The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the first of my Christmas readings this year.   It’s only a short story, (so it won’t count on my tally),  but it’s supposedly one of Doyle’s better Holmes tales, so I wanted to read it anyway,  and with the holidays here plus its being on sale…well…    

I’ve read his novels but not so many of the short stories.  I’d like to remedy that.  I think I have a volume of them around here. 

*******
The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle
by Arthur Conan Doyle
1892 /  20(?) pages
read by Matt Montanez – 47m
rating:  8/B+ /but it’s Christmasy crime by a master
*******

Just around Christmas time there is a headline making robbery in London in which the thief got away with a precious gemstone,  a blue carbuncle.  A man who had been working at the mansion is quickly arrested but proclaims his innocence.  There is a hat left behind in a scuffle which provides Holmes with a great number of clues – naturally.  

And the stone turns up in the police chief’s Christmas dinner goose.  How in the world did it get there and why?   It’s a goodie, a nice puzzler but a bit lighter than some for the season.  

Text available here: 
http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/32/the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes/351/adventure-7-the-adventure-of-the-blue-carbuncle/

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Nursing Homes Are Murder ~ by Mike Befeler

It’s time for dumb.  I’ve followed this series since book #1 which, being a mystery series, caught my attention and then it tickled my silly-bone.  But be warned,  it’s a stupid kind of humor and while the first one is bad,  the following books are worse – lol.   This is number 6 in the – ta-da –  Paul Jacobson Geezer-Lit series.    I’m not sure what this says about me, but I do NOT recommend the series unless you enjoy rather ridiculous situations and silly old-man puns. They’re definitely in the “cozy” mystery genre.  

But actually,  in some ways I find cozy mysteries kind of refreshing after reading gritty suspense thrillers or challenging nonfiction.  

*******
Nursing Homes Are Murder
by Mike Befeler 
2014 – 261 pages
read by Jerry Sciarrio – 6h 56m
rating:  7 –  / cozy crime 

6th in the Paul Jacobson Geezer-Lit series
(the final one)
*******

Paul Jacobson, a lively 80-something “geezer,” suffers from extreme short-term memory loss,  has been asked by his friends in the Honolulu police force to go undercover in a nursing home due to suspicious reports about abuse there.  This home accepts folks with dementia so there are plenty of high-jinks. But on Paul’s first night there the woman who has been complaining about sexual abuse is murdered.  The next night someone tries to smother Paul with a pillow. 

His roommate is nearly blind but is able to help with sounds as Paul makes his rounds doing very informal inquiries about and with possible suspects.  There is also a cop assigned to the hospital (in custodial work) to assist him if he runs into trouble. 

It’s a fun book and it’s the last of the series.  Befeler has written several other books though including a couple of series.   We’ll see.  

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The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: ~ by Ganesh Sitaraman

 I read this about three weeks ago (my review here) as it was coming up for the All-Nonfiction Group (which I modertate) and I really needed a reread because although the material is not difficult, it is quite dense with the historical information which leads up to the current crisis. and threat.  It’s really quite a brilliant book. 

The main theme is stated in the subtitle –  “Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic.”   In order to address that seriously the author has gone back to the meaning of the word “Republic”” and how Aristotle’s idea apply today.  From there he addresses the multitude of ways in which economics have affected the American republic.  

 

**************
The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution:  Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic
by Ganesh Sitaraman 
2017 / 433 pages
read by MacLeod Andrews –  12h 24m

Rating: 9.75 / history-economics
(both read and listened) 
**************

The material is organized into three Parts each divided into a few chapters.  This follows a fairly thorough Introduction. Part 1, “The Radicalism of  The American Constitution,”  goes back to the Greeks/Romans and what a Middle-Class Constitution might be as well as how others since,  like Machi-avelli, have viewed overall governmental structures,  and how all of this applies to the Western world, specifically the United States, today.  

Part II, “A Brief History of the Middle-Class Constitution,”  deals with the Western world prior to the ratification of the US constitution.  This means mostly the founding fathers and their era showing that what happened in America really was a Revolution and not just a War of Independence. 

And then Part III, “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution,”  gets involved with more recent US history and how the struggle between the elites and the middle/lower classes. This includes the fight over slavery, and the feudalism of the south, but not much say about women. Sitaraman also covers the Progressive Era, the WWII boom, the Civil Rights era, the flattening of the middle class since 1970 and what’s been going on since, like the Citizen’s United court case   The final chapter deals with suggestions for reviving a Middle-Class and a Constitution which supports stability. 

