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Excellent exposé of the news media's corruption today! Should be required reading.

The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote - Sharyl Attkisson

The Smear, Sheryl Atkisson, narrator and author

Very clearly and concisely, the author explains the charade that is masquerading as journalism today. She outlines the events leading to the current dirty tactics used by all sides of the political spectrum. Covering the CIA, Borking, Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, Saul Alinsky, Hillary Clinton, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broderick, Barak Obama, Eric Holder, James Comey, Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, to name a few, she paints a nasty, cut throat picture of our modern news media. She exposes the corrupt way in which news is presented today, calling it transactional news and details the strong arm methods used to get and present information that benefits one side over another, whether or not the information is credible, or true or false. If news doesn’t have to be sourced or verified, and it does not have to come from a reliable informant, is it news? All someone has to do is feed some salacious fact, some piece of propaganda, to a pundit or a journalist and it will make headlines, especially if it supports the candidate that particular supposed expert favors. Some have a direct line to contacts in the party they support and feed their talking points to the public with abandon showing a distinct bias which they and their readers or listeners continue to ignore.

Atkkisson gets deep into the last election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The picture of the way the news was handled by so-called journalists is shameful. Although much has already been covered, putting it together in one place makes the sins of those campaigns and reporters seem even more egregious. Liars accuse others of lying. Cheaters accuse others of cheating. Up is down and down is up in the new world of media. If someone accuses someone of wrongdoing, you can bet that accuser may be representing wrongdoers trying to deflect their own blame. She completely exposes the bias of the politicians and the media, and those exposed will stand naked before you in their triumph because they have no shame about it and because they succeed in their efforts to often cast unjustified blame on others.

It has been well researched, and there is proof that the media was complicit in making up stories and condemning candidate Trump. Fake news was presented and promoted. It has been proven that they covered Donald Trump far more negatively than his opponents, especially Hillary Clinton, although there was some minimal fake news concerning her, as well. When the truth was revealed about her illicit email use, she angrily objected to the fact that it was exposed by Wikileaks. She had no remorse for her own behavior. The media was complicit and tried hard to portray her as the victim of a conspiracy, a Russian conspiracy that promoted Trump. It continues today. The news slants to the left, and so there seems to be very few journalists or news outlets that are rushing to support Sharyl Atkkisson in putting out the truth or exposing the lies, even when they know that falsehoods are being presented to the public. They are complicit in misrepresenting the truth, and often they spread outright lies. Ethical journalism seems to have died. It is difficult to discern the reality from fiction today.

Public relations firms have sprung up with a singular intent, to smear a person’s reputation and to cast doubt on their credibility and honesty. The Hill staffers used tax dollars for their “opposition research”. Character assassination and smears were responsible for removing Lou Dobbs from CNN. Imus was smeared when he made unnecessary racial remarks. The “smearmongers” follow the money and look for dirt to discredit the person they are targeting. The media is a ready and willing accomplice, forgetting that they are supposed to present the news, not make it up. Their lies are told so often, they are considered the truth and no decent journalist exposes them. Retractions are hidden in the pages of the newspapers or briefly mentioned on television and radio outlets. They all become accessories to the smearing and the spreading of misinformation in a deliberate attempt to favor one person or bring down another. Apparently, the public loves the dirt more than the truth, especially if they bear animus toward someone. Because it is the left that is largely running the smear campaigns, they are getting away with their dishonesty under the guise of innocent reporting. They have their supporters in the right places. Media Matters is one of the worst offenders, using exaggeration, the internet, emails, social media and reporters to spread their fabrications or distorted information.

At times, the book was repetitive as the author discussed the various ways that the news was tainted and disseminated. However, she really did her research well. Concentrating on one smear champion named David Brock, whose tactics are despicable, she makes the reader aware of how these smear groups are manipulating the public. He and the Bonner group have made millions duping the American public by presenting incomplete information with the purpose of destroying a person’s character and career. The organized effort to boycott companies or threaten them with repercussions if they are not compliant with their demands succeeds. Social media has given many people with less than stellar ethical characters, a bully pulpit, and an opportunity to conduct what is essentially blackmail. Brock changed his party affiliation and moved to the far left in what might be an effort to simply make money. He creates “smears” to ruin the people his clients choose to destroy or people he does not support, like Trump. He creates scenarios favorable for those he does support and spins their news positively. He chooses words as weapons. He seems to have no filter when it comes to a code of ethics. He will do anything necessary to accomplish his goal of destruction.

Atkkisson also sheds light on the oblique business arrangements of both George Soros and David Brock. They have multiple businesses and funnel money back and forth from one organization to another with a trail so circuitous it is impossible to follow. They control the output of many news outlets whose only purpose is to smear their enemies. Opposition research has taken on a life of its own. Facts no longer matter, rumors and innuendo rule. She describes the methods that have been used to publicize inaccurate information, spread lies and affect election results, congressional rulings, and the information presented by television journalists. Although the book definitely leans to the right (because it seems that the left is more heavily into the smear effort), it is a non-partisan presentation because, where it is known, she also highlights conservative groups like Richard Mellon Scaife’s, that operate with the same purpose, to assassinate a person’s character because they dislike their politics or methods.

It was left leaning Media Matters that forced Glen Beck off the air. They used their influence and power to make it financially profitable or disadvantageous to Fox. Yet, the same company ignored those who appeared on MSNBC and CNN, or covered them less broadly and far less often because they supported their views. They found ways to reinterpret the ill deeds of those on the left to make them appear less negative. The worst thing is that the people who work for these smear outfits, like Mike Allen of Politico, seem distinctly in the pocket of the left, promoting their talking points.  The left outlets do not cover the scandals of the Democrats as vociferously as they do those of the GOP, unless they are forced to by public outrage. Examples of offensive behavior in the Obama White House that were largely ignored by a dishonest media, until they were forced to expose them, were the “Fast and Furious” episode, a gunrunning scandal, the promise that if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor made in the effort to pass Obamacare, the outrageous statement by Nancy Pelosi that you had to pass the bill before you read it, and Hillary Clinton’s email debacle in which many operatives were exposed as liars and cheaters, getting debate questions in advance or actively working against other candidates of their party. This is not to say that the right did not participate in this debacle, but it was far more damaging and prevalent on the left in its outrageousness.

I believe that this book should be required reading in high school civics classes, so that the electorate of the future is more educated about the process and will demand honesty from the fourth estate, not collusion or complicity with the one candidate they personally favor, but with honest representation of both sides of the spectrum.


An interesting novel about the evolution of family and values, secrets and lies.

Saints for All Occasions - J. Courtney Sullivan

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan, author, Susan Denaker, narrator

When the story begins, a phone rings in the middle of the night and a lone sleeping woman, Nora Rafferty, is told that there has been an accident.

Then the story moves to the mid 1950’s. Nora Flynn and her sister Theresa Flynn are preparing to travel to America. Nora is seven years older than Theresa and is going to be married to the man she has been betrothed to for years, Charlie Rafferty, when they arrive in Boston. Although she has had second thoughts, she believes she has no other real alternative. They were supposed to be married in Ireland in County Claire, uniting their properties and managing their farms. It felt more like a business arrangement to her than a marriage based on passionate love, but it suited them both. When Charlie’s dad decided to give the farm to his older son, Charlie was sent to New York to stay with relatives. He was to make his fortune there. When he had enough money saved, he sent for Nora who would not leave Ireland without her sister. Nora was very reserved, Theresa was the opposite, fun loving and outgoing. While Nora remained in the cabin for most of the voyage, Theresa made friends and had a wonderful time.

Both women got jobs and lived in a boarding house, sharing a room. Nora puts off her wedding, without any real explanation, until Theresa finds herself in a compromising situation. For Theresa, America is a playground. She is naïve and having so much fun, until she gets mixed up with a man and becomes pregnant. She is sent to a convent until the baby’s birth. Nora suddenly decides to marry Charlie immediately and begins to pretend she is pregnant. She has decided she will raise Theresa’s baby so that her sister will not have to give him up entirely. The baby will not be given up for adoption. His name will be Patrick, the name chosen by Theresa. This is what was done back in that day when a young unmarried female found herself pregnant. It was hidden and considered shameful. That decision to sacrifice her life is what drives the story forward. We watch and learn how this decision affects Theresa, Patrick, Nora and her future family as they go forward into the future.

Theresa’s child, Patrick, is a difficult young boy. Nora, exhausted, grows resentful. Soon, angry words are exchanged and Theresa decides to run away, promising to one day return. She asks Nora to love Patrick until that time. She reunites with a friend she met on the boat over and soon becomes a teacher, fulfilling Nora’s dream for her. Later, she becomes a cloistered nun.

Nora loses contact with her for years, and she grows angrier. She has somewhat of a bitter nature. Eventually, when there is contact, she refuses to allow her sister to have anything to do with her son or with the rest of her family after a brief conversation. She never even tells her other children that she has a sister. Patrick does not know that Theresa is his mother. It is not hard to keep up this façade as decades pass, because Theresa, now known as Mother Cecilia, does not leave the convent. Secrets proliferate; lies become what is interpreted as the truth.

