The Hidden Keys ~ by Andres Alexis

Fascinating book by a Dominican/Canadian author I’d not heard of before but is apparently quite a highlight in some literary circles. This is the third novel to be published (but the 4th book chronologically) in the 5-book Quincunx Cycle. The first two books were Pastoral and Fifteen Dogs. The books are bound by rather universal literary themes as well as

The book is loosely based on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson and along the lines of a puzzle and a quest, but there are numerous literary allusions to many other books including Naked Lunch by Burroughs, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, as well as A Critique of Pure Reason by Kant. It and Alexis’ other books have garnered many raves as well as a few noteworthy prizes.



*******
The Hidden Keys
by Andres Alexis
2016 / 232 pages
read by Andres Alexis- 7h 53m
rating: 8.5 / 21st Century Fiction

#3 – (or 4) in the Qunicunx Cycle
*******

Tancred Palmieri is a youngish professional thief active in Ontario Canada. He has elegant and sophisticated tastes and is really quite accomplished in his field. Meanwhile, Willow Azarian may be an aging heroin addict, but she is also the daughter of a very wealthy businessman, newly deceased. The two meet at a rather sleazy dive.

Willow tells her story to Tancred and shares with him the peculiar nature of what her father bequeathed to his children as parting gifts (in addition to millions of dollars). She thinks the gift items are pieces to a puzzle which, when connected correctly, will reveal the location of a huge treasure. She wants Tancred to steal the gifts from the others in order to solve the mystery.

Tancred is intrigued so he tells his dear friend, Daniel Mandelshtam, an Ontario detective. Tancred also enlists the assistance of some rather shady players and sets off to solve the puzzle.

As well as telling a compelling tale of greed and curiosity, Alexis also explores some more literary themes like loyalty and honor.

This is NOT a thriller. It’s slower and more of an old fashioned “mystery” book for the thinking woman’s pleasure.

The next book in the series, Days By Moonlight is available but so are the first two. The last book (chronological order #3) is not published yet but will be called “The Ring.” I think I’ll go for Pastoral, #1.

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The Shadow War ~ by Jim Sciutto

Wow – good book! It’s nonfiction and about spying as well as other matters in the age of digital weapons. The author, Jim Sciutto, is Chief National Security Correspondent for CNN. This is his second book. The title makes the book sound like some serious revelations of secrets are in store for the reader. Ignore that – the book is not terribly sensational as the events are rather well known events with additional details. The shocker is in how Sciutto puts them together. The book has very high ratings and reviews from people I trust including Fareed Zakaria and James Clapper (author of Facts and Fears my review on this site).

*******
The Shadow War: Inside Russia’s and China’s Secret Operations to Defeat America
By Jim Sciutto
May, 2019 – 316 pages
Read by Jim Sciutto – 9h 24m
Rating 9 / politics – social sciences

(read and listened)
*******

I still enjoyed it tremendously in part because it wasn’t too speculative or based on unreliable sources.

The book opens with an an introductory chapter (Chapter 1) in which Sciutto goes through some background and definitions.

“… hybrid warfare, in short, a strategy of attacking an adversary while remaining just below the threshold of conventional war—what military commanders and strategists refer to as the “gray zone”—using a range of hard-and soft-power tactics: from cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, to deploying threats to space assets, to information operations designed to spark domestic division, to territorial acquisition just short of a formal invasion. This is warfare conducted in the shadows—a Shadow War—though with consequences as concrete and lasting as those of all-out war.” (page 10)

“This is a book about what happens when the enemies of the West realize that while they are unlikely to win a shooting war, they have another path to victory.” (pg 10)

So the bulk of the book is a review of events from the Russian cyber attack on Estonia in 2007 to the Russian meddling in the US election of 2016 and beyond.

In a way it’s like the old Brinksmanship games of the Cold War only with the added threats of the digital age.  Russia has changed only in that its wants it’s old empire back.  China continues to seek its rightful place in the world.  These countries are dictatorships where political opposition is eliminated one way or another the minute it is perceived as any kind of potential threat – it’s nipped in the bud.   

