Under a White Sky ~ by Elizabeth Kolbert

This is the book choice for the All-nonfiction group in February.   I’ve not read Kohlbert’s prior book, The Sixth Extinction,  but I’ve heard the Pulitzer Prize winner is excellent.  

Under a White Sky:
The Nature of the Future
by Elizabeth Kolbert 

2021 / 258 pages
Read by Barbara Lowman 6h 21m Rating: 8.5  / environmen
(Both read and listened)  

With a subtitle like “The Nature of the Future” there’s a lot of ground to cover in 236 pages so it’s a huge overview. The chapters are long with plenty of material, and it’s mostly 1st-hand observation and interviews between Kolbert and those working to save the sites and the planet.  There are scattered insights into the lives of some locals like Boyo Billiot of extreme southern Louisiana. 

Then there’s this from Horace in 20 BC: 
“Drive out nature though you will with a pitchfork, yet she will always hurry back, and before you know it, will break through your perverse disdain in triumph.” p 52

Kolbert opens by talking about rising waters in the delta area of New Orleans and Kolbert asked one of her guides how he envisioned the future – his response was, “The City once known as L’Isle de las Nouvelle Orléans would, in coming years, look more and more like an island.” P 53

The island is being lost, washed away.  What’s interesting is that Kohlbert describes it year after year.  It’s not one big deluge and bye-bye, all gone.  It’s a few houses and feet of land at a time year after year.  “The residents of the island, as well as the families that have moved off it, are virtually all members of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe.” p. 55
********
The water near Death Valley and the pup-fish there are endangered but how did they get there in the first place? How do they survive?
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The Great Barrier Reef Cloud is brightening and we now have what is called “assisted evolution,” the absolute hubris steered by Big Pharma and constant re- engineering.

Kolbert briefly discusses Darwin and evolution and the grandeur of our earth with all its complexity.  Extending the life of the Great Barrier Reef to 50 years is not realistically possible – but we can work toward 20 years. 

Which brings us to Part 3 opening with Odin and the tree of Norse mythology,  Yggdrasil is e tree of the cosmos https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yggdrasil

But don’t let’s stop there. We now have the genetic engineering of DNA via CRISPR.  Biological engineering is already doing a lot with living things including world’s first CRISPR-edited humans – twin baby girls.  (The scientist was taken into custody and nothing has been heard.) Kolbert is doing a bit of genetic engineering in her kitchen.  And that leads into the Australia Animal Health at Geelong where bio-control experiments have gone awry. 

There’s a lot here in this book – I’ll likely have to read it again in a couple weeks.

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Freedom Road ~ by William Lashner

Well this book is different.  It’s a crime novel with the main crime being the kidnapping of a 17-year old girl, but there are shootings involved with getting her back  if she wants to come back. These shootings involve some other things like drugs and money. But there’s also a very light heart-warming and humorous touch to a the story and that’s well done. . 

Freedom Road
by William Lashner  

2019/ (411 pages)
Read by James Daniels 10h 57m
Rating: 8/B – literary crime

The book opens in 1968 when a young law student named Oliver Cross meets a friend near a Vietnam War protest in Chicago. They get involved in the protest and Oliver meets a young woman from Amherst. The next thing we know he’s 50 years older and just getting out of jail. It appears that he and Helen, the young woman, were together for all those years until she died a few years prior. That’s okay – Helen still talks to him, advises him, loves him dearly.
 
Oliver and Helen have a financially successful son and daughter-in-law plus two granddaughters who also live in town, but where his son’s family lives in an seriously upscale home, Oliver’s place is a small run little property which he doesn’t clean up at all.  He’s angry and depressed.

One day the police come to visit Oliver and it turns out his 17-year old grand-daughter is missing and his son has called the police. The cops check Oliver’s criminal record and taking his parole officer along, go visit.  

Oliver is very upset that Erica is missing.  He needs to do something about this, not wait around for the police to figure it out.  He starts asking questions and it turns out she’s got a new boyfriend who is not good news.  And thus begins a story in which the background is just as important as the ongoing events.

I generally enjoyed this – it’s longer than it needs to be but it’s an interesting tale of three generations of rebellion.  

