Friday, January 2, 2009

Thirteen - Stone Cold - David Baldacci

Oliver Stone, the leader of the mysterious group that calls itself the Camel Club, is both feared and respected by those who've crossed his path. Keeping a vigilant watch over our leaders in Washington, D.C., the Camel Club has won over some allies, but it has also earned formidable enemies - including those in power who will do anything to prevent Stone and his friends from uncovering the hidden, secret work of the government.

Annabelle Conroy, an honorary member of the Camel Club, is also the greatest con artist of her generation. She has swindled forty million dollars from casino king Jerry Bagger, the man who murdered her mother. Now he's hot on her trail with only one goal in mind: Annabelle's death. But as Stone and the Camel Club circle the wagons to protect Annabelle, a new opponent, who makes Bagger's menace pale by comparison, suddenly arises.

One by one, men from Stone's shadowy past are turning up dead. Behind this slaughter stands one man: Harry Finn. To almost all who know him, Finn is a doting father and loving husband who uses his skills behind the scenes to keep our nation safe. But the other face of Harry Finn is that of an unstoppable killer who inevitably sets his lethal bull's-eye on Oliver Stone. And with Finn, Stone may well have met his match.

Baldacci, David. Stone Cold. Grand Central Publishing (2007). 400 pages. ISBN 0446577391.
I totally copped out on this blog post - but I thought I would let the snippet from the book jacket be what I used for the main post this time. I love how the U.S. Capital Visitor Center (which just opened this December) has a nice starring role in the book. This book has a way of referencing past Camel Club books - but in a way that you couldn't pick up this book if you hadn't read the other two.

I've been on a thriller kick lately and it's probably time to go back to historical fiction or just fiction in general. It was interesting reading two Baldacci books so close together like this. Of course the topics were different and it's hard to compare them. Both I had a hard time putting them down. Again - I read this book in probably 20 hours or so. I'm excited that Baldacci continues to write novels that feature the Camel Club. I'm ready to pick up the latest book Divine Justice to see how the Camel Club adapts after the outcome of this book (I don't want to give away anything).

Twelve - Journey of a Thousand Miles - Lang Lang

Lang Lang was born six years after the Cultural Revolution in China. He first interest in playing piano was after watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon called Cat Concerto.

At age four he started taking piano lessons with Professor Zhu Ya-fen. His father instilled in him a desire to be number one and made Lang Lang stick to a strict regime of practicing. The next year - at age 5 - he entered his first piano competition and won. A few years later he enters another competition and manages to place 7th.

When Lang Lang was nine years old, his Dad and him leave Shenyang and his mother to study in Beijing. Right after they move to Beijing, Lang Lang and his father get into a fight which causes him to stop playing piano for a while. Eventually he makes his way back to the piano and finds a new teacher in Beijing - Professor Zhao. Professor Zhao helps Lang Lang prepare for his conservatory audition. Over 3,000 students apply for 12 spots at the conservatory. Lang Lang places first among the applicants to the conservatory and his professional training begins.

Lang Lang continues to enter competitions and place first. At age 12, he travels to Germany to compete in his first international competition. Again Lang Lang's determination and hard work allows him to place first and beat two other Chinese pianists. After winning the Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians Competition in Japan, he plays for the first time with an orchestra.

At age 13 he travels to America and spends the summer in New England learning English and playing piano. In September 1996, 14 years old, Lang Lang plays with the China National Symphony for the president of China.

His win in Japan catches the eye of Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In March 1997, Lang Lang auditions and wins a full scholarship to Curtis, including an apartment with a piano and living expenses. Gary turns Lang Lang's focus from competition to competition to playing the music and performing for others. In addition to his musical studies, Lang Lang meets with a tutor to understand the American culture better.

His first big break came at age 17 when he substituted for Andre Watts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravina playing Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto. At age 18, he had his Carnegie Hall debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He returned to his home country China in May 2001 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. His Western Europe debut was at the BBC proms in London in August 2001. In May 2002, Lang Lang graduated from the Curtis Institute and played at Ravina again.

Lang Lang's career is simply amazing and he's only just begun. At age 26, he is playing worldwide with many orchestras and giving master classes to young students. Even though his father pushed him to be dedicated, Lang Lang has always enjoyed playing piano and performing for others.

Lang Lang with David Ritz. Journey of a Thousand Miles. Spiegel & Grau (2008). 256 pages. ISBN 0385524560.
I saw Lang Lang perform Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with the New York Philharmonic in October 2004. I really didn't know who he was but I was amazed with his performance that night. After reading this biography, I have a deeper respect for his dedication to the art. His parents sacrificed alot so that he could be number one. I'm sure they are very proud of their son and all that he has accomplished so far.

If you haven't heard Lang Lang play before - check out this performance of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic from February 2008.
First Movement - part one
First Movement - part two
Second Movement
Third Movement

Eleven: Book of Lies - Brad Meltzer

  • The first murder was committed when Cain killed his brother Abel. The murder weapon is never disclosed in the Bible.
  • In 1932, Mitchell Siegel is murdered and his killer is never found. While grieving for his father, Jerry Siegel creates a bulletproof man called Superman.
  • Cal Harper's dad is shot with the same gun as Mitchell Siegel and attacked by a ruthless killer with a Mark of Cain tattoo.
Here begins Brad Meltzer's thriller that attempts to solve the murder of Mitchell Siegel and the mystery behind the Book of Lies supposedly given to Cain by Adam.

