The Deep, Deep Snow ~ by Brian Freeman

On Daily Deal at Audible it was only released yesterday and there were some positive sounding messages about it on Facebook. I grabbed it and started in yesterday evening.

It’s an interesting book. The obviously fictional setting is somewhere in the US where there are woods and fishing and snow, and where, in a small town the sheriff is getting ready to retire and his daughter, Shelby Lake about ready to take his place. The town has it’s share of old secrets (as usual) including unsolved murders. Even Shelby, who was abandoned by someone but found and adopted by the widowed sheriff, Tom Ginn, has her share.


/
*******
The Deep Deep Snow
by Brian Freeman
(an Audible Original )
read by January Lavoy – 10h 6m
rating: B+ / crime – procedural/psychological
*******

One day a young boy goes missing and the whole town turns out to help look for him. He’s not found but while the FBI is there other crimes are solved.

Then comes Part 2, ten years later, when the town kids are grown but nothing else much has changed. There is a break, a new clue about Jeremiah, the original missing child and the story unfolds.

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The 39 Steps ~ by John Buchan

I finally got around to reading this classic wartime-thriller-mystery tale of adventure. I wasn’t impressed but I’m sure it was a hit ini it’s own day – WWI era.

Richard Hannay gets caught up in a strange spy scheme including a couple of murders right after he returns to London from Rhodesia. He’s Scot himself and decides to hide from police there. Hannay is presented in 1st person and spends a lot of time running and hiding from those who would capture him . Military secrets are revealed to him so there are several reasons he’s chasing around



*******
The 30 Steps
by John Buchan
1914 / 112 pages
read by Adrian Praetzellis – 4h 18m
rating: C/4 – classic crime/spy thriller
*******

Can’t think of much more to say about it. It’s very British and where I was expecting something along the lines of Josephine Tey, I fear it’s closer to Walter Scott.

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The Mars Room ~ by Rachel Kushner x2

This book finally came up on the Booker Group schedule and as promised, I’m re-reading it. My original reading was back in March. I really enjoyed reading Kushner’s prior novels but I’d put off reading this – no good reason. Anyway, here’s my review on this site. and links to Kushner’s other two novels

The book opens with Romy Hall, the main 1st person character, on a prison transport bus from a Los Angeles jail to the large women’s facility near Chowchilla. This is the only women’s prison in California for death row inmates but it’s renamed in the book. She’s not on death row herself, but she is serving two life sentences for murder. Her past includes many illegal activities from prostitution to drugs and so on. The book’s title comes from the bar she worked at in San Francisco prior to her big troubles.

*******
The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner
2018 / 352 pages
read by Rachel Kushner – 9h 41m
rating : 8.75 / contemp. fiction
*******

Romy is only one of several characters with their own points of view – and Fernandez is another 1st prison. All these characters turn the prison into a fully fleshed out environment or maybe even “a character.” And sometimes characters who are from a prisoner’s past the past contribute to the character of the prison environment because those who are in prison bring them in via their thoughts and feelings – in actions and reactions. . It’s complicated.

The prison part of the book becomes like a frame in some places (a prison in a way) because real life took place in the past so much of the novel is backstory to give context to the present. Tthere is a plot which unfolds in the prison setting through. as well.

I wasn’t as impressed this site round although what I described above was a new insight to me. Maybe the shock value wore off – I don’t know.


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Karolina’s Twins ~ by Ronald H. Balson

Balson has written 5 books so far and all in one series. I saw today that he’d just released another one so I figured I’d better catch up with the one I’d missed, Karolina’s Twins. It’s number three in the series which I missed because the sample in the Audio version was not what I wanted to read. But …

The stories in this series are individual enough they can be read as standalone, but there is a very loose overacting continuity dealing with the informal team of Liam Taggart a private detective and Catherine Taggart, a Chicago-based attorney.



*******
Karolina’s Twins
by Ronald H. Bolson
2010 / 317 pages
read by Gabra Zackman
rating – B/7 – legal crime – holocaust lit
******* 

One day Liam receives a phone call from, Lena Scheinman. an elderly woman who wants to hire him and Catherine to help sort out what she describes as a real estate problem. She calls him because of a prior case (Book 2) where the client was an old friend of Lena’s.

When they meet the next day she barely begins to tell Catherine the long story, only hinted at in her diary, of her friend Karolina and her twin daughters, lost in the Holocaust of WWII. This was 70 years prior and it takes days to tell. She has a book with

Bottom line, in order to settle the real estate issue she has to prove that although she’s in her 90s, she hasn’t got dementia and incompetent as her son claims. But this is 70 years after the facts in the US. She wants to find the twins because of a promise.

