Book Reviews


Published on 11/07/12


A true story of World War II in Italy, The Nazis, and the Cyclist who inspired a nation

Gino Bartali, won the Tour de France in 1938, and again in 1948, after World War II. He was an Italian cyclist who loved his bike all his life and used it in many different ways, especially in World War II when he saved many lives by hiding a Jewish family in an apartment he paid for with his cycling winnings. He was also a Roman Catholic who used the church to help him smuggle counterfeit identity documents hidden in his bicycle past Fascist and Nazi check points because the soldiers recognizes him as a national hero in training.

The authors, Aili and Andres McConnon , based their book on ten years of research in Italy, France and Israel. They also interviewed Bartali’s family, former teammates, and a Holocaust survivor Bartali had saved.

Bartali also had to fight Mussolini’s Fascists who tried to use him for propaganda purposes. Bartali grew up in a poor and rural Tuscany, where he slowly saves enough money to buy a bicycle – and not a very good one!

The McConnons have written a non-fiction untold story of one of the great athletes of the 20th century. Aili McConnon has earned degrees from Princeton University, Cambridge, and Columbia University. Andres graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and was a history major. They both have many credits writing and researching as journalists. While researching this book he lived in Paris, Florence and the Italian Riviera.

Road To Valor is the inspiring, against -the-odds story of Gino Bartali who made the greatest comeback in Tour de France history and aided the Italian Resistance during World War II.

Published: Crown Publishers an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group a division of Random House, Inc.,New York Copyright: © 2012 By: McConnon LLC Reviewed: 10/31/12 – 359 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 359


Published on 11/07/12


Maxon and Sunny met when Maxon was 7 and Sunny a bit younger. They were different from other people and immediately liked each other. Sunny had been born in Burma and her father was a strange minister. When her father was killed, Sunny’s mother took her to the USA and Nu her mother’s and housekeeper came along. Sunny had two loving , smart women to raise her and be her family. Maxon had a cruel father, brothers and mother.

Sunny and her family brought love and fun and sense to Maxon’s life. It was inevitable that Maxon and Sunny would eventually marry. Maxon was a genius engineer, on a NASA mission to the moon and programming robots for a new colony. Money was no problem so Sunny decided to have a perfect home, on a perfect street and be normal. They now have a son, Bubber, who is very bright as well. He is also autistic, so the doctors have him on medicine.

Sunny was born bald, but she decides, in her 30’s, to match her perfect house and life, with perfect wigs. It takes having Maxon on his way to the moon, her mother ill in the hospital, being pregnant again and taking Bubber off his medicine to decide to ditch the wigs and be totally herself!

I will close this review with this quote from the fly leaf of this novel: ” A debut of singular power and intelligence.” Shine Shine Shine is a unique love story, an adventure between worlds, and a stunning novel of love, death, and what it means to be human!

Published: St. Martin’s Press 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010 Copyright: © 2012 By: The Netzer Group LLC Reviewed: 11/01/12 – 361 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 361


Published on 11/07/12


The Racketeer was a successful attorney in real life until some weird circumstances put him in prison for 10 years. His name, at the moment, is Malcolm Bannister, he is 45 years old, and has already served 5 years. His good behavior and lawyer background finally got him lucky enough to wind up at The Federal Prison Camp near Frostberg, Maryland. I found out about the various kinds of prisons in this novel, and on a list of bad to better to best, Frostberg Prison Camp would be best.

Malcolm has become a jailhouse lawyer and was able to help out some of the inmates at Frostberg. He has special privileges that make life better with a small office in the library. However, his wife has divorced him and remarried, and he is not looking forward to 5 more years at the camp.

It is remarkable in the history of this country, only four federal judges have been murdered. Judge Raymond Fawcett has become murder number five. He was found dead with his young secretary at his remote lakeside cabin in the woods. A large safe was opened and emptied.

