Nighthawk, Clive Cussler, author; Scott Brick, narrator
Centuries ago, in South America, the Incas were wiped out by a disease brought to them by outsiders. Now, hundreds of years later, an object that has been quietly orbiting the earth, for three years, is returning to this same area. As it descends, there is an error in its computer system, and it fails to follow the planned program for its landing. It disappears, crashing into an unknown location. The object contains a weapon of mass destruction that can cause death and devastation on a scale never seen before, It is, therefore, imperative that it is retrieved and neutralized as soon as possible or this same area will be wiped out again. The weapon may not stay stable.
This experimental vehicle is called Nighthawk. Experts from NUMA and NSA have been dispatched to find and retrieve it safely, before it can do great harm to civilization and the world. Few people know the real danger that is out there from this spacecraft, not even those looking for it. The Nighthawk is carrying a very dangerous cargo, a cargo that Russia and China are aware of and also want to possess. It is a secret weapon that has been developed in space which is the worst weapon of destruction to yet exist. The country in control would become the most powerful because it could bring about Armageddon. Behind the scenes, a madman is plotting just that.
While the book is exciting, there is almost too much intrigue as everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Often, the characters, all of whom are exceptionally bright, seem woefully naïve and trusting and are easily duped. Still, just in the nick of time, they usually save the day.
The novel is a thriller and it is narrated well by Scott Brick as all his narrations are excellent. However, the book itself stretches credulity at times and forces the reader to suspend disbelief.
Will Kurt Austin and his cohorts be able to save the world from the danger that is out there? Should America have ever conducted the experiments that created this danger? Will these questions be answered?
The Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny, author, Robert Bathurst, narrator
When Chief Superintendent Gamache and Myrna, both receive a letter from a solicitor that summons them to appear at the home of Bertha Baumgartner, they are stymied. They have no idea who the person is and wonder if they should even appear there. Eventually, they do both go and discover each other there, with a third unsuspecting visitor, Benedict, as well. All three have been asked to come to the home of someone who called herself the Baroness. All three claimed not to have know her. When they are asked to be liquidators of her will, they are stymied. Why them? In addition, to the confusion, they must agree to take the job as liquidator before the will is even read. All three decide that they are game, and so the story begins.
Mrs. Baumgartner left a fortune to her three children, Hugo, Caroline and Anthony, in money and real estate. However, no one knew if it really existed. Her home was in terrible disrepair, and she was known as a cleaning lady. It came out that the family had been involved in a lawsuit with the Rothschild’s for decades. Was she really a Baroness? When the simple liquidation of the will turns into a murder investigation, Gamache is in the unique position of having to investigate both the murder and the background of the family. Is there a fortune? Who committed the murder and why?
Meanwhile, at the same time, Gamache is being investigated because of the part he played in the capture of drug lords. He made a decision to allow deadly drugs into the market place in order to capture them. Someone had to pay for that crime. If the deadly drugs got out, death would follow on a huge scale. Therefore, while he is being investigated, he is quietly investigating the whereabouts of the drugs as well. He knows his position is in jeopardy, whether or not he finds them. The politics involved was frustrating and it began to affect Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s son-in-law. He was in a very compromising position, having worked alongside of Gamache in the drug debacle and was asked to betray him.
Eventually, every loose end is tied up neatly, but I had to listen to several parts over and over so as not to lose the connection to the whole. Gamache remains, throughout, the lovable, gentle, humble and understanding character that he always is, Reine-Marie, his wife, is always supportive by his side. The town, the characters and the tales about Three Pines are unique and they embrace the readers and instill the desire in them to make Three Pines their home too! Even though the characters are quirky and out of the mainstream, they are united in the effort of caring for each other. It makes it a perfect place to live.
I love the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache mysteries. The narrator who reads the audios is perfect for the job. He never interferes with the message, but relays it to the reader on point with perfect tone and stress. This particular mystery in the series, however, seemed a bit disjointed to me. The plot seemed very convoluted. There were so many threads it was hard to keep track. There was the question of the settlement of a strange will and an investigation into the background of the deceased to find out if she was indeed from an aristocratic background with a large estate to be settled; there was a possible embezzlement investigation and a murder investigation that grew out of it; and there was an investigation into Inspector Gamache because of his recent drug bust which allowed a deadly drug to possibly hit the streets with dire consequences. This meant there was also an investigation into the drug world, concurrently, hopefully to find the missing drugs before they hit the street to prevent an untold number of deaths. On a lighter side, there was the inclusion of one of Clara’s paintings, for no known apparent reason, in the home of one of the heirs. It was an unusual one of Ruth, the unusual poet who loved her duck, Rosa. Then too, there were some odd budding romances at the end which I didn’t suspect, and big changes for the future of the Gamache family were predicted.
I, for one, can’t wait for the next Inspector Gamache novel to appear!
Nine perfect strangers, Liane Moriarty, author; Caroline Lee, narrator A Russian immigrant, Masha, has a near death experience which changes her life. The man she believes saved her life, Yao, becomes her partner and they establish a health retreat called Tranquillum House. She transforms from an overweight, corporate executive to a stunning worshiper of yoga and health food. She trains her partner to become more mindful and he now practices yoga and concentrates on wellness. His background, as an EMT is medical. Hers is business. Together they lead health seminars and other programs at the resort. When nine people head off to a health retreat, to be transformed in some way, they wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for when they made their reservation. There is one couple, one family and four single people of various backgrounds. At first they size each other up and are not too happy with what they find. Soon, however, they find that first impressions are often incorrect. They all question some of the demands of the resort, but soon all willingly participate in the odd requests of the staff and management. As each goes through their individually designed healthcare program, they complain but also have revelations which, surprisingly, enlighten them and give them insights they had not thought of before. Will each of them be transformed which is Masha’s hope? Each of the guests has brought their own personal baggage with them and it is a diverse list from marriage problems to menopause, from drug issues to suicide issues, from ego issues to money issues. Some suffer from feelings of guilt, some from shame, some from grief, and some from a lack of confidence and/or self esteem. Some are simply searching for alternative ways to solve their problems. As each reveals their innermost secrets, as each reveals they are suffering in some way, it becomes apparent that Moriarty has a talent for understanding what motivates and frightens her characters. The drug theme is front and center. Is illegal and/or legal drug use beneficial? In some cases, the legal use of drugs seems far more dangerous than its counterpart. Because a doctor prescribes a drug, often its dangerous side effects are ignored and the consequences are as lethal as it is for those who overuse illegal drugs. Drug induced states produce odd interchanges and reactions. Some see more clearly, some become more anxious, some are euphoric, some have a bad trip. Are these results good or bad, when carefully monitored, even when illegal? Can a drug be harmful even when it is being monitored by a doctor and or parents? Do we, when following a doctor’s advice, make ourselves fully aware of the dangers of the side-effects of the drugs given to us or simply trust the “higher” authority? The theme of twinship and its bonds was particularly emotional for me since I lost a twin brother and so did one of the characters. I, personally, am aware of the effect of losing a sibling with whom you shared everything from the very beginning of time. The interpretation of the