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We Keep the Dead Close ~ by Becky Cooper

The other morning the Daily Special at Audible was a True Crime book and I haven’t read True Crime in ages.  I got it. Having read it, I might never get another one.  I think this may be one of the best True Crime books I’ve ever read and I’ve read some very good ones including Truman Capote’s  In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.  (No, this isn’t as good as those.)  Otoh, it went a bit over the top in some ways.  

We Keep the Dead Close
By Becky Cooper
2020 / 507 pages
Read by author 15h 47m
Rating: A- 8.5 (literary True Crime) (Both read and listened) 

This is the story of a Harvard archeology graduate student who was murdered in her apartment back in 1969.  Becky Cooper took up the crime story in 2018, 49 years after the death of Jane Britton and the search for her killer.

It’s long and rather shaggy because Cooper doesn’t stick with “the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  She seems to want a lot of different kinds of truth, like scientific truth of DNA, the emotional truth of parental grief, the curious truth of the gossips, the victim’s truth, etc.  

 “On the car ride home, I reflected on the irony of all these archaeologists telling me that something was too far in the past. They claimed that there was no point in unearthing a truth from so long ago, but of course this claim stood in direct opposition to the central premise of their work. Sure, any story told about Jane was bound to be contaminated and flawed—a narrative used in service of a current purpose. But there was value in the truth preserved, and value in studying the distortions introduced and the nature of the details lost.”342

And she goes on to say that everyone who was interviewed by her had their own personal reasons for doing so. Cooper calls this “repurposing the past.”  She goes so far as to say about her own relationship with Jane, “[She] had become something to keep me company. A way to structure my life. Something to give it meaning.”  349

So, yes, this is an extraordinary book, much better than I anticipated when I got it. And I’m so glad I got the Kindle version to go with my listening because I ended up rereading sentences, paragraphs and even whole chapters for different reasons and then listening to that section again.  (Although authors should probably not read their own books. Somehow, I got used to it, she sounds like a writer.

This is as much a memoir as it is a true crime book – it’s Becky Cooper’s story of getting to the bottom (at least as far as she can) of Jane Britton’s death.  

It gets quite intense which I didn’t really expect.  And the reasons it gets intense have more to do with the way the tale is told than the True Crime of it.  At first I was put off by the digressions and then I realized that was part of a major point (theme?)!  She’s writing a memoir on how these types of investigations might go, maybe often go, rather than one which has a proscribed ending.  

“For every thread that appeared, I only had time to follow a few, and it was only in retrospect that any of them gained shape.” 353

She uses some other techniques of creative nonfiction – like cliff-hanger chapter endings. Now that’s not breaking with the “truth” of the story – it’s just telling it in her own way. She also gets rather flowery in places (mostly early on and toward the end) and she uses her own sense of chronology which is fairly complex anyway laced as it is with backstories and character building.

And there’s the frequent use of the present tense which increases from page 300 on,  and the very short chapters, both of which heighten the element of suspense. But then there are the really thoughtful comments like: “What would a culture look like, I wondered, that, recognizing the limitations of memory and rejecting the half-truths of reconstructions, discouraged nostalgia?” 350

 So this isn’t a history book or a chemistry book – it’s the memoir of a woman investigating the murder of a fellow student.

******
Cooper runs into a myriad of difficulties while writing this book. The actual murder took place probably 30 years before Cooper started writing and then it took her another 10 years to write! Although no one who was involved would forget the whole thing, memories get fuzzy. Cooper does the best she can.  

Also,  some departments are very highly competitive and they can be very gossipy places. So everyone has their own version of the story which either changes with time or gets cemented by repetition over time.

This is more along the lines of I’ll Be Gone in the Morning by Michelle McNamara than like a genre True Crime book or anything by Joe McGinnis, Ann Rule, or  Lawrence Schiller.  Because what happened is that Becky Cooper was writing the story of the search for the killer WHILE the investigation was still ongoing (by her anyway)

This means she has no “after the fact” mental framework or guidance.  I think she was able to do this because she used her notes almost directly -she didn’t start with the outcome of who was guilty in her thinking or in building the story.   (But I’m sure she had to edit and condense her notes so as to eliminate the really off base clues and suspects and make the narrative of salable length.)

