A personable if anachronistic beginner’s guide to classical music.
Selecting over 125 of his favorite pieces of music from the baroque, classical and romantic periods, as well as his favorite recordings of them, music enthusiast Nielsen (Warriors, 2009) has compiled an encyclopedic resource for people looking to expand their music collections. Each one-to-two–page entry, in addition to introducing the composition and recording, offers some biographical information about the composer, conductor and musicians, interspersed with Nielsen’s corny but affable humor (he can’t pass on a good “Baroque”/”broke” pun). Nielsen describes his musical “cup of tea” as “light, lively, and very melodic,” which does influence the tenor of his recommendations; ardent appreciators of contemporary classical, for instance, are likely to differ in opinion on what constitutes “the best,” though Nielsen is always forthcoming with his personal biases. While greats such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven deservedly have quite a few works featured, Nielsen also includes music by Albinoni, Fesca and the lesser-known Haydn brother, all refreshing suggestions from the canon. In an attempt to be comprehensive, Nielsen provides information in each entry about the manufacturer, price and online purchasing of each recommended CD—but recognizes in his introduction that these can change quickly, and some may already be out of date. For that reason, in addition to the sometimes repetitious nature of the blurbs, the guide feels as though it might be better suited to a searchable online format. Its structure, too, doesn’t seem to necessitate book form: Primarily comprising alphabetical entries on instrumental music, it concludes with three much shorter and more lackluster sections on vocal music, Christmas music and some comic composer biographies. That said, for readers who are less comfortable navigating the Internet, or just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of recordings and reviews to be found there, Nielsen’s guide will be a helpful starting point. As his music criticism tends a bit toward the superficial, neophytes stand to gain some basic knowledge, but experts should probably pass.
For readers seeking an introduction to classical music, an easy, entertaining alternative to searching online.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.