relationship and the loss was insightful. The feelings of the surviving twin were genuine. The theme of madness is dissected and the reader witnesses the different levels it ascends and descends to through the interactions of the characters. What drives people to thrive and achieve success as well as what drives people to fail is also examined very well by the author as she presents her characters and their responses to life’s dangers and moments of joy. Some bear the strain and some crack under it. The theme of relationships is very diverse. The relationship between a man and his dog, a man and wife, same sex couples, and parents and children are very minutely explored and the reader is witness to the complexities in each situation that is revealed. They share grief, loss, blame, guilt, along with the praise and pride that interplay in each of the character’s lives. The theme of loss seems to be in everyone’s life, to some degree or another, and the type of loss and how each character deals with it is really illuminative. Everyone, in the beginning, sees something else in each other’s personality, and often the first impressions made are incorrect and are based on faulty assumptions. Getting to know more about each other, changes the perceptions. The theme of stress and its effect on the lives of each of the characters veered off into many different directions, some common and some unusual, as they are in real life. The consequences were mental and physical, emotional, and painful. They were authentic in interpretation and explanation. The mounting stress made the guests begin to wonder if they were being manipulated and why. Their feelings were soon on high alert. My favorite character is Frances who is a naive woman who writes romance novels. She interprets most everything at face value, rarely looking too deeply into the problem. Her solutions are often simple. She may jump to conclusions, but she readily alters them. She tries to look at the bright side, in the face of darkness. She gave several of the characters humorous nicknames to define their qualities. Some of the dialogue was indeed chuckle inducing and I often even laughed out loud. But then, the novel also briefly took a dark turn which unsettled me. The author played both emotions well. Arrogance and fame are explored along with the effects of great wealth and success. My least favorite character was Masha, the obsessed woman who ran the wellness facility. Although her methods were extraordinarily unconventional, in most ways, the results she achieved were often positive, encouraging the characters to get more in touch with their feelings and to understand each other more completely. So, although there was a strange, mad dichotomy between the means and the ends, they did work. The characters, for the better part of the book, are authentic, and although the life of each character is followed until all the loose ends are tied up neatly, the conclusion seemed to fall a bit short. It teetered on the theme of believability. As each character is forced to experience their sorrow, their joy, their fear and their relief in different ways, intuitively, imaginatively and in reality, each comes out changed in some way that was beneficial. Each learns to control their emotions and reactions in ways that are helpful to them. They learn to accept themselves more positively and to be more open and honest in relationships. The reader is fabulous, using alternate accents and expressions which clearly define each character and scene. The book was made more enjoyable by her presentation. It made me laugh, and it made me cry, but it also made me think.
The Last Days of Night, Graham Moore, author, Johnathan McClain, narrator
George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison are both geniuses and rivals with egos that are huge. Both are driven to succeed. Both are inventors extraordinaire and both are engaged in a lawsuit with each other, suing and counter suing. Edison demands that Westinghouse stop making light bulbs because he has the patent to prove he invented them and owns all rights to them in any form. The law is on his side stating that he alone can produce them. Westinghouse is suing Edison to allow his company to produce light bulbs also. Westinghouse believes he has invented a better light bulb.
Paul Cravath is a young lawyer in his mid twenties. He was lucky to land a job with a law firm and then to be hired by George Westinghouse to represent him in his fight against Edison General Electric, even though he is inexperienced and without major contacts. They were the actual qualities that appealed to Westinghouse.
Nikola Tesla is a brilliant, if not disturbed, scientist and inventor. He sees the world through the pictures he fantasizes and imagines in his head and then attempts to create them in the real world. His mind is amazing, but his personality leaves a bit to be desired since he seems to be obsessive and often disengaged from the world everyone else is witnessing. Tesla invented alternating current which is eventually used by Westinghouse. Although it is safer, in an effort to prevent its use, Edison portrays it as a tool of death and uses it for an electric chair.
Agnes Huntington is a talented and beautiful young woman in her mid twenties who is an ingénue who sings at the Metropolitan Opera House. She is sought after by men of influence, money and power and she uses her influence with them. Paul Cravath is completely smitten by this vixen who lives in a world way above his station in life. He does not know her secrets. Paul comes from a humble family. His father is a man of the cloth who has founded Fisk, a school for uneducated, freed slaves. Although Slavery had ended, equal rights had not yet become a reality. It would take many more years.
The lawsuit between Edison General Electric and Westinghouse Electric threatens to bankrupt both men, but both are stubborn enough to throw caution to the wind. Neither will say uncle. As the author weaves this tale of historic fiction, he shines a light on Cravath, Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla and Huntington, with an intensity that brings them to life on the page. Little known facts are revealed about their interactions as General Electric is born.
Their tactics, often underhanded, and their cohorts, often dishonest, though powerful, work together to create a novel that has all the makings of a great movie as well as an incredibly readable book. The fact that a there is a romantic undercurrent enhances and enchants rather than cheapens the story. When the book comes to a close, the reader feels almost as if they had met all the major characters in real life, although it is more than 120 years in the past. The fact that each character is willing to compromise their soul to gain power and success is illustrated as the story unfolds. In some ways, their behavior is admirable even as it is sometimes also reprehensible.
The friendship that develops between Paul Cravath and Nikola Tesla is intricately drawn as Tesla’s personality and genius are developed from his own writings and possibly the expression of a kind of mental illness that he suffers from which causes him to behave in an odd manner, most of the time. Throw Agnes Huntington into the mix and the story blossoms not only as a court case and study of business, brilliance and madness, but also as a beautiful romance. Agnes is talented, beautiful and intelligent. Paul becomes quite smitten with her even though she may be already promised to another, even though their different backgrounds and class are antagonistic to each other.
In his fictional presentation, Moore has accurately described the skullduggery that exists in the corporate and financial worlds, probably not only then, in the late 19th century, but even today, in the 21st century. Money talks and its power is enormously influential regarding deal making and relationships.
In addition to the creativity of the author in crafting such a masterful novel, there is an incredibly talented narrator. Perhaps coming from the entertainment business industry, Moore was particularly able to choose someone from his own industry that read the story magically, always with the perfect accent necessary and the emotional presentation that was never over the top, never stole the show, but always perfectly enhanced every scene.
An Unwanted Guest, Shari Lapena, author; Hillary Huber, narrator
This is a quick, creative mystery that holds the reader’s attention fast. Several groups of people travel to a beautiful, quiet, romantic inn to spend the weekend. One couple wants to salvage a marriage; another is looking forward to one. Each of them seems to have a hidden story in their past which causes them some kind of mental and emotional conflict. A snowstorm hits the area, and they are stranded at the inn without power or phone service. Only six of the twelve rooms are occupied because of the weather. When guests begin to die under suspicious circumstances, the survivors begin to panic and accuse each other. Who is killing the innocent bystanders? Is it a serial killer? Could it be one of the guests? As the tension builds, they are all forced to confess their sins. They are forced to wonder who among them is capable of murder, and then they wonder about what they could be capable of, as well. The finger of suspicion points to each in turn.