Another difference is that this “cold case mystery” was solved while Cooper wrote the book. This is so unlike Lawrence Schiller and his book on Jon Benet Ramsey’s  unsolved murder, Cooper’s book has a conclusion. The book is about her search and the tangents it took as well as the ultimate resolution

Ultimately, the reader gets to follow most of Cooper’s ideas and leads and research and interviews as they happen – and then we get the truth,  for what it’s worth.  
I categorized it as “literary true crime” because there are literary themes here – themes dealing with murder investigations done by amateur as well as professional detectives. There are also themes of what Cooper calls “retrofitting” guilt into a narrative and wondering how much of the subject, Jane Britton is of her own making.

“And I was the one trapped in a game of symbols of my own invention, finding meaning where there was none to be found.”  176

So Cooper is analyzing her own investigation.  That’s not usually done in True Crime reports and books.  This is not an easy read if you take the time to understand it. 

 Academic university departments are gossipy places – and they’re chock full of competitive egos. Throw a murder into the mix and let it simmer a few years,  see what bubbles up,  About half-way through this fine book I was almost laughing – (Cooper is on her way to Rome and Bulgaria so she could feel the insanity as well as what dirt on the trowel felt like – ya.) 

 And there are soooo many names.  Deliberately. She interviewed and worked with lots of people. But I say deliberately because part of the point of this book is to show how detectives,  especially amateur sleuths, follow leads they “like” and ignore other possiblities.  They also often determine significance or culpability by the “likability” of the suspect or witness.  

“The rational part of me understood, then, that the search for significance in the sheer coincidence of Karl being connected to this missing woman was almost certainly more revealing of my ability to retrofit guilt into a narrative than it was of anything else.”  168

***************
“Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark  and a few other recent titles are interesting books within a growing True Crime movement. This movement aims to underscore just how deeply the act of reporting on a true crime story — especially one in the past — can alter and warp that story in ways that serve to destroy the truth, whatever that may be.”
Vox:
https://www.vox.com/22573880/we-keep-the-dead-close-becky-cooper-book-jane-britton-murder

Town and Country:
https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/money-and-power/a34371064/jane-britton-harvard-murder-we-keep-the-dead-close/

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Defending Britta Stein ~ by Ronald H. Balson

Chicago-based attorney Catherine Lockhart is contacted by her former boss about a case in which he has already compromised himself by discussing it with Emma Fish­er, his young employee.  Emma is involved because of her 92-year old grandmother, Britta Stein. It seems that Stein was caught on video tape spray-painting defamatory graffiti on an exterior wall of a local restaurant owned by one Ola Henryks’, a client of Lockhart’s former boss.   Britta scrawled that Henryks, a highly regarded Chicagoan,  was a Nazi collaborator, an informant, a traitor, a liar, etc.   

Defending Britta Stein
By Ronald B. Balson 2021/ (346 pages)
Read by Gabra Zackman 11h 45m
Rating:8 -B+ / historical legal thriller

So Britta is arrested for her deeds which were captured on video.  SHeldon Sparks, Henryks’ lawyer loves television cameras so he’s out blabbing and filing defamation suits. It seems that Hendryks, a 92-year old Danish immigrant,  has more than the cost of cleaning off the paint in mind. Restitution would include restoring his good name as a WWII hero, not a Nazi traitor.   At her old boss’ request, but against her own better judgment, Catherine calls Stein’s granddaughter, Emma. 

Emma starts working as Catherine’s research assistant while Liam, her law partner and husband, stands by until he flies to Berlin for some discovery.  

Britta’s health is not strong, but she is determined to get her whole story told in full. She’s methodical and thorough and that slows everything down.  Meanwhile, Ola Henryks and his attorney are equally determined to either discount Britta’s story or keep it from being told. 

The plot, the subject matter,  and the characters are all very intense and the narrator matches the tone.  It’ll keep you reading!  I’m sure the history is accurate I didn’t know much about Denmark during WWII.  

It’s hard to categorize the novels of Ronald Balson. This series of 6 books so far is about a pair of lawyers in present day Chicago who work on cases which are based in historical 20th century struggles.  The Holocaust figures prominently,  but there’s one about Ireland’s “Troubles” and one involving Palestinian terrorists.  Sometimes these are considered historical fiction, sometimes legal thrillers filed under crime.  At Audible they’re usually called  World Literature but once as Women’s fiction.  I think I’d probably use historical fiction because the lawyers dig into the history of the crime and take it to court in the 21st century. 