Sitaraman covers a lot of territory and  the narrative is dense with legal material as well as details of American history dealing with the government, class and economics. This is probably NOT something you learned in college history classes,  even at the graduate level.  And you can’t breeze through the material in a weekend if you have a life, but I highly recommend it if you’re interested in American history  in terms of socio-economic classes and the Constitution, or the way the country is apparently going, why and how it might change. 

An extraneous point of sorts, the book doesn’t read like a textbook.  It’s hard to outline using the old Topic Sentence/point, point, point method.   Sitaraman usually uses an introductory sentence followed by a statement of topic with points following and possibly a summation sentence at the end of each paragraph. The paragraphs lead and flow into each other very logically,   This makes for wonderful reading, but it may be a bit harder to “study.”  And my solid 9.5  should possibly have been a 10.  

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Exit West ~ by Mohsin Hamid x2

A second read for me because the Booker Group chose it for our December discussion and I read it in March of 2017, which is probably 250 books ago. So although I do remember it, much was fuzzy and because that’s the nature of the book anyway,  it was really fuzzy.  

This is dystopian fiction taking place in a time in the not too distant future when global warming has resulted in refugees from all over the world slipping into and out of one country or another. These migrants are being fought and attacked by police, soldiers, nativists and even each other as they huddle in groups in camps or abandoned mansions before they are either killed or escape by mysterious means. The world is a very dangerous place. 

*******
Exit West
by Mohsin Hamid
2016 / 340 pages
read by Mohsin Hamid 4h 42m
rating 9  / contemp lit
*******

Saeed, apparently Arab of some sort, and Nadia, probably from some Slavic country, meet and fall in love in Tokyo, but the situation becomes dangerous and Saeed’s mother dies.  Although they are not really to that point in their relationship, the pair flee the country,  with Saeed’s father’s blessing, and thanks to the mysterious doors which are a signature of the tale,  find themselves on the Greek island of Mykonos. then in London where they stay for some time.  There are quite a few Nigerians there as well as many other nationalities and they keep coming.  The couple moves from place to place in the London camps.  This apparently works out for many months, a year,  although the circumstances are always very tiring and  difficult.  Their relationship has not really survived the strains in a romantic way.  They’re getting older. 

There are other tiny stories told about other people in other parts of the world,  Tijuana and Amsterdam,  for instance.  It’s a world-wide problem including in the United States.

  Michiko Kakutani,  writing in the NY Times, says Hashim mixes global trouble with a bit of magic in some ways akin to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and yes,  absolutely,  I see it.

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Where the Crawdads Sing ~ by Delia Owens

Warning:   This is about 25% mystery and 75% romance of different sorts.   I didn’t get it for either reason,  but rather because of the hype.  And it was about 35% pretty good and 65% poor.  There’s a death (murder?) and legal crime story as a frame for a romance which includes a wild girl known as “Marsh Girl” who has been abandoned by almost everyone and grows up in the salt marshes of eastern North Carolina. A couple local young men get involved with her – that’s the love story part. The crime part includes the procedural aspects and the court case after one of  the men is found dead.   

For the first 150 pages or so I was impressed, this is the story of Kya as a young girl in a seriously bad situation and there are lovely descriptions of the setting. Then Kya gets involved with Tate on a level deeper than learning to read and then along comes Chase.  Shoot, just as I feared, it’s basically a Young Adult romance novel.  But because it’s kinda-sorta nicely written and has a mystery/crime tale as a frame story there was a hook for me and I hung in there. 

*******
Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
2018 / 379 pages
read by Cassandra Campbell – 12h 12m
rating:  5 (very mixed)  / contemp fiction

(read and listened) 
*******


I’m not going to judge the book or folks who love it because I personally really enjoy crime novels which are some-times as clichéd and with possibly less literary significance than this book.   This just isn’t my genre.  (And my rating is based on what I like in books,  not any kind of ultimate value.) 

I was quite pleased for about 1/3 of the book and then it turned into the YA thing.  But it did get excellent reviews as general fiction and I enjoyed most of the procedural crime and courtroom drama parts,  but the sheriff was really stupid. The last few chapters were rather original again and I enjoyed them. 

