The Book of Lies ~ by Brad Meltzer

This is an oldie by Meltzer but I hadn’t read it and it was available via the library. I rarely get anything from there because there’s usually a wait of more than 6 months for anything I want – or they don’t have it at all. But I keep my eye out and once in awhile something shows up. Voila… The Book of Lies

*******
The Book of Lies
by Greg Meltzer
2008 / 353 pages
read by Scott Brick – 11h 24m
Rating: B / crime thriller
*******

This is an odd book and I had no idea when I picked it up. Much of it is true but much of it is fiction of the Dan Brown variety. I’m not really a fan but I don’t mind a book once in a great while.

This time the puzzle is from the Bible story of when Cain killed his brother Abel in Genesis. The problem which is never resolved in the Bible was what weapon did Cain use? And the problem in today’s world is who killed Mitchell Siegel, the father of Jerry Siegel, the creator of Clark Kent, aka Superman.

In today’s time frame Cal Harper meets his own long-lost father who’s been shot by a gun which traces back to the gun which killed one Mitchell Siegel but that goes back further than reality.

The various threads all connect up and it’s satisfying but complicated.

Jerry Siegel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Siegel

Mitchell Siegel: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/2628733/The-tragic-real-story-behind-Supermans-birth.html

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The Old Drift ~ by Namwali Serpell

I tried to enjoy this book – I really did. The blurbs made it sound like it Wass right ups my alley and a line from Salmam Rushdie? Oh my! Sad too say that a although the book started out being quite fun, that petered out after the Grandmothers’ section and the next two or more generations were a mess.

This is a good review – I can’t really write one: https://www.thearmchairobserver.com/the-old-drift-by-namwali-serpell-book/

The Old Drift
by Namwali Serpelll
2019 / 566 pages
read by Adjoa Andoh and 2 others
Rating: 6 / general fiction
(read and listened)

The history that binds this all together goes from Stanley and Livingstone through colonial times to the corrupt military regimes to post-colonial days and finally the protests of today. There was just too much going on for me to follow.

The history is kind of interesting, but imo there was too much foolish sex.

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Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide by Cass R. Sunstein

I got this on sale and it turned out to be better than I thought it would. I suppose I got it because of my interest in the case of our current president, but it really goes much deeper into the legal aspects and opinions of what the Constitution actually says and why, as well as briefly framing the historical context. It’s so worth thinking about and I enjoyed it immensely.

*******
Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide
by Cass R. Sunstein
2019 / 286 pages
read by Joe Barrett – 4 h 33m
rating – 8 / US history / law
both read and listened
*******

The thrust of the narrative as a whole, is not whether or not Donald Trump should be impeached, but to show various aspects of other impeachments like those of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and some presidents who were not actually impeached by the House of Representatives. What constitutes an impeachable offense? That’s more complicated than it sounds.

Relatedly, what does “high crimes and misdemeanors” mean? Yes, there is a reason those words were used. And what about the phrase, “unable to discharge the powers and duties” phrase in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. This book answers lots of questions but not whether or not Mr Trump should be impeached.

For such a slim volume, only 286 pages, it’s well researched, highly informative, nicely readable. And it’s neither “about Trump” nor boring and grimly told.

Cass Robert Sunstein[1]FBA (born September 21, 1954) is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional lawadministrative lawenvironmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012.[2] Earlier, as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School for 27 years, he wrote influential works on among other topics, regulatory and constitutional law.[3] Since leaving the White House, Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor[4] at Harvard Law School.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein

“With insight, wisdom, affection, and concern, Sunstein has written the story of impeachment every citizen needs to know. This is a remarkable, essential book.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Sunstein’s goal was to lay out a legal and historical framework for thinking about impeachment, independent of any specific president. I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot since finishing the book, and I want to recommend [it]… [It’s a] careful history of impeachment—of when the founders believed it was appropriate and necessary.”—David Leonhardt, The New York Times

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The Map of Knowledge by Violet Moller

Fascinating history of the way in which Middle Eastern learning and scholarship survived the fall of Rome and developed on its own path even as Europe was experiencing what is often called the Dark Ages,” a time when the lights of learning almost went out .


