Say Nothing ~ by Brad Parks

Who would think that patent law could be interesting? It is, in bits. And that’s the background for this legal thriller but because patent law is mainly interpretation and analysis it can get dry. So we have a couple of kidnappings and a murder to spice things up a bit.

Judge Scott Sampson doesn’t brag about having a perfect life, but the evidence is clear: A prestigious job. A loving marriage. A pair of healthy children. Then a phone call begins every parent’s most chilling nightmare. Scott’s six-year-old twins, Sam and Emma, have been taken. The judge must rule exactly as instructed in a drug case he is about to hear. If he refuses, the consequences for the children will be dire.

Say Nothing
by Brad Parks
2017 / 441 pages
read by George Newborn – 12h 28m
rating: A / legal thriller

For Scott and his wife Alison, the kidnapper’s call is only the beginning of a twisting, gut-churning ordeal of blackmail, deceit, and terror. Through it all, they will stop at nothing to get their children back, no matter the cost to themselves . . . or to each other. (from publisher)

I quite enjoyed the book even though it’s rather unlikely, unbelievable, that the parents of two kidnapped children would not go to the authorities. Somehow Parks writes well enough to just suspend disbelief and buy into the ideat for the sake of the story. The lengths to which Sampson and his wife go to accommodate the kidnappers while trying to keep their own personal suspicions at bay makes for huge suspense.

“Parks does a fantastic job conveying every parent’s worst fear while also showcasing the marital conflict and mistrust that erupts in the midst of a crisis….Fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner will love this thriller. Don’t stay silent, tell everyone.”Library Journal (starred review)

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The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye ~ by David Lagercrantz

I loved Steig Larsson’s “The Girl Who…” series (formally known as the Millennium series). But then I read the first of David Lagercrandtz’ continuation of Steig Larsson’s books. I was not impressed at all by them and I vowed off. This was not the Lisbeth Salander I knew.

BUT! it’s been a long time – years. So in trying out the local library’s Overdrive system I was able to get The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, the next in the series. (And the next one comes out in August.). This is good.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye
by David Lagercrantz
2017 / 348 pages
read by Simon Vance – 10h 50m
rating: B- / crime thriller

Maybe because it’s been a few years since I read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Larsson (#3 of the Millennium series – 2010) I was able to accept this version of Lisbeth. She’s not quite the same girl that Larsson wrote but she remains interesting, brilliant, different and dangerous. But there’s not quite enough of her – although there’s quite a bit.

This story opens with Lisbeth in a high security prison for participation in the events of the last novel (which I remembered, with Langercrantz’ backstory bit). There are dangerous people where she’s confined, but true to form, she’s up to it and before 40 minutes into the book she’s got connections.

The investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist is also on hand needing some help of his own and entertaining the women. Of course, Lisbeth’s troubled childhood is still the overarching issue and plot line as well as the international aspects of it. It gets a bit complex for my tastes.

There’s an interesting plot involved but for my tastes, a bit too much pointless “thriller” and violence.

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Everything Under ~ by Daisy Johnson x2

Okay – so I had to try it again and yes, the book was a LOT better the second time. I even suppose that yes, it does belong on the Booker List, maybe even the Short List, but it’s not a winner, not this year, not against Milkman by Anna Burns. Still, it’s a worthwhile read.

Where Milkman was somewhat experimental, Everything Under is decidedly more so with an irregular chronology and dream-like sequences set into a very complex plot with odd characters. The 1st person narrator, Gretel, indulges in wordplay. Essentially, it’s a current day take-off on Oedipus Rex including a blind seer and a River Styx (river of death) – among other things.

Everything Under 
by Daisy Johnson
2018/ 280 pages
read by Esther Wane – 7h 12m
rating: 8 / fiction 

(both read and listened)

It’s not light reading so I went slowly with the Kindle propped next to my computer for the print perspective. The writing style is quite interesting with unusual metaphors and words. Pronouns were used way more than in conventional novels and that got confusing.