The book is narrated superbly. It is as if the one telling the story is observing it from a distance, as a bystander, interpreting each character’s behavior, reactions and emotions perfectly so that none overlap and merge together. Each character develops on his/her own and is identifiable throughout. The guests represent a cross section of the population with regard to profession, past, sexual preference and wealth. Each has some personal problem they are struggling to resolve. Will this romantic getaway solve their problems or will it turn into a nightmare for them?
The Shape of Ruins: A Novel, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, author; Sheldon Romero, narrator
After listening to almost half of the book, I finally gave up. It just never grabbed or held my attention. It never called me back to its pages, although I made several attempts to reengage with the story.
From what I read, it is about the history and unrest in Columbia. Its politics and corruption are explored. The research is thorough, but the story travels in too many different directions that I found hard to reconnect as the novel continued. Characters appeared and reappeared, and I would have to struggle to remember what their place was in the narrative.
It is historic fiction, peppered with a great deal of information. The author is playing the role of the main character who is telling the story. When it begins, the reader learns of a man who was arrested for trying to steal the bullet-ridden suit of candidate Jorge Gaitan who was murdered in 1948. Through the memories of Juan Vasquez, the story is told. The reader learns of the reason that brought Vasquez to Columbia. He and his wife were visiting relatives. His wife, pregnant with twins, had to be hospitalized there for a lengthy period because of complications from her high risk pregnancy. While there, Vasquez reunites with people like, Dr. Francisco Benavides, the son of the medical examiner who handled Gaitan’s body. He also learns more about, and meets, Carlos Carballo, the man was being accused of trying to steal the damaged suit belonging to Guitan.
In the course of conversations about possible conspiracies surrounding Guitans murder, Vasquez learns about the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Twin Towers attack on 9/11. The similarities are explored. Was the murdered Roa Sierra the real murderer of Guitan? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Who really engineered the terror attack on the Twin Towers?
Carballo, who tried to steal Guitan’s suit, wants Vasquez to write the true story of Gaitan’s death, as he sees it. He has all the information prepared. Presumably, he had wanted another author to write it, the renowned R.H., but he died before he was able to fulfill the task. It was at that author’s funeral that Vasquez was approached by Carballo. Vasquez refuses and when the twins are born, they all return to Spain. Years later, he is again in Columbia and tries to contact Dr. Benavides to apologize for his behavior. He had been really disrespectful to him when they last saw each other, with Vasquez misinterpreting the doctor’s effort to help as interference and tainted in some way, Often the character Vasquez is rude and arrogant, making him a bit unlikable.
To enhance the narrative, ordinary occasions and events, that we all may experience, like funerals, births, are introduced. The reader feels drawn to consider their own reactions, along with the characters’ reactions, at those times. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt drawn out and tedious. There was an overarching philosophy introduced in the narrative. “The future of the babies being born was in their hands. The dead were no longer involved, nor were they capable of feeling or showing love”. The history was influencing the future.
Mixing fact and fiction, the author weaves a story that I found confusing, but fact-filled, which was its most redeeming feature.
The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, Nadia Murad, author; Amal Clooney*, foreward; Ilyana Kadushin, narrator
That something like what is described in the pages of this book could occur in a society of human beings is appalling. This is one of the most heartbreaking descriptions of brutality and violence that I have read, apart from the books about the Holocaust. This genocide was carried out without regard for human dignity or suffering. Religious fanatics, attempting to recreate the Caliphate, murdered and captured the Yazidi people with abandon, and the world largely watched it happen.
The Yazidi religion is described as a combination of the three major religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Their religion has aspects of each religion with respect to worship, prayer, and dress. They are a simple people with their superstitions, customs, and codes of proper behavior to guide them. There is no written book for them, however. The traditions and culture are passed down orally by specially selected Yazidi who are tasked with that effort. There are some aspects, like honor killings, that I found reprehensible, but what happened to the Yazidi people is equally, if not more, reprehensible.
Forced from their homes and moved by Saddam Hussein to make Iraq more Arab, they were then attacked by ISIS. They were viewed by the extremists to be fair game because they had no written book. They were, therefore, unforgivable infidels. Because sex before marriage was forbidden, they abused the women they kidnapped and told them they were ruined and would not be accepted back into their world. Fear and pain were tools used with abandon by men and women who were followers of ISIS, who accepted their brand of brutality.
The author lost many members of her family during the time ISIS was capturing towns and villages, among them her own, in Kocho. Women were forced to convert. They were raped. The infirm were murdered. Young boys were forced to be soldiers or used as human shields to protect the cowardly members of ISIS. Those who witnessed the mass murders and brutality turned a blind eye, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of their agreement with the goals ISIS.
Today, Nadia Murad is an activist and works to help those abused and to prevent further kidnappings and massacres. Her description of the events she witnessed and experienced may be simple, but it is so vivid and detailed that the reader will be forced to visualize the heinous and vicious treatment of the Yazidis, imprinting it on their own memories as it is imprinted on Nadia’s. It has to be emphasized that it was only through the grace of God and some kind Iraqis that Nadia was able to escape.
Nadia admits that although life was better after the Americans took over, it was followed by horror. Tribal issues rose to the surface; Sunnis, Kurds, Shites and Yazidis butted heads. Religious factions rebelled. The war was poorly executed and promises that were made went unfulfilled. Hope for the future died, for many, with the development of ISIS and Al Qaeda, with the rise of fundamental Islamic, radical terrorists.
The book, although not long, describes Nadia’s happy life before the war, reveals the atrocities committed after her capture, details her return to civilization in Germany, and than as an activist. She has resettled in Germany, but will always be an Iraqi, in her heart. However, her home is gone, ransacked and destroyed. Now, she dedicates her life to helping others who are less fortunate than she was and rejoices with the family members who have survived and those that can be rescued.
Nadia states that she learned that words could be used against you as weapons, a valuable lesson, since people interpret words differently. How apropos to consider those words in the divisive political atmosphere that exists today in the America. Mobs become protesters; illegal aliens are transformed into undocumented workers depending on which side of the political spectrum one sits. When appeals are made to emotion rather than intellect, people suffer, when fear and identity are used as tools people grow hopeless. Couple that with a lack of power and they are also helpless. No one would come to their aid.
When the last page is turned, the reader can’t help but wish it had been a novel, rather than non-fiction! The awful cruelty and blood bath committed by members of ISIS and its followers is hard to wrap ones head around and accept.
