Wolf Pack ~ by C. J. Box

Wolf Pack
By C. J. Box
2019 /
read by David Chandler 8h 51m
rating – B+ / crime series (book #19) 

Not my favorite series but one that always satisfies.  This book is mostly about as good as any of the 18 which precede it (not that I’ve read them all!)  There is more violence here though – lots of guns and bodies. 

The main characters are nicely developed but the ones which are specific to this book only are rather flat.  The plot is somewhat original , complex and. engaging.  A drone has been harassing the critters and when Pickett gives him a warning,  the FBI gets involved.  Huh?  

The setting is Wyoming which means plain,  and the characters match that. –  The book is quite violent – more than usual .

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This Tender Land ~ by William Kent Krueger

This Tender Land
by William Kent Krueger 
Read by Scott Brick – 14h 19m
Rating – 7.5  / historical fiction 

I’ve read a few of Krueger’s books,  Iron Lake (the first of his Cork O’Connor series), another of that series and Amazing Grace, a stand-alone.  This Tender Land is another stand alone. 

This one is a bit weird.  I’d call it Young Adult, ages 16-=22 or so and interested in miracles and spirituality.  

This book has quite a lot of tension on its own,  but with Scott Brick as narrator it sometimes feels a bit over-the-top. I got used to him though, and by half way he was perfect.  The plot involves two teenage boys and a younger brother  who run away from their Indian School taking a little orphan girl with them.  The setting is south central Minnesota in 1932  the Great Depression and the time of the Bonus Marches.  They travel on their own to St. Louis.. 

Parts of this are really fun reading,  other parts are pretty gruesome and some ore schmaltzy. 


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Quichotte ~ by Salman Rushdie x2

by Salman Rushdie
2019 / 398 pages
read by Sasha Rotermund 15h 38m
rating – 8.75 / contempt lit fiction 

my 1st review – https://mybecky.blog/2019/11/15/quichotte-by-salman-rushdie/

This was my second read and I often get so much more out of Rushdie’s books on second reads. I really should read Grimus but It just isn’t calling to me.  Quichotte is sooooo funny though.  And it’s sweet and a bit scary and insightful in places.  It’s complex though so it needed two readings for me to make sense of it .

The characters:
Ismael Smile (aka Quichotte)
His love, Salma R – 
Dr. Smile – Q’s cousin – a pharmacist
Happy Smily –  his wife 
Sancho – Q’s imaginary son
Brother (author)
Sister = powerful Indian lawyer/politico 
Evel Cent – billionaire techie
Cricket – Pinocchio-like character  

The Quest path:
Valley of the quest itself
Valley of Love
Valley of Knowledge 
Valley of Detachment
Valley of Wonderment
Valley of apology and healing (the dale of restored harmony)
Valley of Poverty and Annihilation 

In some ways it’s like the encyclopedic novels of the 1980s with lots of real people,  place and events. I Googled a lot of other for fun, like Lilburn (a suburb in Atlanta). But the point plays games with something along the lines of what is real and what’s not.

There are some good reviews out there –
“Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte Drives You Nuts That’s Fine It’s Meant”

And from the Washington Post:
The animus of this chaotic novel would seem to be Rushdie?s abiding horror at the political ascension of a dissembling reality TV star. Full review

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The Pioneers ~ by David McCullough x2

This turned out to be very much worth the second read. There are five main characters and I was better able to follow them in their lives. I was better able to understand the Indian problems and the other issues that pioneers had like crops and getting things started.

The Pioneers:
The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
by David McCullough
2019 / 332 pp
read by John Bedford Lloyd 10h 23
rating: 10 / US history

“They had courage, they had respect for their fellow man and woman, self-reliance, devotion to truth, to honesty, perseverance,” said McCullough. “And to being able to say they had ended each day having made themselves useful.”   Per McCullough in: 

Warning – it’s not about pioneers and their experiences all over the country and it’s not an expose of American’s inhumanity to Natives. Rather it’s a beautifully rendered history of the pioneers of Marietta, Ohio taken from their own journals, letters and other personal resources.