******
The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History of Seven Cities
by Violet Moller
2019 / 336 pages
read by Susan Duerden – 8h 46m
rating / 9 – Middle East history: 500-1200 AD

*******

Following a Preface in which Moller outlines the personal background for her book and reveals the main thrust of the narrative, the scene is set for a tour of cities and how the writings of Eucild, Ptolemy and Galen were transmitted through the cities from Alexandria to Bagdad to Cordoba and Toledo. or Salerno to Venice and up into Frankish Europe.

Moller writes very nicely and illuminates the dry history with tidbits about the medical, mathematical and scientific knowledge as well as the translators who were indispensable. And the book seems to be just the right length – there’s an incredible amount of information.

I knew some math history from this era , but how the ideas got around in time and space, from Alexandria to Tours and Bagdad to Ephesus is a wonder. I’ll be reading this again.

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The Overstory by Richard Powers

This book was a Pulitzer winner and a Booker Prize finalist. I read it about a year ago and just loved it. So when the Booker Prize group choose it for the August read I was so delighted I offered to lead the discussion. Here’s my review from 2018. (on this site).

At that time I rated it aa 9.6 which is as about as high as I’ll go any more for a non-classic work of fiction which I’ve read only one time. This time my rating is a bit lower, maybe due to first-reading enthusiasm on the first go-round.


*******
The Overstory
by Richard Powers
2018/ 502 pages

read by Suzanne Toren – 22h 58m
rating:  9.6   /  contemp fiction
(read and listened)
*******I

It’s the characters which drive the book. There are nine of them, each district due to the way Powers introduced them or their role in the action. Wikipedia did a fine job of listing them without spoilers. Some have immigrant background, some are handicapped, some talented in a particular way or have some other interesting or identifying feature.

In my first reading (6/18) my favorite character was Neelay Mehta because of his techie interests and my second favorite was Patricia Westerford for her intelligence and devotion. These two switched places of favorite on the second reading – lol.

In the first section. “Roots,” each of the characters is introduced individually with his own back story. They each even have their own tree as indicated by a sprig of leaves. The second section is called “Trunk” where the characters connect in their different twisting and interwoven ways and together (mostly) create a definite plot line, sturdy, complex and fascinating. This is the longest “Part” of the book. Part 3 is called “Crown” and includes a kind of brief climax to the tale being told in “Trunk” plus the immediate aftermath which has most of the characters splitting up with the events they became involved in shadowing their lives. Finally, Part 4 is much shorter and called “Seeds” which winds things up by showing what lives on after the plot of the book finishes up. The structure is beautiful.

The timely themes are a huge part of what made this book so popular and such a success. Powers is dealing with the complexities of nature and specifically the loss of the earth’s forests. And the strength of the book lies in bringing those to the fore. But there are also themes of connectedness, interdependency and freedom. The literary value here does not come from the language or the insights into human nature but rather it develops from the complexity and interdependence of nature.

It’s a brilliant book even if the astonishing Milkman by Anna Burns actually won the Man-Booker prize and got a 10 from me on the second reading.

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The Annotated Little Women – by Louisaa May Alcott and John Matteson

I read Matteson’s Eden’s Outcasts several years ago (2007?) and greatly appreciated it. I think I may have read it twice, once for myself and once for a group. Then the 19th Century Lit group decided to read Little Woman by Alcott and Matteson had just released the annotated version. Oh my heart.


*******
The Annotated Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
(annotated by John Matteson
1868 / 736 pages (Kindle)

* 11/2018 – Matteson version
rating – 10 / classic US children’s tale and wonderful annotations

*******

*Note: The first part – Book 1 – is read by Anna Koval – 8h 49m – but that’s only about 1/2 the story. She was good and I wish she’d done the whole book.
*******


The group discussion never did come ooff but I read the novel anyway – slowly, enjoying most of its but finding other parts kind of draggy.

The novel is as it always was, but the addition of Matteson’s annotations is a delight informing readers of all manner of things from the colors corresponding to characters to the nature of bonbons. I was surprised to find there were episodes I’d forgotten. There are also many photos and graphics dealing with some background in Alcott’s life and later film stills.

The footnotes are wonderfully well done, but that’s the point of the book! They are identified by number within the text which is linked and brings up a box for that one note. Then they are listed at the end of each chapter and this is where the links go so you can read them all in chapter order.

