Nothing More Dangerous ~by Allen Eskins

Nothing More Dangerous
by Allen Eskens
2019 / 305 pages
read by Kevin Stilllwell 10h 27m
rating: A / fiction

I think I’ve read all of Eskens’ books now – there are four so far. I’ve enjoyed them all. This one is not part of a series, but is almost a fictionalized memoir – not quite. It’s more of mystery/crime novel and that a”s where I’d put it.

Boady Sanden is a 15-year old freshman in high school when the story opens, his father died years prior so he and his mom live together in a small house in a small town in rural Missouri. It’s 1975. One day the Elgens, a black family from Minnesota, move into the big empty house across the street. Mr Elgen is supposed to take charge of a certain business This doesn’t sit well with some people in town who have secrets they’d just as soon stay secret. And the story evolves.

Eskens is good – he writes good solid stories with nicely drawn characters and some action thown in.

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Damaging Evidence ~ 
by Al Macy

Damaging Evidence
by Al Macy
2020 /  323 pls
read by Nick Sullivan: 8h 19m
rating:  A+ / legal crime


Oh yay!  I’ve now finished another series this month!  There were the Anne Reeve books prior to Al Macy.  Both are *almost* cozy crime novels – they’re light-is and the focus is on the relationships as well as the crime solving.  It’s not gritty in the 2020 sense of the term, but there are some very difficult life circumstances involved. 

The setting is still Humboldt County in California,  home to a LOT of marijuana growing and sales and some other counter-culture goings on.  Every once in awhile this adds some interest, but is never a big point.  

This time we have Garrett Goodlove the first person attorney,  along with Jen his new wife and Nicole his daughter – all three are lawyers in Garrett’s firm.   And there’s Carley his no-nonsense deaf sister and Luella,  their excellent although older, investigator. These characters made their first appearances in the prior novels.  

The main plot thread concerns the prosecution of a local doctor who is doing entirely too many surgeries on his own and random heart patients. One of them was seriously damaged during what she says was unnecessary bypass surgery.  Then a witness shows up who knows something, but won’t tell for fear he’ll go to jail on an unrelated charge of his own. 

It’s probably wise to read the books in order. I’m totally looking forward to another one.

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Fair Warning ~ by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning
By Michael Connelly
2020 /  (416 pages)
read by Peter Giles 10h 26m
rating –  A / crime thriller
# 3 in Jack McEnvoy series

I read the first two books in this series (of 3 now) but only remembered only that Jack McEnvoy was the lead reporter and pretty depressed in The Poet and The Scarecrow and it’s been a long long time since I read them, Then, here in 2020, comes the third book in the series. . Okay –   

One night Jack is coming home from work as reporter for a news organization with an active  website when he is approached by two cops and questioned about the murder of a local woman.  The cops seem to think Jack did it but Jack knows he didn’t but his interest is piqued and off he goes, investigating.  It turns out there’s a serial murderer on the loose and his MO is very unusual. 

There’s no “mystery” here – it’s just a matter of catching the bad guy so I’ve simply used the term “crime thriller” as the genre except that the procedure is a mix of reporter and detective with lots of new-to-me technical improvements.. The only thing was that sometimes my suspension of disbelief was stretched a bit thin.  Good book if you can stand some gritty stuff.   

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Sufficient Evidence – by Al Macy

Sufficient Evidence
by Al Macy
2018 /
read by Nick Sullivan: 5h 57m
rating – A / legal crime

Fun book – mostly legal thriller with plenty of courtroom drama, but with some nice procedural elements. There’s also a good story arc meshing nicely with the prior Garret Goodlove book.  

Goodlove is an attorney working with a partner out of a small law office in Humboldt County California.  Conclusive Evidence, the first book in the series, sets it all up with a good plot involving his deaf twin sister.  

This time,  Aksana Ivanova, who looks like a fat old Russian grandmother, is arrested for being in possession of an assault rifle and then after she is released on those charges, for murder.  It’s tricky.  

