“1st to Die” by James Patterson (Little, Brown and Company, 2001)

Patterson’s New Thriller Series

1st to Diestarstarstar

Some of you may be familiar with James Patterson’s Alex Cross series; there is currently a film-adaptation of one of Patterson’s novels, Along Came a Spider starring Morgan Freeman.  1st to Die is Patterson’s latest achievement and it marks the first installment of a series he will develop further in the future.

The setting: there is a killer going round the Bay Area, taking the lives of newly-weds on the night of their honeymoon or the day of their wedding.  The SFPD is pretty much stumped, slowly piecing the evidence together, but not actually getting very far – leads leading to cul-de-sacs.

The characters: four woman who unite, all from different walks of life, to solve the case and catch the serial killer.  The main character, Lindsay Boxer, is an investigator for the homicide division for the homicide division for the SFPD; she wants most to succeed, but she is concurrently battling a devastating illness that saps more of her energy each day she sets about solving this bloody investigation.  Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, friend to Lindsay, she provides important details that help the case.  Jill Bernardt is the Assistant D.A. who wants to catch just this person just as much as the others, hoping to try him and put him away fro a long time.  Cindy Thomas is a small-time reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, but she has been recently promoted to the crime desk at the newspaper: her research provides valuable evidence for the case, while she keeps the country up-to-date on the circumstances of the case, that is when Lindsay agrees to the press release.  Together they are the Women’s Murder Club.

The novel:  Patterson has managed to create a whole new world in the familiar territory of the Bay Area.  He dives beneath the ordinary, everyday façade of San Francisco and reveals an invisible underlining that is witnessed by few.  The reader is taken on a joyride of shocking and exciting proportions, as the quartet meet and bring the clues together, steadily catching up to the killer, until the climactic finish, with Patterson’s inevitable twists surprising the reader in a tour-de-force conclusion.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on May 14th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“In the Heart of the Sea” by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, 2000)

The Prequel to Moby-Dick

In the Heart of the Sea

Not enough people have read Moby-Dick, and most people know it has something to do with a white whale and a nut called Ahab – oh yeah, and it starts off something like, “Call me Ishmael.”

All the above information is correct but deceptively vague.  The final scene in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick involves the whale ship in the novel, the Pequod, being struck head-on by the giant white sperm whale.  Some have question whether a whale would be able to do such a thing.  In the Heart of the Sea proves this to be true.

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick is the story about the tragedy of the whale ship Essex, which served as Melville’s research for the climactic final scene in Moby-Dick.  In 1819 the Essex set sail on a multiple-year journey around the world in search of whale, specifically sperm whales and their rich and expensive oil.  Fifteen months later, in the abyssal depths of the South Pacific, a whale rammed the ship head-on.  The hull was crippled and the ship quickly sank; all hands managed to escape on their large whaleboats.

Twenty men in three boats were set adrift in the world’s largest ocean, with little supplies and diminishing hope.  Nevertheless, their captain kept his courage: they debated heading west towards the Pacific islands, but feared cannibalism – gruesome details having been brought back from sailors who had sailed through the islands – instead, they struck out east, heading for South America.  So began their harrowing journey of starvation, isolation, and madness.

Three months later, two boats were discovered, with only eight of the remaining crew.  They were found gaunt and nothing but hanging flesh, the bones of their crew lay in the bottom of the boats, having provided a menial cannibalistic feast for the remaining members.

‘Tis a story of grave irony: a hardy crew set sail in opposite direction to that way which cannibals lie, ultimate suffering the same fate as their supposed enemies, reduced to consuming the flesh, skin and bone of their fellow seamen.  Nathaniel Philbrick does an excellent job of telling this gruesome story in vivid detail and moving narration.

Philbrick’s research features newly discovered documents on the fate of the Essex, featuring an account by Thomas Nickerson, who was one of the cabin boys on the Essex, discovered in an attic in New York in 1981.

The story is shocking, exciting and enthralling – and at the time the reader must constantly reaffirm to themselves that the events within these pages really took place.  Nathaniel Philbrick masters at telling a grand story of the high seas with a different ending that excels in every way.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on May 14th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook” by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (Chronicle Books, 1999)

In the Event of the Worst-Case Scenario . . .

Worst Case Scenario Survival Guidestarstarstar

Ever wonder how to treat a snakebite?  How about when you lock your keys in your car and you wonder if you might be able to break into it somehow?  And the dos and don’ts of a tourniquet – what are they?

All this and so much more is explained in the small, comfortable, pocket-sized, handy-dandy The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, by writers Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht.

This nice, yellow book is only 176 pages long, with easily understandable writing and clear diagrams of what to do in specific situations of danger.  An extensive contents live provides quick access to specific instances such as “How to Hot-Wire a Car . . . 28,” “How to Take a Punch . . . 69,” “How to Jump From a Building Into a Dumpster . . . 77,” “How to Identify a Bomb . . . 85,” or “How to Survive an Avalanche . . . 140.”

