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Not one of the best!

Agent Running In The Field - John le Carré

Agent Running in the Field, John LeCarre, author and narrator

I have always enjoyed Le Carre’s novels. This one is an exception. After listening to half the book with my husband, and struggling to make sense of it, we both agreed, the book was going nowhere. Essentially, it is about an agent working for the British Intelligence Service who is aging out of his career. Nat believed he would soon be terminated, but he was instead thrown a lifeline and given the opportunity to resurrect a defunct London office. His badminton games with Ed, another agent, are a major theme, along with his dislike of President Trump.

I have no interest in reading a bash Trump book, especially one that is slow. Therefore, once again, I have decided to do something I find myself doing more and more often, recently, something I never considered doing in the past. I have decided not to finish the book. It is slow and tedious and does not invite me back. There is too little time to read all of the books being mass produced today, to stick with a book I do not love. I am moving on.

In addition, the author should have hired a professional reader. Perhaps the tone and expression would then have been more encouraging and would have better interpreted the dialogue.

Not what I expected.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong

On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong, author and narrator

Often, when an author reads his/her own book, the reading lacks something which a professional brings to the narration. This author reads too softly and emotively for my taste, and it tends to make the reader lose track of where each sentence begins and ends without complete concentration. In addition, the voice sounds very feminine, husky, and even sexy or perhaps enticing, which seemed inappropriate, at first. Then, as I listened on, I realized it might have been intentional since the main character, “Little Dog”, had issues with sexual identification.

Little Dog’s origin begins in Vietnam and the culture of the country plays a role in the narrative. The American intervention in the civil war there was presented fairly negatively as the American soldiers and their families are exposed as racists who are rather cruel to the inhabitants, taking advantage of the women, abusing them and their children.

The main character’s birth had heralded him as somewhat of a prodigal son. In the book, he is writing to his mother, although she is illiterate, perhaps to mend fences that have eroded between them. He has not turned out to be what his family had hoped he would be. He is not the masculine savior they imagined. The unrest and wars have prevented him from achieving the status they had hoped for and have exposed his “softness”. Through his imagined conversations with his mother, we learn of his life and his trials, abroad and in America. We learn of his identity issues, which he confesses, and we learn about the difficult problems he has faced.

After struggling to listen for hours, I felt that, indeed, the author’s voice and interpretation in the reading, was probably deliberate in order to reveal Little Dog’s sexual orientation. I felt a bit deceived, since nowhere in my initial reading about the book did I discover that it was about someone who had sexual identification issues. In this era of political correctness with the publishing industry’s strong predilection for progressive policies, there seem to be too many books being published to promote those policies. At the very least, a reader should be informed, in the immediate description of a novel, about the issues being promoted in the book, especially regarding sexual identity and even racism. I often feel, lately, that I am being kidnapped by the industry in order to force me to read something I have no desire to read, in order to promote the progressive political agenda and brainwash me. It is for that reason I have chosen to stop reading the book.

The prose is beautiful; it is lyrical, and it will attract a certain audience, I am just not in that audience. I have assigned it three stars, although I did not complete the book, because of the quality of the writing, and because I realize that although the content does not interest me, it will interest many others. For me, there are just too many other books out there that are written just as well about themes I would prefer to read.

It is non fiction but it reads like a novel!

Bad Blood: Secret and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup - Will Damron, John Carreyrou

Bad blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou, Will Damron, narrator
This is a very well researched investigation into Theranos, a biotech company started by Elizabeth Holmes while still in her teens. She always wanted to be the next Steve Jobs and from her successful fundraising for her start-up company, she seemed well on her way to achieving that goal before she was 20! Elizabeth was a superb saleswoman. So many well known and famous people supported her that was hard to doubt her unique vision for the future of blood testing. She was very well connected with the support of the likes of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Stanford and Harvard professors and well known first rate lawyers; some of these people associated with the image of the company, even sat on the Board.
Really smart people fell under the spell of this young woman whom they believed to be a genius. For years they allowed her to make false promises about a unique medical device which when developed would be monumental and would save lives, but it did not yet exist! It was, in reality, in the developmental stage because the results of the device tests were often inaccurate, putting patients’ lives at risk. Theranos hid the faulty results with manipulative technology or excuses, which were accepted by those eager to climb on her bandwagon. Somehow she managed to convince venture capitalists and investors to fund her efforts without any real proof of success. The employees, all from the best schools, who had achieved high honors and awards, went through a revolving door frequently. Those who disagreed and suspected that the efficacy of the devices was being misrepresented and those who pointed out flaws in the process in which they were involved, were quickly dismissed and escorted from the property after signing away their rights. Threatening them with ruination usually did the trick.
When Tyler Schultz, the grandson of George Schultz went to work for the company, he never thought that it would pit him against his grandfather. Regardless of Tyler’s suspicions about the nefarious behavior of the Theranos executives, George, who sat on the Board of Theranos, refused to take him seriously and often acted against his grandson’s best interest and on behalf of Theranos. Yet, Tyler, seeing mounting evidence of dishonesty within the lab and test results, and growing more and more aware of misleading statements about the company’s progress, defied his grandfather. He left the company and aided in Carreyrou’s investigation into its corrupt policies.
The law firm of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP represented Theranos. A heavy hitter in the legal field, Carreyrou believed they were hiring private investigators, following whistleblowers and threatening them with lawsuits if they didn’t sign non disclosure agreements, abide by those already signed or cease and desist from any action against the company. Boies was even on the Board of Directors of Theranos and seemed to be acting on their behalf, even using their offices to help promote fake tests doctored results.
The Board members of Theranos had little power to alter anything that went on at Theranos because Elizabeth had manipulated them to insure her majority control of all decisions. However, they didn’t seem inclined to investigate the wrongdoing, preferring to ride the wave of support from others on Elizabeth’s behalf.
After more than a decade of deceit and lies, perpetuated by Elizabeth, the CEO, and Sunny, her not so secret paramour, who ran the company with her as COO and President, they were finally exposed. In 2015, the author, John Carreyrou published an article in the Wall Street Journal which exposed Elizabeth Holmes and her massive scheme to defraud the public with her dreams of developing miracle performing medical devices that she promoted, although they were flawed. Even after she was exposed, she was still able to manipulate the news and facts to continue her fundraising and gain support for her business efforts; yet that business was actually growing less and less viable. Elizabeth had been able to get huge companies to support her almost unconditionally. Some big names like Walmart, Safeway and Walgreens fell under her spell. Her powerful connections enabled her to perpetuate her fraud long after it should have been stopped. Investigations were stymied, those involved were threatened, and negative news was hidden.
Although she never provided proof of the efficacy of her testing devices and availed the company and herself of every loophole she could find to avoid providing documents to those who asked, she gained the support of powerful people who accepted her excuses and explanations. It was not what she knew, but whom she knew that aided her advancement. She was hailed by organizations, given awards, honored at dinners. She was an expert at promoting herself and her company. She did not care that she took the lives of others in her hands in her quest to become the new heroine in the image of Steve Jobs, she only cared about her own success.
Today, there are civil and criminal charges against Elizabeth and Sunny. However they are still not in the final stages of litigation. The criminal trial will not take place until the end of the summer, in 2020. The civil suits are currently in progress and she is representing herself so she can save her resources for her criminal defense.
The firm and its lawyers operated in a strong arm manner, controlling all those who disagreed or discovered improper practices, by using intimidation to prevent them from revealing the extent of dishonesty within the walls and laboratories of Theranos. They were threatened with disaster if they did not sign all agreements which would make them impotent and unable to reveal the fraud. Greed was front and center on the part of all the participants and there was no evidence of anyone’s concern for ethical practices by either the lawyers or Elizabeth and Sunny.
It is mind-boggling when one considers that this corrupt company gained so much power without providing a shred of true evidence of successful testing of their devices. They could not provide proof of their claims because statistics disproved them so they hid them and never made them public. Those who supported them truly had the wool pulled over their eyes, but they were willing participants, eager to climb on board this train which would revolutionize blood testing, and they were happy to remain blind to the facts. One will ask how this could happen when one turns the last page. It feels like it is science fiction, not non-fiction. There were fake labs, manipulated test results, false theories and non existent products, yet the company was promoted and supported by upstanding citizens of society for fifteen years before it was exposed and brought down. This arrogant, self serving, power hungry, greedy young woman, from the age of nineteen, operated with smoke and mirrors and succeeded in convincing even those who discovered her deceit to continue to support her.
This is not an easy audio for a narrator because the material was repetitive at times and dry, yet he succeeded because of his use of inflection and stress at the appropriate times to make the story truly interesting and to make himself a neutral participant. The book reads like a mystery novel, rather than investigative reporting because the story is intriguing and often hard to believe.



