Live Bait ~ by P.J. Tracy

Well after reading Monkeewrench by this author, a mother-daughter team, I was interested in reading the second in the series. Mixed results. The second book was only worth the time and money after about 1/2 way through. I have no idea why I finished but I’m glad I did.

I think what I enjoyed most about Monkeewrench was the way the crime-specific characters were featured. In Live Bait the action turns almost entirely to the two detectives, Leo Magosi and Gino Rolseth, who are called to the scene of the murder of an elderly man whom everyone loved.

*******
Live Bait
by P.J. Tracy
2004 / 400 pages
read by Buck Schirner- 9h 58m
rating: B+ / crime series

(2nd in Monkeewrench series
*******

It took some time to get used to these two detectives and the story seemed overloaded with the character development of the cops (which is kind of understandable if this is the way the main series is introduced). I wanted Grace and company back along with their technology and she does make her appearance but it’s limited and more as a romantic interest for Magosi. As I said, it took awhile.

The plot involves the killing of some elderly Jewish residents of Minneapolis. The victims were friends and the son of the first one knows more than he lets on – in his drunken state. There is also a seriously grieving widowed son-in-law of the Jewish couple who stumbles around.

It gets good.

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The Lost Man ~ by Jane Harper

Good book! Another winner from the author of The Dry and Force of Nature (my reviews on this site) which I’ve read. But The Lost Man does not feature Aaron Falk. It’s a stand-alone and it’s not like most books in the mystery or crime genre, although it does involve a mysterious death and family mysteries are slowly and expertly revealed. It’s not a cozy mystery.

*******
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
2019 / 345 pages
read by Stephen Shananan – 10h 59m
rating: A / crime
*******

A prologue-type chapter describes an unnamed man dying alone in the desert near a single grave, but nothing more is clear except that he’s discovered by a helicopter.

Chapter 1 opens with Nathan and Bub Bright at the same scene with the corpse. They are discussing this death of their middle brother Cameron Bright. Nathan’s son Zander is also with them.

Nathan Bright lives in his own house separated from his family’s official compound in the outback of Queensland. His brothers Bub and Cameron along with their families live on the family place along with various employees hired as help for their large cattle ranch. Their father is deceased but their mother Liz lives with Cameron’s family in the big house. Nathan has lived separately for ten years during which time his wife took their son and left. Why?

There are serious problems in the family because although Nathan was eldest, Cameron was the leader. Bub is a bit slow mentally. It’s Nathan however who ends up investigating and there are family members and employees who are suspicious.

I really don’t want to reveal more than that because one detail will lead to spoilers and it gets tangled. Good and tangled – juicy, you might say.

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Milkman by Anna Burns x2

This book is sooooo good. It was totally deserving of the Man Booker Prize for 2018 and so I have to give it a 10 this time (understanding there are no perfect books). I’m reading it because I’m the leader for the group read at the Booker Prize Group.

I don’t have a whole lot to add to my prior review (here) except to say that I understand the reasons for nameless characters better – or at least what their being nameless adds:

******
Milkman
by Anna Burns
2018 /
read by Brid Brennan 14h 11m
rating: 10 – contemp. fiction
*******

  1. First, not using actual names for the other countries and areas could simply be the characters not wanting to give those places the dignity of mentioning them by name.
  2. The pseudo-names the narrator uses for virtually all the characters makes keeping them all straight easier for the reader because the way Burns does it is to give their relationship to the narrator clear . This is like “third brother-in-law” or of “maybe-boyfriend” and “third brother” (she comes from a large family.). But even “milkman” and “tablets girl” are descriptors and tell the reader something about them which is explained.
  3. The namelessness increases the possibility of the story being an allegory because the reader is distanced from many of their specifics.

I think there has been some criticism about the plot but it’s not one single arc. There are all sorts of adventures and misadventures which occur between the narrator’s first encounter with milkman and her third and last.

