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Arubabookwoman Reads the Books of Her Life

75 Books Challenge for 2018

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Jan 2, 7:02pm Top

I'm Deborah. I joined LT on 1-1-2009, and joined the 75'ers my first day. I'm not always very good at keeping up with the threads in terms of commenting, but I do generally read very many threads, and add dozens of books to my wishlist each year.

I read about 2/3 fiction, 1/3 nonfiction. The fiction I read is usually "literary", and I try to read "around the world" with a fair amount of translated fiction. I also love mysteries, mostly stand-alone, but I follow a few series, and I read some science fiction too. I like a smattering of historical fiction (I've been reading the Poldark series) and some dystopian fiction too. I generally don't like horror, fantasy, or self-help, but a few exceptions have been known to happen for those genres as well.

I'm a retired tax attorney living in the Seattle area. However, since 4 of our 5 children now reside in NYC, a move to the East Coast when my husband of 47 years retires in a year or two is in the works. (The 5th lives in Houston, but there's no way I would choose to live in Texas). Three of the kids are married, and two have two children each, so I am a happy grandma. Other than reading, I am very involved with doing fiber art, and some of my pieces have been included in museum shows. For the past several years, I have been studying art history with a group of friends, and this past year we took a trip together to London and Paris where we visited only art museums. We are now studying the Italian Renaissance.

My user name arises from the fact that I was born and raised on the island of Aruba (back before it became a tourist venue), and it is the home of my heart.

Edited: Apr 25, 8:51pm Top

1. Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry (2017) 321 pp 3 stars
2. One Doctor by Brendan Reilly (2013) 465 pp 3 1/2 stars
3. The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman (2017) 304 pp 4 stars
4. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (2017) 354 pp 4 stars
5. The Moon and Bonfires by Cesare Pavese (1950) 176 pp 3 stars
6. Tales of Two Americas by John Freeman (2017) 352 pp 4 stars
7. Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant (2007) 290 pp 3 stars
8. Shelter by Jung Yun (2016) 337 pp 3 stars
9. A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950) 298 pp 2 1/2 stars
10. Pandemic by Sonia Shah (2016) 288 pp 3 1/2 stars
11. A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto (1971) 224 pp 3 1/2 stars
12. Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (2008) 402 pp 3 1/2 stars
13. The Family Moskat by I.B. Singer (1950) 608 pp 4 1/2 stars
14. Collusion by Luke Harding (2017) 368 pp 4 stars
15. Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung by Min Kym (2017) 240 pp 3stars
16. The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris(2012) 483 pp 3 1/2 stars
17. The Boy Who Loved Too Much by Jennifer Latson (2017) 304 pp 3 stars
18. Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon(1996) 336 pp 3 1/2 pp
19. Going Into Town by Roz Chast (2017) 170 pp 3 stars
20. L'Abbe C by Georges Bataille (1950) 158 pp 2 stars
DNF The People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry


21. Into the Gray Zone by Adrian Owen (2017) 320 pp 3 1/2 stars
22. A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (2017) 246 pp 3 1/2 stars
23. Whispering Death by Garry Disher (2012) 343 pp 3 1/2 stars
24. The Widow by Fiona Barton(2016) 340pp 1 1/2 stars
25. Millennium by John Varley (1983) 270 pp 3 stars
26. Trumpocracy by David Frum(2017) 368 pp 4 stars
27. The Planets by Nimala Nataraj and Bill Nye 120 pp 3 stars
28. Antique Road Show by Paul Atterbury 200 pp 3 stars
29. The Wall by John Hersey (1950) 640 pp 4 stars


30. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010) 381 pp 3 stars
31. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (2016) 240 pp 2 stars
32. Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler (2017) 256 pp 2 1/2 stars
33. The Fishing Fleet by Anne de Courcy
34. The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
35. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
36. The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns
37. Apex Hides Hurt by Colson Whitehead
38. Midwinter Break by Bernard McLaverty
39. Exposure by Helen Dunmore
40. I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
41. The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo
42. Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff
43. In A Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes (1947) 224 pp 3 stars
44. Blacklands by Belinda Bauer (2010) 240 pp 2 stars
45. Slow Horses by Mick Herron (2010) 324 pp 3 stars

Edited: Jul 27, 7:45pm Top

Second Quarter


46. The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George (2018) 704 pp 4 stars
47. The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (2018) 345 pp 2 stars
48. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (2018) 337 pp 2 1/2 stars
49. Hunger by Roxanne Gay (2017) 320 pp 2 stars
50. In Pursuit of Memory by Joseph Jebelli (2017) 321 pp 3 stars
51. Cape Fear by John MacDonald 226 pp 1 1/2 stars
52. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Deming (2009) 334 pp 4 or 4 1/2 stars
53. The Overstory by Richard Powers (2018) 502 pp 5 stars
54. Russian Roulette by Michael Isikoff and David Korn (2018) 353 pp 4 stars
55. Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel (2018) 155 pp 2 1/2 stars
56. Cove by Cynan Jones (2016) 115 pp 3 1/2 stars
57. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (1997) 227 pp 3 stars
58. A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard (2016) 288 pp 3 stars
59. Citizen by Claudia Rankine (2014) 160 pp 3 stars
60. A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold (2016) 338 pp 3 stars
61. The Visitors by Catherine Burns (2017) 304 pp 3 stars
62. Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry (2015) 368 pp 1 1/2 stars
63. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck (1962)


64. Stranger From The Sea by Winston Graham
65. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
66. Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman
67. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
68. Dinner At The Center of The Earth by Nathan Englander
69. How Democracies Die by Stephen Levitsky
70. Collision by Merle Kroger
71. Fair Play by Tove Jansson
72. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
73. Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
74. A Higher Loyalty by James Comey
75. I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
76. Isaac's Storm by Eric Larson
77. Lady Killer by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
78. A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence


79. Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty
80. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
81. Winter by Ali Smith
82. Dear Madam President by Jennifer Palmieri
83. Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
84. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
85. With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix
86. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
87. The Country Life by Rachel Cusk
88. The Well by Elizabeth Jolley
89. A Beautiful Terrible Thing by Jen Waite
90. What Happened by Hillary Clinton
91. Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Edited: Jan 2, 7:34pm Top

Third Quarter

Edited: Jan 2, 7:35pm Top

Fourth Quarter

Edited: Jan 2, 7:41pm Top

I read 125 books in 2017. Some stats:

Male Author--78
Female Author--47


In addition to books by US, UK, and Canada authors, I read books by authors from the following countries:

India, France, Guyana, Russia, China, Israel, Libya, Norway, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Spain, South Korea, and Pakistan.

In 2017, for the first time since I joined LT, I reviewed every single book I read, and all the reviews are now on my 2017 thread. Of course, I had to do about 50 reviews in December to catch up, but I'm rather proud of myself for persevering.

The big change in my reading this year was that I found out about Overdrive, and so most of my reading came from the library this year. This resulted in my reading mostly current books, which is not my usual practice. I usually like to let the books percolate a while and some of the hype die down before I read a book, and I mostly only buy used books anyway. But this year nearly 90% of my reading was from the 2000's, and probably 65%-70% was from just 2016 and 2017.

So here are my favorites, in no particular order:


The Dark Road by Ma Jian
American Tabloid by James Ellroy (a reread)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie


Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
In a Different Key by John Donvan


Bear Island by Alistair MacLean

WORST DISAPPOINTMENTS (Books I expected to like, but did not)

Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

Edited: Jan 17, 10:50pm Top

2018 PLANS

I generally don't plan my reading much, but this year I'm going to try something different. We'll see how long it lasts.

I decided that I'm going to read "the books of my life." By this I mean I'm going to read books published in each year of my life, starting with books published in 1950, the year I was born. I'll read as many or as few of the books for the year as I choose, and will stick with the year for as long or as short as I choose, before moving onto the next year. So this will all be fairly loosey-goosey, and I will be reading other things, as I continue to receive books from the library.

So, for the first year, 1950, here is a list of some of the books published that year. I have divided them into books I have read, and books I have not yet read. For the books I have read, I have marked with a * a book that I wouldn't mind rereading, and I might or might not do that. For the books I have not read, I have marked with a # those which I have waiting on my shelf or kindle which are books I intend to read (or start and abandon). I don't intend to purchase any new books for this challenge, but if some of the unmarked, unread books of a year really, really call to me, I may do so.


*The Wall by John Hersey
*The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
*Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
*The Family Moskat by I.B. Singer
*Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Town by Conrad Richter
A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdal
Jeremy Poldark byWinston Graham


#The Moon and Bonfires by Cesare Pavese READ 1/18
# L'Abbe C by Georges Bataille
#A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell
#The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo
The Drinker by Hans Fallada
Stalingrad by Vassily Grossman (can't find touchstone)

I don't have The Drinker or Stalingrad, but I have other unread books by those authors, so I may or may not try to read those instead.

I have started The Moon and Bonfires--not grabbing me so far.

Jan 2, 8:43pm Top

Happy new year! Wishing you an awesome year of reading in 2018!

Jan 2, 8:45pm Top

>7 arubabookwoman: Great plan, Deborah. Would you arrange this for me? It seems like a lot of work.

Happy New Year. I look forward to following your reading through the year. BTW, I'll be in Oregon at the end of June...

I liked your best 2017 lists; I have some on my TBR lists. I loved Sing, Unburied, Sing, but I agree the others didn't live up to the hype, or in Atwood's case, her usual standards. Still, a disappointing Atwood is still pretty good.

Jan 2, 9:37pm Top

Hi Deborah. I’ve got you starred now. Happy reading in 2018. Moving to the east coast? Maybe we’ll be able to meet up again sometime😊

Jan 2, 11:09pm Top

Hope your 2018 is filled with great reads!

Jan 2, 11:09pm Top

Welcome back! We’ll have to fold you into the East Coast meetups when you get here!

Jan 3, 6:17am Top

Happy New Year
Happy New Group here
This place is full of friends
I hope it never ends
It brew of erudition and good cheer.

Jan 3, 6:46am Top

Happy reading 2018, Deborah.

Jan 3, 8:09am Top

I like your reading plans, sounds like you've got a lot to keep you busy there for quite a while! I enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo too.

Jan 3, 9:07am Top

HI Deborah about the Grossman book - might that be the same as Life and Fate? I read that a few years ago, and it is about the battle of Stalingrad.

Jan 3, 10:51am Top

Yay - you're here!! Dropping off a star.

Jan 3, 12:01pm Top

Happy reading in 2018, Deborah!

>7 arubabookwoman: Do you mean Life and Fate by Vassili Grossman? That was my favourite read last year :-)

Jan 9, 5:16pm Top

>8 banjo123: Hi Rhonda--welcome!

>9 BLBera: Hi Beth--Ooh Yay--another meetup. We're in town all summer (in Texas in Feb., and on the east coast in May), so I should be able to get down to Portland at the end of June.

>10 brenzi: Hi Bonnie--Yes, the east coast is in the stars. Probably Delaware, but we'll be up in NY a lot with 4 kids there.

>11 thornton37814: Thanks Lori.

>12 drneutron: Thanks Jim. Yes I will have to plan on some of the east coast meetups--NYC, DC, and Philly should all be doable.

>13 PaulCranswick: Thank you Paul.

>14 Ameise1: Thank you Barbara.

>15 charl08: Welcome Charlotte. Glad you liked Lincoln in the Bardo. I tend to like books where the author plays with the method of telling the story.

>16 ffortsa: Hi Judy. It may be that "Stalingrad" refers to Life and Fate, which I've read and loved--see my explanation below.

>17 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--Welcome!

>18 FAMeulstee: Hi Anita--see below about what I found out about "Stalingrad" and Life and Fate, which I read a few years ago, and like you, loved.

Jan 9, 5:20pm Top


It turns out that my source for publication dates is not entirely accurate. (Wiki). So--The Clergyman's Daughter was not published in 1950 but in the 1930's, which is ok with me since it wasn't one of the ones I was looking forward to. And there is no book named "Stalingrad'" by Vassily Grossman. It is an apparent reference to two books about WW II written by Grossman, beginning with Life and Fate. I've read Life and Fate, but only a few years ago, so I don't want to reread it yet, and in any event it was not published in 1950, but years later. So that's off the list too.

The first 1950 book I started is The Moon and Bonfires by Cesare Pavese. It is short, less than 200 pp, but after more than a week I am less than half way through. It is really not capturing me. I will give it another week, and then classify if as DNF. It's my challenge so I guess I can do that. Last night I started a 1950 reread, The Family Moskat by I.B. Singer, and I am loving it. It's long but I'm sure I'll complete it soon. While perusing my shelves for more 1950 books, I came across The Family Mashber by Der Nister, and I decided to read that too, after I finish The Family Moskat. It was written many years before The Family Moskat, but was also written in Yiddish and appears to have a similar nature--Jewish family saga late 19th/early 20th century Russia/Poland. Other than that, 1950 planned reads are the ones starred in >7 arubabookwoman: arubabookwoman:.

I have finished a few books, from the library, mostly nonfiction, so I will start some reviews in an attempt not to get too far behind.

Jan 9, 5:21pm Top

1. Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry (2017) 321 pp

Subtitle: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Shortly after Japan's 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown accident, I read a couple of books about the incident. Both of these books focused quite a bit on the nuclear accident aspect of the disaster. I haven't heard much about the status of the accident in quite a while, and was interested in finding out more. This book, however, barely mentions the nuclear accident, and then only in passing. Instead, its focus is very narrow--primarily on the tsunami, and primarily on the tragic effects of the tsunami on one small school in one small village.

The school in question was Okawa Elementary School which served several small villages surrounding it. Although the tsunami hit an hour or more after the initial quake, and despite that fact that tsunami warnings were issued, including trucks blaring evacuation warnings driving around and past the school, for various reasons the teachers did not move the children to higher ground, and 74 of the 78 children and 10 of 11 teachers perished in the tsunami. (In all the rest of Japan only 1 other child perished while in the care of teachers at a school).

The book examines the various ways we grieve or hide our grief. Schisms opened between parents who lost a child and those who did not. Parents whose child's body was recovered immediately had different issues than parents whose children weren't found for months (or in some cases ever). Some parents were angry and vociferous, and demanded answers from school officials at the many public meetings to try to determine a cause for this tragedy. Some parents felt that the reason didn't matter; some parents blamed themselves for not picking up their child immediately after the quake. The book provides qreat insight into Japanese culture and national personality.

What I didn't like about the book is that a large chunk of it deals with the supernatural. There are several stories about people who found themselves "possessed" by the ghosts of those who perished in the tsunami, and about the Buddhist priest who performed exorcism rites on them. I mostly skimmed these sections, although they were probably important.

If you are interested in the subject and are aware of the limitations of its focus, I would recommend this book.

3 stars

Jan 9, 5:23pm Top

2. One Doctor by Brendan Reilly (2013) 465 pp

Subtitle: Close Calls, Cold Cases, and the Mysteries of Medicine

Brendan Reilly an internist with 40 years of experience practicing medicine divides this memoir into three sections, Now, Then, and Now. In the two Now sections he discusses in real time from his personal view point, his experiences on call in New York City Hospital over a couple of days (the second Now section taking place a few weeks after the first). While dealing with seriously ill patients, and trying to diagnose patients with mystery conditions, he must also deal with his elderly parents who are facing end of life decisions themselves, his father blind and in the terminal phase of bladder cancer, his mother suffering dementia with a heart that is slowing down. In the Then section, Reilly discusses some of his experiences when he first began to practice medicine making house calls in rural Vermont. He focuses on a husband and wife whose diagnoses and treatments he is still second-guessing himself about all these years later. I loved the stories of the process he goes through in arriving at a diagnosis. His pacing is perfect, and many of his experiences read like a medical mystery.

Interspersed with his personal stories are discussions of many of the historical, ethical, financial, and other issues facing the practice of medicine. One overriding point I took from the book is that many people today who think they have adequate health care don't have "one doctor" in overall charge of their health care. Despite health care becoming more and more complex, there is frequently no continuity of care, as various specialist handle only their specialty. This can also raise problems since many hospitals today rely on hospitalists, and our primary care doctors do not provide in-hospital care to their patients. There is sometimes a lack of communication such that hospitalists sometimes have to diagnose and treat in a vacuum.

