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Books I’d Recommend: ‘The Pagan Lord’ by Bernard Cornwell

26 Jan

Pagan-LordSome literary series seem to lose steam over time. That’s not the case with “The Pagan Lord,” the seventh entry in Bernard Cornwell’s Warrior Chronicle/Saxon Tales.

The series is the story of England, and the battles between Danes and Saxons to determine who will rule the island. The first book is “The Last Kingdom.”

In the latest installment, our hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, has let his temper get the best of him — again. After killing an abbott, Uhtred is cast out from his lands, which gives him the opportunity to pursue his dream of reclaiming his ancestral home in Northumbria.

And Uhtred, Danish raised and a believer in the Old Gods, will once again be asked to lead the forces of the Christian Saxon kingdoms  in a battle against the Danes.

You won’t be able to put down the book during the final, climactic battle, which ends with Uhtred’s life hanging in the balance.

At 320 pages, this is among the shortest of the books, although none are lengthy tomes. It took me about three days to race through “The Pagan Lord,” which was just released at the beginning of January in the U.S.

If you enjoy history, a good tale and a quick read, pick up Cornwell’s Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Tales.


Books I’d Recommend: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

23 Jan

gone-girl-book-cover-medIf you can make it past the meandering, start-and-stop style that’s so evident in the opening 37 pages of this book, you won’t be able to put down Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.”

At least that was the case with me.

This was my second attempt at the book. I tried a few months ago and just couldn’t get past those first pages. But having read so many good things about it, I vowed I’d give it another try. I’m glad I did.

I struggled again with those opening pages. The author starts and stops a thought often, adding so many asides that it can be difficult for the reader to get into the flow. And in the earliest portion of the book, it’s difficult to make a connection with the characters and immerse yourself in the slow-to-develop plot.

The story revolves around a pair of 30-year-olds who, both having lost their jobs in New York City, return to his small Missouri hometown. As they prepare to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, the wife goes missing, and it’s not too long until the husband is suspected of murder. But that’s only the beginning of the twists and turns.

The book alternates viewpoints throughout, focusing on her diary and his first-person narrative. Once the plot begins racing along, it’s much easier to become enamored with the style.

There’s nothing straightforward about the book, including an ending that will keep you wondering about the story’s resolution.

Here’s a link to Flynn’s official website, which includes several places for buying the book.

According to Flynn’s website, the movie based on the book will be released Oct. 3, 2014. Ben Affleck will play the husband, while Rosamunde Pike plays the wife, according to the IMDb listing. And apparently, Flynn wrote a different ending for the movie.

Here’s an excellent review of the book from the New York Times.

And in this clip, Jimmy Fallon talks to the author, who admits, “It’s kind of a weird book.”

Books I’d Recommend: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

17 Oct
Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans flooding,

Large portions of New Orleans were flooded after the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina. This was shot Sept. 11, 2005. (Creative Commons: Lt. Commander Mark Moran, NOAA Corps, NMAO/AOC, 2005. Source: Flickr)

“Five Days At Memorial” is a compelling examination of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on one New Orleans hospital, the life-and-death decisions that were made in the following days and an examination of how improved disaster planning would benefit many organizations.

Author Sheri Fink’s work centers on Memorial Medical Center from Aug. 31, 2005, to Sept. 1, following the failure of the city’s levees in the wake of Katrina and the widespread flooding that caused throughout the city.

Five Days At MemorialBut the book also shows that the area around the hospital — located in the Freret neighborhood — experienced similar floods and similar challenges as far back as 1927. And it tells that the lessons learned from Katrina resulted in different outcomes in the wake of Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast in 2012.

At Memorial, staff battled stifling heat and the lack of water and electricity. They fought to keep patients alive and comfortable, evacuating some from a little-used helipad and others from airboats that floated the city streets.

Central to the story are the decisions regarding patients that it was feared could not survive evacuation. The book details how some DNR patients were given lethal dosages of morphine and a sedative. The state eventually charged an ER doctor and two ICU nurses with second degree murder. Charges were eventually dropped against the two nurses and a grand jury refused to indict the doctor.

