Book Reviews

“Stranger in the Woods: the extraordinary story of the last true hermit by Michael Finkel

Published on 12/27/17

Christopher Knight disappeared into the Maine woods for 27 years never speaking to another human being. Living in a tent, he avoided freezing to death in the winter, learned to store food he stole from nearby cottages along with other provisions needed to survive, and by sheer ingenuity thrived until he was finally caught. This book is deeply moving on many different levels. I highly recommend it! Joey

“A Piece of the World” – Christina Baker Kline

Published on 12/20/17

How many times have you wondered what inspired Andrew Wyeth to paint “Christina’s World”? This historical fiction may provide the answer. ~ Joey


Published on 04/08/13


Ben Macintyre is famous for telling the true stories of one double agent in World War II in Agent Zigzag. However, in Double Cross. just out in 2012, he tells the untold story of the brilliant spies that managed to make D-Day the success it was and changed the outcome of World War II .

There is quite a list of men and women from many countries that became double and triple agents for a multitude of reasons. I found myself putting this book down to read something else and rest my brain, but returning to it constantly to find out “what next!”

These people were charming—big spenders, sophisticated, womanizers, and brilliant. They were the best at the trickery and manipulation involved in convincing the Nazis, turning some to their side, and running operation Fortitude, always against all odds, that the big invasion in June 1944 would be an attack at Calais and Norway. rather than Normandy.

Many books have been written about the soldiers who fought, the tacticians who planned it and the generals who got them there. However, the story of the key agents in the Double Cross system has never been told. They were the strangest gallery of military units ever assembled including a Polish fighter pilot, a Serbian playboy, a Spaniard specializing in chicken farming and a party-girl from Peru. The Frenchwoman with the pet dog is not to be forgotten and too many more to mention here. Both German and British spy masters kept things together and rolling, and it was not easy.

There is a section of photographs of the main players I had to keep referring to them to keep these volatile actors straight in my head!

Macintyre is a writer at large for The Times of London and has an eye for the absurd, researching and story telling. What a story it is!!

Published: Crown Publishers a division of Random House, Inc. New York, NY Copyright: © 2012 By: Ben Macintyre Reviewed: 04/02/13 – 368 Copyright: © 2013 by Joan G. Smith 368


Published on 04/08/13


Chris Pavone was a book editor and ghost writer for decades. This is his first novel and what a thriller it is!

Kate Moore and her husband Dexter move to Luxembourg from big time America because Dexter has been offered an extremely lucrative contract from a private bank. Kate had been the main bread winner for five years of their ten year marriage. For the last five years, after the birth of their two sons, she had been scaling down her career when Dexter became the main provider. After much discussion they decided to give the new plan a chance – go to Luxembourg as headquarters, raise their boys and have the money to ski the Alps and weekends in Paris.

This married couple love each other and their children, but they both have life-defining secrets. The truth has never been told about Kate’s real career.

Kate’s secret life in espionage is a huge part of her life and follows her to Europe. She is afraid her past is catching up with her, and Dexter seems to have secrets as well.

This is a sophisticated novel,full of deceit and suspense from the past. Their marriage became more and more complicated and people show up in Europe from their former lives that make this thriller intelligent, stylish and not one you want to put down! This is a work of spy fiction right up there with the best!

John Grisham writes and I quote: ” Smart , clever suspense, skillfully plotted, and a lot of fun to read.”

Chris Pavone did live in Luxembourg as an expat with his family when he wrote this novel. He now lives in New York City with his family. The copyright on this book is by Christopher Pavone – 2012-2013. The publisher is Broadway Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc.

Published: BROADWAY PAPERBACKS an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group a division of Random House, Inc.


Published on 02/27/13



John Rebus is back – Ian Rankin wrote some books recently with new characters, but Rebus has been sorely missed by Rankin readers.

Rebus has retired from the police force where he had been a detective inspector. He is an original with a mind that sees the world with different eyes which allows him to solve cases that everyone else has been confused and stymied by.

Out of boredom Rebus went back to work for Lothian & Borders Police, to help close up cold cases. He had always been interested in them, but as a civilian now he doesn’t have access to all the things he used to. Lost causes are his thing and he never gives up, which always managed to antagonize his bosses!

For years, Nina Hazlitt has been trying to find her daughter, dead or alive, who disappeared. The police gave up years ago, and the cold case department has not been of any help so far.

Two more women have gone missing recently and oddly enough from the same road where Sally Hazlitt was last seen. Its a remote road in Scotland and Rebus can see a connection, but adversaries from his past and present are not helping his investigations.

Rebus is an eccentric man, with his love of music and guitars, the many gigs he has attended over the years and his collection of recordings. He is also addicted to cigarettes and liquor which doesn’t interfere with his investigations. Over the years he has made several friends and admirers who appreciate him and his talents, enjoy his company , and manage to watch his back as well, which is a trick.