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The House on Mango Street – by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cistneros
1984 / 111 pages
read by author: 2h 18m
rating 10 / 20th century
(both read and listened)

Second reading –  I knew I would it’s sooo good and because it’s that good even on a second reading I hang to give it a 10 .  I’ve been meaning to read this for ages but time is slippery and there are too many books – finally a group nominated it and that’s one way I’ll read it for sure – and then I’ll get sucked into reading it a second time

The whole book is only a bit over 100 pages plus the Introduction which is also totally wonderful.  The Audio I listened to used the Introduction from the 10th Anniversary edition while the Kindle version used the Introduction from the 25th Anniversary edition. Both by Cisneros and both very good.  I didn’t read them until I’d finished my first reading and fallen in love with both the author and her creation, Esperanza. 

There are scores of reviews and chapter by chapter teacher aids out there (this is taught in schools from Junior High to college – it’s that kind of book. The voice of the 1st person narrator goes from about age 4 or 5 to somewhere in her early to mid- teens, I’m not sure.  So that makes it a coming-of-age story in itself.  But for maybe a third of the book Esperanza is an unreliable narrator because at the age of 7 or so, she could hardly be happy and excited when the neighbor boy gets taken away by the cops in a police car – she truly doesn’t understand what it means.  Any reader over age 10 does though.   
The book is so full of literary stuff – from the unreliable narrator to childhood rhymes and rhythms, from  symbolism or allusion (especially feet) and incredible metaphors and themes like feminist issues or racism and otherness.  The idea of sex comes up as it will between the ages of 5 and 15 – sometimes yukkie.  It’s sometimes a sad and lonely book, but it’s also realistic and hopeful – especially knowing it’s generally based  on Cisneros’ life which turned out nicely.  There are times it’s even funny (see “A Rice Sandwich”). 
Each chapter is a little mini-story unto itself but woven into a larger picture of growing up Hispanic female in Chicago, but the point is that Esperanza becomes aware and wants her own house – somewhere she can be who she is on the inside – not what others expect her to be, including the neighbors and her father. 

It’s full of a girl’s desires and while she manages to get much of it she’s then disappointed because it’s not what she wanted or it doesn’t fulfill her or something,  Sometimes this happens to her friends and neighbors or her family.  And she grows up, leaving the dangers, constraints and traps of Mango Street behind.    

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
by Lori Gottlieb: 2019
Read by Brittany Pressley: 14h 21m Rating: 7.5 / memoir/self-help 

I only read this book because I bought it in an impulse by when it was on a 2-for-1 sale at Audible. I don’t know why but it didn’t sound too bad.   That said,  you’ll notice I gave the book an A- rating – not too shabby there.  

I outgrew self-help books many years ago,  but I do enjoy a good memoir.  In the sample the voice of the narrator was good and it landed in my check-out basket.  I like to get sale books for when I’m between good books and either too sated to read another one or I’m in an actual reading slump and can’t decide on my next one.  

And I’ve been in therapy myself which was quite successful, imo.  I could relate to much of how Gottlieb’s sessions went and what she was trying to do for her clients as well as what was happening to her personally.  She has a personal problem and sees a therapist herself.  

My expectations for these sale books aren’t very high.  A rating of B would probably be about right.  Gottleib’s book surprised me.  It’s not a debut book – she wrote a well-received book of the same genre about 10 years ago and she’s a psychotherapist, the author of magazine articles. 

I picked it up once and put it down for awhile – bored.  But then something stirred and after finishing The House on Mango Street I was ready for another piece of easy-reading – and this hit the spot then.   

Gottleib has many kinds of clients with different kinds of issues.  One young woman is dying. One guy is married, loves his wife but is having troubles with his own grief – no wonder.   One woman is having problems with booze and men.  One woman feels like her life is over and it was not worth the effort, very disappointing.  But the author has her own issues and her own therapist -at the outset of the book it’s break-up problems but she also has a child, a past, friends, the usual but with twists.   

The book is funny at times, insightful at other times.  It got a long list of review blurbs on Amazon. I can’t say as I really learned anything new but it’s always good to review some of it and it was interesting reading about this from a therapist’s point of view.  It’s good.  