The Yazidis were caught between haters in a war they did not want, but they hoped that America would save them. However, Obama abandoned them and allowed the terrible acts committed by ISIS to continue and proliferate. Yazidis were kidnapped for ransom, women were used as sex slaves, boys were forced to be soldiers, belongings were looted and destroyed, and many Yazidis were simply murdered in cold blood. Because conversion and intermarriage is forbidden to Yazidis, their numbers have been diminished. To continue, they must have large families. Muliple wives are permitted, so perhaps their numbers will rise.
Nadia was happy once, although her family was poor. Her home was filled with love and laughter. Now she lives to prevent further atrocities, to rescue those that she can, and she hopes one day to see those who commit such acts of terror to be punished and brought to justice. They should not escape untouched.
*Amal Clooney is the lawyer who represented Nadia so she could tell her story to let the world know of the plight of the Yazidis and the crimes of ISIS and the Islamic state. She is the wife of actor George Clooney.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz- Heather Morris, author; Richard Armitage, narrator.
This novel tells the story of Ludwig Eisenberg and Gisela Fuhrmannova. Essentially, it is a love story that defied the odds as it took place in the most unusual of places. Ludwig was known as Lale. In 1942, he was a prisoner in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. His job was to tattoo incoming prisoners. He met Gita (Gisela), just a teenager of 17, on the day she was brought to him to have her tattoo redone because it had faded. For Lale, it seemed to be love at first sight, and he took it upon himself to protect her and insure her survival.
Every Holocaust story brings with it a unique history of events, and this one is no different. It reminds the reader of the brutality and sadistic horror that the Germans, under Hitler’s Third Reich, systematically inflicted upon innocents who were guilty only of not being pure Aryans, although some were also marked because they held opposing political viewpoints. It is sad that fewer sane minds prevailed. Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally ill were among those who were persecuted and systematically tortured, starved, worked to death or murdered outright so that Germany and Germans could enlarge their territory and prosper. The means justified their end goals.
At first, I was drawn into the story because I thought it was the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov (Lale changed his name from Eisenberg to Sokolov, his sister’s married name). As I read it and realized that the author had taken a great deal of poetic license in her presentation of events, I still enjoyed it, but not quite as a piece of history. I found it to be a compelling presentation of a romance that defied reality, and in some cases, some of the descriptions of events and experiences seemed to even defy credibility. I began to wonder how much of the story was based on fact and how much on the fiction that the author had to create when she put pen to paper. Since she did not hear actual conversations and had to rely on Sokolov’s memory and description of events, she surely had to embellish a great deal. There was so much that had to be filled in by her in order for her to write a cohesive and realistic story. Sometimes she was more successful than others as the narrative often went off into the world of a fairytale as characters that behaved with vicious brutality were often being presented with an occasional softer side. The author seemed to struggle to paint a positive side to the evil many exhibited, as if each villain had a redeeming trait to fall back on, in spite of their taking great pleasure in cruel, violent, evil behavior. To me, that softer side seemed to be far more of an anomaly and not the rule of thumb.
From the description of events, it appeared almost miraculous that Gita and Lela survived what they were forced to undergo. As with many survivors, a good deal of their ability to survive was because of luck and the occasional kindness of others. Yet, even the kindness of others seemed to have had a price, since nobody seemed to turn down any of the bribes offered. It seemed as if few did anything simply out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather they did it also for the reward they would reap.
The reader may well question if such a romantic relationship could have developed and thrived in a place filled with guards who relished and enjoyed their power, brutality and capacity for carnage. Still, the idea that there were some strong enough or lucky enough to survive through whatever means they could find comes through loud and clear, even when doing what was necessary meant sacrificing others to save themselves. Bargains were struck and compromises made in order to insure their survival. There were unusual friendships and choices that had to be made. Sometimes the line between collaborator and survivor was blurred.
No matter how many books you read, non-fiction or historic fiction, you can never full realize the complete extent of the Holocaust horror.
The narrator did a phenomenal job using perfect and appropriate accents, excellent expression and tone to present mood and the moment.
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, John Meacham, author; Fred Sanders, narrator*
This author chose to read, in his own voice, the first hour and last half hour, or so, of his book. He narrates what seems to be an effort to smear the right side of politics and buoy up the left. In an innocent, almost pained tone of voice, he presents his opinion about the state of politics and government in the current White House. He is obviously disappointed and unhappy about who won the election.
He presents the platform of the left, civil rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, etc., as if those on the right are all white supremacists that are against those very same policies. The most egregious of that effort for me, was this: Although he spends a great deal of time on Martin Luther King and President Johnson, he leaves out those on the left who opposed the passing of the Civil Rights Act. He doesn’t mention the fact that Democrat Robert Byrd filibustered to try and prevent it from passing or that he rode with the KKK. He doesn’t mention that it was largely Republicans who passed the Act while Democrats opposed no only it, but also the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Facts like that would contradict his attempt to present Progressives and Democrats as the “better angels”.
There has been, of late, a proliferation of books that denigrate President Trump. This one tries to masquerade as more cerebral, and possibly more fair-minded, as it is supposed to be searching for the “soul” of America, but that soul seems to exist only on the left side of the political divide. I was surprised that Meacham would present so one-sided a narrative in order to promote the views of the Democrats and Progressives. He deliberatively uses selective sources to elevate them, He almost entirely ignores the faults of the left while presenting the foibles of the right and pretty much ignores the destructive behavior of those on the left as if they were anomalies not worthy of much attention.
The very fact that the universities, largely influenced by Progressive thought, limit speech that does not represent their political view or those of their students, that publishers are rushing to put out books to influence the voting population in only one direction, the left, that the entertainment media and news media are consistently presenting negative images of the President and his accomplishments, should frighten the general public. Instead, the manipulation of information, which is nothing more than bullying, seems to have caused the general population to morph into a kind of mob rule, a behavior that disregards facts and logic. The fact that these same industries that educate and inform our youth are so biased is the reason that this current President criticizes them. He is not against the press, he is against a press that is completely unfair, completely biased against him, a press that does not present any positive news about his administration’s accomplishments, but rather runs with any story that trashes him and his policies, regardless of whether or not they are even true.
It is disheartening to see what is happening in this country. We are undergoing a cataclysmic change; we are witnessing a moment of hate and anger that is coming from a group of people who scream at the moon, shout down those they disagree with, who require safe spaces to maintain their sanity, and who blame the side that is not violent or making unusual demands for their pain. They are dividing us in ways that may become dangerous because they are unable to accept their failure to elect Hillary Clinton, a woman who conducted a campaign for President which was fraught with dishonesty and manipulation in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage.