Romance and Unrest follows the Dalmau's

A Long Petal of the Sea - Isabel Allende

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende, author; Edoardo Ballerini, narrator

This is a well researched, beautifully written novel which begins in the 1930’s and takes us forward for six plus decades of turmoil in the lives of Victor and Roser Dalmau as they seek a homeland. It is sometimes about history and sometimes it is about romance. It is about migrants, exiles, asylum seekers, secrets, idealism, loyalty, devotion, politics, war and corruption in the church, but always there is hope in the end. It begins with the story of those who fled Franco’s Spain when the Nationalists who were Fascists defeated the Republicans who were Marxists and Socialists. Franco’s government was a military dictatorship which was ruled with an iron fist.

The reader is taken through the Spanish Civil War as innocent and guilty alike are caught in the web of intrigue and terror. The Civil War tore the country apart. At the same time as the Spanish were struggling to survive the change in government and loyalties, World War II broke out. Those who hadn’t supported Franco were in mortal danger as they were captured, tortured and murdered. Those that could, eventually fled. Not all countries would accept refugees, but Chile welcomed them.

Victor Dalmau was from Barcelona, Spain. His mother had been preparing to become a nun when she met his father, a prominent music teacher, and fell in love. She left the convent and to avoid having their children labeled as bastards, the couple married. Children born out of wedlock becomes a recurrent theme in the novel.

Victor studied medicine in Spain. He was not a fan of Franco, and when the Civil War broke out, he worked in a hospital to treat those who were injured fighting against him. When Victor was injured, he returned home to Barcelona and his parents, until he recovered. In the house with them was Roser Bruguera, his father’s best, young music student. His parents had taken her into their home when her family fell onto hard times. She was like family to Victor. Victor’s brother, Guillem, however, had a romantic relationship with her that she took more seriously than he did.

After he got well, Victor returned to the hospital to help the injured. Then one day, he received a call from his mother. His father was ill and near death. He had to locate his brother, and both of them needed to return home if they hoped to see their father alive once again. Victor had difficulty locating his brother because Guillem, was on the front, fighting.

Time passed and the war raged on. The hygiene conditions were terrible and Guillem became gravely ill with Typhus. He was sent home to die or recover. With the care from Roser and his mother, he recovered and was able to return to the battlefield. However, during his recuperation, Roser was so devoted to him that he fell in love with her. They pledged to marry, but Guillem did not return home. He never knew that Roser was pregnant with his child.

In order to flee Spain, when Franco set up his regime,Victor and Roser pose as a married couple, and with his mother, they leave on the ship, the SS Winnipeg, that Pablo Neruda had chartered. They went to the long petal of the sea which is how the poet, Neruda, refers to Chile. He calls it “the long petal of sea and wine and snow”. When Roser learns of Guillem’s death, Victor swears to raise their child as his own, and he and Roser marry for appearance’s sake, although they live like brother and sister.

In Chile, Victor has his own affair with a young girl, Ofelia, who was already promised to someone else. So, although Victor and Ofelia had no future, once again, there is an unexpected pregnancy. To avoid shame, Ofelia goes to a church that cares for unwed mothers. After she delivers, she is told her son was born dead. Ofelia never told Victor that she was pregnant, so like his brother, he was unaware that he was to be a father.

After time passes, Roser and Victor realize that they have grown deeply in love. The child, Marcel, was born in Chile. They feel like Chile is their home. Revolution soon followed them there, too, and they were forced to flee once again. This time they went to Venezuela. History repeated and they had to leave there, as well, but by then they were able to return to Chile. Like a revolving door, chaos followed them. When Spain opened its arms to them, they wondered if they should pick up and move again. Should they return to Spain? Where was home?

The story is complicated. There are many characters and experiences that have to be knitted together. There are many repetitive themes, war, greed, pregnancy, religious corruption, innocence, guilt, loss and shame. The novel contains many elements of history and bits and pieces of fiction and non-fiction that are woven together skillfully to make it an interesting read. Although there is sex, it is not gratuitous.

The audio narrator is very good, keeping a safe personal distance from the story, but portraying the story well.

To sum it up, revolution follows revolution which is followed by torture and arrest, exile follows exile, from one country to the next, love affair follows love affair, illegitimate children multiply until the story goes full circle, and there is the right of return to a homeland.

The story feels more authentic because, coincidentally, the author’s life parallel’s several moments in the book.

Poignant book about the migrant experience!

