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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Reviews Through November 15, 2011 and Archive of Earlier Reviews

Larry Brown.  A Miracle of Catfish.  October 2011 (Playaway)   This is an unfinished novel set in the deep south.  I tried it and just couldn’t get into.  It describes rural life in excruciating detail – all of the kinds of insects catfish eat – none of the characters seemed attractive.  Recently I read George Eliot’s Adam Bede and almost gave up but eventually decided I was learning a lot about the sociology of the Midlands c. 1800.  I couldn’t find a similar rationale for spending 21.5 hours with the late Larry Brown.

Alan Furst.  Spies of the Balkans.  September 2011  Zannis is a police detective in Salonika in early WW II.  He meets a rich Jewish woman married to a senior German officer.  She is working to get Jews out of Germany, and he agrees to help.  He does this by working with detectives he knows in the Balkans.  He attracts the attention of British intelligence and accepts a mission that takes him to Paris.  He returns to Salonika just before the Germans invade and escapes with is paramour to Turkey and employment with the Brits.  Nobody does espionage like Alan Furst.  I’m reminded of Eric Ambler.

Pete Hamill.  North River.  November 2011 (Playaway)   It’s 1934 in the West Village in lower Manhattan.  Dr. Delaney, a GP, has a house there that he inherited from his father who had been an important figure in Tammany Hall.  Delaney had a promising career as a surgeon until he volunteered to accompany his neighbors to war in Europe, where a wound in his right arm ended his career as a surgeon.  His voluntary absence had angered his wife Molly and their relations never really recovered.  Apparently she suffered from depression, and 16 months before the story opens, she was last seen walking toward the North River (the Hudson).  Delany now lives alone, although his nurse is there in the daytime to answer the phone and manage the office.  One day he returns home to find his almost three year old grandson Carlos in a stroller and a note from his daughter Grace saying she has come back from Mexico and is on her way to Spain to try to find her Mexican husband who fled from Mexico after being accused of several terrorist bombings.  Delaney’s friend Angela, who runs his favorite restaurant, sends him a Sicilian woman, Rose, to take care of the boy.  Meanwhile Delaney’s Sicilian gangster friend Eddie Corso gets himself shot and Delaney sneaks him into St. Vincent’s Hospital without any paperwork.  Eddie recovers, gives Delaney $5000 and takes off for Florida.  The money is a lifesaver since Delaney is broke like everyone else in the depression.  The boss of the Neapolitan mob, Botticelli or “Botts” learns what happened and comes after Deleaney to find out where Corso went.  That’s the set up for a great story in which 1934 New York is wonderfully recreated.  Delany is protected from the Neapolitan gangsters by the Irish police and Sicilian gangsters; there is the story of Delaney’s devotion to the boy; and there is the eventual love affair between Delaney and Rose, who has a checkered past and is a real wop, i.e. a person without papers.  This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

Walter Isaacson.  Einstein.  October 2011  (Playaway)  This seems to be an excellent biography, but I only got to about 1915 before I quit.  The author’s explanations of Einstein’s thinking are very clear, as, apparently, were Einstein’s.  I got a pretty good idea of what is meant by general relativity and co-relational equations, but soon realized I was not going to come away enlightened.  A lot of time was spent on his personal life which was boring and perhaps a little sordid.  I was interested in the description of university politics among European scientists at that time and the difficulty Einstein had getting a position commensurate with his accomplishments.

Marshall Karp.  The Rabbit Factory.  October 2011  (Playaway)  Another story about two LA detectives?   Yes, and this one is special.  First there’s the love story of the narrator and his recently deceased wife.  As she endured chemo and foresaw her inevitable death from ovarian cancer, she wrote nine letters to be opened at the rate of one a month after her death.  Then there’s the mystery.  I don’t know much about Walt Disney, but I suspect ill feelings about him were the inspiration for the creation of the Lamar Company and its Disneyland look alike, Familyland.  First a clown is murdered, then a famous actor identified with Lamar, then a woman visiting Familyland with her family.  Soon the FBI is brought in but it is Detective Mike Lomax who finds the key to figuring out who would set out to destroy a major entertainment conglomerate.  It has lots of interesting characters, humor and a mind blowing plot.   I suspect it is better b y ear than by eye.  It is beautifully narrated by Tom Stechschulte and James Jenner.

Ian Rankin.  Strip Jack.  November 2011 (Playaway)    A popular MP is caught in a raid on an Edinburgh brothel.  Inspector Rebus finds it strange and starts to dig.  He is tenacious, irreverent and smart.  Oh, and out of shape and “never went to university.”  When the MP’s semi-estranged wife is murdered and Rebus digs further, he finds that the MP is part of a circle of friends that have partying together and supporting each other since childhood, but there may be problems among them which could result in murder.  It’s a good mystery and it’s funny.  If the Scottish accents start to wear on you, take a break but do finish.  You could read the print version, but you would miss a lot of the fun.

Note:  These reviews started as just a list to remind me of what I had read.  Over time I started to add notes to titles that particularly interested me.  The dates after each title show the month that I read it.  Items below highlighted in yellow are books in the queue waiting to be read and reviewed.  Google any title for more complete reviews.  What you get here is just my opinion.  The selection is limited to what I can find on CDs or Playaways in the Montgomery County Library.

Peter Abrahams.  Nerve Damage.  Oct. 2010.  (Playaway)  Sculptor Roy Valois’s wife Delia died 15 years earlier in a helicopter crash while on a mission for the Hobbs Foundation.  When Valois is diagnosed with Mesothelioma, he has a kid hack into the NYT to read his obit.  There seems to be a mistake regarding Delia and from this flows the mystery – Delia had been more that a PhD economist.

James Agee, A Death in the Family.  Nov. 2008  I didn’t like the reader, Mark Hammer, and I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time listening to the nitty gritty of family life.  I quit after a disk and a half.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Infidel.  Feb. 2010 (Playaway)   A fascinating inside view of Somali culture and Islam, and then her story as she acquires an education, becomes a member of the Dutch parliament and works for the rights of Muslim women in Holland.  After she makes her movie with Theo ?Van Gogh?, she is protected by Dutch security and even moved to the US for a while.

Louis L’Amour,  Sackett’s Land.  2008  This is the first book in a long series.  It begins with adventures in England and Virginia before Jamestown.

Louis L’Amour,  To the Far Blue Mountains.  2008 This is the second in the Sackett series.  Sackett moves out from Virginia and settles in Tennessee or Kentucky.  His wife goes back to England with some of the children and he never sees her again.  He is killed by Indians who surround his camp while he is exploring in the west.  But the family and the story continues on through about 12 more books.

Jeffrey Archer.   A Prisoner of Birth.  August 2009  Danny Cartwright is framed for murdering his best friend, the brother of his fiancé.  This is A Tale of Two Cities and more.  Archer makes John Grisham look like an amateur in both courtroom drama and Swiss banking.  And the prison scenes are beyond belief or maybe just the opposite. Robert Allam is the reader and is fantastic.

David Baldacci.  Camel Club.  (1) Summer 2008   Oliver Stone, former unit 666 member, and his three compatriots

David Baldacci.  The Collectors. (2)  Annabelle Conroy cons Jerry Bagger .  There’s a murder at the Library of Congress where one of the Camel; Club four works.  Anabelle helps set up a con to solve the mystery and get the bad guys.

David Baldacci.  Stone Cold. (3)  Aug 2008  On “orders” from his mother, a former Russian spy, former navy seal is assassinating retired members of Triple X, a defunct CIA assassination unit, of which Oliver Stone was a charter member..  In subplot,  Annabelle Conroy gets Jerry Bagger, before he can kill her.  Bagger had killed her mother and ordered the killing of her father.

David Baldacci, The Collectors. Oct 2008  This precedes Stone Cold.  Annabelle cons Jerry Bagger.  Oliver Stone et al have a case involving rare books, murder in the Library of Congress and assassinations.

David Baldacci, Simple Genius.  Oct 2008  The goings on at Babbageland, a think tank across the York River from Camp Pirie, where the CIA is doing some bad stuff.  Heroes are former Secret Service and now P.I.s.  Viggi is genius daughter of murdered math genius who learned of treasure under Camp Pirie from former WW II German prisoner there

Russell Banks.  The Reserve.  Sept 2008   Forget it.  Artist and wife and their affairs in the Adirondacks.

Nevada Barr.  Hard  Truth.  Oct. 2010.  (Playaway)  Mature lady park ranger and paraplegic former climber take on a serial killer who brain washes 3 girls from a cult colony.  It was a cliff hanger but not a pleasant read.  The paraplegic woman’s efforts to deal with her disability were interesting.

Greg Bear, Darwin’s Radio.  July 2008  15,000 year old mummies, a strange genetic change, man evolves to a higher level

John Berendt.  The City of Falling Angels.  Dec. 2009  Non fiction about Venice: the fire at the Fenice Opera House in 1996, Count Volpi,  Archimedes ?Sugera? and Murano glass, Jane and Philip Rylands and how they took over Peggy Guggenheim to get control of her gallery and then befriended Ezra Pounds’s mistress,  Rudd, a concert violinist, to get control of his papers and make some money selling them to Yale.
Lawrence Bergreen,  Over the Edge of the World.   Sept. 09  “Magellan’s Terrifying Navigation of the Globe.”   A winner

Alex Berenson.  The Faithful spy.  April 2010   CIA operative spend 10 years in Pashtun country and infiltrates Al Qaeda.  He is sent to the US to be part of a big event, spreading plague and a dirty bomb in Times Square.  He is not trusted by CIA when he returns, escapes, goes underground and waits for Qadri to contact him.  He foils the plot with the help of his former control, Jennifer Exley.

Louis de Bernieres.  Corelli’s Violin. Sept 2008   Italians on Kephalos in WWII.  Corelli’s love for Greek doctor’s daughter.  Short and wonderful 

Steve Berry,  The Templar Legacy.  Nov. 2008   This was fun.   Anagrams etc to find the treasure and put it in the hands of the good Templars

Steve Berry.  The Alexandria Link.  Mar. 2009   The son of Cotton Malone, a former CIA guy with a bookstore in Copenhagen, is kidnapped.  He gets him back and eventually ends up in the desert in the library of Alexandria and then in Austria where the bad guys are.

Steve Berry,  The Venetian Betrayal.  Sept 2009  Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vit in Central Asia.  They find Alexander’s tomb and a cure for HIV in the Central Asian Republic

Steve Berry,  The Charlemagne Pursuit.  Sept. 2009  Cotton Malone learns his father did not die in a submarine accident but actually was on a top secret mission.  By linking clues found in Charlemagne’s tomb and Nazi Germany, he discovers a dark conspiracy

Lawrence Block.  Hope to Die.  March 2011 (Playaway)   This is a detective story in best sense of the word.  A retired police detective and sometime private detective tracks down a serial killer by deduction and shoe leather.  The case, as far as the police were concerned, was closed.  The murderers of an upper Westside couple during a home invasion were found dead in an apartment in Brooklyn, an obvious murder suicide.  The loot was there and the door had to be kicked in because it was bolted from the inside with a shiny new bolt.  The fun is in the battle of wits between the detective and the killer.

David Bodanis,  Electric Universe. Oct 2008  This is an excellent short history of the development of the theory and uses of electricity up through the computer and into the human mind.

Chris Bohjalian, Skeletons at the Feast.  July2009  In 1943 Uri Singer escapes from train full of Jews enroute to a death camp.  He kills and impersonates a German soldier, and then several other soldiers.  In winter 1944 he meets up with the Emmerichs, an East Prussian family trekking west to escape the advancing Russians.  Their party includes Mutti (the mother), Anna and 10 year old Theo and a 20 year old Scottish paratrooper POW.  A parallel story describes the horrors endured by Jewish women in a work camp and their forced march west as the Russians advanced from the east.

C.J. Box.  Free Fire.  August 2010  Fun to listen to, but totally predictable throughout.  For a game warden, forgettable Joe Picket is kind of a wuss.  The author leaves Joe’s ex-special forces friend and protector, Nate Romanowski in the hands of the FBI as the book ends.  No doubt there are prequels and sequels but I won’t be going there.

H.W. Brands.  The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.  Sept. 2010   (The Modern Scholar 14 lectures) (Playaway).  Not a heavy weight biography, but certainly a good read and very informative.

H.W. Brands.  Traitor to His Class, The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  August 2010   A pretty thorough bio of FDR.  I had thought that FDR hadn’t said much about the Jews during the war, but it seems he did.  What really comes through is how radical he was.  Obama should be giving the same speeches, since the Republicans haven’t changed a thing in what they have to say since the 1920s and 1930s.

Larry Brown.  A Miracle of Catfish.  October 2011 (Playaway)   This is an unfinished novel set in the deep south.  I tried it and just couldn’t get into.  It describes rural life in excruciating detail – all of the kinds of insects catfish eat – none of the characters seemed attractive.  Recently I read George Eliot’s Adam Bede and almost gave up but eventually decided I was learning a lot about the sociology of the Midlands c. 1800.  I couldn’t find a similar rationale for spending 21.5 hours with the late Larry Brown.

Pearl S. Buck.  The Good Earth.  August 2011 (Playaway)   I should have read this years ago.  I would 
have taken it all at face value and accepted it as a story about a Chinese peasant’s love and respect for the land and the corrupting influence of wealth if a peasant manages to accumulate enough land to become a landlord.   Now I find it hard to accept a portrait in black and white with only a hint of grey.

James Lee Burke.  Heaven’s Prisoners.  Jan 2010. (Playaway)  Burke introduces  Robicheaux.  He rescues Alafair and adopts her.

James Lee Burke.  Jolie Blon’s Bounce.  Jan 2010 (Playaway)  Dave Robicheaux doesn’t think Tee Bobby Hulin raped and murdered two women.

James Lee Burke.  In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead.  Feb. 2010 (Playaway)   They are making a movie nearby and there have been a couple of murders of young women.  Robicheaux is married to Bootsie and Alafair is still a little girl.

James Lee Burke, Cadillac Jukebox.  Jan. 2010.  Dave Robicheaux is still married to Bootsie (she hasn’t been murdered yet).  He tries to defend Aaron ????, a sort of Wildman, against powerful people who would like him to take the fall for some murders.  The rich anti-hero and his wife are burned to death in their home – justice in the end.  Aaron kills the hired killer and ends up in a country club prison.  He had some other people he wanted to kill for drawing his daughter into “the life” but others killed them first.

James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.   April 2008.  Robicheaux  meets Molly; takes down Chalon family while searching for Ida, a prostitute who saved him and his brother Jim from sharks and later disappeared.