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Dead Weight – by Rosemary Reeve

Dead Weight
by Rosemary Reeves
2018 / 292 pages
read by Noah DeBlase  10h 8m
rating – A   / mystery 

 This story starts out with a twist – Jack Hart is working for an insurance company which is trying not to pay a claim because it looks like the death was suicide.  Jack really doesn’t want this to be suicide but it sure seems like it was, until another body shows up.  Then he and his fiancé -business partner Harmony Piper, along with their cop friend simply investigate where the clues lead them. And the path is wide-ranging from bad business practices and embezzling to child abuse and murder. It’s’ tangled.  

Meanwhile the pressure is on Harmony whose father is in deep trouble in both Japan and the US for his dirty business practices. 

I’ve read all four of the Jack Hart mysteries now and I think this might be the best although this is also the most gritty.  They’re best read in order. I hope there will be more, but Reeve wrote these in the 1990s one chapter a week and mailed them to her mother for her own private reading. They weren’t published until 2018.  So I really don’t think there will be any more. Too bad.  

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The Gates of Europe ~ by Serhi Plokhy

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine
By Serhii Plokhy
2017 / 397 pages
read by Ralph Lister 15h 20m

rating: 9.5 / Europe history

So many things I didn’t really pick up on as I learned the history of Russia in college and reading on my own.  I’d considered Ukraine to be that part of Russia where Kyiv lived and flourished. (Kiev when I was in school.) 

So I started this rather quickly not really comprehending anywhere near everything because in my head I was still thinking the old way – which I thought had just started in 1991 or so, when they split from the Soviet Union.   Um… duh??? I don’t know what I thought now.  Kiev was alway Russia to me, where Russian Christianity was born, where the Mongols took over destroying Kiev, and where the Cossacks rode. I thought it was all Russia with the writers and politics. (Oh I’m of the same generation as Putin I guess.)

Anyway,  this is an excellent history of a chunk of the territory between the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Ocean – what is now known as Ukraine.  It’s well written and kind of smoothes out the complex history of the area.  It’s scholarly but still kind of a page-turner but one where you get involved in this section or that. 

Yes,  it includes everything from Herodotus to Putin and that’s a lot of fascinating history.  

There is a western (Ukraine) bias in that Plokhy doesn’t defend Russia for its recent actions. Reading the whole thing it all leads up to today (as it should) but I’m curious if Russia has much of a defense. (I don’t think so.)  

I’m going to have to read this again for any real depth of understanding.    

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The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee ~ by David Treuer

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
by David Treuer – 2019
512 pages
read by Tanis Parenteau – 17h 44m
rating – 9.5
(both read and listened)

This is an amazing book and although I have some arguments, I generally think this is one which should be read by every educated American – including those with even so much as one Native genome.  

This is for a non-academic audience, and it aims to  “confront the ways we Indians ourselves understand our place in the world” (p. 11). 

He shows why that is vital. And how it’s being done. 
 It’s written as “a hybrid like me: part history, part reportage, part memoir” (p. 14).  

I love reading Native American history from the pre-historic times to books like Treuer’s, which is very contemporary. I’ve read a fair amount and I consider myself moderately well-versed in Native fiction, too.  

Treuer, of Ojibwe and Jewish parents was raised on the  Leech Lake Reservation in north-central Minnesota from where he went to Princeton and on to teach at various universities.  He continues to return to Minnesota. 

The book is mainly saying that the Indian has not died out although his culture has certainly changed over the years and both as a result of the indignity heaped upon him by his white counterparts but also of his own accord.  Indians are a part of today’s America, our culture and heritage . Yup.

That’s what Philip J. DeLoria was saying a few years ago in his 1999 book,  Indians in Unexpected Places.  But Treuer goes after the idea that Indians are everywhere and gets all over it – and under it and on top of it. 

The book goes from the earliest days of people on the American continent(s) to the pipeline thing and Trump era.  The focus is on Indian life and culture since 1890 when the issue was pretty much resolved at Wounded Knee –  aha!  

In spite of the white Americans throwing every bit of their military might behind the challenge,  the Indian did NOT die out then. He did NOT become all assimilated with his land grabbed up then. Nor did that happen in the years following the massacre when the states and the courts tried to void them out by contract and starvation.

