Posts Tagged ‘Jack U.’s Picks’

The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption by Laurence Leamer

January 30, 2014

Are you concerned about the influence of big money and power in our society today? If so, you’ll want to read “The Price of Justice” by Laurence Leamer and get the true story of how one CEO used his money and power to corrupt the halls of justice in the Supreme Court of West Virginia. This is a non-fiction page turner that will make you burn with righteous indignation at the conniving, cut-throat methods he used.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, is the real life villain in this story. His massive coal company ran roughshod over the competition and the entire state of West Virginia, both the people and the environment. Dare to challenge him and you’ll be branded unpatriotic to West Virginia and very likely watch your life go down the tubes. If he wanted something he wouldn’t stop until he got it. One of his victims, Hugh Caperton, had his small company and life destroyed by Blankenship. Hugh decided to fight back, and with the help of two highly exceptional and motivated lawyers started a 14-year legal battle that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

This story formed the basis of John Grisham’s popular fiction book “The Appeal” and the real life version is every bit as compelling as fiction. So if you like legal thrillers, try the “Price of Justice” for a non-fiction change of pace that may be right up your alley.

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Panhandle by Brett Cogburn

February 28, 2013

I love a good Western, but they are not always easy to find.  Many of them tend to be rather formulaic and the ending of the story is apparent from a long way out.  Every once in a while I find one that breaks from that mold and when I do I savor it like fine wine (or a shot of rotgut).  Brett Cogburn’s  Panhandle is one of the best Westerns I’ve read recently.  On one level it’s a great story in its own right, but I also found it to be a social commentary on how people deal with cultural changes.

Panhandle is about three young cowboys who have been living the free and easy life for which cowboys are known.  No house, few possessions, and very little money doesn’t sound like such a good deal to most people.   But to a real cowboy, the opportunity to be outside on a good horse in open country is worth every penny they don’t earn.  Our three cowboys start the story by stealing horses from a band of Indians on a reservation, not the most noble of endeavors, but one that’s not viewed as a terrible crime during the period.  This was the best idea they had to make a little money during the off season, so they went for it. Remember, many cowboys weren’t hired year round and mainly worked the roundups and ensuing cattle drives. 

The trio proceeds to live the lifestyle that cowboys are so famous for living, engaging in several adventures.  Unfortunately for them, the age of the wild cowboy is quickly coming to an end and they are going to be forced to deal with the changes.  Who knew barbed wire and sheep could change things so quickly? 

Of course, any Western worth its salt will have a romance in the story.  Enter the most beautiful girl in the region, who quickly becomes a problem between Billy and Tennessee as they both pursue her.  I can’t reveal how this will end, but rest assured it makes great reading!!  If you like Westerns, but are a little tired of the same old, same old, give Panhandle a try, I hope you’ll like it.

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Driftless by David Rhodes

November 2, 2012

I loved this book and everybody in it. If you are a fan of small town life, this will be right up your alley. Driftless is set, naturally enough, in a small town in Wisconsin and follows the lives of many of its inhabitants. Reading through the reviews on Amazon it seems the common thread is a love of the characters and their relationships with one another.

The person that ties the whole story together is July Montgomery. July was a drifter who came into the area one dark night and decided to stay. Most of the other characters are lifelong residents of the region and they all come to rely on July in some way. I’m tempted to think that the name “July” symbolizes that he brought summer into an area that is filled with very long winters, but that may be my fanciful imagination. After thinking this for the bulk of the book, I recently found out that July is a character from another of Rhodes’ books that he wrote about thirty years ago. This makes me doubt that my original idea has any merit, but who knows?

The characters of this story encounter all sorts of challenges and adventures. A wild panther on the loose, an encounter with the Divine, dog fighting, gambling, and deadly blizzards are just a few of the situations that will keep you turning the pages.

Rhodes published three highly acclaimed novels in the 70’s. He was then involved in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed. This is the first book he’s published since his accident and his excellent writing has continued. Driftless won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. Having never heard of this award I went to their website and found that the Milkweed is for “ … fiction manuscripts of high literary quality that embody humane values and contribute to cultural understanding”. While this may sound like boring reading to some folks, I assure you this book is not!

