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I had hoped for a broader, more unbiased explanation.

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency - Joshua Green

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Joshua Green, author; Fred Sanders, narrator This was a difficult book to focus on because the message seemed preplanned simply to demonize the current President, Donald Trump, using Steve Bannon as the means to that end. In addition, as Bannon’s background and life wre explored, the author seemed intent on creating an evil human being, ignoring the positive side of his life. He is presented as ever eager to hurt and bully anyone with whom he came in contact, ruthless in his tactics and oblivious to the ordinary rules of decent conduct in his pursuits. The book is entitled, The Devil’s Bargain, and the author set out to make Steve Bannon the devil incarnate. I had hoped he would present a fairer picture of an election gone awry, but, instead, I was overwhelmed by the heavy-handed hit piece presented. It was filled with propaganda provided by the left leaning pundits and many innuendos that seemed to come from half- truths in order to present the progressive in a more positive light, ignoring their many conflicts, and corrupt behavior. He was intent on making the right seem deplorable in the way they were depicted by someone he respects highly, Hillary Clinton. When describing the activities of Breitbart and Bannon, he used a term coined by Hillary Clinton which became popular. Suddenly, the left was populated by a group called the alt-right, but those on the right had no idea what that term actually meant. Clinton succeeded in hijacking the term and making it stick while she ignored what could be called the alt-left which represented her side of the aisle, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, the undocumented who have committed a crime to get into this country. Joshua Green was only too happy to point fingers at the right while disregarding the heinous behavior of the left. Calling the alt-right white supremacists, religious zealots, and members of the rich and elite, he advanced the progressive rhetoric as if it was actual fact, much to the consternation of those conservatives who did not consider themselves a part of that group, and yet they represented Clinton’s opposition, in essence, her enemies. When describing the right he used negative terms, but when describing the left and their tactics he described them in a positive way. So Hillary was being clever and Obama was logical, but Bannon grinned wickedly and Trump was unhinged. Even though it is now even more broadly known that the Democrats used underhanded tactics in the campaign, cheated and lied, he glossed over their misdeeds and their illegal behavior. Instead he used highly charged descriptions of anything representing conservatives in what seemed like an attempt to make the reader fear and dislike them. He used terms that the left used frequently to defame those they didn’t like. They call comments dog whistles and the GOP racist so often that they risk reducing the impact of the words with overuse. Green referred to the “fringe” element that has taken over the GOP, but never spoke negatively about the “fringe” element of the left that has infiltrated and changed the progressive agenda and the Democrat’s focus, that has caused chaos in their party. To be fair, the book is not about Clinton and her dishonest cohorts, but it is hard to believe that a book concerned with the participants on the right, in the 2016 Presidential campaign, would so briefly mention the concerns about the opposing party on the left, even if only to compare them justly to make an honest point. It felt like fake news even when the truth was presented because of the obvious biased slant of the presentation of “the facts”. Oddly, at one point, the author even seemed to be praising Paul Manafort, recently indicted, for his effort to try to tame Donald Trump’s behavior. The author seemed to grasp at any straw to defame the current President and his supporters, and I fear that many of his accusations will not prove out, but the damage will be done because it is now in print. People do not often check the facts presented if they agree with the point that is made. It seemed odd to me that he went after the wealthy Mercers, suggesting nefarious circumstances in their support of Trump, but Green never went after George Soros who may have used nefarious methods to invest vast sums of money into the DNC, using a multitude of groups associated with him, creating a maze which makes it difficult to trace the origin of the donations. He poured money into the DNC in support of Clinton, even as the left complained about the money poured into the coffers of the GOP. He painted Bannon’s methods as ruthless but glossed over the fact that the left actually incited the violence at Trump rallies and worked actively to defeat Sanders and prop up Clinton who was even provided some debate questions, in advance, to enable her to perform better than her opposition on the stage. I deduced that this was basically nothing more than a “trash trump” exercise in book form. In the attempt to make Hillary a saint and Donald a devil, the left worked hard, but failed to secure the election. Although they demonized Trump for some classless comments, they forgave Clinton for his actual classless behavior against women. The electorate rejected the hypocrisy. They condemned Trump for anything they could think of; he is a germophobe, he is wily and a product of a racist upbringing, he is guilty of sexually harassing women. He is a loose cannon and an anti-semite given to hyperbole. These are just some of the names he has been called while the sins of his opposition were either ignored or not hammered day after day into the public arena. Obama, is described as measured, logical and sophisticated even as he interfered in a Presidential campaign which former Presidents are loath to do; and Hillary was presented as a champion of progressive causes, neither a liar nor a schemer. The message from the author is so full of propaganda and the agenda of the left that the book, which could have been informative seemed to simply be a hit piece with the sole purpose of destroying the sitting President and those that associate with him. The author is very guilty of presenting a partisan view which I found to be extremely unfair and prejudicial. The left’s attempt to explain why Hillary lost is getting to be a very tired subject. She lost because Americans didn’t want her to win!

Gamache is a favorite character of mine. He never fails me.

