Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


Author: Harper Lee
Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Publication Info: Harper (2010), Edition: 50th Anniversary Edition
ISBN: 0061743526
Summary/Review: With much joy and a little apprehension I returned to one of my Favorite Books of All Time after nearly 25 years.  It turned out to be better than I remembered.  It was interesting the details I remembered (Calpurnia not wanting to stay in the house with high ceilings on a cold night, Scout’s “Hey, Boo!” at the climax of the novel) as well as things I completely forgot (the cranky, old morphine addict Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra coming to live with the family).

The book is great on so many levels, most especially the joys and travails of childhood so accurately represented.  As a child I identified with the kids, but now I also am drawn to Atticus as he tries to raise his children as best he can and instill them with conscience.  Lee also does a great job creating a Southern town with its history, castes, and characters.  It all comes together in a brilliant period piece around the trial of a black man falsely accused.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book, so I’ll end here.  I’ll have to make a shorter wait before I read it again.

Recommended books: Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Rating: *****

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Book Review: The Pox and the Covenant by Tony Williams


Author: Tony Williams
Title: The Pox and the Covenant
Publication Info: Sourcebooks (2010)
ISBN:  9781402236051
Summary/Review: Another bit of research for my Boston By Foot Dark Side tour, this one discussing the history of the smallpox pandemic of 1721.  Cotton Mather, a religious conservative but also a man of science (and member of the Royal Society), responded by encouraging people to take inoculation with the only doctor willing to help him, Zabdiel Boylston.  Mather partially credited the practice to his African slave Onesimus once again showing himself a man ahead of his time as he both thought African medicine valid and gave credit where credit was due.  Mather faced much opposition both on superstitious and scientific grounds.  His most surprising opponent was the New England Courant published by Benjamin Franklin’s elder brother James whom one would assume would be on the side of reason and science.  Williams holds that the smallpox pandemic and the inoculation controversy was the death knell of the Puritan covenant and forever changed the culture of Boston.  He brings in lots of interesting details and facts of early 18th century Boston although at times it feels like he’s padding an already thin book.  Maybe this would hold together better as a long article rather than a book but I found it interesting and informative.

Recommended books: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson, Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill, and Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins


Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: Catching Fire
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2009)
ISBN:  0545101417

Books read by the same author: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Summary/Review: So I wanted to find out what happens next and couldn’t resist listening to the next book in The Hunger Games series.  It’s plagued by some of the same problems as the earlier book with weak prose (especially narrator/protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s interior debates) and thin characterization for some of the characters.  This especially hurts the first half of the book which is built around a love triangle that doesn’t work because neither of the indistinguishable boys is very interesting  (they both fit the Mary Sue trope).  There’s a lot of nitpicking I could do about this book but the plot kept me interested.  In the second half of the book by a trick of the evil President Snow, Katniss & Peeta are returned to the arena for another Hunger Games in kind of an all-star battle of the victors.  I thought this might be a cheap narrative trick but it  actually worked pretty well at developing the familiar characters as well as introducing interesting new characters.  The form of the arena is contrived but the response of the characters as they form an uneasy alliance is very interesting.  Yeah, I will read the conclusion too.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Underboss by Gerard Neill & Dick Lehr


Author: Gerard Neill & Dick Lehr
Title: The Underboss
Publication Info: New York : BBS PublicAffairs, 2002.
ISBN:  1586481088

Books read by same authors: Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob
Summary/Review: The FBI’s takedown of the Anguilo crime of family of Boston’s North End may be a shining moment in the history of the agency (bookended with their most shameful moment in the Whitey Bulger case which involved some of the same figures).  Neill & Lehr trace the rise of Gerry Angiulo in the mafia – or more accurately La Cosa Nostra – earning a position of prominence in Providence’s Patriarca crime family.  They also detail the trials and travails of Boston’s FBI team that after some errors were able to successfully able to bug Angiulo’s Office in the North End.  The story is detailed and well-researched focusing on the patience and innovation of the FBI against the hubris of Angiulo.  Another great addition to my knowledge base of Boston Dark Side history.

Recommended books: The Crime of the Century by Stephanie Schorow
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Crime of the Century by Stephanie Schorow


Author: Stephanie Schorow
Title: The Crime of the Century
Publication Info: Beverly, Mass. : Commonwealth Editions, c2008.
ISBN: 9781933212548
Summary/Review: The Boston Brink’s robbery of January 1950 is shrouded in folklore and embellishment (much of it from the criminals themselves) so Shorow sets out to separate fact from fiction in this accounting of the famous crime.  I didn’t know much of folklore myself but was greatly fascinated by the details of the true story.  For example, I never knew that the robbers broke into the Brink’s office multiple times and had keys made for all the doors between the office and the vaults!  The details that went into the planning of the crime are amazing and hard not to appreciate if not admire.  Schorow also notes that while the cash haul is huge the criminals actually missed out as there was usually more cash on hand on other nights.  While the crime is famed for having no shots fired and no one hurt, Shorow unearths the violence and bloodshed that came in the wake of the crime.  In all an entertaining, researched and informative read.

Recommended books: The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family by Gerard O’Neill, Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boserand Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo.
Rating: ***1/2