Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

The Amber Room by Steve Berry
Paperback. 39O Pages,
Ballantine Books 2OO3.
ISBN-1O: O-345-46OO4-9 or
ISBN-13; 978-O-345-Q6OO4-2

On the cover of Steve Berry's The Amber Room, both Dan Brown of The Da Vinci code and Clive Cussler of many mysteries, have both applauded Steve Berry's work as "My kind of thriller (Brown), and "Magnificently engrossing...pure intrigue, pure fun." (Cussler) I agree.

As with his The Romanov Prophecy, Berry in a writer's note at the end of his book indicated which parts are fact and which fiction. In his introduction he reveals that "Today, if you do a web search of 'Amber Room' you'll get thousands of hits. But in 1995 there were precious few, and only a handful in English. So I wrote the story with what I could find, then traveled to St. Petersburg. The Russians had been laboring for over a decade, re-creating the room from 1930's black-and-white photographs. I managed to spend several hours with the chief restorer, during which I learned that everything I'd written was wrong.

"So I came back home and rewrote the book.

"That manuscript was submitted for publication in 1996 and was promptly rejected by eighteen major houses. It sat in a drawer for six years until Ballantine Books decided to give me a chance. I still recall the moment when word came of its decision to buy the manuscript. And though I didn't know it at the time, this book would set the tone for all of the ones that followed.

"My protagonists are always lawyers - thrown into a host of unlawyerly situations. In fact, the first Scene of The Amber Room is the only time my lawyers have ever appeared in a courtroom.

"Just before this book was published, the Russians unveiled their completed reproduction of the Amber Room. The best description I heard was that it felt 'like standing in a jewelry box'. Unfortunately the original remains lost. Not one of the more than 1OO,OOO pieces has ever surfaced.'" (August 2OO6)

During wars, art works are often stolen. There is a Club of multi-millionaires and billionaires who hire professional experts to find these stolen goods, and feel no hesitation to steal what has already been stolen. A female judge and her ex-husband lawyer get involved in this game because of the death of the judge's father, and his knowledge of the Amber Room. They are in over their heads but have the intelligence to fight the experts who are not past killing others to get what they want.

It's a good read on a par with Brown, Cussler, and your favorite mystery writers.

Kids Who Kill by Charles Patrick Ewing
176 Pages, plus notes
Avon Books. 199O
ISBN; O-38O-71525-2

This book primarily lists numerous cases under such headings as family killings, theft-related, sexual, senseless, cult-related, crazy, gang, little kids, and girls. The last three chapters deal with punishing kids who kill, and killing kids who kill.

In the chapter "Little Kids Who Kill", one of the most shocking cases were of a five year old who pushed a three-year-old off a balcony. The younger boy grabbed onto a ledge to keep from falling, but the killer pried the three-year-old's fingers loose, and the three-year-old fell five stories to his death.

"The five-year-old readily confessed, but told authorities the younger boy wanted to die because his parents abused him. Psychiatrists and attorneys concluded that the five-year-old was actually describing himself and his own parents. Prosecutors decided that the boy should not be prosecuted but committed to a residential treatment center for psychotherapy."

Even more unbelievable is the following: "In October 1988, a three-year-old Detroit boy watched as his father beat his mother. The father, who was drunk, laid a gun on a nearby table. The three-year-old grabbed the gun and used it to shoot and kill his father. Initially police could not believe the boy had killed his father, but five witnesses said they saw him do it. Gunpowder residue tests also established that the three-year-old had, in fact, fired the gun.

"The boy's mother described the killing as an accident, but the boy told authorities: 'I killed him. Now he's dead. If he would have hit my mother, I would have shot him again.' Concluding that the boy was unable to form an intent to kill, the prosecutor declined to press criminal charges."

Many of the cases are as short as these, allowing for several listings to a page.

When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough by Harold Kushner,
author of "When Bad Things Happen To Good People."
19O pages
Pocket Books, May 1987
ISBN: O-671-55181-7

Rabbi Kushner is a powerful, dynamic, and clear writer whose work shows much wisdom and common sense. I found his book fascinating and recommend it highly. His topic is the search for a life that matters. Many, many people think that if only they had money, or power, or a particular job, or a marriage, or a home in the Heavenly Fields - then they would be happy.

I remember reading many years ago that a man inherited $22,000,000. We know how happy we would be with that amount of money! Yet through mismanagement of the estate, the man lost $2,OOO,OOO and committed suicide. He felt that he was no good.

The chapter titled, "The Most Dangerous Book in the Bible" is an eye-opener. Ecclesiastes was a wise man in or past middle-age, trying to deal with his fear of growing old and dying without ever feeling that he had really lived. He seems to be searching desperately for something to give his life enduring meaning." Many people achieve a happiness goal only to discover that "something is still missing".

Even religion failed for some. "Then at about the same time that people were beginning to question the divine right of kings and to insist on being given a voice in running government, they began to question the divine right of God, as it were. They began to see the Bible as an inspired document written by human hands, rather than dictated by God. They saw certain laws and customs resulting from the cultural and economic circumstances of the people who fashioned them, rather than having come directly from the mind of God. People no longer wanted to think of themselves as 'faithful servants.' They wanted to be God's children grown to maturity. Parallel to the emergence of political democracy in Europe and America, people began to assert their right to 'vote' on matters of faith and morals as well.

"True religion should not say to us, 'Obey! Conform'... Like a father who is genuinely proud of when his children achieve success entirely on their own, God is mature enough to derive pleasure from our growing up, not from our dependence on Him."

For myself, I can truly report that having studied on the university level at six different universities (in America, Europe, and the Orient) and done many physical activities: hot-walk race horses at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita, climbed two volcanoes (Fuji and Mt. Vesuvius), taken ballet lessons in Hollywood and London, studied piano with an FRAM in London, taught English in London and Los Angeles, tutored mostly black students at a special facility in Las Vegas, taken both tennis and diving lessons from two outstanding instructors, and taken horseback riding lessons to the level of attempting low jumps, I have never felt that there is something missing from my life.

I never married and never had children. I may indeed have missed something, but I don't feel it. What I wonder is how I did it all, and could I possibly fit another thing in?

In tournament chess, I found enough boyfriends to last me a lifetime. I assure you my sexual curiosity was completely satisfied. To add to Kushner's theme, I believe that feeling something is missing from your life is simply that you don't keep busy enough doing many varied activities. At least for me, that was the case.

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