Roland B Balson is a Chicago based attorney and professor as well as the  author of several award-winning books including the Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart series.  

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Appleseed ~ by Matt Bell

This is a very interesting book – terrific actually,  I think. But I might have to read it again to know for sure.   I’d seen it reviewed somewhere and it was on my Wist List for awhile, and then along came a Daily Special.  Got it! 

Appleseed
 by Matt Bell 2021 (474 pages)
Read by Mark Bramhall 15h 44m Rating: A+ / literarysci-fi-fantasy 

It’s another mosaic-like tripartite (triptych?) ala Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and Cloud Cuckoo Land by _______. And again it’s confusing at first but I was following better than I thought because at about 1/2 way it all fell into place – and then more was added.  That said, I might have to read it again although the narrator’s voice was irritating.  

 Alert – This is a sci-fi fantasy book with some overtones of Greek mythology. The sci-fi part is climate dystopian and the Greek tones include a faun or two, some god-like traits in another character, and some names.

Prologue – a hoofed beast and his stepbrother are gathering seeds near a cider mill. He is seeking a particular seed apparently only available once every ten years.  

Part I Chapman – (about 1800)The eponymous Johnny Appleseed, known here as Chapman, is just barely starting out with his ideas and takes off  with his brother Nathanial out of Pennsylvania to build nurseries and plant apple trees in the frontier. 

He is with his step-brother Nathanial trekking and scouting the new frontier which, in the late 18th and very early 19th centuries American poachers, aka”pioneers,” made theirs for the taking. Chapman has a man’s body and hairy legs with cloven hooves like a faun and he wants to find the perfect apple so that he might gain the seeds for more. Nathanial wants to make his fortune in land sales.   

 John –  (in the not-too-distant future) humans are trying to remake the world to avoid an ultimate full calamity. John is west of the Mississippi which is hot and dusty and full of desserts and caves with chambers. He looks at the ancient drawings of the vanished earth which are painted on the remaining walls. It’s a world now gone. John wants to LIVE WITH plants and animals not just observe them from above.

 After the last catastrophic earthquake,  a corporation called Earth Trust got emergency funding and seized all lands west of the Mississippi to create the Western Sacrifice Zone.  Oregon and Washington seceded from the US.

 At the time of the take-over John was with the fierce Eury and they vowed to push back at this horror.  Cal is ready for violence but John wants to atone to the earth.  

He’s at a burned-out Yellowstone, watching a wolf NOT eating the bison corpses. Heavy lifter cargo drones fly overhead.  It’s 100º and he’s angry and will plant a bomb to blow a hole in a dam or the anti-erosion embankments or use chains or something.  On this side of the continent there are gutted cities of empty concrete. No one is there.  

His efforts are futile but he trying to help by “re-wilding” the west – making it available for new growth.  He’s finishing what Cal started; getting rid of the old fossil fuel based economy. This is NOT recycling or re-purposing or re-engineering. Rather, it’s letting the water flow where it will, the erosion happen, the minerals stay where they are.

 John is destroying the rubble in the West.  He sees a graffiti marked gas station and knows that Cal has been here not so long ago and knows that Cal he wants John to come back to her.  He finds more arrows, more destruction, more blazes.  He’s close now.  He finds Cal who pauses her work – she’s wild and violent-looking and calls him Goat.  

C434 – called “C” – (maybe 3021) And in this time frame it’s too late C moves his craft out of the crevice in the ice.  Heavy white sky is all he remembers – only on this high glacial shelf.  This is all automatic with bubbles and sensors. He goes beneath the ice looking for seeds. He’s been successful but he’s old now and has gone through many cycles. His skin is renewed with polymer and other materials. He has blue fur, which doesn’t quite protect him from the cold, and plastinate claws. 

He gets ready to descend – he has hooves for climbing down walls. He descends into the dark, blind, and finally lands at bottom of the chamber. There’s a sound, but this is unknown territory. It seems like it was the end of a world and he has many fears. with one predominating. If the tunnel he is following becomes tunnels (plural) he will get lost.  That will be the end of his world and he’ll be below.