If the respected author, whom I used to enjoy reading, wanted to present an honest book, he would have exposed information on both sides with impartiality. Instead, even when he says something positive about the GOP, he manages to, in the next sentence, subtly cast aspersions upon them. I found it a bit disingenuous that Meacham concentrated on using the word “fear” often, which is the title of a negative book on the President that was just published by Bob Woodward, and which the reader, therefore, can’t help but think of, and at the same time, he also uses the word ‘hope”, which everyone knows is associated with former President Obama’s campaign for President. Although he seems to be searching for our better angels, he seems to be looking for them only on one side of the political spectrum, the “left”. Although it may not be an obvious effort to smear the GOP and the President, the insinuation is loud and clear that they are not taking the country in a direction he wants it to go, nor are those who support Trump, “the better angels” he is seeking. It is his belief that they are taking the country in the wrong direction, and furthermore, they are wrongheaded, as well.
In another book I am reading, which is not quite as partisan, “The Splintering of the American Mind” by William Eggington, a belief of T. S. Eliot’s, regarding the way we currently assess literature is quoted. The quote could just as easily be applied to the way we teach and make decisions today.
According to Egginton: Eliot did not think that the “criterion in selecting authors was gender or the color of their skin”. He believed what should be considered was what made a great work great. He believed it was the ability to encourage “communities to embrace new identities”, to explore “differences with as many of his fellows as possible, in the common pursuit of true judgment.”
Unfortunately, today, conversation and opposing views are discouraged. Meacham has deliberately cherry-picked an abundance of quotes (too many, because they almost negate the idea that he wrote the book; rather, it seems like the sources did since almost every sentence requires a footnote), to support his particular point of view. I did not expect this highly respected author to present so one-sided and unfair a view of our history and our “better angels”. Almost entirely, he ignored the warts of the left and went on to explode those of the right into tumors, tumors depicted as if they were just waiting to swallow America up in hate. It is as if Meacham decided on the premise of the book and then set out to find the quotes that would prove his point. He does not present the obstruction that is coming from his “better angels” in the past and the present day. Perhaps he believes that he and his ilk are the “better angels”, but to me, he did not present an accurate version of the truth.
*I have both print and audio version
The Palace of Treason is the second book in a series of three that the author has written about espionage, the type of espionage that could very well be taking place today, in the real world, since the United States and Russia are actively engaged in spying on each other all of the time.
Dominika Egorova has risen up the ranks in the Russian Intelligence Service. Her life and limb have often been threatened, but even as others are gravely injured and die, she seems miraculously to survive each time. She rises to fight for what she believes in for another day. Trained as a Sparrow, she uses her feminine wiles to get information from susceptible dupes.
Her handler and sometimes lover is Nate Nash who works for the American Intelligence Service known as the CIA. The agents in the service are dedicated to keeping Captain Egorova alive, for Diva is a double agent, also working for the CIA. Even as she rose to the rank of Captain, in Russia, obtaining her own division to run, and becoming a valuable asset to Putin, she continued to pass information in and out of Russia. The CIA is determined to protect her, as they protect the life of each agent they use in their efforts to keep America safe. The agent’s life is sacrosanct to them.
Dominika uncovers information that is extremely valuable to the security of the United States. Using a system that enables the safe transfer of secrets in and out of Russia, she is able to warn them of upcoming dangers. She learns that Iran, with Russia’s help, is secretly planning to develop weapons grade uranium in a facility hidden from the UN watchdogs. Using the skills she learned in Sparrow school, she develops a relationship with Yevgeny, the man who is the right hand of her archenemy, Zugurov, her irrational and vicious boss who is bent on eliminating her from the picture since she presents a severe danger to his dreams of success. She keeps besting him at his own game, and thus, she has caught the eye of Putin. Zugurov's right hand man, Yevgeny, whispers secrets to her during their lovemaking sessions, secrets that Zugurov keeps from her to prevent her from achieving further success in the spy game. Through Yevgeny, she learns that there is a mole in the CIA, a mole named Triton, a traitor who intends to reveal her identity along with other valuable government documents.
There is a great deal of action and intrigue as the story travels through parts of the United States, Russia and Europe. There are spies everywhere, but the Russian spies, in particular, seem to be particularly brutal, defying age old unwritten rules that were supposed to keep them from deliberately harming diplomats. They engage in extremely violent methods to root out information from the foreign agents, methods of torture that sicken those that have to witness and/or carry them out for the monsters that order them to do so.
The first book was a bit better than this one. It seemed to proceed more smoothly. Additionally, it didn’t contain as many unnecessary prurient references, even with the chapters about the training at Sparrow school. The recipes continue and they break up the tension that the story creates. The narrator does an admirable job interpreting each character and they are easily discernible throughout the novel.
The Daisy Children, Sofia Grant, author
I don’t usually read chick lit, which is how I would describe this book. However, I received this book from librarything in exchange for a review, so I read it until the end. For lovers of that genre, this will be a great read. For others, like me, it will simply pass the time pleasantly.
The story is very loosely based on a horrific historic event which took place in 1937 in a small town in Texas. An elementary school exploded when gas collected in the basement of the building and ignited. Hundreds of children were severely injured and died. This book tries to inform the readers about what possibly might happen when those parents who suffered such grievous losses that day, had other children, sometimes to replace the ones lost. The effect of that loss on the parents’ behavior toward the children born later, and the effects on the children themselves, whose very presence kept the memory of those lost alive, could be devastating and long lasting even extending from generation to generation.
In the novel, four generations of women are examined, beginning with the first that lost a child to the tragedy. The women all seem to share a selfish, headstrong personality, and it isn’t until the fourth generation that there is somewhat of a softening to that trait in the form of some characters who morph into more compassionate individuals. I did not like many of the characters as they seemed shallow and self absorbed. They marched to their own drummers at the expense of others. They were devious, disloyal and even dishonest. Secrets, lies and impulsive behavior seemed to guide the women of the novel. They did not deal with disappointment well and blamed others for their misfortunes.
The book would have been served well with a family tree in the back, to guide the reader through the many generations and relatives; however, that might give away part of the story so the reader would have to entertain discipline and not peek to set everything straight until the last page was turned.
The Girl with Seven Names, Hyeonseo Lee, David John, authors, Josie Dunn, narrator
Hyeonseo Lee had not meant to escape from North Korea or her family. Although it was dangerous, she had only wanted to secretly cross the river into China to visit with some relatives before her 18th birthday. She had planned to return in a couple of weeks at which time she would get an official ID card. However, life intervened in the form of a government census. Her mother was forced to report her missing. She had unwittingly put her mother and brother in danger. Her 18th birthday had come and gone, and now if she were to return she would be responsible for her actions and would be punished. She was trapped in China.
Growing up, Hyeonseo Lee had been a happy and well loved child. In school, she learned what all the other children learned. North Korea was the greatest country in the world. The leaders were like G-ds and even their pictures were valued more than any other possession. The students were brainwashed. They were taught to hate South Koreans and Americans. There were rules about dress and behavior. They were trained to denounce each other for any perceived infractions. Those families would then simply disappear, more often than not. Neighbors turned each other in for extra rations. The fear was pervasive. They had no real freedom, but they also had no real responsibility. The government was meant to provide everything, education, health care, food and shelter, although it was minimal, at best, and many went hungry.