The extra-narrative material in the Introduction, Biographical Note, and Chronology etc. are fascinating, dealing with Alcott’s life, the times, and other relevant material – it’s taken from Eden’s Outcasts I believe.


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Moonshots ~ by Naveen Jain

This book is about entrepreneurs and how wonderful the world would be if we would all just realize we live in abundance, not scarcity, and that we have enormous opportunity for creativity in the urgent problems of our times. The word “entrepreneur” is used very loosely here, and deliberately so, because it’s a huge buzz word today for thinking big in developing and promoting ideas, getting rich, selling rockets or other techie products (or books) to realize your dream.

The dictionary goes virtually no further in defining “entrepreneur” than to say something about finance and business and I’ve always thought of an entrepreneur as someone who gets loans or takes financial risks for his business, his little enterprise(s). So, when the word is strewn about from the Introduction through the Table of Contents and the Forward before we get to the narrative it’s a clue. Imo, “Moonshots” is a book about business and motivation written for salesmen looking for something extraordinarily great to promote. I think Jain is selling enthusiasm for the future. He’s definitely a motivational writer/speaker in addition to being an entrepreneur himself.

*******
Moonshots: Creating a World of Abundance
by Naveen Jain
2018 / 292 pages
read by Scott R. Pollak
rating: 3.5 / business and money
*******


Anyway, Moonshots is a motivational pitch for thinking big. It’s in the “Business & Money/Business Culture/ Motivation & Self-Improvement” category at Amazon and “Business/Leadership” at Audible. I’d say the category is right on.

Jain could have used the word “evangelists” or “promoters” or “sales crew” but they don’t have the same cachet these days, at least now with the purveyors of ideas rather than products anyway. Jain wants to attract business dreamers to his book – not necessarily Christians – lol. (Although the wanna-be pastors of mega-churches might get quite a lot out of it. )

There are some a few interesting ideas in the book, Helium 3 fusion in Chapter 9 is one, but the subject is treated only to a bare gloss and way beyond the scope of the general reader. I’m not sure how this section is meaningful except to show some actual science in a business, motivational and self-improvement book .

I think it’s probably a good book but I’m just not at all the right reader.

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The Girl from Berlin ~ by Robert Balson

I’ve been following this series for a couple years and with this book am all caught up.  It’s right down my alley being legal mystery an historical fiction.  They’re quite interesting –

 As usual, the structure has a frame story which includes Liam Tagert and Catherine Lockhart and their progress on. a case which goes back decades sometimes – this time to the era of Nazi Germany again – about half of Balson’s books deal with this.

*******
The Girl From Berlin
by Robert Bolson – 2018 / 379 pages
read by Fred Berman – 13h 23m
rating: A- / legal crime- historical
#4 in the Liam Taggert series
*******

Liam and Catherine get a phone call from an old friend who thinks maybe they can help his aunt who lives in Italy. It seems someone is evicting her from her farm where she has lived almost all her life.

They agree and when they get to meet Gabriella they find she is an old woman who is scared to tears of of losing her land. She hands them a small book and tells them to read it.

About 1/3 of the book deals with Gabi’s plight in the 21st century Italian courts, while the other 2/3rds is the historical background presented Gabi’s book. It’s the tragedy of gifted Jewish musicians in Nazi Germany. It is indeed a historical novel. I suspect a good number of the names, places and events are true. And what Balson invented is wonderful.

Balson is not a terribly literary writer, but he brings a legal story to life with deeply felt emotions, twists and thriller aspects plus a great ending.

Although Balson’s series has an overarching plot in the relationship between Liam and Catherine and sometimes prior cases are referred to, they are stand-alone novels in which the individual book’s plot is far more important. They can certainly be read out of order.