Each chapter has a final section called “Lessons” which is a very nice touch – like, what do we learn from this? What’s the take-away?

The last chapter of the book, “Winning the Shadow War” is the best chapter. It admits we are losing this “Shadow War” and then suggests our options; what can we do? That comes down to three broad ideas. We can:
1 harden our physical defenses (military)
2 increase deterrence (like sanctions)
3 take offensive action – what shadowy things can we do *without* becoming like them by losing privacy for instance –
* At the moment, we can’t really do anything until they’ve done something – 9/11 was the stimulus for the airplane security we have today. Trying to do that prior to 9/11 would have failed – so that kind of viable prevention was unavailable.

 Chapter 2 “Opening Salvo” (Russia) – Chaos in Estonia as a result of insufficient assistance from the free world (NATO/EU/US as leader) to the nations newly liberated from the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now Russia wanted her empire back whether it be from Tsarist or Soviet times. There were more attacks to come.

Chapter 3 “Stealing Secrets” (China) – old ways and new – for what? For money and techie/military advance as well as personal economics. Method – presence in US places as well as phishing and hacking from China to gain info – Boeing was a huge target. China can be vicious in dealing with perceived enemies – especially Americans. The goal is “allow us to rapidly catch up with US levels… To stand easily on the giant’s shoulders.” Agents are very patriotic but still out for personal gain.

Chapter 4 – “Little Green Men (Russia) Lots of background here- leads directly into the US 2016 elections. . Ukraine uprising, plane downings, Crimea, etc. Alexander Hug, the head of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine from the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe – (civilian and loosely connected to NATO) recounts his experience and thoughts. There had been warnings that Russia was angry about NATO and Ukraine. The West misread Russia who misread the West. Ukraine erupted in the EuroMaidan. – Putin blamed US, especially Obama and Hillary Clinton (which led to Russia helping Trump). And Russia went after annexing Crimea. Does history repeat itself – with the USSR absorbing these states 70 years ago? Who will lead the opposition?

Chapter 5: “Unsinkable Aircraft Carriers” (China) – China Sea and China’s new man-made islands. Old territorial disputes. Background in their goal of maritime power and territorial sovereignty and integrity. China wants to become a “global military power.” This is in part because they see the US as being far superior and, as such, a threat. Besides, there are a lot of valuable resources under that water.

Chapter 6 – War in Space (Russia and China) – There are more challenges from space every year – 1. Russian or Chinese space efforts can exploit US and world cyber dependence; 2. they can increase the physical threat to world targets, and; 3. there is too much dangerous debris up there.

Chapter 7. “Hacking an Election (Russia) – Yes, there was interference from Russia. Has our response been enough to maintain the integrity of our elections? We don’t know yet. We do have to be more vigilant for sure.

Chapter 8 – “Submarine Warfare” (Russia and China) The Arctic Circle is vulnerable to the Shadow War in several ways and for good reason. With global warming more oil is within reach. Submarines can do more than ever and Putin brags on Russian rights and their submarine prowess (drone submarines?) in several places world-wide. China’s naval forces have increased dramatically over the last couple decades. America’s years of dominance is over.

Chapter 9 “Winning the Shadow War” – At the moment we are losing it. What can we do – many good suggestions including knowing what we are up against, set limits, increase deterrents, enhance our own defenses, work to ease tensions, and finally, get some offensive strategies and tactics going.

I do wonder what the US has done in terms of Shadow spying and techie knowledge. We were quite active ini those ways during WWII and the Cold War – I’m sure we didn’t quit but Sciutto never says.

Epilogue: The book winds up nicely.

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The Gentleman’s Hour ~ by Don Winslow

I read quite a few of Winslow’s beach/crime books years ago and usually enjoyed them, but stopped for some reason- like there are so many books out there. But then read I his book, Cartel and got enthusiastic again. Come to find out he’s also written a block-buster called The Power of the Dog which was the precursor to The Cartel. Okay fine – I read an loved that. So then came The Border – third of that series.

