Behold the Dreamers ~ by Imbolo Mbue

I saw this reviewed so many times and on so many book blogger sites as well as best of year sites and even some awards.  So it went on my Wish List for awhile but I didn’t get it and didn’t get it.  Finally I took it off.   

Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue 

2016 / (401 pp)
Read by Prentice Onayemi 12h 14m
Rating – 8.5 / contemp, immigrant lit 

Then about a year ago the author, Imbolo Mbue, published her second novel, How Beautiful We Were and it too made the media lists, the reviews, awards and bloggers, another lit winner.  Okay fine.  But you know what?  I felt I should read Behold the Dreamers first and … ta-da1… it was available reads at the library!  (Well duh – 6 years!).  Cool.  And I’ll be getting to How Beautiful We Were shortly.

Behold the Dreamers is an immigrant novel – that’s a whole genre in its own, but with this novel it’s certainly apparent that the scenario has changed and that is a huge part of the point or theme. In the past our immigrant novels have been about rural pioneers or Chinese labor or about the Irish and Italians to the cities and more recently there have been the refugees from WWII and a few from Southeast Asia.  After a while and a lot of work these characters usually do well in America (in the novels anyway), the land of opportunity.  

It’s only been in the last 20 years or so the outlook has changed and now that’s coming across in the novels, too.

Because these days it’s very difficult for immigrants to carve a place for themselves in his land of opportunity. There are lots of immigrant laws as well as enforcement and the camps set up at the border are a source of distress for citizens, and ICE patrols ready to pick up “illegals.”
That’s what and who this very good book is about. The year is 2008, the year of the Wall Street crash, when times got tough for a few years and maybe, in some ways, changed permanently.  

Jende and Neni Jonga along with their 6-year old son have just immigrated from Cameroon in Western Africa.  He drives a cab while she works as a home health aid and enrolls in college working towards becoming a pharmacist.  Life is hard but maybe do-able – the Jongas are dreamers.

Then the lucky break comes and with the help of an uncle he gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Wall Street investment banker and his family while he waits for his permanent papers from immigration. After a few weeks Jende manages to get Neni a job with them, too.  And that’s when the troubles begin because what their application for a green card is rejected which opens Jende to unemployment and deportation and although she has a student visa, Nina is away and she can’t keep up with the work. Besides, the Edwards family they work for is not as happy as the Jongas thought they were.  The wife, Cindy, especially has problems.  

Money does not equate with happiness but so many people, citizens and immigrants, workers and bosses, friends and family, only give lip-service to that idea.  They don’t operate on that basis. That’s the main theme of the whole book.

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Dog Eat Dog ~ by David Rosenfelt

I enjoyed the Andy Carpenter book I read last month for the Christmas season, but over the years I’ve limited myself, mostly, to the Christmasy Carpenter books. I figured they were about dogs and … well … I’m not a dog lover. But not too long ago I discovered they’re often also usually legal mysteries (I hadn’t noticed that specifically)  so I got to thinking I probably could/should try another one  They’re light, even if the subject is murder, but not fluffy, no romance; they’re funny.  

Dog Eat Dog 
by David Rosenfelt – 2020

Read by Grover Gardner 6h 30m
Rating:  A / legal mystery
#23 in Andy Carpenter Series

This time Andy, with wife and ex-police officer Laurie, were taking their dogs, Tara and Sebastian, for a walk in the park when they see another dog is being beaten by it’s owner and yet another walker has interfered and got the upper hand. All parties are taken away, with the dog going to Andy’s home.  The police have found that Matt Jenson, the dog rescuer, is wanted in Maine for a double murder and that case looks bad.  Andy tells him he’ll help.  This guy is a dog lover, after all!

Andy tells Matt that he’ll help him temporarily, but that takes a turn when Matt’s sister shows up and Andy is in it for the investigation and trial.

Andy is a dog lover and a sports enthusiast as well.  He and Laurie have a 9-year old son who is also sports oriented. And Andy’s rich – very rich.  This is because he inherited a pile of money and won a couple of very lucrative cases.  He tries to be retired but he’s a helper – he gets involved.

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Sunday’s Horror – Sunday’s Light

This was in Monday’s paper, the day after that horrendous synagogue incident in Texas:  I posted it on Keith’s site at and he suggested I post it here – (thank you, Keith).

Faith in action: Colleyville churches, other heroes rise in synagogue hostage crisis

Read more at:

If works flow from faith, this is what it looks like. 

In particular, a neighboring church whose only involvement was the accident of proximity swung into action. 