Glass Houses - Louise Penny

Glass Houses, Louise Penny, author; Robert Bathurst, narrator. When the book opens, Armand Gamache, the man who is in charge of the Sûreté du Quebec, is giving testimony at a murder trial. He begins to explain about the suspicious “thing” that was dressed in a hooded black robe that had suddenly appeared on the village green and barely moved; it simply seemed to be watching. In a short time, it frayed the nerves of the townspeople. It was something called a cobrador, an ancient figure that collected debts, acted as a conscience, and haunted the subjects it came for until they paid in some way for their misdeeds. The government attorney and Gamache did not seem to be on the same page, during this questioning, although they were on the same side, presumably. In this story, in his persona as Chief Superintendent, Gamache has discovered a major pattern in the drug trafficking industry, and he is willing to risk all to expose and capture the criminals to stop their activity. Drugs are causing the massacre of generations of people across the human spectrum. He created a subterfuge, using the murder trial as a tool, which some may question since it will ultimately have dangerous consequences. The reader will be left to decide whether or not the rule book should occasionally be tossed out, or whether it should always be followed in times of crisis. Also, the reader will have to think about whether or not someone should be punished if they break a rule for a good reason. Penny has created a character in Gamache that is beloved by her readers. He is gentle, but strong and firm, as well. He is moral, but he is flexible in his thinking. He does not rush to judgment and always seems to err on the side of goodness, even when he is doing something bad. Reine-Marie, his wife, is understanding, warm and friendly. The town where they live, Three Pines, might be everyone’s ideal location with its odd collection of people who are writers, chefs, artists, and more. They come from all different places, different backgrounds and have different needs. They all have some “ghost in their closet”, some secret that they wish to conceal, something in their lives that had caused them shame; they all wondered if the “thing” in the robes had come for them, as “the thing” made them remember their own past sins and guilt. Should people in glass houses throw stones? The opiod crisis facing all of us today was a major theme alongside the murder investigation. Many of the characters had personal experience with the tragedy of the drug epidemic and it brought home the depth and breadth of its reach into our own reality. I wondered if the fear of the black robed creature that could possibly incite people to act out violently, could be likened to the sometimes irrational fear many have of women in burqas, along with a generalized fear of Muslims because of what the mind conjures up with thoughts of terrorism. These are just some ideas which occurred to me while reading. I am not sure if the author writes with this remarkably soft touch that conveys deeper messages, as she presents her narrative, or if this very talented narrator interprets the words that way. Regardless, though, it works well. Also, the gentle wit of her prose will sometimes cause the reader to smile quietly, and her text will make the reader think about and investigate her ideas even after the book ends. The devastating effect of opiods and the history and existence of the cobrador will make for interesting future study. The books create a manageable tension while the problems mount and solutions seem to slip away, as moving back and forth, in the memory of Gamache on the witness stand, the novel develops. The familiar cast of sometimes outrageous characters, in the Inspector Gamache series, will bring the reader back again and again as each new book in the series is written. The narrator, Robert Bathurst perfectly captures the nuances of each of them and will also inspire readers to return.

A little disappointing. It was more of a romance novel than a thriller.

The Cuban Affair: A Novel - Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair, Nelson DeMille, author; Scott Brick, narrator

Daniel Mac Cormick, in his mid thirties, owns the fishing boat, The Maine. He is a macho guy, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. His older First Mate, Jack Colby, not as polished as Mac, was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Both, in their separate fields of war, had been injured. When Mac became involved with Cuban Americans, who were decidedly anti-Castro, he was offered an amount of money that was hard to refuse, to  recover and reclaim millions of dollars in documents, jewelry and money that had been hidden in a Cuban cave by a banker, the grandfather of a beautiful woman, who would participate in the recovery. She was Sara Ortega. Mac asked Jack to join him in this possibly dangerous, well-funded clandestine effort to recover property nationalized by Fidel Castro’s Cuban government.

The plan was for Jack to take a group of fisherman to a fishing tournament in Cuba, a tournament that was meant to encourage a warmer relationship between the United States and Cuba. Jack would take this group on The Maine, which would be renamed Fishy Business in order to cover its history in Key West and provide him with an alibi. Mac, on the other hand, would be going to Cuba, presumably on a tour with Yale University. Sara Ortega would be on that same tour, but they would pretend to have never met before. To provide them with their alibi, they were supposed to pretend to become romantically involved when they got there. This is where the novel began to be disappointing. It seemed to devolve from what could have been an action-packed story into nothing more than a romantic escapade.

Although the book was infused with humorous dialogue, an admirable skill of this author, many of the conversations and comments seemed either too melodramatic or too filled with clichés. The story seemed very repetitive and overly long. For the majority of the book, it seemed to go in circles, almost going nowhere, and I kept waiting for something exciting to happen. Near the end, finally, there was some action, but still, it seemed to be more about the budding romance between Sara and Mac than about any kind of thrilling adventure. It seemed to be setting up a series that would follow the two of them into their future.

Although I found the book a bit disappointing, it introduced information I previously knew little about. Apparently, Cuba and Viet Nam had participated in a joint effort in which a group of American POW’s were brought to Cuba and tortured before their deaths. Their bodies were never returned. DeMille also inserted his political views into the narrative, indicating his distaste for the CIA and some of its methods, of which I had not been aware.  Even Ernest Hemingway made an entrance with interesting little tidbits about him dropped here and there into the story. Still, I felt that far better than the book, was the narration. Scott Brick does an amazing job interpreting the novels of DeMille and this one was no exception.