Then I started thinking I’d like to try another of Winslow’s old beach detective things and a few weeks ago I found The Gentleman’s Hour on sale at Audible so I snapped it up and now, between books and not quite satisfied with what I see new on the market, I read it.

*******
The Gentleman’s Hour
by Don Winslow
2010 / 322 pages
read by Ray Porter – 9h 37m
rating: B / crime – private detective
*******


That’s what I do – I mostly read pretty current new releases and jump from literary fiction and crime to non- fiction. But sometimes I get bogged down with the selections and my wish list and nothing suits me. That’s when I go for my stash of sale books.

It works for me. I have a small stash of sale books – maybe a dozen at the moment – which can serve as reading material if I find myself stuck. It’s my TBR (To Be Read) pile.

Otoh, I may go back to rereading old favorites because older books don’t always hit the mark for me at all.

Here we go – the Dawn Patrol is a group of surfers, 4 men and a woman, who are mostly otherwise employed but have surfed the Pacific Beach north of San Diego together every morning for years.

Boone Daniels is one of the surfers, a cop turned private detective in his daily-grind life and loves surfing as much as he loves his weird surfing buddies but when a paycheck is needed he does his detecting. This time (it’s a series) Boone gets involved in defending a young man who supposedly killed a very popular local surfer. This gets Boone in some trouble with his surfing buds and in actual physical danger from the bad guys involved in the case itself.

I wasn’t all that impressed – in fact, I fell asleep for chunks of it and I doubt I’ll go back for more of the surfing books. The Power of the Dog books were so much better so Winslow, do something like those again!

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The Last Palace ~ by Norman Eisen

Up until the last couple chapters, I feel like I was the perfect reader for this wonderful book. It ties into so many things I’ve read but maybe especially to The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. There are many other books from the era of the World Wars which prepared me and I can even see a bit of Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro in the”butler,” Pokorny. But The Last Palace is nonfiction – not just “fictionalized” or “based on a true story” and it’s not just one war.

What we’re getting with The Last Palace, is the inside story of the house and its owners/inhabitants as Europe went thought the tumultouos 20th Century and a bit of the 21st. We’re also reading about the life of Frieda Grunfeld Eisen, a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia and the mother of the author who was the US ambassador to the Czech Republic between 2010 and 2014.


*******
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)
******
*

Although it is carefully researched and sourced, there are parts which are written in distinctly literary manner, lively and entertaining. Norman Eisen was the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2010 to 2014.

But Eisen’s book is much more than a recital of long-ago events or a reinter-preting of dusty history. The narrative zooms in on events in and around Prague, Czechoslovakia during this whole time period.

This book contains five basic stories. There is story of the origins of the builder and owner of that “last palace,” Villa Petschek, Otto Petschek, and his family as they lived in Prague and in the palace Otto built there. It then continues with the story of Rudoph Toussaint, a German Army officer stationed at the palace during the end of WWII. And there’s Laurence Steinhardt’s tragic story. From a Jewish family of wealth Steinhardt was the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1950, when the Soviet Union took charge although thanks to Laurence the house was American and new Ambassadors lived there – 7 of them between Laurence and the next Ambassador featured in the book.

Then came the Soviets and Slavic Communists with several Ambassadors and finally Shirley Temple Black whose story was far more exciting than I ever suspected and Norm Eisen, the author, as Ambassadors living in the house that Otto Petschek built.

Interspersed with these stories is the story of Eisen’s orthodox Jewish mother, Frieda Grunfeld Eisen and her life from Czechoslovak Jewish girl to US immigrant where she gave birth to Norman.

I think the stories are so different and each one has several chapters. There were been more Ambassadors to Czechoslovakia between WWI and 2014 of course, but these five families were fascinating.

