deadly airborne toxin in the metro system as commuters are headed to work.  Those expose emerge gasping for breath, and three people have already died from the exposure.  What is this poison and more importantly, who is responsible?

Dr. Samantha Owens, Sam for short, has come to D.C. from Nashville to start over her life.  Sam, a forensic examiner, had a wonderful family and a satisfactory career with close police ties in Nashville.  The flood changed all that.  Her husband and two year old twins were lost in the flood, and Sam's life was lost along with them.  She has a new job outside the morgue, teaching her craft to students, a new home and a new love.  Xander is a former army man who now lives and works off the grid in the national forests.  He has come back from war a changed man also, and he and Sam are trying to help each other heal.

The first thought of everyone is that the attack is from terrorists.  Sam's good friend, DC Detective Fletcher, is sent to Homeland Security to try to discover the culprits.  As the day progresses, it starts to appear that this may not be foreign, but rather homegrown terrorists.  The three victims are a U.S. Senator, an anthropologist, and a student.  As odd as it seems, it appears that these three may have had a connection.  Is this the work of foreign or American terrorists?  Are the victims random or were they specifically targeted?  Can Owens, Xander and Fletcher discover the truth in time to stop any further releases?

J.T. Ellison has written a fast-paced, compelling mystery.  Fans will recognize Sam Owens from earlier books set in Nashville; this book is the first in a spin off series.  The characters are interesting, the plot satisfactorily intricate, and the reader is drawn into the chase.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tributary by Barbara K. Richardson

Claire Martin is an American hero.  She's not a politician or a cowboy or a military leader.  Instead, she is a woman in the frontier days of Utah and Idaho who does whatever it takes to carve out a life for herself.  Born with a birthmark that covers half her face, she never feels accepted in any social situation.

Claire's life starts with her as an orphan; handed from one Mormon family to the next as people needed someone to work for them.  Work is something Claire is familiar with and wherever she goes she gives a full days's work.  She finally finds solace when working for Ada, another strong Mormon woman.  Claire believes she has found a home, but when the son of a local church leader starts making advances to her, she realises that her only option is to leave and start over.

She chooses New Orleans, where she believes her mother came from before she left her as a small child.  The only work she can find is as a laundress in a hospital, a job not many people are ready to take on.  Claire works there, not caring that this is the African-American hospital, and that the patients there are considered not really worth saving.  While there, she becomes attached to a young boy, Tierre, and soon considers him her son.  When Ada's son writes Claire and asks her if she will come and help him start a sheep ranch, she leaves, taking Tierre with her.

Sheep farming is no easier than the other hard jobs Claire has worked at.  With hard work and persistence, she and Stephen and another farm hand make the ranch a going concern.  Things seem to be working out until Stephen gets religion and decides that he and Claire must marry.  Claire is determined to never be owned by any man and it causes another life crisis. 

Barbara Richardson has written a historical novel that details a life that is seldom thought worth mentioning but which created this country.  It is the life of one of the millions of hard-working women and men who carved out a living from persistence and labor; from simply refusing to give up.  Claire is a character readers will long remember; her pluck and fortitude make her the prime example of 'bloom where you are planted.'  This novel is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in how the West was won.