Another thing I learned from this book is that there are many, many things I never knew about that can kill you as you get older. Oh Well.


3 1/2 stars

Jan 22, 7:31pm Top

No visitors to respond to, but time for some reviews:

3. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (2017) 354 pp

Subtitle: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Over the years, the Osage tribe was forcibly removed from their tribal lands and resettled multiple times by the U.S. government, finally ending up in a rocky area of Oklahoma no one else wanted. Then, in the early 20th century oil was discovered on their land. Each member of the tribe had "headrights" to the oil income, and overnight many of them found themselves among the most wealthy people in the U.S. Their new-found wealth attracted many unscrupulous people, and schemes and scams abounded.

In its infinite wisdom, the federal government decided that full-blooded Osage were incapable of handling their own financial affairs, and appointed "guardians" for them, usually white businessmen or lawyers. Many of these guardians were dishonest and abusive, for example, requiring their wards to purchase everything at businesses they owned at hugely inflated prices. There were also instances of guardians denying necessary expenses, such as for medical care, resulting in the deaths of their wards.

In addition, those Osage with headrights were sought after as "spouses" and these fortune hunters hoped for huge inheritances when their spouses passed on.

Some of these so-called "guardians" or spouses, decided to expedite their access to the Osage fortunes. For some of these fortune hunters their spouse's share of the oil income was not enough, and they decided to increase their spouse's share by insuring that their spouses became even wealthier by inheriting additional shares of income from their relatives who died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Grann opens this engaging narrative nonfiction account with a cluster of suspicious deaths within the family of Molly Burkhart. Her sister Minnie had died a few years previously of a "peculiar wasting illness." Her mother Lizzie was also weakening and dying of an unknown malady. Then her sister Anna is found in a ravine with a bullet in her head. Not surprisingly Molly began to fear for her life, along with many other Osage, including those who were attempting to investigate, as unexplained deaths continued to pile up. Ultimately, at least 60 full-blood Osage were murdered between 1921 and 1925.

Many of the murders were solved when the fledgling FBI moved in, mostly undercover, and investigated. However, many of the murders remain unsolved until the present day. During the course of his writing this book, several of the descendants of some of those who had died under mysterious circumstances sought David Grann's research skills to find answers, and their stories are also included in this book.

This was a fascinating and eye-opening account of the greed and corruption of those taking advantage of these wealthy Indians, from the guardians to the law enforcement officials to medical doctors to store owners and even to spouses. This was a real indictment of the prejudice against Native Americans and the atrocities committed against them.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

Jan 22, 7:47pm Top

You may want to skip the following. There's a lot about Trump Atrocities. But this is an important book for every American to read and understand.

4. The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman (2017) 304 pp

Allan J. Lichtman is a distinguished Harvard professor and political historian. Two months before the election, he predicted that Trump would win, (and received praise from Trump for his perspicacity). He also predicted that Trump would be impeached (which prediction Trump overlooked). In the first part of the book, Lichtman provides an overview and history of impeachment, when it has been used, and when it should be used. The longer, second part of the book discusses and analyzes the many "high crimes and other misdemeanors" committed by Trump. And since this book was published early in his presidency (April 2017--pre-firing of Comey, pre-multiple Russia contacts revelations), the case for impeachment has only been strengthened.

Following is some random information/comments from the book I want to remember:

---His crimes in general terms: appointing cabinet members dedicated to destroying the institutions they head; no prior public service; a record of enriching himself at the expense of others; a penchant for lying; disregard of the law; conflicts of interest; mistreatment of women; covering up his misdeeds; dubious connections with Russia; reversing the battle against climate change.

--In the section discussing the history of impeachment, he clarifies that impeachment is of a "political nature" and reaches far beyond actual crimes. The questions to be considered regarding impeachment are: 1. What are the grounds?; 2. What is the scope of presidential authority; 3. What is the president's responsibility to obey the law? Lichtman also clarifies that a president's actions before becoming president can be considered in determining whether to impeach.

--Trump is a serial law breaker, including:

--There were many civil law suits regarding racketeering, civil rights violations, and other illegal acts prior to his taking office.

--Trump's charity: He never registered it, and by not registering it he avoided audits which would have revealed illegal self-dealing. Self-dealings included using the foundation's money to settle his personal debts. He also purchased self-portraits and sports memorabilia with his charity's funds. And he made political contributions (particularly to Pam Bondi for Florida A.G. during a time she was considering a matter involving him) with the charity's funds.

--Violations of the Cuban embargo. He spent $68,000 in 1998 to explore Cuban business opportunities in violation of the embargo. This is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and $1 million in corporate and $250,000 in personal fines.

--His N.J. and N.Y. casinos have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for violations, including for civil rights violations and bank reporting violations. When his casinos collapsed, $1.5 billion dollars was lost by investors.

--His fraudulent university led to a federal class action suit charging racketeering violations. He settled the suit for $25 million shortly before entering office.

--His exploitation of undocumented immigrants. He built Trump Tower in NYC using undocumented Polish workers. He failed to pay them, and ultimately they brought suit against Trump, who dragged the suit out for 15 years before settling. In addition, Trump Modeling Agency has a history of using undocumented immigrants, and taking advantage of them financially.

--Trump's Conflicts of Interest

These mostly arise because of Trump's failure to divest himself of his business interests contrary to the practice of past presidents. Some of these include:

--Dealings with the Philippines and Duterte--The head of the Trump Tower in Manila was appointed by Duterte as a special envoy to the U.S. at a time when there are sensitive issues about aid to Philippine trade and U.S. military arrangements in the Philippines.

--Dealings with China--In February 2017 a number of trademark rights were issued to Trump business interests by China. (Trump had spent a decade and hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking these trademark rights). Experts have stated that this action by China was unprecedented. It occurred right after Trump ended his flirtation with a "Two China Policy." In addition, Trump has failed to label China as a currency manipulator as promised during his campaign. Trump also has a 30% stake in a company owing $950 million to lenders including the Bank of China.

--Trump's debts (largely unknown) also constitute a conflict of interest. We know that Trump owes more than $1 billion to 150 financial institutions. The government has to make regulatory and policy decisions regarding these institutions. Two of his largest creditors, Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank have been sanctioned for fraud and Russian money-laundering.

--Domestic conflicts--Melania's and Ivanka's stated intents to profit from the office.

The book also goes through his history of lies (too numerous to list here). Lichtman points out that the lies can jeopardize national security, in addition to covering up crimes. What we know about Trumps Russian connection has largely expanded since publication of this book. Lichtman goes into something I had never considered: crimes against humanity, which broadly include actions taken by Trump to deny or reverse measures taken to remedy climate change. At the time the book was published Trump hadn't withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, but Lichtman mentions that if Trump were to do so, it might be one of the grounds for impeachment. He also mentions the appointment of the following cabinet members: Scott Pruitt--EPA; Rick Perry--Energy; Rex Tillerson--State; Ryan Zinke--Interior.

This book is a valuable read for the way it sets everything out in a logical, factual and methodical way.


4 stars

Jan 22, 7:53pm Top

My first 1950 book of my life. It took me forever to read, although it's fairly short, and I considered abandoning it, but fought that urge. I didn't really begin to get into it until about p. 100 (of 176), but after I finished I went back and reread the first part, and it was better than I remembered.

5. The Moon and Bonfires by Cesare Pavese (1950) 176 pp

This is a book in which nothing much happens, and the setting, place and time, and the characters take the forefront. Shortly after the end of World War II, the unnamed narrator returns from America to the rural farming village in Italy where he grew up. An orphan, he was raised by a poor farmer who took him in mainly for the charitable stipend he received monthly. When the narrator grew up, he made his way to America where he became moderately successful. On his return to his village, he is perceived to be fabulously wealthy.

As he revisits the people and places from the past, we learn his life story through flashbacks. In the present, he interacts with the one friend from his youth, Nuto the musician, and also befriends a boy who is the son of a poor farmer who reminds him of himself. Along the way he also learns of the betrayals and atrocities that occurred in the village during the war, and of the fates of some of the partisans fighting the fascists, although as I stated this is not primarily a book reliant on plot.

This book is considered a classic in Italy, and I can see how it has received that designation. Pavese has written other novels, and in addition was a well-respected translator of American literature into Italian. He committed suicide a few months after this book was published. I don't regret reading the book, but it's not one of my favorites, nor is it one which I would unequivocally recommend. Nevertheless, I recognized it to be well-written, and if it sounds like your thing, go for it.

3 stars

Jan 22, 7:59pm Top

Many people have been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance hoping for some insight into how/why Trump could have been elected. I've been somewhat suspicious of Vance's agenda and politics, and have resisted reading his book. Instead, I read these next two books. The first one is an anthology to which many writers contributed, and it was published after Trump's election. The second one was written by a man who returns to his Virginia town, and tries to make sense of why so many people voted for Bush in his reelection, after many bad things were known about him, including lying to get us into war in Iraq and the abuses and torture going on at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. I found much of what he found very relevant to the Trump election.

6. Tales of Two Americas edited by John Freeman (2017) pp

Subtitle: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation

"America is broken. You don't need a fistful of statistics to know this. You just need eyes and ears and stories."

This book provides the stories--essays, short stories, poems, and personal anecdotes--which as the editor writes, "demolish the myth of Horatio Alger and replace it with the reality of what it feels like to try to keep a foothold in America today."

This is a diverse collection by many of today's best writers. Some of the ones that stood out to me include:

--"Death by Gentrification" by Rebecca Solnit, in which she relates the true story behind the headlines about a Hispanic teenager who was shot and killed by the police in his own neighborhood. The police were called by one of the "new" residents of this gentrifying San Francisco neighborhood, people who were afraid of other people who did not look like them. The police shot before talking.

"Dosas" by Edwidge Danticat--a short story about immigrants from one of the places DJT considers a shithole, Haiti.

"Outside" by Kiese Layman--a personal essay starkly laying out the different treatments given for minor drug crimes committed by the privileged students at an elite college and the treatment given a young janitorial employee at the same college who committed a similar crime.

"White Debt" by Eula Bliss, a personal essay on white privilege--being comfortably with what one has, but uncomfortable with how one came to have it--"one of the conundrums of whiteness."

"Leander" by Joyce Carol Oates--a short story about a comfortable suburban matron who wants to do something to help a Black Live Matter-like group, but finds herself very uncomfortable attending one of their meetings.

"We Share the Rain, and Not Much Else" by Timothy Egan--an essay about how Seattle has changed from its gritty pre-Microsoft/pre-Amazon past when a blue-collar worker could lead a comfortable life.

"To The Man Asleep in Our Driveway Who Might Be Named Phil" by Anthony Doerr--a personal essay about the dilemma of coming home to your comfortable suburban home to find a homeless man sleeping in your driveway.

"Looking for a Home" by Karen Russell--a personal essay about living above a homeless shelter.

"Happy" by Brad Watson--an essay about growing up in a white family in Mississippi with a black maid. More honest than The Help.

These were the ones that spoke to me most, but there are many other worthy pieces by other authors, including Sandra Cisneros, Ann Patchett, Richard Russo, Roxanne Gay, Julia Alvarez, Ru Freeman, Annie Dillard, and lots of other authors.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

Jan 22, 8:33pm Top

7. Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant (2007) 290 pp

Subtitle: Dispatches from America's Class War

John Steinbeck: "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

This book was written shortly after Bush's reelection, as an attempt to explain why so many white working class people seemed to vote against their own interests. My hometown paper said it should be, "required reading for progressive liberals." And despite its subject being a different election, those seeking an answer to how Trump was elected have been urged to read the book. In fact, as I read some of the descriptions and beliefs in this book, I found myself wondering whether Trump had read this book, so many of the positions some of these people espoused are so close to Trump's. (Not a serious thought--I know he doesn't read). But we hear from people who want to nuke Iran and nuke North Korea, and take all the oil from the Mideast, all things Trump has advocated.

Bageant, who has been described as a "gonzo" journalist, was born and raised in Winchester, Virginia, and returned to his roots after many years of working as a reporter around the world. Bageant himself said of the book, "..it is a gonzo book intended to give the flavor of the American experience, the thinking going on, more a literary book than just another book of facts and data." I found the book to be anecdotal and very mosaic-like, rather than having a broad analytical overview, so there are not many answers here, although there are lots of thoughts and stories I would like to remember.

Here are some of them:

--The Republican myth of the "Small Businessman." These are actually the self-employed electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers construction companies don't want to hire to avoid paying Social Security, worker's compensation, and health insurance. Instead, they contract with "the small businessman", and he assumes those costs and shuffles through the farce that he is one of America's ever-growing crop of dynamic entrepeneurs.

--Another popular myth is the myth of "personal responsibility."

--Winchester was the home of a large Rubbermaid Plant that in 2002 was threatening to relocate to Mexico. (This was partly caused by Walmart threatening to no longer stock their goods unless they could price them for significantly, perhaps impossibly, less.) But Va. "beat out Mexico" to save 240 Rubbermaid jobs--by paying $1 million of expansion costs, and certain anti-union measures. Sounds kind of like Trump/Pence paying millions to save a handful of Indiana jobs at a Carrier plant for a short while in an attempt to placate the base.

Another myth: "One of the slickest things the right ever did was to label necessary social costs as 'entitlements.'" Through years of repetition, the Republicans have been able to associate this term with "laziness."

Another myth: The private sector can do anything better than the government, and cheaper too.

To spread its myths, the Republicans have relied on a huge number of grass roots operatives who show up in small towns all over America. These are the real estate owners and successful business owners in the small towns. These are wealthy and prominent people who continue to commingle with the "hoi polloi" of these towns reinforcing the myths.

Bageant sees the source of white working class anger as, "the daily insults they suffer from their employers, from their government, and from more educated fellow Americans..." and, "...the brutal way in which {working folk} historically were forced to internalize the values of a gangster capitalist class..."

There is a chapter on the religious right and the growth of private religious schools in small towns across America. His own brother is an evangelical preacher with whom he is frequently at odds.

"{I}n an obsessively religious nation, values remain the most effective smoke screen for larceny by the rich and hatred and fear by the rest. What Christians and so many quiet Americans were voting for in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 was fear of human beings culturally unlike themselves, particularly gays and lesbians and Muslims and other non-Christians." (I would add, also people of color).

I'd note that Bageant has a chapter about hunting and guns in which, despite his recognition that 13 children a day are killed by guns, he follows the NRA position that guns don't kill people, people kill people.

He also has an interesting chapter on Lyndie England, and how she came to be involved in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. At the time the book was written, she was serving time in military prison, a scapegoat for the higher-ups.

There's also a chapter about the mortgage racket. The book was written before the 2008 housing collapse and sub-prime scandal, but Bageant writes knowingly about small town bankers and mortgage brokers encouraging people who can't afford it to become homeowners, usually of trailers which did not hold their value. With all the add-ons to these subprime mortgages, the outstanding debt was usually more than the value of the asset.

Another chapter considers the health care system. (Pre-ACA). At the time the book was written, more than 50% of bankruptcies were caused by the inability to pay medical bills.

One of the most eye-opening (for me) facts was that 89-94 million Americans are functionally illiterate. I've long recognized and despaired of the fact that many Trump supporters seem to live in fact-free zones. But many American adults cannot distinguish between an ad and real news. Worse, Bageant points out, the problem is that many are pretty happy just the way they are.

This was an interesting and engaging read. It sometimes seemed to be a little overblown, but the times, particularly now, may warrant that. I'm glad I read it, and if it sounds interesting to you, I can recommend it. It's just not an essential read.

3 stars

Jan 22, 9:09pm Top

Hi Deborah! I'll volunteer to be a visitor to respond to.

I just read from >23 arubabookwoman: to >27 arubabookwoman: and was very interested reading what you wrote. I've avoided Hillbilly Elegy as well, though I found White Working Class to be a real useful substitute.

I've done a lot of reading lately along the "two Americas" line - A Colony Within a Nation and The End of Policing among the recent ones - but it looks like I need to add Tales of Two Americas to that list (not least for Rebecca Solnit, whom I greatly admire).

Thanks for the serious reviews!

