The Last Equation of Isaac Severy ~ by Nova Jacobs

I picked this book up because it was on sale and then I found out it had won a bunch of lesser literary accolades if not awards.  It had been looking kind of good to me anyway but who knows?  Yes, imo, it’s flawed but it’s too fun to pick at.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy
by Nova Jacobs
2020 /
read by Lisa Flanagan 9h 36m
rating: 9 / A+


Whatever else,  it’s probably the fun-est novel I’ve read in a long time and it is a mystery although not a murderous one – or a thriller really.  It’s a math puzzler (I very much enjoy those) with a dysfunctional family comprised of brilliant people.  Possibly a wee bit occult side? 

There are so many characters in a rather complex plot I had to take notes.  There’s quite a lot of math, too, but as usual in math-fiction understanding this is not vital.  I got about 1/2 way and started over because I’m partially distracted by life-events while being mesmerized by the book. How does this happen?  

The Isaac Severy of the title, was a world renowned mathematician and the beloved patriarch of his own family. He dies before the actual narrative starts but first he mails a letter to his granddaughter Hazel, the owner of a seriously failing bookstore in Seattle where she’s now homeless too.  Hazel travels to the funeral in LA and her shop assistant has to mail her the letter from Isaac.

Many developed characters – the backgrounds of others are developed later in the book”

 Philip Severy  (50-something) – Isaac’s son and a physicist with twin sons who are tennis players.  He also has at least one daughter.  

Jane – Philip’s wife – 

Tom Philip brother of Philip and son of Isaac. He’s just getting out of jail for some kind of violence. He’s also very smart but is bad news for the family gene pool. Tom’s wife has disappeared somewhere.

Hazel –  30-something, Tom’s foster-daughter who as a child was sent to Isaac and loves him dearly.  

Gregory – brother of Hazel and Tom’s foster-son was also sent to live with Isaac. They are a part of the family. Gregory is a cop with the LAPD – 

Paige –  Isaac’s daughter –  rather mean, gossipy,  Greg and Hazel’s aunt –  She never married but she has a grown daughter/son (Alex?),  Paige is very mysterious. 

Alex – Alexis – son of Paige. An Anglophile. Not a mathematician now, but he was a prodigy until a car accident.  Now a photographer.  Mistaken for female – gay?  

 Syble – child of Philip and Jane.  She sleep walks and talks 
Jack –  Syble’s husband 
Drew –  age 5 – precocious daughter of Syble and Jack

Fritz – Isaac’s long term accountant 

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Gone Again ~ by James Grippando

Wow!  I’ve read Grippando’s books before, including in the Jack Swytech series, and enjoyed them to varying degrees, but this is like off the wall great partly due to the reader, Jonathan Davis.  Fwiw, it won the Harper Lee Best Legal Fiction award in 2017.   

Gone Again
By James Grippando
Read by Jonathan Davis
Rating:  A+ / legal fiction 

Dylan Reeves is on death row for the viscous murder of Sashi Burgette the adopted daughter of the Burgettes.  Sashi was a very troubled and difficult teenage girl who originally came from Russia.  Sashi’s mother is convinced Sashi is not dead because there is a phone call every year on Sashi’s birthday.  The phone is dead, Sashi doesn’t speak at all.  

This works into one of the best courtroom dramas I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot of them – a favorite genre.  I have to say it won the Harper Lee Best Legal Fiction award of 2017.  I have no idea why I enjoy legal thrillers.  

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Mercy ~ by Victor Methos

I’ve read several of these legal thrillers but I missed this one because it seemed too much like some of Methos’ other books.  I finally grabbed it when I was seriously ready for another legal drama/thriller.  This is more of a legal drama than thriller. There is plenty of courtroom and law-office action – there are simply no guns and no chase scenes.  We know who has been accused and arrested.  The problem is to get the accused found guilty or acquitted.  I like the twists the novels take en route.  This book was adequate – not great. 

By Victor Methos
Read by A.W. Dickson
Rating: B / legal drama 
Neon Lawyer series – #2 

Brigham Theodore is a trial lawyer working out of Salt Lake City.  One day after right after the culmination of another trial a man comes into his office and confesses to having killed his wife, the mother of his children – in the hospital – as a mercy killing.  

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How to Raise and Elephant ~ by Alexander McCall Smith

I was so looking forward to this book – until I saw the name of a strange narrator.  This series has been read by Lisette Licat since book 1 (and this is book #21). I’ve been following via Audible since maybe 2005 but have paperbacks and hard covers from before that.