Ian Rankin and John Rebus are both Scotsman and the novels mostly take place in Scotland. This novel appears on the 20th anniversary of Rankin’s first American publication.

Michael Connolly said this: “Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rankin ‘n’ Rebus, they just go together and the world wouldn’t be the same without them. It wouldn’t be right without them. Ian Rankin has created a hero for the ages.”

Published: Reagan Arthur Books Little, Brown and Company Hachette Book Group 237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017 Copyright: © 2012 By John Rebus Limited Reviewed: 02/28/13 – 366 Copyright: © 2013 by Joan G. Smith



Published on 02/27/13


THE PULSE A Novel of Surviving the Collapse of the Grid BY: Scott B. Williams

This is an appropriate time to read The Pulse, when solar flares are actually able to bombard the earth and cause explosions on Earth while others are near misses. My son left this book behind at Christmas and I decided it was time to read it, after after the recent solar caused explosion in Russia.

Casey, a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, must try to save herself and her roommate Jessica when anarchy descends in New Orleans. Grant, a new friend at Tulane when the pulse strikes, is with her, and convinces the girls they must get out now, before the food disappears, the gangs form up and become murderers and everything is total chaos.

The power grid instantly is totally destroyed in North America – no cars unless they are very old, no lights, no power for phones, internet or anything in the modern electronic world. Grants family owns a cabin in the woods in Mississippi and it is always stocked with survival type equipment and food. Grant says if they could get there on their bicycles it is the best place to be until they can sort things out. Each day becomes more dangerous on their journey and it becomes a test of their survival skills in a fight for their lives.

Casey’s father, Artie, is a doctor who is on a sailing vacation when his younger brother, Larry, who has devoted his life to the sea and boats that sail and catamarans. They are in the Caribbean when the pulse hits and everything is gone that is on the grid. They have equipment and sails that work with nature and the wind and tides that Larry knows like the back of his hand. Artie had planned to take a flight to New Orleans and his daughter, Casey, and now no planes are flying anywhere! Larry follows the stars and knows how to live off the wild life and fish as they fight pirates and storms to get to Casey.

The author,Scott Williams, has been exploring wild places and seeking adventure on both land and sea for most of his life. At the age of 25, he embarked on an open-ended solo sea kayaking journey from his home in Mississippi to the islands of the Caribbean – a life changing journey. He knows what has to be done to survive if the Pulse arrived, and put an End to The Electronic Age !

Published: ULYSSES PRESS P. O. Box 3440 Berkley, CA 94703 Copyright: © 2012 By: Ulysses Press Reviewed: 02/28/13 – 367 Copyright: © 2013 by Joan G. Smith 367


Published on 02/06/13


This nonfiction account of John Kennedy’s presidency is filled with information that you don’t expect. It is so well written and documented you have to believe its all true, even though you may have to keep reminding yourself of that fact. There is so much more here than the days before the assassination and the days after it.

The details about the Bay of Pigs and Cuba are fascinating, as well as the on going cold war with the Russians, East Berlin, and Communism. Vietnam and its politics and war are covered in a way that is much clearer than usual. Organized crime in the U,S. enters the picture, and Sinatra’s Rat Pack and Marilyn Monroe.

The portrait of Jackie and their family life is presented with care and Martin Luther King and the movement for true equality is carefully done.

Of course Lee Harvey Osewald and his peculiar life of insecurity and failure in marriage is an eye opener.

More than two million readers have already thrilled to this best seller and to Killing Lincoln as well. It is well documented how Lincoln and his beliefs and presidency led the way for many of our current leaders to study,believe and carry on work of our democracy to this present day.

Camelot was filled with heroism and deceit, but it was unique and certainly not boring. The world figures in this presidency present a picture that keeps the reader turning the pages,smiling and then being horrified with what was going on in so many other parts of the world.

In short, it brought the history of Kennedy’s presidency to life in a remarkable way. The Sources section at the end of the book go chapter by chapter through the entire book – a valuable and important way to summarize things for the reader.

Published: Henry Holt and Company’ LLC 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010 Copyright: © 2012 By Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard Reviewed: 01/30/13 – 364 Copyright: © 2013 by Joan G. Smith 364


Published on 02/06/13



Richard Russo has been a favorite of mine for several years with novels such as Straight Man , Bridge of Sighs , and That Old Cape Magic . When his memoir, just out in 2012, was published, I ordered it and was not disappointed. Elsewhere paints a picture of his life that is a window on the characters and locations in the novels he has authored.

Gloversville, in upstate New York, was the town Russo grew up in and was famous for tanning leather and making leather products. It was not an easy life for those in the trade, but family and neighbors were closely knit. His father was charming, but not a family man and his mother always wanted more out of life, so they divorced, and Richard Russo was faced with a life of caring for his mother – always !

Gloversville came upon hard times in the 1950’s, as new machines and inventions for making leather products were introduced.