American Dirt - Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins, author; Yareli Arizmendi, narrator Lydia Perez operates her own bookstore in Acapulco, Mexico. Her husband is an investigative journalist. The family has a good life. Lydia becomes friendly with a book store customer, who unbeknownst to her, at first, is the head of a violent and vicious cartel. He turns out to be the very same person her husband is now investigating. Lydia seems naïve, believing that Javier, who treasures her friendship, wouldn’t harm her family even if her husband exposed his criminal behavior. After all, with her, he is nothing but a soft spoken, educated gentleman with whom she shares tea and conversation. Of course, this is ridiculous and most readers will recognize this weakness in the plot. A man who is so evil would not allow anyone to betray him without retaliating. It would show weakness. Thus, when Sebastian’s expose is published, it leads to catastrophic events; Lydia finds herself on the run with her son Luca. The book goes into great detail about the trials and tribulations of her escape. She wants to get to an uncle in Colorado. As they run, they encounter several others escaping for one reason or another, but mostly from a terrible lifestyle. The reader meets two teenage girls from Honduras, Soledad and Rebeca. Soledad has been repeatedly raped by human traffickers. These young men and other cartel members, everywhere, are powerful and take advantage of their innocent victims. They extract bribes, sex and force those they control to do as they say on penalty of torture and death. Soledad wants to save her younger sister from the same fate, thus, when she realizes the boy who is abusing her, has also discovered her sister, she packs up and leaves with her, for El Norte, the USA, the American Dirt! This leads to disastrous consequences for her family. She has no idea what awaits them on their route to ultimate safety, but she is willing to risk all to escape. They try not to trust any strangers they meet on their journey, since they might have connections to the heads of cartels or they might be thieves, but still they are robbed and abused. There is danger everywhere. In the end, after riding on the tops of trains, marching for miles in all kinds of heat and wet, they enlist the aid of a rare, reputable Coyote. There are many interesting characters developed in the book. Beto, a ten year old asthmatic, Lorenzo, a cartel member, the Coyote who cares about those he is leading to the USA, but who is also cold-hearted about it and others. There is constant danger everywhere. As the reader learns more and more about them, the plight of the migrant becomes palpable. Along the way they are all betrayed by police and others they encounter. Greed drives many of the people they meet. Everyone is either looking to take advantage of the migrants, or is running from, or toward, something in America, and those very same migrants are willing to risk their very lives to get there. I found the book to be very engaging. It is very well organized and easy to read, plus it is obvious that a great deal of research went into its planning. The audio narrator read it well, if perhaps a bit too slowly. Still, the interpretation of events and her portrayal of the various characters seemed spot-on so the characters were not often confused with one another. The story flowed smoothly as it showed examples of the horrific migrant experience, some running from danger, some running toward financial independence. Each has hope for a better life. The author has painted a picture that feels very authentic. There were some flaws in the book like cell service in the desert when I have trouble getting it in my community! Also, the idea of undocumented vs illegal aliens is whitewashed in favor of the immigrant. The Lorenzos of the world are trying just as hard to get into America as the Lydias. The Lorenzos are cartel members, gang members, violent members of their own societies who are threats to Americans. The Lydias are running from extreme danger, running for their very lives and only want a better life. They don’t have the liberty to go through the process; they will be killed waiting. They deserve the asylum the USA offers. The book is filled with the terror of the migrant experience as they attempt to cross countries and landscapes to illegally enter the United States. The sad thing is that the ones in real danger are mixed in with the ones who are just coming for work, who need to get in line. If they would do it legally, the ones who are in real danger would not have the issues they do. Their entrance into America would be easier. The book has its flaws, however, objecting to its publication because the author is not Latino, seems ludicrous. In America, one would hope that authors would be free to write about anything they wish. One would hope that readers and protesters understand these are novels they are objecting to…, they are fiction, not fact. Authors write for diverse audiences and come from diverse backgrounds. The cancellation of the book tours because of death threats is probably going to spur the sale of her book, anyway, but it is ill advised to allow the protestors to cause such havoc. The author comes from a multiracial family, she researched the book for four years before she published it, she married someone who came to the country undocumented, and so she seems very credible in her depiction of life for the migrants. Even though it is fiction, it is based on some actual events, as well. To criticize her for cultural appropriation or mischaracterization of the situation is ludicrous and unworthy of comment. It is a novel, and is not meant to be a memoir!

It is a hard book to read without becoming emotionally involved.

Dear Edward - Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano, author; Cassandra Campbell, narrator

When the author learned about the 9 year old, lone survivor of a plane crash, it inspired her to write this story. She wanted to believe that someone could survive such a terrible traumatic event and still go on to have a productive life.

For most of the book, the author develops the lives of several passengers on a plane flight from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California. This plane will not reach its destination. As she delves into the lives of several of the passengers, to reveal their character, she reveals also, those that are often forgotten. She explores the lives of those that mourned the victims of this tragedy, and in so doing, she gave life to both those that died and those who grieved.

The author takes the reader through the flight and explores the passengers’ reactions to each other, at first and as the time passes. Often, their initial reactions were surface, and as a result, inaccurate and selfish. They were not happy about being forced to sit with complete strangers with personalities they might not like and sizes and shapes that might infringe upon their personal space. However, each passenger comes with his own story, and as they communicate about their pasts and dreams of their future, they become more amenable to each other. They adjust to this temporary situation.

The author has chosen a diverse set of passengers. Each has a unique lifestyle. One is a soldier who is returning home. One is a woman who believes she has lived many lives. One is an elderly, wealthy man who resents his declining health and is traveling with a nurse, one is a family moving across country, one is a woman who has discovered she is pregnant and is hoping her boyfriend will want to marry her. One is a successful young businessman. Each is thinking about what comes next in their lives, not when it will all end. The atmosphere on the plane as it goes through the “turbulence” is very tense. The disaster is palpable. The fear of the passengers, their thoughts while they believe in a future contrast sharply with their thoughts as they realize they might not have one.

Eddie Adler’s family was moving to California for his mom’s new job. He had not wanted to move at all, and now, alone, the lone survivor in his family, his life is forever changed as he has to live with his aunt and uncle. He is confused, memory impaired temporarily and lonely. He is still in terrible physical pain from his injuries. The author paints a picture of his difficult recovery, exposing his fears, his thoughts, his questions and the general turmoil he experiences as he tries to adjust to his new life. As he matures and recovers, she endows him with an almost superhuman ability to reason things out and solve his own problems, often with more maturity than the adults around him. There are few outbursts or moments of extreme frustration and pain that one might logically expect from a young boy who has suffered such an enormous loss and such a horrific trauma. Edward Adler, in his new life, proceeds to understand and show compassion to those reacting to his needs. Most often, he responds intellectually instead of emotionally. He seems to be able to intuitively know what he needs to do in order to survive, and he is permitted tremendous leeway by those surrounding him, to allow him to make his own decisions in this regard. His youth and the trauma he survived grant him special favor, at times, from the adults and figures of authority that are involved with his life. In a manner beyond his maturity, he seems willing to take their advice most of the time, and he rebels and resents that authority only minimally and briefly. Often, it is he that makes it easier for those around him to adjust to him and the angst surrounding him in his unwanted celebrity.

Helping him to recover is the 11 year old daughter of his aunt’s neighbor. Together, Edward and Shay work to resolve his problems and hers, for she is experiencing the rebellion consistent with a mother/daughter relationship as she tries to assert her own independence. She has suffered loss as well, although nothing compared to his. Her father is absent, having abandoned them when she was just two years old. As the years pass and their friendship deepens, their experiences sometimes seem to lack authenticity as they do things without consequence that push the envelope of reality.

The author moves back and forth in time and place from the plane trip to Edward’s new home with his aunt and uncle. As the reader watches Edward recover and mature, as his experiences are explored and he grows somewhat overwhelmed with a need to do something, to act out and help others who were not as lucky as he, we see that he is fortunate to have adults to guide him that are thoughtful and compassionate, and also unique in their own way. His therapist, his school principal, his aunt and uncle, his neighbors are all key players in his recovery.