The plight of people of color is carefully outlined and exposed.

Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward

Sing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward. Author, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, Rutina Wesley, narrators This book is very hard to read; aside from the fact that the subject matter is current, as well as historic, it is also about the horrific brutality, that was and still is, often inflicted upon a people, regardless of their guilt or innocence; this behavior is unjustified regardless of the innocence or guilt, color, creed, nationality, religion or any other defining aspect of that victim. No behavior on the part of anyone can justify the unimaginable punishments meted out; the mutilation, the torture or even merely the humiliation of another, should not be tolerated by society, but in an advanced society, this criminal behavior of those in power seems much more egregious. This book is an intense examination of the racial situation and the victimization they experience in their ordinary daily lives. Avoiding the injustice perpetrated upon them is almost impossible since it is rained down upon them according to the whims of the angry mob mentality of their abusers. It is not, however, I believe, because of white supremacy, a catch term that has taken hold as a rallying cry. Rather, to me, it is because there are simply hateful people with evil in their hearts who will justify their despicable behavior with any excuse they can muster up that will gain the support of other likeminded despicable creatures. This behavior is often obvious on both sides of any conflict, none is defensible. Each chapter of this book presents the voice of one of the three major characters, Leonie, Jojo and Richie. Most of the dialogue takes place as Leonie drives her friend Misty and her two children, to pick up Michael, their father, from Parchman prison, as he has served out his sentence. On that ride, black life is very fully presented in view of their behavior and approach to life, and the behavior of others in the world toward them. Each of them, in their own way, is a victim of society’s injustice and the injustice of their own cultural environment. Each has to fight a system that overpowers them, that does not provide them with the tools they need to achieve parity. As the book explores the history and lifestyle of its characters, it uses the dialogue between them, coupled with their individual thoughts and memories, to highlight the injustices that they have had to suffer, and even ignore, to avoid further retaliation. They were often in a position of vulnerability that allowed no bridge to justice. Although it is not specifically addressed in this book, it is this backward and forward looking at the situation that they faced that allows the reader to understand the anger that is boiling over in today’s society, even if they disagree with the methods now being used by some of those who are angry, since they justify their own brutality in ways not very different from the justification of abusive power used by their “enemies”. Those without power often seek not justice, but to overpower those in power to assume the same mantle of superiority, rather than equality. I listened to the book and thought it might be better to have read it in print. Although the book was read well by several readers, to delineate the characters, I thought some portrayals were a bit excessive. At times, Leonie seemed too sultry and Jojo’s speech pattern, too stereotyped in its presentation. Richie was alternately portrayed as a young boy and as a man, in his tone of voice, perhaps to emphasize the passage of time. There was no way, however, to find any fault in the prose of this author; it is so far superior to that in many books written today. The choice of vocabulary and the way in which the words were combined made for an eloquent and often poetic presentation, painting pictures and images for the reader to see in their mind’s eye, sometimes making some of the scenes almost too horrific to imagine. The influence of the fear and often shame that constantly haunted the life of the victims, created hopelessness and an “underground” lifestyle. Norms in their world were often at odds with the norms in the world of others. Throughout history, groups that have been abused by the prejudices of others have been blamed for bringing this abuse upon themselves because of their own behavior. If nothing else, this book will disabuse the reader of that fact. Nothing justifies the brutality or bigotry that the people of color have had to deal with because nothing makes brutal behavior toward anyone acceptable. No behavior on anyone’s part, no biological aspect of anyone’s body or cultural and religious choice makes cruelty toward anyone acceptable, in my opinion. While it may be impossible to prevent the expression of opinions, there is a proper and improper way to express those opinions. No behavior that threatens another should be acceptable. No behavior that intimidates another should be applauded. Everyone, I believe, has a responsibility to behave in an acceptable manner, at all times, without bringing harm to another, except in cases of unavoidable war to prevent just that kind of inhumane behavior, but we must be fully aware of the fact, that, that makes us guilty of being “the pot calling the kettle black”. At the end of the book, while I felt I had really learned a great deal about society’s mistreatment of others, specifically, in this book, of those of color, but universally, as well, of all people who are powerless, I did not feel that there was any viable solution offered to make things more tolerable, to right the wrongs of racial injustice, or to bring back a return or an insurgence of common decency. Just as some of the characters were haunted by visions, so our society was and still is haunted by unjustified feelings of hate. Also, while the idea of the injustice and horrific prejudice and hateful behavior toward a group of people was excellently and honestly rendered, I wasn’t certain that the expectation of responsible behavior on the part of those victims was as fully explored. As both worlds were examined, however, the world of color and the world without, the bias and overt injustice experienced by those who were powerless were horrifying. It is a virulent disease spreading all over the world, as we witness, daily, the horrific violence inflicted upon populations that are weaker or less in favor then the one in power. Regardless of the victim’s behavior, which is ridiculously, somehow supposed to justify the injustice, there is no acceptable excuse for any of the brutality or expressions of violence and hate that have become almost daily occurrences. Perhaps the haters have mastered the art of making this behavior so common that we have become inured to it and are beginning to accept it as normal rather than what it is, totally abnormal, a total aberration of the human condition and merely an expression of man’s inhumanity toward man.