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Spring ~ by Ali Smith

Brilliant! But beware – this is not for those who read to escape the realties of contemporary life in the political crazies of the Western world. Still, it’s fun and magical – typical Smith for her last several novels.

I’ve followed Ali Smith for years, since her also brilliant Hotel World in 2004 but more seriously since How to Be Both (2014). so this is my 6th novel. I’d really like to read some of her short story collections, but …


*******
Spring
by Ali Smith
2019 / 340 pages
read by Juliette Burton – 7h 2m
rating: 9 – 7h 2m / literary fiction
#3 in the Seasonal Quartet
(both read and listened)
*******

The story is about many things but one of the main characters is a middle-aged grieving film director who might be directing a romance movie about a pair of very real and historical lovers who never did love each other.

And it’s about a young woman who works in an “Immigrant Removal Center” somewhere outside London and her travels and changes.

And it’s about Florence, a 12 or 13-year old girl who manages to slip by everyone, help the detainees, befriend (and use) the worker, assist the grieving filmmaker and go on traveling among other things. Florence is probably the main character here although she’s also the most slightly built – like air almost.

It’s about “the system” in terms of international refugees and Brexit and the disparity between truth and fiction these days. As usual, and wonderful, it’s about people connecting.

Smith’s writing can wander around loose plots and get somewhat magical and creative but it’s always right there for me.

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dean-a-bag-of-air-t12920

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The Great Shift ~ by James L. Kugel

I read Kugel’s How To Read the Bible (my review on this site) back in March of last year (2018) and very much enjoyed it deciding to read more of Kugel, but not right away. I think I may have put this book on my wish list at that time but I just bought it (both Kindle and Audible versions) in February. I’m having to read it slowly, a couple chapters at a time. But it’s worth it as it’s very, very interesting and nicely detailed but a bit dry in places – and it can be slow going.


*******
The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times
by James L. Kugel
2017 / 475 pages
read by Martin Hillgartner – 14h 23m
rating – 9 / Bible history and analysis (not really religious)
*******

This book takes a different tack from o Read the Bible and instead of a study of different ways of reading and interpreting the Bible it focuses on how God, as a subject and as a personal power, was approached in the days of the Bible from Adam and Eve to today’s anthropology .

There is also some emphasis on the problems of reading the Bible in this day and age when word meanings have changed so much, even from the days they were interpreted which go way back themselves.

But the subject Kugel deals with, humanity encountering the divine, is so far-reaching I’ll just let the publisher’s comments speak to it.

“A great mystery lies at the heart of the Bible. Early on, people seem to live in a world entirely foreign to our own. God appears to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and others; God buttonholes Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and tells them what to say. Then comes the Great Shift, and Israelites stop seeing God or hearing the divine voice. Instead, later Israelites are “in search of God,” reaching out to a distant, omniscient deity in prayers, as people have done ever since. What brought about this change?

” The answers come from ancient texts, archaeology and anthropology, and even modern neuroscience. They concern the origins of the modern sense of self and the birth of a worldview that has been ours ever since. James Kugel, whose strong religious faith shines through his scientific reckoning with the Bible and the ancient world, has written a masterwork that will be of interest to believers and nonbelievers alike, a profound meditation on encountering God, then and now.”

There’s a LOT there! It took me a total of 3 months never losing interest to get through it, but I didn’t have quite enough concentration at one time to finish it until now. If you’re interested in the course of history and the changing worldview of the Bible it’s a great read.

And there’s this: Flannery O’Connor – from the end of The Great Shift which sources O’Connor’s private prayer journal:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. 

I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.



