Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: The Cuban Affair

If there is one thing I like about Nelson DeMille, it’s that he manages to get my attention just about when I am ready to give up on him. Two years after reading Radiant Angel, my fourteenth DeMille novel, I was beginning to think that the author, now 74, had retired. Then he came out with The Cuban Affair and all was right with the world.

In The Cuban Affair, DeMille introduces us to Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a 35-year-old army veteran who operates a charter boat in Florida. Cynical but honorable, like the protagonists in DeMille’s earlier works, Mac searches for ways to retire crippling debt when one comes walking through the door of his Key West watering hole.

The contact convinces Mac to participate in a covert mission to liberate millions in hidden assets left behind by fleeing Cubans following the rise of Fidel Castro in 1959. With the help of a beautiful Cuban architect from Miami, Mac travels to Havana with a tour group and begins his biggest adventure since returning from Afghanistan.

What follows is DeMille’s most enjoyable story since Wild Fire, which I read shortly after it came out in 2006. Like the novels of the John Corey series, centered around a former NYPD homicide detective, The Cuban Affair offers the kind of suspense, thrills, and humor that have made DeMille a bestselling author for nearly thirty years.

I recommend the novel — and the unabridged audiobook narrated by Scott Brick — to anyone looking for a literary adventure and a revealing glimpse at the enigma that is modern Cuba. Rating: 4/5.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: American Ulysses

In rankings of U.S. presidents, Ulysses Grant typically finishes at or near the bottom. Most contemporary historians have little use for the Civil War general who served in the White House from 1869 to 1877.

In downgrading the eighteenth president, many point to the scandals that rocked his second term. Others cite Grant’s hands-off leadership style. A few draw inordinate attention to his personal failings.

Ronald C. White is not among them. In American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, the author gives us a man that modern historians and scholars, often driven by modern biases, tend to overlook.

To be sure, White, the New York Times-bestselling author, does not sweep Gilded Age corruption under the rug. He describes the unethical behavior and influence peddling that occurred under Grant’s watch in great detail, but he does so in a way that exonerates the two-term chief executive of everything but misplaced trust.

White’s Grant is a study in contrasts: a fierce, dogged warrior who loathed violence; an inarticulate speaker who was an eloquent writer; a man who hated conflict and controversy but invited both as a champion of newly freed slaves, Native Americans, and women.

The Grant is this thoughtful work is also a compelling figure: a boy who favored reading books over hunting animals, a young soldier who fought loneliness when separated from his bride, and a poor man who struggled most of his life to make an adequate living.

In short, White fills the gaps left by all too many texts and history books. I recommend American Ulysses to anyone who loves history, underdogs, and new takes on old subjects. Rating: 4.5/5.