Out of the mouths of babes, come pearls of wisdom

Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace - Bana Alabed

Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace, Bana Alabed, author, Lameece Issaq, narrator

This is a very brief account of Syria’s Assad’s war against his own people. it is unusual because it is written by a seven year old at the time it begins, who turns eight years old by the time it concludes. Bana Alabed’s courageous message will resonate in the hearts and minds of every one who absorbs it. Who else but a child could so clearly see the pain and waste of war? Who else but a child could simplistically describe the brutality and violence, the fear, the danger, the cruelty, the loss, and the implicit stupidity of war, as succinctly?

Bana Alabed was born to parents of the Muslim faith. Their marriage was arranged, but they came to love each other. Their life in Aleppo, Syria, was one they loved. Their first child, Bana, was happy and also loved Aleppo and the friends she made. Precocious, she learned to read at 3 and this gift of intelligence gave her a maturity beyond her youth. As the war broke out, and she spent many years living under the threat of death and destruction, she always questioned the reason and never fully understood why their own country was constantly attacking its own people.

The book alternates between messages from Bana and her mother. The terror they faced, the kidnappings, the ransom, the deaths, the destruction, and their eventual desperate escape, are all vividly expressed in their words, but in the words of Bana, they are like arrows which enter directly into the reader’s soul. At seven, this child has more common sense and a greater ability to analyze the futility of conflict, than any adult around her. She grows obsessed with the desire to tell the world about the tragedy of what the Syrian regime was and still is doing, the crimes it is committing against its own citizens, and her voice, asking the world to help, asking the people everywhere to pray for peace, to help the victims, rings out loud and clear. 

Her effort has placed her in danger. It is hard to imagine that a vicious regime and leader would target the voice of a child, but this child has become an enemy because she is a voice for freedom and not the yoke of the tyrannical rule of the Syrian dictator. Her mother is aware of the danger her child is in, but she believes she has a greater purpose she must serve and will not stop her voice from ringing out and reaching others with her message of hope and peace.

In her innocence she is eloquent as she describes the waste of life and limb, the unspeakable pain of loss, of the death of relatives and friends, the destruction of buildings whose inhabitants have no chance of surviving and no place to run, of schools blown up that could have been filled with innocent children, of people being hunted as they simply try to hide to escape from the violence. There was no way out; there was no place to go, however, Bana, a mere child, is trying to do what others have failed to accomplish. She is trying to give them an escape route.

It is very heartbreaking to hear this plain truth as it is expressed in the voice of a young child. It is heartbreaking in its innocence, and horrifying to think of her as a potential target because she does not really have freedom of speech. Her message speaks volumes more than that of any scholar. Hope and peace are the simplest of requests, and she implores everyone to work toward those goals.


Did progressive values skew the path of this book? Sometimes the message seemed to be it is better to be irresponsible.

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, author, Jennifer Lynn, narrator

If I had to use one word to summarize this book, I would use motherhood, motherhood in all of its possible definitions. What does it mean to be a mother? What makes a good mother? Who has the right to decide what is or who is a good mother? Who has the right to decide the timing for motherhood?

The story has several interesting female characters. One, Elena. Richardson, basically unconsciously, picked mercilessly on her last born child, daughter Izzy, because she was afraid she would suffer from health issues as she grew up. She was premature, and the doctor had warned her of possible repercussions in her future. Her overly critical treatment of the child hurt her emotionally. Her other children were self-confident, privileged and a bit irresponsible, assuming everyone lived in the comfortable way that they did. Mrs. Richardson (Elena) can be described as a creature of habit and structure. She expects others she has been kind to, to return the favor. She is a bit of a good-natured busybody. Therefore, one has to wonder if her intent is truly kind. She has been a local reporter for a small neighborhood paper for years and would like a good story to help her break out into real journalism. The Richardson’s live with material excess, what today is called “white privilege”. Is that a fair term of description?.

Mia is unconventional and her mothering is as well.  In her youth, struggling to pay for her education in photography, Mia agreed to be a surrogate mother, but, instead, after a change of heart, she ran away and kept the baby, named Pearl. She continued to run for the rest of her life to avoid dealing with what she had done. Her parents rejected her because they believed she was selling her baby. Was that what she was doing? Mia and Pearl subsist on what she earns from selling her work or from odd jobs. They move when the mood strikes Mia and are not attached to material possessions. They live minimally.

Mrs. Riley wanted a surrogate mother to bear a child for her, one that looked like her. She and her husband had the wherewithal to pay someone to have a baby for them. Should that contract be binding legally and subject to criminal charges if broken?

Mrs. McCullough could not conceive a child. She had had several miscarriages. She and her husband desperately wanted a baby. Many attempts at adoption had been unsuccessful, until, one day, they were offered an abandoned child to adopt. What happens if the biological mother shows up and wants that baby back? Who should raise that child? Who is the rightful mother?

Bebe, a Chinese immigrant, is impoverished. She abandoned her baby because she could not afford to care for her when she was abandoned by the father. Her English was poor and she was unable to care for the child properly, although she tried her best. Did she do the right thing? Was it criminal? Did she give up her rights to the child in the future?