 He must never die anywhere but in the crawler.  The tunnel slants down and away so there must be an obstruction, but he “sees only dark empty.  He finds bio-mass.  Black roots some thick – clutching rocks and dirt and more of a stump.  More buried wood. He wants to bring it back.  Dangerous because ice might break.  Greed gets him trying to move more. He wraps pieces of old trees into tarp – starts to ascend and gets there but disasters as tarp comes loose and everything falls 

And so it goes – alternating between these three scenarios as the plot in each progresses. What has happened, is happening, you don’t know until the end.

Eury, a very strong female, in charge of Earth Trust which involves remaking the world in lots of ways from food to land development and air to soil manufacturing plus skin composition and maybe body transplants.  John is not sold on this idea. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurydice

The main twist that affects everything is that Appleseed is a faun, which makes me think funny things like that he’s spreading his seed because everyone from him on is looking forward, into the future.  But if that’s too terrible by the time we get a few years out perhaps it should all be destroyed,  Earth Trust and all.  

And the voice of the narrator drones on, seeming to lament something,  And I think this might need a reread in spite of the narrator

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Bear Town ~ by Fredrik Backman

My sister recommended this and she rarely does that, but when she does the books are usually pretty good.  When we were in elementary school we recommended books to each other regularly.  Then we went our different ways, with turning me to Nancy Drew and sci-fi and her to animal stories, but we always knew the other was a reader.  So over the years there have been some clicks, but not always. 

Bear Town 
By Fredrik Backman 2020 /
Read by Marin Ireland 13h 11m
Rating: 7.5 / contemp. fiction –

Backman is versatile – I read A Man Called Ove (my blog entry) first, that was a comedy of sorts.  The next one I read was the My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry but I wasn’t too fond of that one. Now his latest, Bear Town is more like a general family drama I guess. It’s okay but somewhere between those other two ratings – 

It’s very slow to start with lots of characters to introduce and give backgrounds on. I know nothing at all about hockey. I saw what I took to be a spoiler and was a bit peeved (spoilers don’t totally ruin a book for me) until I got to the event which was only at about the 1/2 mark.  

Okay fine.  So I thought I knew what would happen but that’s not the only reason to read a book (imo). The tension is pretty good and there are plenty of threads.

This concerns a very small town in rural Sweden and all their rivalries and jealousies and old scandals etc. That’s the same anywhere – it’s Sweden but it certainly could be Canada or northern Minnesota. This complete character list is helpful: https://www.bookcompanion.com/beartown_character_list2.htm

It’s about a town where a teen ice hockey club becomes way too important. Townspeople generally think it’s vital to the town’s economic well-being and progress. The kids, their parents, the investors, and even general residents all feel the pressure of needing to win for their own reasons and they all act accordingly.  In the eyes of the town, “winners can do anything.”  And Kevin never loses. 

I don’t mind books about teens at all – some of the ones I’ve read have been wonderful.  I suppose this could be a very good YA book (ages 16-24). I don’t know if a teen reader could identify with the feelings of the coaches and parents as well as those of his own age group.  The adult club sponsors are obviously the bad guys – or quite a number of them are, anyway. 

And then, half-way though, something happens which reverberates through the rest of the book.   It’s all very interesting, but not my usual fare.  I think if you like Where the Crawdads Sing you might like this one.

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*!*!* Summary of Reading 2021 *!*!*

I read a total of 148 books this year and that’s up (by 23 books) from last year, but reading more is not a goal here.  Reading GOOD books is.  

So these are my top 10 of books read this year by category. I read a lot of new releases so many of them are 2021 books but NOT ALL!!!  It’s not a rule or anything. The following are in general order from best of best to least of best. 

My way of rating is 1-10 for fiction and nonfiction, but A-F for crime/mystery/sci-fi because the criteria for a good book, such as they are, are different. Tension is usually very important in crime and sci-fi novels, but it’s not always even consideration in classic lit (Proust for instance).  World-building can be huge in sci-fi, but not even present in non-fiction. Actually, imo, literary styling (delicious metaphors) can interfere with a good thriller. (LOL!). So I use different rating systems. But I use both when some good crime novel uses literary-type devices well.  (The Quincunx by Charles Palliser, 1989, would get a 10/A++  – so would The Name of the Rose by U. Eco.). That said, it’s all very subjective. 