The growing pains of the Rafferty family are dissected. The bumps in their relationships are explored. I viewed Nora as a woman with two sides, either cruel or kind. She was strict and very bound to old ways and the rules she had always lived by. While Theresa finds peace, Nora holds onto grudges and wallows in her resentment. Family dynamics are splayed to be viewed and judged by the reader.

My own feelings for Nora were somewhat schizophrenic, vacillating from respect to disgust. Although she often did what she thought was best, she was often close minded, cruel and resentful. It sometimes outweighed the moments when she opened up her heart. She was always protecting herself and her family from what others might think. She was very controlled. Her character and behavior was typical of the Irish immigrant of that time period, and the narrator portrayed her perfectly as far as personality and accent, placing her in the time period appropriately. The author described her well and made the atmosphere of the times and the environment in Boston real. She brought Nora’s and Theresa’s feelings, their dreams and disappointments, to the table, placing them in the mindset of that 50’s decade.

It was interesting, however, to watch each of the women grow, one becoming more socially active after being a shy young woman and one who was never shy becoming retiring and choosing to live in a silent world; one who loved fashion who retreated inside a habit and one who never gave fashion a second thought breaking out of that mold and even running social events.

Because it takes place from the mid 1950’s to around the end of the first decade of the 21st century, social mores, women’s rights, alcoholism, scandals of the church and improper behavior of the priests and nuns, abortion and birth control were sprinkled and explored throughout the narrative. The discussion of religion was approached very openly and honestly as was the discussion of alternate choices of love interests.

The narrator represented each of the characters well, capturing individual personalities and accents so that each was recognized as a part of a particular background. I enjoyed listening to her Irish brogue which was charming and authentic sounding to my ear. She made the story come alive on every page so that I witnessed the hardship, the sadness, the joy and the fears of Nora and her sister Theresa.

I had some difficulty following the thread when the story moved back and forth in time trying to explain certain events more fully, and at those times, there was some repetition, as well. The politics of the day was inserted through the use of the church and its stand on women, abortion, sex and marriage, but was handled without prejudice. I enjoyed the dialogue between the characters. It felt as if they were real as they struggled to communicate with each other and live in the more modern world. The reader witnesses their response to both failure and success.

The author analyzed relationships, family interactions, and changing mores and technology over the decades. She showed how choices alter our lives, often behind the scenes without our knowledge; some can make peace and some can never find it, instead choosing to make everyday a war zone.

In the end, I thought it was interesting that Theresa had a child out of wedlock, completely unplanned; unmarried, and is shamed by everyone who knows. Yet, in the end, Brigitte, Nora’s daughter, involved in a lesbian relationship, is not married and is carefully planning her own pregnancy using a sperm donor, without shame. Our values have traveled in a full circle. I wondered, also, how much did Theresa or Nora really adjust and change to accommodate the changing world? Did both just march in place?

A good read about the French Revolution and what drove the citizens to revolt and then grow so bloodthirsty.

Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution - Owen Pataki, Allison Pataki

Where the Light Falls, Allison Pataki, Owen Pataki, authors; Bruce Mann, narrator

When the book begins, it is three years after the 1789 storming of the Bastille, in the winter of 1792. Readers witness the public execution of the Marquis de Valière who dies with dignity. From what we learn, his only crime is his noble birth. The reign of terror is soon to begin.

The Marquis has two sons, Remy and Andre. Andre falls in love with Sophie de Vincennes, the niece of General Murat who is, for some reason, an enemy of Andre de Valière. Recently widowed, Sophie’s uncle has brought So-So to Paris for what he claims is her protection. Sophie had been married to Count Jean-Baptiste. While attending a party, she meets and falls in love with Andre, and he is completely smitten with her, as well.

Their love is thwarted because of the political situation in France. The country is going through growing pains as it throws off the yoke of the nobility, including the King and his wife and anyone who had anything whatsoever to do with the aristocracy. The people are angry and hungry for bloodshed. They want revenge for what they perceive as the injustices done to them by the monarchy.

George XVI is executed along with his wife, Marie Antoinette and chaos begins to overcome Paris as the people thirst for vengeance and a desire to see their perceived enemies executed, beheaded, in order to pay for their crimes.

Andre has given up his title and become a Captain, fighting for liberté, égalité, fraternité, in the service of the French military. He soon discovers, along with Jean-Luc St. Clair, an attorney working for the new revolutionary government, that the motto seemed meant only for the lower classes. Those of noble birth were not entitled to the fair trials of the justice system. He as a former nobleman is in danger. There are those who harbor deep resentment toward him regardless of how he fights for them with honor and valor. When he becomes acquainted with a certain group of councilmen, in Paris, he discovers how brutal they really can be, and in particular, he discovers the brutality of one attorney named Guillaume Lazare and the General who is Sophie’s uncle, Murat.

For the next several years, the authors take the reader through some of the more momentous events in the history of France, the battles, the conquests and the rise of their future Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, the Empress. As the story plays out, the reader is faced with the tension and danger that the revolution forces upon Jean-Luc and Andre Valière. It feels fraught with fear.

The atmosphere of the Revolution, the anger of its citizens and the rancor felt by those who deeply resented the nobility was felt on every page. The effort of those whose sin was only incurred by birth, to rectify their perceived wrongdoing was ignored by many in the mobs who lusted after their blood believing even their progeny must be prevented from contaminating the world. The innocent and guilty both faced the guillotine. Just the hint of an accusation was enough to condemn a victim to death. No proof was required. Vengeance took center stage during this period, and it did not end until Maximilien Robespierre, a Jacobin who was associated with the Reign of Terror, was himself beheaded.

In the end, with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and the death of King George XVI, the French replaced a King with an Emperor, barely noticing the irony of their actions.

The authors have taken this history of the French Revolution and woven into it a story of intrigue, betrayal, grudges and vendettas and surrounded them with a romantic story of two families dedicated to supporting France, placing them in the thick of things to show how the Revolution affected those accused of crimes and on the other hand, those accusing them. The reader may well be struck by the horror of the “blood lust” that accompanied the fight for democratic principles and equality and also by how easily it is to lose the sense of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice when the mob rules and hate and anger govern behavior. This narrative is presented in descriptive, emotionally wrought sentences that make it hard for the reader to put the book down. It is exciting, as well as interesting to watch, as the French citizens attack each other without truly noticing their own complicity in wrongdoing, until they begin to fear for their own fate, as the developing rules and regulations might also offer them no recourse to any accusations.

Although some of the events and characters are real, some are only based on real events and characters, according to the authors. They have also taken liberty with regard to the timing of some events.

In the modern France, The Marseillaise is still the National Anthem, and the belief in liberté, égalité, and fraternité is going strong. Bastille Day symbolizes the birth of their democracy and is celebrated every year on July 14th, commemorating the uprising of the common people in 1789.

In some ways, I thought the authors got caught up in the present day politics as they were essentially presenting a case against class distinctions and for the civil rights of all, but by showing the tactics used to get from point A to point B, they also showed that the methods used and results attained were not always pretty or just. The injustice of racism was introduced using the characters of General Dumas, a man of mixed race and questionable parentage, and by Andre’s Egyptian friend who was apparently of the Muslim faith. They, coincidentally, were the ones who essentially saved Andre when he was in danger, while those who were paler of skin were portrayed as evil, like Murat and Lazare. Also, there were a bit too many near death experiences for Andre which lacked some credibility. However, I learned of common abusive practices of the nobility, that I had been unaware of, like the “droit de seigneur”, the right of the nobleman to take the bride the night before her wedding. In addition, on the positive side, the book inspired me to do some further research into the French Revolution since my romanticized memory of it did not include the idea of women being involved in the effort to end the Monarchy or very much knowledge about the Reign of Terror. My memory was more about the Marseillaise and the celebratory events surrounding Bastille Day, having once witnessed the parades in Paris. I was unaware of the fact that celebrating religion was forbidden in favor of reason, during the time of the Revolution and did not realize that honorific terms were forbidden. Everyone was called by the term citizen or citizeness. A book that teaches is a good book. The epilogue was important because the authors explained to the reader which characters were real, which were made up out of whole cloth and which were based on real people.

The events of the French Revolution seem eerily to have presaged some of the events of today, with mob rule dominating the news and those committing violence declaring themselves honorable while damning those they make their victims. Vengeance, anger and hate, when harnessed, may cause good people to do bad things. The authors did a good job in creating the mood during the time of the Revolution, and in so doing, created an image in my mind too similar to today’s events. The storming of the Bastille and the storming of our political rallies are both related to blood lust and revenge. Both show people out of control. In the book, Robespierre notes that the people are not inspired by love, but rather by hate. Is that what is happening today as the left accuses the right of all sorts of fantasies that never occurred? Is the fake news of today no better than the cries for the death of innocent people during the Reign of Terror? Are we having our own moment in history which will be remembered in the same way as the Brown Shirts are remembered during the time of The Holocaust? At those times, the people were driven by hunger and fear, hate and anger. Was Robespierre right and prescient in his beliefs?

A bit over my head!