A big disappointment for me,  but not a total waste.   As I said in my rating –  the review is mostly negative but the rating is mixed.  

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation ~ by Ottessa Moshfech

Bottom line –  it’s a very good book if you can stand a bit of perversity.  Except for the yukkie parts,  which were not as indelicate as in Moshfegh’s other novels, I really rather enjoyed the book .  

Our unnamed 1st person narrator is depressed. She is very seriously depressed,  rejecting the world and all it entails in order to sleep.  Yes,  she wants to sleep 16 hours or more a day.  A smart, pretty, well educated, and financially independent young woman,  she had found  herself orphaned while still in college or just afterwards.  She had a boyfriend for awhile but he was far more abusive and distant than available and loving, but she still can’t actually let go of him.  She found herself a rather odd therapist who prescribes relaxants and sleeping aids (per her complaints and requests) and started to really enjoy sleeping.  She gets fired from a good job (for sleeping) and lives on her inheritance and sleeping aids and bits of food.  By the time she is 24 she is sleeping an abnormal amount and always tries for more. 

*******
My Year of Rest and Relaxation 
by Ottessa Moshfech
2018/ 301 pages
Read by Julia Whelan – 7h 14m
Rating:  8.5  –  general fiction
*******

Many readers will object to the workings of this young woman’s mind.  She’s really pretty screwed up and it can get less than attractive. . But at the same time there is something peculiarly likable and sympathetic about her.  I was curious how this would all turn out and much of the book is how she got this way.   

The bulk of the book consists of her version of her life to this point although what’s going to happen to her next is more interesting and contains the tension of the book.  

Well,  too much sleep can have side effects and her mental state is not improving anyway.   When she starts doing things while sleeping it gets quite worrisome if you’re connecting with her and the tension builds nicely.  

Enjoy,  if you like Moshgegh or are curious about her work, but have heard unpleasant things.  She did make the Booker List in 2017 for Eileen.(My review on this site.)

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Educated: A Memoir ~ by Tara Westover

Yes, it’s as good as its hype – a fine, fine book.  If I’d known it was this good I wouldn’t have waited.  Seriously. And I darn near cried – not quite.

I’d been looking at this widely acclaimed book since it came out as the whole idea behind homeschooling and living off the grid intrigues me.  Then it was on sale at Amazon and I knew I could get the Audible version at a reasonable price.  Voila – from Wish List to iTunes.   Happy days.

That said, it was much better than I expected although quite different.

educated.jpg

*******
Educated: A Memoir
by Tara Westover
2018/ 335 pages
read by Julia Whealan – 12h 10m
rating:   9 –  nonfiction/memoir
(both read and  listened)
*******

Tara Westover was raised by parents who didn’t send her to school or train her to be a part of the world as we know it.  Her father was a rather paranoid man of fundamentalist Mormon views who also decided to live off the grid and was making a fair job of  giving it a try.  The family had a piece of land and Dad was in the junk business as well as construction.

Her mother got into midwifery, healing herb and home remedies while her older siblings, several brothers and a sister or two, either  left home or were stuck.

Their home included father’s junk dealing business with his grandparents living nearby for most of the year.  In the house were her mother’s plants for healing and the house smelled like that,  and it was very dirty.

“The most powerful determinant of who you are is inside you,” he said. “Professor Steinberg says this is Pygmalion. Think of the story, Tara.” He paused, his eyes fierce, his voice piercing. “She was just a cockney in a nice dress. Until she believed in herself. Then it didn’t matter what dress she wore.” (p. 243) 

While writing this Westover doesn’t trust her own memory and consults with her siblings and tries to re-imagine.  Their memories don’t always agree and Westover is upfront about that.

https://beckylindroos.wordpress.com/2017-2/112017-2/the-man-who-loved-children-by-christina-stead/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/millennial-media/201804/psychologists-take-tara-westovers-memoir-educated

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Seize the Day – the movie

I rarely watch movies,  this might be the second movie I’ve watched this year and it’s 2 days from December.  Oh well.   I’m not impressed.    I watched because I think  I saw it back in 1986,  when it was released.  I was confusing it with the Dead Poet’s Society and although I still think I saw Seize the Day, I was obviously not impressed then and I hadn’t read the book. 