Cal and his father Lloyd team up after Cal's old co-worker Timothy is killed by a crazy ex-cop Ellis on the side of the road in Alligator Alley in Fort Lauderdale. Ellis is working for the Thule Society to find the Book of Lies. Lloyd was transporting a cargo container which contained an attic comic created by Jerry Siegel. Cal and Lloyd travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit the Siegel house after finding out that Lloyd was shot with the same gun that killed Mitchell Siegel - Jerry's father. They uncover another set of comic strips that lead them to a historical society where Jerry Siegel donated a German bible - supposedly the Book of Lies.

Meltzer, Brad. Book of Lies. Grand Central Publishing (2008). 352 pages. ISBN 044657788X
Brad Meltzer is another author I saw speak this fall at the National Book Festival. He was really witty and I wanted to go out and read his new book right away. This book actually comes with a soundtrack and it's own title song written especially for the book. It's interesting to see the use of Holst's Planets with Mahler & Sibelius' symphonies. There is even some Wagner & Elgar mixed in.

I read this book over the Christmas holiday in about 15 hours. I simply could not put the book down. I actually wrote my notes for this blog post after the book was finished instead as I was reading it. Meltzer knows how to grab a reader's attention and keep them wanting to keep reading. I would highly recommend this book for all the Superman fans out there. Brad has an affection for libraries and librarians and worked in some awesome library references within to the main plot. It's not often that a library call number is drawn into a comic strip as a clue.

Another exciting sidenote to this book is that Brad started a website called Ordinary People Change the World because he truly believes that ordinary people change the world. One of the first projects was raising enough money to save the childhood home of Jerry Siegel in Ohio.

Ten: The Silver Swan - Benjamin Black

The naked body of Deidre Hunt is found in the Dublin Bay on the edge of town. Her husband Billy asks his classmate Garret Quirke, the local pathologist, to not have an autopsy done on his wife. Quirke tells Billy he'll do what he can and ends up performing an autospy on the body which confirms that Deidre did not drown.

Deidre Hunt, or Linda Swan her alias, owned a beauty shop in town with her partner Lester White, a suave businessman. Phoebe, Quirke's daughter, ends up meeting Lester at the pub and sleeps with him. Both Phoebe and Quirke work separately (but together) on trying to solve what really happened to Deidre.

The investigation into Deidre's murder is mixed in with chapters that tell Deidre's side of the story from when she meant Billy up to when she dies. The book is set in Dublin during the early 1950's - but the reader would never know that. The time period does not enhance the plot at all.

I'm not sure how this book made it on my to-read list. I didn't read the first book by this author and it was clear within a few chapters that this book was building on the first. I wasn't impressed by this book and would not recommend it.

Black, Benjamin. The Silver Swan. Henry Holt and Company (2008). 304 pages. ISBN 0805081534.

Nine: The Whole Truth - David Baldacci

"Dick, I need a war."

Nicolas Creel is a man on a mission. He heads up the world's largest defense contractor, The Ares Corporation. Dick Pender is the man Creel retains to “perception manage” his company to even more riches by manipulating international conflicts. But Creel may have an even grander plan in mind.
Suddenly a video of a Russian man, Konstantin, being held captive and tortured appears on the internet. He speaks a few words and then his image disappears and is replaced by a mushroom cloud. Within a few days, the whole world knows Konstantin's name and are asking for answers from the Russian government. No one realizes that Konstantin is really an actor and the whole "incident" was made up by Pender's perception management firm.

Shaw, a hitman and independent contractor, meets up with Anna, a researcher for the Phoenix Group, in Dublin. He proposes to her and she saids yes. Anna starts to research and review who or what might be behind the Konstantin scandal. She ends up posting a reply on a blog set up by Pender to "trap" persons wanting to expose the real truth regarding the Konstantin story.

Katie James once was a respected Pulitzer prize winning journalist but now covers funerals since she got caught drinking on the job. While covering a funeral in Dublin, she bumps into Shaw and follows him on a job. Shaw ends up saving Katie's life as the job goes sour. Katie ends up meeting with Anna and discussing Shaw and what he does for a living.

Creel realizes that the think tank Anna works for is owned by a Chinese private company with government ties. He decides to target the Phoenix Group in an attack in order to get Russia and China to start a cold-war type conflict. This conflict would provide lucrative contracts to his defense company.

During the attack on the Phoenix Group, Anna is killed right before she tries to escape by jumping out her window. At the same time Shaw is attacked and hospitalized. Katie ends up telling him about Anna's death after he wakes up in the hospital. Suddenly Katie is offered a job with another newspaper to cover the Konstantin story including the attack on the Phoenix Group. Shaw and Katie decide to work together to solve why someone attacked the Phoenix Group and how it related to the Konstantin scandal. In true Baldacci form, pieces fall into place and soon Shaw and Katie realize that everything is connected and has been orchestrated from the beginning by Creel and Pender.

Baldacci, David. The Whole Truth. Grand Central Publishing (2008). 544 pages. ISBN 0446539686.
What can I say about David Baldacci - other than - genius. His books never cease to amaze me and still grab my attention. It was interesting to think about how much of "the news" is really just spin or a specific perspective that we "believe" is true. Perception Management firms do exist and probably were involved in the "press" surrounding the latest conflicts in Iraq & Afghanistan. I found this definition of perception management from the Department of Defense:

Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning; and to intelligence systems and leaders at all levels to influence official estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originator's objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations.

Yes - this book is a work of fiction - but it's not too hard to imagine how the plot could happen in the real world. I did think some of the plot "twists" were easy to figure out prior to their occurrence. I'm glad we didn't have a boy (Shaw) meets girl (Katie) in a tense situation and falls madly in love ending especially after Shaw proposes to Anna right in the beginning of the book.