Sunday, March 6, 2016

Operation Solo : The FBI's Man In The Kremlin
by John Barron 

According to the back flap of Operation Solo, it is considered America's greatest spy story. Perhaps. I certainly have never heard of it prior to reading about it. I have read plenty of books about people spying on the Soviet Union and vice versa, but never about a man working for the FBI and gathering secrets on Russia. Morris Childs made fifty-two trips to the Soviet Union over a period of twenty-seven years. The Russians considered him a friend and often asked for his advice. They never knew who he was actually working for. Sound like a good story? I certainly thought so but it was, at times, tedious to read, dry, and plodding. There's a wealth of fascinating information here. I think it could have been much better with a different author. This is probably why he had trouble finding a publisher. If you're interested in reading about spies, go for it.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Killing A King : The Assassination Of Yitzhak Rabin And The Remaking Of Israel
by Dan Ephron

On November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot in a Tel Aviv parking lot. It happened at the end of a peace rally. Yigal Amir had pulled the trigger, a Jew, not an Arab. Amir was furious with the Oslo Accord (Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and Rabin agreed to a conciliation between the Arabs and the Jews) and felt that Rabin had betrayed Israel and its people. Amir had stalked Rabin for months and yet the agency that was supposed to protect Rabin missed many clues. It was a huge security blunder.
Rabin died and Amir went to prison for life.
Author Dan Ephron is supposed to be an award-winning writer (this is what is printed on the back flap under his photo), but I beg to differ. He is an investigative reporter, so you get a lot of detail, not all of it scintillating. Some sections are really deadening. Ephron was attempting to be fair-minded in his writing, but there is definitely a bias here.
The book is interesting enough to read about the Middle East process and all that Israel has gone through.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Sound Of Music Story : How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, And Ten Singing Von Trapp Children Inspired The Most Beloved Film Of All Time
by Tom Santopietro

Having seen "The Sound of Music" so many times, I really thought that a book about making the movie would be very interesting. At times, it was. There's plenty of fascinating trivia, too. But, there's too much information that's really not necessary and then it becomes endless filler. The author writes about what happens to everybody in their lives that was involved with the film after the fact: the director, the screenwriter, the costume designer, the editor, all of the actors, and the von Trapps. It became deadening and the author's prose is quite dry. Because of this book, though, I became fascinated with the von Trapp family and wanted to know more about them. They were not too happy with the film, because it took too many liberties and what was portrayed was not even true. There's another movie that came out before "The Sound of Music" in German (you can watch it on YouTube with English subtitles) that is much more realistic of the von Trapps.
If you're an absolute fan, you will love this book. For the rest of us, it can be skipped.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Map Thief : The Gripping Story Of An Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps
by Michael Blanding

I'm amazed that I read this book from the beginning to the end, because I almost stopped reading it midway through. The style of writing was boring and bland (how appropriate that the latter word is part of the author's last name). I disagree with the subtitle, because it's certainly not gripping or riveting as reviewers from several websites have stated.
The book really needs a proofreader. I started writing down all of the errors that I saw beginning with Chapter 8. There were missing and misspelled words, words out of place, etc. (I e-mailed the author to let him know and he was quite grateful.)
Although there's quite a bit of interesting information concerning the history of antique maps, it can be deadening to the casual reader. If you're a map collector, then this book is definitely something that you should read. For the rest of us, it's ho-hum.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pilgrim's Wilderness : A True Story Of Faith And Madness On The Alaska Frontier
by Tom Kizzia

One day in the winter of 2002, a family showed up in a town called McCarthy which was an isolated area in Alaska. The father calling himself Papa Pilgrim had his wife and fifteen children with him. To the residents, they thought that the family were pious, very religious, and industrious. At first, they were welcomed. But then when they bulldozed a road illegally through the mountains, the family was at war with the National Park Service. 
This is a very disturbing story about a man who had a dark side and used it against his family. Many parts are difficult to read. Some sections of the book, though, can be quite dry and boring when the author writes about the politics of the area and goes into long chapters about the government, the land, the infighting.
I wouldn't call the book riveting, a masterpiece, eloquent as other reviewers have. It does keep your interest for the most part.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Etched In Sand : A True Story Of Five Siblings Who Survived An Unspeakable Childhood On Long Island
by Regina Calcaterra

Regina Calcaterra along with her four siblings had a horrific childhood. They spent most of it in either foster homes or on the streets living in abandoned houses. When there were no abodes available, they slept in the car. Their mother was an alcoholic who would disappear for weeks and sometimes months and the children had to fend for themselves. When she would return, they dreaded it. If she was in a bad mood, the beatings were heinous. They learned to rely on one another to survive.
The reason I decided to put my review on this particular blog had nothing to do with the subject matter. I have never read anything before like what these siblings went through and it's certainly an eye-opener. Much of what is written in this book is repetitive, though.
What I want to point out is that the true author of this book is not Regina Calcaterra. She used a ghostwriter named Kristine Gasbarre and in the Acknowledgements, Calcaterra gives her credit for writing her thoughts and memories exactly how she would have done it. Calcaterra calls her a co-writer so then Gasbarre's name should be on the front cover. If you doubt this, check out Gasbarre's book, "How to Love an American Man" and read the excerpt on the Barnes & Noble website. The style is IDENTICAL to Etched in Sand and this is why it was so readable.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mary And Lou And Rhoda And Ted : And All The Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show A Classic
by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

In 1970, writer-producers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns came up with an idea for a show about a divorced woman who had a career. The executives at CBS were not buying it. Time thought it would be a disaster and would never last. The Mary Tyler Moore Show proved everybody wrong. It became a classic that changed many lives and inspired so many women.
If you're a die-hard fan of this show (you can watch the first three seasons for free on, this is the book for you. You learn about the scripts, the women who wrote the sketches, the characters, the actors who all bonded very quickly with one another, the very creative minds of Brooks and Burns.
The first part of the book is very funny; the middle not so much; and the end, not at all. Some parts become repetitious with filler that is not needed. Every nuance and aspect of the show is written here. I couldn't wait to finish and I almost stopped reading it altogether but plowed on.
There's a great bit of interesting trivia here and much of the information is quite interesting. But I think the appeal is really for anybody who watched every episode and made an impact on them.