The movie was good for what it was.  But it wasn’t anywhere nearly what the book by Saul Bellow was. Robin Williams was excellent in his overly-dramatic role,   and the rest  of the cast was wonderful ((in my ignorant opinion). The movie even managed to catch a bit of the book’s lighthearted approach without which it would all descend into gloom and doom.  But I felt like I was being given a 90-minute version of a rather thought-provoking 4-hour book (a novella).  It felt condensed with a lot of the meaning left out and the obligatory addition o skin.

There have been movies I’ve wanted to see over the years,  Cloud Atlas for one.  But if this is any indication of what happens to books I enjoy,  I have to say I’m just as happy to skip them.  Movies which were originally intended to be movies are probably a LOT better unless you’re looking for a very picturesque rendition and a seriously cut version – like Pride and Prejudice. 

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak is a favorite book and then I watched the movie.  Tragically pathetic. And Belizaire the Cajun is a favorite movie and it was never a book.  The Wanderers is another favorite and it only claims to be “based on” a book. It is kind of based on Richard Price’s first novel, but …    Finally,  Blade Runner is a brilliant novel by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)  and made into an entirely different brilliant movie by Ridley Scott.  I could  go on with a few more movies but like I said, I watch very few.  

See?  I do enjoy some movies but, based on my preferences,  I doubt I’ll watch or go to more.  I can’t imagine going to see any of those playing within 50-60 miles now.  

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Seize the Day ~ by Saul Bellow

I read this for a group, sometimes like Bellow, but other times I’m not so hot on him.  I did see the movie which is based on this book and I remember liking it,  but not being blown away.  

On one level this is an amazing book,  I have no idea how it was received when it was published or how it was received by different age groups but it hit me just perfectly in 2018 at the age of 70.  LOL.   And it doesn’t appear to be stuck in the 1950s for setting.   The themes of what makes a man free and materially successful  apply to almost any time frame of American history.

*******
Seize the Day 
by Saul Bellow
1956  /  114 pages
read by Grover Gardner – 3h 47m
rating
(both read and listened) 
*******

Tommy Wilhelm is a 44-year old  failed actor turned salesman who is now unemployed as well as divorced and generally down on his luck.  He lives in a hotel in New York with his father with whom he has difficult relations. His mother passed away a long time prior.  

And poor Tommy/Wilkie is unhappy with just about everything including, and maybe especially,  himself.   I guess he’s depressed because the anger seems to be turned inward, but he complains about everything.  He’s a slob and self-centered to the extreme.  No one much cares for him unless they can use him.  

He has a lot of pride but in many ways he just isn’t as good as he’d like to be,  so he’s ashamed.  Basically, I think he needs to grow up and accept himself and his own part in his difficulties.  In a way I suppose it’s a coming-of-age story for a very late, or non-, bloomer.  

You can change your name but you will still be the same person. The singular pursuit of money, and buying into that American dream,  will warp a person.  

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/353599/seize-the-day-by-saul-bellow/9780142437612/readers-guide/

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Twain’s Feast: ~ by Audible Originals

This was a freebie for platinum members at Audible.com and it’s an “Original” so it’s not a simple reading of the book of the same title; it is acknowledged to be an adaptation. .  I rarely read these but this sounded kind of interesting and it was,  in its own way, and after getting used to it.  The recording uses a main reader (Nick Offerman) as well as many voices like at a dinner party sometimes or in interviews at other times.  That takes some getting used to.

I’m familiar enough with Twain’s writings (I won’t list what I’ve read), but I’ve never read a biography.  And I’ve been to Hannibal Missouri,  to New Orleans,  all through Nevada and of course I’ve been all through San Francisco.  The book felt like learning a bit more about an old friend.  

*******
Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens 
by (by Audible Originals and  based on the book by Andrew Beahrs
2010 /  338 pages
Read by Nick Offerman (and cast)/ 4h 27m
Rating:  8 / nonfiction  (history) 
*******  

 The early chapters and sections deal with prairie chickens and raccoons and Huckleberry Finn.  But  the book as a whole it’s mostly about Twain’s conversion from his origins as Sam Clemons to the larger-than-life persona of  Mark Twain,  giant of American literature.