Richard’s mother was most anxious to try new territory and for awhile always had some kind of a job and was attractive to men. However she was a perfectionist and had an extremely nervous disposition that made it hard to live with and manage, but mother and son always loved each other and she lived close by in various towns even when Russo went to college and graduate school, married and fathered two daughters and was a professor and then an author. His wife, Barbara, was wonderful about it all, which is a miracle in itself!

The various moves around the country are often hilarious, heartbreaking, interesting and even comic. They are back and forth to Helwig street in Gloversville and eventually wind up in Boston, always keeping track of family and showcasing how his success as an author finally provided enough money to make it easier, but still complicated. This is a beautiful memoir, by a Pulitzer Prize winning author!

Published: By Alfred A. Knopf THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK New York, NY Copyright: © 2012 By Richard Russo Reviewed: 01/31/13 – 365 Copyright: © 2013 by Joan G. Smith 365

Death’s Door

Published on 12/04/12


Death’s Door, the newest book in the Billy Boyle World War II mystery Series, is out in 2012. Billy Boyle finds himself in Brindisi, Italy, in February of 1944. The Allies are not yet in charge in Rome, although the Allies are in italy and knocking at the door.

An American Monsignor is found murdered at the foot of Death’s Door, one of five entrances to St. Peter’s Basilica. Monsignor Corrigan had friends in high places and General Eisenhower is putting Billy in the position of finding who murdered him. Billy has been just about everywhere in WW II, as a Lt. Detective sent to find the answers to high level cases affecting the Allies. To solve this one, Billy has to be smuggled and led into Rome in priestly robes. Kaz his Polish friend, is with him, but this situation is tricky. The Nazis are still in charge in Rome and the Allied bombs and Gestapo are both to be avoided at all costs.

The Vatican has status as a neutral territory inside Rome’s boarders, and the Vatican is filled with politics – some pro-Allied and others pro Nazi.

Billy has discovered that Diana Seaton is in Rome and is a British spy. She is also Billy’s lover, and she has gone missing while undercover in the Vatican. Billy is faced with orders to solve Corrigan’s murder, as well as his own resolve to rescue Diana. When he discovers she is being held in Regina Coeli prison, a short walk from the Vatican border, his desperate choice is to try and rescue her. Their own safety is at risk, but if he fails it would alert the Germans of his mission and risk an open violation of the Vatican neutrality.

This novel might just be the best in this series, although I have enjoyed them all. The Vatican has secretly been able to help many Jews and help the Allies, but they must appear to be neutral. The stakes are enormous and James Benn has done it again by giving a clear picture of the risks and politics at this time and place in WW II.

Published: Soho Press 853 Broadway New York, NY 10003 Copyright: © 2012 By James R. Bean Reviewed: 11/30/12 – 363 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 363

Back to Blood

Published on 12/04/12


Tom Wolfe hadn’t written for awhile, so I was delighted when Back To Blood hit the shelves in October, 2012.

This novel takes aim at Miami, and gives the reader a birds eye view of the various groups that now call Miami home. This is a good look at our postmodern era whose multicultural languages and backgrounds are not really interested in melting into one pot! At least not in Miami!

The main hero is Officer Nestor Camacho, a Cuban cop who made it into the police department and becomes famous over night when he was on patrol on a police launch speeding across Miami Biscayne Bay.

Nestor has many talents, but they are all put to the test when his whole neighborhood thinks he is a turn coat when he saves a man’s life in an impossible hilarious rescue out on the Bay.

Through Nestor’s eyes we meet the Cuban Mayor, the black police chief, an anglo sex addiction psychiatrist and his Latina nurse and girl friend and his wealthy patient who is porn addicted. As the plot proceeds we also meet the Miami Heralds hot young reporter and his boss the editor who both went to Yale, and are spreading the news about Nestor in newspaper headlines. Nestor finally, also meets Ghislaine, who he saves from the drug crowd while she is volunteering her help to the children of these drug addicts. Her father is a Haitian professor who thinks he’s really French and wants his daughter, who is beautiful and kind, to be French. His son is in with the wrong crowd , and Nestor finds himself trying to help this high school boy.

Onward we glide to get a view of the Columbus Day Regatta “spectators” and their interest in the apr’es-race orgy. The group of shady Russians are next, who are cheating the Art Museum and art dealers and buying public!

Tom Wolfe’s on scene high energy reporting that put his previous best selling novels at the top,is brilliant, serious and yet hilarious. Beneath all the rhetoric, the reader gains a view that is unique of Miami and its clash of cultures. This author of a dozen books, including The Right Stuff , and Bonfire of the Vanities, still lives in New York City. Published: Little, Brown And Company Hachette Book Group 175 Fifth Avenue 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Copyright: © 2012 By: Tom Wolfe Reviewed: 11/30/12 – 362 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 362