Still the novel is delicately imagined and nicely written and I certainly appreciate that. It’s just that the plot is a wee bit too weird for me to really relax and enjoy although there were parts where I did that.

Gretel’s mother abandoned her when she was 16 years old and Gretel has searched for her ever since – another 16 years. One day Mom re-appear in Gretel’s life. Mother and daughter had had a kind of magical life on the banks of the Isis River (Thames) north of London. They had even invented their own language, but then suddenly it was over and Gretel was in foster care. Gretel remembers parts of this as she tries to care for her Sarah, her mother, and Sarah remembers it differently.
The unreliable nature of memory along with the diminishing faculties of age are major themes

As an adult, Gretel works as a lexicographer. She is single and alone. Meanwhile, Sarah, is old and sometimes either loses her words or gets them mixed up But the pair share memories and then they look for the third person in their river trio of long ago, Marcus. But also threaded through the narrative is Marcus’ sad story and bits of Fiona’s, a blind fellow traveler (who is a seer) along the river with her own kind of creepy mystique.

It really is quite a good book.

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The Escape Artist – by Brad Meltzer

This book was available in audio form via Overdrive from my library. Yay! I hope to get more that way but the wait time is usually prohibitive so except for some older crime novels and nonfiction I’ll likely not use it much.

I read Meltzer’s The Inner Circle back in 2015, and gave it a B, not too impressive except that I did mention that I enjoyed the characters and was considering reading the second and third in the series. I never did though. Okay fine –

The Escape Artist
by Brad Meltzer
2018 / 416 pages
read by Scott Brick and January LaVoy ~ 12h 45m
rating: A- / crime-thriller

This book intrigued me because of the publisher’s description:

Nola is trouble.And Nola is supposed to be dead.Her body was found on a plane that mysteriously fell from the sky as it left a secret military base in the Alaskan wilderness. Her commanding officer verifies she’s dead. The US government confirms it. But Jim “Zig” Zigarowski has just found out the truth: Nola is still alive. And on the run.Zig works at Dover Air Force Base, helping put to rest the bodies of those who die on top-secret missions. Nola was a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter and someone who once saved his daughter’s life. So when Zig realizes Nola is still alive, he’s determined to find her. Yet as Zig digs into Nola’s past, he learns that trouble follows Nola everywhere she goes.

It’s a mystery and a thriller which, with Scott Brick reading it is a high tension adrenalin rush which doesn ‘t stop.

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Everything Under ~ by Daisy Johnson

Okay – like this is a fantastical and experimental spin on Oedipus. I’ve quite enjoyed many of the spins on classical lit I’ve read, Circe (by Madeline Miller) and Nushell (by Ian McEwan) and others. But I did NOT appreciate this one and although I’d be willing to read it again as I do many of the Booker Short List books I read, but not Everything Under.

Everything Under
by Daisy Johnson
2018/ 280 pages
read by Esther Wane – 7h 12m
rating: 3 / fiction

I’m not crazy about experimental lit unless it works more for the story than the experiment. I think Everything Under is good in this respect, I do understand why Johnson did the story this way. And that’s my one positive note about this novel.

I almost never enjoy fantasy or horror (even light) and this is both. Between those elements and the experimental nature of the novel, I was mostly just confused.

Here’s the publisher’s summary:

The dictionary doesn’t contain every word. Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, knows this better than most. She grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries.

One phone call from her mother is all it takes for the past to come rushing back. To find her, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal: the bonak. Everything and nothing at once, the bonak was Gretel’s name for the thing she feared most. And now that she’s searching for her mother, she’ll have to face it.

In this electrifying reinterpretation of a classical myth, Daisy Johnson explores questions of fate and free will, gender fluidity, and fractured family relationships. Everything Under—a debut novel whose surreal, watery landscape will resonate with fans of Fen—is a daring, moving story that will leave you unsettled and unstrung.