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, author

The book is very readable, but perhaps not very comprehensible. As the author attempts to explain the entirety of the astrophysical world, it made one thing very clear to me. I was not up to the task. He begins his book citing the earliest scientists and the earliest theories, and he pronounces them as the only sure things, the only provable reality. It may be so, but as the pages turned, I realized another reality, most of his information was going right over my head into the astrophysical world he was describing. Like air and water, hopefully, the information would someday be recycled and retrieved in the same way he explains that water and air return.

Although it is written in short chapters, with easy to read sentences, and most of the theories presented have stood the test of time, like those of Albert Einstein and Issac Newton, and the inventions of Hubble and Kepler which are still front and center in scientific circles, too many years have passed between the present and the past in which I was privy to the study of astronomy, chemistry, biology and physics. I was never a scholar in those fields, but rather was more of a voyeur. So, while I may remember certain terms like comets, asteroids, bacteria, electrons, atoms, neutrinos, and ions, I sure don’t have fluency in the science of pulsars or quarks, nor did I ever hear of panspermia before. While I remember loving learning about the periodic chart, I did not remember most of the elements he introduced. I remember the more common ones like carbon, hydrogen, sodium and helium, among others, even remembering their chemical symbols, but I never heard of thorium, technetium or gallium.

My summation of the book is that while it was not a chore to read, it really is meant for someone who wants to get a bird’s eye view of the subject, someone who simply wants to review what he once knew well. This book is not a crash course, it is the “after the course” review.

The book is written with so much humor that I was encouraged to continue reading, even as I realized I was a lost cause. The astrophysics I was learning could fit into a thimble with the millions of other molecules residing there joining me!

A terrible disappointment!

Mrs. Fletcher - Tom Perrotta

Mrs. Fletcher, Tom Perrotta, author; Carrie Coon, Finn Wittrock, Alexandra Allwine, JD Jackson, Nicky Maindiratta, Jen Richards, Sarah Steele, Aaron Tveit, narrators

The book was interesting when it dealt with issues of autism, senior care, loneliness, PTSD, sexual identity and sexual abuse, but it didn’t develop these subjects, instead it just touched upon them as a way to introduce and dwell on irresponsible behavior, sexual deviance and lust. It presented a cast of miserable characters who never seemed to really suffer any consequences for their poor behavior. In fact, the only ones who paid for their errors in judgment were their victims, those upon whom they inflicted their selfishness. Although the sexual descriptions were not very graphic, they seemed to occupy most of the book. The language used by the author was crude. Both male and female characters seemed to think with a brain that was located somewhere between their waists and their thighs and nowhere near their heads. They were immature and irresponsible. They all served their own needs first and foremost barely thinking of the consequences of their foolishness.

Eve Fletcher runs a senior citizen’s center. She is divorced and is an unhappy parent who has just dropped off her only child, Brendan, at college. Her advice to him boils down to, “have fun”. He is immature and spoiled and proceeds to do just that, drinking and smoking marijuana, until his grades suffer. He becomes involved with a young woman named Amber. Amber has a brother who is autistic. Brandon’s half brother is also autistic. They both attend a group, the Autism Awareness network. Amber is a free spirit. She is sexually active but berates herself for always going after the wrong kind of love object. She does not really recognize the error of her own ways and blames others when things do not go according to Hoyle. During a moment of sexual abandon, Brandon speaks very crudely to her, and she dumps him.

Eve was a contradiction in terms. She told her son to treat women respectfully, but she didn’t expect to behave responsibly herself. Move over Mrs. Robinson. You have met your match with Eve. The empty nest looms wide before her. She enrolls in a community college and signs up for a class on gender in society and attempts to try to adjust to her new life of loneliness on the one hand, and freedom on the other. She too wants to “have fun”. She becomes addicted to porn sites on the internet and engages in sexual experimentation.

Margo is the adjunct professor who is teaching Eve’s class. She is lonely. They become friends. She was once a man. Some students are confused about the idea of a transgender teacher. They have never known anyone like that before. There is a young man, Dumell in the class. He had served in Iraq and has PTSD. He and Margo become involved in a relationship.

Amanda is a young woman who works for Eve as an event manager. She is also lonely. There are a lot of lonely people in this book. Amanda uses the internet to arrange one night stands for sex. Eve and Amanda become friends, and Eve discovers that she has feelings for women and wouldn’t mind some sort of experimental relationship. Amanda rebuffs her advances.

Julian is a former high school classmate of Brendan’s. Brendan had once bullied him and the experience of being locked in an outhouse, however briefly, left him with PTSD. Eve is attracted to Julian, although he is a teenager. He seems attracted to her. He is also attracted to Amanda and Amanda is attracted to him. Eventually, Amanda, Eve and Julian engage in a ménage a trios.

Eventually, Eve became involved with a man who also liked porn. He had a daughter who didn’t believe in gender. She was attracted to the person, not the sexual identity. Her boyfriend was an asexual. He had no sexual desires at all. Amber contacts Brendan to say she was at much at fault as he was when they were at school. She recognized her own complicity in what had happened between them.

Brendan had left college and was learning a trade, plumbing, the trade of his mother’s new husband, but was thinking of returning to school. The book was turning into a fairy tale with all of the issues neatly resolved. I found the conclusion to be contrived as everyone’s life somehow turned out better than they expected. It didn’t feel authentic. I finished it out of respect for an author I admired. I would only recommend it to those interested in reading about people who are unhappy, dysfunctional and even morally repugnant at times

Summing it up, there was a transgender person, a possible lesbian, an asexual, and probably a homosexual and bisexual somewhere in the mix. There were a variety of emotional problems represented. There did not seem to be a shortage of characters with problems, just a shortage of those who had no sexual and emotional issues. In short, in this book, there was never an adult in the room.

Powerful novel about current day issues of terrorism, immigration and multiculturalism!

Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie, author; Tania Rodrigues, narrator

When I turned the last page of the book I was struck dumb. I didn’t expect the ending, and I highly recommend that no one attempt to read the ending before they begin. Don’t peek, I implore you! The story plays out logically and clearly, and at the end, it will make the reader question his/her views on immigration, terrorism, Muslims, and also the government, with its regulations and its representatives with regard to all those issues. Most likely, the reader will bounce back and forth, for and against each idea as the story unfolds.

When it begins, the reader meets Isma Pasha, the caregiver of her twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz; she is living in England. She is thoughtful and reserved, observes the ritual of prayer, though not five times a day, and wears a hijab, but is not extreme in her views. She is careful about how she expresses herself because of her father’s past. He was a known jihadist. When her twin siblings were orphaned, at age 12, she, almost 19, put her life on hold and stepped in to care for them. Now that they are 19, she would like to continue living her own life. When she is given the opportunity, by a former teacher, Dr. Hira Shah, to study at Amherst University, in Massachusetts, she grabs it. There she meets Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary in England, Karamat Lone. She becomes enamored with Eamonn, but it is unrequited love because Eamonn considers himself like her brother. However, he does become interested in her sister after seeing her photo. Aneeka is beautiful.

When Isma made her decision to leave Wembley for America, it portended great changes for the twins, but they seemed to take the news well, with Parvaiz showing a bit more concern about it. He did not want to move out of his home to live with his Aunty Naseem. Feeling more abandoned than his sister, who can already taste the greater freedom she will have, his personality begins to change. He becomes more secretive and reticent. He meets and becomes completely entranced by Farook who becomes a father figure of sorts as he twists Parvaiz’s mind into thinking that he too should leave Wembley, but not for the purpose of study like his sister. When Farook tells him that men should be in charge of women, Parvaiz likes the idea. He believes his life is suddenly coming apart due to the actions of his sisters. He is an innocent who is unsuccessful academically, under employed and very naïve; when Farook lionizes Adil Pasha, Parvaiz’s  father, for his jihadism, he is easily seduced. Farook convinces him to leave England for Syria and to join him in his fight for the Caliphate.

Aneeka wears a hijab and prays, is a free spirit and much more outgoing and modern than her quieter, modest sister. She seems quick to judge and is impulsive, expecting to get her way because of her beauty. When she learns that her sister has betrayed her brother, reporting him to the authorities, they become estranged. She becomes very involved with the same Eamonn her sister knew. Does she have an ulterior motive, or is it a true made in heaven romance? The twin’s relationship is very close, something I can completely understand. As a twin, I can relate to the special bond that exists, the special loyalty that embraces the siblings. Twins have a unique connection and the absence of one often makes the remaining one feel incomplete. I can identify with Aneeka’s unconditional devotion to Parvaiz.

At 19, Isma felt forced to make very different choices than her siblings did at the same age of 19, and as her mother did as a young woman when she married Adil Pasha who became a warrior for the Caliphate. Throughout the narrative, there is a thread about the travails of being “other” in a country. They are Asians of Pakistani origin; their skin color, religious practice and relationship to terrorism and terrorists affects their behavior everyday. They feel like outsiders. They have to be more careful than most, careful not to create suspicion by doing anything another would not even give a second thought. Their “Britishness” is questioned, as is their loyalty. Any relationship by anyone with a terrorist is scrutinized, recorded and monitored.  Although the twins never knew their father, since he left their mother before they were born, the stigma of his terrorism follows them also, and leaves its mark on them, their relatives and their future prospects. It vaguely reminded me of what happens in Israel when generations are punished for the behavior of one miscreant. Families become collateral damage. Is that necessary or just?