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Jimmy by Robert Whitlow

August 27, 2012

Robert Whitlow’s novels all have legal themes of one type or another and so does Jimmy. The main character, Jimmy,  is a boy with mental disabilities who lives in a small town in Georgia. This is a slower-paced story than Whitlow’s other works. It focuses on character development and relationships more than the legal thriller aspect, but it still packs quite a dramatic punch.

Jimmy is well-known and loved in his small town. His parents are very supportive and help him learn to do the things that most of us take for granted. He learns to ride a bike, help out at his father’s law office, and successfully testify in court in a major drug case in which he is a witness. Jimmy’s most dramatic accomplishment comes with the help of his grandpa, a retired telephone lineman. He wants Jimmy to learn to climb a 40-foot telephone pole in his backyard. Nobody else thinks this is even a remotely good idea. Jimmy and his grandfather eventually prevail and Jimmy begins the lengthy process of learning to climb like a real lineman.

Jimmy is a little more spiritually aware than most of us and sees “Watchers” who help him when he needs special assistance. His mother is convinced the “Watchers” are angels, but not everyone agrees with this idea. Jimmy’s life is not all peaches and cream. There are some people who are mean to him and one person in particular who will ultimately put Jimmy in a position of terrifying danger.

Jimmy is the kind of character that will warm the heart of the coldest person. I found myself becoming so involved in his story that I never wanted it to end. Alas, it did end and not without a lot of controversy among Whitlow’s faithful readers. The author has provided an alternate ending on his website which I would encourage you to read. I’ve loved all of Mr. Whitlow’s books, but I believe this is my favorite.

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Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat—and How to Counter It By Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig

April 19, 2012

This book is amazing – startling, terrifying, and yet, reassuring.  A unique combination to be sure, but those are the phrases that come to mind when I think back about this book.  One of the authors, Wallace Broecker, may sound familiar as the scientist who developed the “conveyor belt” system that explains the circulation of water throughout the world’s oceans.  He started measuring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere back in the 1950’s, a time when few people gave any thought to the idea that rising emissions of CO2 could have any effect on us and our world.  This early start and subsequent expertise has made him one of the leading researchers in the field.

The amount of science covered in this book is phenomenal.   One of the things that really caught my attention is that during the last ice age we experienced a short period of about 10 to 12 years where the earth heated up rapidly and came out of the ice age only to plunge right back into the ice age again.  Scientists have no clue as to why this happened and what the implications of this event might be for us today.  Another thing that really stuck with me is that about 40% of our increased CO2 output is being absorbed by the oceans.   The problem is that this absorption is acidifying our oceans and threatening the way water circulates through them, thereby threatening the best climate stabilizer we have.

The authors believe there is no way we will be able to eliminate our addiction to carbon based fuels quickly enough to stop the ensuing climate problems that increasing levels of CO2 cause.  Just as my spirit was sinking in despair at this news, they gave me hope for our future.  Technology now exists to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but questions remain about where to store it once it’s been removed.  The good news is that they are close to having this system worked out and we have reason to believe that we can return to a cooler world.

Science based books are not typically page-turners, but this one truly is.  Give it a try and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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The Second Objective by Mark Frost

January 26, 2012

Mark Frost’s novel is a thriller based on true events that happened during World War II.  The Nazi’s are determined to strike a huge blow against the Allies in a last ditch attempt to reverse their declining fortunes.  To facilitate this attack they have devised the rather ingenious idea of rounding up their best English speaking soldiers and training them to impersonate Americans.  They then send them into Allied territory ahead of the main attack where they are to disrupt the Allied response when the full attack begins.  This was their first objective and the one to which the majority of their soldiers were assigned.  The second, secret objective was to carry on to Allied headquarters and assassinate General Eisenhower while still impersonating American soldiers.  Of the twenty soldiers assigned to this second objective, eighteen were killed or captured.  Two were never found.  These are the facts.