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Becoming ~ by Michelle Obama

Hmmm…. I wasn’t impressed by the hype so I delayed on reading this one. Silly woman (me)! The book actually lives up to the hype and maybe surpasses it. It’s a memoir, not a confessional, certainly the honest portrayal of a very real woman who lived a rather extraordinary life.

Michelle Robinson Obama moved from her beginnings in a regular African American family situation on the south side of Chicago through an Ivy League education and high stakes legal work to marriage, children, and then more fulfilling employment. Along with the latter and afterwards she moved on with her husband to politics and the campaign trail, finally ending up at the White House when her husband became the first African American President of the United States.

Becoming ~ by Michelle Obama
2018 / 428 pages
read by Michelle Obama – 19h 3m
rating 10 / memoir

Yup – I was impressed by everything from the clarity and flow of the wordsmithery to the thoughtfulness and honesty of the narrative. Even her reading voice is well done (although her Chicago accent does come through at times).

Make no mistake, this is Michelle’s story. It’s not Barack’s except tangentially. They fell in love and were married and had children. Although she was reluctant, she knew he had something important to contribute to the country so it was her job to stand by him as he rose one rung at a time in quick order to take the highest office in the land and then be succeeded by the next elected. This is the story of her struggles, not his.

As I read (listened) through the chapters I learned of her upbringing and her drive to succeed from an early age – to be “good enough.” I learned of her love for her family, her husband, her children and her friends. Her deep desire to be a good wife, mother and friend without losing her individuality, herself, in the process. Mostly I learned of her struggles with herself as well as with others.

It’s a long book and toward the end it seemed to drag a bit sometimes with the details of Barack Obama’s terms in office and again when Michelle seems to get a bit preachy. But even then it regularly picks up again pretty quickly. For the most part I was charmed or touched and there was one place I actually laughed out loud and the book is not generally funny.

Bottom line – highly recommended!

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Next of Kin

This was a fine, fine book, but I forgot to write a review and now I barely remember. I’ll just copy the publisher’s summary and add my comments. (First time I’ve done that – ) I read the second in the series simply because this was soooo good. I read it right the next day!

Next of Kin
by James Tucker
2017 / 350 pages
Read by Christopher Lane – 8h 43m
rating: A++

From the publisher:
New Year’s Eve celebration begins with the pop of a champagne cork – and ends with the bone-chilling screams of a killer’s victims . Ten-year-old Ben Brook is the lone survivor of the brutal murder of his wealthy family at their upstate New York compound. But from the moment he evades death, Ben’s life is in constant danger. Can NYPD detective Buddy Lock keep the boy safe from a killer intent on wiping out the entire Brook clan? 

When two more massacres decimate the Brookses’ ranks, Buddy’s hunt narrows. But his challenges grow as power, money, and secret crimes from the family’s past stand in the way. With Ben more and more at risk, Buddy steps closer to the edge, forcing a relentless killer to become more brazen, brutal, and cunning. Saving the boy will put all of Buddy’s skills to the test…and risk the lives of everyone he loves.

From me: – This book had everything – a who-done-it, a police procedural and a thriller. The tension-building was superb. The characters were wonderfully well drawn. And the twists kept coming. There is a sequels so the story arcs did not get completed but that was okay.

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The Library Book ~ by Susan Orlean

This one is interesting. I read it for a reading group (All-Nonfiction) and found myself bored for along time. I had only the Kindle version because the narrator in the sample sounded so bad. I’m not crazy about Kindle only anymore but I’ll still do it if necessary.

Back in 1986 the Los Angeles Public Library was pretty much destroyed by fire and in early 1987 a young wanna-be actor named Harry Peak was arrested for arson. think I might remember hearing about it but I’m really not sure.

The Library Book
by Susan Orlean
2018 / 336 pages
rating – 8

This book chronicles the life and functions of the library which are many and diverse – great fun from the origins thought the architecture and the lives of its librarians. It also explores the charges of arson against Peak and that’s page-turning.