The book highlights the cycle of mistrust and violence that exists in this age of terrorism, in this age of Islamic extremism. America is perhaps, among other things, hated for its tactics in fighting the radicals, for its black op sites, for Guantanamo; Britain is perhaps despised for its welcoming of them and then its attempt to control them. Pakistan seems to encourage them by doing nothing to mitigate the extremism and may actually seem to be allowing it to fester. In the book, the feeling imparted is that the jihadists feel rejected and abused by their host countries. None of them seems to feel any remorse or take responsibility for their own brutality. They are defiant, feel they are justified in their fight and feel outrage about the way they are treated when they are caught. Those that might repent have no way back, no way to escape the heinous battle they have joined.

The cruel examples of radical Muslim behavior, like their treatment of women, even leaving them to die because they are uncovered and must wait for women to come to their rescue, or the practice of crucifixion, beheading, torture, and rape, are varied and many. It is hard to know, sometimes, on which side to come down regarding one’s sympathy in each specific instance, but the viciousness of the followers of this strict Koranic interpretation cannot but help sway the reader’s judgment in one direction or another. 

When the book begins, we witness the humiliation of Isma, because of her family history of terrorism, even though she is quite innocent. When it ends, we witness the result of the hard line responses to the problem of a hard line interpretation of a religious belief, and once again, we witness the suffering of those who are quite innocent because of a fear which is at times rational and at other times irrational, and  that promotes tragic results. Two parents make choices which will follow them for generations. There was the  Muslim family and the Christian family, the poor side of society and the wealthy side of society, the clash of cultures and beliefs that caused the apprehension, or perhaps panic, that may or may not have been justified at times; but the misunderstandings, by so many, l were pervasive all the time.

I enjoyed the audio but found that sometimes the narrator failed to delineate characters engaged in conversation. They sounded alike and it was difficult to determine who was speaking. Although this is a retelling of the Greek tragedy, the story of Antigone, by Sophocles, one does not have to know the classic to fully appreciate the novel.

There are many common threads and questions arising in the story that make for great discussion.

1-Aneeka easily seduces Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary. One has to wonder about her reasons. Are they selfish, matters of the heart, or perhaps even vengeance because of Isma’s part in the trouble Parvaiz now faces.

2-Meanwhile, when Parvaiz is seduced by Farook, what is it that makes him such easy prey?

3-Adil Pasha, the jihad, fought to establish the Caliphate. He was a devout Muslim. Did his folly infect his family into the future? What about the Home Secretary’s actions? “Were the sins of the father visited upon the sons?”

4-The Home Secretary renounced his Moslem religion to fit in. He believed “outsiders” should make themselves less different in order to be successful. Why did he believe it was necessary to do this?

5--Should Isma have been so thoroughly demoralized, scrutinized and humiliated at the airport because of family history when she tried to travel to America? She had not committed any crime, and her behavior was always exemplary. Where should the line be drawn between suspect and innocent victim?

6-Did personal animus play a part in every decision each character made? Was their intellect sidelined by the influence of their past and their conflicting emotions? 

7-Did continued stubborn adherence to rules without the ability to bend them when necessary bring about tragedy?

8-Each character made what they thought was a good choice, but it turned out otherwise. If we compare the choices of Isma, Aneeka, Parvaiz, Eamonn, Adil, and Karamat, are any of them appropriate and what makes them so?

9-If someone makes a terrible choice, as in jihadism, should there be no avenue for forgiveness when the error of that choice is recognized? Is there no hope for redemption, for forgiveness? Can that person ever be trusted again?

10-Was there one point in the narrative that foreshadowed the events or was the catalyst leading to all others?

Will the real murderer please stand up?

The Trespasser: A Novel - Tana French

The Trespasser, Tara French, author; Hilda Fay, narrator

From the first page, the book holds the reader in thrall. Antoinette Conway is a young, angry detective working for the Dublin Murder Squad. Although she really wanted the job, she has a chip on her shoulder and a persecution complex about the way the other members of the team treat her. Still, she has the makings of a really good detective, if given a fair opportunity. She works with her partner, Steve (another newbie like she is); he is one of the few male detectives not engaged in harassing her periodically, often in heinous ways. Antoinette has a tongue that is often vicious and crude in its attacks on fellow workers, and she has a temper to go along with it that seems in desperate need of being curbed.

When a young, beautiful woman, Aislinn Murray, is discovered brutally murdered in her own home, Antoinette and Steve are assigned the task of solving the crime. They are also asked to work with a more experienced and rather arrogant detective named Breslin. He has decided it is a case of domestic violence and is dead set on solving this crime quickly so he can get back to his more important cases. Their prime suspect turns out to be the victim’s new beau, Rory Fallon, who had a dinner date with her on the night she was murdered.

As the story investigates all of the people involved, the victim, her friend and family, the suspects and their backgrounds, the methods, motives and tactics of the police and journalists play a powerful role in the process. The picture painted of them is not pretty. The one seems intent on solving the crime, regardless of innocence or guilt and the other on promoting scandalous publicity for their own personal gain. Residents and politicians scream for a quick solution so they can go back to their normal lives. They seem to care little for the lives wrecked by the investigation which often attacks and implicates innocent people. The methods used by all investigators, journalists and concerned citizens seem more like blackmail than an honest attempt to solve the crime and put the criminal away. Everyone seems to have some kind of an agenda.

I was disappointed in the way Antoinette was portrayed. I was not sure why the color of her skin was emphasized. It seemed to play no pertinent role in the story. Also, I was disappointed that she was portrayed so vehemently as such a hard-nosed woman with a filthy mouth and a chip on her shoulder that she kept challenging others to knock off. She leapt to the nastiest conclusions and was overly judgmental. Her own personality bled into every action she took, rather than her skill as a detective taking precedence. She always felt the need to prove herself and her past behavior had left ugly rumors in their wake which others judged her by, even though some were often untrue and/or exaggerated. Her overly defensive behavior lent them credence. I would love to read a book about a female without baggage, one who achieves success, regardless of her race, religion or background, because she is skilled and worthy of respect from the get-go.

The book, I thought sadly, seemed to point to a society of crooked cops that gathered round to protect, each other even when innocent victims paid the price for their fellow officer’s crimes. Those officers and citizens brave enough to give evidence against the “bent” detectives were afraid that exposing them would negatively affect their own futures. They were often threatened with harassment and persecution. They would be shunned and maybe even injured. Their careers would be over. Journalists were portrayed as bloodthirsty cretins searching for a byline at any cost to those they smeared. Judging from the way news is covered today, this depiction may be closer to the truth than fiction!

The coincidence of the detective, Antoinette, and the victim, Aislinn, having been abandoned by their fathers worked well in the story. The knowledge of that connection allowed Antoinette to see herself more honestly and perhaps to mature and deal with others, and herself, more fairly. I found it interesting to watch Antoinette morph into someone who finally showed a bit of humility and introspection at the same time as the case also went from one that jumped to conclusions to one that was more interested in the truth. The two, the detective on a personal level, and the police on the criminal level of the investigation, seemed to work out the problem of ethics and the honest search for a solution, concurrently. As the story was revealed, both the detective and the squad were faced with the same dilemma of searching for answers, not creating them. How they each approached it was what made the story most interesting to me. Instead of looking for and relying on circumstantial evidence of crimes committed against herself personally in the squad room, and the crime committed against Aislinn, Antoinette and the detectives were forced to stop taking the easy way out, jumping to conclusions, often false, and instead were forced to deal with hard facts to reach the ultimate conclusion and solve the crime.

Although the language was over the top crude, there was no gratuitous sex to titillate readers. The story itself was the total draw! Although it was a bit longer than necessary, perhaps overly detailed at times, it was an interesting study of interrogation methods, criminal behavior and society’s ills when it comes to family, values, policing, and news coverage. The affects of all these patterns was exposed and would make for interesting and thought provoking discussions in a book group.

Some book group questions

1-Because the issue between Antoinette and her missing dad are not cleared up, do you think there will be a sequel?

2-Has the author left any clues about her next book?

3-What are the similarities between Antoinette and Aislinn? (the “d” and the “vic”)

4-What are the similarities between the prime suspect and a cop on the case? (Rory and McCann)

5-How did Antoinette react to her hidden anger and pain?

6-How did Aislinn react to her hidden anger and pain?

7-How did Rory react when he was dumped?

8-What were some similarities between Rory and McCann when it came to self-esteem?

9-Why were Rory and McCann so surprised that someone beautiful would care about them?

10-What kinds of feelings did the book promote about the police and journalists relationships?

11-What kind of feelings did you get about the police tactics and journalist’s behavior?
12-Did you like or dislike any of the characters?