“ALL artistic judgement is subjective. ALL artistic judgments are camouflaged autobiography. How it comes about, you don’t know. Inspect yourself. “ John Carey, book reviewer, London Times

There were 8 women authors and 2 translations, total.

  • *******
    NONFICTION
     (I read some really fine nonfiction this year)
  • Braiding Sweetgrass:
     Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
    by Robin Wall Kimmere
    Rating:  10 / History-Americas – botany 2013
  • Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America,  1754-1766  
    by Fred Anderson
    Rating 10 / US history 2000
    (Read and listened)
  • The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790
    by Rhys Isaac 1982
    Rating: 10 – US history/ 
    (Kindle and paperback due to graphics)

Entangled Life:
How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures 
by Merlin Sheldrake 2020
Rating 10 / botany
(Read and listened 2x)

The Invention of Nature:
Alexander von Humboldt’s New World  
by Andrea Wulff 2015
Rating 10/  life science/history
(Read and listened 2x)

Forget the Alamo:
The Rise and Fall of an American Myth
By Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford
2021
Rating: 10 / US-Texas history

Robert E Lee and Me
A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause
By Ty Seidule 2021
Rating: 10 / history-memoir

Children of Ash and Elm
A History of the Vikings
By Neil Price 2020
Rating: 9.5 / European history

The Viking Heart:
How Scandinavia Conquered the World 
By Arthur Herman 
Rating: 9.3  / European history 2021

The Craft:
How Freemason’s Made the Modern World
By John Dickie
Rating: 9 / history 2020

*****
FICTION

Cloud Cuckoo Land

by Anthony Doerr 2021
Rating: 10/ general fiction 

The Adventures of China Iron 
By Gabriela Cabezón Cámara 2021
Translated by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre 
Rating: 9.8 / literary – historical fiction 

The Promise
by Damon Galgut 2021
Rating: 9.75 / historical fiction (S. Africa)

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
by Shokoofeh Azar 2021
Rating:  9.6 /  historical fiction (Iran) 

At Night All Blood Is Black
By David Diop (France) Translated
Rating:  9.6 / literary-historical 2021 
(graphic violence)

The Magician
by Colm Toibin 2021
Rating 9.5 / biographical novel (Thomas Mann)   

Antiquities 
by Cynthia Ozick 2021
Rating: 9.5  /historical fiction 

The Sentence 
by Louise Erdrich 2021
Rating: 9.5 / historical fiction

Convenience Store Woman 
by Sayaka Murata
Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori 
Rating:  9.25  / contemporary Japanese 2016

CRIME/SCI-FI 

The Ice Harvest 
by Scott Philips 
2000 / 4h 30m 
Rating:  A+ /  noir crime

Razorblade Tears 
By S.A. Cosby
Rating:  A+,  9.5 / lit-crime
2021

The 19th Christmas
by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
Rating:  A+ / crime thriller 
2018

When These Mountains Burn 
by David Joy –
Rating: A+, 9.5 – lit crime
2020

State of Terror 
By Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny
Rating A+ / crime thriller 
2020

Another Kind of Eden 
by James Lee Burke
Rating: A / crime  
2021

The Joy and Light Bus Company
by Alexander McCall Smith 
Rating: A  (for enjoyment) / featherweight crime
2021

Billy Summers
By Stephen King
Rating A / crime 
2021

Back of Beyond 
by C.J. Box – 
Rating A- / crime 
2011

Apples Never Fall
By Liane Moriarty 
Rating: A, 9  / lit – crime  
2021

Sci-fi: 
The Ministry for the Future 
by Kim Stanley Robinson 
Rating –   A+ / sci-fi
2020/ 

Full reviews at my site: 
https://mybecky.blog

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The Uses of Enchantment ~ by Bruno Bettelheim

I did not like this book one bit. It’s dated and I disagree with Bettelheim on so many things.  This is kind of a shame because it’s one of the books I’d never read, but always wanted to. It was published the year I graduated college and it was exciting at that time. (A similar thing happened with Orientalism by Edward Said.)