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Wild Horses ~ by Dick Francis

Wild Horses
by Dick Francis
1994 / 

This is the 33rd novel by Dick Francis, the amazing jockey and author of over 40 international best sellers.   These are some of my go-to books when I’m really at a loss as to what I’m in the mood for.  There is no real series about the books of Dick Francis as almost all of them  have different 1st person protagonists who are usually very similar. They are generally single, involved in horse racing and with a monied background. ‘

*******
Wild Horses
by Dick Francis
1994 / 388 pages
Read by Simon Prebble – 10h 30m
rating: A+ / mystery
*******

This is the 33rd novel by Dick Francis, the amazing jockey and author of over 40 international best sellers.   These are some of my go-to books when I’m really at a loss as to what I’m in the mood for.  There is no real series about the books of Dick Francis as almost all of them  have different 1st person protagonists who are usually very similar. They are generally single, involved in horse racing and with a monied background.  

In Wild Hoses Thomas Lyon is directing a movie based on a best selling novel by an author who is advising on the set – this in itself creates a lot of tension because the book is based on the true story of a possible murder. 

Valentine Clark, an 80+ year old, horse shoer, is dying.  With Thomas Llyon,  the 1st person narrator of most parts, he pleads for absolution for having killed someone.  He wants a priest and imagines Thomas  to be one.  “I killed the Cornish boy.”   

Valentine had been the shoemaker of racing horses and invented the horseshoe nail.   He was also a writer, an “honored institution in print.” 

This tale can be a bit difficult to follow as there are three separate threads each of which include the protagonist in different touchy situations. The first is with Dorothea Pannier, the widowed sister of Valentine who is  his close friend,. The widow’s son, Paul,  also features prominently.  

The second scenario is concerned with the production of a movie based on a best-selling book which a touchy writer has written.  Our protagonist is the director of that movie and he has to deal with the writer as well as the male star.  

 The third scenario is about the real murder mystery behind the movie which, at the time of production,  is still unsolved.  Between the Panniers, the movie crew and the folks of the original mystery, there are lots of characters 

 Horses are always involved in Francis’ books and Wild Horses is no different.  

These books are so good and Simon Prebble is such a good reader – I’m sorry to see them end.  

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The Coroner’s Lunch ~ by Colin Cotterill

I read this for the 4-Mystery Addicts Group.  I’d checked and it had a lot of good reviews and looked so promising. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too happy with my first reading but all those reviews ? –  Yes, it showed promise – kind of.  Maybe I’d missed a lot while thinking about too many other things.  I was almost ready to return it for my credit at Audible but I did a second reading instead.


*******
The Coroner’s Lunch 
By Colin Cotterill
2004 / 272 pages
Read by Clive Chafer
(Dr Siri Palbourn series #1) 
rating B+ / mystery
*******

It’s 1976 in Vientiane, Laos where the old Kingdom has just vanished and a new communist regime set up.  There, with the Mekong River on the west bordering Thailand, and the Ho Chi Min trail to the east bordering Vietnam, the 72-year old Dr Siri Paiboun has been recently appointed the official state coroner. He is the only doctor left in the country and a communist only by default.  That’s the way things are going there.

The body of the wife of an important Party leader shows up at Doctor Siri’s morgue. Following that, the largely decomposed bodies of a couple of old dead Vietnamese soldiers float to the surface of the river from their watery graves.  Siri has his work cut out for him,  but certain Party officials don’t seem to want him to do his job which is going to take a good deal more than carving up old cadavers.  This is going to take some active and intelligent sleuthing in different parts of the country.


Because this is the first book in a series there are a number of character introductions.  The good doctor has two other people in his office,  one is a young man with Down’s Syndrome but an incredible memory who acts as a kind of assistant while the other is an excellent nurse.

This is the first book in a 13-book series, so far. I believe there’s another one due out in August, 2019.  

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Flights ~ by Olga Tokarczuk

Well … it’s quite interesting and as a whole rather fun, I suppose although there are difficult parts. It is certainly a very different kind of novel.

The premise is that a young woman, our main 1st person narrator, is traveling the world over a long period of time. She does what she can or what she is involved with as she’s a kind of 21st century nomad. Her main interests seem to be the psychology of travel and collecting stories about people whom she sometimes meets but might even invent. And then she relates the stories to us in 116 little “chapters” or vignettes. But although the story is not linear, she and her life seem to change over time – if you can figure out who “she” is.