Lexi is a teenager who engaged in unprotected sex and decided to have an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant. She was supposed to go to Yale and the baby would have negatively impacted the lives of herself and her boyfriend. She wondered, did she make the right decision? Should she have discussed it with her boyfriend? Did he have the right to know? Did her mother have the right to know? Should she, as the adult and guardian have been consulted? Will Lexi carry that decision with her for the remainder of her life, always wondering if it was right or wrong?

For me, the title holds several meanings. One would pertain to an actual fire, one would pertain to creativity, coming up with a new idea, and one would pertain to the idea of encouragement, to figuratively lighting a fire underneath someone to propel them into action. This book, explores those ideas with regard to motherhood and life, in general, through the experiences of the characters.  It also exposes the different ideas that define all types of motherhood. Should class, status, social standing, culture or ethnicity influence any of the choices regarding motherhood, behavior and rights?

The story takes place in the community of Shaker Heights, an affluent community in Cleveland, Ohio. It is essentially a bubble filled with similar people who have similar goals of upward mobility. The Richardson family lives there. Mia and Pearl Warren arrive there looking for a suitable community to settle in with good schools and a safe environment. Mia has decided that Pearl would benefit from a less nomadic life. They rent an apartment from the Richardson’s. They live in a minimalist way while the Richardson’s live with obvious abundance. The Richardson’s and the Warner’s learn about and react to each other’s way of life.

Moody Richardson and Pearl Warren are high school sophomores. They become fast friends as they are the same age and are in many of the same classes in school. Pearl loves her new home and also becomes friends with Lexi Richardson who is a senior. When she meets Trip Richardson, a junior, a romance develops. Izzy, is the youngest Richardson child who has always been singled out as a troublemaker by her mom, and so she has subsequently taken on that persona of a troublemaker. She becomes close to Mia Warren who opens up her mind to being less rebellious. She is kind to her and accepts her as she is, but her advice is often ill thought out. Izzy remains “a loose cannon”.

The ideas of abortion and unwanted pregnancies are examined along with the idea of who is the real or true mother in a custody battle between a parent who abandoned her child and the parent who hopes to adopt the child, the surrogate or the one engaging her. What rights does a surrogate mother have when she signs an agreement to deliver the child to the family? Which idea of parenting is more beneficial to children, the structured or unstructured approach? When an underage female has an abortion, who should decide whether or not it is appropriate, who should counsel her?

Each of the female characters in the book engages in behavior that is not always by the book, ethical or even legal. Yet they all seem to get away with pushing the envelope. The person who behaves least responsibly seems to come out the winner, in the end, although that irresponsible behavior was the catalyst that caused many catastrophes that can not be reversed. I wondered why that has become acceptable behavior. I wondered, also, who was the greater villain of the mothers featured. Was it the busybody Mia, who chose her nomadic life over her daughter’s need for structure, or the busybody Mrs. Richardson? Was it the would-be mother seeking a surrogate or the mother seeking to keep an abandoned child after the biological mother wants her back? Does the mother who abandons her child retain any rights? The meddling of others, the lies told and the secrets kept continue to come back to haunt many of the characters, but they are resilient and seem to find ways to adjust.

One parent taught with compassion and by example, not always good ones, and the other seemed impetuous, rushing to judgment and meting out acts of retribution. The children learned from those parents, imitating their behavior. The Richardson children learned self-confidence, but they also learned to be arrogant and to feel entitled, entitled to what they possessed and to use others to serve their needs. Pearl Warren, on the other hand, learned patience and consideration from her mother. She learned to appreciate and accept what little she had, but was amazed and enthralled by how the Richardson’s lived. Although Pearl’s life of a drifter seemed the more unstable than the structured life of the Richardson’s, was it really less stable or was it actually more enduring and flexible?

The paramount idea of breaking out of one’s “box” and beginning again, seemed to work for all of the characters with minimal repercussions. The book intensely examines motherhood, with regard to surrogacy and biology, the idea of giving up a child, losing a child and the rights to a child is dissected. Family values with regard to class, culture, wealth, poverty, parental influence and legal rights and the bubbles within which we all live are explored. Behavior, often illegal, seems to be encouraged in some ways, and I found that confounding. Did the book bite off more than it could chew? Are there too many social issues introduced? In an attempt to be progressive and open minded has common sense sometimes flown out the window.

The effects of war on soldiers, families, friends and communities is often catastrophic.

Wolf Season - Helen Benedict

This book is a wonderful examination of the social, moral, and political conflicts and concerns facing society today. The marvelous cast of characters touches on and exposes the issues with honesty, clarity and a force that will grab hold of your heart and make you look into your own thoughts and beliefs about our enemies during wartime, our friends and family at home, and those impacted by a war they may or may not wish to be involved in, but geographically find themselves in the middle of, experiencing the battles, facing the danger, and dealing with the death and loss of property, family, and life as they once knew it.

It is a terribly painful and emotionally draining story to read as you learn of the debilitating effects of the war on the returning soldiers, on their families and on their friends. As you learn of the devastating effects of the war on those who helped America, essentially, those who then became the enemy of their own country, those who collaborated in some way to rid their country of injustice who were then also considered enemies by those who disagreed with the need to rid the country of the tyrants, those who did not see the injustices perpetrated upon their neighbors everyday, but rather turned a blind eye and forced those that helped America to succeed to become the enemy of both, the vanquished and the victor, the weak and the strong, you will feel overwhelmed, at first, but at the end, you will feel the hope that the author has tried to convey, the hope that all people will one day rise above their differences and unite as one, with love in their hearts, rather than harboring hate for and fear of those that are different.