Malcolm Bannister has always kept his eyes and ears open, and his mouth shut, and he knows who killed Judge Fawcett and he knows why! If he plays his cards right and helps the FBI out, he might be a free man, but its a tricky deal. Malcolm would love to help them out. but only if he gets exactly what he wants. It’s very embarrassing for the FBI to be at a dead end for so long.

Grisham is at his best with a cast of characters that emerges in this wickedly clever plot that fools the reader right along with the FBI. Everything is fair game and John Grisham doesn’t disappoint with this latest legal thriller. He lives in Virginia and Mississippi and continues to be a great storyteller!

Published: Doubleday a division of Random House, Inc., New York, NY Copyright: © 2012 By: Belfry Holdings, Inc. Reviewed: 10/31/12 – 360 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 360

Gone Girl

Published on 09/13/12


Nick and Amy Dunne – an attractive couple happily married and they are full of secrets. One reviewer said it was ” the most frightening portrait of psychopathy she’d ever read ”. Now that I have finished reading this novel, I agree.

Amy is a beautiful and intelligent woman. She is also diabolical, inventive and sadistic. Her failing marriage becomes a game of “getting even”. and the plot is frightening.

Nick is popular, easy going, and a writer. He is totally unprepared for the surprise his wife has been planning for their anniversary.

Nick is a twin, and his sister, Go., is a remarkable, kind woman who loves her brother unconditionally.

The cast of characters in this book are finely drawn and the reader feels compelled to finish reading this book, even while being disgusted with the plot!

My book group chose Gone Girl for September’s novel, and I can’t wait to hear all of the opinions!

Gillian Flynn knows how to put the words together, and has written the New York Times best seller, Dark Places, and was the Dagger Award winner, with Sharp Objects. She lives in Chicago, with her husband and her son.

Black List

Published on 09/13/12


My last Brad Thor review was in 2011 so here is his latest thriller, just out in July 2012.

This author brings the reader up to date with the latest technology based on systems currently deployed, or in the final stages of development, by the United States government and its partners.

Black List is a closely guarded list deep inside the USA government only seen by the President and a secret team of advisors. The trick is once your on the list you don’t get off off it until you are dead.

Scot Harvath is a counterterrorism operative whose name has been added to the list. Teams are out to get him and he doesn’t know who or why they want him dead. There are only a few people Scot can trust completely, and Nicholas was one of them. He is a dwarf and his best friends are his dogs Arpos and Draco.

Harvath’s Carlton Group is the target and Reed Carlton and Harvath are the only members left to stop the worst terrorist attack ever against the USA.

Nicholas is a computer whiz and its up to him to break into a computer drive that the terrorists would kill to get.

The female version of the Carlton Group is also a target, and one member has already been killed. Caroline, was her name and her computer drive is what the terrorists want. Her sister appears on the scene, Nina. Nina and Nicholas find and get into her hard drive and it is a file called Blue Sand. It is the key to understanding what exactly the terrorists group is up to and just how horrible the results could be.

Black List is an intense novel, that combines reality and fiction in a way that makes the reader aware of what could occur. Brad Thor is one of the best thriller writers of our time.

Published: ATRIA BOOKS a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 Copyright: © 2012 By: Brad Thor Reviewed: 09/11/12 – 357 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 357

The Litigators

Published on 09/11/12


David Zinc, a hot shot, Harvard educated young attorney has a well paying job at a big law firm in Chicago. The routine of an elevator ride to a small cubicle with no windows day after day has driven him around the bend – he is not a drinking man, but he goes on a drinking spree and is in serious trouble when he winds up at Finley & Figg Boutique law firm, still a bit drunk, but it seems like a haven to David.

Oscar Finley and Wally Figg have been law partners for a long time and manage to get by as ambulance chasers and divorce attorneys in their bungalow office in southwest Chicago. Rochelle is their secretary and all around go to person, who keeps the place running with the help of the resident dog , AC. When David sobers up he knows he will never go pack to the hot shot law offices and goes to work for Oscar and Wally.