I suppose it’s a good book but I was kind of disappointed through most of it. It doesn’t seem as original as her priors. That said the ending is page-turning and I’m going to go ahead and read The Girl From Berlin, Balson’s 5th book.

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The Last Palace ~ by Norman Eisen x2

I read this again for the Allnonfiction reading group and got a fair bit more out of it on the second reading. I’ll have to up my rating some, but that’s about as high as I can honestly go. More photos in the book would have been appreciated, but there’s a limit on pages publishers are willing to print and there are a lot of them available online. My prior review: https://mybecky.blog/2019/05/28/the-last-palace-by-norman-eisen/

Also, on the second reading I found Eisen’s online Notes mentioned in the Notes section of the Kindle book and when I got to checking these I was really impressed and followed along for awhile and checking them after that. They are ordered by page number and the book has only a few of those available at the url above.

*******
The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House
by Norman Eisen 
2018 / 398 pages
read by Jeff Goldblum – 15h 36m
Rating: 9 / history 
(both read and listened)
******
*

This time I came to thee realization Eisen has written a very good example of “creative nonfiction” which is what most popular history books are these days. Creative nonfiction is more like journalism in that it works to get and keep the reader’s interest via more literary techniques and devices than actual historians use. The authors of more scholarly reporting or history writing. Historians assume the interest is already there and stick to facts and arguments and until recently, historians have not been noted for their writing skills.

So I was impressed by the way Eisen provided tension and heartbreak throughout the book – this is NOT a compendium of facts. It’s a kind of literary nonfiction at its best. It’s a book which was written for popular consumption, but one where excellent back-up sources are provided (albeit on the web).

Some would call it a history book because it’s about about history, but it’s not “technically” a History book – one you would normally find as a basic text for a History class unless the class was specifically on this building and a few of its residents.

No one history book can be all things to all readers. Those who are getting an introduction to the material can’t make full use of extensive notes. On the other hand readers who are already knowledgeable in the subject can be quite annoyed without detailed source material. Some readers quite appreciate the human interest stories which documented by personal letters, journals, interviews, etc while other readers are put off by this sort of thingl. Finally, the style of writing Eisen uses seems to be aimed at the general public rather at the academic or armchair scholar.

Eisen tried for it all and succeeded to an amazing degree. It’s only too bad his “Notes” section was so condensed in the published versions. (Here’s the online url again: https://www.normaneisen.com/notes. ).

Also, Eisen provided only brief reporting on the actual background to the events he reported from personal accounts. This made it a bit difficult to understand the Warsaw Pact’s invasion or the Prague Spring and its aftermath. – I suppose that’s okay considering it was not the aim of the book but …

My “criticism” re the footnotes and publishing space constraints becomes moot when one considers the book is not really for historians at all. . Eisen dd put the complete notes online if someone wants them and one can do one’s own Googling for additional photos. So I’m giving the book a 9.95 this time. I personally think the publishers saw the makings of a hot seller and weren’t going to mess up that aspect by making the book appear to be a scholarly tome in any way. It wouldn’t be mistaken by actual academics – Eisen writes too well.

Other than that I have nothing to add to my first review, really. When you get into the lives of individuals involved in things like Nazi attacks and Communist politics against the people’s desire to be independent you get plenty of tension – it doesn’t have to be created. Personalities like Shirley Temple Black add to that – she was no retiring and do-nothing Ambassador when the uprisings came to town.

Bottom line – I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.

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Never Tell ~ by Lisa Gardner

Three women: Evelyn Carter, the prime suspect in her husband’s murder; D.D. Warren, the detective on the case; and Flora Dane, a woman who was horrendously victimized several years prior to the events in the book. The latter two join up to solve the case of the Evelyn’s apparently slam-dunk murder rap. They believe Evelyn even though she did confess to killing her father in a similar way when she was 16.

I’ve read Gardner’s books before and been so-so about them, but this one is better for some reason. They’ve always been a bit on the graphic side of fem-jeop for me (females in jeopardy) but this one had some rather enlightening aspects.

The book opens with the shooting scene itself but the whole picture is not clear. It “looks like” the pregnant Evelyn Carter shot her husband three times before putting a dozen bullets in his computer, but … why? Was she talking to her own head or was her mother there? And later it turns out there are timing problems. This is a real who-done-it.



*******
Never Tell
by Lisa Gardner
2019 / 414 pages
read by Kirsten Potter – 11h 44m
rating: A / crime / procedural
*******

Then there are chapters dealing with the background of Flora Dane who was the victim of another crime by a man now deceased. She recognized the victim of this crime from a photo somewhere and realizes she has to reveal more than she has. (Dane has been a character in prior Gardner novels.)

