Friday, October 26, 2012

A Christmas Hope - Joseph Pittman

A Christmas Hope is the third tale in the series of Linden Corners books. We first meet Thomas Van Diver as an old man who has returned to the place of his birth and early childhood, the farmhouse at Linden Corners. Thomas was born in the family home next to the windmill which had been erected by his ancestors to honour their Dutch heritage. Their family had lived in that house for over four generations, almost one hundred and fifty years. Thomas, his mother and father were happy there and when Thomas was about to be five years old on Christmas Day 1942, his father was called up to the army to fight in the war in Europe. Christmas Day 1942 was the last time Thomas saw his father. But Lars Van Diver left a wonderful legacy for Thomas, a book, an antique edition of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous Christmas poem, “The Night Before Christmas”. This edition of the book was so rare that Saint Nick wore a green suit, not a red one and the illustrations were magnificent.

Several months later Thomas and his mother heard of the death of Lars who had been shot in battle. Hard times befell them and they had to sell their family home in order to survive. When Thomas was about to leave the farmhouse for the last time, he decided he would leave his book behind so that his father would have something to read when he came back to the house. Thomas never came back to Linden Corners again.

Over seventy years later, Thomas decides to return and he sets wheels in motion to find the book so he can at last say a final goodbye to his father and put the past to rest. That is when we meet the rest of the inhabitants of Linden Corners and begin to discover the magic of the place and the people who live there.

I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. It is a story of coming to terms with loss and grief but although I was close to tears several times whilst reading it, it isn’t a really sad story, as the underlying message is one of hope against the odds. Thomas Van Diver is lovely with his snazzy bow ties and gentlemanly ways and Nora, Brian, Gerta and the children Janey and Travis are trying their best to come to terms with their lives after having all loved and lost someone. They do that by helping each other and Thomas who although he had lived there as a child was relatively unknown to them all.

This is a real Christmas story. I imagined sitting by a cosy fire as it snowed outside whilst I was reading this book. Although it is the third in a series, the previous relevant happenings at Linden Corners, begin to unfold as this story progresses. If you want to read some uplifting stories to make you feel good, then perhaps start with the first book, Tilting at Windmills. The second book is called A Christmas Wish, but, definitely make sure you read A Christmas Hope.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Extraordinary Rendition - Paul Batista

Byron Johnson is partner in a Wall Street law firm who, at the apex of his career, volunteers to take on the case of Ali Hussein. Ali is a Syrian national who lived and worked in the US for ten years as an accountant prior to being arrested in Europe over 9 years earlier. Byron learns that Hussein has finally been brought back to the US for trial after being kept, without charge, in solitary confinement at various places around the world and has been tortured and beaten during those nine years. He feels that justice should be done and the man should be charged with something, offered a fair trial and have the right to defend himself in a court of law. This is where the story begins.

Extraordinary Rendition is a fast paced, eloquent, witty, sometimes disturbing account of a lawyer facing an uphill battle against forces within the US government which are hell bent on getting a conviction. Members of nameless government departments, the FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA have worked for years to uncover the invisible millions of dollars which they believe travel around the world almost unseen and untraceable. These are the dollars used to fund terrorist activities. They believe Hussein is the mastermind behind securing funding for, amongst other things, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. For nine years they have tried to make him confess and for nine years he has protested his innocence.

Here’s an extract from Chapter 2. Byron Johnson has called a meeting with the US governments lead lawyer, Hamerindapal Rana, who is prosecuting the case. He is trying to establish the nature of the charges and arrange a date for the indictment:

Rana said, “Mr Johnson, you must understand we will indict Mr Hussein at a time and in a place of our own choosing. It may be an hour from now. It may be six months from now. And it may be in Miami and it may be in Juneau Alaska, with Sarah Palin as judge.”

In the five minutes since the start of the conference, Byron had let go of any pretence that this would be what he liked to call a ‘good, cordial meeting,’ He said, “Mr Rana, the man is now in jail in the United States. He’s been in detention more than nine years by my count. I don’t think you have the right to delay indicting him indefinitely.”

“You think so Mr Johnson?” Like his clothes, Hal Rana’s voice was elegant, almost British-accented. Byron, who had the sense that Rana must have spent time in an English boarding school, was intrigued. Rana continued, “The Congress and the president don’t see it your way. We have an anti-terrorism bill that gives us the option to decide when to indict and where to indict, We don’t need to be concerned by whatever speedy trial rights your client may have, because he has none. And, in this case we can indict him anywhere in the country and he can’t complain that it’s the wrong place.”

“So you are going to pick a state where the jury is most likely to convict, right?”

“We’ve been thinking about Oklahoma, Mr Johnson. We relish the idea of putting a terrorist on trail in front of an Oklahoma jury near the site where McVeigh blew up the federal building.”

“I don’t think that’s fair.”