This memoir is the remarkable story of Hyenonseo Lee’s journey to freedom after finding herself trapped in China without proper identification papers. Without any skills or visible means of support, she was forced to rely on her courage, her wits and her relatives and family friends to survive. She was willful and resourceful, and when she felt trapped, she simply picked up and moved on, without a plan, even abandoning those who helped her, if necessary. Fortunately, most often, luck intervened and prevented tragedy from overtaking her. Her story, though, is harrowing and hard to believe. Time after time she escaped from the most dangerous situations because of the kindness of strangers or simply serendipity. After more than a decade, and many hair-raising experiences, she was finally granted asylum in South Korea.
Still, she was alone there, and separated from those she loved. She despaired and would often dream about bringing her mother and brother to her. It would not be without great expense and grave risk to all of them. Escaping from North Korea was dangerous, even for those who had special relationships with the border guards, like her brother who was a smuggler. In the Asian countries mentioned in the book, North and South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, and China, bribery was a way of life. Smuggling of goods and humans was a common business. Brokers, sometimes unscrupulous, were paid to guide those seeking asylum out of the country. Bribes needed to be arranged so that border guards would look away. Government officials took money, as well. Sometimes the commitments were not honored and the money was lost and the asylum seekers were imprisoned and sent back to uncertain fates. No one could be trusted. People eagerly turned each other in to the authorities. Escape often depended on lucky breaks.
For almost two decades, Hyeonseo bounced from job to job, relationship to relationship and from one precarious situation to another. What her story reveals is the constant fear that the North Koreans live with daily. It reveals their distrust of everyone, since everyone is a possible enemy. It reveals their ignorance of all things other than North Korea. It reveals their hatred for America. North Koreans are brainwashed by a system that allows no outside information to influence their lives. It was cell phones and the internet that combined to open up Hyenonseo’s eyes to the world outside and that allowed her to maintain contact with her family throughout her years of exile.
After reading the memoir, I thought that the author either exhibited extreme courage or extreme naïveté. On the one hand, her cleverness allowed her to escape many an ordeal, but on the other, her lack of worldliness prevented her from being suspicious at appropriate times which exposed her to danger that might have been avoided. That said, I do not think there are many who could have successfully accomplished all that she has been able to accomplish in the two decades of her wandering, although, in order to accomplish her goals, she often compromised others. Luckily, things seemed to work out in the end.
There is a great deal of significance given to names in the book. First, a good name was very important in North Korea. Second, the author changed hers, for a variety of reasons, seven times before she found freedom. Thirdly, she also had a unique way of describing her relatives with names that revealed something about them, like Uncle Poor, Uncle Opium, Aunt Pretty and Aunt Tall.
While the book is really informative, and I learned a great deal about the hardships and the dangers the North Koreans face, I don’t think the book fully brought out the magnitude of the danger. So much happened over the almost two decades of her trials and tribulations, but sometimes the story moved on before I fully absorbed it or understood exactly how it really played out.
Vox, Christina Dalcher, author; Julia Whelan, narrator
In this book, the women have been subjugated by men. It seems that they have protested one too many times, have marched once too often, have demanded far too much equality and too much of a voice in the way society is being run. The men have grown more and more frustrated with the women’s movement’s effort to marginalize them. Under the leadership of President Sam Myers (Is he Jewish? All religions are demonized in some way, in this book, so perhaps he is.), who followed the first black President into the White House (Guess who?), the clock is rolled back and women are forced to stop communicating on all levels. They have defiantly created a system in which the women are totally restrained. Even sign language is forbidden. They are forced to wear “bracelets” which count and register the number of words they speak each day. Going over the quota of 100 words a day will result in painful electric shocks which vary in severity depending on the scope of the violation. They have lost most of their rights to be independent and to be educated. They are an exaggerated version of The Stepford Wife. More quickly than anyone thought possible, homosexuals and lesbians are imprisoned, adultery is otlawed, schools are reorganized to teach females household skills, cooking and sewing. Only male children receive a full education, including the three “R’s”. All females become voiceless. In school, the curriculum now includes a huge dose of religious teaching to guide the young men and women into their futures. There is a new world order, although no one had ever really believed it would come to pass.
Although, activists for women’s rights had tried to warn the public about what was coming, the threat to the women had been ignored and dismissed as unrealistic, impossible, until it was too late. The activists had seen the writing on the wall and knew there was going to be an effort to silence them, but their efforts to stop the trend were to no avail. With disbelief, the world watched as policy after policy was adopted in America, to not only actually silence women, but to punish them for behavior the men deemed to be improper. The plan, which was diabolical, was largely designed by and widely supported by the church.
This is really a creative novel, but there is not even a veiled attempt to hide the partisanship of the author’s message. She even alludes to the Kool-Aid drinkers, made famous by Rush Limbaugh. They are of course the ones who are deluded. They are on the far-right. They are conservatives who overvalue their religious beliefs. They are the troublemakers shutting down conversation. (Although today, those on the left are actually shutting down conversation and preventing the free exchange of ideas with their need for safe spaces, the author never suggests that.) The reader learns that the renegade President, Sam Myers, built a wall along the borders of Canada and Mexico, making it just as hard for Americans to leave the country as it is for immigrants to enter it. Women have no passports and can not legally leave the country or travel to another. (Subtly, even immigration has reared its ugly head in this novel. Of course, everyone today knows who wants to build the wall. This author implies that it is Trump who is responsible for taking away the rights of women.)
President Myers relies heavily on the military (as does Trump) and his older brother for support and advice. Family is important to him. This new “young” President (perhaps the “young” description is an attempt by the author to soften her partisanship), has a beautiful wife. It is hinted that his wife is sequestered when not in public. It is hinted that she suffers with the restrictions of the bracelet counters and its consequences, as well. (The author’s description of the wife, reminded me of the stories that journalists wrote that insinuated that Melania Trump, who had not been seen for awhile, was being physically abused by her husband, when she was actually undergoing surgery.)
President Myers is being advised by a religious leader, Reverend Carl Corbin who dreams of a world of “pure” men and “pure” women. He will surely remind the readers of Tomas de Torquemada, the first inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. (Perhaps the author’s attempt to demonize religion was her quiet attempt to jab at Vice President Pence whose dedication to his religious beliefs over science has been well publicized and criticized by the left and the media.) In this book, the heroes use scientific research to try and defeat the religious fanaticism. In this new America, journalism and news no longer exist. Entertainment has been regulated. (These issues might be another possible suggestion that this evil President is fashioned after Trump. He has, after all, labeled much of the news media and entertainment world as biased and fake.)
Today, under President Trump, there is a non stop cry to resist and oppose him and anyone associated with him, regardless of what he or they accomplish. He has been painted as unhinged. Since the book promotes the very word resistance as a positive tool for the left to use against the right, even suggesting the use of violence to stop them, it would seem that the author is comparing and contrasting the villainous Myers to Trump, a man she views as villainous. (After all, isn’t Trump’s administration attempting to confirm a Supreme Court Justice that the left believes will curtail women’s rights, especially their right to choose?) Yet, if truth be told, hasn't it been the left and those that support the liberal agenda that has used violence to silence the voices of those that disagree with them?