James Lee Burke, Swan Peak.   Oct 2008  Robicheaux  in Montana with friend ?Cleat? to fish.  Texas oilman is doing something clandestine on his ranch

James Lee Burke, Tin Roof Blowdown.  Aug 2008   Dave Robicheaux has another case but the real story is Katrina.  Sept  2008

James Lee Burke.  The Glass Rainbow.  September 2011   Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell are still at it in 2009.  Most of the bad guys that we know about don’t survive, but there are many issues left open as the book closes, including the question of whether the gunshot wounds Dave and Clete receive are fatal.  The language throughout is colorful and Dave’s musing about life, right and wrong, Iberia parish, his friend Clete, alcoholism etc are as electric as ever.  They’re getting old but I hope this isn’t the last time we see them.

James Lee Burke.  Cimarron Rose.  April 2010.  (Playaway)    Billy Bob Holland is a lawyer in Deaf Smith TX.  He defends guitarist Lucas Smothers charged with rape and murder.

James Lee Burke, Bitterroot.  Feb. 2009  The third Billy Bob Holland book.  A bad dude rodeo clown, Wayne Dixon, follows Holland to Montana.  Neo Nazis, made men, a drunken novelist, grumpy sheriff etc.

James Lee Burke.  In the Moon of Red Ponies.  August 2010  Billy Bob has moved to Montana.  As usual, the baddest guy continues his billionaire ways but some rough justice is done.

James Lee Burke.  Rain Gods.  June 2010   Kind of same old same old.  Hackberry Holland, former lawyer, sot and rake, is one tough sheriff.  He takes on psychopath Jack Collins who paid $18,000 for his Thompson machine gun

James Lee Burke, White Doves at Morning.  Aug 2008   Life near New Orleans during the Civil War.  A slave owner’s daughter establishes a school.  A northern abolitionist’s daughter has successes and failures in righting wrongs and eventually leaves the two local guys who love her (and she them) and marries a union soldier and continues her life of activism elsewhere. 

Ian Buruma.   Inventing Japan.  Apr. 09

Thomas Cahill.  Mysteries of the Middle Ages.  Sept. 2010  This is a wonderful tour featuring Hildegard of Bingen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas,  Giotto, Dante, Francis Bacon and others I can’t recall.  I had forgotten that Cahill is the author of Sailing the Wine Dark Sea, a memorable read. So I've just read some more of his  books.  An example of the kind of insights that pop up in his work is that 1223 was the year of birth of realism -- Francis of Assisi's Christmas creche in the town of  ?Grecia?  had real animals and real hay.  

Thomas Cahill.   The Gifts of the Jews.   Oct. 2010  In Abraham’s relationship with his one God we can recognize basic changes in the way men thought about themselves that have become the basis of modern thought and civilization.  The first basic thing was a sense of time and of a past and a future which replaced a worldview that saw only endless repeating cycles.  This is developed as he tells the stories of the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, and links them up with history; for example, the exodus likely took place in the reign of Ramses II (1279-1212 BCE).

Thomas Cahill.  Desire of the Everlasting Hills.  Oct. 2010  Drawing on recent scholarship including studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he works his way through the books of the New Testament to try to describe what early Christianity was and how it was related to Judaism.  An inspiring read.  He finishes with a description of the Society of Sant’ Egidio , which was founded in Trastevere  in Rome about 50 years ago and now has about 20,000 members worldwide.  It’s ordinary people in ordinary occupations who come together several times a week to act as real Christians.

Thomas Cahill.   How the Irish Saved Civilization.   Oct. 2010  The best review I found was in the NYT  This book in the Cahill series  starts with the last years of the Roman Empire in the West and ends in the early 9th C just after the Charlemagne Renaissance.  The main theme is that several generations of Irish monks preserved the learning of ancient Greece and Rome in their monasteries by copying and distributing the works of the ancient authors.  He notes that Christianity spread with Romanization and remarks that Gibbon attributed the fall of Rome to weakness resulting from the adoption of Christianity.  Cahill suggests it may have been the onerous system of taxation that made almost everyone except the nobility into tax collectors.  When the barbarians came, their regimes may have looked more attractive than the Roman system.  He calls it the greatest change ever in Europe and notes that as the empire went from peace to chaos, Ireland, as a result of Christianization, went from chaos to peace and thus to a place where literacy,  books and ideas could be preserved until the rest of Europe was ready for a renaissance.  Specific topics I noted included his discussion of Augustine of Hippo, whom Cahill says is the inventor of original sin and the first writer to use the word “I” in a modern way that indicates self-consciousness.  Also he faults Augustine for introducing wrongheaded ideas about sex that have plagued Christians ever since.  He notes that St Patrick was the first to speak out against slavery.  He quotes extensively from an early Irish work (what I heard was the “Toin” but after a quick online search, it’s probably Tain) to indicate that until civilized by Patrick and Christianity, Irish lit. was the opposite of Latin lit. – amazing images but no contemplation.  As with all of Cahill’s books, one is attracted by the way he sweeps through history to highlight major themes but also how he focuses on individual contributions.  He does note that some ancient writing may have been preserved in the east, but the book really needs a section on how Muslim society and the Eastern Roman Empire played roles as important or perhaps more important than the Irish monks.

Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason, Rule of Four.   Fall  07 Four Princeton students try to solve the mystery buried in the Hypnertomacchia which would lead to a hidden treasure  

Peter Carey, My Life as a Fake.  June 09  The dramatis personae are Sarah, editor of Modern Poetry; John  Slater, a poet;  Weiss, who was editor of a small Australian review until he died in an accident after being taken in by Christopher  Chubb/John McCorkle in a literary hoax and his daughter, Tina.

Peter  Carey, His Illegal Self.  June  09  Anna Sennos AKA Dile was baby sitter for Susan Selkirk’s baby son.  Both women were members of SDS.  Dile goes to Harvard, gets a job at Vassar and then calls Selkirk who asks her to pick up her son from his grandmother for a quick visit.  Selkirk is underground and blows herself up making bombs before the visit can take place.  At this point Dile is considered a kidnapper and flees with the boy to a hippy colony in the Australian outback.  She loves the boy; he loves her; but he has to go back and the problem is how to do that.  This is never resolved in a way that I can understand and I will never read another Peter Carey novel.

Peter  Carey.  Theft, a Love Story.  June 2010  Co-narrated by an Australian artist, Butcher or Mike Boone, and his retarded brother, Hugh.  Butcher falls for an art dealer who uses him and revives his career.  He can’t stay on with her after she murders her estranged husband Liebowitz in order to acquire the droit morale to his father’s paintings.   I read this after His Illegal Self and liked it.  Peter Carey is forgiven.

Jimmy Carter, The Hornets’ Nest.  Spring 08  Revolutionary War in back woods of Georgia and South Carolina

Michael Chabon.   Gentlemen of the Road.  Apr. 09  A Jewish knight of the road and doctor from 
Germany, Zelikman,  paired with an Ethiopian professional soldier help change the leadership in a Jewish trading community on the shores of the Caspian in about the 12th or 13th century.  Zelikman’s horse, Hillel, saves them more than once as does an elephant whom Zelikman had befriended many years earlier.

Michael Chabon.   The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.  May 09  It’s a Jewish community in Alaska where Jews were allowed to settle after being pushed out of Israel in 1948.  The theme is chess.  Many clichés and metaphors per sq. inch.

Michael Chabon, Summerland.  May 09  Basically a children’s story.  It’s about  baseball played in another world, and giants an monsters and crossing over and a boy’s efforts to save the world and his inventor father. 

Jung Chang, Mao.  Nov. 09  Over 29 hours.  Early on it describes his personal morality – the world exists for him.  Death for others is of no concern.  An intellectual who read constantly.  Had no real connection with peasants or workers, abhorred physical labor for himself.  This is so complete that at some point I began to question whether much of it wasn’t invention, so I checked reviews and found little criticism other than a lack of documentation and of some kind of summary conclusion.  Jung Chang and her husband seemed to have interviewed everyone who survived and to have checked memcons and other documents on five continents.  A chilling read, a summary of 20th C history and maybe a masterpiece.

Jung Chang, Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China.  May 09  What happened to three generations of women, starting in the 1920s when the grandmother becomes a concubine for a general, escapes with her child, marries Dr. Shia.  Her daughter worked for the Party against the Kuomintang in Manchuria, later married a party member who was so faithful to party rules that he wouldn’t let his wife ride in his official car and insisted his daughter exchange her front row tickets that had been given to him for back row tickets, because she was not an official.

Ron Chernow.   Alexander Hamilton.  Jan. 2009   This is an incredible history of the Revolution and the early days of the republic.  Hamilton wrote Washington’s Farewell Address and most everything else.  Jefferson is the villain, abetted by Madison.

Ron Chernow.  Washington, a Life.  July 2011  Review after reading Part II

Brock Clarke.   An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.  May 2011   Sam Pulsifer accidently burns down the Emily Dickinson house when he’s 18.  Two people die in the fire and he serves 10 years in prison.  When he gets out, he goes to college, gets married and has two children and a career as a packaging scientist.   Ten years after he leaves prison, the son of the two people killed in the fire begins to take his revenge.  Sam loses his family, his father and his freedom when the only course open to this strange man is to take the rap for several more fires.  I don’t know how it would read off the printed page, but the recording is so engaging that I couldn’t put it down.

Richard A. Clarke, The Scorpion’s Gate. Oct 08  The problem is he creates a new political situation in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia has become Islamia.  But it is a good tale.  A moderate Islamic regime emerges in Saudi Arabia despite efforts by some in US to restore the monarchy.  The US can’t invade because the civilian population has massed on the beaches.

Jon Clinch.  Finn.  Feb. 2010.  It’s Huckleberry Finn’s father.  I got tired of reading about a degenerate with no apparent redeeming values or any real interest at all and quit.
Harlan Coben.   Caught.  April 2011  This is a mystery with wheels inside of wheels.  It begins with a sting to catch a pedophile, followed by a girl’s disappearance and the apparent murder of the guy caught in the pedophile sting.  Coben even arranges for an appearance by Wynn Lockwood III, a principal character in his Myron Bolitar novels.  Pretty good but I miss Myron Bolitar.
Harlan Coben,  Deal Breaker.  Spring 08?  (Bolitar 1) I couldn’t remember if I had read this before.  Once into it, I realized I had but still had to listen to it all over again.  Cathy Culver is missing.   The quarterback did it.

Harlan Coben, Drop Shot.  June 09  (Bolitar  2) Fast and wise talking sports agent, Harvard lawyer, spoiled first round Celtics’ draft choice, Myron Bolitar, figures out on disk 7 what’s already obvious in disk 3 or 4 but the trip is worth it, partly because of his Philadelphia main line investment broker, tae kwan do black belt, scratch golfer, best friend, Wynn, who doesn’t hesitate to off anyone who deserves it --four in  this book: a child molesting tennis coach and three gangsters.

Harlan Coben.  Back Spin.  August 2011 (Bolitar 4)   This one starts out with as a simple kidnapping and ends up with a couple of murders and wheels within wheels.  Myron’s friend Wynnfred Lockford III refuses to help because it involves his mother, whom he has hated since he was eight.  It’s a US Open story and Myron picks up his first golfer client.

Harlan Coben.  One False Move.  August 2011 (Bolitar 5)  Still a wise guy, Myron picks up a woman basketball player, Brandy Slaughter, as a client just as a new league is being formed.  She is to be the star attraction on the team owned by Myron’s friend Mort Zuckerman.  Unfortunately her father, a former pro who identified Myron’s talents very early and took him down to the projects to play real basketball and develop the talents which enabled him to lead Duke to an NCAA championship.  A complication is that a crime family, the ?Aik? brothers are forming a rival league and have been talking to Slaughter Sr.  Then there’s Arthur Bradford, richest man in NJ and running for governor.  Brandy’s mother, Anita, who was a maid at the Bradford estate, disappeared 20 years ago a few months after Mrs. Bradford committed suicide.  Myron’s secretary, Esmeralda, AKA Little Pocahontas, has now graduated from law school and presses Myron to make her a partner in the firm.  Wynn disposes of several people while helping Myron stay alive long enough to unravel this case.  Brandy Slaughter may be the most attractive character Coben has created.

Harlan Coben.  Darkest Fear.  May 2011 (Bolitar 7)  Myron Bolitar searches for a bone marrow transplant donor for the son of an old girl friend.  He finds the donor, he finds out he’s the biological father of the boy, and he solves the mystery of a particularly nasty serial killer.  And we find out that the knee injury that ended his NBA career was no accident.

Harlan Coben.  Promise Me.  Feb. 2010 (Bolitar 8) Myron Bolitar takes on his first rescue in six years, the pregnant daughter of friends of his who seemed to be a runaway – actually she had been kidnapped by a lady doctor who wanted to be sure she became the grandmother of the girl’s child.  Win shoots “the twins” who are torturing Bolitar, one of them by biting him.

Harlan Coben,  Long Lost.  Sept. 09  (Bolitar  9) Bolitar goes to France at request of old girlfriend.  Unravels terrorist plot to use leftover embryos  from blond people to breed terrorists that won’t attract attention for their Middle Eastern looks.
[Fade Away 3,  The Final Detail 6]

Harlan Coben, The Innocent   June 09  The horror of one night is forever etched in Matt Hunter's memory; the night he innocently tried to break up a fight-and ended up a killer.  Now nine years after his release from prison, his innocence long forgotten, he's an ex-con who takes nothing for granted. With his wife Olivia pregnant and the two of them closing on a house in his home town, things are looking up. Until the day Matt gets a shocking, inexplicable video call from Olivia's phone. And in an instant, the unraveling begins.  A mysterious man who begins tailing Matt turns up dead. A beloved nun is murdered. And local and federal authorities--including homicide investigator, Loren Muse, a childhood schoolmate of Matt's with a troubled past of her own--see all signs pointing to a former criminal with one murder already under his belt... Matt Hunter.  Unwilling to lose everything for a second time, Matt and Olivia are forced outside the law in a desperate attempt to save their future together.

John Connolly.  The Book of Lost things.  Feb. 2010 (Playaway)  A boy resents losing his mother and then the stepmother and his new brother.  He steps thru his garden wall into a world of fairy tales, where he survives many dangers and temptations from the “trickster”  – all revised versions of fairy tales we know – and then returns to his home, reconciled with his step mother and happy to have a brother.

Robin Cook.  Marker.  November 2011

Bernard Cornwell.   Agincourt.  July 2009  It follows Nicholas Hook, a game keeper and archer, to Soissons when Burgundians were in revolt against the French and then with Henry V to Agincourt.  It seems very well researched in terms of military lore – goose feathers and silk thread on ash shafts and the bow or shaft is from a yew tree, including part of the heartwood. 

Bernard Cornwell.  Vagabond.  September 2011  (sequel to The Archer’s Tale)  I quit in chapter 1.