“You don’t? Then you have to complain to Congress. I am just a simple country lawyer.”

This story feels chillingly realistic. Nobody is quite who they seem to be and sometimes it is hard to know who the bad guys really are. Paul Batista paints a disturbingly blurred line between the terrorism of the offenders and the terrorism of the prosecutors. Justice, it seems, depends on good men doing something out of the ordinary to protect the tenets of law. This doesn’t happen every day, certainly not if a lawyer wants to rise to great heights in their career and gain the ultimate prizes: success and accolade.

I couldn’t put this book down. It is brilliantly written, the characters are realistic and it offers real insight into the intricacies of the US legal system, especially those rather complex, controversial and challenging laws pertaining to Extraordinary Rendition and national security. There is another bonus in this book; any lover of New York City will be enthralled by the many vivid descriptions of places, buildings and landmarks in the city. It made me pine to be back there. Of course, like any good thriller there are many twists and turns in the tale. The one at the end left me asking more questions than it answered. I’m still wondering about it now!

Extraordinary Rendition was published in July 2012 by Astor + Blue Editions. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Just brilliant!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Wellesley Wives by Suzy Duffy

Wellesley Wives is a romantic comedy about Popsy Power, her friend, Sandra, her two daughters, Rosie and Lily and all the men in their lives. The folks of Wellesley form the cream of Boston society. Popsy, her daughters and her friend are the envy of many. With their Ferrari’s, furs, and fundraiser lunches they seem to have it all. However, when things start to go wrong it is up to the Wellesley Wives to prove what they are made of and just how they pull themselves up by the boot straps is where this story begins.

This is a tale of friendship and love, about making bad decisions and working to put things right again and about the eternal bond of womanhood. The women are intrinsically linked and when one of them does something incredibly selfish and stupid, the fall out affects them all.

I loved this book! When we are first introduced to the women they each appear to be quite shallow and superficial in their own way. I didn’t think I could empathise with them, especially as they seemed to have been rather spoilt and pandered to, in different ways. However, very soon, their fallibilities began to emerge and for me they quickly began to be likable. I found myself “talking” to them as events unfolded and by the end of the story I wanted to meet them in person, they seemed so real.

It is difficult to say too much about the story without giving away the plot. However, there is one chapter I will talk about because it is so brilliantly written that I read it three times, just for its entertainment value:

Very early on in the story it’s Popsy’s fiftieth birthday and she and Sandra are going to a charity lunch in aid of The Children’s Hospital in Boston. The lunch is being hosted by Jenny Lennox who has the most enormous house resplendent with pool, tennis courts and of course, a helipad. Jenny has also just acquired a genuine Renoir, a gift from her husband, Eddie, who reportedly paid $100 million for it. As Popsy and Sandra mingle amongst the other guest, Popsy finds herself standing in front of the Renoir. Taking a moment to admire it she is joined by another guest who seems to be somewhat of an art critic. After the appraisal she also tells Popsy some very interesting gossip about why Eddie had been so generous with his gift. Popsy is shocked. When she caught up with Sandra a few minutes later, she just couldn’t wait to tell her what the other guest had said.

“So, what do you think?”Sandra said as she came up beside her.

“I think it is gorgeous and did you know that it was a ‘charming and irreverent portrayal of the hedonistic life and subtlety of lust in the late 1800’s’?”

Sandra looked at Popsy , arching her eyebrows. “I never would have guessed”

Popsy nodded. “I also heard that Eddie Lennox paid $100 million for it”

“In fact, I had heard a rumour, but wasn’t sure that it was true. Nice round figure.

You know, in all likelihood it’ll be worth double that in twelve months. Do you get taxed on fine art appreciation?”

Popsy pulled her friend closer and glanced around to make sure nobody was in earshot. “Yes, but did you hear why he bought it? I heard Jenny discovered he was having an affair. This is his peace offering. His ‘get out of jail free card’ if you will. A frigging Renoir”

Sandra said nothing and examined the painting.

“Did you hear me , Sandy? Did you know about this? Was Eddie Lennox offside? Evidently he has a mistress. Well I assume it’s had a mistress and not has if he’s bought this painting and the Lennoxes are all happy families again”

At last Sandra tore herself away from the painting and looked at her friend. “Who told you this?”

“That woman over there. The tall, striking strawberry-blonde” Pospsy gestured discreetly.

“Figures” Sandra sighed.


“Because she’s the mistress.”

Can’t you just visualise that conversation and the look on Popsy’s face when Sandra delivers the last line?

I can!

This story is filled with great passages of conversation and what appear to be almost farcical turns of events, but, underlying all of this the Wellesley Wives find strength and courage in different ways by helping each other through some of the most difficult times in their lives. It is an excellent read, escapism of the highest order and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to be entertained for a while.

This book was published on 27th September by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing. It is the first of three in the series. I, for one, cannot wait to hear more from the ladies of Wellesley.