Although some backstory continues to thread its way through the story, it mostly turns to the work of the detectives actually solving the crime while also showing the point of view of the other women as they go through their days.

The plot has plenty of twists and turns but a warning is also in order because although the details are not too graphic, the thrust of crimes is fem-jeop (females in jeopardy) but the females here are also the heroines so it worked out for me.

Overall, I suppose the plot was fairly predictable overall, but it was quite twisty and surprising in the details. In other words, I pretty much guessed who-done-it early on, but how and why had to be revealed.

The characters and narration were particularly good but the writing was mediocre.

D.D. Warren has appeared in the 10 prior books of this series I’ve read a few of them and I’ll likely read another one, but it might be awhile.

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Barracoon ~ by Zora Neale Hurston

Definition of barracoon from Merriam-Webster:
Barracoon definition is – an enclosure or barracks formerly used for temporary confinement of slaves or convicts —often used in plural.”

Although Hurston, the author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” (which I’ve read a couple times) wrote this in the 1930s and died in 1960, this, was not published until 2018. The introductory material takes up close to 1/3 of the newly published version but that material is fascinating in itself.


*******
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo 
by Zora Neale Hursrston –
2018- 193 pages
read by Robin Miles – 3h 50m
rating – 10 / historical Black history
*******

Hurston is, today, a noted Black woman author and anthropologist from the early 20th century. Her work was not highly regarded during her lifetime in part because of differences within the literary, historical and social communities about the value of the African American experience and culture. She died in the nearly total obscurity of an unmarked grave in 1960.

In the 1970s Alice Walker came across Hurston’s gravestone and did the research. The rest is history. Bio -Nora Neale Hurston

In the introductory material it’s explained how the work came to be finally published and that’s quite a story, too, including plagiarism and professional vanity.

Hurston’s work has it’s own preface but then she gets down to the meetings with Cudjo Lewis and his life story in his own words. He was 19 years old when he was brought to the US in 1860 and died here in 1935 – the interviews https://www.hurstonwright.org/zora-neale-hurston/”

took place in about 1927 and 1928 so although Cudjo knew quite a lot about life in Africa, there was likely some memory loss. He was a minister and story-teller in his later years.

But his story includes some family/mating rituals in addition to how Cudjo was captured, sold into slavery, the journey to America on the slave-ship Clotilda, worked as a slave, found himself freed and tried to make a life.

This is a wonderful book with a series of Cudjo’s rather revealing stories at the end. Enjoy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cudjoe_Lewis

https://www.history.com/news/slaves-clotilda-ship-built-africatown

https://www.npr.org/2018/05/08/608205763/barracoon-brings-a-lost-slave-story-to-light

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Girl Most Likely ~ by Max Allan Collins

Not my favorite crime novel of the month, but it was on sale and filled the blank between more meaty books. It does have an interesting premise and the execution of that premise was good, but after that it falls flat for some reason.

Krista Larson is the new police chief in her rural Illinois home town and although she’s quite young for that job, she’s smart and is following in the footsteps of her now retired and recently widowed father. She’s quite capable.




*******
Girl Most Likely
by Max Allen Collins
2019 / 272 pages
Read by Dan John Miller – 7h 26m
rating – B- / procedural
*******

The high school class of 2008 (or so) is celebrating its 10 year reunion and the local tourist hotel is booked for the event. One of the alumni is now a celebrated investigative television news reporter who was a bit too popular in school. After the reunion she’s found dead.

An interesting device here is to have the murderer describe some of his actions in second person present tense. The reader doesn’t know who is narrating, only that it’s the killer.

Krisen’s father is pressed into service to help with het interviewing of all the guests and others who were in attendance, partners, teachers, hotel staff, etc.

The book is fast paced there’s a bit too much violence against women for my tastes. The characters are flat and the writing is mediocre. I’d say read it only if you’re hard up.

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Kitchen ~ by Banana Yoshimoto

I’d been wanting to read this for a long time so when it was on sale I snapped it up. The book had amazing reviews when it was first published in 1993 (1986 in Japan) and several of my friends raved even years later. Sorry to say I didn’t quite see the appeal, but maybe it was innovative at the time. There is another shorter and separate, but thematically related novella included – it’s called Moonlight Shadow.




*******
Kitchen
by Banana Yoshiimoto
20. – 117 pages
read by Emily Zeller – 4h 24m
rating: 5 (mixed) general fiction
*******

Mikage Sakurai is a very young Japanese woman who’s only relative, her grandmother, has just died. She’s invited to stay at the house of a young male friend of her grandmother, Yuichi Tanabe. Eriko Tanabe, Yuichi’s “mother,” lives in the house, too. She is transgender and a very strange but beautiful woman who owns and manages a night club.