The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance - Ben Sasse

Vanishing American Adult, Ben Sasse, author and narrator
This book which purports to be about a vanishing population of the hard-working, ethically motivated American, an American that does not concentrate on or live to collect material wealth but rather to grow intellectually and spiritually, seems to really be about promoting the author. I couldn’t help wondering, as I forced myself to continue reading what was fast becoming overly detailed and boring, if he was planning to run for another office and was kicking off his campaign by writing a book that put him in the exalted position of scholar and instructor for those of us beneath him, those of us who did not have the proper lists or rules to guide us in our own lives or the lives of our children.

His theories seemed a bit lofty and patronizing as he haughtily presented them. I thought that he was attempting to quote from every author and book he had ever read and his success in that effort only made the book seem to have been written by a self-important, arrogant person with a superiority complex. He covered every topic from soup to nuts and promoted his way as the one right way for all of us, all of us who have lost our way and are busy collecting things rather than learning to understand what is really important in life. He covers birth to death and our approach to all that occurs in between. I felt, after reading the book, that Sasse may sincerely believe we have lost our way and are busy collecting things rather than learning to understand what is really important in life, and that we may be pursuing based on “consumption” rather than “redemption”. In many ways, I agreed with him, but I also thought that his rules were too broad and there were far too many of them. I love and value books, and I did appreciate his effort to promote good reading habits, but most of his dialogue was written almost as a “how-to” text, and it became overwhelming with instruction.

I have one rule of my own to offer. Authors should generally not do the audio of their own books, especially, I think, when they are non-fiction and relate to their personal lives. Some come off too dry and intellectual, some come off as if they are trying too hard and some simply sound like they are tooting their own horns. I will leave the decision as to which category Ben Sasse falls into, to the reader. Just let it be known that I often zoned out during the reading because his presentation was not engaging enough or seemed falsely emotional.

The main thrust of the book was supposed to be that our young people may not be growing up into mature adults, but rather they are being held back by the demands of others who try to protect them at every turn, preventing them from dealing with any kind of difficulty enabling them to grow and become more responsible. He believes they do not have the opportunity to properly “suffer” (author’s term, not mine), through certain coming of age moments, certain maturation experiences, certain growing pains, certain hard work experiences that will teach them that their needs and wants are separate entities, one being necessary and one being desirous. In his effort to explain his views on the subject, he outlines the changes that have taken place in our society concerning views on child rearing, education, personal behavior, respecting the rights of others and to rules that have taken on too much of a PC culture to function adequately, holding back the developing child. If a child can’t learn how to play tag because he might get scraped, or he can’t do hard work because he might get tired or even, perhaps, hurt, he cannot grow up. He remains a child. Parents that helicopter parent are delaying a child’s ability to become an independent adult, perhaps ever.

He concentrates a good deal on the sixties when moral values began to change and rules began to loosen governing children and sexual behavior, while rules governing the behavior of the adults in charge tightened, preventing them from being in control, in some cases, and making it easier for them to pass along the parenting responsibility onto others. While dress codes and moral codes relaxed, so did educational goals and religious affiliation. Devotion to family and faith began to wane as sexual freedom increased and acceptable modes of behavior broadened. As our values changed, so did the desire/need to have pleasure first and responsibility later. Children were being protected from injury and hard work, in an effort to give them self confidence, but instead, it seems to have created a perpetual child, and in my belief, a lazy parent more interested in working to provide material possessions than guidance and family values.

Sasse outlines rules for creating an atmosphere in the home and the outside world for children to live, play, work and grow because he believes that if children are exposed to alternate life styles and hard work, they will prosper emotionally and mentally.

Because he overly referenced and intellectualized the concepts with quotes and readings from the works of others from all fields of endeavor, I found the book overwhelming. I (sarcastically) wondered how many authors wrote this book along with Sasse. I also found that at every turn he began to sound somewhat like a martyr, a bit pompous and condescending. I did not feel that observing a friend’s wife deliver a child was a necessary prelude to understanding one’s own spouse’s experience. I did not feel that a child had to suffer to grow. A child simply has to experience life and not be overly protected in order to mature. A child has to know there are expectations he has to fulfill and standards have to be set that challenge the child to improve and succeed. I believe that trophies that are given for non-performance are worthless. Some of his examples for experiences children should engage in seemed a bit extreme and some seemed to simply be common sense. After awhile, I began to dislike his presentation and could understand why he is the contrarian in Congress. The book simply became all about him.

In every chapter, Sasse name dropped using references from classical authors to authors in the modern day. He quoted philosophers, educators, musicians, religious leaders, politicians, etc. He over thought the problem and presented what seemed more like a memoir or a text book, rather than a self-help handbook.

There were just too many references and asides from others to allow the narrative to flow smoothly. This list represents only a small fraction of those mentioned.

Adam Smith
De Toqueville
St. Paul

I had high hopes for a book that would explain the morphing of our society into one that was unwilling to accept the responsibility of adulthood, but instead it morphed into a book about the self-promotion of its author. Now I know that Ben Sasse is very smart and very capable, but I know little about the vanishing American or how to help recreate him/her.

Will the lying game have consequences?

The Lying Game: A Novel - Helen Ruth Elizabeth Ware

Author Ruth Ware knows how to keep her readers totally involved in the narrative, guessing until the end at what the outcome will be. In Salten, England, four teenage girls, Kate Atagon, Thea West, Fatima Chaudhry (nee Qureshy), and Isa Wilde, become the closest of friends at their boarding school. Whatever mischief they engage in, they do it together. Their favorite game is “the lying game”. They get points for fooling unsuspecting dupes by convincing them with their stories, of things that are untrue, often humiliating those victims when the lie they told is discovered.

Without regard for how their tales will eventually affect other people’s lives, they are united in the effort to willfully tell stories, competing for points earned from telling the most convincing lies. Soon, they also earn the not too stellar reputations of troublemakers who can’t be trusted. Young and unaware of the consequences they may face in the future, they are simply engaged in having fun pushing the envelope. In the end, will they still think that their lying game is fun or will it become an albatross around their necks?

Eventually, their behavior seems to get them expelled from school, and they go their separate ways, all four rarely coming together again, until after 15 years pass. Suddenly, Kate Atagon, who has remained in Salten, sends each of them a plea for help with a text message on their phones that simply states, “I need you”. They all drop everything and leave their lives in the midst of whatever they are doing, to answer the call. They all text back, “I’m coming”.

In the present day, 17 years after they have left school in ignominy, Isa is a lawyer, Fatima is a doctor, Thea has a gaming license, and Kate is an artist who lives pretty much, hand to mouth. Each woman is now in her early thirties, but she picks up and risks everything to return to help a friend, knowing she would never have sent the text if it wasn’t absolutely urgent.

When they were in school, Kate lived in the Mill House with her father Ambrose, the art teacher, and her step-brother Luc. It was their hangout. It was then, and is now, a home that is in disrepair, and it is slowly being reclaimed by the sea as it sinks into the sand.  Still, ignoring the danger, when they arrive back in Salten, they return to Kate’s home. After only a short time, she reveals why she has called them all back to a place they never wished to return, and they discover that their former lying game may have very dangerous consequences for their current lives. Apparently, while strolling along the beach, a dog walker’s dog found a human bone in the Reach near Kate’s home. This discovery could have monumental consequences on all of their lives. A lie that they told 17 years ago is now coming back to haunt them.

What can they do? Should they continue to lie? Do they tell the truth? Can they trust each other? Are they in danger? What exactly are they afraid of? What did they do in their past that is so upsetting to them? The author will keep you guessing until the last pages as to the nature of all the secrets that must be revealed.

What I particularly liked about the book was the fact that the story isn't hackneyed. It is original and creative. The reader will not feel that they have read the same thing dozens of times before with a different title. The author has also chosen the narrator very well, for she portrays each character with such clarity that you can visualize them in every scene from their appearances and personalities to the tone of their voices. This is a good, fast read that will keep the reader involved and on edge waiting for the ultimate conclusion.

Although it seems obvious at times, it is quite the page turner!

The Breakdown - R B Paris

Although the mystery may seem obvious from the beginning, the author’s sleight of hand will keep the reader guessing constantly. This is the first book I have read in a long time that literally kept me on the edge of my seat from page one even though it was uncomplicated. I loved the “double entendre” of the title. Was the main character having a nervous breakdown or was the book about a car that had been on a forested road during a terrible storm and suffered a breakdown, resulting in the loss of life? Was Cassandra (Cass) Anderson losing her memory as her mom had, from dementia, or was something else afoot? The reader will wonder and wander in different directions, testing out different theories and scenarios until the last page. The ending is somewhat of a surprise, although perhaps it should have been obvious; yet, it works!

One stormy night, in mid-July, while traveling through the wooded road her husband had begged her not to use, Cass came upon a car blocking the bumpy and unsafe flooded road. Swerving to avoid it, she attempted to look back to see if the person needed help. All she could see was the face of a woman who showed little emotion and whom she could not readily identify. Since the woman did not reach out for help in any way, and since she was afraid to get out in the violent weather, she drove on. The next day, she learns the woman was murdered, and it was someone she knew, someone she had recently met and liked very much. Ashamed of herself for not offering the woman help, he tells no one she saw her, and she grows consumed with guilt. She believes that if she had stopped and offered help, her new friend Jane Walters, might still be alive. She tells no one, not even her husband, that she saw her car on the road that fateful night, believing that she will be judged badly, and then ridiculed, or perhaps even suspected of being involved in the foul play.