The book is enthralling as it describes the challenges posed by the chaos and fears experienced during those first few days of the disaster. It poses moral dilemmas on how we deal with patients during times of high stress. And in the end, it helps you realize that we should all prepare to deal with the worst.

Fink, a former physician who won a Pulitzer Prize for the article that spawned the book, concludes her work with this:

Life and death in the immediate aftermath of a crisis most often depends on the preparedness, performance and decision making of the individuals on the scene.

It is hard for any of us to know how we would act under such terrible pressure.

But we, at least, have the luxury to prepare and resolve how we would want to make the decisions.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here’s a link to an NPR audiostory from “Morning Edition” on the book, plus a couple of written outtakes from the story. Perhaps most interesting are the many reader comments at the bottom of the story; most of the comments are critical toward Fink, but obviously most of the commenters have not read the book. I challenge you: Read the book, then return to read the comments. Whether you agree with the decisions made at Memorial during those trying times, it’s hard to fault Fink’s book, which relates many viewpoints in a reasoned manner.

In this Q&A with the New York Times, Fink explains many of the questions that arise in the book and how she went about recreating those hectic days. This is a really good read after you’ve read the book and understand many of the references mentioned.

You may eventually see this story on the big screen, following reports that the producer of “Captain Phillips” has acquired the movie rights to the book.

Trombone Shorty appears on “All Things Considered”

11 Oct

In case you missed the story on Trombone Shorty on Thursday’s “All Things Considered” on NPR, here’s a link to the audio story:

And below is the promo for the next episode of PBS’ “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,” which will feature Louisiana author James Lee Burke. I have Dish Network, so the program airs on Channel 22, WQEC, at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. Airings will vary by markets.


NOLA artists on public broadcasting

10 Oct

For those wanting a taste of NOLA: Trombone Shorty will be featured in a story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” tonight, while author James Lee Burke will be featured on PBS’ “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” over the weekend (air times will vary by markets).

On Wednesday, Trombone Shorty tweeted a link to his new song and video. The song and video can be found on Youtube at:

James Lee Burke Light of the Worldsplits his time between New Iberia, La., and Missoula, Mont., but many of his books feature the Crescent City.

One of Burke’s most-beloved protagonists is Dave Robicheaux, who is a NOPD detective in the first installment of the now 20-book series. That first book is “Neon Rain,” while the most recent in the series is “Light of the World.” My recap of that novel can be found here.

Books I’d Recommend: Light of the World

11 Sep

Light of the WorldTrouble, it seems, follows Louisiana lawman Dave Robicheaux and pal Clete Purcel no matter where they hang their hats.

In James Lee Burke’s newest novel, “Light of the World,” the trouble has followed the pair from their Southern home  to their northern vacation grounds in Montana.

If you’ve read the Robicheaux series — this is the 20th entry — the plot will seem familiar: Dave and Clete run into a truly evil man, another evil man who is exceedingly wealthy complicates things, Clete gets suckered in by a pretty woman, Alafair is put in danger, Dave and Clete bust some heads, good triumphs in the end.

Don’t take my glib recitation of the formula as a criticism. Burke can turn a phrase. I’ve quoted from his books extensively elsewhere in this blog, such as here, here and here. He’s my favorite author, both for his thought-provoking topics and for his settings.

While he is definitely relying on a formula for the latest entries into the Robicheaux series, I still highly recommend this book. Burke tells engrossing tales of good and evil, temptation and redemption, love and evil. And he does so in dramatic and entertaining fashion.

This particular series (Burke has written two other series and a number of other stand-alone novels) is generally set in one of my favorite spots — Louisiana — and occasionally veers to another of my favorite spots — Montana. (Burke actually owns homes in New Iberia, Louisiana, and Missoula, Montana.)

If you are reading the Robicheaux series, rush out and get the latest entry, “Light of the World.” If you’ve never picked up a Burke novel, start with the first in this series, “Neon Rain,” and enjoy the ride to entry No. 20.

♦ ♦ ♦

For some other reviews on the book, visit these links:

Wall Street Journal review

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review

Blog critics review, Pat Padua

3 Aug

The allure of Montana is like a commitment to a narcotic; you can never use it up or get enough of it.

— “Light of the World,” James Lee Burke

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