Patricia Cornwell.  Cruel and Unusual.  September 2011 (Playaway)  Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta finds that she can’t prove that the man she autopsied after his death in Virginia’s electric chair was who he was supposed to be and it gets even more complicated when his bloody thumb print appears at a new crime scene.  There are wheels within wheels as she unravels a conspiracy that goes all the way to the governor.  In the end the perp gets away, but at least she and her detective colleague know who he is.  Presumably he’ll be back.

Michael Cox, The Meaning of Night. Oct 08  I quit during the first disk.  The narrator murders a red headed stranger in the street to be sure he can commit murder.  He intends to polish off his enemy who took his fortune.  Then he sleeps with his long time hooker friend who hopes to inherit a high class whore house.

Stephen Crane.  The Red Badge of Courage.  September 2011 (Playaway)  When I first read this about 60 years ago, I think I was impressed with Crane’s “reading” of what was going on in the mind of young Henry Fleming as he runs from battle and then comes back and makes it through.  That’s the whole book except for a few lines  of dialog and some routine description of settings.  It doesn’t ring true.  Reread something else.

Michael Crichton, The Great Train Robbery.  Sept 08  True story, they get away with it.  12,000 pounds on its way to pay British troops in the Crimea.  It’s 1855 and there’s lots of British history thrown in.  At the master mind’s trial, he was asked when he last saw his accomplice.  He said 6 days ago when he came to the prison to discuss my escape.  

Bill Crider.   Murder among the Owls.  August 2011 (Playaway)  This was kind of a down home murder mystery in a small town in Texas.  A little old lady who belongs to the OWLS, a reading group, gets herself murdered.  The sheriff finally figures it all out.  It’s a bit simplistic and anticlimactic. 

Mitch Cullin, Slight Trick of the Mind.   Spring 08  Sherlock Holmes at age 93 recalls the case of the woman who played the glass jars or vases.  His long ago infatuation; unrequited, of course

Charles Cumming.  The Spanish Game.  April 2011   Aec Milius, a disgraced British spy who had offended the CIA after he thought they had killed his girl friend,  gets involved with a senior Basque activist and tries on his own to learn how and why he disappeared.  He is picked up by an MI-5 unit working on the Basque question and hopes that his cooperation will lead to his reinstatement after 6 years in the cold.  Eventually he’s the victim of a CIA sting designed to humiliate him even further.  In the end, perhaps he gets his revenge.

Michael Cunningham.  The Hours.  November 2011

Clive Cussler.   The Navigator.  Dec. 2009  Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala of NUMA search for a statue which  may have the key to finding King Solomon’s mines.  It starts with a Phoenician captain hiding a treasure and then being murdered by rivals.  In our time it is a descendant of those Phoenicians  who is the bad guy and is also looking for the statue  (there are two  -- one he steals from the Iraqi National Museum, the other Austin and Zavala find in a cave on the coast of Turkey.

Clive Cussler and Justin Scott.  The Wrecker.  September 2011  Israel Bell of the Van Dorn Detective Agency (The Pinkertons must be the model) runs down a US Senator who is sabotaging the Southern Pacific Railroad to drive it into bankruptcy, so that he can pick it up for cheap.  As a thriller it’s sort of O.K., but it is interesting for its description of early 20th C technology and railroad operations. 

John Darnton.  Neanderthal. Oct 08  An archeological and anthropological fantasy.  US and Russian Intelligence think there are Neanderthals in the Pamirs in Tajikistan (the US has captured one) and send scientists in to investigate.  The captured creature has no language ability but seems to communicate by something like ESP and can see through others’ eyes.  The scientists find a clueless, naked, vegetarian group and a more advanced but brutal cannibalistic group.  The brutal ones are destroyed by a ruse and an avalanche, the clueless ones move up to eating meat and move out of the woods and into the brutal ones caves and the scientists who survive come out saying they found nothing.

Jeffery Deaver.  The Twelfth Card.  July 2010 (Playaway)  Lincoln, a quadriplegic NYC detective, solves case of contract killer stalking Geneva, a  16 year old Harlem girl, researching her ancestors life.  It involves a banker, whose continued affluence depends on retaining the ancestor’s property, which was seized unjustifiably  in 1868.

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking.  June 09  I couldn’t stay with it.  She researches and writes so well but…

E.L. Doctorow.  The March.  Aug 08  Sherman to the sea and then to the Carolinas.  Only character besides Sherman who ties it together is a very white young slave girl named Pearl.  Micro history – how it was for ordinary people who lived through this turmoil, especially the wounded and those who took care of them 
Tim Dorsey.  Torpedo Juice.  March 2010.  Crazy stuff with Serge and Colman in the Florida Keys.

Tim Dorsey.  The Big Bamboo.  April 2011  (Playaway)   If you are going to read this book, get the recorded version.  The performance by George K. Wilson is simply unbelievable.  There’s only one thing that’s more fun and at 76, well, aw shucks.  Serge Strong is a serial killer who does his best to knock off only those people who really deserve it.  There are a lot as he lends his talents and obsession with movies to a major con that takes down a rapacious Hollywood studio a Japanese electronics company run by the Yakuza and a major predatory group based in Alabama.

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. Freakanomics.  July 08  Economic analysis jumps out of the box and comes up with counter-intuitive results.

Sarah Dumont, The Birth of Venus.  July 09  (I found I had started this once before and I quit again.)

Jane Dunn, Elizabeth and Mary.  August 2009  A dual biography of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.  The reading is wonderful, especially so because the author quotes extensively from 16th C letters and documents.  If ever there were an argument for secular government, this is it.  You can say “what people did to each other in the name of religion is unspeakable,” but this is only half the story.  Decisions made arbitrarily on the basis of religion affected every facet of people’s lives.
John Duning.  The Bookwoman’s Last Fling.  August 2011 (Playaway)  Cliff Janeway, a former Denver  detective and now a book dealer , is hired to evaluate a collection at the ranch of a recently diseased  racehorse owner.  He ends up solving the mystery of the death of the racehorse owner’s wife 30 years earlier and the mystery of how and why some valuable books were missing from her collection and who took them.  This is the 5th in a series about Janeway and a pretty good read.

Umberto Eco.  Baudolino.  June 2010  Baudolino was about 12 when he met Frederick Barbarossa in the fog near his home in a swamp.  He led Frederick back and then Frederick adopted him because he was incredibly smart.  Later he gave Baudolino ministry rank and sent him to the university in Paris.  Baudolino advised him on his campaigns in Italy and went with him to the east where Frederick drowned.  Baudolino had hoped to persuade Frederick to go further east to find Prester John.  He does go with 11 companions pretending to be the returning magi.  He fabricates relics and the holy grail.  His adventures as he relates them to an official in Constantinople play out late twelfth century theological debates, science and myth.

Ric Edelman.  The Lies about Money.  Feb. 2010 (Playaway)  He’s a financial planner promoting himself and his firm, but he does cover a lot of ground on what we all should know about handling our investments.

Dave Eggers.   A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  Feb. 2011  This novel has won awards, moves fast in a stream of consciousness narration and takes on an interesting subject: how does a 22 year old who has just lost both parents to cancer raise his 8 year old brother?  I just couldn’t give it 13.5 hours and quit after two disks. 

Barbara Ehrenreich.  Nickel and Dimed.  March 2011 (Playaway)  Ehrenreich is a PhD biologist who decided to have a career as a political activist instead of a scientist.  She is a self-proclaimed social democrat.  In her late 50s her editor suggested she take a year off and try to live on the minimum wage or the going wage for that kind of work.  Her objective was to feed and house herself on what she could earn working in jobs like waitress, Wal-Mart associate and Maids (not Merry Maids).  Eventually she failed but not before she had collected enough data to provide some fascinating insights into the invisible world that we know is out there but try to avoid acknowledging.   I can sum it up in one short quote:  “They go hungry all day so that we can eat cheaply.”

George Eliot.  Adam Bede.  September 2011  What possessed me to pick up a Victorian novel?   The story wasn’t much; virtually everything is predictable.  It’s 1799 in the midlands in England, and, for me, that was the point.  The description and moralizing from the unidentified narrator is almost a treatise on the sociology of the period.  I tried to forget the forgettable fiction and focus on social history.  All the while I was thinking of Marc Bloch.

Joseph J. Ellis.  Founding Brothers, The Revolutionary Generation.  Sept. 2010   A pleasant tour through the lives of some of the founding fathers.  Of particular note were the sections on Franklin and on the interaction between Jefferson and Adams.  Jefferson does not come off well.  The duel between Hamilton and Burr is a little gem in its completeness and in its use as an introduction to the clash of values among the founders. 

Jon Fasman.  The Geographer’s Library.  August 2010  The story kind of lies around in pieces.  The “hero” is so clueless you wonder how he ever found his way into a novel.  The author seems to justify a whole series of murders as a means to bring together and preserve the geographer’s collection, which seems to include, i.a., knowledge of a means to preserve human life indefinitely.  Some interesting material on alchemy and 10th to 12th C science, but it’s not well used.

F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The Great Gatsby.  May 2010  Playaway.  I really enjoyed rereading this.  There are some structural problems, but this is more than compensated for by his description of the 20s and the arrogant and unfeeling rich.  It makes it easy to imagine "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz."

Tim Flannery.   The Weather Makers.  Jan. 2010  Climate change and global warming.  Data dates from about 2004.  He puts it all together – no doubts can remain.  I was initially fascinated by learning about the earth’s changing orbit, variable slope of its axis, , which come in cycles, and its wobbles on its axis – can’t remember if that’s random or cyclical

Gustave Flaubert.  Madame Bovary.  November 2011

Florence.  July 2010 (Playaway)  OK, a little weak on sculpture.  Doesn’t mention Donatello’s St. Mark at Orsanmichele.

Benedict Flynn, A Life of Dante.  August 2009  There’s not a lot to say about Dante, 1265-1321, except the fight about his bones.  One would have to dig into the poetry.  One interesting detail, the last nine books of Paradise regained were hidden in a wall in the last place he lived (check this again if you ever want to use it).

Jonathan Safran Foer.  Everything is Illuminated.  March 2011 (Playaway)  I saw the movie and thought this might be good.  Perhaps it is, but the mangling of English by the Ukrainian student who is to escort the American in search of his roots is a joke that wears thin very quickly.  I lasted 5 minutes.

Jasper Forde.  A Well of Lost Plots.  Nov. 08  Too cute.  I only lasted a few minutes.

Shelby Foote.  Shiloh.  August 2010  A comprehensive account of the battle told through the eyes of participants on both sides.

Antonia Fraser.  Love and Louis XIV.  August 2011  Fraser is a reputable historian so I put aside my reservations about reading anything with “love” in the title, and I’m glad I did.  Louis’ mistresses, especially the last one, Madame Maintenon, played important roles in his reign.  By following his relations with them outside the bedroom, one can learn a lot about the history of France and the history of Europe and about daily life among the principal players.

Tom Friedman,  The World is Flat.  July 08  How the parts for his new laptop met up in Malaysia and other stories.  A winner

Tom Friedman.  Hot, Flat and Crowded.  Jan. 2010  Barely got started when it was recalled for a hold

Alan Furst.  The Foreign Correspondent.  Oct. 2010.  He’s an Italian antifacist émigré in Paris, a Reuters correspondent, the principal writer for a clandestine antifascist newspaper, Il Liberatione, and lover of a German woman in Berlin who is involved in resistance against Hitler.

Alan Furst.  Kingdom of  Shadows.  September 2011 (Playaway)  This isn’t the best of his novels that I have read, but it’s very good.  Nicholas Morath , a descendant of Magyar nobles, is working in Paris in 1938 at an advertising agency and does odd jobs occasionally for his uncle who is a senior official at the Hungarian embassy and very rich.  What he does for his uncle is a lot like spying, a Furst specialty. Morath is 44 and single and has a young mistress from a landed Argentine family.  The uncle is doing his best to keep Hungary from falling into the hands of fascists and becoming a puppet of Hitler’s Germany.  A lot of the background action involves Czech efforts to avoid ceding the Sudetenland to Germany and Chamberlain’s betrayal.  Many of the players in this drama believed that if the Germans had had to face the elaborate defenses set up by the Czechs, their whole program would have foundered.  Britain and France would have entered the fray before Hitler was ready for them.  Russia would have seen no need for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and would have threatened Hitler from the east.  It didn’t work out, but Morath had a small victory over the Germans by rescuing a Jewish businessman from Vienna.

Alan Furst.  Night Soldiers.  May 2011  (Playaway)  Khristo is a young Bulgarian who sees his brother kicked to death by fascists.  He goes off to Russia with one of the locally assigned reds and becomes an NKVD agent.  He is assigned to Spain during the civil war and has to escape to France after his devotion to the NKVD becomes suspect.  His tradecraft is first rate and eventually he is picked up by the OSS and sent to Nazi occupied Prague.  From there he passes through the advancing Russian lines to meet a defecting NKVD classmate in Romania.  He ends up in New York in the arms of an American woman he had known in Spain.

Alan Furst.  The Polish Officer.  July 2010 (Playaway)  WWII spy novel.  He escapes before Katyn and then becomes an agent in France.

Alan Furst.  Spies of the Balkans.  September 2011  Zannis is a police detective in Salonika in early WW II.  He meets a rich Jewish woman married to a senior German officer.  She is working to get Jews out of Germany, and he agrees to help.  He does this by working with detectives he knows in the Balkans.  He attracts the attention of British intelligence and accepts a mission that takes him to Paris.  He returns to Salonika just before the Germans invade and escapes with is paramour to Turkey and employment with the Brits.  Nobody does espionage like Alan Furst.  I’m reminded of Eric Ambler.

Neil Gaiman.  Neverwhere.  August 2010   I started and then realized this was the novel for a Netflix  instant –view that I had started and couldn’t stand.  Who wants to deal with creepy characters beneath London who eat rats.  The writing was good; the story not.

Diana Gabaldon.  Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade.  (Playaway) Nov. 2010  I gave up after 5 minutes.

Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide.  Apr. 09 Wonderful story of life and myth in the Sunderbunds in southern India.  Pia, a young Bengali-American cytologist, studies river dolphins with ?Foquier? , a son of nature.  They have no language in common, but he knows where the dolphins are and the ancient songs about the forest goddess, Bonbibi.  ?Kanai? is a successful and arrogant Bengali who has a translation company in New Delhi.  He meets Pia on his way to visit his aunt, Mashima, in Lucy Bari where the aunt has built and runs a hospital.  Kanai and Pia learn much about life from their adventures on the water, including a cyclone in which Foquier dies while saving Pia’s life, and from Kanai’s uncle’s diary in which he learns that his late uncle had been in love with Foquier’s mother, Kushong, as had the boatman, Harun.