Cass was only married a year to Matthew Anderson. She had kept other secrets from him, like the fact that her mom was diagnosed with early onset dementia in her forties, so when she grew more and more absent minded and forgetful, she wondered if she should have warned him before they married, that she might one day have the same disease. The only one who knew all of her secrets was her quasi sister and best friend, Rachel Baretto. Rachel’s mom had worked long hours, so she spent a great deal of time with Cass and her parents as she was growing up. She was thought of almost as a daughter. Cass was even afraid to confide her secret of the night of the murder to Rachel.

As the weeks and then months pass, with the murderer still at large, she becomes obsessed with her guilt and fear. She fantasizes that the killer knows who she is and is stalking her. Slowly, she seems to fall apart, losing her memory, becoming more and more afraid that she is in mortal danger. She begins receiving phone calls with no one on the other end. She believes it is the murderer taunting her. At the same time, she begins to forget how to operate the everyday appliances she always used, like the coffee pot and the washing machine. She forgets to take her purse with her or to keep appointments she has made. A doctor prescribes medication to alleviate her stress, and she begins to sleep much of the time. She neglects to prepare the lesson plans due for her teaching position, and she rarely leaves the cottage. She seems to be descending into the same dementia that her mom had suffered from and she is distraught. Her misery, coupled with her fear, is driving her slowly mad. Although Matthew at first seems to be offering support, after weeks pass, he seems to be losing patience with her failures and her fears.

The reader will easily follow the events that are presented carefully and logically. The twists and turns, the misdirection and the character setups work to hold the readers at bay, so that they are never sure which way the book will end, never sure what the mystery is exactly; they are always wondering who is the murderer, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Just what is the connection to Cass’s downward spiral and what is not, just what is real and what is fantasy? Is it what seems obvious or is it something else?

Is Cass suffering, as her mother did, from early onset dementia or is there is a diabolical plan afoot to make her think so? Is it related to the murder of her friend Jane Walters or are both issues totally unrelated? Is she being stalked by the murderer? Is it something else entirely that is driving her mad? Some answers may seem obvious to the reader, at times, but the reader will never be sure until the very end, about exactly what occurred and why.  This author is skillful at sending out clues leading in many directions at once, essentially misdirecting the reader at every opportunity. It is a great read that will keep you guessing and wanting more.

An interesting analysis of family, relationships and consequences!

The Heirs - Susan Rieger

The Heirs, Susan Rieger, author; Kimberly Farr, narrator

This novel can aptly be described as the anatomy of a family. Rupert and Eleanor Falkes’ lives were the stuff of fairy tales, or at least his, Rupert’s, was the stuff of a folk story. He was born in 1934, into a world of poverty, in England. He was abandoned as an infant and raised by the Reverend Henry Falkes, who ran an orphanage. The Reverend adopted him and gave him his name. As he was growing up, by a combination of his sheer force of will and his great good luck, he achieved scholastically and attended the best schools on scholarship. His good luck followed him to America where he attended Yale and became a successful lawyer, married into the high brow and influential Phipps family, members of the upper class, made wise investments and grew very wealthy. Eleanor Phipps was born in 1938. She was brought up very properly, complete with a debut. She was born into a life of luxury. His life was a tale of rags to riches and hers was a tale of rich to richer. In 1962, Eleanor had her first child, Harry. Then she had another son every two years afterwards named Will, Sam, Tom and John (Jack), until there were five, at which time she decided to cease and desist having children.

The book traces the lives of this family, looking backward into their ancestry and forwards into their future progeny, for several decades, ending around the turn of the century. Everyone that each of the characters dealt with was explored and exposed. They did not always make wise decisions. Sometimes they were headstrong and rash and had to deal with the consequences. How they dealt with them depended, often, on their stature in life or ultimate goals. The analysis of each individual life and background was insightful and spot on. Although the loose ends seemed a bit too neatly wrapped up at the end for me, the novel was engaging and held my interest completely. Everyone had some secret, some personality quirk, some private issue that they had to deal with and come to terms with as time passed; each of the circumstances presented was realistic and possible in real life. The difficulty that existed was in keeping track of each of the characters and their time frames as they kept changing.

The personalities and attitudes of different classes of people and religions were dealt with deftly. The first part of the 20th century and continuing onward, was a time when the differences between people were highlighted rather than subdued, understood and accepted. Men were considered superior and often pushed the envelope without taking full responsibility for their behavior, often abandoning their pregnant paramours and cheating on their wives. They were often duplicitous. The inequality that existed prevalently among those of different sexual proclivities, race, religion and class was almost acceptable. Women were largely dependent upon men for their success in life which made them more vulnerable. Higher education for women was considered the road to matrimony while for men it was the road to success.

I did not feel that the book was realistic in the way it handled homosexuality, which was largely hidden and frowned upon in the time frame of the novel, but not presented in that way. The racial and religious issues of the day were portrayed stereotypically. The Jewish mother instilled guilt with rude remarks and judgments, often to hide inadequacy and insecurity, sometimes creating secretive and defiant children. The “Wasp” mother felt superior and raised children who were arrogant and selfish. Although they were well bred with good manners and speech, they felt better than others, mocking those beneath them. They often relied on family money to maintain their lifestyles, and in the process they used and discarded those that did not measure up to their standards. The fathers were generally free from major penalties for their sins. The attitude was almost acceptable that boys would be boys and thus deserved forgiveness, to a point. The differences between the way in which the British, more reserved, and the Americans, more gregarious, reacted to and handled issues seemed fairly accurate. The consequential moments were handled pretty much in conventional ways for the times. Even those who marched to the beat of a different drummer, marched in step with the moment or point in time. Some of the brothers were better developed as characters than others, but for the most part, all of the characters were real and visible on every page.

Each life was examined in minute detail, and the reader was not spared from learning any of the secrets they harbored. Their clandestine relationships, first loves and last loves were very much alive and well on the page. There were a great many loose ends, but they were all tied up in the end, a bit too neatly, perhaps. Nevertheless, I liked the fact that all of the mysteries were alluded to or revealed.

Each of the characters, parents, children, extended families, friends and lovers were completely fleshed out. Their relationships with each other, from parents to grandchildren, as they married, became parents bringing children into the world who grew up and also brought children into the world, was fully illustrated and was filled with insights about each of them and those with whom they came in contact; their careers, and even their sex lives were laid bare.

Through this detailed exploration of their lives, the reader learns a great deal, but only minimally of the events during the time of the novel, from the mid thirties to the beginning of the millennium. The book concentrates more on the lives of each person, than any current events. Their weaknesses were exposed as were their strengths. Background, religion, homosexuality, infidelity, loyalty, wealth and class were almost made characters in the novel. The times, the personalities of the upper crust, their view of those of lower stature, and the way they interacted and behaved was perfectly presented by the author. It was spot on.

Oddly, anti-Semitism seemed more apparent while there seemed to be little homophobia or racism. The arrogance and rudeness of both Jews and Gentiles was displayed, although the “Wasp” portrayal seemed the more successful and positive presentation of the two, even when negative issues were considered. The three quarters of a century over which the book took place represented great changes in our society and through the lives of the characters, their development and secrets, it was fully illuminated. The reasons for marriage from the middle of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st, changed dramatically. The way racial, religious and sexual prejudice was dealt with became radically different as avenues of interrelationships and more open dialogue changed the way the world and its inhabitants was viewed. I think this was illustrated well by the author, as well as the changing values and mores of our times. It was sometimes Pollyanna in its presentation, but I truly thought it worked very well and would recommend this book as a really good read which will leave the reader thinking long afterward.

Because I was brought up during the time of the novel and was familiar with all of the places mentioned from the restaurants to the neighborhoods, the attitudes, schools and prejudices, I found the book particularly interesting and nostalgic at times, if not enlightening. I remember the same New York neighborhoods and edifices, frequented some of the same haunts and recognized the names of many posh restaurants and addresses.

The narrator’s presentation was compelling and drew me into the story with her interpretation of each scene and character. Reading the book might be a bit drier than the audio, especially at first, because it is so detail oriented. Sometimes, an audio can be better than a print book as the reader can imbue the novel with emotion and interpretation. So long as the reader does not become the story and knows his/her place, I find it often enhances the book’s presentation.

This author knows how to keep the reader fully engaged!