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
by Bruno Bettelheim

1976 / 343 pages
read by Gerard Doyle
rating: 3 / psychology (?)
(both read and listened)

Yes, I disagree about the analyzed meanings of the fairy tales, especially the meanings to children, but also on general ideas like on page 118 where it says: 
“Other parents fear that a child’s mind may become so overfed by fairy-tale fantasies as to neglect learning to cope with reality.  Actually ,the opposite is true. Complex as we all are – conflicted, ambivalent, full of contradictions – the human personality is indivisible. Whatever an experience might be, it always affect all the aspects of the personality at the same time.” 

Ya? How about the effects of violent video games and movies – that’s what makes it dated. I don’t think kids today know what fairy tales are unless their parents took them to Disney movie.

I was in college when this book was first published. I might have really enjoyed it, I have no idea. That’s been 50 years ago, and a lot of changes now,

I’ve read that Bettelheim has distinctly Freudian ideas and from what little I know that seems right, although there are places he tries to distance himself.

I think Bettelheim cherry-picked some really old versions of the fairy tales he used and analyzed them in the way his audience would want to read.

Oh I have more problems with this book in 2021 but I’ll let it rest.

If you want a good book about making meaning of fairy tales (or folklore, myth, whatever) check out Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 1992. (Estes is distinctly Jungian in her approach and who knows – that book might be dated by this time too.)

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Crying in H Mart ~ Michelle Zauner

I’m not sure but I really don’t get the hype on this one. My own mother passed away a couple months ago and Crying in H Mart had been on my wish list for several months. It got great reviews and showed up on the 2021 award lists.  I didn’t know if a memoir dedicated by a South Korean musician whose mother died would affect me or not, but I went ahead and got it because if it got me too sad I could change. And I wanted to read this in 2021 for some reason. ?

Crying in H Mart
By Michelle Zauner

 2021 (244 pages)
Read by author 7h 23m
Rating: 6 / memoir

It turns out,  I just wasn’t all that impressed.  Maybe I’ll read it again some time.  I mean it was okay but ….  Maybe I was blocking some response. Maybe I didn’t want to feel sad about Michelle’s mother when I wasn’t finished mourning my own.  Especially I wasn’t much interested in the minutia, the lists of foods and clothes.  Maybe this is a good book and I’m just not available to see that.  

I think the author should not have read it – her voice got quite sing-song after a bit. 

Anyway, it’s a debut book, a memoir which made the New York Times best seller list the 1st week of publication.  It’s made several “Best Of Year” lists.  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_Zauner
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crying_in_H_Mart

H Mart is a large Korean grocery chain with many locations including in both Portland, OR and New York City.  Zauner lived in both and she is trying to connect with her mother through food.  

Zauner is South Korean and although she was born in Seoul her family moved to the US when she was quite young. Her father is Jewish American. From the time she was 9 months old the family lived in Eugene Oregon (about 100 miles south of Portland),  but returned to Korea often to visit relatives, especially Grandma, in Seoul.  Zauner always had to ask them to translate because she never got far in the Korean language.  Michelle was an only child and her mom was a homemaker. She was the only child in her neighborhood which was somewhat rural and whe was the only Korean at her school.  Also, her mother’s food and child-raising techniques were different from those of her friends.  Zauner was not a happy camper.
 
Food and beauty are super important in Korean women’s culture. Korean wives are like dolls and the competition is to be perfect in every way. The expectations of women are very high and they push themselves. So the time Michelle spent with her mother and aunts was more interesting and insightful.  
I’ve read some South Korean fiction and I love North Korean history so I thought this would be more enjoyable.

I now know why my girlfriend couldn’t read My Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Dideon) which came out only a few months after my friend’s husband died.  I have a clue anyway. So don’t take this review too seriously 

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The Walkaway ~ by Scott Phillips

The Walkaway is both a prequel and a sequel to The Ice Harvest (my review), which I just finished a couple days ago and very much enjoyed. Yay!  Both books were on sale in one way or another so it was like a nice Christmas gift.  The Ice Harvest (book 1) was an Audible Daily Deal and then I the next day I found the Kindle version of The Walkaway and it was marked way down, too.  I got both the Audio and the Kindle versions of the Walkaway.  