Jan 22, 9:18pm Top

>24 arubabookwoman:. Ugh! It’s just endless. The corruption I mean. I read where Lichtman is now predicting Trump will be impeached because Mueller will uncover crimes so heinous the Republicans won’t be able to ignore. It can’t come soon enough for me.

I read the Vance book Deborah but I didn’t buy what he was selling.

Jan 23, 9:38am Top

Nice review of the Grann book. Probably the best of the year so far for me.

Jan 23, 11:43am Top

23 Great review of Killers of the Flower Moon. I'm definitely looking forward to that one.

Jan 23, 11:47am Top

I'm following both your threads, Deborah. First, your comments are always great. They give me a clear idea of the main points in the book and whether I would like to read it.

>26 arubabookwoman: This definitely goes on the WL.

I've read, and loved, Killers of the Flower Moon.

Jan 30, 8:05am Top

Hi Deborah, in case you want to join us, I created a thread for the group read of Barkskins.

Feb 2, 9:16pm Top

>28 majleavy: Hi Michael. Welcome, and thank you for your comments. I am taking note of White Working Class. I have a couple of others along similar themes on my shelf that I haven't read, The Divide by Matt Taibi and Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Have you read either of these?

>29 brenzi: Hi Bonnie--Yes, it does seem to be going on and on and one. I'm listening to all the nonsense about the so-called Nunes Memo on tv right now. It seems to me that the Repubs have taken a giant step from tolerating Trump's evil to aiding, abetting and furthering it.

>30 drneutron: Glad you liked it Jim. Have you read anything else by Grann? I read (and loved) The Lost City of Z a while ago, and picked up Killers of the Flower Moon based more on my admiration of Grann than on the subject matter. Despite that, I found the subject very compelling.

>31 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli. I think you will like Killers of the Flower Moon. Hope to see you in a Portland meetup in April and/or June.

>32 BLBera: Thank you Beth. In choosing my reads, I like to know a little about what a book is about before I begin, and like reviews that give a bit of that information. That's why I write my reviews the way I do (at least for fiction). I like to say enough to show what the story is about and perhaps a bit as to how it is written, but not give away too much.

>33 FAMeulstee: Thanks for the reminder Anita. I have chimed in over on the Barkskins thread.

Time for more reviews. I read 20 books in January, which is I think about the most I have ever read in a month. Four of the books I read were books published in 1950, The Moon and Bonfires, A Murder Is Announced, The Family Moskat, and L'Abbe C. (Three new reads and one reread). I still have a few more 1950 books to read, so 1950 reading will continue in February.

I read 14 library books, 4 books off my shelf (Yay!), and 2 Kindle books

Feb 2, 9:18pm Top

8. Shelter by Jung Yun (2016) 337 pp

Kyung Cho, a Korean-American professor, and his Irish-American wife Gillian (along with their young son) are struggling financially--they overextended themselves to purchase their home, and are now facing the necessity of selling it. Kyung's wealthy parents live nearby, but Kyung's relationship with them is strained and he avoids contact with them. Then, a brutal home invasion attack on his parents, Mae and Jin results in Mae and Jin moving in with Kyung and Gillian, and all sorts of old wounds are reopened.

Besides being an interesting domestic drama, semi-crime thriller, and a psychological study of a dysfunctional family, there is also a lot of interesting background about the culture of Korean families, and the difficulties of a marriage of two people from very different backgrounds. Overall, this was a decent read, although I felt that it ended on an abrupt, and perhaps uncharacteristic note.

3 stars

Feb 2, 9:24pm Top

A 1950 read:

8. A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950) 298 pp

Believe it or not, this is the first book by Agatha Christie I have read. She is a much-beloved mystery writer, and was extremely prolific. Perhaps you can divide the reading world into those who are Agatha Christie fans, and those who are not. I, unfortunately, fall into the Not-a-Fan crowd. I didn't like the dated characters or the contrived way in which the crime occurred and was solved. However, for those who haven't read this one, which belongs to the Miss Marple series (of which my only knowledge is the Angela Lansbury reruns my mother watches), here is a brief description:

One Friday morning an announcement appears in the local newspaper: "A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation." Based on this notice, the owner of Little Paddocks prepares refreshments for a gathering that evening, and various residents of the town who read the announcement drop 'round Little Paddocks for drinks. All are mystified by the announcement. Promptly at 6:30, the lights go out, and all are in darkness, until the door is opened and a dark figure holding a flashlight stands in the doorway. Shots ring out. When the lights go back on, a stranger lies in the doorway, dead, and the hostess has been wounded. Police begin an investigation, and Miss Marple arrives in town to gently guide them on their way.

I think Agatha Christie fans would like this, and technically there's nothing wrong with it. As I said, however, this type of book isn't my thing.

2 1/2 stars

Feb 2, 9:28pm Top

>34 arubabookwoman: Yup, Lost City of Z was what got me interested in his stuff. One of my fave narrative nonfiction.

Feb 2, 9:31pm Top

9. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah (2016) 288 pp

"By 2008, a leading medical journal acknowledged what had become obvious to many: the demise of infectious diseases in developed societies had been 'greatly exaggerated.' Infectious pathogens had returned, and not only in the neglected, impoverished corners of the world but also in the most advanced cities and their prosperous suburbs. In 2008, disease experts marked the spot where each new pathogen emerged on a world map, using red points. Crimson splashed across a band from 30 to 60 degrees north of the equator to 30 to 40 degrees south. The entire heart of the global economy was swathed in red: northeastern United States, western Europe, Japan, and southeastern Australia. Economic development provided no panacea against contagion...."

This book is a history of past epidemics/pandemics, together with thoughts and predictions about possible future epidemics/pandemics of diseases old and new. Each chapter of the book relates to a particular stage/requirement for the development of a pandemic, as follows:

1. "The Jump"--how, where and when pathogens, old and new, move from a host to humans.

2. "Locomotion"--how pathogens spread among humans. There is an interesting example of a new pathogen, NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamose) which has spread because of the growth in "medical tourism."

3. "Filth"--the role poor sanitation has played in the spread of pathogens. We think we're safe in modern times, but then she points out things I've never thought of--diseases spread by cat and dog feces, not to mention people who live downwind of factory-farms raising pigs. Also, in present-day Haiti, only 19% of its population has access to toilets or latrines.

4. "Crowds"--Urban crowding facilitates the spread. In addition, as civilization moves into previously undeveloped areas, new pathogens are exposed.

5. "Corruption"--We can't always rely on our public officials to do the right thing. An interesting historic example was how Aaron Burr received a lucrative contract to bring clean water to New York City. However, he pocketed most of the money and tapped into a contaminated water source.
In addition, officials are frequently reluctant to impose quarantines or to issue health alerts, usually for economic reasons. Modern examples of this abound, from the Chinese authorities at first hiding and then downplaying the initial outbreak of SARS, to Saudi Arabia seeking to stifle the reporting of MERS, to India downplaying the significance of NDM-1.
Drug companies are complicit in pushing for the overuse of antibiotics, resulting in the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. In addition, many of our health policies are strongly influenced or even controlled by corporations and other entities that have conflicts of interest. For example, insecticide companies help WHO set malaria policy, even though the need for their product would be eliminated by the eradication of malaria. Today, 75% of WHO's budget comes from voluntary contributions, and many of the donors earmark what the contributions can be used for. In a recent year 91% of WHO's voluntary contributions were earmarked for diseases that account for only 8% of global mortality.

6. "Blame"--examples abound. For example, Haitians blamed UN aid workers for the cholera outbreak after the earthquake. South Africa in the 1980's disputed stories by Western journalists about the AIDS crisis in Africa. Many people in developing countries are suspicious of vaccination programs, sometimes suspecting that they are actually being used for sterilization purposes. (Not to mention people in developed countries avoiding vaccinations as causing autism).

7."The Cure"--scientific research to develop cures and programs for water purification.

8. "Revenge of the Sea"--The world has been brought infinitely closer together as the result of fossil fuels, which facilitates the spread of pathogens. This chapter also tracks the spread of new types of cholera, the hosts for which are moved by ocean currents which are changing as our climate changes.

9. "The Logic of Pandemics"--a discussion of how our genetic makeup helps/hinders the spread of pathogens to ensure that there will always be some humans to outwit any plague.

10. "Tracking the Next Pandemic"--our current surveillance systems are inadequate. This may also tie into "Corruption."

This was an eye-opening and informative book. Recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Feb 2, 9:37pm Top

You got me with Pandemic, Deborah.

Twenty books! Impressive.

Feb 2, 9:38pm Top

10. A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto (1971) 224 pp

This is an intriguing Japanese psychological thriller. Perhaps, thriller is not quite the right word, but it's the story of the psychological dissolution of a man after the death of his wife.

Tsuneo Asai is an upper mid-level civil servant away on a business trip when he receives word that his wife Eiko has died suddenly. Eiko suffered from a heart condition, so her death is not entirely unexpected. However, after Tsuneo returns home and learns more about the circumstances of her death, he becomes suspicious. At the time Eiko suffered her purported heart attack, she was in a strange part of the city where to Tsuneo's knowledge she had never been and had no reason to visit. He wonders why his wife was in that area, why, with her heart condition she was walking uphill, and what sort of secret life she may have been leading.

This is a book with complex characters who think and act within the confines of Japanese cultural expectations. Tsuneo's pursuit of the truth about Eiko's death becomes an all-consuming obsession, and we follow him along the dark paths he travels after he discovers his wife's secrets.


3 1/2 stars

Feb 2, 9:42pm Top

11. Echoes From the Dead by Johan Theorin (2008) 402 pp

Julia's young son Jens went missing while staying with his grandparents on the island of Oland. Twenty years later, Julia still has not recovered from her grief, when her father Gerloff calls from Oland to say there is news. Gerloff has received a sandal in the mail, which appears to be the sandal Jens was wearing the day he disappeared. Julia returns to Oland, and she and Gerloff (and some of his elderly friends) begin to investigate.

The present day story of their investigation alternates with a story from the past, beginning in 1936, of Nils Kant, a thug who had committed crimes, including murder, on the island in the past, and whose crimes remain legend on the island. However, Nils is dead and buried in the island graveyard. But was it really his body in the coffin?

This is a book in which the setting plays an important part, and the atmosphere of the island is mysterious, foggy, austere, and evocative. Large parts of the plot take place on the "alvar" which is a raised rocky plain that takes up about a quarter of the island. The role of the island as a prominent fishing and sea port in the past, and its present economic reliance on tourism were well-portrayed.

I also loved the characterizations, and enjoyed the use of old (and sometimes infirm) characters as prominent investigators--who better to know the past? And there is a real twist at the end that was totally unexpected, but totally logical.

This book won the prize for Sweden's Best First Crime Novel.


3 1/2 stars

Feb 2, 9:52pm Top

Another 1950 read, this time a reread.

12. The Family Moskat by I.B. Singer (1950) 608 pp

I sank with abandon into this big old-fashioned family saga. It's the story of a large Jewish family in Warsaw from the turn of the 20th century until the invasion of Poland by Hitler in 1939. There are dozens of vividly drawn characters (luckily there is a family tree at the beginning of the book). While it is an essentially a story of day-to-day life, there are lots of things happening--love, abandonment, adultery, embezzlement, religion and the loss thereof, anti-Semitism, Zionism, emigration to America, the Russian revolution, World War I, and the looming threat of Hitler as a way of life begins to vanish.

I read a number of books by I.B. Singer years ago. (My copy of this book is a mass market paperback from the 1980's, so I'm guessing that's when most of my reading of Singer took place). It was so easy every night to pick this book up and dive right back into the lives of the Moskat family members. I haven't had a big old-fashioned read in ages, and I was ready for this. Read this! It's great entertainment, and much more.

Highly recommended.

4 1/2 stars

I hadn't remembered from my previous read of this book that it went all the way up to WW II. So when the book ended just as Hitler has invaded Poland, it made me all the more eager to get to my next 1950 read, The Wall by John Hersey, a fictionalized account of life in the Warsaw Ghetto during WW II. The Wall is another reread for me, and I'm enjoying it immensely so far

Feb 3, 1:00am Top

>34 arubabookwoman: You know, Deborah, I haven't read either The Divide or Strangers... I keep eyeballing the latter, but have never picked it up. The Taibi, somehow, has heretofore escaped my attention. I'll have to consider both.

Feb 3, 10:17pm Top

>26 arubabookwoman: I think that was a good call, Deborah. I read Hillbilly Elegy at the end of last year and there was little elgiac about the thing. His sole idea that hard work can take anyone out of the circumstances of birth and upbringing was at best condescending.

>42 arubabookwoman: I hope to read that one in 2018.

Have a lovely weekend.

Feb 8, 3:29pm Top

>41 arubabookwoman: and >42 arubabookwoman: both sound good. Thanks.

Mar 19, 6:05pm Top

>43 majleavy: Hello Michael. I haven't gotten to those two yet either, but I hope to read them this year.

>44 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul. Thanks for the input. I have pretty much decided to let that one go. I hope you do read The Family Moskat. Singer is one of my favorite authors--have you read anything else by him?

>45 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--Thanks for visiting. Let me know what you think if you read either of those.

Now for some catchup reviews--I'm on # 37 read but only #13 read.

Mar 19, 6:06pm Top

Here is another review of a Trump-related book. I read this in January, right around the time that Lindsay Graham and another republican wrote a letter urging that Michael Steele, author of the "Steele Dossier" be criminally prosecuted. That seems so long ago. Nevertheless, this book was very timely for me, since it clearly establishes the bona fides of Steele, and contains a lot of facts corroborating the allegations of the Steele Dossier. There will be a lot of facts included in this review, so if you have Trump-overload, feel free to skim or skip.

14. Collusion by Luke Harding (2017) pp

Subtitle: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win

First, the author, Luke Harding, is a highly respected reporter for The Guardian, and he is an expert on matters involving Russia. He is also the author of a book on the radiation poisoning of Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 in London. (Coincidently, Michael Steele as an officer of M16, the British spy agency, was the British official in charge of investigating that murder in which Putin was clearly implicated.)

During the election, Trump's constant promotion of the hacked emails and his continuous praise of Putin raised the issue for Harding of whether Trump was being blackmailed. Trump's failure to disclose his financial information, particularly his tax returns, also raised Harding's suspicions--was Trump truly a billionaire, or was he broke and overleveraged, owing millions to overseas banks? Harding decided to investigate.

In December 2016, before the Steele Dossier became publicly known, Harding interviewed Michael Steele. He knew Steele was a Russia expert, but did not know that Steele had already investigated Trump. Harding had two leads. He believed Russia had covertly provided financing to Trump's campaign, but he had no proof. Harding also knew that high-ranking Russians had laundered $20 billion in a scheme to finance political matters abroad. Most of the recipients of this money was unknown. Steele recommended that Harding pursue two avenues of investigation. He advised Harding to "follow the money," i.e. look at the contracts for the hotel and land deals that Trump did, and check their actual values against the proceeds received through loans. Steele also indicated that sex was an interesting line of inquiry.


The book goes on to describe Steele's career and qualifications, and discusses how Steele was retained to do research on Trump. Early on, Steele discovered that Russian intelligence had been cultivating Trump for at least five years. As he continued his research, Steele concluded that Russia had compromised Trump sufficiently through his activities in Moscow to be able to blackmail him. (He also discovered that Russia also had compromising material on Hillary.) The dossier documented many meetings between Trump associates and Russian spies in Europe, and concluded that Trump had colluded with Russia regarding the hacking operations.

Notably parts of the dossier were corroborated by the intelligence agencies of several countries other than the U.S. The U.K.'s intelligence agency found a suspicious pattern of activity between Russians and Trump associates in 2015 and 2016. The intelligence agencies of Germany, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, Poland, and possibly the Netherlands and France also supplied U.S. agencies with similar suspicious patterns of activity. U.S. intelligence agencies were cautious and slow to act on this.

Steele personally (as a former intelligence officer) became extremely concerned about the implications of what he was finding, and in September, 2016 he contacted the FBI and shared his findings. Steele says the FBI reaction was one of "shock and horror," but from Steele's viewpoint, it appeared that the FBI was failing to act. Thus, in late September Steele met with a small group of U.S. journalists, hoping this would spur action. He met with journalists again in October. Then, Comey announced that the FBI was reopening its investigation of Hillary Clinton, and Steele's relationship with the FBI broke down. On October 31, journalist David Korn published and article about the existence of the dossier, but did not discuss the details of its findings.