Into The Water - Paula Hawkins

Into The Water, Paul Hawkins, author; Laura Aikman, Rachel Bavidge, Sophie Aldred, Daniel Weyman, Imogen Church, narrators When the story begins, a young girl is being immersed into “the drowning pool” in order to discover if she is a witch. If she floats, she is one; but if she sinks she is not. Although the child sinks and pleads for them to stop, there are some in the crowd who are merciless. The description of her experience will immediately capture the reader. As the book then enters the present, in the year 2015, the reader discovers that the pool is still the stuff of local legend. Over the years, others have drowned there, either by accident, design or under a cloud of suspicion. The Abbott sisters, Julia and Danielle had been estranged for years because of an incident that occurred in their teens. When one suddenly drowns, the events surrounding her death grow more and more curious. At first, it was believed that while investigating the area, Nell (Danielle) slipped and fell into the water accidentally. She had been conducting research for a book she was planning to publish on the town’s unusual history of drowning deaths and had been at the site of the “drowning pool”. When her sister, Jules, (Julia) returned to become the guardian of her daughter, Lena, the situation became fraught with tension. Lena was defiant; she disliked her aunt immensely based of stories her mom had told her. Aunt Jules was still resentful and angry with her sister, because of how Nell had treated her when they were young. She believed Nell had a mean streak. Jules had been overweight and unattractive. Nell had been a beauty who made fun of her sister. She thought Nell was cruel and designing, and as the investigation into her death began, it became enmeshed in tangential theories which created disharmony in the community and conflict in families. The community wanted their secrets kept. There were a great many characters to sift through as the mystery developed, but each chapter in the book is labeled with the name of a character so that it was relatively easy to sort them out and follow the thread of the story as it proceeded or to refresh one’s memory about the circumstances surrounding each character’s place in the novel. There was a feeling that evil was lurking behind closed doors, and there was definitely an overlay that hinted at elements of the supernatural as some characters appeared to be communicating with the dead who provided them with clues about the unnatural circumstances surrounding some of the deaths. What started out as a simple investigation into the death of Nell Abbott, surrounded by a bit of controversy since her project was widely resented by the residents of the community who did not want the drowning pool’s history published or used for personal gain, soon evolved into a mystery concerning other deaths and affairs of the heart. Many of the characters harbored deep resentments toward each other, and many seemed to be hiding secrets or were withholding information. Because of the existing biases toward some of the townspeople, clues were misinterpreted and false assumptions were made pointing fingers in all different directions, accusing some of crimes they did not commit and misdirecting those involved, preventing them from discovering the truth. The misinterpretation of events created chaos. In the end, there were two connected crimes that were revealed. Both were related peripherally, but they were separated by more than four decades. In the end, the loyalty and devotion of parents and children was examined and the lengths to which a parent would go to protect an offspring was exposed. The narrators were wonderful, creating mind images so that the story played out like theater in the mind. I do have a preference for narrators with British accents, as I find that the Brits seem to portray the characters very well without getting in the way by putting too much of themselves into the story. I have both the audio and a digital copy, without which, I would have been a bit lost because of the different themes and numerous characters introduced. Although I loved the audio, I recommend the print copy for that reason. It is simply easier to refer back to a print copy.

Really good book about the lives of four unrelated women as their lives intersect!

'Round Midnight - Laura  McBride

This is a tale about characters that led unconventional lives, following their hearts more often than their heads. It is a powerful story about four women who came from completely different backgrounds, backgrounds charged with controversy and conflict. As young women they made drastic decisions that altered their lives completely. Each one lived in Las Vegas, a city they hoped would allow them to realize their dreams and forgive their own sins.

I recommend that the book be read as if it was four separate novellas. It covers many decades. Each story can really stand on its own; each one is riveting, except perhaps for Engracia’s, the final character introduced, because she is not as fully developed, but she is very important since she is the catalyst that unites them all, in the end. I found that treating each character as separate and apart from the other, it was easier to keep track of who they were and easier to follow the thread of their lives that eventually knitted them all together.

June Stein was a young Jewish girl who was both non-traditional and non-conventional. When she was 19 she entered into an unsuccessful marriage. After a year, she left him. At 21, she ran to Las Vegas to seek a new life. She liked excitement. When she met Odell Dibb, her life took a turn in a different direction. They married and ran his casino, the El Capitan, together. When Del hired Eddie Knox to sing in his casino, her life turned full circle, sucking her into a scandal Del hoped to squelch before it got out. Del and June both loved each other and both accepted each other’s idiosyncratic ways. Both loved Eddie Knox. In the 1940’s, a relationship between a white woman and black man was illegal in Las Vegas.

Coral was an illegitimate child. She was brought up in Las Vegas by Augusta. She wanted to know her true parentage but could not discover anything. She made all sorts of assumptions about her mother and father, but none were realized. Her non-biological family was loving and so she survived the confusion and the “not knowing”. She was of mixed heritage in a time when black/white relationships were forbidden. The woman who raised her, and became her one true mother, was strong and defied the stares of others as she pretended that Coral was her own dear child. Her siblings accepted her and loved her unconditionally. Eventually, Coral fell in love with Koji, a man who was Japanese. Their relationship eventually flourished producing children of mixed race, but the times had changed, and in some places, society accepted their marriage and their offspring.

Honorata was from the Philippines. As a teenager, she fell in love with Kidlat. She ran off with him. He betrayed her, refusing to marry her, and further, he influenced her to make a porn film that brought shame to her and her family. Because of the humiliation, she was forced to leave her home.  Her uncle betrayed her. He basically sold her to a man in America named Jimbo. He made Jimbo believe that “Rita” wanted to come to him, that she had been the one corresponding with him, instead of the uncle who was pretending to be her. Jimbo believed that she had been complicit, although she had known nothing of her uncle’s schemes. At first, he had been kind to her and intended to marry her, but when he found out about her past he felt betrayed; he became cruel and would no longer honor his pledge. One day, he decided to take her with him on a visit to Las Vegas. While there, lady luck smiled upon Honorata and she won a major jackpot at the El Capitan. Now Jimbo wanted to marry her, but June explained her rights to her. If they were not married, the money was hers alone. She escaped from Jimbo’s control to begin a new life. When she discovered she was pregnant with his child, she kept it a secret. She believed that he was evil. She did not love him. She wanted to begin again.

Engracia Montoya loved Juan. He loved her, as well. They entered America illegally. They moved to Las Vegas. He was arrested and served time in prison. They had a child, Diego. Juan felt unsafe in America and returned to Mexico, but Engracia wanted a better life for her son and remained in Las Vegas where tragedy struck their lives.

There are several common themes expressed in the narrative. Women’s rights, civil rights, family, infidelity, illegitimate children, civil disobedience, immigration issues, affairs of the heart, secrets and betrayals appear throughout. No life was perfect, but each developed with its own purpose and character. All four women were brave, in their own way. They had dreams and forged their futures independently.

Although the reviews seem to emphasize the importance of the Midnight Room at the club, I thought the women’s backgrounds, choices, decisions and lifestyles spoke far more to me. I have both an ARC and digital version of the book.

Not his best!

Camino Island: A Novel - John Grisham

Camino Island, John Grisham, author, January LaVoy, narrator

Mr. Grisham has written a book that will work well as a serialized television program once it is spiced up a bit with the romance and violence emphasized. Essentially, priceless manuscripts have been stolen from Princeton University by a gang of five men. The book is about the search for them and their ultimate return to the rightful owner. The very beginning and the very end were more interesting than the middle which was very thin with some brief mentions about the value of rare books and manuscripts and the nefarious behavior that some booksellers engage in as collectors.

There was often too much extraneous information about silly romantic moments, binge drinking, and character backgrounds that added nothing to the story. Many scenes were contrived, emphasizing the emotional dysfunction, rudeness, and alcohol dependence of the writing community. The characters, by and large, appeared either empty headed or overly impressed with their own ability. The women were portrayed very negatively as greedy, rude, sex-seeking shallow individuals. Amorality or immorality was very much alive and well!

The FBI, after their initial success in the investigation, was made out to be a bit incompetent, failing to recognize obvious clues or to pursue obvious leads in a timely way. Stupid errors were made allowing for the crime to actually pay. Insurance companies were driven by greed, not right or wrong. The criminals sometimes seemed to be the brightest bulbs, although some did, although rarely, actually pay a high price for their shady behavior.

Most of the characters were self serving and unlikable, and the story was unbelievable. Basically, it is about a young, out of work writer who is broke and having a dry spell. She is past due on a book for her publisher and in need of money. When approached by an insurance company to help find the stolen manuscripts, she suddenly becomes a well known writer and capable investigator/spy.  Although I thought she seemed hopelessly naïve and immature, she is portrayed as competent and sure of herself in very compromising situations. She neither had the experience or talent to be the spy she becomes. I found the story silly, the romance manufactured, the characters shallow, and the relationships totally artificial. The best part about this book was the narrator who gave the weak story vitality.

Once again, it will be a very good television series, but as a book, it left a lot to be desired. This author seems to be writing his books more for the entertainment world than the literary one.

A story that will capture your heart!

Before We Were Yours - Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours: A Novel, Lisa Wingate, author, Catherine Taber, narrator

Based on a horrific truth in our history, this is a story that vacillates between heartbreaking and hopeful. It begins in 1939 with Rill Foss narrating her family history and ends in the present day with Avery Stafford telling her family’s story. It is based on the crimes and cruelty of the very real Georgia Tann and her involvement with the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. According to the author “Georgia Tann was once heralded as the “Mother of Modern Adoption” and was even consulted by Eleanor Roosevelt on matters of child welfare.” Truth is often stranger than fiction!