How to Raise an Elephant
by Alexander McCall Smith 
2020 / 257 pages
Read by Adjoa Andoh 8h 38m
Rating: 10 -book (4 -narrator)
(#21 in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series)

A new reader is jarring and Andoh’s voice is a horrible screeching for Charlie and Grace Makutsi. It’s okay for Precious Ramotswe and some others, but I want Lisette back!

Fortunately, I found the book available in audio format at my library. YAY!!!! (I do get one or two library books a month. Adjoa Andoh is still narrating but at least I didn’t have to pay for it.

Botswana is the same as ever,  living halfway in the past while the other half is almost in the 21st century.  Precious still has her little white van – probably a 1985 – (lol).  The workers at   the garage and detective agency and the residents on Zebra Drive are tending to their lives as usual.    

The ladies have several interests going. There is a woman who wants to borrow money from Precious saying she’s a distant cousin and her husband has been in trouble.  A strange smell turns up in her van.  Violet, an old annoyance, is up to something. 

These are gentle books and it’s been the story arc of the series which has kept me buying the books as they come out.  I got the first one back in 1999 – when I read a review in Time magazine, I believe and, for some reason, had to get the book. 

The setting is almost always in or near Gaborone, Botswana which is just north of the country of South Africa.  Mma Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the detective agency, is a woman of “traditional proportions,” but she’s smart and independent.  Her assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi is not nearly so clever or intelligent but she thinks she is and she was the top student at a local secretarial school – quite a rise for a girl from poverty.  

Modernization is a kind of theme stressed more in some novels than in others. It usually concerns society and standards in Botswanan society.   
Over the course of the novels these two very different women along with a few other characters go through big changes in their lives with romance, marriage, babies, new employees, etc.  It’s so thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable. (Fwiw, I’ve not cared for Smith’s other books and series.) 

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Transcendent Kingdom ~ by Yah Gyasi

This had been on my wish list for some time but then a bookish friend recommended it so I upped its place in the “line.”   I’m glad she did.  It’s quite good.  So good in fact I may have to revisit shortly.  I read her debut novel,  Homegoing, a few years ago (2017) and my review is at the link.

Transcendent Kingdom
by Yah Gyasi 2020 / (288 pages)
Read by Bahni Turpin 8h 40m 
Rating:  9 / 
contemp fiction

It’s a very ambitious novel involving a multitude of themes like immigrants from Ghana to Alabama.  Whole novels have been written on the “contemporary immigrant experience” alone.   The first person narrator, Gifty, is a graduate student working toward a PhD in neuroscience so there’s another theme in “the battle of science vs God.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever read a novel with that theme although maybe.  

In Alabama Gifty has her mother, her father (The Chin-chin Man)  and her older brother, Nana.  Nana is also very bright as well as athletic.  Mom is religious while Dad goes back to Ghana and doesn’t return. Nana becomes addicted to heroin. Mom gets very ill.  “Loss and grief” are pervasive and powerful themes.  

Meanwhile, is torn between her belief in God and her scientific ideas. She has problems with her mother who does not handle the losses of her husband and son very well.   Adapting to the US and the racism of Alabama, and eventually problems with her boyfriend who wants them to marry.  The tale is not necessarily told in chronological order but that doesn’t seem to matter.

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Klara and the Sun ~ by Kazuo Ishiguro

Of Ishiguro’s 8 novels I’ve read 6, missingThe Unconsoled and A Pale View of the Hills.  And I’ve read his volume of short stories.  I’ve really enjoyed reading his books although the last three have not been as good, imo.  Anyway, I felt I should read Klara and the Sun but procrastinated a bit at first and other books popped up.  

Klara and the Sun
 by Haruki Ishiguro 
2021 / 249 pages 
Read by Sura Siu – 10h 16m
Rating:  9.5

This book feels a lot like Never Let Me Go in that the main characters are not humans as we know them.  In Never Let Me Go they were clones but in Klara and the Sun they are Artificial Intelligence (Artificial Friend – AF) of some sort, worked into robots manufactured to be friends with young adults.  They sit on the store shelves waiting to be chosen and purchased to go to their owner’s homes to fit in as appropriate.  They are usually purchased for young teens to keep them from being lonely due to home schooling.
The first person narrator is Klara who is apparently a notch above the average AF and is a astute observer of human behavior.  So we have a naive narrator as is totally typical of almost all Ishiguro’s novels.  Her human is named Josie and although she is from a privileged family and very bright, she is also crippled in some way and has serious health issues.  She is home schooled. 
Rick is a neighbor boy who is different for some reason and not completely acceptable to Josie’s rarified crowd.  They are all considered children and have toy playmates (AFs) but are 12-14 years old.   