When he discovers the letters his uncle had hidden from him, that were from people involved with the victims of the plane crash, he begins to read them and to remember and relive the experience. This takes place three years after the disaster that took the lives of all those passengers. Rather than upset him, the letters open the door to his further recovery as they help him to remember and further come to terms with what we can call his survivor’s guilt.

The narrator reads the novel well, allowing the characters to lead her so she does not make herself an integral part of the story. The book is a difficult read as it is an emotional roller coaster. I believe the book would have been better if the romantic side of it was less developed, although the relationship between Eddie and Shay was a very important and vital part of the narrative. I think some of the crude language was unnecessary. At times, scenes like the one illustrating “the mile high club” experience seemed to me to demean the ultimate intent of the author. If the author’s purpose was, as she said, to provide hope that someone could survive such an experience and go on to have a successful and fruitful life, the crude references could have been left out.

Interesting book about the Spanish Civil War and its after effects.

The Fountains of Silence - Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Sepetys-Author, Narrator, Maite Jauregui, Richard Ferrone, Neil Hellegers, Joshua Kane, Liza Kaplan, Oliver Wyman, Narrators. In the author’s own words, she believes the future is in the hands of the youth, not the adults. The power to change resides with the young who will face it. This book covers many decades, beginning with the rise of Francisco Franco and continuing through his reign, ending with his death and a short period thereafter in which the country is reformed from a dictatorship into a more democratic regime. Daniel Madison is in Spain with his parents. His father has dealings with the dictator, Franco. His father is involved in the oil industry and the family is quite wealthy. The father is also involved with the government of the United States and is following the accepted practices of foreign policy. They are staying at a hotel in Madrid. When the book opens, Rafael Moreno is at his job working for a butcher. He sells blood to the ladies so they can make their sausage. He and his friend love the bullfights and his friend is training for an amateur exhibition. He is hoping to be recognized so he can be officially trained. In a moment of weakness, Rafa does something that he believes is the cause of his father’s death. His parents were involved in the Spanish Revolution, but not on the side of Franco. As a result, their lives were always in danger, and they were very poor. Rafael is Ana Torres Moreno’s brother. Ana works in a hotel. It is a coveted job because it pays a decent wage and affords opportunity to advance. Ana and her siblings have many secrets. Both of their parents have been murdered and they are trying to survive. Ana’s older sister is in charge of the family’s future. Daniel is staying at the hotel where Ana works. She is assigned to assist his family. Daniel is immediately smitten by her, as she is by him. However, dare she dream of a relationship with a gentleman from such a different world than hers? As their relationship grows, the history of the Revolution, the time of Franco’s rule, the effect on the populace for and against him, the relationship of Spain with the rest of the world, and other historic perspectives are revealed and examined. There is much to enjoy in the book, but I found this particular novel less enjoyable than others by this author. It seemed less of a crossover novel, for which she is known, and more of a Cinderella-like fairytale with history thrown into the mix. While it exposed the corruption and violence of Franco’s regime and the complicity of the United States which enabled his despotic rule, including random murders, the kidnapping of newborns (informing the mother her child died, although it was well), to sell to others deemed more fit to raise a child, the random murders of people considered enemies of the state, the continued punishing and deprivation of the ancestors of the revolutionaries, and while it explained the influence of the Church and the superstitions that informed the masses who were not well educated, it seemed written for a juvenile audience, only. The history and famous names mentioned were interesting and informative, with bits of knowledge imparted that I had not known, but some of it was confused by the reading of the footnotes concerning this information, which was interjected into the narrative in the audio without warning. The author has written other books based on her own history. This one, however, is based on the Spanish Civil War and the period that followed. She researched it well. Her books generally appeal to both young and old, but this one, I think, will appeal more to the young. The narrative will enthrall romantic teens, on the more naïve side. The historic narrative should, however, appeal to both teens and adults. I did not completely enjoy or appreciate the main narrator’s interpretation of some of the characters since she presented an interpretation different than mine, however, overall, the narrators performed well, delineating each character in a unique way and the book is very much worth a read.

While females may be as qualified as males, this book overdoes the point.

A Minute to Midnight (Atlee Pine series) - David Baldacci

A Minute to Midnight, David Balducci, author; Brittany Pressley and Kyf Brewer, narrators.

Female FBI agent Atlee Pine has suffered a setback in her career because of an overreaction when she caught a pedophile with a young girl. Although she rescued the girl, she also beat the pedophile to a pulp. Her superior understood her reaction, and he did not discipline her, but instead, he gave her the opportunity to use some time off to reconcile her emotional issues concerning her twin sister’s disappearance. She set out to find out what she could about the crime that had occurred more than two decades ago, when her sister Mercy had been kidnapped. She and Mercy were six years old at the time. Atlee was left for dead with a fractured skull. Her sister was never found. Her parents were devastated, and her father was accused of the crime. Eventually, her parents left town in secret.

As years passed, Atlee was never told the truth about her background, although she did not realize it until this investigation. She knew that her father killed himself on her birthday and that her mother abandoned her when she was in college, leaving her enough money to finish her education. However, she discovered that the rest of her life was a fiction. She was never able to find her mom or discover the truth about her sister’s disappearance, either. Now she hoped to at least find out something about Mercy.

When she returns to her home town, with her assistant, Carol Blum, she discovers that her mother and father had different names and a past she had not known. While she searches for answers about her sister’s fate, additional murders take place around her. She assists in the investigation and pretty much takes it over. She wonders if there is a serial killer on the loose? Are the murders related to her return? Has everyone told her the whole story about her family, or are they holding back facts? Somehow, in bits and pieces she realizes that she knows little about herself or anything else, and she places herself in great danger.

Atlee acts as if she is superior to everyone else, and she often has a chip on her shoulder. Her responses to others are authoritarian, abrupt and sarcastic. I did not find her very likeable. Sometimes she actually seemed to be endowed with supernatural capabilities, almost like a superhero, surviving situations that should have killed her. The author seemed to want to stress the fact that women are at least as capable, if not more so, than men in similar situations.

The author would not have written such trite dialogue between men, as he did between the women in the book. It was often glib and pointless. I found the book disappointing. I thought that the narrator over emoted, and her interpretation of the characters made me dislike most of them. Although Atlee’s insights were often spot on, and she was very fit and strong, I found her to be ruled by emotions not brains. She is painted as the sharpest knife in the drawer, the brightest bulb in the box, the genius who somehow instinctively solves all problems. However, the novel feels like it is chick lit at best, filled with trite platitudes and hackneyed conversations, not up to the standards of this author.

I won’t be listening to the next book they indicated is coming in this series and was disappointed that the book left me hanging without Atlee solving the mystery of her sister or her mother’s location. While the book tackles civil rights, women’s rights, sex trafficking, drugs, porn, and other crimes high on the liberal list of causes, it seemed to do so in  a trivial manner to me. It was almost as if the author did it for the sake of his liberal leanings. I would not recommend this book to others. It held my interest, but only because I thought it would get better. It really didn't improve.


This one in the series is a bit over the top with violence...but it is a good read.