Good Shepherd Catholic Community opened its doors to many needing help during the standoff, as the Star-Telegram’s Domingo Ramirez Jr. reported Sunday. Most importantly, it provided a nearby haven for the hostages’ families, a relatively quiet space where they could wait out what must have been the most terrifying day of their lives. 

The church community responded with food, and Good Shepherd even opened its doors to reporters covering the standoff for hours in the cold. Trust us, that’s not always the reaction media members receive. 

Local Muslim leaders were among those who swiftly condemned the attack. Jawaid Alam, president of the Islamic Center of Southlake, said that Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the hostages, has been a friend to North Texas Muslims.

Colleyville police Chief Michael Miller said Saturday night that his community provided generous support, sending food for officers, messages of support and prayers. 

“There’s lots of hope in how the community came together,” Miller said. “I received calls from my colleagues across the nation. … This community, other churches, have all reached out. Food has been brought. Our people have been cared for.” 

Many of our institutions, public and private, have let us down in recent years. The resulting distrust in government, churches and business are contributing to a crisis of community. The pandemic reinforces loneliness and isolation. There are real challenges in law enforcement, too. 

But Saturday’s response on all fronts shows the best of us. Let it be a reminder of what we can accomplish together if we try harder to follow the most important message all our faiths send us: Love one another.

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Bewilderment by Richard Powers x2

As I often do with new books from Richard Powers I read (listened to) this when it first came out back in September of 2021. Sad to say, I wasn’t terribly impressed and only rated it a 7.5 out of 10.  My favorite book by Powers, hands down and by a long shot, is The Gold Bug Variations from 1991, but I keep reading the new ones,  always hoping that maybe this time …

By Richard Powers
2020 / (287 pp)
Read by Edoardo Ballerini 7h 51m
Rating: 8-B/ literary sci-fi

That said,  I read this within weeks of its release back in September of 2021.  So then it was nominated for the 2021 Booker Prize (won by The Promise ~ Damon Galgut) and is just now, in January of 2022, being discussed in the Booker Prize group.  So I probably needed this review and re-downloaded it and started over.  I see by my original rating it only garnered a 7.5 but maybe it deserves a second chance.  I only have the Audio book and I still saw no reason to get a Kindle version to supplement that. 

On the plus side it’s a relatively short book and the narrator, Edoardo Ballerini, is one of my favorites.  And another reason for the really generous rating is that Powers does write pretty nicely.

Theo Byrne is a fairly young widower with a 9-year old son named Robin.  Robin is a difficult child with some combination of Asperger’s, OCD and ADHD.  He is in frequent trouble at school and the authorities want him put on medications. If Theo refuses Robin will be expelled. Theo and Robin are also having a hard time dealing with their wife/mother’s death.  

Dad’s job involves inventing planets via virtual realty based on algorithms and probabilities.  He allows his son to use the computers for learning and for play. Robin is very, very bright.  

Theo (and Powers apparently) are “knee jerk” against drugs for kids in the same way they’re obviously vegan and against killing in any way.  So Theo finds Robin a place in an experimental self-training program using meditation and feedback. In this way Robin will learn to control himself.  (NO room for the possibility that the chemicals in the brain are off balance.) 

Robin messes up Thanksgiving by being rudely blunt with his grandmother, refusing to eat turkey and generally throwing a little fit. But he starts therapy/training the next Monday.  It takes a week or so but Robin learns to control his emotions.  I think this is just biofeedback.  (My goodness – a whole week! –  groan.) 

The device is on which reactions to brain waves or something but it can be to the point of injecting someone else’s emotions into yourself – like your mom’s.  These are obtained by film strips as far as I can figure.   

“The laws that govern the light from a firefly in my backyard as I write these words tonight, also govern the light emitted from an exploding star one billion light years away. Place changes nothing, nor does time. One set of fixed rules runs the game in all times and places. That’s as big a truth as we earthlings have discovered or ever will in our brief run.” (Chapter 40. )

If that doesn’t sound kind of sappy I don’t know what does.  What is this big rule,  “for every action there is a reaction”?  I don’t think that alone will fix a 9 -year old’s mental disorders. What action is it you’re going to take?  Why? 

But having been treated and apparently cured,  Robin does better at school. He goes out to play with new friends. He gets teased about being vegetarian and he doesn’t respond to teasing. He says he’s “got his guys” which creeps Dad out (because it’s referring to the electro-points of the games he uses).  At Grandma’s for Christmas he freaks out the larger family with his weirdness, but it is an incident free holiday.  Dad’s happy.  