Some Democratic senators knew about the existence of the dossier. Harry Reid had written a letter to Comey in which he stated that the FBI was sitting on "explosive information" about ties between Trump and Russia. After Trump won the election, there was a meeting in Halifax of some international experts. At the meeting, the former U.K. ambassador to Russia Sir Andrew Wood, who was shown the dossier and said he "took it seriously," briefed John McCain about the dossier. McCain sent a senior advisor to London to meet with Steele on November 28, 2016. This advisor again briefed McCain, and McCain obtained a copy of the dossier. On December 8, 2016, McCain met with Comey and gave him a copy of the dossier. (Comey did not let on the McCain that the FBI already had an investigation underway.) This led to both Obama and Trump being briefed about the dossier.


Back in 2013, two Russian spies in the U.S. (one now jailed, the other deported) discussed recruiting Carter Page as an asset (witting or unwitting). Over the years, Page made many trips and had many contacts with Russia. Then, in March 2016 out of the blue Trump named Carter Page as one of his 5 foreign policy advisers.

In July 2016, Page took a trip to Moscow which was preapproved by the Trump campaign. He gave a speech, at which he was introduced as a "celebrated American economist," in which he discussed America's attempts to spread democracy and how disgraceful they were. The dossier states that during this trip, Page met with Igor Sechin, a former spy who is very close to Putin and who from 2004 has been the executive chairman of Rosneft, the Russian oil company. Sechin raised the outlines of a deal whereby if a Trump administration dropped the sanctions there could be an "associated move" in "bilateral energy cooperation." (My question--does this explain the appointment of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state out of the blue?) Sechin also offered the brokerage of up to a 19% interest in Rosneft in return, which would have a value in the 100's of millions of dollars. Page also had a second meeting with a Putin administration official who told him that Russia had compromising material on Hillary, AND ALSO that they had compromising material on Trump, and that Trump should bear that in mind in his dealings with Russia.

In the summer of 2016, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page, which warrant has been since renewed. However, as Page's Russian ties came to the surface, the Trump campaign distanced itself from Page.

In December 2016, after Trump had won, Rosneft announced that it was selling off a 19.5% interest. This raised $10.2 billion Euros. The source of the funding for almost 1/4 of this is unknown. At least one of the partners is a Cayman Island entity with an unknown beneficiary, probably a chain of offshore entities.

Continued in next message

Mar 19, 6:12pm Top

Collusion continued:


By early January 2017 lots of journalists were aware of the dossier, but since it was unverified, nothing was published. Obama and Trump were briefed in depth, and House and Senate leaders received a pared down briefing. Finally, in mid-January, Buzzfeed went ahead and published the dossier. Just a few hours later, at 1:19 a.m., Trump tweeted FAKE NEWS--A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCHHUNT! A reanimated press began investigating, and behind the scenes, the FBI was corroborating many of the points discussed in the dossier. Of the reaction to his dossier, Steele said he probably wasn't in any physical danger, but he feared for the safety of his sources. (As an aside, it was recently pointed out that in the testimony of Glenn Simpson, whose firm commissioned the dossier, he stated that at least one person has been killed as a result of the release of the dossier,)


The FSB (Russian spy agency) frequently used hackers. The dossier reported on this, and stated that the source for this information was an FSB cyber operative.

On December 16, 2016 at an FSB meeting attended by Colonel Sergei Mikhailov, deputy head of the spy section relating to electronics, some people came in, put a bag over Mikhailov's head, and led him away. Mikhailov's deputy and two others were also arrested.

On December 26, 2016, Oleg Erovinkin was found dead in his car. He was close to Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, and was also employed by Rosneft. (Steele says Erovinkin was not the source of his information about the Rosneft deal.)

Over the weeks after the election and before the publication of the dossier, several other Russian officials "dropped dead." Sergei Krivov, a consular official in NYC, died under mysterious circumstances on election day. Petr Polshikov of the ministry for Latin America was shot dead in his Moscow apartment in December 2016. Andrey Malanin, the Russian consul in Athens, was found dead in January 2017. Vitaly Churkin, a Russian representative to the UN, who has known Trump since 1986 also mysteriously died.

In December 2016, Obama was conclusively advised that the Russians were behind the hacking and that Putin had personally directed it. He expelled 35 Russian "diplomats" known to be spies, and extended the Russian sanctions. Retaliation was expected from Putin, but none came. Trump praised Putin as "smart" for not taking action.


The dossier states that there was a deliberate effort by Russian operatives to cultivate Flynn. He was fired by Obama in 2014, and first met Trump in August 2015. In December 2015, Flynn traveled to Russia, and sat next to Putin at a dinner. By spring 2016, Flynn was a highly vocal Trump supporter and foreign policy adviser. Despite Obama's advice not to hire Flynn, Trump appointed him National Security Advisor. For 18 days after the Trump White House was advised by the Department of Justice that Flynn was compromised, Flynn remained in his position. He was present during a one hour phone call Trump had with Putin on January 28,2017. Over the months after his firing of Flynn, Trump continued to defend him as a "good guy."


Before signing on with Trump in 2016, Manafort had worked in the Ukraine for a decade, primarily with the Russian-backed president (now former president) and for a Russian oligarch. He is also the former partner of Roger Stone. His role in the campaign ended in August 2016 when a ledger from Ukraine showed that he had received more than $12 million. He said he quit because it was a distraction.

The Steele dossier says Manafort was at the center of a conspiracy between the Trump team and Russia. It also states that the Trump team was relatively relaxed for a while about Russia allegations because it diverted attention away from Trump's dealings in China, which involved bribes and kickbacks.

Manafort had also worked for Konstantin Kilimnik, who flew to the US 2 weeks before Manafort became Trump's campaign manager and again in August. There are many emails between Manafort and Kilimnik, one of which discusses notifying Russian oligarch Derispaska of inside information about the campaign, including "private briefings."


On March 17, 2017, Comey for the first time publicly confirmed that there was an FBI investigation of possible Russian collusion. The book covers the whole saga of Trump's various attempts to influence Comey, his ultimate firing of Comey, and the various reasons given for the firing.


The dossier states that Russia may have opened a file on Trump as early as 1977, when he married Ivanka, who is from a former Communist country. Trump's first trip to Moscow was in 1987, when he was investigating opening a luxury hotel there. The trip was arranged through the Soviet ambassador in NY. It was also in 1987 that Trump for the first time began to talk about running for president. He became friends with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his son Emin during the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. It was Emin who arranged to notorious Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. et. al. and several Russians in June 2016. It was just a few days after the Moscow Miss Universe Pageant that Putin awarded the older Agalarov one of Russia's highest civilian honors.


In the summer of 2017, at the G20 meeting, Trump met with Putin. At their first meeting, which lasted over two hours, the only people present for the US were Trump and Tillerson. National Security Adviser McMaster was not present, nor were any State Department Russia experts. They agreed to work together to stop cyber-crime. Later, at a formal dinner, Trump left his seat and went over to talk to Putin for over an hour, with only Putin's interpreter privy to the conversation. This discussion was not announced by the White House, but it leaked out, after which Trump said they just talked about "things" which included "adoptions" (code for sanctions).


The book details many of the facts about Russians purchasing Trump properties for cash, sometimes for apparently inflated prices. It also goes into the connection between Cyprus banks and Russian money-laundering, noting the fact that the man appointed Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross is a former shareholder/executive of a Cyprus bank. Trump's curious relationship with Felix Sater, who has ties to the Russian mafia is described. In November 2015, Sater wrote to Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected." Note that during the election, despite Trump's repeated statements that he had no business connections with Russia, Cohen was working on trying to get approval for a Trump Tower Moscow. After the election, Cohen and Sater worked on a "peace plan" for the Ukraine which involved lifting the Russsian sanctions. The plan was delivered to Flynn.

In addition, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was investigating cases of NY real estate bought with Magnitsky money. After he was fired, the case was settled for a small fine experts have described as "outrageous."

Then there is the strange case of Trump's Deutsche Bank loans. (Deutsche Bank has admitted and paid substantial fines for Russian money laundering.) In 2005 after his near-bankruptcy, Trump was desperate for financing. He was able to borrow a substantial sum from Deutsche Bank to build the Trump Tower Chicago when no other bank would lend him money. Trump personally guaranteed these loans. During the financial crisis of 2008, Trump defaulted on $330 million of Deutsche Bank loans. The bank sued, and Trump countersued the bank--for $3 billion in damages. He claimed that the financial crisis was a force majeure so he shouldn't have to repay the loan. In addition, since Deutsche Bank was a major financial institution, and was one of the institutions primarily responsible for the economic crisis which had caused him great damages for which he wanted compensation.

This is an important book, and while it was published almost a year ago, it is apparent that the allegations in the Steele dossier continue to be more and more firmly corroborated. The Russian connections are clearly there, although there is not yet (at least in public knowledge) a smoking gun directly connecting Trump. Highly recommended.

4 stars

(Sorry this was so long. I wanted to remember the the facts I thought were important in this library book)

Mar 19, 6:17pm Top

15. Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung by Min Kym (2017) 240 pp

Min Kym was a child violin prodigy. She grew up, became a successful soloist, and performed all over the world. As a young woman, she was able to purchase a Stradivarius--not one from his "golden" period, but a Stradivarius nonetheless. From the first touch, this Stradivarius spoke to her, and it became a part of her being and never left her side. Then, one evening while she was waiting for a train, it was stolen. The police soon discover the culprits--it was a crime of opportunity and the thieves at first had no idea what they had taken. (Shortly after stealing the violin, they tried to sell it for 100 pounds--it was worth 750,000 pounds.)

Despite learning the identity of the thieves, the police were unable to recover the violin. Without the violin, Min's life fell apart. She could no longer perform, and in fact couldn't even bring herself to play another violin.

This book had some interesting insights into what it was like to be a child prodigy, one who forgoes a "normal" childhood for the sake of her art. It was also an interesting look into the life of a traditional Korean family residing in London so that Min could receive the appropriate musical training. Min was able to convey her love of music, how she experienced music emotionally, and how she practiced and learned her art. She also adequately conveyed her emotional breakdown, although I found that part less interesting.

Recommended, if this description appeals.

3 stars

Mar 19, 6:21pm Top

The first in a new to me detective series:

16. The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris (2012) 483 pp

You've never met a crooked cop until you've met Detective Nick Belsey. He bends the rules into pretzels and beyond.

When we meet Belsey he is awakening in a park meadow, hungover, with a police cruiser crashed nearby. Nevertheless he goes into work, where his job is already in jeopardy anyway, not to mention that he has been evicted from his apartment for nonpayment of rent. Nick takes the first call of the day. Alex Devereux, a wealthy businessman, is missing, and later determined to be an apparent suicide. His mansion seems to be the perfect solution for Belsey's temporary homelessness. He moves into Devereux's mansion, begins driving his Porsche, and even wearing his clothes. He begins the process for trying to get access to Devereux's Swiss bank accounts.

However, taking on the identity of Devereux (even as he maintains his day job as a detective) turns out to be not as simple as Belsey thought it would be. Devereux was apparently involved in some shady deals, and he seems to have enemies everywhere who don't realize he may already be dead. Soon people with connections to Devereux start turning up dead.

This is a police procedural with a twist. The plot was fairly complicated, but it all tied together in the end. I liked it well enough to get the second book in the series.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 19, 6:25pm Top

17. The Boy Who Loved Too Much by Jennifer Latson (2017) 304 pp

Subtitle: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness

Can a person be too indiscriminately friendly? According to this book, a snapshot in time of one mother and her son, yes. Gayle's son Eli, 12 when the book begins, 14 when it ends, has a condition known as Williams Syndrome, in which 26-28 genes are missing. Eli thinks everyone in the world is his best friend. His mother knows otherwise, and as a result rarely lets Eli out of her sight.

This story of Eli and Gayle is entwined with the science, history and genetics of Williams Syndrome. In addition to reducing social inhibitions and making its sufferers biologically incapable of distrusting other people, Williams Syndrome causes a plethora of other health issues, including gastrointestinal and serious cardiac problems. Because scientists are aware of the specific and relatively small number of genes involved in the causation of Williams Syndrome, they have been able to conduct important genetic research.

Recommended, if the subject interests you.

3 stars

Mar 19, 6:29pm Top

18. Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon (1996) 336 pp

Ofelia, an elderly woman, does not wish to leave her home of 40 years when Sims Bancorp decides to relocate the colony. She hides, and is left behind with live stock, a garden, and a power source, the sole human occupant of an entire planet. The first part of this book is an exquisite description of "living the simple life," albeit hundreds of years in the future on a distant planet. Despite the aches and pains of aging, Ofelia revels in this existence, and begins expressing her creativity and individuality in ways which were not possible under the constraints of colonial life.

Things change, however, when Ofelia learns that she is not alone on the planet: unbeknownst to the Sims Bancorp settlers, there has all along been intelligent indigenous life on the planet. The book then becomes a novel of first contact, as Ofelia makes contact with the indigenous creatures, and their two alien cultures begin exploring one another. Things are going well until the "experts" move in and try to take over.

I fully enjoyed this book with an elderly female protagonist whose wisdom and wits are in conflict with highly educated but basically foolish experts. I also enjoyed Moon's inventive portrayal of the culture and ethos of the native creatures. The novel is very character-driven--there are no super-powers, star wars, or robotics, just two species trying to understand each other.

Recommended, even if you don't think you're a sci-fi fan.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 19, 6:32pm Top

I read and enjoyed Roz Chast's graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? My daughter Mia was moving to NYC, so I decided to buy this for her, and of course had to read it first. Very brief comments below:

19. Going Into Town by Roz Chast

Subtitle: A Love Letter to New York

This is a combination graphic memoir/travelogue, with more emphasis on the travelogue. A purported guide for a newcomer to the city, it probably doesn't have much in it that anyone with a modicum of familiarity with the city doesn't already know. Nevertheless, the charming drawings and pov of Roz Chast made this a worthy read.

3 star

Mar 19, 6:37pm Top

The following is a book I read because it was first published in 1950. It is also on the 1001 List.

20. L'Abbe C by Georges Bataille

This is the story of twin brothers, Robert, a pius priest, and Charles, a depraved libertine, who despite their character differences remain close. Both are attracted to a "loose" woman, Eponine, with whom Charles spends his time drinking and having sex. For her part, Eponine is attracted to the virtuous Robert, and she and Charles spend time plotting ways to seduce Robert. When Eponine and a fellow harlot show up in the front pew for mass one day, Robert breaks down mentally and emotionally. Simultaneously, Charles begins to deteriorate physically.

I never connected with this book. I found it very contrived, although well-written. It didn't educated me, and I did not derive any enjoyment from it. So, another one checked off the 1001 List, which says the novel fuses "Bataille's familiar fascination with the relationship between eroticism, death and sensuality, {and}...explores the thin line between sexual desire and morbidity." This analysis of the novel concludes, "Readers may find the treatment of this issue somewhat excessive and the contrived intention to shock somewhat heavy-handed, but this is still an engaging and unusual piece of writing."

2 stars

Mar 19, 7:01pm Top

That concludes January. On to February:

21. Into the Gray Zone by Adrian Owen (2017) 320 pp

Subtitle: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death

"...{T}he heart of grey zone science is about finding people who have been lost to us and reconnecting them with the people they love and who love them. Each contact feels like a miracle."

Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist who began to study the question of whether people in a persistent vegetative state (long-term comas) have any conscious awareness. He became interested in the subject, partly because of reports that some people who had awoken from such comas indicated that the did have some awareness of what was going on around them while ostensibly in a coma. In addition, Owen's former long-term girl friend suffered head trauma and was in such a "vegetative state."

At the time Owen began his research, PET scanning was in its infancy. I was fascinated with Owen's discussions on how he devised the various experiments he performed. His first experiment was to determine whether the brain activity of these patients changed when they were exposed to something familiar, for example photos of their families, or their voices. After expansive experiments, Owen was able to determine that in fact a significant percentage of those in persistent vegetative state had some degree of awareness and brain activity.