*******
Flights
by Olga Tokarczuk

(translated by Jennifer Croft)
2018 / 416 pages
read by Julia Whealan – 12h 32m
rating:
9 / contemp. fiction
(read and listened
)
*******

They’re weird stories, ranging from one sentence in length to a couple of short stories. They’re sometimes very realistic but other times more like myths and maybe about magical things and mysticism, but never quite spiritualism. Some are historical. They concern our bodies and senses and even psychologies as related to travel of various sorts (see the title?)

The structure seems to be based on the nature of flying. It goes from one place to another to yet another and then back to the first place. The reader/traveler is simply transported so the overall story arc is definitely non-linear.

The narrator and characters sometimes travel by ferry or cruise ship, sometimes by bus or train as well as on foot and, of course, airplane. The book is about travel as much as anything – a kind of fictional travelogue pointing out the humans and their stories rather than the sites. The narrator calls her journeys “pilgrimages” and says they all involve another pilgrim.

There do seem to be connecting threads between some of the chapter/stories though. The anatomies of people, living or dead, is a definite theme.

The parts about the 17th century anatomist Philip Verheyen include a fascinating discussion of pain and where it comes from. And a couple of other stories are about historical anatomists, their family and friends, although I think most of the characters are fictional – at least partly.

Josephine Soliman, the daughter of Angel Soliman, is also tragically historical as is her father and Francis I of Austria of whom Josephine begs a Christian burial for her father. Captain James Cook is definitely historical as are Chopin and his heart.

There is some discussion of heaven and souls, but it’s always kind of flat and dealing with imagined tangible and physical aspects or presented as myth and things other people believe.

Somehow I am reminded of Ryszard Kapuściński, the Polish travel writer who also, like Tokarczuk, escaped Poland to travel and write as soon as the law permitted – 1989?

Parts sound like they are autobiographical, especially because parts are very much like Tokarczuk’s life, (New York Times) but one section is told from 3rd person points of view and yet it seems like the “She” involved is the “I” in other places. And in a way even the very first story totally fits.

Freederik Ruysch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederik_RuyschPhilip Verheyen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Verheyen

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The Mueller Report ~ by the Washington Post

I did it. I finished The Mueller Report including the Notes and Appendices (mostly) – YAY!! And patting self on back!

Bottom line: It is well worth the read if you’re interested. If you want the “good parts” I’d recommend Volume II (check the Table of Contents) but the whole thing is important.

Having followed the news and read a number of books on the Trump campaign and administration, (see my post about Trump books at: https://mybecky.blog/2018/09/27/trump-world-books/ )
I’m fairly well versed in the subject as a whole. But I thought I’d separate my impressions and the narratives of others from what really went down at investigation time with Mueller at the helm. Besides, much of this is old news now and it’s good to see it put forth in well-organized form so as to recollect and learn without being swayed by the day-to-day manics of this depressing presidency. 

There were many things I’d forgot about and several I’d not heard of at all. With the abundance of material spewing forth from the media, it’s good to see something which separates substantive issues out of the noise we were hearing and reading.


*******
The Mueller Report
by the Washington Post
2019 / 448 pages
Read by three – 19h and 3m
rating: 10 / legal document
(read and listened – and glad of it! )
*******


It was nice that both the Washington Post and the Audible versions were free or very cheap when I got them (I think they still are.)

Volume 1: “Report On The Investigation Into Russia Interference In The 2016 Presidential Investigation


There’s quite a lot of substance in the first half of this document even though much has been redacted for various reasons. But with all the redactions it’s almost a listing of who met whom and where without many details. Details like what they talked about. There was quite a lot of talk about “adoptions” for instance. (I think “adoptions” must have been a kind of code word for sanctions and Magnitsky Act in general.)

