Review: Camino Island

Camino IslandCamino Island by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Camino Island
By John Grisham

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

A beach read novel of pure catnip for book lovers. Be warned, you may experience a sudden loss of time with this high-brow mystery set on an island off the coast of Florida. Ridiculously famous author Grisham waved a literary wand and combined Marco and Amelia Island into his clever Camino creation.
The premise of this twisty who stole it mystery is built on the fact that the Princeton Rare Books and Special Collections department has five original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts. Though heavily secured behind thick, bullet-proof vault doors, they are pinched by a gang of five buddies that honestly should have stuck to deer hunting. The heist becomes the catalyst that rolls out and rocks the boat down on Camino Island.
Cue the marimba!
Meet struggling professor and long ago published author, Mercer Mann, the adjunct professor of freshman literature at the University of North Carolina. Her position has recently been eliminated and her future employment opportunities are relatively non-existent. An intriguing email drops into Mercer’s lap from a mysterious woman offering her an interesting alternative. Elaine Shelby not only offers Mercer a cushy job, but the stakes are cranked ten-fold with an opportunity to once and for all finish an old manuscript. Naturally, the caveat for acceptance of Shelby’s proposal are complex, full of risk and loaded with wine.
“We’re under a lot of pressure, okay? I have no idea what you might learn, but at this point anything could be helpful. There’s a good chance Cable and his wife will reach out to you, perhaps even befriend you. You could slowly work your way into their inner circle. He also drinks a lot. Maybe he’ll let something slip; maybe one of his friends will mention the vault in the basement below the store.”
Shelby works for a security and investigations company that insured the Fitzgerald collection for Princeton, to the tune of 25 million, and absolutely can’t allow the public to know they were stolen. Enter Bruce Cable, owner of an incredibly successful bookstore on Camino Island. Our featured suspect and most likely new owner of the Fitzgerald Five. Of course, an attractive dude, and had I mentioned Mercer is single? Shelby wants her to get close to Cable and learn what he’s got in his vault. Boy does she!
“This came from Princeton.” He opened the box, and announced proudly, “The original manuscript of The Last Tycoon.” Mercer’s jaw dropped as she stared in disbelief and eased closer. She tried to speak but couldn’t find the words.”
The novel’s minor discussion about books and publishing may place a minuscule snag in your reading pleasure, but this small authorial indiscretion can be easily overlooked. I realize Grisham normally whips up a frenzy of courtroom dramas with lawyer layered lowdowns, but this sand-in-your toes tome will take you away.

In the end, you learn, life is not your vault.

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Review: Hemp Bound

Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural RevolutionHemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution by Doug Fine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hemp Bound
Dispatches From The Front Lines Of The Next Agricultural Revolution
By Doug Fine

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

At the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this book literally fell onto my foot! And oddly enough, I recently had started getting emails declaring that farmers in Wisconsin can now grow industrial hemp, after jumping through some minor procedural hoops, so finding this book seemed like the next logical step.
Author Fine incorporates many in-field interviews, as well as lots of facts and figures to support his eager desire to get the word out that the US should/could and is (in some states) once again growing hemp. He stresses that it will not only give farmers more choices of seed crops to incorporate into the mix, but also the opportunity to make some serious bushels of cash.
“The key to success, from humanity’s perspective and from an economic perspective, is multiple use of the plant…Basically, one hemp harvest can and should be used at once for food, energy, and industrial components (like car parts, building insulation, and clothing).”
We currently import over 600 million dollars of hemp ingredients and over 35 million lbs. of hemp seed products from several large Canadian companies alone. While this import data provides some insight into the amount of hemp entering the US, the possibilities for what is commonly referred to as ‘value added’ hemp products is pretty much unlimited for innovative US hemp farmers.
“A farmer who planted a thousand acres in 2012 netted $250,000. That’s profit. And most of the half billion dollars that Canadian hemp generates in the United States comes from value-added products like salad dressing and breakfast cereal. There’s already hemp cereal in the International Space Station.”
Since this particular book was printed in 2014, I dashed over to mister Google and learned that as of this year, anyone in Wisconsin can register and grow industrial hemp. Here is a copy of the basic guidelines:
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s industrial hemp research pilot program is now accepting applications. Both growers and processors must obtain one-time licenses, and must register each year that they intend to plant/process industrial hemp. Growers and processors must also pass background checks and pay fees to participate in the program. The emergency administrative rule, ATCP 22, is effective March 2, 2018.
Though author Fine does seem to be an overzealous fan, the writing is on the wall; hemp is back and in a big way.
“The fact is, venture capital is already flowing into cannabis [hemp] because corporate bean counters see a market. The “sums” add up. That’s what winning the drug war looks like, I’m afraid. Wall Street does what Wall Street does. But you’ll soon be able to support your local hemp farmer and buy her oil at the farmer’s market and food co-op, as well as at Walmart.”
After over 70 years of our government banning farmers from growing it (keep in mind, booze was illegal not too long ago) the tide is once again turning and the possibilities seem endless. Are you considering growing hemp this year?