Owen then pondered whether this brain activity was merely involuntary, and not an actual conscious act of thinking. In his next set of experiments, Owen decided to whether he could in some way communicate with these patients, and show that their brain activity was the result of voluntary thought. By this time, Owen was working with MRIs, and the science of mapping the functions of the various parts of the brain was well under way. The basis of the experiment Owen devised was to ask the comatose patients a question, the answer to which would activate a specific known area of the brain. One of the questions to be asked was ask the subject to imagine entering their home and moving from room to room throughout the home. When asked of non-comatose patients this question elicited activity in the part of the brain related to spatial thinking. The second question was to ask the subject to imagine him/herself playing tennis. This was known to activate the part of the brain which initiates and controls voluntary movement.

Once again, Owen discovered that a significant percentage of patients thought to be in a persistent vegetative state consciously responded to these requests, activating the corresponding areas in their brains. As the experiment progressed, Owen began using the technique to have the patients answer specific questions, i.e. if the answer to the question is yes, think about playing tennis, if the answer is no, think about walking through your house. In this way, Owen was able to ask patients questions such as whether they were in pain, or whether they were aware of significant family events (i.e. the birth of a niece).

This was a fascinating book. It was very readable, and there is little to no mysterious medical jargon. There is an interesting BBC program on Owen's work that you can google. (I think it's called The Gray Zone). Highly recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 19, 7:08pm Top

22. A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (2017) 246 pp

This is the multi-generational story of a black family in New Orleans from before World War II until after Hurricane Katrina. The World War II sections focus on Evelyn, the daughter of a well-respected doctor and a member of New Orleans's black aristocracy. She falls in love with Reynard, a man below her social status.

In the sections set during the 1980's, the focus is on Jackie, the daughter of Evelyn and Reynard. Her husband is struggling with crack addiction, and she is attempting to raise her son essentially on her own. Her sister Sybil is a successful attorney.

The parts set after Katrina focus on T.C., Jackie's son, now a young man. He has just been released from prison, determined to do well for the sake of his unborn child, although a friend convinces him to make one last killing from his talent at growing marijuana before going straight.

Each older generation appears in and plays an important part in the sections focusing on the younger generations. In Jackie's sections, we see Evelyn and Reynard from an entirely different pov than they appear in the World War II sections, and in T.C.'s sections we see Evelyn and Reynard, and Jackie as T.C. sees them. I really liked getting to know the various characters from multiple points of view. And while there is lots of plot going on, this is basically a novel of characterization. All sorts of relationships are explored, husband/wife, mother/daughter, sister/sister, and so on. In addition, although it mostly stays in the background and does not interfere with the novelistic aspects of this book, there is lots about the big issues of race relations, particularly the racial disparities over a long period of time, and the problem of the criminalization of drugs and the resulting over-imprisonment of black youth.

Highly recommended.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 19, 7:20pm Top

This is book 6 of 7 of the Hal Challis detective series. I am debating spending $14.99 on vol. 7, not because I don't enjoy the series, but because I hate spending so much on a Kindle book. Unfortunately my library doesn't have it.

23. Whispering Death by Garry Disher (2012) 343 pp

In my reviews of previous installments, I've stated what I like so much about this series, and those same reasons continue to apply to this volume. The team is investigating a serial rapist who lures his victims wearing a police uniform, and there are several other crimes being investigated, ranging from vandalism to bank robbery. A significant portion of the book is told from the pov of an impressive female cat burglar, and I liked this aspect as we see how successful crimes are carefully planned. This may all sound random and confusing, but Disher puts it all together seamlessly in this excellent police procedural.

3 1/2 stars

Mar 19, 7:31pm Top

24. The Widow by Fiona Barton (2016) 340 pp

This psychological thriller featuring an unreliable narrator (for extensive parts of the book) did not work for me. It's one of many that has been compared to Gone Girl since the success of that book, and in my opinion, (I enjoyed Gone Girl, but thought it a bit overhyped), The Widow does not come close, and is an utter failure.

As it opens, Jean's husband has just been killed in a tragic bus accident. The press is clamoring outside her door--they want to know what Jean knows about the unresolved crime Jean's husband had been suspected of a few years before, the abduction and possible murder of a toddler. Jean presents herself as a clueless wife, dominated by her husband. Alternating sections of the novel are narrated from the point of view of a somewhat unscrupulous journalist trying to get Jean's story from her, the police inspector who had been assigned the case of the missing toddler, and the not-entirely-sympathetic mother of that toddler. Overall, it's very predictable, not suspenseful, and using Jean to narrate portions of the book is awkward and unbelievable. I recommend avoiding this one.

1 1/2 stars

Edited: Mar 19, 7:41pm Top

A time travel science fiction book involving plane crashes:

25. Millennium by John Varley (1983) 270 pp

The book opens as the investigation into the tragic collision of two jumbo jets near Oakland is commencing. Sections relating the details of the investigation are interspersed with sections set in a time hundreds of years in the future in which people travel back in time to incidents in which everyone is killed (i.e. plane crashes), stun the passengers, send them to the future, and replace them with already dead bodies from the future, just before the crash. But why?

As the present day investigation proceeds various anomalies are discovered and can't be explained. The future is also changing, as the result of errors the team sending people from the past into the future may have made.

This is the first book by Varley that I've read, and it was a good one. It was very logical and real--there were no, "I can't suspend my disbelief for this," moment, and I was kept turning the pages. Recommended.

3 stars

Mar 19, 7:52pm Top

Can you stand another book (not the last) about Trump?

26. Trumpocracy by David Frum (2017)

David Frum is a conservative writer for The Atlantic Monthly. Neverthless, he is staunchly anti-Trump, and in his introduction to this book states that it "is the story of those who enable, empower, support, and collaborate with Donald Trump." This, to me, is an important issue--we have in Trump one dangerous and crazy person, but why are so many supporting him?

Frum calls out the conventional republicans who, wanting someone to sign the bills enacting their pet conservative laws, go along, stating that Trump really can't be an autocrat, and he can't really destroy democracy, because he is too incompetent and chaotic. Frum points out that what we as a country have to fear is not the overthrow of our constitution, and not the state power to intimidate its citizens, but the paralysis of government and erosions of its norms, and the incitement of private violence by radicalized supporters. Frum states that he voted for Hillary,"not to advance my wishlist on taxes, entitlements, regulations, and judicial appointments," but to defend a "commitment to norms and rules." Although he disagreed with Hillary on many issues, he expected that Hillary would comply with these norms and rules, unlike Trump "who would subvert those standards."

The book only focuses briefly on campaign irregularities (Chapter 2 "Enablers"). The majority of the book deals with Trump's methods of governing since his election, and Frum again states that it is not Trump's "own cunning that enabled him to defy long-established standards of decent behavior. It was the complicity of his allies among the conservative and Republican political, media and financial elite."

So what are Trump's methods of governing, what constitutes a "Trumpocracy"?
First, as in his businesses, Trump grabs the benefits for himself and a few associates while offloading the costs onto those foolish enough to trust him. Examples of his kleptocracy abound, and no president in history has used as much public money to sustain his and his family's personal lifestyle. He continues to use his position to make money for his businesses, which unlike previous presidents he did not divest himself of. One by one he is disabling the federal government's inhibitions against personal corruption.

His corruption extends to his appointment of his cabinet and aides. He tends to appoint servile people. For example Dan Scavino, in charge of on-line communications, is his former golf caddy. He has insisted on reviewing the resumes of every candidate for every sub-cabinet secretary and sub-sub-cabinet job. Many of these jobs are as yet unfilled, partly due to his short attention span, poor work ethic, and ferocious demand for abject personal loyalty. Frum believes this to be part of a conscious effort to paralyze the state either by failing to staff it or by staffing it with incompetents. One could point to a number of cabinet secretaries who appear to be unqualified, incompetent, corrupt, or who espouse an "elimination of government" philosophy.

Frum sees Trump's "greatest" accomplishment thus far in his undermining of the public's trust in the press. He has managed to convince many of his supporters that the honest media is actually giving them "fake news," and has taken the giant leap into labeling the press an "enemy of the people."

Another aspect of a Trumpocracy, is his isolating the U.S. from its former close friends and allies, as well as his regular empowering of and deference to dictators. There are examples of these two aspects of Trump's foreign policy in the news nearly every week.

Its all pretty dismal, but Frum offers several items to be hopeful about. First, Trump has awakened a new era of citizen awareness and activity. He has revived in us (if not in his core supporters), a new appreciation of the preciousness of the truth. Thirdly, he has also revived in many a renewed disgust for those who join power to cruelty. (We see this not only in his support of dictators and torture, but in his downright meanness--just today the news is full of what appears to have been his retaliative firing of Andrew McCable hours before he was eligible for his pension, as well as his proposal to apply the death penalty to drug dealers. One person who knows Trump fairly well stated, "He is the meanest man I ever met.") Trump has also recalled to us an appreciation of the vital role of our national security agencies. Finally his election has brought to the forefront the issue of the integrity of our voting system.

There are generally few substantive issues on which I agree with Frum. For example, he states early in the book regarding Obama's establishing of the Dreamers, "In the long history of presidential overreach, there had never been a case like it." Really??--what about torture, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, illegal spying on U.S. citizens, etc.? Nevertheless, he is, in my view, spot on in calling out the politicians who have failed to defy Trump's actions, and his description of Trump's governing ethos is terrifying.

Highly recommended.

4 stars

Mar 19, 8:10pm Top

Hi Deborah. Your reviews are always so thorough and enticing. I definitely want to read the Frum book and have since it was released but now you’ve made it a must. Having said that, I’m sick to my stomach about the authoritarian in the WH and each day brings another outrageous attack on our democracy. I follow Frum on Twitter and he always has something reasonable to say.
I also want to look for A Kind of Freedom. Sounds very good.

Mar 20, 10:01am Top

You have posted a lot of reviwes, Deborah!
Your extensive review of the two Trump books makes me glad I am not living in the USA...

>54 arubabookwoman: Thanks for dodging the bullet. I am slowly reading throug the 1001 books, now I can stop looking for that one.

Mar 20, 3:42pm Top

Great reviews, Deborah. I love your comments on the Frum, so I don't have to read more about the Donald.

I added the Chast and the Moon to my WL. I join with you in loving A Kind of Freedom.

Mar 22, 1:43pm Top

Great batch of reviews! Millennium sounds intriguing

Mar 22, 1:45pm Top

Just checked the library for Milennium and found that there's a movie with Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd.

Mar 31, 11:11pm Top

Wishing you a lovely weekend, Deborah.

Apr 13, 8:08pm Top

>61 brenzi: Hi Bonnie--It gets worse every day, doesn't it?
I esp. liked A Kind of Freedom because it is set in New Orleans where I lived for 18 years.

>62 FAMeulstee: Yes Anita I think you are better off in the Netherlands than here right now. Although I think I might have some kind of Dutch dual citizenship because I was born in Aruba when it was a Dutch protectorate. :)

>63 BLBera: Hi Beth. As I recall you are not too much of a sci fi fan are you? Even if you are not I think Remnant Population is of enough general interest that you would like it.

>64 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--Millenium is one of those quick reads that goes down very well.

>65 SuziQoregon: I had heard there was a movie, and the reviews I read said it wasn't very good and the book was better. I guess in many cases that's a safe assumption.

>66 PaulCranswick: Hi to Paul in Malaysia. Hope all is well with you, and a happy weekend to you from this Friday the 13th.

So here are my stats for the first quarter:

45 books read:

Male authors 24
Female authors 21

Fiction 25
Nonfiction 20

Countries (other than US/British/Canada): Italy, Korea, Japan, Norway, France, Australia, Mexico


Fiction: The Family Moskat
Nonfiction: Collusion
Crime: Tie between Slow Horses and Whispering Death

Time for reviews:

Apr 13, 8:10pm Top

I just have a few brief comments about the next two books:

27. The Planets by Nirmala Nataraj is a collection of photographs taken by NASA of Earth, its moon, all the other planets and their moons, the sun, the asteroid belt, and other celestial bodies. There is some text with the scientific facts regarding the photo's subject, as well as some technical information about the photography.

28. Antiques Road Show by Paul Attenbury (Can't find a touchstone). This book is exactly like the show: Someone presents an object to an expert who evaluates it. In this case, these were objects originally presented on the show in Great Britain. There is usually a full-page color photo of each object, as well as a description of its origins, family history, how its value was arrived at, etc. One thing that the show doesn't have is that it also tells what happened to the objects after the show--did the owner sell it, and for how much for example.

Apr 13, 8:14pm Top

A reread of a 1950 book:

29. The Wall by John Hersey (1950) 640 pp

This is a fictional account of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. We see the mundane daily lives of the Jews living in the Ghetto, as well as the horrors the Nazis inflict. There are a large number of characters covering a broad spectrum of society.

Soon after taking Warsaw, the Nazis evicted all non-Jews from a designated area, and required all Jews not already living there to move there. A governing council, the Judenrat, was established, and the area was walled in, using the labor of the Ghetto's inhabitants. At its height over 400,000 Jews were contained within an area of slightly more than one square mile.

The novel takes us from the confiscation of Jewish businesses, to the mass deportations of 1942 (when 250,000+ Jews were sent to the camps), to the final uprising in April 1943, when the few Jews remaining in the Ghetto, massively outnumbered and outarmed, fought valiantly. Overall, the death toll of Ghetto residents was approximately 300,000 Jews executed by gas or bullet, with an additional 92,000 dying of starvation, disease, and in the uprising.

The book is presented as a rediscovered journal intended to record as many of the experiences and events of the Ghetto as possible, from beginning to end. Each entry begins with a date for the entry, a date for the occurrence, and the name of the person who related the event to Noah, who was keeping the journal, and sometimes other explanatory matter. I found this technique to be disruptive to the narrative flow. Otherwise, this is a very good book.

4 stars

That completes February. On to March

Apr 13, 8:20pm Top

30. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010) 381 pp

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who developed cervical cancer. While undergoing treatment at Johns Hopkins, doctors removed some of the cancer cells to try to grow them in the laboratory. These cells flourished and multiplied, and for the first time scientists were able to grow human cells in the lab. These were called Hela cells, and they have been called one of the most important developments in medical history.

Henrietta died in 1951, but today there are millions and millions of her cells alive and growing around the world. Her cells have been into space, and they were used to develop the polio vaccine and various chemotherapies.

This book tells the story of Henrietta's short life, and describes the process by which her cells were harvested, grown in the lab, commercialized and exploited. It also tells about her family discovering more than 20 years after her death that her cells were still alive and being used (and sold) around the world. Finally, the author tells of her own experiences, when she first learned about Hela cells, her attempts to locate the family, and her efforts to gain their trust.

The book raises questions of bioethics, of science's treatment of the poor, and of race. It considers questions like, Who owns our body parts? However, this is not strictly a science or philosophical book. Rather, it is more of a human interest story about Henrietta and her family. I did sometimes feel uncomfortable as the author pushed to become close to the family when they initially indicated that did not want to meet with her.

3 stars

Apr 13, 8:27pm Top

31. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (2016) 240pp

This book has been described as the French Gone Girl, and it won the Goncourt Prize. We know from the first page that two young children are dead, murdered by their nanny, who is unconscious with slashed wrists. The mother has just discovered them and is in shock.

Paul and Myriam hired Louise, the nanny, when Myriam decided to go back to work. At first, Louise seemed perfect, and went above and beyond the call of duty, cooking gourmet meals, cleaning, and baby sitting on late nights. However, there are some troubling signs, mostly brushed off by Paul and Myriam. There are alternating chapters from Louise's point of view, and we see some of the things that are going on while the parents are not there. Louise is not as perfect as she seems, and she certainly has a lot of her own problems.

This is not really a thriller, although its premise is probably every parent's nightmare. From personal experience (long ago) I know how difficult it is to leave your baby with someone who is basically a stranger. And since the fears this book evokes are so universal, I'm guessing that is why it has garnered so much praise. The fact that every parent can relate to a story about children being harmed by their caretaker does not, however, does not turn this into a good book.

I somehow was never able to buy Louise's final actions. They were illogical, did not seem to naturally evolve over time, and did not seem characteristic of what we know of her. She had issues, and Paul and Myriam sometimes took advantage of her and underpaid her, but I'm not sure how those led to her final actions. One of the reviews on Amazon said that Louise's "transition from diligent worker to murderer wasn't all that convincing...."