There are chapters about the fire itself and those who reported it or fought it. There are chapters about the librarians who worked there and their jobs. There are chapters about the clean-up and restoration/remodeling. And of course there are chapters about Peak. It seems kind of wide ranging, but when you consider the title it could be a book about libraries in general rather than a book from the library. IT’s about one library and libraries in general plus the fact that this library was the victim of a terrible fire.

If you enjoy libraries you might find this book to your liking. At one point in my college days I seriously considered becoming a librarian so it was fascinating to me.

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The Only Girl in the World ~ by Maude Julien.

ncredible book –  I’m not sure what I expected but it’s a whole lot better.   Maude Julen today is a therapist in France specializing in traumatic disorders in children.  She has the personal background for the job and this is her memoir.  

This book is often compared to of The Glass Castle, but I was never able to finish that book for some reason so I can’t do that comparison.

The Only Girl in the World
by Maude Julien. (Translated by Adrianna Hunter)
2017 / 289 pages
read by Elizabeth Rogers
rating:  8

At a very young age Maud’s mother,   , was “adopted” by a man old enough to be her father.  He sent her away to boarding schools to get the best education possible.  He then married her apparently for the purpose of producing a child who would be raised to be a “super-human.”  

The man,  Maud’s father, was born in 1902, fought in WWI, became enamored of Hitler during WWII but was ultimately disappointed.  Then come his own failures in life.  Having delusions of grandeur mixed with bits of conspiracy theories and the occult like extreme Freemasonry and Egyptology he escaped to a small estate in the far northwest of France.  

There he and Maud’s mother raised Maud using methods which were definitely abusive even if she was never hit or starved.  The freedom which saved her was that she was allowed books to read and between them and a few loving animals found the desire and strength to escape. 

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The Holdouts ~ by James Tucker

Having enjoyed Next of Kin until way after my bedtime, I woke up the next morning and, after briefly considering Michelle Obama’s hot selling memoir,  decided to continue with Buddy Lock #2. I downloaded the second in this 2-part series.   The story line picks right up less than a month after the prior tale ends.  

The Holdouts 
by James Tucker
2018/ 428 pages
read by Christopher Lane – 9h 24m
rating:  C+:   crime-thriller

While waiting for a judge’s decision on a family matter, Buddy Lock gets a phone call telling him that two bodies have been pulled out of the Atlantic off Long Island. They turned up in the catch of some fishermen.  Being a homicide detective Buddy takes the case even though he is supposedly on leave. That’s the way he is.

The newly deceased are a middle-aged Asian couple, nicely dressed and wearing good jewelry including a couple of rather unusual pieces which are engraved.  

Buddy’s family includes his fiancé, Mei, and Ben, the wealthy 10-year old orphan- boy in their keeping. The judge’s decision is on who gets permanent custody of Ben – the other possibility is the boy’s uncle. That story is told in Next of Kin.  Even with the custody decision hanging over their heads, Buddy takes the case. Mei is not so eager.

The next thing we know, Buddy and his family are suddenly being followed and threatened by various unknown men and strange things happen at Mei’s job in an art gallery. Dangerous situations arise – like in NY traffic. And then Ward, Buddy’s wealthy but somewhat odd half-brother, shows up to help  These characters were featured in the prior novel, too.

The first book in this series was terrific,  but, for awhile,  The Holdouts goes over the top and becomes a hard-core and sometimes rather gory thriller.  At a couple points the plot takes second place to what all the three main characters go through with airplanes, guns and chases.  The suspense was beautifully done in Next of Kin, but it gets too much in sequel.

After awhile, it gets interesting again and then hard-core again and so on. I’m glad I finished,  but it’s mostly like a little war story in a domestic setting. 

 Too bad.