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Review: The Fact Of A Body

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a MemoirThe Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Fact Of A Body
By Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

This is a non-fiction duo: both an account of a murder and a memoir of the author’s struggle to come to terms with her dark, secret past. Never before have I read such an intense and moving and well-documented and breath-taking account of someone finding their way out of the horrors of abuse.
With some of the most articulate and stunning sentences, author Lesnevich takes you on not one, but two separate journeys that though they never intersect, they do influence one story while attempting to find reasonable justification for the other.
One of the dichotomies within the book’s structure I found not only intriguing, but mind-blowing, was the perspective the author was able to achieve when sharing her life growing up. She discovered that those formative, young moments of being afraid of the secrets your parents carry, can not only bind you to them—but can slowly kill you.
“What I fell in love with about the law so many years ago was the way that in making a story, in making a neat narrative of events, it found a beginning, and therefore cause. But I didn’t understand then that the law doesn’t find the beginning any more than it finds the truth. It creates story. That story has a beginning. That story simplifies, and we call it truth.”
And yes, besides having an MFA, the author is also a Harvard Law School graduate. She lands a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana to help defend men accused of murder, she (at the time) thought her position on the death penalty was clear: against it, totally and completely, no exceptions. Then, she discovers the case of Ricky Langley.
In the little town of Iowa, Louisiana, in February of 1992, six-year-old Jeremy Guillory is looking for his friends to play with. Joey and June aren’t at their house when Ricky answers the door. Ricky suggests Jeremy wait upstairs for their return.
That is one of the stories.
The other: “The whispers that follow are sheathed knives, fierce contained urgency. Voices are not raised; doors stay closed. Behind one, I am questioned, and I know to keep my voice low, that my parents do not want my grandfather, grandmother, or brother to hear. I answer simply. Yes, my grandfather has touched me…”
This is how author Lesnevich finds her way through something unfathomable. She does it with the facts, the truth—and something more. Using a writing narrative both arresting in its rawness and filled with a wise depth painfully beautiful, you are carried into her story.
“I carry the memory somewhere inside my body I can’t control, can’t even access to reach inside and edit the memory out. I still want to edit it out. I still want to be free of it. But I know I’m bound in ways I’ll never see, never understand. We carry what makes us.”
We carry our story.

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Review: The Smoke Room

The Smoke RoomThe Smoke Room by Earl Emerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Smoke Room
By Earl Emerson

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Being a survivor of a house fire, I have to admit, I was a tad anxious to read this. After all, the star of this suspense novel is a firefighter and fire is his life. Boy is it. Here’s the jolt-of-an-opening line:
“Experts estimated the pig fell just over 11,000 feet before it plunged through Iola Pederson’s roof.”
I know, I know, put it back on the shelf and RUN! Right? Not so fast. And this book is a major page turner and has the attractive sizzle of a new series. Unfortunately, I think author Emerson doesn’t pursue this storyline any further. Which is really too bad. But, that’s just how much you, as a page-flipper, will come to care for the haphazard knucklehead protagonist, Jason Gum.
“…Just call me Gum.”
A 24-year-old, brand new firefighter living in West Seattle, and dreaming of becoming the chief one day. Early on, after hit after hit after hit, you wonder if the guy is going to even make it out of bed and to the fire on time, let alone live through all the incredible road-blocks he puts in his own way. Over and over this guy slams into a wall. Only to bounce right on back and hit the ground slugging.
And there is a romance too and some pretty awesome roller blading which could have been drawn out some more. After blasting through this tale and finally reaching the nearly overwhelming end, you are beyond satisfied. You not only just read a really well-constructed thriller, but you met someone you would be beyond the moon grateful to rescue you from life.
Let alone a fire…

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Review: Hide

HideHide by Matthew Griffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hide
By Mathew Griffin

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Imagine my excitement when I found this book! After all, it was touted as a remarkable love story and the two main characters were Wendell and Frank, beyond charming names, right? And the fact this was a tale of ‘hidden’ love following the darkness of WWII, it certainly would be full of hope.
Hope, yes. Love, not so much.
Author Griffin created a very hidden and lonely, forbidden gay love story with very little actual love at all. Yes, the two men end up becoming extremely dedicated to one another, but the cost was so high. By severing any and all relations with friends, family—anyone that knew them, they created a self-imposed prison.
Wendell had a taxidermy shop in a declining town of Northern Carolina and Frank worked at a textile mill there. Both very macho jobs that required more hiding and posturing and pretending. True, this was during the fifties when it was illegal to have ‘relations’ with another man, but even behind locked doors and shuttered windows, there was little joy. Griffin’s excessively heavy-handed use of metaphors led to some minor skimming.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, their dedication to one another alone was admirable and there were some nuggets worth noting:
“Lightning ripped the clouds open and sewed the clouds shut. I leaned us against the sill, so he could feel the wind: how it passed through the boards of the house and between our bodies and kept on its way, how the storm moved right through us without disturbing a thing.”
In the end, after the body has gone, the face fallen and memories have all but faded, you’re left with one true thing: hope. Wendell and Frank had that in spades.

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