Marietta was on the cutting edge of American ideals from education to slavery. The men and women who first settled in the wilderness of Ohio were spreading their ideals, their hopes and dreams. This is surly an endeavor to be admired.

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Only the Good ~ 
by Rosemary Reece

Only the Good
by Rosemary Reece
read by Noah DeBlase 10h 3m rating: B /  legal thriller 
Jack Hart/Harmony Series #3

In this third book of the Jack Hart trilogy, Harmony is getting over her trauma in Japan and Jack is settling down again in Seattle. There he’s notified that his father has died in a fire in Bellingham.  What?  His father has been gone as long as Jack has been alive.  Absent fathers, whether they are dead or just missing. is like a theme of the whole series.  

It’s a great plot mixing up wonderful characters from the prior books, but I’m not sure the plot hangs together properly in this final narrative  If it does, it’s pretty far-fetched and the reader might really have to suspend some disbelief for the sake of the story (and for the characters).  Moreover it seems like there are inconsistencies between the books in the series.  I lowered the rating due to that.  

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Bruno, Chief of Police ~ by Martin Walker

Bruno, Chief of Police
by Martin Walker
read by Robert Ian MacKenzie  8h 18m
rating: B / Crime

This is pretty good for a series starter focusing on the protagonist with plenty of background to get you involved for the long run.

Bruno is a very peaceful and likable guy for a police chief but he lives and works in a charming village in south central France where the main con-cerns are agriculture ad tourism. He’s also single and good looking which invites the interests of women. And he has a rather mysterious past which is revealed to the reader without losing it’s flavor.

In this story an older local man is found killed but the bad part is that a Nazi symbol is carved on his chest. Another interesting thing about this man is that he’s an Arab veteran, one of the few in the area. The Arabs, especially Algerian, have a long history here.

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West of the West: by Mark Arax

I’ve fallen in love with the writing of Mark Arax.  First I read The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California (2019) which absolutely amazed me and was about how California got to be California. I’ve mostly lived here since I as 16 – a long time as I’ve been retired for several years now. I knew the places and many of the people Arax wrote about.

West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State 

By Mark Arax
2010 / 351 pages
rating:  8.75 / nonfiction California history 

Then I put West of the West on my Wish List and just got to it now.  This is in spite of the fact there is no Audio book to go with it.  (I both read and listened to The Dreamt Land.)

And now I’ve got The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire on my Wish List and I will get to it before too long – both Kindle and Audible (fwiw).

Highly recommended if you’re interested in the subject of California history with emphasis on the San Joaquin Valley (not much about San Francisco or LA or politics or Indians etc – there are other books for those things.)

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Then She Was Gone ~ by Lisa Jewell

Too long, contrived and predictable, but it was on sale.  On the plus side,  I did finish.

Then She Was Gone
by Lisa Jewell
read by Helen Duff
10h 12m
rating: B / suspense

Ellie Mack was 15 years old when she disappeared. The  prologue shows her as a high school student and the main plot jumps to 10 years later with a short flashback section about an incident at 5 years when her bones were found.  But there is no evidence of who, when, where, why, –  nothing.   

The main character is Ellie’s mother Lauren Mack who has been tormented by this loss and has lost her husband and 2 older children as a result of her emotional collapse .  

Now Lauren is recovering and dating a man with a young girl and Lauren’s remaining family is suspicious of him,  as is the reader.  But more is slowly revealed with moderately interesting but broadly predictable twists..

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Agency ~ by William Gibson

by William Gibson
2020 / 403 pp

read by Lorelei King 10h 12m
rating: ??? / spec fiction

Well, this is one to read again – (maybe) – Gibson’s plots can get notoriously complex and he liberally strews very current words and technology throughout. This is on top of the astonishing world building – I think I like this book but it’s very complicated and difficult.

I fell in love with Gibson from Snowcrash and went on to the Blue Ant trilogy which was also just delicious – loved it. Then it got weird and I’ve tried but ….. at this point we have “time travel” using alternative universes with clones and drones plus cloned bits.

