I am running a bit behind on my book reviews once again. I will admit that I am having a hard time concentrating on books when college football Armageddon approaches. I plan to finally post my review/discussion of Firmin this week, however, as well as another volume in Cannongate Myth series David Grossman’s Lion’s Honey. In the meantime, allow me to offer another edition of In the Mail that features some interesting books ranging from spy thrillers to history and jazz.
Larsen’s competent debut has many of the right ingredients for a successful spy thriller: plenty of action, technical detail that would do Tom Clancy proud, and a hero with almost superhuman skills. When Christine Palmer, an American doctor sailing solo across the Atlantic, retrieves the almost lifeless body of David Slaton in the middle of the ocean, Slaton commandeers her small boat and demands she deliver him to England. A member of Kidon (Mossad’s special assassination team), Slaton is the sole survivor of a ship that sank with a super-secret cargo-a pair of unaccounted for nuclear weapons. Double agents within Mossad want to kill Slaton before he uncovers their convoluted plot to use the weapons to undermine Israel’s international support. Needless to say, they’re soon after Palmer as well. What’s missing is that no character, except for Palmer, has an inner life.
With his customary narrative drive, Kershaw (The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice) spotlights the handful of American pilots who joined the Royal Air Force and its fighter squadrons during the Battle of Britain. They have been overshadowed by or confused with the better-known Eagle Squadrons, which formed in the autumn of 1940 with the tacit consent of the U.S. government. Kershaw’s “few” were a vanguard, enlisting individually to operate the British Spitfire planes as early as May 1940, when England stood alone and her odds of survival seemed long. Crusaders and adventurers, the pilots ignored U.S. neutrality acts to fight from a mixture of principled opposition to Nazism, vaguely defined Anglophilia and sheer love of air combat at a time when it still seemed glamorous. Scattered by ones and twos among different squadrons, each had his own story, which Kershaw admirably contextualizes within the climate of the Battle of Britain. Using personal vignettes to convey the extraordinary routines of life in the cockpits, in the squadrons and in England, Kershaw evokes the heroism of these pilots, only one of whom survived the war whose tide they helped turn.
Levinson, a former entertainment publicist, booking agent and personal manager, delivers a definitive biography of trombonist-bandleader Dorsey (1905â€“1956). As children in Pennsylvania coal mining country, brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey practiced daily, and music became their ticket out. By 1930, their versatility was evident; they did 15 radio shows a week in New York, while also performing for movie soundtracks, dance dates and theater pit jobs. Hit records followed after the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra signed with Decca in 1934, but blow-ups between the brothers led Tommy to quit the following year. The split led to two bands, both successful, and in 1939, Tommy wisely hired Frank Sinatra away from Harry James. Reunited as the Fabulous Dorseys, the brothers introduced Elvis Presley to the national TV audience on Stage Show, their 1954â€“1956 CBS series. Levinson’s authoritative approach, layered with details, makes this book a bonanza for big band fans. He shares an arsenal of anecdotes, having interviewed over 160 people, including family, friends and ex-Dorsey musicians. The result is a striking portrait of Tommy Dorseyâ€””volatile, demanding, yet charming and engaging”â€”and a successful recreation of the swing era’s glory days.
Why are so many humans right-handed when most animal species show random preferences for one side or another? Is a preference for the left hand an indicator of brain difference? How do developing embryos figure out which side is left, anyway, and why is that information so critical to their development? Wolman’s breezy, informative account of “what makes left-handers special” tackles these and other fascinating questions on its journey to finding out what exactly handedness means and why it happens. The author, a proud member of “the fraternity of Southpaw” and a journalist whose work has appeared in New Scientist, Discover and Wired, travels all over the world to find his answers, and his lively tales of visits to the field’s top researchers double as solid introductions to the science of handedness. Though his visits to a palmist in Quebec and a graphologist in Virginia are less than entertainingâ€”he finds them illogical, they find him irritatingâ€”his attempts at left-handed golf in Japan and lefthanded sword fighting in Scotland are funny and instructive. Amusing and thorough, this little tome makes a good gift for the left-handers on the Christmas list.
New Math offers a unique and humorous take on life as told by old-school arithmetic equations. For instance, does a cat plus loyalty equal a dog? What’s the equation for a backyard? And if you’re angry, are you ticked off to the second or third power? The answers to these questions and many more are cleverly revealed in New Math. A book for those who want to know how to delineate or define emotions, activities, or just everyday stuff in an amusing and new way, New Math is a little bit of acumen and a lot of hilarity that adds up to a must-read.
JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL = JAIL + PUBERTY SANITY = EVERYONE ELSE’S CRAZINESS / MINE BULLY = A JERK – 1 GOOD ASS-KICKING
Calculators not required.