Book 1  Once We Were Brothers  – 2013. –  Holocaust (A+)

Book 2 – Saving Sophie.  2015 – Middlel East  (A-)

Book 3 – Karolina’s Twins–  2016 Holocaust – (A-)

Book 4- The Trust. 2017 – Northern Ireland – (A+)

Book 5 – The Girl From Berlin  – 2018 Holocaust – (A)

Some things I Googled:

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

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/12/reic-d18.html

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

Theresienstadt https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresienstadt_Ghetto

Review: https://rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com/2018/11/08/review-of-the-girl-from-berlin-by-ronald-h-balson/

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The Billion Dollar Whale ~ by Bradley Hope and Tom Wright

I love a good true crime novel, especially tech and financial crimes but family crimes of passion will do. Just no serial killelrs please – although if the book is solidly based on the procedurals involved in solving the case I can appreciate it. Over the years I’ve gone from Ann Rule (many) to Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou. I usually read one or more a month, but it’s not a steady diet. I enjoy historical true crime and stories from more recent headlines.


*******
The Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood and the World
by Bradley Hope and Tom Wright
2018 / 401 pages
Read by Will Colyer
Rating: 8 / true crime – finance
*******

This is the story of Low Taek Jho 
(Jho Low), the main man in the multi-billion 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal which still unfolds in the media today as Malaysia’s new leader along with officials from the US and other entities try to prosecute those involved and recoup some of Malaysia’s 4.5 billion dollars worth of losses.. (It’s mind-bendingly complicated..)   https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/kl-high-court-allows-seizure-of-158-million-from-accounts-of-jho-lows-father

And read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysia-police-chief-jho-low-location-sage-return-
11562412
And there’s always the great Wiki for background:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1Malaysia_Development_Berhad_scandal

This is the story of how Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman from a wealthy family pushed himself from relative obscurity through Wharton college and the elite Harrow college in London to royal circles and then built a financial empire conning whomever crossed his path including the corrupt leader of Malaysia and his spend-happy wife, Goldman Sachs, a couple of Saudi and other princes, Paris Hilton and Leonardo Decaprio plus a host of other stars and millionaires, as well as a couple of old college buddies.

Low was involved in international banking and securities, Hollywood, the music scene, and fantastically expensive art, jewelry, yachts and homes. This is the story of how Jho Low, a Malaysian businessman from a wealthy family pushed himself from relative obscurity through Wharton college and the elite Harrow college in London to royal circles and then built a financial empire on Malaysian government funds.

Using the step-son of Prime Minister Najib to gain entry, Jho schemed with or conned whomever crossed his path including the corrupt Prime Minister of Malaysia and his spend-happy wife, Goldman Sachs, a couple of Saudi and other princes, Paris Hilton and Leonard Decaprio plus a host of other stars and millionaires as well as old a couple of old buddies. Low was involved in international banking and securities, Hollywood, the music scene, and fantastically expensive art, jewelry, yachts and homes.

Then his tangled web and the powers that be caught up to his shenanigans, but they didn’t catch him. He remains at large, probably somewhere in China.

According to Amazon, Bill Gates apparently found Low’s story “thrilling” and although I wasn’t quite so impressed for the first third, the narrative steadily builds to a “thriller” type ending. The book only hints at sex, but high-dollar partying is featured where necessary. In that way it’s kind of like “The Wof of Wall Street,” the movie Low helped finance. (I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie.)

As I read I got a bit bored and/or confused sometimes because there are so many names and financial dealings. But on finishing I was so glad I’d read it. The publishing date was September 2018 and much has transpired since then. Googling various names to see how the case has progressed has been fascinating.

In the news: https://pagesix.com/2019/07/15/wolf-of-wall-street-producer-returning-14m-over-malaysian-money-scandal/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysia-police-chief-jho-low-location-sage-return-11562412

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Paradise Valley ~ by C.J. Box

The is the last of a 4-book series I just started with #3 but that was gory but riveting This one though was gorier but engrossing enough for me to finish. I’m glad there’s not anthers one.

Here’s the publisher blurb:


*******
Paradise Valley
by C.J. Box
2019/ 350 pages
read by Christina Delaine – 10h 6m
rating: B+ / crime thriller
(A Highway Quartet Novel #4)
*******

She almost caught him once. Now, he’s back.

For three years, Investigator Cassie Dewell has been on a hunt for a serial killer known as the Lizard King whose hunting grounds are the highways and truck stops where runaways and prostitutes are most likely to vanish. Cassie almost caught him…once. 

Working for the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff’s department, Cassie has set what she believes is the perfect trap and she has lured him and his truck to a depot. But the plan goes horribly wrong, and the blame falls on Cassie. Disgraced, she loses her job and investigation into her role is put into motion.