Both sections are very well organized (as should be the case) and clearly written and narrated. There are a few typos in there, but I imagine the speed with which this report was released might have affected that.

There was also quite a lot of concern with Clinton’s emails. Later there are a lot of Russians apparently trying to establish working relationships with Trump for various reasons.   It seems that the Russians were sometimes interested in saying they could provide more info re “dirt on Clinton” than the Trump team was willing to get involved with these people for – not all Russians were trusted and Trump’s people had certain top-level folks they wanted to deal with.

There’s no “smoking gun,” that’s for sure – there’s barely a gun at this point in the narrative as far as collusion to do anything specific. Trump apparently didn’t have to solicit information, but Jared Kushner and Don Trump Jr. were definitely interested in what various Russians dangled, but didn’t quite supply (as far as is unreacted). 

The Russians were definitely in favor of getting Trump elected, (as opposed to Hillary? – You betcha!) but the Trump people were more interested getting verifiable dirt on Hillary (which might hold up in impeachment hearings?).

The whole thing about Manafort sharing polling data with the Russians goes nowhere because of lost evidence. There are a lot of characters involved, some legit, some not. And there’s a bunch of material on Wikileaks of course. 

After the election there were still Russians around who were anxious to meet Trump and get various things going through Kushner or Cohen or someone.  And by the time of this report several players had been tried and sentenced, others were not found to be willfully in violation of anything or it wasn’t going to be provable in a court of law. 

The standing opinion on Trump and indictment is that although a sitting president cannot be indicted, when he leaves office it might certainly be the next move. 

A Special Counsel shall not have civil or administrative authority unless specifically granted such jurisdiction by the Attorney General. ” [Mueller cites the authorizing document that guides his activity, 28CFR600.4(a)]

 This volume is well footnoted with additional comments as well as sources for more info. The footnotes occasionally have footnotes. And in the Audible version the narrator reads, as they occur, the footnotes which have substance at the appropriate times. 

Volume 2:
This volume is different in both tone and substance. The narrative reads like a page-turner and very enjoyable. In MY mind there is obvious and substantial evidence for a charge of obstruction of justice – but at this point it looks to me like that won’t be done.

Again, it’s well organized and clear – maybe clearer than Volume 1 but the subject matter is a significantly different.  (I think well organized might be a hallmark of most legal documents.)

This section uses the testimony of the witnesses for substance organized around about a dozen issues, it’s not usually verbatim but it is sourced. I’m not going to go through all the sections which delineate the conduct of various members of the Trump, his team and others but many of them pretty clearly show his culpability.

The Report also explains why no indictments were brought against Trump and the OLC had difficulty determining Trump’s state of mind – the report “does not exonerate him.” (Quoted from the report.)  . But if you can’t indict a sitting president and the Republican Senate will not impeach him then ….  (At the moment we may be in the first stages of a Constitutional crisis in order to get to impeachment.)

Appendix C which outlines the written questions submitted to Trump is interesting as are his responses (although the audio version uses a slightly different order to the Q/A than the Kindle version and the Audible version is easier to follow). Trump doesn’t remember a LOT of stuff, but he was very busy in those campaign days and at his best he’s not been exactly forthcoming. He manages to remember whatever was in the media and that’s about it.

Trump was not subpoenaed to testify because Muller knew there would be a court battle and it would drag on way too long – written responses were the best they could do. (I’m not sure but I don’t think he answered all of them.)

There are additional sections in the Washington Post Kindle version including some introductory pages as well as mini-background biographies on Trump and Mueller, glossaries many legal documents, indictments, transcripts, and other legal reports plus examples of political advertisements, reports on political rallies,, descriptions of related crimes and conspiracies, and more.

The final document is Attorney General William Barr’s 4-page summary of the 400 page Mulller Report which Barr provided to congress about 2 days after he got it. Not good.