The first big plus is he is installed in the second floor of the bungalow and has it all to himself! Its been a store room – but he cleans it up, fixes it up and loves it – he has windows!

David’s wife is a very nice woman and they have saved some money, so there is breathing room to get used to this new venture. David never talked about his job to his wife before, but now he can’t wait to tell her about each day and the characters that are the clients and Oscar and Wally, themselves – who are outrageous in every way. They both carry guns and know how to use them, as does Rochelle – and their many schemes to ” strike it rich ” are endless.

Finally, with David along, they think they may have the big case that could make them all rich; a drug company has been selling a very popular drug that is killing people.

Grisham, is at his best when he sets out to defend the underdog. This is a hilarious unbelievable comedy in a way that is also serious about certain values to emerge as the plot unfolds. Read and enjoy!

Published: Doubleday a division of Random House, Inc. New York, NY Copyright: © 2011 by: Beltry Holdings, Inc. Reviewed: 01/20/12 – 340 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 340

The Fallen Angel

Published on 09/06/12



I must admit I wait impatiently for the newest Daniel Silva novel to appear! The Fallen Angel just out in July 2012 – doesn’t disappoint.

Gabriel Allon is a bit older now and has survived his latest mission for Israel intelligence. He is quietly restoring a Caravaggio painting at the Vatican and enjoying his other career as an art restorer. The Vatican is always filled with intrigue, however, and Gabriel is suddenly summoned to headquarters. St. Peter’s Basilica, by an old friend, who happens to be the powerful private secretary to Pope Paul VII. Luigi Donati and Gabriel are old friends, for various reasons, and trust each other completely, despite their religious differences.

Claudia Andreatti was found dead on the floor of the Basilica, and it was apparent that she had jumped or been pushed to her death from the high balcony in the gallery. The first responders assumed it was suicide, but when Gabriel arrived at the scene he is certain it was murder; her neck was broken and a gold chain she was wearing was missing.

When Monsignor Donati arrives on the scene he agrees that he thinks it was murder and that it could have been his fault because he had asked her to investigate secretly, Donati’s suspicion that the Vatican Museums were being plundered. Claudia had been investigating for six months and discovered a dangerous secret agenda much worse than just looting timeless treasures – sabotage that could lead to worldwide devastation.

This novel takes the reader from the Vatican to St. Moritz, Berlin and Vienna as the investigation escalates. Finally, Gabriel and his team are in Israel and Jerusalem and on to the Temple Mount and a shocking climax taking place in the most contested parcel of land in the world, going back to the beginning of time in Jerusalem.

I will end with this reminder, and I quote – ” that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it . “

Published: Harper Collins Publishers 10 East 53rd Street New York, NY 10022 Copyright: © 2012 By: Daniel THE FALLENDANIEL Reviewed: 07/15/12 – 355

Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 355

The Weird Sisters

Published on 09/06/12



This is a family that is definitely eccentric; comprised of three sisters; their mother and their father, a professor of Shakespeare – Dr. James Andreas at Barnwell College. For starters, all the girls were named for The Bards heroines – Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia.

The oldest daughter is Rose, the middle one is Bean, and the youngest is Cordy. They are all avid readers, the father speaks mostly in Shakespearian verse, TV is not a part of their lives, and all life’s problems can be solved with a library card!

Rose is the homebody, a college graduate, recently engaged to Jonathan and living at home with a good career. Bean is a fast living sophisticate in New York spending way above her means and Cordy is a traveling bohemian who finds herself pregnant on the road.

Their mother has just been diagnosed with cancer, which gives everyone an excuse to come home after being away for several years. No one wants to say that things have not turned out as expected, but make up excuses instead, at the beginning!

As the truth gradually appears, and we are treated to a humorous, thought-provoking display of a family torn apart and stitching its way back together. I didn’t find a single boring page on this journey – the characters are all wonderful!