2 stars

Apr 13, 8:33pm Top

32. Once We Were Sisters by Sheila Kohler (2017) 256 pp

This is a memoir by a prolific writer I've never heard of. Born into a fabulously wealthy South African family, she and her sister Maxine were raised during the 1950's in the lap of luxury. Both married young, and Sheila and her American husband lived in Paris. Maxine married a South African cardiac surgeon who was a protégé of heart transplant pioneer Christian Barnard. Although they lived continents apart, the sisters got together frequently, with and without their children and/or spouses. There were hints that Maxine and her husband were not getting along. The family ultimately became aware that Maxine's husband was abusing her and their children. Just when it seemed that Maxine was going to leave her husband, she died in a terrible car accident in a car her husband was driving. He survived.

From the beginning Sheila suspected that the car crash was not an accident and that Maxine was deliberately murdered by her husband. She and her family also suffered feelings of guilt over what they saw as their failure to help Maxine extract herself from her abusive marriage.

Sheila became a novelist, and most of her novels relate in one way or another to the death of her sister, with themes about the relationship between sisters and survivor guilt. (She also writes historical fiction.) 35 years later, she has written this memoir to help her answer the questions that have eaten at her over the years, "How could we have failed to protect her from him? What was wrong with our family?"

I didn't find the memoir to be particularly compelling. It seems to have been promoted as some sort of true crime memoir, but any criminal aspects are really peripheral, and consist mostly of suspicions. I did enjoy the glimpse I got into the lifestyle of the rich. In addition I enjoyed the parts discussing how a writer takes things from their real live experiences and turns them into fiction. So overall, my experience of the book is "Meh."

2 1/2 star

Apr 14, 10:23am Top

I'll look for Remnant Population, Deborah. Nice reviews.

I discovered an old mass market paperback of The Wall on my shelves.

Apr 14, 1:22pm Top

Hi! Just getting caught up, and you have put Tales of Two Americas on my list.

Apr 17, 11:28am Top

>67 arubabookwoman: Good to hear - It's waiting at the library for me to pick up.

Apr 23, 9:55pm Top

>73 BLBera: Hi Beth--I think you will like both.

>74 banjo123:--Hi Rhonda--Hope you will like it if you read it.

>75 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--I hope it doesn't disappoint you. Since it's a library book I assume you will be getting to it soon. I'll check your thread to see if you have commented on it yet.

Need to try to catch up on a few reviews.

Apr 23, 9:57pm Top

33. The Fishing Fleet by Anne de Courcy (2015) 384 pp

Subtitle: Husband-hunting in the Raj

"Getting engaged in the Raj was sometimes a bit like speed-dating. Often minds were made up and a lifelong commitment to another human being promised after only a few meetings...."

Maintaining the British Empire was hard. The British men doing the work of the Raj were expected to remain unmarried until they were in their 30's. Since there was a shortage of eligible women in India, the government initiated a program in which it subsidized young women to induce them to travel to India to enjoy a social season in search of a husband. Even after the government stopped subsidizing the program, the young women ("the fishing fleet") continued to arrive each year in droves, all the way through to the independence of India and its partition. This book is a social history of the movement, through time, and it covers all facets of the phenomenon, from the voyage out, to the social whirl, to the engagements and marriages (and the few who returned to Britain unmarried) to the hard and lonely postings with their new husbands deep in the wilderness of the land still so strange and hostile to them.

The women had to put up with the horrible climate, many dangers (exotic tropical diseases, contaminated water, and poisonous snakes, for example), and had to deal with the stringent social protocols to which they were subject. de Courcy depicts their experiences through examining the lives of a few dozen of these women, ranging from the upper-echelons of society (the viceroy's daughter) to its lower-fringes (Anglo-Indian women). She relies on interviews, diaries, letters, and so forth in putting together their stories.

The social protocols were quite rigorous:

"The iron rule of precedence regulated social intercourse, from whom you called on to whom you sat next to at dinner. As the position of every official and military officer was detailed in a graded list known as the 'Warrant of Precedence,' published by the Government of India, it was possible not only to seat people according to seniority but for a new arrival to deduce everyone's place in the pecking order."

Many of these women were courageous and wiling to take risks, although I did not care for the several descriptions of tiger hunts, which seemed to me barbarous, but which seemed to be de riguer for a certain class of Brit in India. The women who married the men of the Raj also had to be prepared to send their children off to England to be educated at a very tender age, and to not see them for years at a time.

Although overall I enjoyed the book, I have some serious complaints about its execution. First, de Courcy organized the book by topic, rather than chronologically or by woman. So, for example, the first section covered the voyage out. The experiences of a number of women on the voyage out were discussed. Since the voyage out in the 19th century (pre-Suez canal) was quite different that voyages in the 1940's, this creates a bit of a mish-mash. (And this observation also applies for each of the other topics covered in the book.)

This method of organization resulted in frequent instances in which a particular woman might appear in one chapter, and then we hear nothing further of her for several further chapters, if she even reappears at all. Since there were so many women whose experiences were covered, I had difficulty keeping track of who was who, what time period they were from, who they married, their social position, and so on.

Another complaint I have about the book is that a great deal of it is repetitious and frivolous. There were long and detailed descriptions of the dresses the women wore to the balls on the ship out, what they wore to the social events they attended once they arrived in India, what they wore to be introduced to the Viceroy, etc. etc.
I got tired of hearing about all the laces, ribbons, silk flowers etc. adorning their frocks. In fact, I very nearly gave up on the book early on, but I am glad I carried on, since the book does cover many interesting and substantive issues. However, much of the repetition and frivolity could have been eliminated, and this would have been a better book.

I am giving this 3 stars because the subject was fascinating (I kept referring in my mind to Paul Scott's Raj Quartet). If I rated it on execution, it would have a lower rating by a fair amount.

3 stars

Apr 23, 10:04pm Top

A 1950 book. This was a reread, and is also on the 1001 list.

34. The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing (1950) 272 pp

Doris Lessing's first novel is set in Rhodesia during white colonial rule. The focus is on Mary Turner, wife of Dick Turner, a poor white farmer, as isolation, poverty, and lack of purpose eat away at her and lead to her mental deterioration, and, ultimately, her murder. (Happens in the first pages). This is a searing criticism of colonialism and racism. There is very little plot, and the book moves slowly over 15 years of day-to-day sameness. The heat and the African veldt are vividly portrayed, making the setting a major element in the book. I recognize the importance of this book, and the beauty of the writing. However, I remember liking it much more the first time I read it 30+ years ago.

3 1/2 stars

Apr 23, 10:09pm Top

Another 1950 book. I believe this was Barbara Comyns' first book:

35. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns (1950) 224 pp

Art student Sophia marries artist Charles in 1930's London, and gives up her ambitions to support him and his art. They live hand to mouth in Bohemian London, with Charles contributing nothing and taking no responsibility for Sophia and later their child. The novel, which is partly autobiographical, is narrated by Sophia as her life goes downhill to rock bottom before it turns around.

There are issues of sexism, reproductive rights, economic opportunity, and poverty, all narrated in a charming (I know, oxymoronish) manner by Sophia. Comyns begins this as a fairy tale, but it turns real fast. If you've ever read Comyns you know that she relates the prosaic details of everyday life in seemingly straight-forward manner, but there's always something quirky and unsettling lurking beneath the surface. She is one of my favorite writers, and deserves to be better known and more widely read.

3 1/2 stars

Apr 23, 10:31pm Top

After reading Our Spoons Came From Woolworths I picked up the first book by Barbara Comyns I read for a reread. This one is based on a fairy tale from the Grimm Brothers of the same title:

36. The Juniper Tree byBarbara Comyns (1985) 192 pp

Bella, a single mother who runs an antique shop and lives above the shop with her mixed-race daughter Marlen, has a chance encounter with Gertrude and Bernard Forbes, a childless wealthy couple who are longing for a child of their own. A close friendship develop, and soon Bella and Marlen are spending every weekend at the Forbes' estate. I won't say much about the rest of the plot, but the story closely follows the arc of the fairy tale.

Once again, Comyns details the events of ordinary day to day life, and yet there's something magical or unreal lurking beneath. One critic described it as the "unsettling union of matter-of-fact description and random, inexplicable plot." This is one of Comyns' later novels, and her skill and growth as a writer are evident. Highly recommended.

4 star

Apr 23, 10:36pm Top

An impulse check-out from the library:

37. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead (2007) 226 pp

The town of Winthrop has hired a nomenclature expert. Its three-member ruling council can't decide whether to change its name, or what to change it to. The descendant of the town's original white founding father, Mr. Winthrop, likes the name just as it is. A nouveau rich software developer whose company is now driving the town's industry wants to change the name to New Prosperity. And the mayor, a descendant of the town's original black settlers (who were there before the Winthrops arrived), wants to change the name back to the original name given to the town by its early black settlers, Freedom. They have hired the nomenclature expert to study the issue, and to decide on the name.

The nomenclature expert (who is ironically unnamed) is our main point of view character. His prior nomenclature triumph was the development and naming of a multicultural band-aid that would match the user's skin color (or "hide" the hurt). We are in his mind most of the book, and there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of riffing going on there. Every other thought relates to potential products and potential names for them. It's meant to be a satire on advertising and consumerism, I gather, but the result is a book in which the characters are cardboard and the plot is minimal. There were a few funny and inventive parts, but overall I was very disappointed, and mostly skimmed this.

2 stars

Apr 23, 10:42pm Top

38. Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty (20170 245 pp

Gerry and Stella, a long-married retired couple, are off on a long weekend get-away to Amsterdam arranged by Stella. They are seemingly comfortable with each other as they approach old-age. But all is not as it seems. As the novel progresses, we learn that Stella had an ulterior motive in arranging the trip, and Gerry has a serious drinking problem about which he deceives only himself. The future of Stella and Gerry is not so secure as it we originally thought.

This novel has lovely characters, a moving story, and is a very real portrait of a long relationship. I liked it very much.

3 1/2 stars

Apr 23, 10:50pm Top

39. Exposure by Helen Dunmore (2015) 400 pp

This unusual spy thriller is set at the height of the Cold War in 1960 London. Simon and Lily are happily married with several children. Simon has a safe desk job at a government intelligence agency, and he mostly leaves his job at work when he comes home to enjoy family life. That is, until he is asked to do a favor for an old friend at the agency in retrieving a file that is located somewhere it shouldn't be. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, later helped along the way by some unscrupulous people, including some Simon considered his friends, Simon ends up in prison charged with spying for the Soviet Union.

I said that this was an unusual spy thriller, and what I meant by that is that its focus is not so much on the "spy," but on the alleged spy's family: how do they cope when the husband/father they love is disgraced and vilified as a spy for the enemy? How do they get along when there is no longer an income sufficient to support the family? Who can they count on as a friend? What can they do about intrusions from the press and others due to their new-found notoriety?

So, all in all I'd describe this as a "domestic" spy thriller, although there is a death or two, and some pretty evil villains, and lots of ambiguity.


3 1/2 stars

Apr 23, 10:56pm Top

40. I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell (2018) 304 pp

Subtitle: Seventeen Brushes With Death

This is Maggie O'Farrell's memoir in which she organizes the story of her life so far around encounters with near-death by herself or someone dear to her. These range from something a mother might expect and watch for, (a child dashing into the road narrowly escaping being hit by a car), to the foolhardy, (volunteering to be the subject for a blindfolded knife-thrower whose aim was a bit off), to the stupid, (swimming a distance you know is beyond your capacity with your toddler on your back). The brushes also include near accidents, such as a near plane crash, illnesses, including a bout with meningitis that left her wheel-chair bound and partly paralyzed for a year as a young girl. There's also potential violence at the hands of homicidal men, and her near-death from a hemorrhage in child-birth (which she had warned her doctors about because of her pre-existing condition, but which they failed to take into account). Perhaps the most moving are the experiences she has had with her young daughter, who was born with a serious auto-immune disease and is deathly allergic to any number of substances.

Her life is told around these and other episodes and is non-chronological. She writes vividly and well, and in many instances she "grows" after each incident, although there is no self-pity here. Just a reminder of how fragile life really is.


3 stars

Edited: Apr 26, 4:55am Top

I'll have to catch up on the rest of the reviews later, but I did want to note that I have finished my planned 1950 reads, and am now moving onto 1951.

Here are some of the books first published in 1951. Those marked with an x, I've read and don't want to reread at this time. Those marked with * I've read and am thinking of rereading. Those marked with + I have not read, but have on my TBR shelf and will read. Unmarked ones are those I haven't read and don't own and probably won't read:

xThe Catcher In the Rye
xThe End of the Affair
xA Question of Upbringing--first installment of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time series. May want to reread it at some point, just not now.
*My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
xFrom Here To Eternity by James Jones
xThe Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat
xFires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka
xLie Down in Darkness by William Styron
xThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
+Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
xThe Ballad of Sad Café by Carson McCullers (haven't totally decided--may reread this since it's short.
+The Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
xThe Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
xDesiree by Annemarie Selinko

So for 1951, the books I will read/reread are:

My Cousin Rachel, Daughter of Time, Speak Memory and The Hangsaman. So not too long a list.

There are 3 books on my wishlist that were published in 1951. Since I'm trying not to buy any books for this, I probably won't read these, but it depends: Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge and Pigeons on the Grass by Wolfgang Koeppen.

If anyone knows of any other books published in 1951, I would love it if you'd let me know. Unbeknownst to me they may be on my TBR shelves.

Apr 25, 8:11pm Top

This was my last 1950 book. It took forever to read.

41. The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo (1950) 147 pp

This collection of short stories is similar stylistically to Juan Rulfo's novel Pedro Paramo which I read a few years ago and loved so much that when I finished it I immediately went back to page 1 and read it again. The stories are all set in rural Mexico, in an isolated area that is hot and dry and hostile, a place of which one of the characters says, "You talk here and the words get hot in your mouth." The characters are all poor(with exceptions in a few of the stories for the landowners and rich people against whom these people struggle) and can barely manage to eke out a living. Most of the stories are set in the first 25 or so years of the 20th century in a time of violence and political unrest, which also feature prominently in these stories.

I recognize the beauty of Rulfo's writing and concur that this is worthy of inclusion in the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die. And yet, I had difficulty reading these stories. I've long recognized that I don't get along with short stories. They often feel incomplete to me, and I frequently feel puzzled by them. For many of these stories, it feels to me as if Rulfo had gone out of the way to make the stories puzzling. The first one, "Macaria", (one of the ones I had the least trouble with) is narrated by a man of whom the villagers "say in the street that I am crazy." He is killing frogs for the elderly woman (relationship unknown) who cares for him and who hates frogs. People throw stones at him, and he is always hungry, and eats cockroaches in the dark. In "We're Very Poor" a series of catastrophes big and small ends with a flood which carries away the narrator's sister's cow, which was purchased as her dowry to ensure that she didn't end up "going bad" like the other sisters. Perhaps the most famous and accessible story is "Tell Them Not To Kill Me." In this one, the narrator, who killed a man 40 years ago and has just been captured by the son of the man he killed, urges his son to beg his captor for mercy.

Pedro Paramo has the same type of detail of the brutality of life combined with a certain mysticism that these short stories have. But somehow to me the lack of a complete narrative arc in the short stories left me puzzled. However, I do think that this is more my lack of comprehension than a fault of the stories.

3 stars

Apr 25, 8:17pm Top

Happily, I feel no compulsion to provide a lengthy summation of the facts included in the following Trump-related book:

42. Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff (2018)

"It is worth considering the possibility that this constant, daily, often more than once-a-day, pile-up of events--each one canceling out the one before--is the true aberration and novelty at the heart of the Trump presidency."

I "enjoyed" this--in the way I occasionally enjoy a gossipy People magazine article. Although some facts about Trump's policies, actions, and criminal and immoral background are included, the book mostly focuses on the Machiavellian infighting among various ever-shifting factions that went on during the first several months of Trump's presidency while the author had the access that enabled him to be a fly on the wall. Reading this, it's clear that Steve Bannon was the source for many of the revelations, but it was stunning to see how many back-stabbers Trump surrounded himself with.