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The Perfect Nanny ~ by Leila Slimani

I’d waited for this book since it started getting such rave reviews in France. Then it won the Prix Goncourt (huge prize there) Then it got to the US but the Audible version was a bit late getting out of the gate. But I finally got it, read it and promptly forgot to blog it. (LOL!) – I read it within days of it coming out this month though. (Note – it did not make the Booker International List – probably, imo, because the literary value is not all that great and the translation is a case of simply “nicely done.”

The Perfect Nanny
by Leila Slimani
2017 -(2018 US) / 238 pages
read by Finty Williams – 5h 45m
Rating: A / crime –

It’s a very good book, but I wasn’t wow’d. Maybe it just wasn’t up to the hype and if I had not had such high expectations it would have been more impressive. I don’t know why. That’s happened before and even when I go into a book knowing I’ve let myself get hyped and try to lower my expectations, it sometimes happens anyway. (But other times I’m wow’d; it’s just hard telling.)

The book opens in the aftermath of a brutal double murder and suicide in a small but pricy New York apartment. The victims were two young children and their nanny. We know the nanny did it, so the question the remaining narrative explores is why – what drove the nanny to commit such a horrendous act?

In answering to that, Slimoni relates the lives of the parents, the children, and, of course, the nanny, Louise, a petite, blonde, middle-aged woman whose own daughter has grown up.

Yup – everyone has problems but the tension is expertly built as we get closer and closer to what we already know. It’s good. It’s quite good. It’ s just not quite brilliant and not even terribly original for contemporary American readers of crime/suspense fiction.

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The Mars Room ~ by Rachel Kushner

I put off reading this for some reason I don’t know now because I genuinely enjoyed her priors, The Flamethrowers and Telex from Cuba (my reviews on this site). And no surprise, this was also very, very good – I’d either forgot how good Kushner is or I didn’t want to be disappointed in a comparison. I’ll be reading it again for the Booker Group in a few months but I suddenly wanted to read it now. Fwiw, I live about one hunded miles south of Chowchilla and the main prison where this story takes place. It is the only woman’s prison facility in California where the female death row prisoners are held. But it could be about many prisons because there is a kind of universal element to poverty and legal trouble. As it turns out, The Mars Room is probably Kushner’s best book. 🙂

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner
2018 / 352 pages
read by Rachel Kushner – 9h 41m
rating – 9 / contemp fiction

The narrative is comprised of the situations of several characters, one 1st- person. They’re mostly prisoners, but there is a teacher who has a major role as well as a few of the prisoners. The characters are mostly almost likable folks who got into trouble, but there are a few who are revolting. Some are fascinated by more famous convicts – Susan Atkins, for instance, who was held there. (Manson’s gang).

The novel takes its title from a strip club in San Francisco where the first-person character, Romy Hall , worked prior to her arrest and many of the back-stories are set there as well.

The stories of the individual characters are the stories of people living in poverty and grit who get caught up in the legal system and land in jails and prisons for various reasons, usually of their own doing, sometimes not so much. Sometimes being out of jail for awhile is just a bit of a vacation. Few of them really had a fair chance at life, especially after contact with the “system.”

But the book is more than just plot – it’s a kind of statement about our socio-economic reality and how the judicial system is impacted and the results of the inequalities are visited on the lowest strata. Thoreau is addressed – along with Ted Kaczynski (the uni-bomber).

Kushner did quite a lot of research for the novel, visiting the prisons and interviewing inmates because this book is about people – poor people. The convicts are not (usually) where they are for light-weight activities and partly as a result there is trouble in the prisons, too.. But the system, rules and guards do their own share of making trouble. Life in prison seems to swing between very difficult and inhumane.

I’m not going to get into the main plot threads because there would unavoidably be spoilers. Let me only say that they are nicely interwoven through the brilliant character sketches and it doesn’t make for a “feel good” tale, but it’s real and avoids “gritty” by focusing on enormous humanity. The threads work together to create a whole world with “real” people, thugs and cons, strippers, addicts, gays and transexuals. – precious few of them are actually innocent of their crimes. But life goes on – it’s a sad book. Still, I know I’ll be rereading this one.

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