Robert Goddard, Sight Unseen.  Nov. 08  A young girl is kidnapped and carried away on a white tourist bus.  Lots of plot lines.

Annette Gordon-Reed.  The Hemingses of Monticello.  June 2011   I haven’t seen Jefferson in Paris, but reviews of it were the first thing that drew my attention to Sally Hemings,   I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this off the shelf.  It’s not a book about a love affair or exploitation of a powerless young slave girl.  It  is a work of serious scholarship, and I learned more about the institution of slavery in colonial Virginia than I imagined possible.  Jefferson is there as a player all the way through, but the narrative really is about the Hemings family and how its members dealt with slavery and with their white masters.  Jefferson seems was a somewhat lenient master, especially with respect to members of the Hemings family, and family members took full advantage of their relatively privileged position.  If judged in terms of 21st C morality and considering the societal restrictions and prejudices in 18th C Virginia, Jefferson doesn’t look that bad in his relations with the family, many of whom he freed after arranging for training that would enable them to be successful as free men.

Al Gore, The Assault on Reason.  Feb. 2009  The most complete assault on the Bush administration imaginable.  Who knew Al Gore could be so direct and devastating.

Michael Grant.  Julius Caesar.   June 2011 (Playaway)  This was hard to handled by ear as I listened on a Playaway.  It seems a competent biography of Caesar, but no more than that.

Stephen Greenblatt.  Will in the World.  June 2010   (Playaway)  Discusses the social influences on Shakespeare and the sources available to him – written sources and work of other playwrights.  Left me with no doubts about his authorship of the plays.  Discusses his development as a playwright, especially in the tragedies, in which as time went on he tended toward expressing the inner consciousness of his protagonists.

W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV.  The Double Agents.  May 2011   This is a novel roughly based on OSS operations in WW II, specifically the dumping of a body off the coast of Spain to persuade the Nazis that Sicily would not be the next target for invasion.  I think the film title for Hollywood’s telling of this tale was “The Man Who Never Was.”  It was a little frustrating not knowing which characters were real and which were fictional and whether Ian Fleming, David Niven and Peter Ustinov worked together on this or any other MI-6 operation.

W.E.B. Griffin.  The Shooters.   June 2011 (Playaway)   Lt.Col. Charlie Castillo  is a Delta Force team leader.  This is all about lots of airplanes and firearms and getting back DEA agents kidnapped in Argentina.  It was o.k.

James Grippando.  Last Call.  Jan 2011 (Playaway)  Some years ago Jack Swyteck got Theo off of death row.  Theo now runs a successful bar.  Isaac,one of Theo’s former gang friends, escapes from prison and asks for his help to get out of Miami.  Theo refuses but ends up accused of murder when Isaac is found dead in an alley.  Sorting this out leads Jack and Theo to a major scandal 20 years before that involves some of the most powerful people in the city.  Once the crimes are solved and the culprits dead or put away, there’s a whole chapter about how well things turn out for the good guys that is reminiscent of a feel good Victorian novel.
John Grisham, Playing for Pizza. April 2009  Pro quarterback ends his career playing for Parma and learning to love the game and his teammates again.
Brian Haig.  Man in the Middle.  April 2010   His hero, Sean Drumond,  a real wise guy --  a JAG LtCol seconded to the CIA investigating ?suicide? of a DOD  handler of Iraqi dissidents including Moh. Chalabi.  Then there’s Maj. Be An Tran also investigating for DOD.  It takes a long time to find out Tran’s fiancée is actually dead and she feels responsible because she set up an operation based on faulty intelligence – Chalabi had told the Iranians that the US had broken their code and thwey used it to set up a massacre.

Pete Hamill.  North River.  November 2011 (Playaway)   It’s 1934 in the West Village in lower Manhattan.  Dr. Delaney, a GP, has a house there that he inherited from his father who had been an important figure in Tammany Hall.  Delaney had a promising career as a surgeon until he volunteered to accompany his neighbors to war in Europe, where a wound in his right arm ended his career as a surgeon.  His voluntary absence had angered his wife Molly and their relations never really recovered.  Apparently she suffered from depression, and 16 months before the story opens, she was last seen walking toward the North River (the Hudson).  Delany now lives alone, although his nurse is there in the daytime to answer the phone and manage the office.  One day he returns home to find his almost three year old grandson Carlos in a stroller and a note from his daughter Grace saying she has come back from Mexico and is on her way to Spain to try to find her Mexican husband who fled from Mexico after being accused of several terrorist bombings.  Delaney’s friend Angela, who runs his favorite restaurant, sends him a Sicilian woman, Rose, to take care of the boy.  Meanwhile Delaney’s Sicilian gangster friend Eddie Corso gets himself shot and Delaney sneaks him into St. Vincent’s Hospital without any paperwork.  Eddie recovers, gives Delaney $5000 and takes off for Florida.  The money is a lifesaver since Delaney is broke like everyone else in the depression.  The boss of the Neapolitan mob, Botticelli or “Botts” learns what happened and comes after Deleaney to find out where Corso went.  That’s the set up for a great story in which 1934 New York is wonderfully recreated.  Delany is protected from the Neapolitan gangsters by the Irish police and Sicilian gangsters; there is the story of Delaney’s devotion to the boy; and there is the eventual love affair between Delaney and Rose, who has a checkered past and is a real wop, i.e. a person without papers.  This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

Jonathan Harr.  The Lost Painting.  April 2011  A graduate student in art history in Rome finds a long lost Caravaggio.

Robert Harris.   Imperium.  June 2008   Cicero’s rise to prominence 

Robert Harris.  Pompeii.  June 2011   Marcus Attilius is sent from Rome to Pompei to replace the missing engineer responsible for maintaining the aqueduct originating in Serino to supply water to towns around the Bay of Naples and to Pompeii and Nola through branch lines.  It’s a good story of conspiracy and graft which Attilius unravels as he works to repair a stoppage in the line just before Vesuvius blows its top.  He and Pliny the Elder cooperate to advance knowledge of volcanic eruptions, and he saves the daughter of the bad guy in Pompeii by taking her underground in the empty aqueduct.  Apparently there really was a water stoppage problem caused by the ground heaving a few days before the eruption.   One wonders how many of the other plot details are based on archeological finds.  If you are curious about the aqueduct, there is a long article on it at:

Stephen Hawkings,   The Theory of Everything.  July 08

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables.  July 09  I finished it and admired Hawthorne’s way with words, but frankly it was boring

Nathaniel Hawthorne.   The Scarlet Letter.  June 2010  . (Playaway)   It would have made a nice short story.  Thank god I don’t know any Puritans.

Mark Helprin, Freddy and Fredericka.  Sept 08  I quit after first of 22 disks.  A fantasy about the Prince of Wales

Ernest Hemingway.   For Whom the Bell Tolls.  May 2011  I had reservations about rereading this after 60 years, especially because I thought the simple writing style would be hard to take by ear.  I was right about the style.  It was tiring to hear him begin two or three consecutive simple sentences with “Robert Jordan” doing this or that, and his euphemisms for perhaps untranslatable Spanish obscenities were even more tiring.   On the other hand, he does a magnificent job of telling us just how nasty the Spanish Civil War was on both sides.  I’ve read several things on the war lately, and he is the equal of any of them.  I guess it’s time to reread Homage to Catalonia.

Hermann Hesse, Siddartha.  2008   A man’s journey to nirvana

Tony Hillerman.  The Sinister Pig.  August 2010 (Playaway)  Sergeant Chee and Joe Leaphorn figure out that a very rich and powerful businessman plans to smuggle drugs in from Mexico through an abandoned pipeline.  A “pig” is the thing that’s pushed through the pipe to clean it.

Tony Hillerman.  Skeleton Man.  August 2011 (Playaway)  Leaphorn is still around and helps out, but the action focuses on Jim Chee and his fiancé Bernie, who solve a crime involving missing diamonds and an estate wrongfully denied its legitimate heirs.  Two airliners crashed over the Grand Canyon decades earlier.  The diamonds were being carried in a case shackled to the arm of a diamond dealer.  His body was found without the arm and an arm and a case were seen in the Colorado River but were gone when a group returned to try to retrieve them.  Single diamonds turn up here and there over the years, supposedly given or traded to their owners by an old Indian.  The answer to the mystery is on the canyon floor on sacred Hopi ground.

Woody Holton.  Abigail Adams.  Feb. 2011.  This tells the Adams’ family story through a careful reading of Abigail’s letters.  It has much to tell us about her – she was a feminist, she became a trader and profiteer in imported fabrics and clothing during the Revolution and abused the diplomatic pouch to bring in things to sell, she speculated in bonds during and after the Revolution,  she made and kept her own fortune despite the laws at the time, she was tolerant of blacks but at the same time repelled when she saw Othello in London, she was dedicated to her family and had a distinct sense of class and class privilege, she was the key advisor to John Adams.  The letters also reveal much about daily life in the colonies and the Revolution and the first years of the new republic.

Linda Howard.  Up Close and Dangerous.  May 2011.   Although the selection of recorded books is relatively thin, I tend to avoid women authors unless I know them.  Once in a while I make an exception.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it’s a disaster.  The cover of this one was sort of grimy and there were some library barcodes and other stuff on it so I missed the clues that this was just another bodice ripper.  The author had consulted some experts on civil aviation and charter companies and on alpine survival techniques and faithfully reproduced what she learned.  It kept me in the game despite a really stupid plot.  A book on survival techniques would have been more interesting.  Yes, men and women really are different. 
Stephen Hunter, Havana.  Sept 08  I quit after one disk as a Congressman abused a whore.  Supposedly about a CIA attempt to assassinate Castro in 1953.

John Irving.  Last Night in Twisted River.  April 2010  Maybe it was the reader, but I only lasted a disk and a half.

Walter Isaacson.  Einstein.  October 2011  (Playaway)  This seems to be an excellent biography, but I only got to about 1915 before I quit.  The author’s explanations of Einstein’s thinking are very clear, as, apparently, were Einstein’s.  I got a pretty good idea of what is meant by general relativity and co-relational equations, but soon realized I was not going to come away enlightened.  A lot of time was spent on his personal life which was boring and perhaps a little sordid.  I was interested in the description of university politics among European scientists at that time and the difficulty Einstein had getting a position commensurate with his accomplishments.

Christopher  Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin.  Sept 08   Really, It’s his diary from his years there as a tutor in English and a beginning writer

Howard Jacobson.  Kalooki Nights.  Feb.20,  2011  Kalooki is a card game that migrated from the shtetl to Manchester.  It’s played by Max Glickman’s beautiful mother and her friends, while his boxing coach father reads the paper.  From boyhood Max is a cartoonist who documents 5,000 years of Jewish misery and humiliation.  The novel goes on and on about middle class Jewish life and some of it is very funny, but as my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors used to say: “Too much is enough.”  I was relieved when a Jewish classmate told me he couldn’t get through it either.

Susan Jacoby.  The Age of American Unreason.  May 2010  Discusses anti-intellectualism, the rise of fundamentalism and its accommodation with conservative Catholicism, the loss of thoughtful commentary as we all turn to TV and the internet for our news.  A must read.

P. D. James.  Unnatural Causes.  September 2011 (Playaway)  Adam Dalgliesh, a senior and famous detective at Scotland Yard takes a 10 day vacation in Suffolk at his aunt’s cottage.  Everyone in the village knows everyone else.  One resident is found dead, adrift in a dinghy with his hands cut off.  It’s not Dalgliesh’s case but he is necessarily involved.  When the coroner determines that the death was from natural causes, the mystery gets more baffling.  I’ll say no more.  It’s pretty good, although too many of the characters are rather unappealing as good guys or bad.

J.A. Jance.  Web of Evil.  March 2010  An o.k. mystery about a former NBC TV newscaster who is about to finalize her divorce from her NBC executive husband when he is murdered by being left in the trunk of a car to be hit by a freight train.  At first she’s accused, then it becomes it was a drug cartel hit.

Dean Karnazes.  Ultramarathon Man.  Sept. 2010 (Playaway)  I almost stopped in Chapt. 1.   I glad I didn’t.  He describes his many races and what drove him to do it.  The best anecdote was meeting the pizza guy on the run and scarfing a whole pizza.

Marshall Karp.  The Rabbit Factory.  October 2011  (Playaway)  Another story about two LA detectives?   Yes, and this one is special.  First there’s the love story of the narrator and his recently deceased wife.  As she endured chemo and foresaw her inevitable death from ovarian cancer, she wrote nine letters to be opened at the rate of one a month after her death.  Then there’s the mystery.  I don’t know much about Walt Disney, but I suspect ill feelings about him were the inspiration for the creation of the Lamar Company and its Disneyland look alike, Familyland.  First a clown is murdered, then a famous actor identified with Lamar, then a woman visiting Familyland with her family.  Soon the FBI is brought in but it is Detective Mike Lomax who finds the key to figuring out who would set out to destroy a major entertainment conglomerate.  It has lots of interesting characters, humor and a mind blowing plot.   I suspect it is better b y ear than by eye.  It is beautifully narrated by Tom Stechschulte and James Jenner.

Terry Kay.  The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene.  April 2011  (Playaway)   Aaron, an 18 year old absolute nobody who works in a bank delivering the mail, is kidnapped by a group led by an 80 year old financier.  The purpose of the kidnapping is to draw attention to the needs of nobodies in our society, people so shy they can hardly talk and have zero self esteem.  There is never any question for the reader of Aaron being harmed.  The kidnappers ask for $10 million.  Aaron’s family has no money, the bank refuses to pay, but the financier puts up $200,000 to kick off fund raising to save Aaron, and a local police reporter tries to figure out what is going on.  It’s a good read, but it could have done without the explicit sex scenes.
Terry Kay.  Shadow Song.  July 2001  (Playaway)  This is two very unusual love stories with one or more sub plots that are also love stories.  Bobo Murphy, a 17 year old boy from Georgia, has to part with his girlfriend, Carolyn, for the summer when he gets a job at a resort hotel in the Catskills.  Soon he meets Avrum  Feldman, an old man who sits on a  bench every day just across from the hotel.  Everyone says Avrum is crazy because he is devoted to an opera singer named Amelita Galli-Curci and claims he can hear her singing as he sits on the bench.  Bobo also meets Amy, a stunningly beautiful Jewish girl from New York who is staying at the hotel for the summer.  Bobo and Amy fall in love, of course, and Avrum facilitates their trysts.  It all ends when the summer ends, except that Bobo visits Avrum frequently over the next 38 years and learns the story of his unrequited love for Amelita.  When Avrum dies at the age of 106, he leaves instruction that Bobo is to handle his affairs, and Bobo returns to the Catskills for what he believes will be the last time.  He meets Amy there and they find that they are still very much in love.  Avrum had told both of them that there is only one real love in a person’s life and each of us should pursue that love no matter the consequence s.  Bobo and Amy must decide if they will leave their spouses and families to be together.  I wasn’t expecting a love story after reading Terry Kay’s The Kidnapping of Aaron Green, but I enjoyed this and often laughed out loud as I listened on daily walks through my neighborhood.