3 stars

Apr 25, 8:37pm Top


List of books published in 1951.

>87 arubabookwoman: The comparison to People magazine articles is spot on Deborah. I read it and agree completely. Also the backstabbers! Incredible but then again, not really.

Apr 25, 8:38pm Top

43. In A Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes (1947) 224 pp

When the book opens, Dix is stalking a young woman who has just gotten off a bus at dusk and is walking home. Nothing comes of it, but we learn that a serial killer is strangling the young women of Los Angeles.

Dix is just back from WW II and at loose ends. He receives a small stipend from an uncle and is supposed to be writing a book. He lives in a nice apartment that belongs to Mel, a friend who suddenly took off for Brazil. He drives Mel's car and wears Mel's clothes.

When Dix reconnects with an old army buddy, Brub, he is surprised to learn that Brub is now married to Sylvia, and that Brud is now a detective on the LAPD. Not only that, Brub is also on the team trying to catch the serial killer. Dix also becomes entangled with a redheaded femme fatale named Laurel.

This is pure noir, in the tradition of James Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. Moreover, Dix is a worthy predecessor to Patricia Highsmith's Ripley, although I think Dix lacks some of the characteristics that can make some readers feel sympathetic toward Ripley.

Most of the novel is narrated from the pov of Dix, although the gorier parts are left to the imagination, and occur in the breaks between chapters. The book distinguishes itself from other noir novels of this period in that the females play important roles in solving the crime and in that it is explicit in making the connection between misogyny and violence towards women.

This was one of the first novels to be narrated from the pov of a serial killer, and I will say it has held up well over the 70+ years since it was first published.


3 stars

Apr 25, 8:44pm Top

I've read one other book by Belinda Bauer, Rubbernecker, that I really liked. This one didn't grab me:

44. Blacklands by Belinda Bauer (2010) 240 pp

Twelve year old Steven spends his spare time digging on the moors near his home. He is searching for the body of his uncle Billy, who was murdered years before by Arnold Avery, a pedophile convicted of the murders of six other children. Avery has never revealed where he buried Billy's body. Steven thinks that if he can find Billy's body he can "cure" his grandmother's depression and his mother's anger.

After a time during which Steven makes no progress, he decides to go straight to the source, and begins a correspondence with Avery in prison to see if he can get Avery to reveal where Billy's body is. Because Avery's mail is censored Steven devises clever ways to pose his questions, and Avery finds clever ways to provide enigmatic answers. Soon, however, Steven's innocent quest turns into a dangerous game of cat and mouse, except that the mouse does not know he is in any danger.

The first part of the book is all from Steven's pov, and the second part alternates between Steven's pov and Avery's. The first part really dragged for me, and there was very little suspense. In addition, it read very much like a YA novel. There was a lot about Steven getting bullied at school, trading school lunches with his friend, the teachers not remembering his name, his problems with his Mom, etc. This section really took up way too much of the book. Overall it just did not work for me.

2 star

Apr 25, 8:50pm Top

45. Slow Horses by Mick Herron (2010) 329 pp

The eponymous slow horses are the worn out, used up or otherwise defective spies who can't quite be fired, but who are no longer useful to MI 5. Instead they are relegated to Slough House, where they perform a series of make-work tasks. At least that's their role until they are suddenly thrust into the middle of a terrorist plot and a government counter-plot, the success of either one of which would result in ample blame piled onto Sough House. Can they outwit the terrorists, stay ahead of the so-called "good" spies of MI 5, and save lives, not the least of which their own.

This is the first volume in a series which is new to me. In this one, most of the denizens of Sough House share equal billing. All of them are constantly trying to guess why each of the others has been deposed to Slough House, and all are planning ways they can get back to MI 5, even though the head of Slough House, Jackson Lamb, tells them all they have no chance of ever leaving Slough House. I have an idea that Jackson Lamb is smarter than most like to believe.

This was a very good read, and very well-written and plotted. Here's an example of Herron's prose, in which he is describing one of the slow horses, computer geek Ho,

"Ho was usually first in, often last out and how he spent the hours between was a mystery..., though the cola cans and pizza boxes surrounding his desk suggested that he was building a fort."

3 stars

And with that I'm caught up with reviews through the end of March.

Apr 25, 10:02pm Top

>88 brenzi: I might’ve been lost in the shuffle Deborah.

Apr 25, 11:27pm Top

>88 brenzi: >92 brenzi:--Yes I did totally miss you Bonnie. Must have cross-posted somehow.

Anyway thanks for the link to 1951 books. Off to see if there's any I want to read that I missed.

Apr 26, 2:11am Top

>89 arubabookwoman: I picked this up after seeing a beautiful reprint in Penguin Classics - I agree it has held up very well, still felt compelling and original.

>91 arubabookwoman: I'm really enjoying this series - I thought the quality would be hard to keep up but that doesn't seem to be the case (maybe it is hard - just that it is successful, I mean!)

Apr 28, 10:57am Top

I love your reviews, Deborah; they give me a clear idea of the book. The Hughes sounds interesting, and I don't usually read spy novels, but Slow Horses sounds like one I might like. You have been reading a lot this year. If you keep this up, you'll read 150+ books this year.

Apr 29, 2:21pm Top

For some reason I hadn’t found your thread this year. You seem to be doing a lot of good reading, especially the non-fiction.

>47 arubabookwoman: I keep meaning to read something by Luke Harding. My son and his son are friends, and as neither him or his wife drive, or haven’t got a car, or something, we’ve done a fair bit of driving his son about over the years. I don’t know him exactly, but I know him to say hello to if we meet, if you see what I mean. But I havn’t got around to one of his books yet as it’s a little outside my comfort zone.

Apr 30, 4:59pm Top

You've been reading an interesting variety of books lately.

May 6, 4:50am Top

>91 arubabookwoman: That one has quite a reputation so it is nice to see that it probably lives up to the hype.

Have a lovely weekend, Deborah.

May 7, 6:28pm Top

>94 charl08: Did you read In A Lonely Place or The Expendable Man Charlotte? Both are very good. I'm glad to hear that the quality keeps up with the Slow Horses series. I have the second one on my Kindle.

>95 BLBera: Thanks Beth. I do seem to be reading a bit faster this year than previous years. Also, so far anyway, doing a bit better in keeping up with reviews.

>96 SandDune: Thanks, Rhian. I though Harding was a very good writer, and the book was important to me as an American. I would also like to read his first book, which was about the radioactive poisoning of the former Soviet dissident in London by Putin's agents. Seems particularly pertinent know since Putin seems to have recently done it again.

>97 SuziQoregon: Hi Juli--Sorry I missed the recent meetup in Portland. Hopefully I will get down there for the summer one.

>98 PaulCranswick: Hi Paul. Thanks. I hope your weekend was great too.

Going to try to do a few more reviews. We are going to NYC again in a few weeks. All 5 kids will be there over Memorial Day Weekend again, and again we will celebrate our anniversary there (47). And to top it off, son number 3 and his wife are pregnant with grandchild number 5, a boy to be born in October. They are currently in Israel visiting her family, but will be back by the time we get there. Daughter, son-in-law and Boden and Maddie will arrive in NYC when we do. In June, though, our oldest son, daughter-in-law and Teddy and Gil are moving to Tampa, Fla, and will no longer reside in the NYC area. So more places to travel to.

May 7, 6:29pm Top

46. The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George (2018) 704 pp

I think Elizabeth George has finally gotten the message: Barbara Havers is the favorite character of most of her readers, and we want more books that feature Barbara. This one does, and I think George is back in excellent form. If you stopped reading her several books ago (as many did after the book many of her readers hate), it's time to resume the series.

A clergyman accused of pedophilia dies while in police custody. His death is ruled a suicide. However, his wealthy businessman father refuses to accept this verdict and through his parliamentary connections prevails upon Scotland Yard to investigate further. Barbara is dispatched to investigate, along with her supervisor Isabelle Ardery, whose underlying intent is to catch Barbara out in an unauthorized action and demote her.

As usual, the book is long, but it didn't feel that way at all to me. I raced through it. The police procedural unfolds logically with lots of character development and background color. In this book, Barbara is taking tap dancing lessons with Dorothea, so we learn about dance, and one of the other characters is involved in a glider club, so we learn a bit about flying glide planes. The action takes place in a college town, so there are issues involving helicopter parents and binge drinking. Isabelle's alcoholism and the mess it has made of her life also plays a prominent role.

If you've never read any of the Lynley series before, I think you could read this one as a stand alone, but you'd be cheating yourself--you should really go back to the beginning and read from there. Highly recommended (and thankfully whiney Deborah does not appear in this book at all!)

4 stars

May 7, 6:35pm Top

47. The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (2018) 345 pp

This is another psychological thriller with a pov character who sees/experiences something suspicious/criminal, but because she was drunk she isn't quite sure what really happened or what to believe. In this case, Cassie, the flight attendant on a layover in Dubai, wakes up hungover in a strange bed to discover a dead man next to her with his head bashed in. She remembers little or nothing of the night before. Could she have done this? If someone else did it, why was her life spared? Is she in any danger?

The first decision Cassie makes is that she doesn't want to be in Dubai when the body is discovered. From there she makes one stupid decision after another and takes one unbelievable action after another. Okay, some characters are stupid. But then, as the details of the underlying crime and its motivating factors are revealed, they too are implausible, and ungrounded in reality. It all leads to a preposterous conclusion (and a resolution for Cassie) which really strains the tethers of any suspension of disbelief and is totally bogus. Not recommended.

2 stars

May 7, 6:40pm Top

48. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesenevich (2018) 337 pp

Subtitle: A Murder and A Memoir

So..a murder and a memoir? The question is, can the twain meet? The short answer is no.

As a law student, the author fervently believed in the elimination of the death penalty. During law school, she interned one summer at a law firm which specialized in opposing death penalty cases. As part of her orientation there, she viewed a film about a case in which the firm had recently been successful in reducing the death penalty to life imprisonment. The case involved pedophile Jimmy Langley who was convicted of raping and murdering 6 year old Jeremy Guillory. Watching the film, the author had a visceral reaction, and realized that this may be one case in which her anti-death penalty belief would be severely challenged. For, as she details in the memoir portion of this book, as a child she was repeatedly sexually abused by her grandfather as a young child over a period of years.

The book alternates these two threads--it tells the story of the life of Jimmy Langley and the brief life of Jeremy Guillory and their tragic intersection, and details the investigation of the crime, the trial, the appeals, and the aftermath of the tragedy and its effects on the families involved. (She researched these facts, but was not personally involved, other than as having interned at the law firm that had previously represented Langley on one of his appeals). In parallel, she narrates the story of her life, at first a seemingly idyllic childhood, which turned dark as her grandfather began to abuse her. Later, he moved on to her sister, at which point his abuse was discovered. However, there were never any consequences for her grandfather, he was never reported to authorities, and from her point of view he seems to have "gotten away with murder." Clearly, she feels a strong sense of having been betrayed by her parents.

Unfortunately, as interesting as these two stories are, they never seem to be truly part of the same book. She attempts to force her peripheral connection with the Langley/Guillory crime into the story of the abuse she personally suffered, and to me it just didn't work.

2 1/2 star

May 7, 6:46pm Top

Lots of people loved this next one. I didn't:

49. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (2017) 320 pp

Roxane Gay's story is moving and important. She was raped at a young age, didn't tell anyone, and thereafter turned to food to self-medicate, and as a way to turn her body into something unattractive so that it could never again happen to her. She soon became grossly overweight, and in to this book details many of the difficulties she experiences as an overweight woman. The book is honest, and the issues of food and body image are important.

However, this is not a well-written book. It is presented as a series of short vignettes, and many are repetitious, and some are only tangentially related to her primary thesis, i.e. she really likes the Barefoot Contessa. It actually reads like a series of blog posts, and there is no overall narrative arc or cohesiveness. Her repetitions are not substitutes for detailed analysis of the issues.

I'm very sorry to have this reaction to the book. I haven't read anything else by Roxane Gay and was expecting much more of this highly praised book. I wasn't necessarily expecting literature, but I did expect competence.

2 stars

May 7, 6:52pm Top

50. In Pursuit of Memory by Joseph Jebelli (2017) 321 pp

Subtitle: The Fight Against Alzheimers

"I have, so to speak, lost myself." Alzheimers victim.

Alzheimers now affects 47 million people. By 2050 it will affect 135 million people and will overtake cancer as the second leading cause of death.

The author, a neuroscientist, became interested in Alzheimers when his grandfather was diagnosed with the disease. This book relates a short history of the disease, its origins as well as the implications now facing our aging society as more and more of us will suffer this disease in epidemic numbers. Most of the book consists of short discussions of various aspects of ongoing Alzheimers research: Is there a cure? Can we prevent it? Is it cultural--why does almost nobody in some cultures get Alzheimers? Is it genetic--why are there societal pockets where it runs rampant? How do we diagnose Alzheimers? Would you want to get tested for one of the several genetic mutations indicative of greater risk for early onset Alzheimers? Are there currently any effective treatments?

I enjoyed this book. My only complaint is that it covered many topics but rarely went into depth on any one topic. So the book is more of an overview of the current state of Alzheimers research. I particularly enjoyed the personal stories of the various people the author encountered along the way--the victims, their families, their doctors, and the researchers.

One particular fact I wasn't aware of before is that there is a particular type of Alzheimers called Visual Alzheimers (or Posterior Cortical Alzheimers). In this variation, victims usually remain aware of current events, retain their memories and thinking skills, and have considerable insight into their own predicament. Instead, what they have is profound visual dementia--they are unable to read, to recognize faces, to situate themselves in space, to accurately perceive movement or the size of objects. This is the type of Alzheimers Terry Pratchet had. One person with this began seeing the world upside down.


3 stars

May 7, 9:34pm Top

>103 arubabookwoman: Sorry to hear about the Gay - I have loved everything I've read by her, so don't give up, Deborah.

You have taken some bullets for us in this group of reviews, so besides the Jebelli, I think I can resist.

May 21, 2:09pm Top

Enjoy the time with all the family over Memorial Day Weekend. Great that you could all be together.

May 26, 6:54pm Top

I wasn't overly impressed with Hunger either, though I think I liked it a bit better than you did.

Jul 27, 6:34pm Top

Well it's been forever since I've posted. First we were traveling to NYC and Delaware. Then somehow I got locked out of my LT account which took some time to resolve. This past week 4 of my 5 sisters have been visiting. I have a brief respite to begin to catch up over the next few days and then on Tuesday my daughter, s-I-l and 2 grandkids from Houston come for a week, in mid-August my middle son comes for a visit, in mid-September my other daughter and her boyfriend come for a visit, in early October we go to NYC for the birth of 5th grandchild (a boy), in early November, we go to Houston for the quilt show, to visit daughter, and for a side-trip to Austin to visit my mom and 2 of my sisters, in December we go to Hawaii for a get-away for the 50th anniversary of our meeting, and in January we go to Tampa, where my oldest son has just moved with his wife and 2 children. He will be visiting us at a time tbd sometime between September and December, because he's going to take some of the furniture etc. in our house off our hands, since he has moved from a small condo in NYC to a large house in Fla, and we are moving from a large house here to a small condo in Delaware. So we are also busy getting the house ready to sell and husband is getting ready to retire. I'm exhausted just reading this.

It's affected my reading I think, since I've been starting but not completing many books. This week I had to return to the library Visitation, A Manual for Cleaning Women, and The HOuse at Sugar Beach, all excellent, but unfinished and taking me forever to read. I couldn't renew them because they were all on request, but I put a new hold on them, so we'll see how long it takes me to get them back. If too long, I'll probably have to start them over.

I still want to review all my reading again this year, so I'll do my best to keep popping in when I can with reviews. I'm only to mid-April, so I'm way behind. :(

>105 BLBera:, >106 SuziQoregon:, >107 banjo123: Thank you for the comments Beth, Juli and Rhonda!

Jul 27, 6:37pm Top

51. Cape Fear by John MacDonald (19 ) 206 pp

Successful small town attorney Sam was once an instrumental witness in the conviction of Cady for rape. Fourteen years later, Cady has been released, and turns up in Sam's town and begins terrorizing Sam and his family. Cady is clever about it, though, and the police seem to be unable to do anything about it. So Sam has to take things into his own hands.