Klara doesn’t use the pronoun “you” to humans but uses their first names instead.  And it’s “the Mother” and “Melania Housekeeper.”  Rick is Rick though, but he’s different.  I think that’s probably to keep the characters distanced from the reader and the AFs from the humans.   The reader remains aware that Klara is an AF.  

The book is excellent for beating the Covid-19 depression.

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Win ~ by Harlan Coben

Although I’ve read a couple books, I haven’t been a big Harlan Coban fan until now.  He gets a bit too much into the fem-jeop violence for my tastes (females in jeopardy).  But the publisher blurb intrigued me (see below): 

by Harlan Coben 
2021 / 385 pages
Read by Steven Weber 10h 35m
Rating – A+ / mystery-thriller 
(1st of Windsor Lockwood III series) 

“Over twenty years ago, the heiress Patricia Lockwood was abducted during a robbery of her family’s estate, then locked inside an isolated cabin for months. Patricia escaped, but so did her captors – and the items stolen from her family were never recovered.

“Until now. On the Upper West Side, a recluse is found murdered in his penthouse apartment, alongside two objects of note: a stolen Vermeer painting and a leather suitcase bearing the initials WHL3. For the first time in years, the authorities have a lead – not only on Patricia’s kidnapping, but also on another FBI cold case – with the suitcase and painting both pointing them toward one man.”
Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III is the series protagonist this time. He was the best friend and number 2 man in the Myron Bolitar series which preceded it.  His character is already pretty well developed from those books and from what I’ve heard people are enjoying him in his own series.  I think it’s possible he’s been given a much softer gloss with the appearance of an adult daughter.   

 I’ll be looking for number 2 in this series and I might be picking up a Myron Bolitar or two.  

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Smalltime ~ by Russell Shorto

Russell Shorto writes books of popular history, but this is his first memoir and it’s a family memoir with some history thrown in.  I guess I’m a Shorto fan because he written 7 books and now I’ve read 5 – I recommend any of them.

Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob 
By Russell Shorto 
2021 / 272 pages
Read by author – 8h 27m
Rating 8.75 / memoir-family history 

Smalltime focuses on Shorto’s paternal grandfather, Russ Shorto, who was at the center of the  Johnstown WV “Italian mob.”  He worked his way through Prohibition and on into gambling.  But Shorto’s father comes into it too because this guy didn’t want to join his father in the business and struck out on his own.  Not much is said about his mother but his grandmother and great grandmother come into the picture briefly.  

Life in Sicily, immigration and oppression are huge themes. The immigrants from Southern Europe had rough lives in part because they were Catholic, but also because they were usually darker-skinned than the Germans and Irish. It was better than Italy had been and in both places, America and Sicily,  people sometimes had to cut the straight lines and corners of the law to eat. 
And so the Italian criminal world was built and became the Mafia and crept out of New York into the smaller cities of America.  Between the KKK and the Know-Nothings there was organized resistance to the Italians as well as simple “no work here” results of prejudice. 

The Shortos lived in Johnstown West Virginia where Russell’s grandfather set up a gambling operation and moved into other activities as opportunities presented.  
The narrative is slow moving until the last third or so when Russo’s dysfunctional family is detailed.  That’s pretty interesting but more acceptable these days than it would have been  before.  There are lots of names. 


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The New Wilderness ~ by Diane Cook

I read this back in March so I won’t count it in this month’s stats but I forgot to log it back then.  

The New Wilderness 
By Diane Cook
read by Stacey Glemboski  12h 46m Rating:  8

 From the Booker site:

A daring, passionate and terrifying novel about a mother’s battle to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change.

Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the over-developed metropolis they call home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die, but there is only one alternative – joining a group of volunteers in the Wilderness State. This vast expanse of unwelcoming, untamed land is untouched by mankind. Until now. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, Bea and Agnes slowly learn how to survive on this unpredictable, often dangerous land. But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of her new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter’s life means losing her in a different way.

At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood, and what it means to be human, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary, compelling novel for our times.

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Kindred ~ by Rebecca Waggs Sykes

This kind of nonfiction is not my favorite – it’s pretty “creative” in terms of writing style and that sometimes interferes with my enjoyment.  It makes me switch back and forth between aesthetic enjoyment and factual detail and the main thrust of Kindred is very detailed.  Adding in some “creative” passages is like watching the wide wonderful ocean and considering the chemical make-up of the drops of water at the same time. It’s like hearing church music in your head and thinking about the construction of the sound system which transmits it.  This book asks the reader to imagine Neanderthal as he man hunts or watches the stars while almost simultaneously examining the details of his bone fragments and where they lie. 