There is a huge satirical element to the book which I’ve not seen much written about. Nothing is sacred – not even the women’s movement which comes into play.

Here are a few of the questions I’ve prepared but may not use – you can tell a lot about the book from this.

1.   A friend asks you what you’re reading and you tell her it’s Milkman by Anna Burns.  She then asks you what it’s about.   What do you say? 

2.   Why do you think Burns leaves the characters unnamed –  in an interview she said “they just didn’t need naming.”  Is that good enough for you? Can you think of why they might not need naming?  How did a bunch of unnamed characters affect your reading? 

3.  Talk about the protagonist, an unnamed 18-year old girl in a difficult situation – what’s she like? Do you “like” her?   How about ma, maybe-boyfriend, milkman?  Others?  

4.  In an interview (somewhere) Burns said there is a kind of allegory involved in the tale.  Did you pick up on that?  In what way?  Does any of it relate to our world in the 2nd decade of the 21st century? 

5.  What is the point of the sunset scenes and the color blue?  (This is early on in Chapter 3 especially, but mentioned other places – other events – but it reverberates through the book – what is it you perceive and why?).

6.  BookBrowse observed that “Milkman” is a story of the way inaction can have enormous repercussions, in a time when the wrong flag, wrong religion, or even a sunset can be subversive.”   Can you explain how this is true?   

7.  Claire Armistead (the Guardian) called Burns’ novel  “boldly experimental.”  Do you agree?  In what way is it “experimental?” –   Is awarding Milkman the prize for 2018 a step up or a step down for the Man Booker?  7.  What part does “rumour, assumption, gossip” play in the novel?  

8.  What part does humor play in the novel?    

9.  Why do we read hard books?   Is Milkman a “hard” book?  Why?  What makes it hard?  What words/adjectives would you use to describe Milkman –  pretentious, fun, insightful, moving, brilliant (?),  

10. Memorable scenes?   

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The Rule of Law ~ by John Lescroart

Another legal crime novel – I think I need the break of these. Lescroart’s latest Dismas Hardy novel got mixed reviews on the Audible site because of the new narrator, but it had been a couple years since I’d listened to one of one of his novels, so I thought I was open even though I loved David Colacci. I managed okay but, well, no one will ever do Diamas Hardy like Colacci.

*******
Rule of Law
by John Lescroart
2019 / 357 pages
read by Jacques Roy – 9h 32 m
rating: B+ / legal crime-thriller,
*******

Dismas Hardy has joined with a couple other attorneys in a new firm, but has brought his older, long-term secretary along. She has been acting a bit strange lately and then one day she’s arrested, at her desk in the front foyer with the charges being accessory after the fact in a murder case.

That plot thread is pretty good but when it morphs into an old case involving the new District Attorney the whole thing gets a bit too far ranging and convoluted and I lost a lot of my interest. Oh well – that’s the way of lots of crime novels these days .

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Judgement ~ by Joseph Finder

I’ve read several books by Finder and some were great (Company Man) while others are rather middling (Paranoia). His new one, Judgement is one of the good ones and I’ll keep looking for him on the shelves.

*******
Judgement
Joseph Finder
2019 / 399 pages
read by January LaVoy – 10h 19m
rating: A+ / legal thriller
*******

Juliana Brody, a 40-year old judge in the Massachusetts Superior Court, is presiding over a case of sexual harassment at a large tech company, an Uber competitor. A one-night stand at a conference ends with her being blackmailed to rule in favor of the company. Juliana is way too rule-abiding to just cave in. But that creates a lot of tension. She hires a detective and knows a very powerful retired judge.

Contemporary politics and international relations and finance are involved so there might not be any limits. Meanwhile she has personal problems involving her husband and teen-age son. So everything Brody has is at stake – and the ending is terrific.