Blue Moon - Lee Child

Blue Moon is the 24th novel in the Jack Reacher series. Jack Reacher has an endearing, but strong-arm way about him. His wit and instincts guide him. He represents right through might, and he almost always seems superhuman as he resolves his problems. Always involved in intriguing mysteries, he sometimes uses bizarre means to save himself and others as he encounters danger. Suspend disbelief as you read this one. Reacher is a retired military cop. As a result, he is more aware of his surroundings than most people. He spots issues and solves problem purely by instinct and experience. He does not like to be tied down to any one place for too long. While traveling on a bus, looking a bit like a vagrant, with no particular destination or pressing need to be anyplace, he notices an old man asleep with a wad of cash in a bank envelope sticking out of his pants pocket. He also notices a low life eyeing the same man’s pocket with the money. When the elderly man, Aaron Shevick, gets off the bus, the lowlife follows him and Reacher assumes he will mug the old man and rob him. Jack Reacher exits the bus with them and follows. When the low life makes his move, Jack attacks him and rescues the elderly man and his money. He assists him on his walk home as he has injured his knee. From that moment on, Jack becomes involved with Aaron and Maria Shevick. He is determined to help them solve their monumental financial problems. Soon, he is impersonating Aaron and absorbing his risk of torture and/or murder from the disreputable loan sharks the Shevicks had been forced to use in order to fund their daughter’s experimental cancer treatment. Once insured, her insurance had lapsed and was canceled when the CEO of the company for which she worked, and was an officer of, failed to inform her that the policy had been canceled due to lack of funds. The company was failing. Moved by this crisis faced by the Sheviks, Jack steps in to help. The Sheviks were selling and pawning belongings and borrowing money from dangerous sources. Their daughter’s treatment was expensive and had to be paid up front or the hospital would deny the treatment, giving their daughter no hope at all of recovery. As Jack gets involved, there appears to be the beginning of a territorial war between two rival gangs, the Albanians and the Ukranians. Unwittingly, Aaron Shevik is involved. He has been dealing with Albanian loan sharks to save his daughter. Now he has to face the far more brutal Ukranians who have moved into the Albanian territory. When Jack steps in and pretends to be Aaron, he sets off a major turf war between the two rival gangs, one running a loan shark business and one running a protection racket. False assumptions run rampant, and they lead to ridiculous, faulty conclusions and barbaric threats and killings. Each gang leader misinterprets the events and the violent murders of their henchmen, until, finally, they begin to randomly slaughter each other as bedlam breaks out. Soon, the leaders begin to realize that they are being manipulated by an outside party, but it is too late to signal each other. Although they conclude that it can only be the Russians who have the skill and man power that seems to be wiping out their members, and both rivals think that Aaron Shevik (Jack Reacher), is working for the Russians who are trying to horn in on their “businesses”, it is too late for them to stop the domino effect and their demise. In this novel, Reacher is exceptionally blood thirsty and the violence often seems unnecessary. He is judge, jury and executioner without any legal backing for his behavior, yet he is displaying excessive physical force and randomly murdering those he encounters. He is motivated purely by his emotions and personal beliefs when he learns of the problems of this elderly couple. Exorbitant fees for the medical needs of their daughter forced them to engage with unsavory gangs and face tremendous danger to help her. The unfairness of it all makes him more and more determined to help them. There are many side tangents. Often there is unnecessary dialogue between characters. In addition, although the details of the plot may seem silly and defy logic, the storytelling talent of Lee Child and the exceptional performance of the narrator save the day. The book is written with an overlay of humor which numbs the effect of even the most violent scenes, making them seem palatable. The reader barely winces, but rather just has fun being distracted by this highly readable novel which maintains interest page after page. The subject matter is au courant in light of the Ukraine corruption controversy that exists in our own politics today and the Russia/Ukraine continued power struggle.

Two young people struggle with fitting into the world.

Normal People - Sally Rooney

Normal People, Sally Rooney, author; Aoife McMahon, narrator I think one has to ask oneself what is normal after reading this book. How does one determine if they are ostracized because they don’t fit in, or they are ostracized because the world is filled with bullies who reject you if you don’t fit into their mold. A square peg in a round hole always has a harder time. Often greed and jealousy separate people. A particular skill, intellectual or athletic, divides us. If these don’t divide us, class will surely separate us into different neighborhoods and schools. Through no fault of their own, but rather due to their circumstances, Marianne and Connell become confidants and then lovers who struggle to survive in society. Their relationship is secret, at first. They live in two different worlds. Marianne is rich. Connell’s mother, Lorraine, is her family’s housekeeper. Marianne has a summer home in Trieste, Italy. Connell stays in hostels when he travels. The author has gotten into the heads of these two teenagers, and she follows them for four years as they mature, reverse rolls, face challenges and deal with life. Marianne is dealing with the loss of her own father, a stepfather who is jealous of her brilliance, and a brother who is abusive and always taunting her. Her home is fraught with dysfunction. Her mother dislikes her, as well, so she convinces herself that it is her fault that she is unlikable. It is not the other family members that are outcasts, it is she. She has few friends in high school because she keeps herself apart and distant. Connell is from the other side of the tracks. His mother is the housekeeper for Marianne’s family. He is a soccer star, and is, therefore, popular, but he doesn’t understand why. Both are in high school and they become fast friends when they discover that each, in their own head, has difficulty fitting in for a variety of reasons. They can’t figure out their own feelings or the feelings of others toward them. As confidants of each other, they guide each other through the next period of their lives, sharing moments, vacations and friends. Sometimes, the mix is not pleasant. Because of mixed signals, although they had once been intimate, they each take a new significant other. However, although they were the best of friends, and did share their innermost thoughts with each other, that no one else knew, they still held back some of their feelings and thoughts. Each is searching for something, possibly unattainable. When he was able to move away, Connell packed up. He became serious with a medical student, but soon realized he still didn’t fit in. After a friend’s suicide, he became despondent. He was guilt ridden because he felt he had abandoned him years before. He broke up with his girlfriend and was terribly lonely. He sank into deeper depression and moved back to his mother’s house. Meanwhile, Marianne had also moved away. Although she had become more secure and was very social, when she and her boyfriend split up, many of their friends abandoned her. She began to feel once more that there was something wrong with her, that she was unlovable. She soon began a relationship with an abusive artist and grew thinner and thinner as she despaired about her own situation and believed she deserved to be punished. She too moved back home to her family home. Soon, Marianne and Connell reconnect in some fashion, but both are still searching as they rescue each other from their depths of sadness and confusion. Again, the reader will wonder, who is normal? Were Marianne and Connell simply rejected by society because they were a little different, or did they reject society because they felt different and were ostracizd because they pushed people away. Were the people who mistreated them normal? Was their mistreatment of others normal or deserved? Marianne felt that she was unlovable because of how she had been treated at home and she made herself remain distant and cold. She had a family, but felt unloved. Connell was well loved but he was fatherless and wondered if his mother was sorry she had him, even though reiterated her love or him, often. Both Marianne and Connell questioned the idea of love in all its forms. Neither character could find a place where they were comfortable unless it was with each other. Was it a matter of maturity? Was it the environment that made them suffer the slings and arrows of society? When both got full scholarships, one felt she was finally legitimized, and the other finally felt free from money worries for at least the next four years. Although they were very close, neither truly understands how the other really feels. Neither one had the insight to interpret the other’s responses. There were so many moments of misinterpretation leading to friction and spontaneous, thoughtless reactions affecting their lives. The novel is about perception of others toward you and you toward others. People were drawn to him and away from her. Neither understood why this is so. The timeline of the novel is sometimes confusing as anecdotal incidents are described and although it is in the current day, there are moments described that seem to be of an earlier age, like hanging laundry. Both of the characters seem unable to feel secure and to feel they fit in wherever they are. However, the book is a fast read; it is interesting, but dark and often depressing. There is violence, as well as sex, but they are both handled deftly and are not included for effect, but rather because it is pertinent to the plot and/or other themes about closeness and tolerance, self image and self esteem.