Garrison Keillor, The Adventures of Guy Noir.  Spring 08

Jonathan Kellerman.  Compulsion.  April 2011  Child psychologist Alex Delaware narrates his friend Milo Sturgis’s search for a “shape shifting” serial killer, a nut who likes to right wrongs, kill people while dressed as a woman and leave enigmatic clues.  What’s interesting is how Milo’s questioning of seemingly irrelevant witnesses leads to the final confrontation with the killer.

Jonathan Kellerman.  Conspiracy Club.  2008  Psychologist Jeremy Carrier is the prime suspect in the murder of his girl friend, a nurse named Jocelyn Banks and is trying to investigate it to clear his name.  Dr. Arthur Chess, a pathologist, a pathologist at the hospital where he works, invites him to join a mysterious group which solves crimes, in this case a serial killer surgeon, son a Nazi sadist who fled to Brazil and brother of another surgeon who is initially suspected of being the killer.

Jonathan Kellerman.  Gone.  September 2011  A young unmarried who attend acting classes report that they were abducted and abused n the mountains.  It turns out to be a hoax.  They are sent to Alex Delaware for psychological evaluation and the case is eventually dropped.  Then the girl is murdered and the boy has disappeared, and Alex teams up police captain Milo Sturgis to solve the case.  Lots of loopy characters and lots of twists and turns before they find lots of bodies and nail the killers. As in Compulsion, it’s Milo’s persistent questioning along with Alex’s insights as a psychologist that make this interesting.

Elmer Kelton.  The Day the Cowboys Quit.  September 2011 (Playaway).  This is fiction but there is an historical basis for the story.  It’s 1883 and still the days of open range in Texas.  The large and mostly corporate ranchers want to drive out small ranchers and prevent any new ones from entering the business.  They set up rules that prohibit the cowboys who work for them from owning their own cattle to take away the temptation for them to build up their own small herds that would compete for grass and for sales with the large ranches.  Hitchcock is wagon boss for one old rancher who sees things the cowboys’ way and resists the big ranchers’ rules until one of his own most trusted cowboys is caught stealing by Hitchcock.  When the cowboys strike against the rules, Hitchcock reluctantly joins with them.  The strike fails, but after a rancher lynches a cowboy caught stealing cattle, Hitchcock runs for sheriff and cleans it all up.  This is a nice write-up of what cowboys were really like – they rarely carried pistols -- and the conflict between labor and capital is eerily  reminiscent of our own times.

Elmer Kelton.  Jericho’s Road.  October 2008  Texas Ranger on Mexican border in 1870s  

Jack Kerley. The Hundredth Man.  Sept 08  Complex murder mystery unrelated to title

Philip Kerr.   Dark Matter.  2008  Isaac Newton as a detective while Director of the Mint.  His assistant has an affair with Newton’s niece, who then marries money and nobility.

Philip Kerr.   The Shot.  May 2011   Tom Jefferson is a professional assassin who takes contracts from the government, the mob and others.  He is hired by the mob to kill Castro just before JFK is inaugurated.  Throughout JFK is called “Mattress Jack,” and this has considerable effect on the plot.  It’s all well written, there’s plenty of humor and discussions of CIA, FBI and mob procedures as well as Tom’s are fascinating, but it is hard to like a novel in which there is no one whom you could admire or with whom you could identify.

Raymond Khoury.  The Sanctuary.  April 2010  Another search for the elixir of life.  I was a little unsettled when Corbin, the CIA agent, murdered an Iraqi artifacts dealer who got shot trying to help recover a kidnapped archeologist in Lebanon.

Laurie R. King.  A Grave Talent.  April 2010  (Playaway)    A young woman becomes partner to an experienced detective, when he is assigned a case involving serial murders of young children.  An artist is initially suspected.  It turns out to be the artist’s lover when she was a teen, whom she blew off because he interfered with her painting.

Laurie R. King.  The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. ?2008?  An aging Sherlock Holmes has a live-in cook and she has a son who helps Holmes with his garden and beehives.  The boy is killed by some wasps nesting in a nearby field but people assume it was the bees.

Ross King.  The Judgment of Paris.  Fall 2007.   How tastes changed, Messonier’s star fell and Manet’s rose.  This is a really good read.

Chuck Klosterman.  Downtown Owl.  Jan, 19 2011 (Playaway).   What can you get from a first novel about a ND town, pop. 800?  Humor – what name do you give to the high school football team’s mascot when the name of the town and the high school is “Owl?   Also anecdotes about life in a small town on the plains with no attractions whatsoever to outsiders; a commentary on Orwell’s 1984; the best English teacher in ND, who also coaches football and tends to impregnate a student now and then; and some tragedy. 

Dean Koontz.  The Door to December.  Feb. 2010 A detective investigates a murder of three men who have been abusing a nine year old child named Melanie by sensory deprivation as part of a scientific/paranormal experiment with out of body experiences.  The girl is found catatonic a few blocks from the murder scene and reunited with her mother, from whom her estranged husband had kidnapped her six years earlier.   The detective falls for the mother and learns how she was programmed.  Meanwhile Melanie proceeds to murder six other people involved in what was done to her.  With what he learned about the experiment, the detective is able to prevent Melanie from destroying herself.

Dean Koontz.  The Good Guy.  November 2011

Elizabeth Kostowa.  The Historian.  Spring 2008.  Another Dracula story.  An American man and a Romanian woman track him to his secret hiding place in Bulgaria.  Years later she shoots him with a silver bullet in a monastery in the Pyrenees.

Peter Kreeft.  Faith and Reason: the Philosophy of Religion.  April 2011  (Playaway)   I quit after two lectures.  It was Holy Cross religion class all over again.

William Kent Krueger.  Mercy Falls.  May 2010  Playaway  Sheriff answers a call from Indian reservation and a sniper tries to kill him when he gets there.  Then a member of a powerful Chicago family is murdered while visiting to work on a management contract for the Indians’ casino.  Cork finds the killer, but doesn’t solve the case and everything is left for resolution in a sequel.

Iain Lawrence.  The Séance.   October 2011  (Playaway)  It was only when I started reading that I realized this is a kids’ book, a very good one.  It’s June 1926, Houdini is at the Orpheum, and Scooter King, age 13, can’t wait to see him.  Scooter lives with his single mom, who is a medium, and helps her put on séances every Wednesday evening.  Scooter discovers a body in Houdini’s tank on display at the Orpheum, meets Houdini, gets accused of murder, solves the crime and saves Houdini’s life.  All in a day’s work when you’re 13.   A perfect thing to listen while you’re cleaning the basement.

John LeCarre, Absolute Friends.  Feb. 2009  Ted Mundy, who grew up in Pakistan, and Sasha, a former Stasi agent, are friends.   Mundy works as a tour guide at a Barvarian castle until he is drawn back into the spy business when he is asked to take over a supposed alternative university to counter anti-war propaganda. 

John LeCarre.  The Secret Pilgrim.  July 2010   Ned invites a retired Smiley to the spy school to speak to the graduating class.  This is an occasion for Ned to reminisce about his own career.  It is really a series of short stories about the British secret Service.  The tale about the Dutch national in Cambodia is the most gripping – he saves his daughter from the Khmer Rouge, but not from a life of prostitution.

John LeCarre.  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.  April 2011  (Playaway)   Control is dead and Smiley has been kicked out and then is asked to work on his own to find Gerald the mole, whom Control was looking for before his heart gave out.

Ross Leckie, Hannibal. Oct 08  Not recommended.  Every gruesome method of execution imaginable shows up, many of them often.  The writer tries to imagine Hannibal’s life from the few details in ancient sources and what historians and archeologists have put together.  It’s a good story and the character of Hannibal remains consistent throughout, but one keeps wondering what is pure invention and what has some basis in fact.  For example, his wife is developed wonderfully and she has a big impact on the health and effectiveness of his armies, but did she exist?

Chang-rae Lee.  The Surrendered.  July 2011  NOT REVIEWED  I couldn’t say with it

Elmore Leonard, The Hot Kid.  Spring 08 Young marshal who grew up on pecan farm/oil field makes his reputation as lawman

Elmore Leonard, Be Cool.  Spring 08  Chili Palmer tries the record industry (and makes a movie)?

Elmore Leonard, Freaky Deaky.  Nov.  2010 (Playaway)   Narrator Frank Muller is perfect for this update on 1960s student activists, two of whom did time for bombing a federal building.  It’s a new century and they are back together to shakedown and take revenge on two rich kids whom they think turned them into the FBI.  It’s all fairly predictable, but I found myself laughing out loud as I listened during my daily walk.

Elmore Leonard.  The Hunted.  August 2011 (Playaway)  Al Rosen, a mortgage broker, testified against some Detroit mobsters to get a fraud charge dropped and then fled to Israel to hide.  He accidentally gets his picture in the paper when the hotel where he is having a tryst with an American tourist lady catches fire.  The mob sends a team to “find” him.  He is befriended and protected by a marine guard from the US Embassy who is looking for a future after the Marine Corps.  It’s O.K. but I’d prefer another book about Chili Palmer or Carl Webster.

Elmore Leonard, Road Dogs.  Sept 2009  Charming bank robber Jack Foley get his 30 year sentence  reduced to 30 months with the help of shyster lawyer  Cundo Rey and then sets out to heist Cundo’s off-shore fortune.

Elmore Leonard, Up in Honey’s Room.  Sept. 2009  Carl Webster, the hot kid, is back, chasing German spies this time.  It starts with Honey Deal (Diehl) who had been married to Walter Schoen, a Nazi sympathizer and a dead ringer for Himmler) telling all to Kevin Dean, an FBI man.

Sinclair Lewis.  Babbitt.  September 2011 (Playaway)   I’m amazed that almost every time I read something published early in the last century, it seems totally contemporary.  George Babbitt is a realtor, a Republican, and a member of all the booster clubs in his city somewhere in the Midwest.  Today he would be a tea bagger.  His views on politics are totally consistent with Fox News.  Babbitt is conservative, pompous, opinionated, ignorant, self-assured, bigoted, moralistic and amoral.  The whole book is narrated as the world turns over in George’s mind, everything from how he brushes his teeth to his inability to relate to his wife and children to his views on working men, immigrants and other communists and the superiority of unfettered capitalism.  It could all be summed up in the view of Babbitt and his colleagues that prohibition was a good thing for working men but shouldn’t apply to people of substance like themselves.  The scary thing is that this dissection of his life is so comprehensive that we will find a little bit of Babbitt in ourselves and we aren’t going to like it.

Li Cunxin.  Mao’s Last Dancer.  April 2010  Peasant boy from ?Chingdan? attends Madame Mao’s ballet school, gets a trip to the US hosted by the Houston Ballet, falls in love and defects.

Laura Lippman.  To the Power of Three.  March 2011 (Playaway)   It starts with the shooting in the girl’s bathroom just before graduation and then goes back and follows them from grade 3 until the shooting to spin out the story of their relationship and the adults with whom they interacted.  One thing one learns is how strong the bonds can be among girls who become close friends.  I had visions of valley girls and “mean girls” when I started, but it was an instructive read and a good mystery with an admirable detective.

Margaret Macmillan.  Nixon and Mao.  June 2010  (Playaway)  She gives the reader a lot of history and then some surprising details about the negotiations.  The wording in the communiqué on Taiwan is truly a brilliant compromise.  If I had been Secretary of State, I would have resigned.  What was Rogers thinking.

Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest.  Spring 08.  A sort of genetic study of Hitler.  Who cares, couldn’t stay with it.

Henning Mankell.  The Dogs of Riga.  November 2011

Charles C. Mann.  1491.  April 2011   As I started to read I checked several reviews because Mann sets out to challenge all of the views about Pre-Columbian America that we acquired in school.  My reading of the experts is that while Mann may occasionally reach too far, he has done an excellent job of summarizing recent scholarship for us lay readers.  About the first thing he disposes of is the theory that immigration from Asia all took place about 13,000 or 14,000 years ago, when it was possible to walk across the Bering Strait, and that people then moved south through a corridor that opened up during a limited warming period.  These migrants became the Clovis people, whose remains have been found all over North America in about 80 sites, all of which can be dated around 13,500 to 13,000 years ago.  They came, and with their large spear points they hunted the mastodon and other large game to extinction.  Then Paleo-Indian society had to change as we can see from the later smaller spear points and the emergence of some agriculture.  It was a nice theory, one reluctantly given up by archeologists et al.  Remains have now been found that are more than 20,000 years old and one scientist claims some over 40,000 years old.  Alternate theories of migration that allow for people to have come down the Pacific Coast by boat have been offered.  I like these because I once examined some ceramics from Peru at the Smithsonian that were perhaps 3000 years old and clearly from the Ryukus.  The pot makers didn’t get there on JAL.  Mann spends some time on how populations spread and how long it took them to do this.  By the time he gets to 1491, he sees North America more heavily populated than Europe and as much as two thirds of the landscape being managed by native populations.  Similarly he sees the Amazon rain forests being managed by large native populations there.  In Central America, urbanization and the development of high culture went farther than elsewhere in the Americas and in mathematics and astronomy farther than anywhere else in the world.  At the time of ancient Greek civilization, the literature of Central America was comparable to that of the Greeks and more extensive.  (I’m not so sure).  The earliest travelers inland, among them Ferdinand DeSoto in the American south and Cabral, one of Pissarro’s men, along the Amazon, described large native populations and settlements.  A hundred years later, when colonists began to arrive in force, the land was an almost empty wilderness.  Mann’s explanation is small pox and other diseases previously unknown in the New World.  And the devastation continued as more waves of immigrants came.  Mann goes on to discuss ecological and environmental issues at length, claiming that the wilderness never existed and was instead under human management for millennia.  Finally he talks about Indian concepts of personal freedom and suggests that contacts with Native Americans may have had much to do with the total revolution in European concepts of individuality and individual rights that is usually attributed entirely to the Enlightenment.  I regret that this is an imperfect summary written entirely without notes.  So read the book.

Philip Margolin.  Executive Privilege.  Marc h 2010  Brad, a lawyer in a large Portland OR law firm and Dana Cutler, a PI in DC independently discover links between President Ferrier and the murder of two girls made to look like the work of serial killers.  Everything is fairly predictable but it’s still worth the trip. 