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The Reckoning ~ by John Grisham

I’ve had this on my wish list since it came out and it feels like it’s the right amount of exertion for now, cognitively speaking. I still can’t focus very well for long. And I really enjoy legal crime novels – the thriller part is incidental – and John Grisham is one of the very best. I’ve read quite a number of his novels over the years.

The Reckoning by John Grisham 2018 / 417 pages read by Michael Beck – 17h 36m rating: A – legal crime

One day in 1946 Pete Banning drove from his farm outside Clanton, Mississippi into town where he walked over to the home of the Methodist minister and shot him. He’d obviously planned for it and also understood that he would get arrested. He was. And his wife had to go into mental health care. And his children were not allowed to come home from college for awhile.

Without a word in his own defense, Pete went to jail, saw his lawyer and pleaded not guilty. But Pete would not tell anyone why hd did it. Not the police, not his lawyers, not his wife or his sister or his children.  But son Joel came home anyway.

Everyone has a history – Pete is a WWII war hero who was presumed dead but later turned up when he was released from a prison camp. His wife, Liza and Dexter Bell, the minister and victim of the shooting, had been very friendly during Pete’s absence. Liza had some mental problems shortly after that and now, with Dexter’s murder and Pete’s arrest, she’s back in the hospital.

The premise is interesting, the plot has plenty of twists and mysteries, the writing is clear and succinct. There’s quite a lot of courtroom action in Part 1 but the rest of the book is either flashback to war times or a wind-up of the story.

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January Summary –

I was really too busy and tired to read as much as usual this month, but what I read was, for the most part, quite good. That said, here it is: I read 8 books (about 1/2 the normal amount) of which 2 books were general fiction, 3 were crime and 3 nonfiction. Also 3 were by women authors and none were translated.

Milkman
by Anna Burns
2017 / 360 pages (paperback) 
read by Brid Brennan – 14h 11m
rating: 9.6 / – fiction 

I plan on reading this again very soon – the Booker Prize Group is discussing it in February.
*******

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
by David Quammen 
2018 / 480 pages
read by Jacques Roy 13h 48m
rating – 10 – non-fiction biology 

Terrific book – very informative.
*******

The Bookshop
by Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 / 192 pages
read by Doranda Peters – 3h 30m
rating – 8.75 / fiction
(both read and listened

Wonderful book by a master of the simply said. It’s not a “happy book” but it certainly strikes a note of truth.
*******

New Iberia Blues
by James Lee Burke
2019 / 465 pages
read by Will Patton -15h 3m
rating – A+++ / rather literary crime

Fantastic – gritty crime novel with a sense of history and literature
*******

The 7th Canon
by Robert Dugoni
2016 /334 pages
read by James Patrick Cronin – 10h 33m
rating: B / legal thriller

Okay –
*******


Leonardo Da Vinci
by Walter Isaacson
2018 / 634 pages
read by Alfred Molina – 17h 1m
rating – 9.25 / biography 
(both read and listened)

This is a very good book about a genius. The focus is a bit different from other books about Leonardo.
*******

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English
by John McWhorter
2009 / 256 pages
read by John McWhorter – 5h 22m
rating: 8 / nonfiction – linguistics

McWhorter is always good but he’s written better.
******

Monkeewrench ~ by P.J. Tracy
2004/ 429 pages
read by Buck Shirner 11h 9m
rating: A / cyber crime-thriller 
(1st in series) 

A fine little cyber crime novel.

White Lies
by Lucy Dawson
2
018 / 294 pages
read by Rachel Atkins – 9h 13m
rating: C+ / psychological thriller 

The ending is pretty good.

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White Lies ~ by Lucy Dawson

This was on sale and I got suckered in by the idea of suspense. But there is too much sex in the first part and two unreliable narrators ala Gone Girl which I read in 2012. I suppose the only redeeming feature is a somewhat interesting structure which goes from one unreliable narrator to the other both of whom eventually describe the same scenes. And then there are other characters which may or may not be “unreliable” in one way or another. One thing for sure, one of the two main characters is lying. And then comes Part 2 with its surprise ending.