At the same time, Kyle Westergaard, a troubled kid whom Cassie has taken under her wing, has disappeared after telling people that he’s going off on a long-planned adventure. Kyle’s grandmother begs Cassie to find him and, with nothing else to do, Cassie agrees—all the while hunting the truck driver. 

Now Cassie is a lone wolf. And in the same way that two streams converge into a river, Kyle’s disappearance may have a more sinister meaning than anyone realizes. With no allies, no support, and only her own wits to rely on, Cassie must take down a killer who is as ruthless as he is cunning. But can she do it alone, without losing her own humanity or her own life?

***
I think that’s about as much violence as I I can take. I’m going for something cozy next time.

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The Book of Night Women ~ by Marlon James

I was tempted by this book back in 2017 after reading James’ Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings but I procrastinated until I finally nominated it for a Booker Group read. Here I am.

This is a long and intense book so I took frequent breaks as I listened and read. The subject matter is quite grim. There is more violence than in Blood Meridian but not nearly as much history or good writing. Nonetheless it’s brilliant in its own way – if you can skim some of the brutality.

*******
The Book of Night Women
by Marlon James
2009 / 444 pages
read by Robin Miles – 15h 45m
rating: 9 / historical fiction
(read and listened)

*******

Jamaica, in 1800-1801 was a sugar-cane colony belonging to England. African slaves were introduced during Spanish rule and a few had escaped bondage during the transition to create their own separate and independent society – the Maroons.

This book opens in 1800 with a green-eyed girl, named Lilith by her owner, killing another slave and being transferred to another plantation. Someone else was killed as punishment for Lilith’s crime.

The story moves from there to the relationships between the slave women, one old European woman. and a few European men as well as other matters of the plantations. The main slave woman other than Lilith is Homer who hails from Africa, is older and quite a leader.

Lilith is quite independent minded and never knew her mother or father although it becomes apparent that her mother died and her father is a white overseer of some sort on the plantation. She becomes Homer’s “daughter” in many ways but also struggles against her.

Naturally some complications arise in terms of “race” or ethnicity and so on with Blacks, Creoles, Mulattos, and Whites tangling and loving and murdering. The main theme is revenge I suppose. And what happens to morality when people are damaged beyond recognition – maybe beyond redemption.

It’s a good book but not for the faint of heart. I would have put it right down had it been by an author less skilled with language ( Jamaican patois and some British) and the nuances of all sorts of relationships between field and house slaves, male and female slaves plus owners and overseers and disciplinarians and British wives and mulatto lovers and the whole gamut. There are old resentments and new jealousies plus changing alliances and various enemies thrown together with love and babies and killing and some religious practices from the original continents.

The book probably needs two readings at least but I’m afraid there’s just too much very graphic violence of all kinds, sexuaall and war-type and accidental as well as one-on-one vengeance, for me to do it.

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The Best People ~ by Alexander Nazaryan

Reading The Fifth Risk a second time it felt more like the series of Vanity Fair articles it stemmed from than an organized book of its own. It was good though, and it piqued my interest about other cabinet members and their departments.

The Best People has the most of the answer to those queries. Alexander Nazaryan, a regular contributor to Newsweek, shows the reader what happened in the other departments from the time when Trump’s “beachhead” group landed in the departments and who their secretaries were, to when that first “best” leader fell from grace. Most of the original cabinet secretaries and their departments are covered to some degree, but not all.

*******
The Best People: Trump’s Cabinet and the Siege on Washington
by Alexander Nazaryan
2019 / 305 pages
read by Robert Faaas – 9h 15m
rating: 9.5
******* 

This group of “best people” seems to have one similarity – they’re supporters of the Trump agenda – with one first goal; they are to get rid of anything from the Obama era. Also, for the most part, they are rich by inheritance with upscale education and some political experience.

Naroyan writes well and he’s seriously opposed to Trump but not blindly. This is a very good look inside the lives of the Cabinet members and their respective departments.

Michael Lewis wrote a fine book with The Fifth Risk but it was basically 3 related essays focusing on only three departments and tied up with a Prologue. The Best People develops the same general idea with more departments.

If you’re interested in reading about the current administration’s journey this is a good one to add to your collection.

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