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Jack’s Books: May Was a Month For 19th Century America

Since I started blogging my book reading: every month I find out who else is an avid reader out there. See, readers tend to be cool and private about it. If you binge-watched “GoT”, you had no problem connecting with friends, family and coworkers who also watched it. Soccer fans always know who to talk with at work about the big match. But book readers are a rarer breed, and we like finding one of our own. So, if you’re one of us, or want to be, here’s what I’ve been into lately…

“One Shot” by Lee Child (2005) Enigmatic ex-military cop Jack Reacher rolls into a midwestern town where an sniper has killed five seemingly-random people. The case against the shooter is a slam-dunk.  Reacher has to prove this guy didn’t do it, with no help from the accused, and he can’t tell who’s helping him and who wants him to be the next victim.

“And Be A Villain” by Rex Stout (1948) I like all the “Nero Wolfe” mysteries, but this one involves a talk radio show guest dying on-the-air.  Talk about dead air! Was the dead man the intended victim, though?  And how about the poison being in the soft-drink that also sponsors the broadcast. Stout never fails, and neither does Wolfe.

“Faith” by Len Deighton (1987) One of the hallmarks of a great writer is when his work holds up even as its setting goes out of date. I love good Cold War-spy thrillers, and Deighton’s middle-aged, cynical British agent is a guy you can hang out with in any era.

“Undaunted Courage: Lewis, Jefferson and the Opening of The American West” by Stephen Ambrose (1996) I first read this when it was new, but it’s huge and dense with detail, so a re-read was in order. The Lewis and Clark expedition is one of my favorite chapters in American history, Meriwether Lewis is one of our most underrated historical figures, and the opening of the West made us who and what we are.

“Cold Pursuit” by T. Jefferson Parker (2003) Homicide detective Tom McMichael draws a case involving the killing of a patriarch of a family with whom his family has major issues. Complicated sentence? Complicated case.

“Essay on Men and Other Poems by Alexander Pope (1717-35) “O Death, where is thy sting” is just one of his most-quoted lines. Pope paints with the English language like a master artist.

“Widow’s Walk” by Robert Parker (2002) Another in the “Spenser” series, where half the fun is the murder mystery plot and the other half is the dry humor.

“Darkness at Chancellorville” by Ralph Peters (2019) Not only is no one writing better historical fiction than Col. Peters, but he’s become one of my absolute favorite authors, period. This is a war story told through the lives and deaths of not only the generals, from Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee to Joseph Hooker and George Meade, but the soldiers in the muddy fields and shell-torn forests.

The Crowded Hour: Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders and the Dawn of the American Century” by Clay Risen (2019) They trained here in San Antonio, sailed from Tampa and rode into immortality at San Juan Hill in 1898. What Risen wants us to know is that the Rough Riders is where TR “found himself”, and the Spanish-American War is where “a new idea of American power” was born and tested. You don’t get the 20th Century without this moment, and these characters: Teddy, Leonard Wood, John Long, William McKinley and the like.


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