*******
White Lies
by Lucy Dawson
2018 / 294 pages
read by Rachel Atkins – 9h 13m
rating: C / psychological thriller
*******

***
Publisher’s summary:
A darkly gripping domestic drama about secrets and lies. 

When you have everything, you have everything to lose…. 

Alexandra Inglis is a respected family doctor, trusted by her patients to keep their most intimate secrets. And if sometimes the boundaries between duty and desire blur…well, she’s only human. But when Alex oversteps a line with Jonathan, one of her patients, she knows she’s gone too far. 

Jonathan is obsessive, and to get what he wants he will tear Alex’s world apart – threatening not only her career but her marriage and family, too. Soon Alex finds she’s capable of doing almost anything to keep hold of her perfect life as it begins to spin dangerously out of her control….©2018 Lucy Dawson (P)2018 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
***

Something did click on some level because I finished. But once I get 20% on a book I purchased I’m going to really try to finish although I

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Monkeewrench ~ by P.J. Tracy

I read this for the 4-Mystery Addicts reading group and it’s one I likely would never have picked up on my own because it’s a relatively old book and I definitely go for the more recent releases. That said, it was a pretty good listen and who knows, I might even go on to the second book in the series. 

The thing is, had I read it 10 years ago, or when it came out in 2004, I would have been enthralled because I thoroughly enjoyed cyber novels for a long time, they were innovative and tremendous fun. I still enjoy them, but the newness has worn off.

*******
Monkeewrench ~ by P.J. Tracy
2004/ 429 pages
read by Buck Shirner 11h 9m
rating: A / cyber crime-thriller
(1st in series) 
*******

In this novel a small computer company, Monkeewrench, has a hit on its hands with its new release, “Serial Killer Detective.”

The trouble is that people start dying as someone enacts the digital violence in real life – or real death. And everyone is a suspect from the game employ-ees (long term friends) to the police or most likely perhaps, an unknown serial killer.

The action starts out a bit slow, but that’s only because there is no “prologue-type” hook to grab the reader’s immediate attention. It picks up naturally and smoothly and doesn’t really let go until the surprisingly twisty ending. .

The story follows the police as they investigate the crimes and prepare for the next one – there are 20 levels to the game and one murder to solve at each level. There is also a thread which follows the computer company employees who are very involved but mysterious in their own right.

As it turned out I enjoyed this book very much in spite of the fact the writing is only adequate (with some pretty fair humor scattered throughout) and the characters are kind of blah. It’s the plot which shines and the tension builds very smoothly, nice and natural, by the force of the story itself.

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Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: ~ by James McWhorter

I love McWhorter – I’ve read two of his books prior, Words on the Move (review on this site)  and The Story of Human Language quite a long while ago. I love his intelligence, humor and style and they’re all on display in this slim volume (recording?) about how English came into being and a wee bit of what it consists of linguistically, how its transformation involved more than simply words.

*******
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English
by John McWhorter
2009 / 256 pages
read by John McWhorter – 5h 22m
rating: 8
******

Now most of us know English is not “pure” anywhere as the language derived from some Germanic tongues mixed with Saxon and Old Norse speech along with Latin and a bit of French. As time went by these changes went into the writing and Old English, as we know it, was born.

The fun is in the details although I’m no linguist for sure, but McWhorter nicely outlines a few of the early changes. For instance the word “do” and what it actually means. It means nothing in many cases. “Do you like pizza?” “How do you do?”

And there is. a lot more fascinating info here – like about syntax or grammar and how the Celts and Welsh tongues were involved in the development of English. This was no accident folks. And it’s no accident I enjoyed this book. Happy reading.


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Leonardo Da Vinci ~ by Walter Isaacson

Great book – I didn’t get “involved” really until about 100 pages into it but after that I was hooked and finished in three days which, considering my current schedule, is great. 

