Friday, August 10, 2012

Keep Those Reviews Rolling In

I'd like to say that I'm on a roll.  But since I've done 2 straight blogs about 1 book each, I can't really say that.  This time, though, I mean it.  I'm doing 3 reviews no matter what.  And heeeeere they are:

Daniel Silva - The Fallen Angel
Brad Harbach - The Art of Fielding
Christopher Buckley - They Eat Puppies, Don't They?

These 3 books are as different from each other as you could imagine.  One's the 12th in a series about an Israeli art restorer/spy-assassin; one's about a kid who turns himself into a major league prospect with the help of his new best friend; and one's about...well, Buckley's satires are very hard to categorize.  Just take it on faith that they're all very different.

First up is Silva's The Fallen Angel.  This is one of my favorite series.  And it seems that Silva's writing gets better with each book.  This was really well done.  I've got Silva's The Unlikely Spy (NOT part of the series) in FFTNFR, Volume I, but any one of his 12 books about Gabriel Allon could easily be on one of those lists.  Gabriel's age is tough to determine, but I would think he is in his mid- to late-fifties.  All of the books combine his world-class skill in restoring painting masterpieces with his relentless pursuit of terrorists and unfriendlies.  In this edition, he is at the Vatican restoring a painting by Caravaggio (Gabriel is actually a confidant to the pope and the pope's right hand man - go figure).  He finds himself trying to solve a murder that takes place in the Vatican.  This brings him back in contact with his long-time mentor, Ari Shamron (a great literary figure), Uzi Navot, the head of Israeli intelligence, and Gabriel's crew who get together each book to plan how they are going to prevent terrorists from destroying Israel.  In this case, Iran is the bad guy.  That's all the information you need.  It follows a standard pattern and is very, very good.

Next is Brad Harbach's The Art of Fielding.  This has become somewhat of a sensation (even Recycle Bookstore in Campbell has multiple copies!).  The story centers on a young scrawny kid, Henry Skrimshander, who plays baseball and never makes an error.  I mean never.  He can't hit, but his fielding is amazing.  A famous shortstop, who played in the major leagues for many years, has written a book called The Art of Fielding, and it is Henry's bible.

While playing in a tournament as a high school senior, Henry comes to the attention of Mike Schwartz who is a major stud.  Mike, who had never seen or heard of Henry before this tournament, convinces Henry to attend Westish College in Wisconsin, a division III school (small college) where Mike has just finished his first year.  Mike mentors Henry and helps him become an amazing star, one who ultimately catches the attention of major league scouts.  Everything is going great for Henry - until he makes his first error.  Then everything turns upside down.

Besides Henry and Mike, there is Guert Affenlight, who is the president of the college, Pella Affenlight, who is (not surprisingly) the president's daughter, and Own Dunne, a baseball player who reads when he's sitting on the bench during games, who is gay, and who is Henry's roommate.  For those of you who don't like sports, don't worry.  The relationships among all of these people are more interesting than the baseball.  And for those of you who like sports, don't worry.  There's enough baseball to keep you interested.  My buddy Bob, who has been exchanging books with me for over a decade now, told me to read this one.  He never does that.  He was right.  This is darn good.

The 3rd book, Christopher Buckley's They Eat Puppies, Don't They, is a bit difficult to explain.  It's not that I can't give you the story line.  It's rather that all of his books are tongue-in-cheek.  Let me give you some of the titles of his previous works:  Florence of Arabia, No Way to Treat A First Lady, Little Green Men, Wry Martinis, Boomsday, and, his one book that was made into a movie, Thank You for Smoking.  See what I mean?  He has been called a "political novelist," a "humor novelist," and "America's greatest living political satirist."

I can still give you the plot, although it pretty much doesn't matter.  The plot just gives Buckley a chance to skewer Washington D.C. politics (his father was William F. Buckley).  In Puppies, Bird McIntyre is a lobbyist who teams up with the chairperson of the Institute for Continuing Conflict, Angel Templeton.  She is very outspoken and very sexy.  They team up to convince the American public that the Chinese are plotting to assassinate the Dalai Lama.  There are chapters with Bird, and there are chapters with the president of the People's Republic of China/general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Fa Mengyao.  Throw in Bird's wife Myndi, who is a world-class equestrian, Lo Guowei, Minister of State Security, and the scariest person (out of 1.3 billion people) in China, and Chick Devlin, President of aerospace giant Groepping-Sprunt, and you have a wide variety of very interesting characters.

Can I recommend this book?  Maybe but not necessarily.  I would suggest that if you want to try a Buckley that you start with Thank You For Smoking.  If you like that, then you can give this one a shot.

This weekend, I will review Alex Kava's latest and Keith Raffel's (a Bay Area guy and one of my interviewees) 3rd book.

NOTE:  I just started Steven King's 11/22/63.  Since it's 842 pages, I should actually be able, this time, to catch up on the reviews.  Then I will start blogging about the author interviews.  BTW, I have 3 more authors to interview.  That will make a total of 11.

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