Kati Martin.  The Great Escape.  Dec. 2010  The public library’s recorded non-fiction section is not large, and it was with a ”ho-hum, another holocaust book” that I picked up this one.  What a surprise!  Nine Hungarian Jews who changed the world.  I learned more about the history of film making than I knew in the discussions of Alexander Korda (The Third Man) and Michael Curtiz  (Casablanca).  They practically invented directing.  The photographers are Andre Bretesz and Robert Capa, who pioneered photo journalism.  Arthur Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon, one of the most influential books of the 20th C, andc then there are the three physicists: Leo Szilard, who first conceived of and demonstrated a chain reaction, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner,  and the mathematician and game theorist John von Neuman.  They alerted FDR to German nuclear research and then played major roles in developing the A bomb.  Later Szilard became a major opponent of developing the H bomb and Teller pushed it to completion, earning the nickname Dr. Strangelove.  This is a wonderful tour through 20th C history and the influence these nine men, who were formed in late 19th and early 20th C Budapest, had on the modern world.

Steve Martin.  The Pleasure of My Company.  August 2011  Short and funny, read by the author.  He’s crazy but harmless and has more hang-ups than a picture gallery.  He doesn’t buy a 10 year bond on a certain Wednesday because he instantly knows that  it will mature on a Saturday, and he will have to wait until the following Monday to roll it over.  He finds true love and recovers.

Steve Martini.  Double Tap.  (Playaway)  Nov. 2010  Except for the murder,  two shots to the head of the woman president of a giant software company that has government contracts to support a comprehensive information system called IFS, it all takes place in lawyers’ meetings and the courthouse.  The CEO’s ex-military ex-bodyguard is accused.  Because he was sworn to secrecy, he conceals from his attorneys the 7 years he spent in Delta Force.

Daniel Mason, The Piano Tuner.  Jan. 09   Edgar Drake is asked by the British Foreign Office to go to Burma to tune an Erhard piano in a remote area.  He is escorted there from Mandalay by Kimyo.  Their departure was arranged by Dr. Carroll, the commander of the British post but not approved by the Brits in Mandalay.  Her loves his wife Catherine but falls in love with Kimyo  and tarries at the post – once they touch hands.  Carroll involves Edgar in his unauthorized plans to work with the Shan rebels and eventually is captured and accused of treason, let loose by a Brit officer and later shot to death as he flees. 

Daniel Mason, A Far Country.  Oct. 09  Mason creates the miserable sort of outback country of the unknown country effectively and the heroine, Isabell, is beautifully drawn, but the whole thing was so depressing I couldn’t stay with it.  Perhaps the non-specificity of the country left me without means to fill in between the lines.

Peter Mayle.  The Vintage Caper.  May 2011  $3 million in fine wine is stolen from a Hollywood type who is a caricature of a Hollywood type.  A reformed white collar criminal is hired by the insurance company to find the wine.  He steals it back in a con worthy of O’Henry, because he finds he likes the very rich Frenchman who stole the and doesn’t want to get him and his wine steward in trouble or spend years wrangling with their lawyers about whether the wine in their cellar was what was stolen in LA.  Later the rich French guy asks him how he did it and offers him a job.  It’s all very predictable, but the discussions of food and wine along with the con make it all worthwhile.

Patrick McCabe.  Winterwood.  July 2011  (Playway)  NOT REVIEWED  He’s nuts and it’s no fun.

Cormac  McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses.  Sept 08  Two very young Texans run off to Mexico.  John Grady Cole establishes himself as a horse breaker and breeder on a huge ranch but sleeps with the owner’s daughter and ends up in prison.  He kills his own assassin.  After release, he meets the girl again, recovers his horses from the lawman who stole them and escapes back to Texas. 

Cormac  McCarthy, The Road. Oct 2008  Not recommended.  It’s Armageddon again and a man and a boy dodge bands of cannibals trying to get to the seacoast, scavenging for food and pushing their stuff along in a shopping cart.  It’s well done but just too grim to read for pleasure.

Ian McEwan.  Solar.  August  2011   In the interview with the author at the end, McEwan explains that he is moving to more contemporary themes and away from stories like Atonement.  The principal character in Solar, Nobel Prize winner Michael Beard, is repulsive on physical, moral and intellectual grounds and it would have been easy to set this book aside if the writing weren’t so engaging all on its own.  Besides that he makes a strong case for action to forestall global warming and presents an excellent summary of the physical science involved, an impressive accomplishment for an MA in English literature.  You can add to that an ingenious plot leading to the selfish and self-deceiving Beard’s complete destruction.  It’s not Atonement, but it is a great read.

Ben McIntyre, Agent Zigzag.  Oct. 2009  True story of Eddie Chapman, a safe cracker etc. who agreed to spy for the Germans and then contacted MI-5 as soon as he landed in England.  Wonderful read.

Larry McMurtry.  Leaving Cheyenne.   June 2011 (Playaway)    McMurtry gives us a telling account of ranch life in Texas, in the early 1920s, and how it changed with modern innovations over the next 50 years, while the people changed little.  The story follows three people from their early twenties until old age.  Gideon Fry is a rancher and narrates how their lives interact in the early 1920s.  Molly Taylor, who lives on the ranch next to Gideon’s and has hardly ever left there to except to go to school, picks up the story in the 1940s.  Johnny McCloud, a cowboy who works for Gideon and is his best friend, brings it to a conclusion when they are in their late 60s or early 70s.  Through all of those years Gideon and Johnny regularly slept with Molly and each fathered a son by her.  Early on Molly refused to marry Gideon, perhaps because he didn’t know how to commit himself in the way she wished.  She married Eddie, an oil field roustabout, but he hardly figures in the story and has died by the time Molly takes up the narration, as have her two sons, one killed in the war in Europe and the other in the Pacific.  The men have to reconcile themselves to the fact that Molly loves them both and sees nothing wrong about that.  It should be a sordid tale but it’s not, because Molly lives faithfully by her own code, as does Johnny, and Gideon tries his best.  I never did figure out the significance of the title, Leaving Cheyenne

Larry McMurtry, Telegraph Days.  Dec. 2008  Nellie Cartwright, from a planter family in Waynesboro Va, ends up in Rita Blanca in on man’s land (later Oklahoma) and meets most of the Old West characters we have heard of and sleeps with a goodly number of them as she makes her way in a man’s world.  Buffalo Bill hires here to run his operations but won’t sleep with here.

James McPherson.  Tried by War.  Feb. 2010 (Playaway)

Jon Meacham, American Lion.  Oct 2009  A biography of Andrew Jackson, mostly his White House years.

Barbara Mertz, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs.  Dec. 08  Nonfiction, an archeological history of Egypt.  The reader lady is kind of a wise guy – I’d rather have had it straight

Stephen Mitchell, Gilgamesh.  Apr. 2009  The deluge myth before the deluge myth.  Thank god writers have gotten over the need for constant repetition.

Kate Mosse, Labyrinth.  July 2008  Very complex story about a 13thC woman, knights who tried to preserve a great secret, heresy in Provence, a parallel story in modern times

Kate Mosse.  Sepulchers. March 2009.  This time the interplay is between the 1890s in France at the Domaine de la Card near Renne le Chateau and an American orphan woman who discovers her roots there while researching a biography of Debussy.

Haruki Murakami, After Dark.  Sept 2008  Weird.  A young girl who speaks Chinese because she couldn’t stand to go to a Japanese school meets a young guy and helps out his friend at the love hotel when a Chinese prostitute is beaten up.  Meanwhile her sister sleeps and sleeps to escape life

Andrew Nagorski.  The Greatest Battle.  May 2010  He says he wants to do justice to the battle for Moscow as a major turning point in WWII. L He makes his point but it’s a much broader history that that of the early years of the war.  I learned a lot and am glad I read it.

Seymour Hussein Nast, Islam and the West.  August 2009  I was surprised at how much I knew and how hard it was to add to that.  The names are particularly difficult to get by ear.  I did learn that the structure of Dante’s work and rhyme in Western poetry come from Sufi poetry.

Irene Nemirovsky.  Fire in the Blood.  Nov. 09  Short, bitter love story in a small community near Never, with all the hang-ups and narrow mindedness the author could muster.

Katherine Neville, The Eight.  July 2009  It involves a chess set given to Charlemagne.  It’s all too cute: ancient theories about the number 8, alchemy, the philosophers’ stone, and the secret of immortal life.

Thomas F.X. Noble.  The Foundations of Western Civilization, Part 1 of 4.  (Great Courses).  Nov. 2009  Having failed to get a job at Disney doing voices for cartoon characters, Noble chose academia.  I couldn’t stand his voice but the lecture content might have appealed to college freshmen.  Quit after one disk.

Michael Ondaatje.  Divisadero.  Early 2008  A father, two daughters and an orphan boy, Coop, on a ranch outside SF.  One daughter and Coop have sex and father drives him away.  Daughter ends up living in Italy.

Tim O’Brien.  The Things They Carried.  Sept. 2010  (Playaway)  Vietnam was.  I didn’t like it and quit.

Joseph O’Neill.  Netherland.  June 2010  (Playaway)  After wife Rachel takes their son back to London – partly a cooling marriage and partly post 9/11 trauma, oil market analyst Hans van der Broek develops a friendship with Trinidian Chuck Ramkissoon based on their mutual interest in cricket.  The friendship cools when Hans realizes that Chuck is partly legit and partly not.  After Chuck advises him to go back to London if he really wants Rachel, Hans does go and sort of by default get her back from the cuckholder.

Chuck Palahniuk.  Fight Club.  May 2010  Playaway  I couldn’t figure out why I was listening to this and quit.

Orhan Pamuk.  The Museum of Innocence.  Jan. 31,  2011  I stayed with this because I wanted to read this author.  It’s an interesting tour through the customs, manners and hang-ups of wealthy Turks in Istanbul in the 1970s and 1980s, but the basic story of Kemal’s obsession with Fusun is, sorry Orhan, ridiculous and boring.  The only thing that kept me going was the description of daily life in minute detail.  The author inserts himself in the story briefly early on and then speaks for himself at the end, an interesting device in a novel and one that I gather he uses in at least one other novel.

Orhan Pamuk.  Snow.  Mar. 2011   Pamuk weaves together tumultuous political events with a tragic love story.  When Ka, an exile Turkish poet returns to Istanbul, an editor friend sends him to Kars to do a story on the “suicide girls” who had killed themselves over the headscarf issue.  It’s a tour through the provincial morals of Turkey, a discussion and of Turkish statism  and of the head scarf issue and its connection to Muslim radicalism.  Ka, who reunites with the incredibly beautiful Ipek, is the narrator until Pamuk takes over as himself visiting Kars in a continuing search for the poems Ka wrote there before he returned to Germany and assassination 4 years later.  Ipek is the daughter of a hotel owner who has moved the family to Kars.  She had promised to join him in his return to Germany, but changes her mind.

James Patterson and Peter DeJonge.   Beach Road. Feb. 2009
James Patterson.  Cross.  Nov. 2009   After a while I realized Cross is black, although that is never stated.  There are some great lines: “3 of the 4 voices in my head said go for it” and “Don’t tell him to go to hell.  I work there and don’t want to see him every day.”

James Patterson.  Alex Cross’s Trial.  Nov. 2009.  A Washington lawyer is sent by Teddy Roosevelt to a small town in Mississippi to investigate multiple lynchings.   He assists the black prosecutor appointed for a lynching trial.  They lose but to good effect, for which Roosevelt takes all the credit.  The old black man who advises the lawyer is an ancestor of Detective Cross, who appears in contemporary novels.

James Patterson.  Hide & Seek.  August 2011 (Playaway)   Maggie Brockland shoots Phillip, her abusive husband, in self defense.  Then it’s off to New York to become a famous song writer and singer and get pretty rich.  After Will Shepherd, the world’s greatest soccer player crashes and burns in a world cup soccer final he follows up on his obsession with Maggie’s singing by courting and marrying her.  Will is seriously crazy and ends up trying to frame Maggie for his own murder.  And then there’s this secret sex club at the country club.  The good old boys conspire to see that Maggie is convicted so that their embarrassing secrets don’t come out.  I liked the Alex Cross novels, but I think I’ll give up on Patterson.

James Patterson.  The Murder of King Tut.  April 2011  He writes so well (and so much).  This really brings alive Carter’s struggle to find something to make himself famous as well as the story of Tut’s murder and that of his wife.  Some time I’ll have to check Patterson’s theory in an academic work. 

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro.  The 6th Target.  June 2011 (Playaway)   I was sucked in by
Patterson’s name.  Lesley Boxer is a San Francisco police lieutenant who has to handle two really ugly cases, a multiple murder on a ferry boat and a kidnapping by a ring which specializes in sales of exceptionally bright children to rich pedophiles.  Stay away.

Tudor Parfitt. The Lost Ark of the Covenant.  March 2009

Matthew Pearl, The Dante Club.  Sept. 2009  Longfellow is working on the first American translation of the Divine Comedy for the 600th anniversary celebration in Florence of Dante’s birth.  He is assisted by James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes,  and a Rhode Island preacher named  Green.  They call themselves the Dante Club.  The publisher is Tichnor and Field and the printer is Houghton.  After two murders in which prominent Bostonians die in the manner of two sinners described in the Inferno, Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes and Field become detectives to try to solve the case and save the reputation of Dante from the overseers of Harvard who do not want this corrupt, popish poetry published.   Ray, Boston’s first African American policeman, is also on the case and eventually they all work together.

Iain Pears.   Portrait.  Early 08  Painter who loved a fragile painter invites the critic whom he blames for her death to his channel  island studio to do his portrait, a third one.  He does the portrait, then drugs him and throws him off a cliff into the Channel .

Iain Pears.  The Dream of Scipio.  Nov. 09  Flits around among Manilius, a rich 4th C bishop, a 14th C poet who collects ancient documents for himself and his cardinal/patron, and an early 20th C researcher  in the classics.

Iain Pears.   Stone’s Fall.  Oct. 2010.   John Stone, Lord Ravensbruck, falls from the window of his study and dies.  His wife Elizabeth, a Hungarian countess, hires a journalist to try to find a child included in his will, but not identified.  What follows is really three novellas intertwined and moving back in time from 1909 to 1890 to 1867 until all is revealed about the lives of John and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Peters.  The Curse of the Pharoahs.  August 2010  Rather predictable and might have been more fun with some other reader.

Per Petterson.  Out Stealing Horses.  Sept. 2010  (Playaway)  At 63 a man remembers his boyhood, his father and how he abandoned him and his mother for the woman he had worked with in the resistance.