The novel is about grief and youth and love and food – kitchens. It’s likely a very good book, but I really wasn’t in the mood.

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The Man on the Mountaintop ~ by Susan Trott

I wasn’t impressed, but the book was cheap and marginally interesting. I consider myself to be fairly spiritual of a kind of Jewish/Buddhist/Christian variety (if pushed to make that distinction) and this is some kind of easy-read fluff of it.

It’s a collection of stories about an old wise man who goes by the title the “Holy Man,” but whose name is Joe. Joe lives with several of his followers in a small compound in the mountains where pilgrims come to see him. They line up for days and days waiting to either tell them their problems or just see him.


*******
The Man on the Mountaintop
by Susan Trott
2011 – 5h 45m
read by a cast
rating – 3
(Audible Original)
*******

There’s not much to the book – the stories of the pilgrims and the interactions of a few of his closest followers. There is a kind of story arc but the characters are flat The point of the book, the ideas involved, are simplistic although maybe amusing at times. Basically I was bored for most of it but I did finish.

I’ve listened to a few of these “Audible Originals” now and they’re just not to my taste. I really prefer a straight book reading. The “Originals” have a cast of readers plus unnecessary sound effects . No thanks.

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kaddish.com ~ by Nathan Englander

Years ago, like 2012 or so, I read Nathan Englander’s “The Ministry of Special Cases”  and thoroughly enjoyed it. I read it in January and it made my best of year list for 2012! Unfortunately I’ve lost the full review, but it was an excellent book and I’ve wanted to read more by Englander ever since but not got around to it.

So I had his new book on my wish list at Audible when nominations were due for the Modern Reading Group and they selected it for the month of June! But now I have to catch up on Englander’s other books because from the first short chapter I knew this book was going to be another winner




*******
kaddish.com
by Nathan Englander
2019 / 204 pages
read by Rob Shapiro – 5h 33m
rating 9.5
(read and listened)
*******

The father of Larry, our Brooklyn-based protagonist, has just died in Memphis. He was a very wise and religious man and his family, which sits orthodox Shiva for him, now needs Larry to say Kaddish, the year-long daily prayers for the dead that the eldest son in all good Orthodox Jewish families are required to say in order to win their loved one entry into heaven.

Unfortunately for the family, especially for Larry’s sister who is deeply devout, Larry is not in any way religious or reliable. But he agrees, in one way or the other, to do the prayers. Actually, he does them the “other” way – by digital proxy via Kaddish.com.

The book is fun and thoughtful. What is honor, duty and wisdom? What is forgiveness – amends?

Englander is often compared to his friend Phillip Roth, but I won’t do that because I’m not always so fond of Roth. I’d rather compare him to Howard Jacobson or David Grossman or Meir Shalev.

Fwiw, Rob Shapiro the reader on the Audible version, does an excellent job.

Boston Globe:
https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2019/04/11/unpleasing-blend-sacred-and-mundane/vXvNeizJ8oz66ZN6Rz23bM/story.html

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The Long and Faraway Gone ~ by Lou Barney

Read for the 4-Mystery Addicts group and this is why I belong to many reading groups. I would likely never have picked up this book on my own and I would have missed a goodie!

Julianna Rosales and Wyatt Rivers have something in common, but they don’t know it, or each other. One was present on the night of August 1986 in Oklahoma City when a robbery at a local mall movie theater resulted in the deaths of six teens. Only Wyatt survived. The other was waiting for her sister who disappeared from the Oklahoma State Fair a month later. Now, in 2012, neither crime has been solved and the paths of Julianna and Wyatt are still obsessed with the events which left them with unresolved grief and survivor’s guilt.

*******
The Long and Faraway Gone
by Lou Berney
2015/ 467 pages
read by Brian Hutchinson – 12h 58m
rating: A++
*******

The problems of his boss and friend bring Wyatt to Oklahoma City to do some detective work on a case of harassment. Why is someone wanting the new owner of a run-down bar wanting her out?

Julianna is in Oklahoma City because she’s always been there, since before she was left at the OK State Fair by her sister who never returned. She vows to find out what happened.

The two threads alternate while building tension and some more fleshing out of the background in flashbacks.

I don’t always appreciate two or more narrators but I think this time it’s necessary or the reader might get mixed up between Julianna’s narrative and Wyatt’s. Neither is 1st person. There are a lot of crimes and characters involved.

The theme of survivor guilt was interesting – I don’t think I’d ever read that in a novel before.

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