The book illustrates a problem with our justice system vis a vis wrongful convictions.

— feeling big smile
The Guardians - Limited Edition - John Grisham

The Guardians, John Grisham, author; Michael Beck, narrator
Grisham knows how to write a book that holds the reader’s attention. Although it is simplistic at times, in its style, and although there is no real action to excite the reader, many of the problems in our justice system are exposed in this novel in a way that the public can digest easily. It illustrates the danger that often fasces those who stare down the injustices of society. Often it is horrifying, like when corrupt individuals and organizations like drug cartels take justice into their own hands, and often it is uplifting when justice prevails and the innocent go free. Always, it is appealing and will hold the reader’s interest. Several cases of unfairly sentenced victims are developed and the effort to set some free is described in detail.
In particular, however, the novel focuses on Quincy Miller, a man who has been behind bars for more than two decades for a murder he did not commit. Cullen Post and his compatriots work tirelessly for Guardian Ministries to free the wrongfully convicted. They expend this effort for very little personal, material compensation, but rather they work for the satisfaction of righting injustice. Cullen Post was once a public defender. In the past, he had a nervous breakdown when assigned to defend a violent, barbaric murderer, and he abandoned his law career. His marriage dissolved after months of psychiatric treatment, and he decided to enter the seminary and became an Episcopal minister. After that effort waned, and he needed to do more, he joined forces with a woman who opened a ministry that defended those that some might call the indefensible, the convicted felons on death row. Some had no money, but all insisted they were innocent. Some of the convicts that contacted them were eventually exposed as guilty, but most were not, and the effort to save them is always laudable.
The reader learns that there are many wrongfully convicted prisoners languishing in prison. The justice system does not make it easy to reverse course once it has ruled, even when new evidence is discovered. Are there jailhouse snitches, have some wives and husbands lied to convict their spouses, do witnesses lie, do some forensic scientists adjust their testimony to suit the person who hires them, do the real murderers feel no guilt when someone dies in their stead? Yes, apparently.
There are lots of moral questions arising from this straightforward tale about injustice and those that devote themselves to work to correct the failures of our justice system. It is inspiring to learn of that effort. At the end, the author’s note explains that this novel is based on a real case, and there is a real organization, like Guardian Ministries. It is the Centurion Ministry. It is a non-profit that works to free the wrongfully convicted. He also notes that they could use donations to further their efforts more effectively. If this book interests you and inspires you to learn more, I suggest you also read the non-fiction book by the author Grisham mentions, Bryan Stevenson. It is called “Just Mercy”.
The narrator of this book was spot on. He read with perfect tone and emphasis, never getting in the way of the book's message.

Interesting tale of family dynamics and life choices

The Dutch House - Ann Patchett

The Dutch House-Anne Patchett, author; Tom Hanks, narrator

The audiobook of The Dutch House is read by Tom Hanks. He reads it in one voice so it is often hard to delineate characters, but he allows the story to be told without making himself a character in the novel, as so many narrators do when they either over emote or attempt to be more important in their interpretation than the author intended. Still, at times, it was difficult to follow the narrative because the character remained unidentified and indistinguishable until the dialogue moved on.

The novel is a detailed account of a house and its relationship to the families that dwelt within it. It is about the relationship between the residents, as well, the parents and children, the siblings and step-siblings, the mother and step-mother, the generations that followed, one after another. The book takes place over five decades, but it is hard to tell that until the end.

As the history of the house and the families plays out, the personalities of the characters comes to light. Their foibles and their strengths are revealed. The way their life choices resonate throughout the years, affecting the lives of the characters that come after, as well, is well illustrated. Sometimes the characters seem bland, but their reactions seem authentic, in many ways, as they will seem familiar to the reader who has found him or herself in similar situations. The author shows insight into the emotional responses and the depth of the descriptions makes the reader understand the reasoning behind the character’s behavior, even if they  might disagree with the choices or actions taken.

Because the timeline is often sporadic, interspersed with anecdotal stories of the character’s lives, it is difficult to tell where and when an event described took place, or how many years had passed, until some additional fact was revealed. Perhaps a print copy would have been easier to follow than an audio.

The book clearly exposes the differences in the way people treat their children and the cruelty of some step-parents. It illustrates how greed and grudges control lives beyond their own and how history often repeats itself. It is about motherhood; it is about compassion and the choices in life that we make that will ultimately have an effect, not only on ourselves, but on others as well, down through the generations.

While some times, the author truly gets inside the heads of the characters, showing deep insight into their feelings and behavior, emotions and thoughts that we all sometimes experience, the pace was sometimes slower than watching water boil. Sometimes it felt as if some characters moved on while others stood still and seemed not to age. For most of the book I was confused as to when it took place and how many years had actually passed.

As history began to repeat itself and the past left its mark on the future, the reader learns that some dreams were fulfilled by succeeding generations and others, while not nightmares, were the sad results of mistaken choices. Were the sins of the father visited upon the sons?

The reader will wonder if the choice of a biological mother to abandon her children is worse than the choice of a stepmother who abandons her stepchildren, even when one seems to be motivated by a purity of soul and need to do good and the other seems to be motivated by greed and jealousy alone. What is the father’s role in all of this? Does he ignore his own responsibilities?

The house may act as the foil, but the family dynamics are what develops the story.

Definitely a book that the left will love.