Although I've liked what I've read by MacDonald in the past, it's been a long time since then. This was described as noir, but I found it to be dated in a way well in excess of the way in which some noir conventions can feel dated. Parts of it are unrealistic to the point of ridiculous. It's been made into two well-regarded movies, and I vaguely think I've seen the earlier version.

1 1/2 stars

Jul 27, 6:39pm Top

This next one was a timely read:

52. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2009) 314 pp

Subtitle: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

In this book, Demick immerses us in what it was like to grow up, live in and escape from North Korea. She does this by portraying the lives of six individuals and their families in the 1990's and 2000's. There is a lot of insight into why so many have put up with the regimes of the Kims for so long. The horrors inflicted on the North Korean people by their government are chilling, yet the indoctrination prevailing in their lives from birth caused many to believe that things are worse in the west.

Millions died in the famines of the 1990's when most families were reduced to walking out of town each day to gather weeds and grass to make a soup for their daily meal. Factories closed down because there was no electricity or raw materials to run them. People died of starvation and from rampant epidemics. The development of a generation of children was stunted by prenatal starvation and lack of sufficient nutrition in childhood. Doctors were helpless to save starving children. There were also packs of children called "kochebi" or "wandering sparrows" left to fend for themselves when their parents died or abandoned them to go in search of food.

Each of the six people profiled in this book ultimately made the difficult decision to defect to South Korea. We learn how they accomplished their escapes. Even when they arrived in South Korea their difficulties continued: they had to learn how to live in a free capitalistic society, which was not easy.

This is an excellent book, and it reads like a novel or a series of excellent memoirs. I couldn't put it down while I was reading it. Even though it is almost 10 years old at this point, it did not feel out of date at all.

Highly recommended.

4 stars (maybe 4 1/2)

Jul 27, 6:43pm Top

This is my first 5 star read of the year, which means I want everyone to read it. Now.

53. The Overstory by Richard Powers

In an interview, Richard Powers stated about The Overstory, "The whole book is a simple question: What would it take to make you give the unquestioning sacredness that you give to humanity to other things." Like many of his books, The Overstory contains a healthy dose of science, in this case ecology and the destruction of the planet by humans, but don't let that turn you off--there are unique and relatable characters, a compelling, page-turning plot, and it all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle.

The book begins with short-story length chapters each introducing one of the nine main characters. They are diverse and very real, but we are left to wonder how Powers is going to bring them all together. As the authorial voice states of the characters, "These people are nothing to Patty {one of the characters}. And yet their lives have long been connected, deep underground. Their kinship will work like an unfolding book. The past always becomes clearer in the future."

In the body of the novel, in chapters titled Trunk, Crown and Seeds, the characters converge, mostly around environmental activism, then separate and their lives go on. So yes, it's all connected with trees and forests, and it is told in magnificent prose. There's a lot of science here, but it never intrudes in the novel, and the focus is on the characters and their growth.

Powers is one of my favorite authors, although I haven't felt that his several most recent books are as good as some of his earlier books. He is a MacArthur genius, has won numerous literary prizes, always has something important to say, and always says it in a unique way. After reading this book, all I can say is:

I will never look at a tree in the same way again. Everyone should read this book.

5 stars

Jul 27, 6:46pm Top

Another Trump-related book. This one focuses on the Russian interference in the election, and the hacking. It's quite informative.

54. Russian Roulette by David Korn and Michael Isikoff (2018) 353 pp

Subtitle: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

This is the complete story, insofar as is now known, of how the Russians hacked our democratic election in 2016. This was not a "3rd rate burglary" like Watergate, but was well-planned, well-executed, and very damaging. This book explains it all, beginning with the holding of the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013. What the Russians did was horrifying, but perhaps more horrifying is how long it took our government to realize the extent of what was going on and the damage it was causing.

I'm an "MSNBC Mom" (It's a "thing" according to a recent NYT article), and I pretty much keep up on these things, but this book puts all the snippets together and connects them logically so that the depth of the damage can't be ignored. I think this is an essential book to read to help understand the state our country is in today. Highly recommended.

4 stars

Jul 27, 6:51pm Top

As I've probably mentioned more than once, we will probably be moving cross-country in a year or two, and there is no way I'm going to be able to bring all my books (about 5000 or so). This is causing me a great deal of angst, and I thought this book might help. It didn't.

55. Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel (2018) 155 pp

Subtitle: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

Manguel had to move from a farm in France where his 35,000 volume library was housed in a separate building to a one bedroom apartment in NYC. In this book, he muses on his library and other book-related matters. However, he didn't have to dispose of any of his books--he just packed them all away carefully wrapped in tissue paper. So no hard decisions, although he won't have handy access to all his books.

There were lots of good book quotes in this book, but I didn't really connect with most of the book. I found the focus more on the digressions than the books.

2 1/2 stars

Here is one quote I liked:

"In the days of my youth for those of us who liked to read, the dictionary was a magical object of mysterious powers. In the first place, because we were told that here, in this small fat volume, was almost the entirety of our common language, that between the drab covers were all the words that named everything in the world that we knew and also everything in the world that we did not know, that the dictionary held the past (all those words spoken by our grandparents and great-grandparents, mumbled in the dark, which we no longer used) and the future (words to name what we might one day want to say when a new experience would call for them).

Did anyone else read the dictionary when they were younger (or read it now?

Jul 27, 6:54pm Top

56. Cove by Cynan Jones (2016) 112 pp

A man fishing at sea is struck by lightening. A woman standing on shore sees a floating doll.

The blurb said this book was about a man's survival at sea. It is that, but not in a realistic way. It was short, hallucinatory, and often confusing. There was nothing direct, straight-forward, or easily understandable about it. After I finished it, I went back and skimmed it through again, and I began to see connections, and understand it more, and I liked it much more than on first reading. (It's very short, not even a novel).

In a lot of ways, this reminded me of William Golding's Pincher Martin, but it is much shorter.

3 1/2 stars

Jul 27, 6:59pm Top

57. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (1997) 227 pp

Subtitle: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

"Going to sea is like going to prison, with a chance of drowning besides." Samuel Johnson

This is an excellent narrative nonfiction account of the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail and their encounter with a massive storm. The Andrea Gail set out from Gloucester Massachusetts in October to fish for swordfish on the Grand Banks. Not only is swordfishing one of the most dangerous occupations, but the Grand Banks are on one of the worst storm tracks in the world. Since 1650, the town of Gloucester has lost more than 10,000 men at sea.

There is a lot of information in this book about what it is like to be a commercial fisherman, how hurricanes and other storms develop, how waves form, and what it is like to drown, just to mention a few of the topics covered. But most of all it is about Bobby, Billy, Murph, Sully, Bugsy, Albert, and the Andrea Gail.


3 stars

Jul 27, 7:06pm Top

58. A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard

Subtitle: A Paramedic's Wild Ride t the Edge and Back

This is a memoir of the author's life as an EMT/paramedic (They are different--an EMT requires 8 months of training; a paramedic requires 18 additional months of training for certification). He discusses how he chose this profession, the training required, and his initial job as an EMT for a private ambulance company which mostly transported nursing home patients and wasn't too picky about its employees or billing Medicaid. Later he obtained a position with the ambulance service for a large trauma hospital in Atlanta, and along the way went back to get additional training to become a paramedic. The book is episodic, with each chapter centered on a call or event.

The Good: This was an interesting look at a paramedic's job. These people seem to handle everything that comes at them calmly and professionally, and they never seem to lose their cool with difficult people, i.e. drunks and psychotics. He told dozens of stories, but it was never repetitious and I was never bored.

The Bad: Some of the descriptions of gore were pretty graphic, and I got the feeling that the author was sometimes almost relishing, or at least pretty nonchalant about, all the gore.

I will say he has a pretty good name for a paramedic, no? (Hazzard)


3 stars

Jul 27, 7:11pm Top

59. Citizen by Claudia Rankine (2014) 160 pp

Subtitle: An American Lyric

I'm not sure how to describe this short book--poetry? prose? screenplay? It won the National Book Critics Award in Poetry and was also a finalist for the same award in Criticism. It also won the NAACP Image Award, as well as being a finalist for several other awards.

It contains, among other things, a long story about a series of bad calls made against Serena Williams in 2004, 2009, and 2011, all apparently involving racial bias. She discusses friends who have crossed the line with her when they feel entitled to joke about racial matters (i.e. "nappy hair"), or those who have spoken with her on the phone, who express surprise to discover she's not white when they meet her in real life, and other indignities suffered merely because she is black, such as the store clerk asking her if she's sure her credit card will work.

She takes a series of quotes taken from CNN after Katrina, and presents them as a poem, which includes Barbara Bush's unforgettable comment, "And so many people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working out well for them."

There is a prose poem/script in memory of Trayvon Martin which ends with the following:

"because white men can't
police their imagination
black people are dying."

This was like a scrapbook of various meditations on race. Many of the individual pieces were moving and unforgettable. However, overall, I found it sometimes disorganized, and some of the pieces did not engage me. (Some seemed to be intended to be presented visually, as in a video). Still, I could see that it is an important work.

3 stars

Edited: Jul 27, 8:39pm Top

>111 arubabookwoman:

Wow - sounds like The Overstory is definitely not one to miss!

I hope he goes on to write of an "unquestioning sacredness" for lambs, cows, and pigs.

Jul 27, 7:23pm Top

If you've read Columbine by Dave Cullen, this is a good companion read.

60. A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold (2016) 338 pp

Subtitle: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

The first big school shooting was Columbine, which took place in April 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 13, wounded 24, and then killed themselves. Sue Klebold is Dylan's mother, and this is her attempt to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Over the years since the tragedy, she has searched her soul, berated herself, and grieved, wondering, what signs did she miss? How could she have been so oblivious (especially about Dylan's depression)? Was she a "bad" mother? Was it wrong for her to mourn the death of her son, when he caused so many other deaths and so much pain? What could she have done differently?

She concludes that Dylan was depressed, Eric was a psychopath; Dylan went to school that day to die, Eric went to school that day to kill. I don't know if this is "true" (I think Columbine comes to a similar conclusion, or at least concludes that Eric was the leader, Dylan the follower, but it's been quite a while since I read Columbine so I"m not sure.) But at the least, Sue brilliantly conveys her thoughts and experiences as she learns of her son's involvement in the shooting, and the days, weeks and months following as she experiences the aftermath of every parent's worst nightmare. (I'm sure the worst nightmare is the violent death of your child; but not far behind has to be your child committing a horrific crime.)

She recollects Dylan's childhood and youth in detail, and concludes that Dylan could have been anyone's child. Her tragedy could happen to any parent. There is also a lot of information about mental health issues.


3 star

Jul 27, 7:30pm Top

>111 arubabookwoman: The concept of the sacredness of all living things was a given in the book. But the focus was on trees, I think, because even if people respect animals, they often don't think of plants in the same way. We are discovering more and more about trees that is showing their intelligence and sentience, for lack of better words, and the book was emphasizing that aspect of the hubris of humanity. Overall, it was about the sacredness of Mother Earth, and that humanity is destroying Mother Earth, and the book focused on ecological crimes through the lens of what we are doing to our forests and trees.

And even though it is a wonderful book in that way, it is also a very good novel, and very readable. That's why I recommend it so highly!

Jul 27, 7:40pm Top

Psychological thriller:

61. The Visitors by Catherine Burns (2017) 304 pp

Marion is a sixty-something woman who isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. She lives with her older brother John in their childhood home. John spends much of his time down in the basement. Marion doesn't like to think about what's going on down in the basement, and mostly ignores the occasional muffled screams and moans emanating therefrom.

This is a creepy novel, and it felt entirely plausible. It reminded me of a tale by Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith, with sociopathic characters hanging onto the fringes of normalcy, with the deep foreboding of an undercurrent of evil beneath the mundane details of the everyday.


3 stars

Jul 27, 7:45pm Top

Another thriller:

62. Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry (2015) 368 pp

Veronica and Syd, a married private eye team, are hired to solve the cold-case murder of a man whose body was discovered in a storm drain. Nicole and Ed are a husband and wife team of assassins for hire. They are engaged to make sure that Veronica and Syd never solve the cold case. Good premise. Unfortunately, poor execution.

Instead of relying on their brains (which I like in my thrillers) both sets of protagonists rely on guns, bombs, fires, etc. (mostly guns), and the book is littered with dozens of dead bodies and very little crime-solving. On top of this the solution to the crime results from a very obvious clue that was overlooked by the LAPD when they investigated the murder the first time around.

Entertainment Weekly said of this, "rat-a-tat plot that's as violent as a video game...." This isn't my thing. If it's yours, you might like the book. I can't recommend it.

1 1/2 stars

Jul 27, 7:48pm Top

63. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

Subtitle: In Search of America

I found this book to be terribly dated, and I really didn't care for it. I did like the parts about his dog Charlie, who reminded me very much of my dog Dante. For example:

"Charlie likes to get up early, and he likes me to get up early too. And why shouldn't he? Right after breakfast he goes back to sleep. Over the year, He has developed a number of innocent-appearing ways to get me up. He can shake himself and his collar loud enough to wake the dead. If that doesn't work he gets a sneezing fit. But perhaps his most irritating method is to sit quietly beside the bed and stare into my face with a sweet and forgiving look on his face."

It's now widely-reported that Steinbeck took liberties with the facts in writing this book, and invented freely, and I think a bit of this comes through. As I said, I thought it was dated, but I know many people like it and perhaps view it as a look at America in the early 1960's. However, aside from feeling dated to me, it also did not feel authentic, so I can't recommend it. (Unless you skim, and only read the parts about Charlie.)

2 stars

Jul 27, 8:12pm Top

An Update on my "Years of My Life" TBR reading:

I think I already have reported and reviewed on books for 1950. For 1951, I have completed, but not yet reviewed Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson, and Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Also for 1951, I read a version of My Cousin Rachel, but not sure if I'll count it because I was annoyed to discover I had read an abridged version.

For 1952, I started to read City by Clifford Simak. I got about half-way through, but was not enjoying it, so I DNF'd it (I'm getting better at that). I also began a reread of Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, but it was not grabbing me the way it did the first time around, so I set it aside. Another 1952 book I started and DNF'd was Bridge Over the River Kwai. I had read that it was a bad book that had a good movie made from it, and I found that to be the case.
I'm almost through a reread of East of Eden, which I like and hope to finish by the end of the month. Also for 1952, I just completed Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. I'm not sure what to think of it, but my initial thoughts are that I didn't like it. Other 1952 books that I've read in the past not included in this project are The Killer Inside Me and Invisible Man.

In August, I will start to read books published in 1953 from my TBR shelves, maybe with a few rereads from my shelves thrown in. New reads include:
In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor
The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

Possible 1953 rereads are:
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (read in 1968 in college)
And Never Said A Word by Heinrich Boll
The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

Aug 13, 12:25am Top

Sort of off topic, but I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie movie last night, and when the credits rolled I saw Tom Courtney’s name. He was one of my favorite actors when I was a teenager (I saw The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner many, many times). I was extremely disconcerted to realize that the only character he could have played was the elderly postmaster Eban (which was in fact the case). I still think of him as a handsome young man. It also made me realize I myself should have been identifying with Amelia, the old lady, rather than Juliet, the young woman falling in love. Oh well.

Aug 13, 10:22am Top

Great minds, Deborah! I also watched it last night. As did my sister. She called me when there were about thirty minutes to go, and said, "We just watched the best show on Netflix..." It must have been popular last night. Dawsey was pretty cute. ;)

Aug 22, 9:27pm Top

I’m an MSNBC Mom too Deborah and I’d like to read Russian Roulette, more so now that I’ve read your review. Overstory is already on my list too and I have The Perfect Storm sitting on my shelf and have no idea why I haven’t read it yet.

Aug 23, 7:01am Top

wow, you read a lot :-) Do you have a special place where you like to read?

Sep 2, 3:55am Top

>125 arubabookwoman: What a wistful post, Deborah. I see the roles these days of Ms Deneuve, Rampling, Bissett and Christie and know exactly what you mean. Have a lovely weekend.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2018

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