His riverboat days are fascinating and I did read Life on the Mississippi long ago.   But some rather disturbing things about Twain and Native Americans in revealed Chapter 3 about the Nevada territory.  And then comes his San Francisco days and very interesting food,  like turtle soup in those days.  His American-ness just is what it is (or was what it was) and the book gets fascinating.  

And then there’s the real Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens and his real life.  This is a pretty good recording when it gets down to it,  but it’s NOT the book.  It did get me interested in reading a good biography of Twain though.  

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The Switch ~ by Joseph Finder

Overall I’d say don’t bother although parts are pretty good. It’s not what I expected at all,  but it was on sale and I’d enjoyed a couple of Finder’s books in the past.   This particular book is kind of humorous in an odd way. 

 The set-up is believable enough,  Michael Tanner,  a young coffee bean entrepreneur, gets his laptop mixed up with that of someone else while going through airline security.  Turns out the laptop he gets belongs to a US Senator and it inappropriately has highly confidential information on it.  

*******
The Switch
by Joseph Finder
2017 / 381 pages
read by Steven Kearny – 9h 55m
rating:   B  / crime 
*******

But then it gets weird and the original believability is completely undermined when .the Senator’s aid, Will Abbott,  gets paranoid about anyone finding out about his boss’  laxity.   And Tanner,  who has the Senator’s computer, tells a journalist friend rather who fills him with conspiracy theories.  Then there are the unsavory characters who murder for hire and the dark web where things can be hidden and found,  things get highly unlikely.  

The tale takes a more thriller-type tone when Tanner’s journalist friend dies suddenly and Tanner ends up in a hit-and-run accident in which he is the driver-runner.  Meanwhile Abbott tries to clear things up with Tanner via honesty but Tanner is too paranoid by now and the overly-ambitious Abbot is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his boss.  It gets complicated.And then things get worse.  

It is rather entertaining though.  The twists include a journey to the dark web and bit coin.   It’s also about how ambition can play heavily in what people decide they can/should do.  And how average good guys can,  with a bit of fear,  get sucked into some scary stuff.  It’s a bit over-the-top in terms of how people connect to the dark side, but it might be spot on about how we’re tracked.  

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Force of Nature ~ by Jane Harper

On sale and listening only  –  I’d read one by her prior and enjoyed it and I was ready for a good crime novel so … 

Yes,  this is good – not outstanding, but it’s fun and a worthy successor to Haper’s best-selling “The Dry”  of a couple years ago (link to my review on this site) 

*******
Force of Nature
by Jane Harper
2018/ 329 pages
read by Stephan Shanahan: 9h 3m
rating:  A- / crime 
*******

In this second Aaron Falk  adventure,  five women go on some kind of working retreat in the Australian bush and only four come back because one of them,  Alice, a whistle-blower on the company,  has gone missing “in the bush” of the primeval rainforests. 

 The men of the company have their camp a short ways away.  And there is a serial killer still at large even after 20 years and there was another missing woman in the area from several years prior.  Aaron Falk has been working with Alice to get the goods on the company and her only message to him was “Get the contracts”  until he heard the unclear and ambiguous words left on his message machine, 
“… hurt her.”  

So what we have is a missing woman possibly only lost or there could be criminal behavior involved as there is a motive and opportunity.  The suspects would be the other women in the camp, a couple of the men in the their camp as well as a possible serial killer or two thrown in for good measure.  lol 

The tension is good and builds and the plot is complex.  

Two things make  the narrative as a whole difficult to follow – at least when you’re listening.  First, the structure goes between the hunt for Alice with Falk and Carmen Cooper interviewing and doing their procedurals in the current time frame. Then there’s the actual building tension within the actual camping trip group which returned a few days prior and which shows what happened to Alice.  The camping sections are distinguished by a heading of  sorts which says “Day 2” or something.   But the switch back to Falk and company is not as clear, although maybe it is in print format.  

The other thing which makes it complex is the number of characters on the trip –  Alice is kind of mean and really tries to boss the group while Jill, whose family owns the firm, is the real boss of  this group  at work,  Meanwhile,  Breanna and  Beth have personal, dysfunctioal-type issues, especially Beth and Lauren is a very old friend of  Jill’s. 

And, while Alice is missing,  her  daughter Megan is at home and worried about her missing mother,  in the middle of some of her own serious problems and Falk gets involved in that, too.  I’ll be watching for her fourth book,  The Lost Man,  due out in February (not an Aaron Fawk book).  

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