The Truth in Our Times - David E. McCraw

Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts, David E. McCraw, Author; Narrators, Stephen Graybill, David E. McCraw Some books are meant to inform and some are meant to influence the reader’s opinions on specific subjects. Some are meant to do both. This book is meant to influence the reader’s opinions, only, in my opinion. The title pretty much indicates that from the get-go. There is a basic premise presented and that is that freedom of the press is being threatened, and it is being threatened by one individual who is smeared throughout this book without the author taking any ownership of his industry’s guilt in creating the problem. He does not truly deal with the fact that the media has become an arm of the left, supporting their efforts with positive articles while writing more than 90% of the articles on President Trump, in a negative way, and often printing only criticisms or salacious news, even if false or improperly vetted. Although the book appears to be masquerading as an expose on the way journalism has been tarnished, albeit often by its own presentation of incorrect information, this book seems to be more of an honorarium for the author. It concentrates on the author’s career and cases, but mostly covers how the news has been handled in the era of Trump. When information is presented, the right side of the political spectrum is tainted and the left side is sainted by the author. He makes it pretty plain that he is anti-Trump with his choice of facts. Although he covers many issues, little attention, if any, is devoted to the accomplishments of the President. Most everything he covers is treated negatively, in the same way the paper has proceeded over the term of Trump’s Presidency. One would think that Trump had accomplished nothing during his term. That would be a false premise, but it is what the author seems to want the reader to believe. To him, Trump is merely an instigator, a loudmouth, a crude dictator, a spoiler who is destroying the country, and while Trump has accomplished more for the economy and civil rights than any President in recent history, one would not know that from reading this lawyers explanation of the years he served as lawyer to the Times and presented news about Trump. You would think that the President, from McCraw’s description, implications, suggestions and tone of voice, is a failure. He is guilty of doing what the paper has been doing to earn it the reputation of “fake news”. Yet President Trump has instituted prison reform, education reform, Veteran’s administration reform, immigration reform, has appointed judges, renegotiated trade deals, renegotiated Nato contributions, reinvigorated manufacturing in the United States, reduced income taxes for most citizens who pay taxes, made our military stronger, reinforced respect for our police officers and other public servants in spite of the obstruction from the opposition, altered laws so that college students may not be falsely accused as easily, reduced the unemployment rate especially for minorities, presided over a steadily rising stock market hitting never before target numbers, met with and welcomed many foreign leaders to the White House, and more, but this does not shout out from the pages of the New York Times or other left leaning publications. Instead, this book seems to honor the author for his accomplishments and his effort to present and protect what he sees as the truth, to the public, regardless of the harm it might cause or whether or not it has been properly researched and proven to be true. Therefore, McCraw finds it easy to denigrate the President by allowing the news to point to his inevitable constant wrongdoings. Even when it has been proven largely false, as with the Mueller Report, the news remained largely negative about him. McCraw rails against the President’s attacks on the news media but does not accept the responsibility of his own paper’s slanted coverage. He does not recognize that the newspaper has become an arm of the left and may be influencing our judgment, knowledge and elections unfairly. He presents himself as a fighter for the freedom of the press, but he approves of a press that is biased and does not deal with this President fairly. The reputation of “fake news” has been earned by the presentation of the news on the pages of the Times, which often has had to be retracted because the primary goal seemed to smear the President and capture a headline and an audience. The game of gotcha was front and center in his book, and yes, he was proud that they had played that game. Yes, the President does embellish, or perhaps, as some say, he lies. Certainly this author believes that. But then, what has the Times done by presenting false stories, rumors and anonymous revelations? Haven’t they lied, as well? Often they post a retraction, but who notices that after a screaming, sensational headline smearing the President. The damage has been done. On these pages, you won’t find an admission of the newspaper being one sided in its presentation; you won’t find an admission of guilt because the purpose of this book is not to present facts but to persuade readers not to vote for the man McCraw believes is a dishonest and flawed President. He was disappointed with the results of the election. It shouts that message loud and clear on the pages, and therein “lies the rub”, for the newsaper has taken to presenting the news in a partly dishonest way, insinuating issues that may not exist in order to present and support left leaning opinion. McCraw and the paper, at times, seem to suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome. If Trump was covered more fairly and the papers were not only looking for crimes and missteps, they would have a far more likeable and manageable President to cover; perhaps he would be a President who didn’t need to tweet ad nauseum. The author of this book is Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at The New York Times. He has also worked for other ultra liberal outlets. This book concentrates its story on the time he worked during what he terms a turbulent time, the time of Trump. It is read partly by himself and partly by a paid narrator. The reading is sometimes snarky, sometimes very nasty and tainted with emotion meant to subtly lead the reader in one direction or another, and always it is in the direction of an anti-Trump narrative. There is little attempt to explain anything to the reader about the reason for the moniker “Fake News”, or to take responsibility for it, but rather it feels like a hatchet job to smear President Trump and change the course of history by working to have him impeached and to negate the previous election, because he and other liberals are unhappy with the results. The publishing industry is liberal, it has been for a long time, but today it is no longer a news industry, it seems to have morphed into an opinion factory searching for negative news to print about anything Trump. I did not include specifics because I did not want to encourage the negativity coming from this book. Regardless of the subject, even when Trump was praised and the reader had a ray of hope that it was an honest review, McCraw found a way to slant and twist the information to make it ultimately negative. The efforts of the left are most often painted as virtuous and laudable while those on the right are inevitably characterized as incompetent, unworthy, or unsatisfactory. I found this book to be a one-sided opinion from a left leaning author with a bully pulpit. It is obvious that it is meant to be a hatchet job against the President of the United States. Opinions run rampant on the pages with cherry picked facts and tales. Although the book is about more than Trump, the discontent with him is obvious which means that this book will be adored by liberals and rejected by conservatives.

There seems to always be more evidence of evil, but hope often survives.

"Cilka's Journey" - Heather Morris

Cilka and her sister Magda went to work for the Germans when she was 16 years old. It was not a choice, it was a command. They were both sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Magda did not survive, but Cilka was chosen to be the Commandant’s woman and was afforded better living conditions and better food. She was put in charge of the block that housed the women condemned to death. These female prisoners were frail and beaten and often went like sheep to the slaughter, the description used to describe the Jews during the Holocaust. Yet, what choice did they have. They had no way to fight back; the citizens that witnessed their degradation turned a blind eye to what was happening to them, and when they were “resettled”, they were starved and weakened by the inhumane conditions. Cilka spoke harshly to the women she was in charge of because she had to, in order to survive, but she tried to be kind to them when no one was watching. Still, she was helpless to prevent their deaths. She led them to the trucks that would take them to the place they would be murdered, in order to save herself. When the war was over, Cilka was sent to Siberia because she was charged with collaborating with the Germans, with sleeping with the enemy. In fact, she had no choice. If she had refused to sleep with the commandant, she would probably have been murdered herself. No prisoner in Auschwitz had a choice about anything. Cilka was a prisoner. In Siberia, Cilka was chosen to be trained as a nurse. This opportunity provided her with better food and living conditions, however, most of the time she preferred to be in the hut she shared with her fellow prisoners because they had become friends. She also went out with the ambulance to rescue the injured and even went into the mine, under extremely dangerous conditions in order to rescue the trapped miners when there was a collapse or explosion. Many accidents occurred in the mines which had inadequate safety procedures. She was brave and risked her life often, to save others. Still, she harbored tremendous guilt because of what she had done in the Concentration Camp. When someone accused her of having blood on her hands, she collapsed in the snow and tried to scrub it off, although of course, it was only an accusation, and in fact, her hands were clean. This is Cilka’s story. It is part fact and part fiction. It is not an easy read because even when one thinks they know all there is to know about evil in the world, there is always more to be discovered. She was just a teen when she went to the camp and only 18 when she was sent to Siberia. She was alone, had no family or friends, and was forced to grow up and confront the face of evil before she even had a chance to experience much of the brighter side of life. Yet her happy memories often did sustain her. The Russians rivaled the Germans when it came to brutality. In Siberia, they worked the prisoners to death for long hours, fed them small quantities of poor quality food and housed them in buildings that were poorly built and inadequately insulated to withstand the harsh weather. It was not much different than the merciless treatment of prisoners that existed under the Germans. Many prisoners sickened and died. If a prisoner made a mistake or disobeyed a rule or angered a superior, the punishment was often violent and barbaric. Many did not survive. Although it is based on the life of a real person, the author has taken great liberty to create a narrative to bring her to life. Still, the basic idea is front and center. Cilka was maligned and unjustly punished, but Cilka was also brave and strong and she survived. She symbolizes the unjust treatment of Jews during the Holocaust and Russia’s unjust treatment of the political prisoners afterward, in the countries that Russia controlled while Stalin was in power. Kruschev made changes when he rose to power that helped Cilka have a second chance at life.