The brutality our own countrymen inflicted upon each other and our enemies is difficult to put on paper, but Benedict has communicated the full force and effect of the battle-scarred complete with the pain they feel when they are in the field of war as well as when they attempt to return home to the field of peace. The distance from their families, the nightmares and their inability to communicate, in contrast, comes across loud and clear to the reader. The victims of this life, these wars, are carefully laid open so the reader can identify with each of them and experience their individual suffering and scars of war. From the child to the adult, the soldier to the wife, we are enmeshed with them in their loss, their pain, their confusion, and their grief. We are in their flashbacks, their dreams and their nightmares. There are several important characters, in this novel, but even the minor ones are dealing with the difficulty of their wounds of war.

First there is Rin, a mentally, battle-scarred soldier who was unbelievably, brutally raped by her fellow soldiers after her husband was killed on the battlefield. She was already pregnant with her husband Jay’s child when she was attacked. She is always afraid for her safety and that of her daughter, Juney. She keeps wolves on what was once Jay’s family’s property, to fulfill the dream she and Jay had once shared. She also believes they protect her, in spirit and in life, and they are necessary for her well-being and her thin hold on her sanity. She protects both herself and her daughter, fiercely. She has hostile reactions to people, and has visions, what I would call “daymares”, that influence her behavior and made her seem bizarre, but was she really bizarre, or were those who attacked her more sinister in nature? Who was really the sick individual, Rin, her fellow soldiers, the sheriff, the Iraqis, the Americans, the war widow? What made each of them tick, and which of them ticked to the beat of normal and which to the beat of the mentally disturbed?

Juney, Rin’s daughter, is 9 years old and blind. She also has some odd behavioral issues that make her susceptible to being bullied, but she is gentle in nature and very helpful to her mom because of her great insight, her ability to feel things, which is essentially a “sense” for her, like sight is for others. Juney is aware of changes in her mother’s moods and is able to calm her.

Naema is a doctor from Iraq. She is a devoted mother who wishes to protect her son from any further violence from the war she was unwillingly dragged into, in Iraq. Her family was killed by American bombs during the war. Her husband was murdered and their son Tariq lost his leg when their car was blown up by those who resented his collaboration with the Americans. He was an interpreter.  Naema was working in a pediatric clinic in upstate New York, in an effort to be recertified as a doctor in the United States. Juney and Rin were in the examination room of the clinic, at the same time that a hurricane was raging. In a flood as a result of the storm, Naema almost drowns, and Rin is consumed with guilt because of her part in that tragedy.

Beth is Flanner’s mother. Flanner was Tariq’s friend. While Tariq is calm and gentle, Flanner is angry and has begun to act out. She is an unhappy woman who wants more out of her life and resents her husband’s constant absence and redeployments, but also fears his violent returns on leave. She drinks too much and Flanner has begun to resent her because she often forgets that her first responsibility should be to his welfare and not her own. She is vindictive and takes no responsibility for her own behavior which has caused her decline. Both Beth and Flanner want to hurt someone because they can’t hurt the person really responsible for the pain they feel. Both seem obsessed with hurting Rin Drummond. Both seemed consumed with their own needs and do not try to understand the needs of others.

Louis is another soldier who has survived the battlefield with scars. He is in love with Naema, which is ironic since she is Iraqi and his scars are from that war. He thinks, shouldn’t she be his enemy? Their relationship crosses all lines of conflict and reaches a state of harmony all people may aspire to, but never achieve.

We know that Tariq’s dad, Khalil, was killed in Iraq, Juney’s father was killed in Iraq, and Flanner’s dad is a marine who has been severely damaged, mentally, by his many redeployments. He can be cruel and mean, brutal and violent. His own violent future awaits him in Afghanistan. Louis is a survivor who has learned, with great difficulty, to control his irrational impulses and deal with his war wounds, in ways that the others have not.

The story is filled with the irony of relationships, child to child, man to woman, enemy to enemy, animal to human. The line between enemy and friend is blurred and scrutinized. Through the use of wolves, the reader discovers the meaning of trust and mistrust, safety and danger, fantasy and reality. The reader views logical, common sense responses that are contrasted with impetuous, irresponsible behavior. The interpretation of ideas is paramount. While a wolf may be friendly, its nature is to survive and that comes before your safety, so a wolf may become your enemy, through no fault of its own. In the same sense, in a war, the instinct is to survive, and the soldier sometimes has to cause collateral damage. Friends are put in a position of being the enemy and vice versa. Expedience rules, oftentimes. During the hurricane, there was collateral damage, too. In a confrontation, there is often collateral damage before reconciliation takes place. The line between right and wrong may not often be clear. As the reader continues tp read, the idea of supporting American values or confronting them is imprecise; it feels like America’s actions are being questioned and the jury seems to judge it poorly.

Can your enemy transmogrify into your friend? Are their ramifications for choosing one side over another? What makes a friend or an enemy? What makes a friend of an enemy or an enemy of a friend? Who was the greater friend, the Iraqi Naema or the American Beth? Who had better values? Why must someone be an enemy? Why did it feel like the Americans were the least able to handle the results of the war on their homes and families, while the ones who were different or foreign seemed better equipped and able to deal with the after effects? Was one group more desperate than the other or perhaps more resilient?