The Walkaway 
By Scott Phillips

2000 / 9h 3m
Read by George Newbern 
Rating: A /crime 
(Prequel/Sequel to The Ice Harvest)

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!!!  Read The Ice Harvest first.  The Walkaway is difficult enough without the added and unavoidable complexity of not knowing how The Ice Harvest developed and ended.  

But the two books are very different.  The Ice Harvest is a masterpiece of black humor/nor crime. It takes place in Wichita, Kansas on Christmas Eve, 1979.  The characters are almost all involved in the seedy bar scene including the drunks and the hookers and cops and scheming and so on.  A severe storm prevents Charlie Arglist from leaving town as he really wants to do very badly.  Why?  Well …that’s the problem. We don’t know. He’s barhopping to kill time saying good-bye.  
 
The Walkaway also takes place in Wichita and with a lot of the same characters (Phillips is known for that), but the time frames are 1954, 1979 and 1989.  Yes. So it’s both a prologue and a sequel to The Ice Harvest.

It’s not the linear tale The Ice Harvest is. The structure and cohesion are complex. It feel like Phillips really tries to get the noir ambiance of The Ice Harvest going, but although it’s certainly gritty enough it never quite happens as it was in that book. What happens instead is kind of like a tragi-comedy of errors involving an elderly gent with some dementia who has run away from his nursing home in order to take care of some old business.  Until the end he was a minor player in The Ice Harvest.

These are great novels – highly recommended.    

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Christmas Song Book Tag

Going through my mail I saw that carl batnag at Pine Scented Blog, one of the blogs I follow, did a very nice job chiming in on the Christmas Song Book Tag which he got from Words About Words but which has been floating around the internet since it was started by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. And I thought I’d join along. (You’re welcome to join in, too! Just add your link in my comments when you’re done. Thanks!)

1.  “All I Want for Christmas Is You”:
Favorite bookish couple
“Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart” of the eponymous series by Ronald H. Balson

2. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”: 
Name a book where a character is away from home (school, vacation, etc.).
“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr (Several characters are away from home but Omeir is fighting in the siege of Constantinople while Konstance is on a space ship really far away. They both want to get home). 

3. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: 
Name your favorite “little” book (children’s book, short story, novella, etc.). 
“The Ice Harvest” by Scott Philips – noir novella with a Christmas setting 

4. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town“: What book(s) do you hope Santa brings you this year?
 “West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders, and Killers in the Golden State” by Mark Arax(Nonfiction) 

5. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: Which book turned your nose red (made you cry)?
I’d have to say “The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka.  I just wept at the graphic historicity.

6. “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
Your favorite book/kind of book to read during the holidays.
 “A Lot Like Christmas” by Connie Willis – short stories of Christmas by a master sci-fi story-teller. 

7. “We Three Kings”: 
Your favorite trilogy.
Mick Herron’s “Slough Horses” series – not a trilogy but a series of 7 (so far).  Superb.  Or the Christmas books in the “Andy Carpenter Series” by David Rosenfelt 

8. “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”
A character you would love to be snowed in with.
 Oh maybe Aaron Holland Broussard from “Another Kind of Eden” by James Lee Burke. Or perhaps the sheriff in “The 12 Slays of Christmas” by Jacqueline Frost. 

9. “Last Christmas”:
A book that seriously let you down.
“Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead
His first two books were so much better.

10. “White Christmas”:
An upcoming release you’re dreaming about.
So many books … The Books of Jacob: A Novel by Olga Tokarczuk

That’s it folks “Have yourself a very Merry Christmas!”

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12 Strays of Christmas ~ by Jacqueline Frost

I hate it when I get suckered into reading a romance.  And this sounded so good.  (I think I might have a better Christmas read coming up and I’ve already finished two better ones so I’m not doing badly for the season.

12 Slays of Christmas 
Jacqueline Frost 
Read by Allyson Ryan
2017 – 8h 16m
Rating:C- /okay for what it is – 


Actually, this is only half romance with the other half being fairly decent mystery.  Holly White’s Christmas has been cancelled due to her fiancé’s abrupt change of heart so she heads back to Mistletoe, Maine where her parents own and operate a Christmas Tree farm complete with vendors.  But oops – on her first day back an older woman of the town is brutally murdered on the farm.  And the sheriff is so cute and eligible.  ? (oh well …sigh).  The mystery is halfway good when it’s not all woven into the romance.  

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