Good vacation read, but I do prefer the stand alone Harry Bosch!

The Night Fire - Michael Connelly

The Night Fire, Michael Connelly, author; Titus Welliver, Christine Lakin, narrators


Renee Ballard and Harry Bosch have teamed up once again. In this series, because the main character is really Renee, a female, the narrative seems to have gotten a little trite. The dialog is sometimes too conversational about meaningless things. I don’t think people reading mysteries really care much about the detective’s dog, but I do understand, that part of the story serves to explain that Renee lives on the beach in a tent,with her dog. That too, is a bit over the top for a young, female detective’s odd lifestyle. It would probably be unbelievable if she was a male detective, unless he was undercover. This serves to show that Ballard is an independent and supposedly strong minded individual. Because Ballard is a female in a man’s world, she has been treated unfairly and has to fight her way to be accepted. As a result of past events, involving power struggles with higher ups, she works the murder shift at night.

When a homeless man is burned alive in his tent, Renee is called in to investigate. The powers that be dismiss the event as an accident, but she is unconvinced as there are other cases that seem to converge with respect to clues, motives and suspects that she is suddenly made aware of. When Harry’s mentor, a well respected police officer, passes away, his wife discovers a murder book in his desk. It is about an unsolved drug murder.

Both the homeless man and the unsolved murder case involve the same law firm. Then when Renee is called to investigate the suicide of a troubled 11 year old, this too seems related in some way to the other two cases she is considering. It seems there is a law firm that is involved with each of these cases being investigated. Then a judge is murdered and more coincidences are uncovered. Have they been looking for the wrong kind of suspect?  

Because Bosch is having health problems, he relies a lot on Renee to do the grunt work. They actually work together unofficially since he is no longer art of the force. Bosch is pushing 70 and has recently been diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, a result of being exposed to radiation while working on a case. Although he is expected to respond well to treatment, he is recovering from knee surgery as well, so he is not in great shape. He engages his step brother Mickey Haller to help in his effort to sue to get the police department to pay for his treatments so he is not bankrupted and can leave some kind of legacy to his daughter.
Bosch is considered an anomaly and is not well liked by some on the force because he often helps in court cases for his step brother, Mickey Haller who defends those who are often wrongfully incarcerated based on inadequate evidence, or those who have been victims of miscarriages of justice. The cops and the prosecutors don’t care that he may be helping the innocent victim; they want a conviction because they have put in the time and effort to get it. Ballard is an anomaly because she is resented as a female and has to scratch her way up the ladder, often making enemies on the way.

In an attempt to cover progressive causes, there are issues about the abuse of women, problems in the LGBTQ community, drug deals gone bad and bad cops.

Personally, I prefer the Harry Bosch novels without Renee Ballard, but this one is good for entertainment as an audiobook while driving or as a vacation read.

Although I read almost half, I was unable to finish it.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna - Juliet Grames

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, Juliet Grames, author; Lisa Flanagan, narrator I did not finish this book. It is rare for me to give up on a book, however, when I began dreading the return to it, I decided it was time. After almost half, I gave up. Although the narrator did a fine job with each of the characters, the subject matter kept putting me to sleep. I had to listen to the same parts over and over again because they were tedious and redundant which made the almost 17 hours of audio seem unending. The book was about the life of the second Stella Fortuna, the first one having died in early childhood. The second always seemed to be able to cheat a death that would have taken others. It was about how this Stella often made crucial errors, how she was filled with remorse for her mistakes, how she vowed it would not happen again, but it did, how her life and the life of her family played out in an unfair world in which they felt powerless. Stella’s father, Antonio, was an abusive and selfish man. He believed that women were beneath him in stature and were there to serve his needs. He had traveled to America to make his fortune, leaving the family behind in Italy. He visited infrequently. After many years, he still felt loyalty to his wife, Assunta, and to his children. He wanted to bring them to America so that they could be reunited. After he managed to figure out the system and work out the appropriate paper work, they finally arrived. One of his children, Luigi, had never even met his father, having been born after his last visit home. Antonio was now far more worldly than the rest of his family and noticed the differences. The first Stella Fortuna had died because of the family’s poverty, their inability to get the appropriate care for a sick child, and the selfishness of the elite rich who would not help them, although it was within their power. The second Stella was unsure of herself, angry or unhappy most of the time. Also, because of her ignorance about many things in life, she often made poor choices. Although she seemed to always survive against all odds, she seemed to be plagued with misfortune. Her life was fraught with moments of confusion and disaster. After each disastrous occurrence, Stella always reprimanded herself, but still, she seemed to make the mistakes again, regardless. It was because of her ability to survive death so many times that she was relied upon to be the strength and guidance in the family. Her ability to survive dangerous situations which might have felled others, seemed to give Stella power and an odd kind of stature. Although she sometimes seemed to possess a great deal of arrogance, at times, she also seemed distrustful and lacked self confidence. She often doubted her own judgment and that generally resulted in failures of judgment. To Stella (or perhaps the author), men were always waiting for their prey. They were eager to take advantage of women in any way they could and to cheat all those who were weaker than they. Although she was taken advantage of by the system and by evil people, and although it was really not her fault since she was not experienced in the outside world, having come from a tiny little Italian village, Ievoli in Calabria, and really had no worldly experience, I was not able to admire Stella for the efforts she made on behalf of herself and her family. I grew impatient with the bleakness of the novel and did not want to read about another tragic situation, avoided or not. Still, all of the above should not have turned me off the book because a reader does not have to like the characters. The prose flowed well and seemed really well done in terms of the use of language, but perhaps it was the repetitious nature of the narrative that kept me thinking, oh no, not again each time I read of another possible disaster in the making. The book, in one way, was trying to present the difficulties immigrants face, especially when faced with bureaucracies that they don’t understand or are not familiar with, and it stressed the effect those traumatic experiences have on the family as it tries to melt into the fabric of the society. Beyond that, and Stella’s near death misses, I found it tedious. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel coming in the future. There was a redeeming feature in the novel, however, although it was repetitious and dark, the writing was clear and concise, and the translation seemed to accurately and clearly represent the author’s intent.