The two children who were damaged physically show the reader how different life is when viewed through their eyes or their emotions. Juney saw the world through the colors she made up in her own mind since she could not see. She, in her way, saw more than anyone sighted. Tariq made up for his handicap by treating it as natural, and then by reaching out to someone who had a greater handicap. He recognized that they were both lonely and both bullied. Both of these children were able to view the wolves as beings with power to be respected and admired, not feared unnecessarily, but respected for their strength. Both seemed able to identify with the needs of others and were unselfish. Their relationship with the wolves was spiritual and a bit magical. The book is a tender and tragic tale. It is at once, juvenile and sophisticated, simplistic and complicated, poetic and straight forward. It is authentic and surreal. The author has infused herself into each of the character’s lives and spit out their essence.

It is both anti-war, and pro democracy. It is both anti-American and pro American. All sides of the issues are illuminated and all promote the reader to think about the victims of war everywhere; the communities and the families that are compromised, the families that lose their loved ones, the families waiting for their soldiers to return, the soldiers far from home, the fields of battle, the idea of an enemy and an ally. All have to cope with loneliness, loss, anger, fear, frustration, violence, lack of hope, and broken dreams. Can life ever return to normal for any of them?

My one negative comment is the author’s note at the end in which she specifically casts blame on Trump for the situation of those Iraqis who collaborated with America as interpreters. They are between a rock and a hard place, but to blame Trump, when 8 years of Obama did nothing for them, seemed disingenuous and politically biased. I realize her book is antiwar and anti many American policies, but that is a point of opinion. Blaming Trump is “fake news”.

The book was a Library Thing Early Reviewers Giveaway.

interesting examination of parent child relationships.

The Red-Haired Woman: A novel - Orhan Pamuk

The Red-Haired Woman, Orhan Pamuk, author, John Lee, Katharine McEwan, narrators

In Part One of the novel, Cem Celik is 16 years old. Because his father had abandoned his mother, he was forced to seek summer employment so that he could earn enough money to go to cram school before taking the exams for his higher education. Otherwise his future would be doomed. In this effort, he became an apprentice to Master Mahmut, the well-digger, and a close father/son relationship developed over a short period of time. On one evening, while walking with him, he spied a red-haired woman, Gulcihan, who seemed to catch his eye. He became enthralled with her. Cem is coming of age and feeling things that he had not felt before.

After a tragic event, in which his master is hurt in the well, Cem abandons him and runs away because he is afraid he will be accused of causing the accident which will ruin his life. He places his own well being before that of his master which is considered his greatest sin. Cem never speaks of what he did to anyone for many years, not even his future wife.

In Part Two of the book, years have passed and Cem is happily married, but childless. He and his wife are very compatible and carve out a life for themselves which is very secure financially. When someone claims to be his son, his life’s trajectory turns in a different direction. He discovers that many of the things he had believed for the previous three decades, that had haunted him through the years, were wrong.

In Part Three, the red-haired woman describes her acting career and her past love life including her relationship with Cem and Akin Celik, and Turhan and Turgay, her husbands. She has a son named Enver whose paternity has only recently been discovered. He has been charged with the murder of his father, and she attempts to explain why her son should be judged innocent of the crime he committed.

As the master and apprentice tell each other stories, of father/son relationships and the ensuing tragedies of fratricide and patricide their relationship deepens. Using Sophocles classic about Oedipus and Laius and The Shanamara, a Persian poem containing the legend of Rostam and Sohrab, the reader sees the troubled relationships in families, the difficulties between fathers and sons and the resultant dysfunction from those problems. There is often a deep resentment toward the absent parent for the lack of guidance that is desired from that parent. Politics and the absence of faith, in this case, the Muslim faith, is also blamed as there seems to be a lack of responsibility for one’s actions or an impulsiveness that leads to rash behavior, which religion might otherwise prevent, since irresponsible behavior would be absolutely forbidden.

The moral of the story seems to be the need for a strong father figure in a boy’s life in order for him to take the right path. The lopsided bond of mother and son, without the equal bond of father and son often leads to disastrous consequences. Resentments develop, sometimes without rational reasons, simply based on bitterness. The result of the relationship between Mahmut and Cem and between the red-haired woman and Cem, haunted our main character, and he was powerless to stop fate from intervening and changing the course of his life.

Several questions were posed to me. Why did Cem choose the wife he did? Was her similarity to his mother and the red-haired woman a motivating factor? Did he punish Master Mahmut and abandon him because he had been abandoned by his own father? Were his mother and Enver’s mother too close to their sons, not allowing them to mature in a stable way, not providing them with a way to respect themselves even though their fathers had abandoned them, whether willfully or otherwise? Should immaturity and youth be used as an excuse for reprehensible behavior? Does anyone escape ultimate judgment for their behavior? Abandonment, deceptions and secrets have grave consequences.

John Lee is one of my favorite narrators and he didn’t disappoint me. While Katharine McEwan did a fine job, I didn’t quite match her voice to the personality with which I had identified Gulcihan, the red-haired woman. I felt the red-haired woman was more complicit in the outcome of the novel, than comes across from her portrayal. The narrator’s voice radiated too much innocence for her part. There seemed to be a universal lack of responsibility on the part of the characters for their own behavior, with each blaming their personal misfortune on the behavior of someone or something else.