The Girls have a way of describing themselves, and I quote, “See, we love each other. We just don’t like each other very much”.

Eleanor Brown has written a novel that pulls you into the lives of a family that makes you feel you are right there with them!

Published: THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street New York, NY 10014 USA Copyright: © 2011 by: Eleanor Brown Reviewed: 05/15/12 – 350 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 350

Calico Joe

Published on 09/06/12



This Grisham novel is about Major League Baseball, but so much more! The story about Joe Castle, a rookie from Calico Rock, Arkansas, who began playing for the Chicago Cubs in 1973, is told through the eyes of Paul Tracey.

Paul Tracey is the son of Warren Tracey, an extremely hard-throwing pitcher for the New York Mets. When Joe Castle is called up by the Cubs from their AA club in Midland, Texas, he becomes the rookie of the year with his unbelievable record of home runs! He was also a savvy first baseman and there is no stopping Joe Castle.

Paul’s father, Warren is a hard-drinking, womanizing pitcher with no time for family. Paul is sometimes proud his father is pitching for the Mets, but when Joe Castle comes along, so very young and talented, Joe Castle becomes Paul’s hero, as Joe does for almost all baseball fans in the USA.

Baseball fans will find many famous players and coaches documented in these pages, but the author warns that mixing real people, players and events into a novel is tricky business! This is fiction, and Grisham warns that he has changed schedules, records and batting orders and even put some fictional players in the mix with real ones.

Joe Castle is at the top of his form when the unthinkable happens, and Paul Tracey is in the stands. Many lives will be changed forever and the lessons learned off the field by so many different people are what makes this book special!

My husband grew up in Chicago, close to Wrigley Field and as a Cub fan was standing in long lines twice at Wrigley, to finally get two tickets to the 1945 World Series, Cubs versus Detroit. When I brought the book home and it was his turn to read it he said this may be fiction, but it ” hits the nail on the head as far as how things were ”.

This just might be a different kind of a John Grisham classic!

Published: Doubleday a division of Random House, Inc., New York, NY Copyright: © 2012 By: Belfry Holdings, Inc. Reviewed: 06/10/12 – 352 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 352

the Innocent

Published on 09/06/12



The Innocent is the very newest Baldacci thriller – just out in April 2012. Will Robie is the hitman called on to eliminate enemies of the U. S. when all else has failed, including the military, the FBI and the police. His missions take him all over the world, and his life is lonely and secretive at all times. So far he has been successful; otherwise he would be dead.

Suddenly his mission is close to home, which is unusual. Its in Washington D.C. Everything is out of control – and he reacts in an unusual way – he refuses to kill . The person involved is a 14 year old girl – supposedly a runaway from a foster home. There is something about Julie that makes him want to help her instead of turning her in. She is intelligent, careful, and brave, but she desperately needs help and Robie finds he can’t abandon her.

As Julie finally decides to trust him, they are on their own and Robie finds out her parents, who loved her, have been murdered. The hunt is on and Robie can’t even trust his own people.

Somebody is playing him and the cover-up may involve people in very high places.

Robie finds himself being contacted by ” Blue Man ”, who is from the Bureau in the highest category, and asks Robie to help. Robie agrees, but secretly his first priority is turning out to be Julie and he has to keep her hidden for her safety until he can clear her name. Various characters emerge, such as Agent Vance, a woman from the FBI on duty in the White House. Annie Lambert, a resident in Robie’s condo apartment building makes herself available and Robie finds her attractive, much to his surprise !

Will Robie finds himself forced to play a different game in order to save Julie and even himself. The action is non- stop , spell binding and remarkably innovative. The Innocent is a mystery thriller in the here and now.

Published: GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING Hachette Book Group 237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017 Copyright: © 2012 By: Columbus Rose, Ltd. Reviewed: 05/15/12 – 351 Copyright: © 2012 by Joan G. Smith 351