Dr. Jean McClellan was told that the President’s older brother suffered brain damage in an accident, making him unable to speak coherently. She was asked to return to work in the lab to develop a cure for his condition. Before she lost her job and was silenced, she was one of the foremost authorities on the subject of aphasia. The authorities gave her a very short window of time for this research. As a bonus, the word counter would be removed temporarily while she worked. After she successfully discovered the cure, however, it would be returned to her wrist. In the meantime, other scientists were attempting to develop a drug to do the opposite, to cause rather than cure aphasia. That drug would be used to silence women and eliminate the need for the "bracelet" counters. It would cause them to speak in unintelligible sentences by damaging the Wernicke area of the brain responsible for fluent speech. Dr. McClellan’s husband Patrick worked in this White House that was rolling back women’s rights, and although he did not support the draconian methods, he seemed unable to do anything about them.
The narrator does a very good job of interpreting each character. The book presents the overarching theme that resistance is good, and should be encouraged, even if it calls for violence. In the real world, it is the progressives, not the conservatives being blamed, that do the loudest yelling and are shutting down the voices of those who disagree with them. They are unwilling to have a dialogue with them. There is also a theme that seems to be presenting women as superior, and men as cruel, weak, and sometimes no more than useful idiots. Since speech was a central theme, I found it disheartening that the author used crude vocabulary throughout the book. There was an unnecessary emphasis on sex. Were the women meant to be presented as preoccupied with thoughts of infidelity and promiscuity? Other themes support science as good and faith and religious dogma as evil. The enemies of women and equality live in the Bible Belt. There is a woman in the book, Jeannie’s friend, Jacky Juarez, who is a jailed women’s rights activist and lesbian. She is Hispanic (She is a perfect symbol.). She reminded me of Carmen Perez who was one of the organizers of the women’s march on the White house led also by the likes of Linda Sarsour. Perez worships Harry Belafonte, who is an avowed socialist.
Do the readers realize what is happening in the real world? Do they realize that voices are truly being silenced, but it is not those of women? The voices on the right are being silenced. Those with an opposing view are being silenced. The left is silencing them in the media, in the entertainment world and in the schools at all levels, even as they blame others for their own sins, and no one is taking it seriously, as no one took warnings in the book seriously. It doesn’t fit the agenda of the day.
Although the book is supposed to be about a fictional world, perhaps in the not too distant future, it seems to be hinting, with not very subtle accusations, that the current President and his administration are both usurping power and overstepping boundaries that might very well turn the clock back to a time when women were only supposed to stay at home and act like Donna Reed, serving the needs of their husbands and their family, over their own. If only the author had been content to write a good story and refrained from putting her hand on the scale in an attempt to make a political point. No one side should have been blamed for the plight of the women. The problem should have been expressed and analyzed, encouraging conversation so that a real dialogue could develop which might help to solve problems, not create them. This book feels like a propaganda tool for the liberals who will love it.
There Your Heart Lies, Mary Gordon, author; Angela Brazil, narrator
I realize that I am not as happy with this book as many readers, but I found the book to be very melodramatic and way too political in its approach toward religion. The overarching theme seemed to be to present almost every liberal cause it could. We have racism, homosexuals, environmentalists, corrupt priests, cruel conservatives who are all apparently communists, many of whom are Jewish, and fascists who roam Spain almost at will and are in charge as they murder all those discovered to disagree with them.
Reading the book held my interest, at first, but it kept swinging from time and place to a different character and scene, often without preparation or comfortable transition. It became repetitious as Marian tells her story to many different characters. The narrator over emoted so much that I found myself concentrating on her presentation, rather than the narrative, which led me to lose my focus. Even though the subject matter seems so contrived, sometimes, the history of the time is compelling as it covers seven decades of a changing world. Although it takes place during the years of the Holocaust, it concentrates on the Spanish Civil War, the Republicans on the right vs. Franco’s Nationalists on the left. The Republicans supposedly represent the wealthy who abuse the poor and love the Church too much.
The book begins in the mid 1930’s, with Marian, of the Newport Taylors, discovering a secret which changes the course of her life. Marian is 18. Her parents, her father especially, are very devout Catholics. She and her brother are the youngest of 9 children and the most neglected by their parents. They are therefore very close and not very attached to their parents whose ways they dislike. Marian despises her wealth (which is something only the very wealthy have the liberty to do), and her brother is a homosexual. At that time, homosexuality was a crime. It was considered a terrible mental disorder, curable with the use of drastic measures like shock treatments. When her father finds out, worried about his son’s immortal soul, he allows the doctrine of the church to take over. This leads to tragedy and Marian’s estrangement from her family. Her brother’s lover was Russell Rabinowitz, a doctor. Marian insists on marrying him, and they travel to Spain, where the Spanish Civil War is raging, to help the wounded. They are considered to be rojas, red, communists. Once there, Russell grows disillusioned as he learns that both sides are selfish and self-serving, willing to commit any atrocity to win. Some actually enjoy and thrive on the violence.
Tragedy and disappointment seem to follow Marian. She winds up at the home of her second husband, Ramon Ortiz, after his death. He had died from Sepsis, but before he succumbed, he wrote his family to help Marian, only 19, who had no one in Spain to help her and who could not return home to America, at that time. There, she suffers under the hand of his fanatical, fascist mother, a pharmacist, who believes that if Marian is discovered as a Communist, her newborn son will be taken away. Her mother-in-law, Pilar, is as devout as her father was, and she raises Marian’s son, Ignacio, with a love for the church and a dislike for his own mother. Marian is a lapsed Catholic who resents the church and its hand in her brother’s suffering. For the next 7 years, Marian lives the life of a haunted woman who craves nothing but sleep. She rejects her child, feeling little for him. His mind is being poisoned and manipulated by Pilar. Her mother-in-law is eager to raise him since she believes Marian is incompetent. Marian begins to believe that she is helpless and useless. Her bravery has disappeared. She has suffered force the reader to suspend disbelief.
After Marian has an accident and breaks her leg, a doctor named Isabel, half Irish, who speaks English, takes her under her wing, and Marian’s life takes a turn for the better. She inspires her and nurses her back to mental health. Her brother is a priest, but Marian soon learns that he is a very good person and not the typical clergyman she is used to hating.
Soon the story moves back to America where Marian, now married to Theo, has a son named Jeremy whom she adores. She realizes she can feel maternal love. As Marian divorced herself from her parents, her granddaughter, Amelia, seems to prefer Marian to her own mother, Naomi, from whom she separates herself. Marian and Amelia are very close. Her father, Jeremy, has died. In some way, Marian, as a mother-in-law, has accomplished what Ramon’s mother had done, without even trying. Amelia lives with her as Ignacio lived with his grandmother. Amelia wants to reunite her mother with her son, but soon discovers that perhaps that is not the best idea in the world. Some leopards never change their spots. Still, Marian’s life comes full circle, but with a happier ending.