I read it for the All-Nonfiction group and if they had not chosen it I likely would not have even picked it up because I’ve read at least a couple other biographies of Leonardo over the years and for some reason I was never particularly impressed by him – too much hype by a 6th grade teacher perhaps. 

*******
Leonardo Da Vinci
by Walter Isaacson
2018 / 634 pages
read by Alfred Molina – 17h 1m
rating – 9.25 / biography 
(both read and listened)

*******

I suppose this is because Isaacson employs the rather unusual approach of using Leonardo’s famous notebooks as his point of entry – a truly primary source, which he amplifies and enhances via other sources. 

If there’s one thing which stands out about Leonardo it’s the notebooks which reveal how advanced his thinking and art and science were for that era and the loss to mankind that they were never published. He was not well enough organized to do that – when he died he left his unedited notebook pages and drawings to his friend Melzi. 

It starts out a wee bit boring but I started getting way more interested at Chapter 8, Vitruvian Man, (page 148) when the focus became church architecture and then turned to the Vitruvian Man drawings which are fascinating. (See below.). After that it went from one interesting aspect to another. 

The chapters on science had information which was new to me. Leonardo worked first by observation with very little theory but later added theory and experimentation – not “scientific method” but approaching it. He worked with patterns in all kinds of natural phenomenon, but also engineering and architecture.  And he brought all he learned to his art. A perfectionist genius.

Rather than developing the material in chronological order, Isaacson has taken the theme approach and it works better than a filled-in time-line of Leonardo’s life, loves and art. There is a beautiful and very helpful chronology in the front pages of the book with pictures of some artwork to illustrate it. 

If there’s one chapter which should not be missed it’s Chapter 16, “The Milan Portraits” which outlines the finding and authentication of a new Leonardo painting, La Bella Principessa (1496) , in Manhattan, 1998. That’s a page-turning story. 

Another interesting chapter is that on Leonardo’s relationship with the sculptor genius Michelangelo, a somewhat younger but more religious curmudgeon who got along with no one. They and Raphael were contemporaries who didn’t associate much even when they were in the same town. 

And another fascinating chapter, if you’re interested, is “Anatomy, Round Two,” which starts on page 394. This is about how Leonardo dissected and depicted the parts of the body in order to sculpt and paint more accurately and possibly just to know how the circulatory system worked the man was so curious. There is even a part dealing with the muscles involved in human lips and smiles which brings us to the Mona Lisa. 

Isaacson refers occasionally to his biographies of two other “Renaissance” men – Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin. I’ve read both books, but their mention still seemed a bit intrusive. I probably shouldn’t even mention it. 
Isaacson directly asks the question of what makes a real visionary genius, there have been precious few of them and Leonardo is definitely in the group. And then Isaacson answers that. 

I was not crazy about the reader of the audio version because he used a bit too much Italian accent for something Isaacson wrote – the accents on names were a bit over-emphasized. It took me a long time to get used to. Molina’s English accent was okay otherwise. 

I’ll probably read bits and chapters of this book again during the discussion as I think my mind may have wandered and I missed some good stuff. 

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The 7th Canon ~ by Robert Dugoni

This is a legal thriller read for the 4-Mystery Addicts reading group – I may have nominated it there because I love legal thrillers and courtroom dramas. Dugoni is no Grisham or Turow but he’s not bad – the emphasis is definitely on the thriller part though. 

*******
The 7th Canon
by Robert Dugoni
2016 /334 pages
read by James Patrick Cronin – 10h 33m
rating: B / legal thriller
*******

It started slow but picked up by 1/3 and once I got the characters really squared away mentally, it was fine to good. 

In a shelter for homeless boys, often involved in crime, a boy is murdered. As it turns out the priest who runs the shelter is arrested for the murder and Peter Donley is selected to defend him, Donley has his own demons as does the private eye he hires because the DA is proving ruthless in convicting Father Tom. 

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