Planet Stasis is where Dad and Robin visit electronically/virtually, and it’s similar to earth. In the cosmos there are a billion planets like earth.  But Planet Status is also different because it’s stable – very stable. 

“Is there intelligence? my son asked. Is anything aware?
I told him no. Nothing on Stasis needed to remember much or predict much further out than now. In such steadiness, there was no great call to adjust or improvise or second-​guess or model much of anything.
He thought about that. 
Trouble is what creates intelligence?
I said yes. Crisis and change and upheaval.
His voice turned sad and wondrous. 
Then we’ll never find anyone smarter than us.” 

Now there’s a kind of good-and-bad situation – damned if you do, damed if you don’t.
This is a heavily political novel – it’s “politically correct” in all the “right” places.  It comes off as being didactic but Powers is preaching to a choir of his own, I think.  Anti-Trump, anti-consumerism, anti-killing, but pro-science (without drugs)  and pro-vegan.  “Free to be you and me.”  Let the kids show us. 

Greta Thunberg is heroized under a different name.  The local farmers market is championed. Fundraising to save the animals is a highly worthy activity for a 9-year old on his own.  And suddenly Robin is transformed into an excellent salesman for a variety of reasons – he just comes out of himself when he’s allowed to do what he wants and believes in so he does supremely well.  The kid feels great. But he gets another sales pitch via email to reward his efforts – lol!   Robin is unnerved and won’t eat and he’s very angry at dad’s apparent ignorance. Robin wants to protest at the capital building like his mom did.  The two get more and more into Mom’s words and ways. “Mom is everywhere,” therefore …. This feels a bit occult but that’s the tangent Powers takes. (Have father and son gone mad?)

I’ve read several novels similar to this lately –  what happens if we try to fix our messes in the world?  We make bigger messes. 

See Appleseed by Matt Bell (my review on this site) is super good and certainly not preachy.

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Great Circle ~ by Maggie Shipstead

For the most part I enjoyed this book a great deal, but as fair warning, I hit a slump between about pages 350 and 450 or so.  Keep going!  There are still a few more twists and the finale to get through and those are not to be missed.  

Great Circle
by Maggie Shipstead

2021 / 610 pages
Read by Cassandra Campbell 25h 16m
Rating –  9 / historical fiction  
(Both read and listened) 

That said,  imo, The Promise by Damon Galgut was a more literary family saga and a great choice for the Booker Prize winner, 2021.  But I’d like to add that if you’re looking for something light (but not fluffy) and immersive to get through the last days or weeks (hopefully) of the pandemic this might be the thing. 

Yeah, at 610 pages it gets a bit windy in places, but how else to cover a person’s whole life when it’s been as full as that of the book’s protagonist. And it feels like a soap opera at times with a lot of sex and love relationship issues.  That said, it made the Short List for the Booker Prize and as such was kind of pre-selected for me to read although I don’t read every single one (probably 95% of the Short-Listers though – over the last 15 years or so).    

Great Circle has two time frames, one is historical with most of the main events taking place between 1900 or thereabouts to well after World War II. This concerns the life of Marian Graves.  The other time frame consists of the years 2014 and ’15 and deals with the story of Graves’ life as the movie version is being produced. (Yes, Graves had quite a life but that part is fictional. The two threads alternate, but there is way more space given to the life of Graves than to how the movie is produced and the life of Hadley Baxter, the Hollywood star.  

The plot starts out with a bang in the form of an explosion on the ship where Marian and her twin brother Jamie, still babies, are traveling with their mother and their father is the captain. He saves the babies, but not their mother, and a large number of passengers died as well. After that incident Captain Graves’ lands in Sing-Sing and his life is pretty well trashed because he didn’t go down with the ship which, additionally and unbeknownst to him, was found to be carrying contraband for the war effort.

And then story goes on with Marian’s life growing up with her brother at their uncle’s home in Montana where she discovers she wants to be a pilot. This is in 1924 or so. Yes!  And she’s serious. That’s the historical part and one theme revolves around a number of feminist matters. There’s a lot of luck involved as well as determination followed by serious hardship. Her brother has his troubles, too.  

It’s a remarkable book, fun, intense, and absorbing.

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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?
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

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.”

Town and Country:

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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! 

 by Matt Bell 2021 (474 pages)
Read by Mark Bramhall 15h 44m Rating: 9-A+ /literary sci-fi-fantasy 

It’s another mosaic-like tripartite (triptych?) ala Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and Cloud Cuckoo Land byAnthony Doerr. 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.

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:

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.

  • *******
     (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
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


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)   

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy Summers
By Stephen King
Rating A / crime 

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

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

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

Full reviews at my site:

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