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
By Rebecca Wragg Sykes 
2020 / 382 pages
Read by the author
Rating:  8.5 / science-archeology 

I understand why Sykes did it this way – she wants to impart the “magic” of the imagined while detailing the specifics of the measurable. But that’s like trying to observe a single grain of sand at the same time as you view the whole beach.  Just trying to do it interferes with doing it at all.  

So she fleshes out the narrative with a lot of fictional literary prose. I’ve seen this done in other archeology books, like House of Rain by Craig Childs where the author simply wandered off into the poetic from time to time – the way he wandered into various places on the desert. I think it’s the natural element that does it as well as trying to really understand another era. The author doesn’t want to ignore the emotional impact of the subject he’s studying whether it be the sensory delight of his own rose garden, the majesty of a medieval cathedral or the freedom of the prehistoric wanderer.

Skaggs doesn’t ever go over into memoir however and that’ s kind of nice – nothing at all against those authors who do.  

“As a flint-dark sky lightens to grey dawn, soft coos of rock doves clash with the keening of lost gulls, crying like hungry children.”   (Page 9) 

“Most astonishing is the 10,000-year-old cultural memory in Australian coastal communities that the oceans rose at the end of the last ice age. Perhaps Neanderthals too ‘remembered’ how the world of their ancestors changed through millennial-scale climate shifts, and found stories in constellations no living person has seen.”  (Page 218) 

Thankfully these kinds of passages are kept in the small sections which introduce each chapter. 

The remainder of the chapters does get detailed specifics about the landscapes, the bones, the tools, the food, the deaths and so forth.  Actually, she goes over and over it almost repetitiously but there’s always something new so not really repetitious.   

Sometimes I was enthralled and other times, when the detail got a bit much, I was almost sleeping.  

Yes, this is an excellent book if you’re interested in the subject, which I am to a certain extent, although perhaps not as much as Skyles.  

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Intuitive Eating – by Evelyn Tribold & Elyse Resch

I guess I’m late to the party but I’m tired of being overweight and unhappy about it.  I’m not able to exercise much due to age and surgeries. Sad because moving a lot has always worked in the past in some way or another, filing papers in cabinets or dancing or even walking.  And diet doesn’t seem to work very well either – not with my dietary limitations now.  A couple years ago I was into loving   spinach-kale salads and whole grains.  In fact I was thin enough until I turned 50 and then I just added and added.  

Intuitive Eating
by Evelyn Tribold & Elyse Resch
 2020 / 392 pages
Read by Hillary Huber 13h 42m
Rating:  7 / health

But I gave up on diets a long time ago – like when the experts flip-flopped about eggs and when carbs became the bad guy and more recently when fiber became my personal enemy.  Now what?  A diet of eggs and very lean protein? 

So – browsing a few sites, I accidentally came across this book and I looked into it and it sounded like it was worth a try.  Okay – so I tried.  It’s good enough.  I don’t necessarily recommend it unless you’re hooked on diets.  I eat about the amount I want when I want it – I don’t think I really need any training on “intuitive eating.”  But if you think you do this is readable. 

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The Tower of Babel ~ by Michael Sears

This book was a disappointment because I’ve very much enjoyed Sears’ prior novels – the ones in the Jason Stafford series.  This is another New York thriller but I’m not sure about it – somehow there is the same-old, same-old feel to it what with a fallen lawyer trying to scrounge a living.  This time the other players are just too weird for me I guess and it turns into a thriller with no real distinguishing qualities.   

The Tower of Babel
by Michael Sears
Read by Richard Poe 12h 18m
Rating: B- / crime – thriller 

From Amazon: 
Shamus Award-winning author Michael Sears brings Queens, New York, to literary life in this crime series debut featuring a somewhat seedy lawyer with a heart of gold (or at least gold plate).

Queens, New York – the most diverse place on earth. Native son Ted Malloy knows these streets like the back of his hand. Ted was once a high-powered Manhattan lawyer, but after a spectacular fall from grace, he has found himself back on his home turf, scraping by as a foreclosure profiteer. It’s a grubby business, but a safe one – until Ted’s case sourcer, a mostly reformed small-time conman named Richie Rubiano, turns up murdered shortly after tipping Ted off to an improbably lucrative lead.

With Richie’s widow on his back and shadows of the past popping up at every turn, Ted realizes he’s gotten himself embroiled in a murder investigation. His quest for the truth will take him all over Queens, plunging him into the machinations of greedy developers, mobsters, enraged activists, old litigator foes, and old-school New York City operators.

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