Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Corked by Kathryn Borel

Book description:
Meet Kathryn Borel, bon vivant and undutiful daughter. Now meet her father, Philippe, former chef, eccentric genius, and wine aficionado extraordinaire. Kathryn is like her father in every way but one: she's totally ignorant when it comes to wine. And although Philippe has devoted untold parenting hours to delivering impassioned oenological orations, she has managed to remain unenlightened. But after an accident and a death, Kathryn realizes that by shutting herself off to her father's greatest passion, she will never really know him. Accordingly, she proposes a drunken father-daughter road trip. Corked is the uncensored account of their tour through the great wine regions of France.

This meandering memoir covered a father-daughter wine-tasting trip trip through France, but the location was the only appealing element of the book. Both the narraor and her fathercame across as selfish, self-involved, and immature. Between his tantrums, her childish sulks, and both of their inability to communicate like adults, the book was actually painful in places to read. The book seems to have no general purpose- no grand revelations or useful life messages or interesting stories emerge that would make spending time with these self-indulgent people worthwhile. I gave it 2 stars only for the bits of interesting wine trivia that popped up on occasion.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Priceless by Robert K. Pittman

Book description:
The founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair.

Rising from humble roots as the son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid.

Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final Pow-Wow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments.

The breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world to rescue paintings by Rockwell and Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet and Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow.

By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities. The art thieves and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners. The smuggler who brought him a looted 6th-century treasure turned out to be a high-ranking diplomat. The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms from war heroes’ descendants was a slick, aristocratic con man. The museum janitor who made off with locks of George Washington's hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one would miss what he’d filched.

In his final case, Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal to take on his greatest challenge: working undercover to track the vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of all.

What an excellent read! This memoir has all the action and adventure of a great thriller with the added kick that it all really happened. Wittman eloquently describes how he found himself pulled into the rough and tumble world of undercover operations designed to recover stolen works of art, and shares his frustration that the issue generates so little attention in the U.S. and at the FBI itself. Gangsters, museum thieves, art scholars- this book has a little bit about them all and makes for a great summer read, especially for anyone who has ever enjoyed an episode of Antiques Roadshow. Highly recommended!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Keep Sweet by Michele Dominguez Greene

Book description:
Alva Jane has never questioned her parents, never questioned her faith, never questioned her future. She is content with the strict rules that define her life in Pineridge, the walled community where she lives with her father, his seven wives, and her twenty-eight siblings. This is the only world Alva has ever known, and she has never thought to challenge it.

But everything changes when Alva is caught giving her long-time crush an innocent first kiss. Beaten, scorned, and now facing a forced marriage to a violent, fifty-year old man, Alva suddenly realizes how much she has to lose--and how impossible it will be to escape.

I found this young adult novel about life in a polygamist cult to be an incredibly compelling read. Alva Jane is the oldest daughter of a favored wife, and has enjoyed her childhood on the compound, oblivious to the darker tones that underpin her life. She is looking foward to marrying a young man in her community until one innocent stolen kiss shatters all their dreams. Married off to a violent abusive older husband, Alva Jane is forced to take a new look at her life and the lives of those around her.

Alva Jane reads as a complete and believable character with a strong narrative voice. I read this book through in one sitting, unable to walk away from Alva Jane and her suffering. An excellent novel, this book does deal realistically with the darkness of child marriage and so includes sex scenes that may be disturbing to some readers. A highly recommend read.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle

Book description:
The streets of San Francisco would be lined with hardcovers if rare book expert Brooklyn Wainwright had her way. And her mentor wouldn’t be lying in a pool of his own blood on the eve of a celebration for his latest book restoration.

With his final breath he leaves Brooklyn a cryptic message, and gives her a priceless—and supposedly cursed—copy of Goethe’s Faust for safekeeping.

Brooklyn suddenly finds herself accused of murder and theft, thanks to the humorless—but attractive—British security officer who finds her kneeling over the body. Now she has to read the clues left behind by her mentor if she is going to restore justice…

Since I love books, bookbinding, and mysteries, this should have been the perfect summer read. Unfortunately, though the characters are interesting and the plot was initially engaging, the whole book never quite snapped together for me. The characters were just a little too quirky all together (I mean, surely everyone knows at least a few normal people) and the solution to the mystery seemed completely out of nowhere to me (in terms of motive). I really wanted to like this book, but instead just found myself plodding through to get to the end.