This novel will provide a great many controversial topics for discussion.

A little disappointing, but also interesting.

Testimony - Scott Turow

Testimony, Scott Turow, author; Wayne Pyle, narrator

I usually enjoy Turow’s books, but this one went off on too many tangents, and contained too much foolish dialogue between characters that did nothing to enhance the novel. It had far too many romantic, sexual interludes which were distracting and caused the plot to have a lack of continuity. It was often confusing, requiring rereading. It took almost ¾ of the book before it actually held my interest, and were it not for the fact that I have liked the author’s writing style in the past, I would not have finished it. Because it was based on incidents that did not, but might have taken place during the very real Serbian/Croatian war, if the author had stayed on message, the book would have been far more interesting and way shorter. In the end, the novel left me with the feeling that nothing would be resolved, although the true facts would be revealed. It was as if the author prepared me for the coming of Book Two!

In brief, the book is about attorney, Bill ten Boom. He is going through a mid-life crisis in his mid fifties. His marriage is over, his children are pretty well grown, and he needs a change. When the opportunity comes to pick up stakes and begin anew, he takes it and heads to The Hague to investigate a possible war crime. It is a crime of great magnitude, concerning the massacre of an entire Roma village. The genocide seems to have been covered up, and is only now being investigated.  

The characters are colorful, straying from the mainstream. Some are deceitful and manipulative, some innocent, some savvy and sexy. Some are even sincere. However, all appear to be flawed in some way. Even America does not come away pure as the driven snow in this novel. Some characters are intended by name or action to remind the reader of the real Bosnian conflict and to make some characters resemble real life villains and war criminals like a supposed Serb leader named Laza Kajevic who is easily substituted for the real life Radovan Karadzic. In one of the flights of fancy that the author takes the reader, Boom, whose heritage is Dutch, discovers surprising secrets about his parents’ past during World War II, as he investigates the case. Well researched, the book can be entertaining, and all in all, if the reader sticks to the book, it will be a fairly interesting read.


This book will inspire the reader to learn more about the Ottoman Empire

The Mapmaker's Daughter - Katherine Nouri Hughes

There are two books with the same name, both covering similar historic time periods separated by a century. The reviews have been confused by some, believing they have read the one and not the other. One book is new, from August 2017, and the other one is from 2014. In the book written three years earlier, it is the late 15th century, and a young Jewish Converso holds to her religion at great danger to herself. In this current book, it is about the middle of the 16th century, and a young Venetian girl converts to Islam to protect herself after being captured by Suleiman, the Magnificent.

This novel is about Christian born Cecilia Baffo Veniero, daughter of a brilliant, unmarried mapmaker. She lived in the Venetian Republic until she was captured by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Like her mother, she was well educated. Her intelligence and background was appreciated by Suleiman, and he continued to educate her. After her conversion to Islam, he gave her as bride to his sons. She became known as Nurbanu and rose to an unprecedented position of power for a woman, especially one born out of wedlock. Her ultimate influence, real and imagined, over the Ottoman Empire was illustrated in the novel as Nurbanu lay ill and dying. She was convinced by her long time friend and confidante, Esther, a Jew, to relate the story of her life and rise to power, for historical review, and to help her understand the arc of her life and its meaning. It is fiction combined with history, and it is filled with references to her relationships and historic events of moment.

Although she was a preteen when stolen from her home, she was far more mature. The author portrayed her life and the times in which she lived, and included many interesting facts interspersed in the narrative concerning the era in which Jews, Christians and Moslems were alternately persecuted in the period of time that the Ottoman Empire grew successfully and provided the seeds of ideas and technology still used today. Often, a greater knowledge of the period seemed to be assumed by the author, and so the thread of the history was not developed fully enough for someone not well versed in the subject. It was occasionally confusing, as her influence and life were explored, essentially forcing the reader to do further research in order to fully comprehend the subject matter. I believe it is essential to read this fictional memoir as a confession, or search for answers and explanations about the incidents occurring and the decisions made, during her life. It is an introspective look into her devotion to herself, her children, and the kingdom.

I liked the design of the book jacket. I think having a jacket which doubles as a book mark is a great idea. In addition, the heft of the book was very comfortable. However, the choice of paper made it difficult to turn the pages. They were too thin and fragile. Also, while the introductory material was appreciated, it was lengthy and a bit cerebral, making it also somewhat distracting. A lot of complicated history was packed into a few pages. Still, it was better to have the facts, than not to have them at all.

It took me a long time to finish reading this book. The writing style, while often poetic and eloquent, was also difficult to follow, at times. The sentence structure sometimes seemed convoluted. Information was offered, but not always fully explained. A thought was introduced and seemed to come from nowhere and go nowhere. Events were mentioned and dropped without complete context. 

Fortunately there was a summary of the history in the beginning of the book and also a character list, map of the empire, as it progressed, and a partial list of the genealogy. Still, as I read, I felt compelled to do further research since some information presented was incomplete. The fact that the book inspired me to learn more about a period of time and an empire I had previously very little knowledge of and was glad to learn more about, does speak well of the novel.

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?