The early story is about the Foss family: Briny, Queenie, Rill, Lark, Fern, Camellia, and Gabion. The oldest was Rill who was 12. The youngest was Gabe who was 2. Rill was in charge of keeping all of them safe when their dad Briny took their mom Queenie to the hospital to deliver her twins. At that time, the children were all spirited away, basically kidnapped by the police who were working with Georgia Tann. Their parents were tricked into giving them up, unaware that the papers they signed in the hospital gave up their rights to them. The year was 1939 and for the next several decades, each of their lives traveled in different directions. They were taken to an orphanage, eventually adopted and separated. Because the story is based on facts, on a cruel hoax that was actually perpetuated by someone who stole children and made money basically selling them for adoption to wealthy and/or famous people, it steals the heart of the reader. Georgia Tann’s prominence kept the truth about her adoption scheme from coming out for at least three decades, from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. The cruelty to which the children were subjected often resulted in tragedy. They were fed poorly, treated very unkindly, often abused in the most awful ways and punished unmercifully, except on those occasions when they were cleaned up and paraded out for adoption. The stories about their backgrounds were made up out of whole cloth, and their names were changed to prevent them from being traced and retaken by their birth parents. Hospital staff and law enforcement was often in collusion with her.  Records were sealed to prevent the discovery of the truth. Oddly enough, some of the children were actually rescued from abusive homes and many of the stolen children did relatively well in later life, in spite of what they experienced; some were adopted by decent families, some by prominent families; but some also suffered in their new environments. Some achieved an education and life they would not have otherwise been able to, but nothing can change the fact that they were basically kidnapped and ransomed to strangers leaving their families in despair.

The present day story takes place when Avery Stafford meets May Crandall in a nursing home. She is struck by the difference in the level of care that her grandmother receives in another facility, but pleased that this place is well staffed and well maintained.  When May mistakes her for someone else, the wheels begin to turn that lead to the discovery of her grandmother’s secret past. Although she is warned to let sleeping dogs lie, in order to protect the reputation of her father, a Senator up for reelection, and her own political future, she keeps trying to unravel the mystery. When she does, it changes her life’s path in almost as dramatic a way as that of the Foss children after leaving the Arcadia. Her investigation uncovers the story of the Foss children and her family’s involvement and connection to their lives. Will the ramifications of uncovering the truth be worth it?

I have read some reviews that said the author missed the mark in some aspects of the book, but I can't help feeling that those reviews may have been written by men who identify with books on a different emotional level. I felt totally immersed in the lives of all the characters and felt as if I knew each and every one on a personal level. The audio narrator portrayed each voice authentically and with just the right amount of accent and emotion. I highly recommend this website for further very enlightening information.


Not just for teens, but an important read for adults as well.

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, author, Bahni Turpin, narrator

Starr and her brothers straddle two worlds. In one world there is a strict code of behavior and an excellent education with kids from wealthy families and in the other there are gangs and drive-by shootings and poverty. Starr lives in the ghetto and attends school in a bubble neighborhood of privilege. Her mom is a nurse and her dad, Maverick, runs a market where Starr helps out. He is an ex convict. He covered for another gang member who would have been a three time loser, sacrificed himself, and spent three years in prison. He is respected and has a lot of positive influence in his ghetto community of Garden Heights. He has no intention of ever going back to prison.

Starr is a senior at Williamson, a posh private school. She has created two personalities for herself. One is her ghetto half in Garden Heights, and the other is the one she takes to Williamson. The two worlds do not mix and even her mode of speech changes from place to place. What is cool in one place is definitely not cool in the other. No one in the private school world knows much about the Starr from the ghetto, not even her boyfriend Chris, a very wealthy white teenager who is also a senior. She keeps the two worlds separate and apart, unwilling to expose both sides of her self in either place, unwilling to expose herself to ridicule.

Chris’s world is completely different from Starr’s. Her house could fit into one of the rooms in his house! He took her to the prom in a Rolls Royce. He believes that they have been totally honest with each other and is surprised when he learns that he knew so little about her, that her world is so different from his. He is hurt when he discovers the secrets she has kept from him. When he learns that her ten year old friend, Natasha, was murdered in a drive by shooting, and that she witnessed the recent shooting death of Khalil, her close friend, by a police officer, he wants to be there for her, but she is not sure she wants him to let him into her worldview or to experience her lifestyle.

The author highlights the differences in the lives of Starr and her family when compared to her private school friends. How can the differences, injustices and misunderstandings in our “bubble” communities be addressed? Why are there so many misinterpretations and over-reactions by those in the two communities and those charged with protecting them? Why do police officers assume that a person of color is immediately suspect? Why do minorities distrust authority? I haven’t walked in the shoes of those who live in oppressed neighborhoods, although I am part of a minority, as a Jew. My background’s oppression has been different, although horrific as well. I don’t believe that I can fully comprehend the mindset or the prejudice that exists in poor minority communities.  I haven’t watched as my friends were harassed by law enforcement or seen their unarmed friends senselessly gunned down. Living “while black” is not a condition a white person can understand or judge alone. For an honest assessment of the issues and concerns presented in this book and perhaps an honest approach to changing them, an honest dialogue between all parties is required, honest being the watchword. Some responsibility exists on all sides of the dilemma and must be acknowledged.

I had questions, as I read, that still remain unanswered, questions that a person of color might mock, i.e. why would a black person want to sound uneducated to be cool? Why is that cool? I wanted to lose my Jewish inflection as fast as I could so that I would fit in with the mainstream of America and open locked doors. Why wouldn’t a person of color dress for success? I can understand why some turn to lives of crime, almost as if they have no choice, because they need money, but why do so many turn to a life of crime? Why are the gangs in charge? Why is education mocked? Why is crime glorified in the so-called “hood?” How did the gangs get so much control that even the residents live in fear of them? Why are policeman so afraid in those neighborhoods, that when they are confronted, they become trigger happy? As a white person, I can’t answer those questions? My initial impulse is to respect authority, not to ignore it, to obey police officers and not to defy them. So if I am told to stop, I stop. If they tell me to keep my hands in one place, that is where my hands stay, if they speak to me in a way that I do not like, I generally swallow my pride and hold my tongue, I do not run because I am afraid to show defiance or resist their authority, but I am not afraid that I will be shot or hauled off because of my color.

The author has left me with the impression that the teenager was wrongfully murdered and had no responsibility in the outcome that took his life. His personal behavior seemed to have no bearing on what happened and was not interpreted to represent a threat to the officer. Only he was guilty, period. It didn’t help that the officer was portrayed as a blatant liar. The author wanted the reader to believe that the officer was totally guilty and the victim totally innocent. I believe that there has to be some gray area between the black and white of guilt or innocence.

The community wanted respect, once and for all, and when a verdict came down that they disapproved of, that wasn’t what they expected or hoped for, they took to the streets looting and rioting. Then when the police came to maintain order, they cried police brutality. If respect was demanded from the police, why wasn’t it also given to the police? If unlawful behavior like looting and rioting was the common practice everywhere, our society would be chaotic, and law enforcement would be completely powerless. Anarchy would prevail. There would be no safe space for anyone. Why, in protest, should a neighborhood’s lifeblood be destroyed to show disappointment? Why disabuse the merchants of their positive reasons to serve the community by destroying their investments?

Still, overall, I found the novel to be eye-opening. No one deserves to be murdered by a policeman or a rival gang member, but the aura of false bravado that is being elevated to acceptable standards seems to be a false solution. The author has done a wonderful job of showing how a community can come together to fight against what is destroying it. She reveals and explores the layers of distrust that exist.  I don’t think enough emphasis was placed on the broad fear that the police officers’ have for their own safety. Denying the reality of the danger in their community won’t correct the situation that exists, let alone eradicate the outright bias on both sides. Still, beyond the shadow of a doubt shooting an unarmed man is problematic, but what should a policeman do, if his authority is mocked, if he is disobeyed and fears for his own life? Should he presume someone running away is innocent of criminal behavior? Should he let the suspect get away? I wondered which came first, the community’s fear of law enforcement or law enforcement’s fear of the community. Then I had one final thought, if a policeman is harassing a victim, does the victim have the right to fight back and if so, how?

The author’s political persuasion was pretty obvious, even though the dialogue in the book was subtle. She referred to one news network that she thought was prejudiced, and it was easy to guess which one it was. Why is an alternate opinion so difficult to accept and address? How can the problem be resolved if it is unaddressed?

The “hate u give” of the title refers to the idea that the minority community is underserved. It does not prepare anyone for a successful future. So, why is it that when alternatives are offered, there is resistance, especially if it is not offered by the left? Why not improve conditions regardless of how the offer is advanced?

I hope this book opens up some meaningful dialogue to help bring all people to the fount of success. This book cries out for discussion. In some ways it was flawed, i.e., the interracial nature of the relationship was really shown as a problem for Starr’s family, while Chris’ got barely a mention. He seemed to have pretty much free range to date whomever he pleased. However, overall, the main message of the story seemed authentic as it represented the collision of two disparate worlds. The narrator expertly portrayed each character in terms of personality and dialect and I was truly immersed in the book, feeling all of the emotions of the characters, all of the tension and all of the frustration. What I didn’t feel so much were the kumbaya moments.