Arturo Perez Reverte, The Painter of Battles.  Summer 2008  Spanish war photographer tries to catch the essence of war in his pictures.  Has commercial and artistic success but never quite “gets it.”  Beautiful love affair, but when he knows she is going to leave, he hesitates when he could have saved her from a land mine in Croatia.  A picture he takes there of a soldier causes tragedy for the soldier when it is published and years later the soldier comes to kill him in revenge.  By this time the photographer has put aside his cameras and is trying to paint the ultimate vision of war on the inside of a round stone tower.  When the soldier comes, their interaction enables him to finish the painting.

Arthur Phillips.  Prague.  June 2011   The only purpose Prague serves is to be a place that seems more desirable to four young American  and one Canadian  trying to make their way in post communist Budapest c. 1990.  John Price is more or less the narrator.  He writes gossip columns for the local English paper and follows the careers of the other four as they meet in coffee shops, restaurants and night spots.   John’s older brother Scott is a high level language teacher.  His exchange with one of his students, a Hungarian philosopher, is high comedy.  The brothers had a bitter childhood rivalry.  Scott mostly avoids John and marries Maria, a Hungarian, and moves on with her to Romania fairly early in the novel, but not before John beds her or perhaps vice versa.   John thinks he is in love with Emily Oliver, who works at the US Embassy and may or may not be a CIA operative when she’s not busy with the Ambassador’s schedule and helping pick his neckties.  She disappears from the scene after John seems to have blown her cover, leaving behind accusations from the Embassy security officer that John had been stalking her.  His particular friend is Mark Payton, the Canadian, who is hoping to turn his dissertation into a popular book on nostalgia.  He has a breakdown and goes home to Canada.  There are two aging Hungarian characters in John’s life, Nadia, a piano player in a club, who tells wonderful stories of her earlier life which may be true, and Imre Horvat, scion of a family that had had a newspaper and publishing business in Budapest from 1818 until 1956, when the business was seized and Imre imprisoned.  By 1990 he has a small publishing house in Vienna and hopes to recover his property in Budapest.  Charles Gabor quits his job at an American investment company in Budapest after his recommendation that they invest in Horvats publishing venture is rejected and, with the help of John’s columns in the local press, raises the money to form a joint venture with Imre.  After Imre has a stroke, Charles sells the business to an Australian press mogul for a huge profit and prepares to leave Budapest.  Meanwhile Imre has recovered enough to communicate with a female assistant by blinking his eyes.  Charles is sure Imre must be happy with all the money he has made for him, but there are two endings, in the first Charles flies away to a career of wealth and power on Wall Street.  In the other Imre’s assistant guns him down at the airport.  John gets fired for abusing his position as a journalist by helping Charles and prepares to leave for Prague as he dreams of Nadia’s stories.

Jodi Picoult.  House Rules.  September 2011  Picoult had some experience with autism through her cousin David and decided to do a book about it.  After she did her research, she wanted her main character to be able to speak to the reader, so she put Jacob Hunt at the high end of the autism spectrum with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.  Jacob is 18, lives with his mother, Emma, and his brother Theo, who is 15.  Jacob is obsessed with forensic science and sometimes shows up at crimes scenes after picking up calls on his police scanner.  His father also has Asperger’s, but is less seriously alienated from the world, i.e. seems to be higher still of the autism spectrum.  The father left Emma as soon as Jacob was diagnosed.  He pays support but has acquired another family, leaving Emma alone to cope with Jacob and with raising Theo, who is normal.  Theo has had a hard time, as one might aspect with a socially inept older brother going to the same school, and then there are Jacob’s frequent breakdowns and phobias and house rules, like all of the food each day must be of the same color – Wednesday is blue.  Theo gets relief from his trials by breaking into houses and imagining he is a member of the normal family who lives there.  Emma, of course, gets no relief at all.  Jacob has a social skills tutor named Jess Olgivy, who is a graduate student at the local university.  She has a somewhat abusive boyfriend named Mark Maguire.  One afternoon Theo enters a house where Jess happens to be house-sitting.  He sees her in the shower, and when she sees him as she comes out, he flees.  Jacob has an appointment to see her just a few minutes later.  He finds her dead and realizes that Theo will be accused when her body is found.  He sets up the crime scene to point elsewhere.  At first the police target Mark as the murderer, but soon have to let him go.  When Jess’s body is finally found and the scene is shown on TV, Emma sees Jacob’s quilt around her body and takes Jacob down with her when she volunteers this information to the police.  Things don’t go well with detective Rick Matson, because when Jacob is asked a question, he answers exactly what was asked and volunteers nothing.  That’s the way his mind works.  Jacob is charged with murder; a young lawyer takes the case and practically becomes a member of the family.  The lawyer tries the insanity defense, despite Jacob’s objections, and as the trial draws to a close it is clear Jacob will be convicted until he insists on testifying himself.  There was no murder.  Jess fell and cracked her skull.  It’s a very good story, a cliff hanger to the end, even though the reader knows it will work out ok, and the reader will learn a lot about autism and Asperger’s and the difficult lives of those who are afflicted and those who care for them. 

Jodi Picoult.  The Tenth Circle.  November 2011 (Playaway)

Richard Powers.  The Echo Maker.  April 2011   Mark Sluter, 27 year old mechanic, rolls his pickup and ends up with brain damage so severe that he thinks his sister Karen is an imposter and that virtually the whole town of Kearney Neb. is a replica created by a Government conspiracy.  Karen calls in Prof. Meyer, a famous neurologist for help with Mark’s strange condition.  He in turn interacts with Barbara, a nurse’s aide at the therapy clinic to which Mark is moved from the hospital.  Everyone is affected in surprising ways by Mark’s problem and by a move by developers to acquire water rights which, if granted, could seriously affect the nesting grounds of the sand cranes who migrate through Kearney every year.  There is much discussion of how the brain is organized for both humans and birds.  Avery good read.

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way.  Oct.2009  Sometimes I dislike the whiny old man of a reader, George Guidall, and, while I admire how Proust engages all of the senses, after listening only to the commentary, and a little more than one disk of text, I’m beginning to think that the real pleasure of Proust may be feeling one’s way through the original text in French.  So I gave up. 

Ian Rankin.  Let It Bleed.  Feb. 2010 (PlayawayStruggling through another Edinburgh winter Rebus finds himself sucked into a web of intrigue that throws up more questions than answers. Was the Lord Provost's daughter kidnapped or just another runaway? Why is a city councillor shredding documents that should have been waste paper years ago? And why on earth is Rebus invited to a clay pigeon shoot at the home of the Scottish Office's Permanent Secretary? Sucked into the machine that is modern Scotland, Rebus confronts the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice.

Ian Rankin.  Exit Music.  May 2010  Playaway.  Rebus’s last case before he retires.  He solves two murders, manages to clear himself of mugging Cafferty and to piss everyone off in the process and gets to see Cafferty nearly a vegetable.

Ian Rankin.  The Naming of the Dead.  May 2010  Playaway.  It takes place during a G-8 meeting in Edinborough and involves a struggle with an SO-12  agent names Steelworth.

Ian Rankin.  Strip Jack.  November 2011 (Playaway)    A popular MP is caught in a raid on an Edinburgh brothel.  Inspector Rebus finds it strange and starts to dig.  He is tenacious, irreverent and smart.  Oh, and out of shape and “never went to university.”  When the MP’s semi-estranged wife is murdered and Rebus digs further, he finds that the MP is part of a circle of friends that have partying together and supporting each other since childhood, but there may be problems among them which could result in murder.  It’s a good mystery and it’s funny.  If the Scottish accents start to wear on you, take a break but do finish.  You could read the print version, but you would miss a lot of the fun.

Rick Riordan.  Rebel Island.  June 2010   (Playaway)   Mr. Eli employs damaged people at his hotel on the island.  Trace Navarre, a PI, went there every summer as a child and returns for his honeymoon with his very pregnant, Chinese, criminal lawyer wife Maya.  After a few murders, he persuades the professional bomber/hitman to turn himself in.  His irresponsible legless older brother finally gets a girl.

Paul Robertson.  Road to Nowhere.  Mar. 2011 (Playaway).  It’s about plans to build a road in Jefferson County, NC.  Sound boring.  No.  Roads are always a lot of trouble.  The book is narrated serially by six people who serve on the county board and must vote on the proposal for a road to link their town to a new housing development.  The story has more twists and turns than the old dirt track the road is supposed to replace and just enough murder and arson to keep things interesting

Andrea di Robilant, A Venetian Affair.  May 2009  Based on a real person from letters to and from her lover and some material from Casanova.  He was from a noble Venetian family, she from a not so noble English family resident in Venice.  She eventually married an Austrian baron who died leaving her an adequate fortune.  She became a well-known writer.

Michael Robotham.  Lost.  August 2011   Detective Vincent Ruiz is pulled from the Thames with a bullet in his leg, a missing ring finger and no memory of what happened.  With the help of psychologist Joe O’Loughlin  he gradually recovers his memory and reconstructs the efforts of kidnappers to collect a ransom three years after a girl had disappeared and been presumed dead.  After the abduction of the girl, Ruiz led the investigation which led to the conviction of a presumed pedophile.  The Police are opposed to anything that might jeopardize the conviction of the pedophile, so Ruiz is on his own.  Along with the complex solution you get a tour of London’s sewers.  Abby, the Sikh woman police officer in The Night Ferr,y helps him out.  This is a good one. 

Michael Robotham.  The Night Ferry.  Feb. 2011 (Playaway).  This is narrated by Sikh woman who is a London police detective.  When her friend and her friend’s husband are murdered, she gets way off the reservation and jeopardizes her career to find out what happened and eventually brings down an illicit adoption network that relies on forced surrogate pregnancies.  Sounds grim, but I really liked this woman. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, the author had a few more surprises.

Jose Rodriguez do Santos.   Codex 632.   Jan. 2011 (Playaway)   A Portuguese historian who is an expert in ancient documents and cryptography is hired by an American foundation to complete the research of another historian who died unexpectedly before he was willing to divulge the secret he had discovered, i.e. that Columbus was a Portuguese Jew collaborating with King John Of Portugal to distract the Spanish from the route around Africa to the Indies.  The foundation is offering way too much money to be on the up and up.  The research project has to bring in the Templars, of course, plus cabalism and Prester John.  Most historians agree that Columbus was from Genoa, but there are many other theories as well,

Philip Roth.  Exit Ghost.  July 2010  The player gave me problems and who wants to read about a 71 year old guy’s prostate problems?  I still have to try Roth, but maybe something earlier.

Laura Joh Rowland. The Snow Empress. Dec. 2009  Chamberlain Sano, his wife Reiko and Hirata journey to Hokkaido to rescue their son, Masahiro, who was kidnapped and sent there by Lord Matsudaira, a Tokugawa family member who has taken effective rule from the weak and very gay Shogun and who wants to remove Sano as a potential rival for power.

Richard Russo.  Bridge of Sighs.  Dec. 2010   I thought this was going to be set in Venice when I pulled it off the CD shelf at the library.  Instead it is the life story from grammar school into his sixties of Louis C. Lynch, unfortunately called Lucy by everyone in his small, upstate NY town, because of the way his name was read off on the first day of kindergarten.  His father is a kind, good natured doofus and his mother Tessa is smart, capable and despite appearances deeply in love with his father.  About 60% of the book is narrated by Lucy, and a narrator takes over for the scenes where he isn’t party to events.  A character as much as any of the people in the book is Iky Lubin’s,  a rundown convenience store that Lucy’s father, Lou Lou, buys over Tessa’s objections after his job as a milkman comes to its inevitable end.  There is a love triangle – Lucy, Sarah Berg, whom he marries, and Bobby Marconi, whom Lucy considers his best friend – Bobby is ambivalent about Lucy, but not about Sarah.  I don’t know how this novel would be by eye, but taking it in by ear, I couldn’t stop listening.

James Sallis.  Cripple Creek.  Dec. 2010 (Playaway)   Its style is so truncated that It’s hard to know what the heck is going on.  The big mystery is never solved and it just sort of ends.

Salmon Rushdie.   The Enchantress of Florence.   July 2009  A fascinating work of imagination.  Niccolo Vespucci thinks he is the son of  ?Kara Kuz?, a woman who was born into the Mughal dynasty.  He tries to claim his place but is finally rejected because he seems to be the child of incest.  He is but he his mother was the daughter of La Speccia, the servant of Kara Kuz.  I was disappointed that Rushdie doesn’t tell us what happened to him after he left the royal city and destroyed it by causing the lake which supplied it water to go dry.

Salmon Rushdie.  The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  Dec. 2010 (Playaway) How can one man know so much about so many things?  Ormus Karma and Vina become lovers and rock stars and Rai, a photographer who fell in love with Vina on the beach in Mumbai when he was nine and she was 13 is a friend to both and eventually sleeps with Vina as does most everyone else.  Ormus is inhabited by his minutes older identical twin who was delivered stillborn and thus Ormus has to deal with parallel realities.  The action moves from Mumbai to London to New York and LA and is narrated in a torrent of allusions, puns, parodies, obscure facts and departures from actual events – Oswald misses and the second guy on the grassy knoll is clubbed over the head by photographer with his camera (presumably a Speed-Graphic).  Ormus's efforts to bring Vina back to life after she is killed in an earthquake in Mexico are unsuccessful but Rai benefits when he falls in love with a much younger Vina look-alike. The Playaway version is read by Steven Crossley who does all the characters and accents admirably.  His take on Indian English alone would be enough of a reason to listen to this book.

Salmon Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown.  Dec 2009  A young German Jew whose family has a successful printing business in Strasburg has to flee – his parents refuse to join him and perish.  He becomes an operative in the underground in France, later emigrates to the US, becomes an operative for CIA, and ends his govt career as ambassador to India where he has a long affair with a dancer from Kashmir who is Shalimar’s wife.  She is Hindu, Shalimar is Muslim, which was fine before India and Pakistan started struggling for control.  She has a child with the ambassador, which he adopts.  She returns to become a hermit in Kashmir.  Shalimar becomes a Muslim terrorist assassin.  He swears to kill his wife and the ambassador and he does.  The book starts at the end of all this with the assassination of the ambassador and the daughter’s gradual discovery of who she is, not “India” but “Kashmira.

John Sandford.  Invisible Prey.  Dec. 2010 (Playaway)  Detective Lucas Davenport of Wisconsin BCA puts together several different cases in several states to identify a pair of serial killers.  Readers know who they are almost from the beginning but Lucas does not.  Theirs is enough mystery and humor here to keep one engaged to the very end.  Virgil Flowers, also BCA, appears as a minor character.

John Sandford.  Dead Watch.  2008?  Terminally ill gay former conservative senator Lincoln Bowes tries to embarrass administration by orchestrating his own “murder.”  Slightly lame (in body) former Special Forces guy, Jacob Winter, is assigned to sort it out.  Subplot is fascist group whose leader is Gov. of VA and aspires to be president. 