The time periods go between 2017 and some time in the far future. The locations are California and London. And a part of the alternative strand of reality is that – ta-da! – Hillary Clinton is president.

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Before She Met Him ~ By Peter Swanson

Before She Met Him

by Peter Swanson
2019 / 325 pp
read by Sophie Amos, Graham Halstead 10h 15m
rating: B+ crime suspense

Quite good after a couple hours of set up which feels like a standard thriller story.  Then that fades and new twists appear.  Hen ____ takes it upon herself to chase down the new neighbor she believes is guilty of a murder from several years prior. The book gets very exciting although the characters were a bit flat   It got lots of good reviews . 

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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead ~ by Olga Tokarczuk

The title is from William Blake’s, “Proverbs of Hell” but the story here is straight from Tokarczuk. But there’s lot of Blake in it as well as astrology, Swedenberg and even, yes, a couple of murders.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
By Olga Tokarczuk /trans by Antonia Lloyd Jones
2019 / 275 pages 
Read by Beata Pazniak 11h 39m 
Rating –  B+ for the Kindle and C- for the Audible / crime

This was first published in 2009 but won the Man Booker International Award just this year because it was finally translated into English.  Tokarczuk is a well known writer having won the Nobel Prize for Literature only last year..

Drive Your Plow is different. But all her books are different.  She’s amazingly creative and imaginative 

In a small town in Poland,  just across the border from the Czech Republic an older woman lives in a very small house alongside two other small houses on a hill above a small town.  Her name is Mrs  Duszejko and nothing is ever said about a possible husband somewhere – she doesn’t like her given name,  Janina.  And she gives her friends and neighbors their own names,  Oddball,  Big Foot,  Dizzy,  the Grey Lady and so on to suit their personas.  

But seemingly random people start dying and we learn more about Mrs Duszejko and her friends. 

The book was good – the Audible version was lousy.  The narrator read way too slowly (275 pages took 11 1/2 hours?) It was so slow in places I could barely keep tuned in to what has happening.  

Interesting  research on animal behavior –  Edward Payson Evans, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906), p. 18.



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The Pioneers ~ by David McCullough

The Pioneers
by David McCullough
2019 / 332 pp
read by John Bedford Lloyd 10h 23
rating: 8 / US history

In some ways this book was much better than I expected. I’d heard rather disparaging comments about how the title seemed to imply the story of westward expansion in general, and readers were disappointed that their own ancestors places were not included. But the narrative was limited to the Northwest Territory, mostly what is now Ohio.

Years ago I read The Trees by Conrad Richter, but never goto around to the rest of the trilogy, The Fields and The Town. I was definitely reminded of The Trees as I read the first several chapters of The Pioneers and then McCullough mentioned the Richter books in his Acknowledgments. I felt vindicated (or something).

But it seems the Northwest Territory was plagued by a number of trials including settlement, Indian warfare, starvation, abolition, education and epidemics to say nothing of the antics of Aaron Burr and various other characters and personalities (the Blennerhasasett family for instance. Several were related to an original party, Manasseh Cutler.

The book has more interest than one would think and McCullough writes well enough to inform and entertain. There’s a bit of everything, politics, exploration, Indian fighting, medicine, technology and expansion, as well as family life and death – even weather and earthquakes along with education and canals. It’s not a great book but it was certainly worth my time and in its own way does McCullough’s reputation no harm. (I have enjoyed McCullough’s books since The Johnstown Flood (1968).

This is a book of limited geography but broad time frame. The story covers the area around Marietta, Ohio between the years 1787 and 1863. The title implies that it’s the story of American pioneers in general – and in general, it is that. What pioneer men and women experienced in those years was the pioneer experience as it played out in Maine, Minnesota, Kentucky, Texas, Nebraska, Oregon, Montana and even California at their own times and each with their own variations.

Reproduction of a print depicting the courthouse and jail in Marietta, built in 1798.
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