Obviously, the author is very liberal. She eschews the love of wealth and religion which she seems to view as evil and in her descriptions that is exactly what they appear to be. Those that worship money and G-d are also evil. When, at the end, Marian and Amelia discuss whether or not there is an afterlife and whether or not they will meet again, Amelia decides that the trees are the souls of the dead they loved. That was the moment, the book and I parted permanent company. I guess, in spite of that, there are those that truly love the book, perhaps for its attention to history, so I gave it three stars with the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it is me, as a Jew and a Conservative finding fault where, perhaps, there is none.
The Other Woman, Daniel Silva, author; George Guidall, narrator
Gabriel Allon is the head of Israel’s Intelligence Service. While attempting to extricate a double agent from Europe, something goes wrong and the agent is murdered in cold blood. Although it was a clandestine effort, somehow a video surfaces which seems to show a blurry, identifiable image of Allon. Soon another murder of an agent in Europe, points a finger at him. The world, always ready to accuse Israel, once again jumps on the event to point fingers at the head of the Israelis for what they believe were planned murders, not attempts to save the lives of the Russian moles who had been turned to help them. As Gabriel Allon sets out to find out who set him up and why, the plot really thickens involving the British, the Americans and the Russians, as well.
Silva writes with a clear hand, creating tension and excitement on every page. The story is sometimes confusing as it jumps around a lot, and there are many characters from many countries popping up in various scenes. The story takes the reader back to the days of Kim Philby, the most notorious Russian agent planted deep in the British Intelligence service for decades, rising almost to its pinnacle. As the threads of his betrayal are revealed so are the betrayals of many others. Philby’s legacy lives on.
The reader is excellent. He never gets in the way of the novel and always accurately portrays each character with his accent and tone of voice. This is a great beach read or an entertaining accompaniment on a long drive.
The Ninth Hour: A Novel: Alice McDermott, author; Euan Morton, narrator
Annie, a young Irish Catholic woman is widowed when her husband Jim commits suicide after calmly sending her out to do some shopping. His burial in the church plot that they own is in jeopardy. Sister St. Saviour, of the order Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, miraculously appears and takes charge. Although it is forbidden, she wants Jim to be buried by the church. Willing to bend the rules, she quietly arranges it by pretending his death was accidental. However, the true story gets out into the news, and her efforts fail. This is the first hint that the story will be about the “sins” of the clergy, as well as the sinful behavior that all “flesh is heir to”.
Sister St. Saviour, in spite of obstacles, does manage to use her influence to help Annie, who is pregnant and all alone in Brooklyn. She gets her a job helping Sister Illuminata in the laundry at the convent. When her daughter is born, Annie names her after the Sister who had helped her. St. Saviour never saw the child because she had recently died.
Everyday, the child who is nicknamed Sally, goes to work with her mother to the laundry in the basement of the convent. Sally is exposed to the world that Sister Illuminata occupies, a world of many petty and not so subtle complaints about her life, but also to her self sacrifice and service to those in need. As Sally is drawn more and more to the church, Sister Illuminata encourages her to enter that world. She does this against the wishes of Annie who does not want to lose Sally to the church. Sister Lucy and Sister Jeanne also become important in Sally’s life as she accompanies them on their visits to the sick and poor and witnesses the abuses that those in need suffer from, as well as the abuses that they are capable of doling out to others.
When Sally decides to enter the church as a novitiate, she travels by train to Chicago. That trip exposes her to the real world and its dangers. She is taken advantage of in many ways on the train that is carrying her to what she thought was her destiny, her calling. She grows very disillusioned as she witnesses the betrayal and dishonesty of so many, the small sins and great sins of those who prey upon her, and she decides to abandon her dream of becoming a nun. She does not want to be associated with the church any longer. The behavior that disappoints her is ignored as those who want to do anything about it are apparently powerless. People and the church are often blinded by need and greed.
When she returns home, quite unexpectedly, she is greeted by another very disappointing scene that forces her to leave home and move in with friends, the Tierney’s. Once, she and Patrick Tierney were in baby carriages side by side and he immediately fell in love with her, Sally discovers that she has her own mean streak. She realizes, too, that she has the capability to hurt others, to lie and deceive, as well. There is one constant in her life, however. She is utterly devoted to her mother, regardless of how her mother’s behavior disappoints her. Just how far would she go to save her mother’s soul? Was she worth saving and was the idea of being saved still viable?
Her mother is having an affair with Mr. Costello, a milkman, the husband of a mentally and physically disabled woman whom the nuns nurse with kindness, but, on the other hand, have no patience for when she complains. Sally has helped Sister Jeanne and Sister Lucy care for Mrs. Costello. She is recovering from pneumonia and Sally, with an ulterior motive, decides to offer to help the exhausted nuns. When Mrs. Costello dies after a violent coughing fit as she is being fed, the reader will wonder how her death came about so suddenly. Did someone offer a helping hand? Whose hand was it?
All of the characters are flawed. When presented with the possibility of breaking rules or sinning, they simply do. Their consciences rarely guide them. Even though they could be extremely kind, they also had the capacity for evil. They all seemed to harbor some hidden guilt, shame or anger from events hidden in their past that caused them pain. They often gave in to carnal desires and selfish needs. They were willing to deceive, behave promiscuously, turn a blind eye to the rules, and in general, yield to weakness. Were they suffering for “the original sin”?
As Sally’s children narrate this story, the decline of the stature of the church is gradually revealed as the duplicitous behavior of the clergy is exposed along with the poor behavior of believers and non believers alike. It is sometimes confusing. The message appears to be that humans will sink, rather than rise to the occasion, if given the opportunity to sin. Even members of the church harbor hateful and often selfish thoughts. It seems that when temptation rears its ugly head, there are men and women alike, from all walks of life that are willing to succumb to it in the same way today as it was in the time of Eve.
The story begins with a death and ends with one. Both are certainly self-serving acts on the part of someone. One, however, is a suicide and one is a murder. Both of the victims had suffered and were very unhappy in their perceived view of life. Both blamed others for their plights. Both could not adjust to their lives, but one chose to die and the other is chosen to die by others. One is trapped mentally and the other physically.
In this book, it is mostly the women who step in to help, heal and uplift, but it is also mostly the women who are willing to break the rules, manipulate others and engage in deception and disloyalty when they believe in their cause. Are all humans capable of acts of evil, great or small? Are all of us capable of breaking our vows and of being disloyal? What is the position of the church today? Is the church corrupt or is it simply that some of those attached to it are, and is the church a powerful force any longer? Should it be? Are humans capable of redemption? These are some of the questions the book will give rise to at the end.