Frost’s fictionalized story follows the soldiers tasked with killing Eisenhower.  The kicker here is that one of these men, Bernie Oster, was born in the U.S. to German parents and raised in Brooklyn.  His family moved back to Germany when he was fourteen. The bleak economics of the Depression in the United States forced this move.  Bernie was eventually drafted into the Nazi army.  Bernie detests the Nazis and has tried to thwart their efforts whenever he has a chance to do so without getting caught.

When Bernie is brought into “Operation Greif” he falls under the immediate command of Erich Von Leinsdorf.  Von Leinsdorf is a member of the SS.  The son of a diplomat, he was raised in London from the age of ten until the war broke out.  His English, spoken with a British accent, is flawless.  He is very smooth and friendly on the surface, but Bernie senses that beneath this facade lurks a stone-cold killer.

As the Germans begin the invasion, Von Leinsdorf reveals his true nature by shooting two of his men after they are wounded by the Americans.  With his worst fears confirmed, Bernie is on high alert.  He suspects there is more to their mission than what they have been told and repeatedly tries to get Von Leinsdorf to reveal it to him.  In the meantime, Bernie does what he can to secretly sabotage Operation Greif’s efforts without getting himself killed by Von Leinsdorf.  He leaves subtle clues as he and Von Leinsdorf become aware that two American MP’s are tracking them down.

As the war continues around them, Bernie and Von Leinsdorf proceed on to their second objective with MP’s in hot pursuit.  The story continues at a hot pace straight through with the accelerator being mashed to the floor in the last few chapters.  If World War II historical fiction or fast-paced thrillers are your style, Frost’s novel is sure to satisfy.

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Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

October 18, 2011

When I was a kid I loved catching fireflies.  My love for these denizens of the night has continued into adulthood, even though I don’t catch them so much anymore.  When I saw the title of this book, I had to check it out despite the fact that I knew nothing about the book or the author.  It was a great surprise to me that I liked it so much.  I have read few books that strike an emotional chord with me like this one does.  I venture to guess this will be my favorite book of the year.

Martin’s story revolves around a young boy found wandering alone after having been in a terrible wreck.  He has no identification and no one knows who he is.  He is mute and communicates only by writing and drawing.  His artistic ability borders on genius.  He says his name is “Snoot”. His body bears the scars of terrible physical abuse.  Chase Walker is the reporter assigned to write a story about the boy.

Chase relates to the boy as only another orphan can and the two soon forge a strong bond.  In Chase’s search to uncover Snoot’s identity, he discovers his own true past and the answers to the questions every orphan has about their origins.  This story has it all – mystery, reconciliation, and the amazing power of love.  Read it if you are in the mood for a tearjerker that will also make you laugh a lot.

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Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

May 13, 2011

Did you love Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth?  If so, this book will satisfy your need for another good, thick, medieval tome.  The author, Ildefonso Falcones, is a lawyer in Barcelona.  This debut novel, translated from Spanish, was a bestseller in Spain.  The story focuses primarily on Arnau Estanyol, a good man trying to make his way in a tough world.  His father fled to Barcelona with young Arnau hoping for a better life.  As a runaway serf, his hope was to take advantage of Barcelona’s law that allows anyone who lives in the city for one year and a day to become a free citizen.

Life in Barcelona during the 1300’s is far from a bed of roses and Arnau and his father barely manage to survive.  They adopt Joan, a young boy from the streets who Arnau has become fast friends with.  The boys share a strong bond which becomes even stronger when Arnau’s father dies and they have to fend for themselves.  As they reach adulthood, their paths diverge;  Arnau becomes a stone carrier or “bastaixo” and carries the stones used to build the Cathedral of the Sea and  Joan starts on the path to the priesthood.

After many twists and turns, Arnau becomes a successful businessman and Joan becomes an inquisitor for the Catholic Church.  Because Arnau has a heart for people and tries to change his world for the better, he becomes a favorite with the common man and an enemy of the aristocracy and the Church.  Events ultimately come to a head and Arnau and his adopted brother Joan square off in a fascinating battle.

While Cathedral does not provide the architectural details that Pillars does, it does paint a detailed portrait of what life in 14th century Spain was like, set amidst much family drama.

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