They’re ba-aack!  🙂   (IThey never left!).  and we’re soooo much the better for it.   Yes,  it was very problematic for awhile, life looked grim for the country’s original human inhabitants as the new and uninvited arrivals barged in and took over,   but they survived. They even had to survive themselves for awhile (radical movements of the 1960s/‘70s).   But they got recognized for that survival and moved on and are moving on.  

Yes, they got the casinos for themselves and that did help,  but as Treuer shows, that’s not the whole story – not by a long shot.  

However – as it turns out I think Treuer is saying that there is no more Indian culture or they’ve become assimilated.  It gets fuzzy.  

I suppose what bothers me about Treuer is that he glorifies what the Indian has become, but trashes Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie and Leslie Marmon Silko and others of maybe a generation ago.  

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The Last Trial ~ by Scott Turow

The Last Trial
by Scott Turow
2020 / 453 pages
read by John Bedford Lloyd 15h 55m
rating:  A+/ legal mystery

 This very good book is not much of a legal “thriller” by anyone’s measure. It’s more of a thinking person’s legal mystery – a drama concerning the complexities of life and the law.   

One old geezer, Dr. Kiril Pafko, age 78, is on trial for homicide as well as financial shenanigans while his best friend, Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, age 85, is defending him.  Stern has appeared in Turow’s work many times as has the setting of Kindle County Mississippi. This is Stern’s last trial – it’s long and exhausting in many many ways especially for a twice widowed cancer survivor. 

who is an octogenarian already.

Dr Pafko is a renowned medical doctor and researcher – a Nobel Prize winner, actually. He owns his own research company and has always been a bit of a show-off who likes beautiful women, drives nice cars and wants all credit for his accomplishments. 

The story moves along at the pace of an old geezer with the courtroom being 90% of the setting. All that said, it’s not tedious because the focus is on the characters who come in all varieties. 

One aspect of the main plot involves the deaths of a number of patients during the trials of a new cancer medication.  The good Doctor Pafko is not only involved in that awful thing in his own way,  the charges are that he manipulated the data as well as doing  some insider trading.  He made quite a lot of money and now he’s looking at a lot of time in jail – easily the rest of his life.

As usual with Turow, (and I do have to read more of him) legal issues, like life, are rarely cut and dried. They’re as messy as the people and families involved. This one is one of his best, I think.

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Girl, Woman Other ~ by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman Other 
by Bernardine Evaristo 
2019 / 464 pages
Read by Anna-Maria Nabirye
rating –  9 / lit fict – Booker Prize
(both read and listened) 


 The book doesn’t really follow anything or anyone – Rather it gathers the people who have connections to Amma Bonsu, a newly acclaimed playwright whose work deals with contemporary identity isssues – particularly those of black lesbians. 

There are 12 central characters which each have their own chapter of background.  It’s really this background which constitutes the book’s plot thrust. 

I kept a little notepad with names on it to keep them straight but I didn’t really need it until the end when it certainly came in handy. 

There are plenty of rave reviews out there and the only reason I’m not as enthusiastic about it as some others seem to be is that reading GLBTQ material is just not my thing.  And I haven’t read a Black Lit novel since Americana by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie years ago.  

“From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.”

The Last Amazon of Dahomey is the play Amma has written and is being produced by her friends and coworkers.

The last survivor of the Dahomey Amazons is thought to have been a woman named Nawi. In a 1978 interview with a Beninese historian, Nawi claimed to have fought the French in 1892. Nawi died in November 1979, aged well over 100.[6]

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Art and Fear: ~ by David Boyles and Ted Orland (x2)

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
by David Boyles and Ted Orland
2014 / 125 pages
read by Arthur Morey- 3h 8m

rating: 8 / nonfiction- Artmaking
(both read and listened) 

This was a second reading (1st reading review here) and there was a huge difference in my appreciation. The first time I got very little out of it – I tried to apply it to my own work, my own life and, not being an artist except possibly in a philosophical sense,  I got very little out of it.  Part 2 was pretty good.  

But this second time I accepted that the book was intended for real artists in the real world and that it held some very good advice for them. I think reading it helped me to understand the life of an artist much better, the fears especially. 

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