The contents are organized into sections (“Great Escapes and Entrances,” “The Best Defense,” “Leaps of Faith,” “Emergencies,” and “Adventure Survival”) again providing invaluable aid to anyone who is in need to exact details and skills to be performed in a specific situation.

One specific instance lends greatly to our current position here at Cal State Long Beach, with the Africanized Honey- or so-called “Killer Bees problem we’ve been having.

There is no telling how useful this book may be to you.  People go on trips and vacations without ever suffering any sort of mishap, while others seem to run into nothing but trouble.  With The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, you will be able to eliminate at least 90% of your problems.  So make sure you get a copy of this book, and the next time you go on a trip somewhere, make sure you slip the book into your duffel bag – just in case.

How to Escape From Killer Bees:

1)      If bees begin flying around and/or stinging you, do not freeze. Run away; swatting at the bees only makes them angrier.

2)      Get indoors as fast as you can.

3)      If no shelter is available, run through bushes or high weeds. This will help give you cover.

4)      If a bee stings you, it will leave its stinger in your skin. Remove the stinger by raking your fingernail across it in a sideways motion.  Do not pinch or pull the stinger out – this may squeeze more venom from the stinger into your body.  Do not let stingers remain in the skin because venom can continue to pump into the body for up to ten minutes.

5)      Do not just into a swimming pool or other body of water – the bees are likely to be waiting for you when you surface.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on May 14th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“A Painted House” by John Grisham (Doubleday, 2001)

John Grisham’s New Painting

A Painted Housestarstarstarstar

“The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day.  It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952.  The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless.  The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard.  It could be a ‘good crop.’”

This is how John Grisham begins his latest novel, A Painted House.  Notice anything different?  No lawyers, no courts, no juries; for the first time Grisham has totally broken away from his former career and has written his first novel that does not contain “a single lawyer, dead or alive.”  If anything, this wonderful book is more semi-autobiographical, where Grisham delves into his history and home, in rural Arkansas; the year is 1952.

The main character is a seven year-old boy battling against a plethora of colorful characters: his extensive family, the annoying hill people, and the intimidating Mexicans.  It’s cotton-picking season, the harvest looks good, but they have to pick everything soon and hope the rain doesn’t come early.  Luke has some problems in addition to getting up before the sun, picking cotton, till his hands bleed, and trying to not collapse from the heat.  One is his brother, Ricky, fighting for his life in Korea, and every day Luke wonders if Ricky is ever coming home.  Then there’s the knife-wielding Mexican, who deems murder and stabbing as inconsequential as buttering toast and eating cereal.  There is the ignominious Hank Spruill, the oldest boy of the “hill people,” who has already beaten a boy to death in town, and is now working with Luke, living just yards away.  Finally we have Tally, a seventeen year-old beautiful girl (also one of the hill people) who Luke just happens to have a rapidly growing crush for.

The book is a beautiful piece of literature.  The writing is simple and straightforward, but then the narrator is only seven years old.  The story and emotion is moving, to a point where it becomes as powerful as some of the classic coming-of-age stories.  The book is sure to become one of the annals of great writing and to be studied much in schools and colleges in the future.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on May 7th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“The Last Samurai” by Helen DeWitt (Miramax, 2000)

A Child Prodigy

The Last Samuraistarstarstar

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt, her debut novel, is a book quite unlike any other, and in the process of reading it, one learns the basics of ancient Greek and Japanese.  It is set in the present day, but within the pages echo the ancient past where the Iliad and the Odyssey, as well as other Greek classics, are rediscovered.

The main character is the mother of a child prodigy.  She herself is exceptionally intelligent, but due to the lack of a father figure in the family, she is left as the sole provider for the family.  So while she works everyday and makes as much money as possible so she and her son can eat and survive, her needs his teaching.

At school he is not use, excelling in every discipline and reaching such a level of completion in set assignments that he affects the rest of the class.  There is little choice but to keep him at home and let he mother teach him all she knows.  His tools are the great texts, the Iliad, the Metamorphoses, the Odyssey – whatever he can get his hands on.  Not only does he read through these texts with a voracious hunger, but he also reads them in their original language.

Even though he knows nothing of other languages at the beginning of the book, he begins at the start with the painstakingly slow operation of learning ancient Greek, learning what the letters represent, what they mean, and how to pronounce them.  For help he has his mother, who is well taught in many languages.

They both share a passion for Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, quotes and passages of which are featured throughout the book.  When the boy reaches an older age he takes on the proposition to find out who his real father is.  Thus begins a long journey, a mirror of the Seven Samurai, where each man the boy seeks is one of the samurai, but each time he is disappointed.  The book concludes naturally with the discover of who his father is, after many hopes being shattered.

The layout of this book is very appeasing, with a wide variety of spacing, resulting in a relatively fast read.  For anyone who reads The Last Samurai, they will benefit greatly in a multitude of ways, from learning the essentials of basic languages, to discovering the complexities of characters, to learning everyday knowledge that everyone will find useful.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on April 23rd 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.