“Love and Ruin” by Paula McLain, depicts Ernest Hemingway’s stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn, a fiercely independent, ambitious woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century. In “The Home for Unwanted Girls” by Joanna Goodman (The Finishing School), Maggie Hughes, the daughter of an English gentleman and an impoverished French woman, is brought up English. That is, until a brief romance with a French-speaking boy end in pregnancy. ”Goodman writes with passion about a dark episode in Quebec’s recent past” (Publishers Weekly). In “Tangerine” by Christine Mangan, Alice Shipley is an quiet American woman living an isolated existence in Tangier, alienated both from her husband and the local culture. So she is relieved when her college friend Lucy arrives. Lucy quickly dives into the local scene, dragging a reluctant Alice along. Then Alice’s husband disappears.
In “Spell of the Tiger”, Sy Montgomery introduces the Sundarban tigers, the only tiger that feeds on humans. Living in the mangrove swamps and the tidal delta between India and Bangladesh, they prey on the unwary. But rather than being feared and hunted, they are revered. “Soul of an Octopus” reveals them as surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature that is capable of making ‘remarkable connections’ with humans. “Tamed & Untamed”, shares more close encounters of the animal kind, encounters that reveal our immersion in nature.
Sports stars come and go, but sometimes a man seems made for the moment. In “A Season in the Sun” by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith recalls Mickey Mantle’s finest season (1956), both on the field and in acclaim. That year, Mantle led the league in batting average, runs batted in, and homers (challenging Ruth’s record)—a rare triple crown. Mantel was a hit in the press as well—a golden boy from the heartland, he seemed to affirm good-old American values. The image was strained—given to late-night partying and nagged by injuries, Mantle often struggled to report to the baseball diamond. In 1956, tho’, it all came to together for him. Author Roberts and Smith detail both Mantle’s exploits on the field and the PR machine that sold his country boy image to a war-weary nation. Even die hard Red Sox fans should find this an engaging read.
While history turns on pivotal events, the wheels of justice grind slow. So we find in “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist” by Radley Balko (“Rise of the Warrior Cop”). Drs Steven Hayne and Michael West built successful careers as medical examiners in rural Mississippi, performing autopsies and serving as go-to experts for prosecutors. But the evidence they provided was often faulty and biased, notably so in the cases Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both wrongly convicted on the basis of the examiner’s evidence; both were acquitted in 2007. The authors methodically dissect the doctors’ testimonies and the justice system in which they were allowed to flourish.
Sometimes history is best glimpsed in a passing moment. “West like Lightning” by Jim DeFelice details the ‘the brief, legendary ride of the Pony Express’ the mail service the united the east and west coasts before telegraph and rails. Concocted by a trio of NY businessmen, the service charged $5 to deliver a message or letter cross country by horseback. Defelice details both the how-to’s of the service (recruitment of riders, stations for changing horses) and the riders harrowing encounters with hostile natives, wild animals and feuding settlers. It’s a delightfully wild ride through history. People wanting to go on the the next chapter might try Railroaded, the story of the first transcontinental rail lines.
The Cuban Missile Crisis may have been one of the most terrifying thirteen days in human history. “Above and Beyond” by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias adds a personal element to the story by emphasizing the role of the spy plane pilots who discovered the missile sites and monitored Soviet moves. Their deeds are juxtaposed with Kennedy’s strategizing to tell an “an adventure yarn worthy of a great spy novelist” –but one far consequential. Note that Garry Wills “The Kennedy Imprisonment” has a less flattering take on the late president’s missile diplomacy. Meanwhile, “Three days in Moscow” by Brent Baier credits the president for turning “the evil empire” onto a path of democracy. The three days were the lead up to an address delivered at Moscow State University, where Reagan spoke hopefully of making friends of old antagonists. Although an arms reduction pact had already been reached), the talk publicly signaled the change in relations. Reagan’s diplomatic initiative was continued by his successor, George Bush.
In “Twisted Prey” by John Sandford, a rogue senator is using intelligence data for personal vendettas. In “The Fallen” by David Baldacci, “memory man” Amos Decker investigates a string of murders in a rust belt town. “The 17th Suspect” by James Patterson means its another month and time to catch another serial killer. In “After Anna” by Lisa Scottoline, responsibility for a death in the family may land on a family’s doorstep. And finally, “Shoot First” by Stuart Woods offers Bond-like adventure (exotic locales, romantic dalliances, fast paced action).