John Sandford.  Dark of the Moon.   Sept. 2010  Virgil Flowers of Wisconsin BCA figures out who the serial killer is and almost finds true love – unfortunately much of the blame for setting off the serial killer falls on her.

C.J. Sansom.  Winter in Madrid.  March 2010  Spy story in 1940 in Falangist Madrid worthy of John LeCarre.  Some die, some survive.  There ain’t no justice and happiness comes in small, impermanent doses.
William Shakespeare.  Othello.  November 2011  (Playaway)  

Lawrence Shames.  The Naked Detective.  Mar. 2011   (Playaway)  Shames originally wrote non-fiction, including a book about the Mafia he ghost wrote for two FBI agents.  Naked Detective is the latest of nine novels he has set in Key West, and all have some sort of Mafia connection.  This one is very funny.

George Bernard Shaw.  Major Barbara.  September 2011  This is an audio version of the play, and it’s done very well.  Listening I started to think about what we had lost when we migrated from radio to television for our drama fixes.  Among other things, we lost our constant exposure to scintillating dialog.  Almost every line is funny, even when the point made is quite serious.  As with Babbitt, I felt the issues in this play, first presented in 1905 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, were very much like the ones we are dealing with today.  It’s ironic that it is the arms manufacturer, Andrew Undershaft, who understands that you must pay workers well and treat them like human beings to maximize value.

Russell Shorto.  Descartes’ Bones.  June 2010   (Playaway)   Uses the travels of Descartes’ bones to trace the development of intellectual history in Europe.

Nevil Shute.  Beyond the Black Stump.  June 2011 (Playaway)  Stanton Laird, an American geologist exploring for oil in Western Australia, is befriended by the Regan family, an unconventional ménage that runs an enormous sheep station.  He finds no oil, but he becomes engaged to Mollie, an illegitimate daughter of one of the Regan brothers and the wife of the other brother.  Mollie accompanies Stanton back to Hazel, Oregon to get to know his family before they marry.  The two cultures just don’t mix, and Mollie returns to Australia.

Hampton Sides.  Blood and Thunder.  Mar. 2011.  This is more or less the telling of the opening of the West through a biography of Kit Carson.  He seems to have been a major player in every major undertaking.  He guided Fremont, he guided US forces in the Mexican War, he led the US forces during the Civil War who were trying to pacify and resettle the Navaho, and he carried dispatches to Washington and met the President.  He was illiterate and held the rank of brevet general when he died.  The book has a wealth of information about Navaho life and culture.

Dai Sijie, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch.  Sept 09   A devotee of Freud and Lacan after studying in France, he returns to Chengdu to try to spring his first love, Old Moon Volcano, from prison.  The bribe demanded from Judge Di is a night with a virgin.

Daniel Silva.  The Confessor.  April 2010  A bit of a stretch.  A compromise pope uses Mossad to unravel the church’s role vis a vis the Jews during WWII and to bring down Crux Vera, a conservative Catholic group which had cooperated with the Germans.  The unlikely hero, besides the pope, is embedded in Italy as an art restorer.  He gets the much younger Rabbi’s daughter/agent.

Jane Smiley.  Ten Days in the Hills.  July 2011  (Playway)  Not reviewed.  Couldn’t get interested.

Martin Cruz Smith.  Stalin’s Ghost.  Nov. 09   One of the best detective stories I’ve ever read.  One comes away feeling fortunate not to be living in contemporary Russia.  There’s lots about Chess, the hero gets shot in the head but survives and gets the girl in the end.

Alexander McCall Smith.  44 Scotland Street.   (1) Feb. 2010  Manners and mores in Edinburgh. Bland Pat, Angus the portrait artist, Domenica the anthropoligist, Mathew the rich and clueless gallery owner, Bruce the handsome egotist, Irene the nightmare mother and Bertie the prodigy who would rather just play with other boys.

Alexander McCall Smith.  The World According to Bertie.  (4)  March 2010   The same dramatis personae as 44 Scotland Street.  Unbelievably funny.  Among other things, Bertie’s insufferable mother loses baby Ulysses at the delicatessen and Bertie lets several people know that the baby looks like his psychotherapist, not his father.  Add Julia who traps Bruce into marriage with a Porsche and a wine bar.

Alexander McCall Smith.  Portuguese Irregular Verbs.  May 2010  Playaway  Merciless satire of German academics and very funny.  This is very short and comes off like 8 connected short stories.

Alexander McCall Smith.  Tears of the Giraffe.  August 2010 (Playaway)  Life, ethics and morals in Botswana as the Number One Ladies detective Agency solves another case, marries the garage owner and adopts two aboriginal children.

Lee Smith.  On Agate Hill.  July 2011  (Playway)  NOT REVIEWED REVIEWED  She’s dying of cancer and wants to find her son.  Couldn’t stay with it.

Neal Stephenson, Anathem.  Oct 2009   (28 disks of what?)  I didn’t last even one disk.  Why would anyone want to invent a whole  other history and language to tell a story of another world when he could use the terms of reference of our own.  All the stuff you have to learn to follow the story is an unnecessary distraction. 

Sun Tsu.  The Art of War.  July 2010  Some of the principles got mentioned but mostly it was an account of the battles in 700 to 500 BCE

James Swanson, Manhunt. Aug 2008  An account of Lincoln’s murder and what happened to Booth and his co-conspirators afterwards.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  The Black Swan.   March 2010  MBA Wharton, PhD University of Paris in Management Science with thesis on option theory, trader in options and derivatives,  Prof. of  Risk Engineering at NYU.  Challenges use of Gaussian bell curve in portfolio management, criticizes virtually everyone in finance and economics for missing the point that there are unexpected events that defy analysis and skew results to such extent that most, maybe all, analysis is useless.  “My last book The Black Swan (and the 4th Quadrant papers) drew a map of what we don’t understand (the ONLY attempt in the history of thought to set a clear and systematic limit to what we don't know)The ludic fallacy is a term coined by  Taleb.  It is summarized as "the misuse of games to model real-life situations".[1] Taleb characterizes the fallacy as mistaking the map (model) for the reality, an inductive side-effect of human cognition.  It is a central argument in the book and a rebuttal of the predictive mathematical models used to predict the future – as well as an attack on the idea of applying naïve and simplified statistical models in complex domains. According to Taleb, statistics only work in some domains like casinos in which the odds are visible and defined. Nassim’s argument centres on the idea that predictive models are based on platonified forms, gravitating towards mathematical purity and failing to take some key ideas into account:
It is impossible to be in possession of all the information.
Very small unknown variations in the data could have a huge impact (though, Taleb does differentiate his idea from that of the highly mathematized representations in Chaos's theories Butterfly effect).).
Theories/models based on empirical data are flawed, as events that have not taken place before cannot be accounted for.
An example of the ludic fallacy is to assume that in real life the rules from the purely hypothetical model apply. Would a reasonable person bet on black on a roulette table that has come up red 99 times in a row (especially as the reward for a correct guess are so low when compared with the probable odds that the game is fixed)?
Any decision theory based on a fixed universe or model of possible outcomes ignores and minimizes the impact of events which are "outside model". For instance, a simple model of daily stock market returns may include extreme moves such as Black Monday (1987) but might not model the market breakdowns following the September 11 attacks. A fixed model considers the "known unknowns", but ignores the "unknown unknowns". 

Hunter S. Thompson.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Feb. 20, 2011  No doubt there is some literary value buried somewhere in this morass, but I couldn’t hang around as they sniffed, popped and smoked every prohibited substance known to man.  It seemed like that was all it was about.
Colin Thubron.  The Shadow of the Silk RoadDec. 2010   If the author is going to discuss things that are strange and unknown, he needs to be specific and create context.  I gave up.  Maybe it would have worked in print.
Colm Toibin, The Master. Oct 08  Imagined first person narrative by Henry James.  I gave up after a disk and a half.  He didn’t have sex with the corporal/man servant supplied by Lady Wolsey when he visited her and her husband at the Royal Hospital in Dublin.  This rehash of upper-class manners and hang-ups is boring.

Barbara Tuchman.  The Zimmermann Telegram.  Dec. 2010 (Playaway)  This was published in 1958.  I wish it had been available when I was writing a paper for a history class on Wilson and Huerta in 1954.  The book is a wonderful review of WWI history concerning code breaking, submarine warfare, German efforts to keep America out of the war by bringing in Mexico and Japan on their side, and, of course, Wilson’s inability to value any opinion other than his own.

Mark Twain.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  August 2010   Funniest thing I’ve read in years.  Now I understand why it was never offered in the Catholic schools I attended.

Scott Turow.  Ordinary Heroes.  Nov. 2009  A journalist recovers the story of his father who was an army lawyer in WW II.  David Dubin was sent to apprehend Robert Martin, a rogue OSS agent who put peace above the interests of either east or west.  Gita, the bastard daughter of a Polish woman in Pilskova, was hooked  up with Martin for espionage.  Dubin goes on one of their missions and  then meets up with Gita again in Bastogne, where he falls in love with her. To protect her after Martin’s arrest, Dubin marries her under the name of a woman who died in a concentration camp, and they keep that secret until death.

Scott Turow.  Limitations.  Jan. 2010  George Mason heads a panel of the Michigan appeals court.  He receives email death threats as he considers an appeal of the conviction of four upstanding citizens for a gang rape some years before.  He’s really conflicted since he participated in a gang bang 40 years earlier.  It turns out the death threats were sent by his weirdo clerk, who was wigged out because he had to watch the video of the gang rape made by the perpetrators.

Scott Turow. Reversible Errors. Jan. 2010 Exciting all the way through as run of the mill lawyer is assigned an appeal from a guy on death row with an IQ of less than 75.  It’s CYA for everyone involved except him.  He prevails.

Stephan Talty.  Empire of Blue Water.  Sept. 2010  Henry Morgan’s adventures as a privateer, pirate and naval commander for the British in the second half of the 17thC.  Sailing out of Jamaica, he preyed mainly on Spanish settlements with innovative attacks, often overland to surprise the Spanish.  He died old, fat and ill in London.

Paul Theroux.  Dark Star Safari, Overland from Cairo to Cape Town.  Sept. 2010  “He took the bus from Cairo to Capetown,” said author Nadine Gordimer every time she introduced him.  He also took dugout canoes, land rovers, bald tired minibuses, cattle trucks, a ferry, some trains and anything else that moved.  A tour de force of life among the people of east Africa.

Susan Vreeland, Luncheon of the Boating Party.  2008  Describes the circumstances surrounding the painting of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.  Much of it is told by a young woman who lives at the inn where the painting was done.  It almost becomes a love affair and then not.  She visits him in his old age (and hers) in the Midi, where he is still painting despite his crippled hands (arthritis I think).  I read this quite a while ago and remember liking it very much.

Daniel Wallace.  Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician.  Nov2010 (Playaway)   This is Henry Walker’s story as he suffers the loss of his mother, his sister, his father and his lover.  The story is told by several different narrators and reality changes with each one.  Each of Wallace’s narrators tells a fascinating story, and all of the stories come together at the end.

William Wharton.  Birdy.    Jan. 2011 (Playaway)  Narrated by two young men, Birdy, who becomes so obsessed with raising canaries and the beauty of flying that he develops a second personality as a bird and has trouble holding on to reality, and Birdy’s friend Alfonso, the abused son of a Sicilian father with Mafia connections, who persuades himself he is a tough guy until he experiences the frontlines in France and Germany in WW II.  They lay out their case histories in alternating narratives and the reader follows them through high school and then into the war, where both are damaged physically as well an mentally. 

Colson Whitehead.  Apex Hides the Hurt.  June 2010   (Playaway)   He’s a nomenclature expert who accepts a contract to name a town.  Originally it was Freedom, but the town’s black  leaders agreed to change it to Winthrop when the first Winthrop brought in his barbed wire factory.  Now the software entrepreneur wants to change it to New Prospera.  It’s a long discussion of the naming of things as a part of the advertising business – and funny.

Elie Wiesel.  Night.  September 2011  (Playaway).  The young rabbinical student loses his faith as he passes through Birkenau  and Auschwitz.  He first wrote his account in Yiddish and then, with the help of Francois Mauriac, a French version was published in 1958 as La Nuit.  What I listened to was a new translation in 2006 by Wiesel’s wife.  Anyone who reads Night already knows a lot about the holocaust, but it would be hard to find a more detailed and chilling account of the horrors of the camps.  Wiesel and his family were taken from a ghetto in Hungary in June 1944 and transported crammed into airless freight cars to Birkenau.  As soon as they arrived, he watched his mother and sisters taken away and presumed correctly that they were lost to him forever.  He and his father sustained each other through their days at Auschwitz and the long forced march and freezing train trip in open cattle cars to Buchenwald, where he then watched his father die from a beating a few days before the camp was liberated in April 1945.

Oscar Wilde.  The Picture of Dorian Gray.  April 2011  Whatever else it is, the language is wonderful and it is stuffed with interesting references and interesting characterizations of the British upper class just before the turn of the century.

Richard Wright.  Native Son.  May 2010   (Playaway)   One of the most powerful things I’ve ever read.  Bigger Thomas is so alienated from white society that he can kill twice to protect himself without feeling guilt.  He comes close to discovering his humanity in a discussion with his lawyer, Max, a few hours before he is to die in the electric chair.  The other portrait is of a white society so bigoted and selfish that it cannot cope with the idea that it may be responsible for the hostility of Negroes.

Thomas Wolfe.  Look Homeward Angel, a Story of the Buried Life.  October 2011  (Playaway)   I tried and I just couldn’t stay with this.  The one thing I liked was Wolfe’s account of Eugene’s thoughts before he was old enough to have the words to express them.  His father and mother were such a mess that I just didn’t want to hear anymore.  Like Eliot’s Adam Bede, a redeeming virtue was the description of everyday life, in this case late 19th and early 20th C North Carolina and the St. Louis World’s Fair. 

Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  The Shadow of the Wind.  May 2011  What do you do when two thirds of the way through, the narrator tells you he will be dead in a week?  You continue.  This is a literary mystery wrapped around personal tragedies.  The setting is Barcelona before, during and after the Civil War,  Many of the characters are not who they seem to be, and their stories are gradually and tragically revealed.  I found it fascinating.

Gary Zukav.  The Seat of the Soul.  March 2011 (Playaway)   I quit after

1 comment:

  1. As an avid reader, I enjoyed reading this blog. I did want to point out that when you talked about Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Nickle and Dimed," you mentioned that she worked for Merry Maids. I was working for Merry Maids at the time, so it was a big topic of discussion. She actually worked at a competitor of Merry Maids -- The Maids. However, Merry Maids, probably because of its much larger size, often got mentioned as the employer in the book. Either way, you captured the essence of the book's message.