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich / Master and Man by Leo Tolstoy

The 19th Centry Reading Group is trying to get going again and these two novellas were chosen for our first selections. I wanted to both read and listen to these novellas, but I got two different translations of each. I got one audio book containing both stories narrated by Simon Vance, but I’m not sure about the translator – probably Constance Garnett and one e-book of both stories translated and with an Introduction by Ann Pasternak Slater. I’ll likely read both versions of each. I read The Death of Ivan Ilyich a long time ago. maybe a couple times. I think I have a copy of Tolstoy’s stories is here in the house somewhere.

*******
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Master and Man
by Leo Tolstoy – (translated)
1886 and 1895 originally –
read by Walter Zimmerman
rating – 8.5 / classic Russian lit
*******

The Audible version was certainly not the cheapest version available, but I’m a sucker for Simon Vance. The Kindle version was quite reasonable. The thing is that there are different translations involved. The Kindle book was translated and introduced by Anna Pasternak Slater. I have no idea who the Audible version was translated by but it wasn’t Pasternak because the narratives in the audiobook and the Kindle don’t match. Interesting.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is basically the story of a very sick and dying man. He thinks about his own life and attitudes but the reactions of his business acquaintances are included. He’s not been a “nice” guy. The story is very insightful as well as being highly moralistic/spiritual and for that it’s a classic.

Master and Man is the story of another death. This time a fairly rich man and his servant travel in bad weather to take care of some business with a neighbor. It was interesting reading a new-to-me Tolstoy.

He wrote these some time after his conversion in the 1880s so there is a pointed moral tone against riches and in favor of the hard but simple peasant life.

I don’t know as I’ll read more Tolstoy. At my age, I think I’m past learning from it and to the point of living it.

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The Son ~ by Philiipp Meyer

I saw this while browsing on Audible and it looked quite interesting and (!) it was narrated by Will Patton! So I put it on ye olde wish list and there it sat for quite a long time – several months at least. When I saw something else about it somewhere, maybe that it had been developed into a television series, I thought “Hmmmm…” And then, while it was on my official wish list it turned upon the “available” list at my library. Okay fine – got it.

I had looked into the blurbs and reviews a wee bit, avoiding spoilers, but I knew it was a historical novel, a family saga type thing, taking place in Texas between the 1840s and contemporary times. It sounded like something Cormac McCarthy might write, but really the resonances go back to Faulklner and include might Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove in a way.

*******
The Son
by Philipp Meyer
2013 / 576 pages
read by Will Patton
Kate Milligrew, Scott Shepherd, Clifton Collins Jr.
17h 48m
rating – 9.75 – historical fiction
*******

But The Son has it’s own plot and Meyer has his own style, so the book grew on me to the point I came darn near giving it a 10 on the first reading. For a relatively new book that’s almost unheard of. So YES! it’s worth reading!

As a whole, the narrative mainly consists of three 1st person accounts by members of the McCullough family over the course of 160 years or so.

The first narrative is told by Eli McCullough for an interview with the WPA on the occasion of his 100th birthday – 1936. So, born shortly after the Republic of Texas was born, along came Eli, “the first male child of this new republic.” His story tells of how as at the age of 6 or so, he was captured by Comanches after a destructive raid on his family’s ranch. He lived with them until well into his teens. Eli’s sections in the novel are interspersed with those of his granddaughter, Jeannie McCullough, in today’s time and Pete, Eli’s son of the in-between years. This is not chronological – it’s for the reader to put the pieces together.

The seeming constant warfare between the years of settlement and the oil boom has long-lasting repercussions on members of the McCullough family. The diary-based narrative of Peter, Eli’s son, is filled with guilt for various things and he can’t seem to let go of his family’s expectations or his own desires.

Following that, chronologically, comes the third thread which has Jeannie MccCulloch, Pete’s granddaughter, remembering her life from the vantage point of her living room floor at age 86. The year is 2012 and she now has quite a lot of money and power (not a spoiler), but is a very lonely woman and it feels like she’s readying herself to die. The organization is different from any family saga I remember reading.

This is the story of a wealthy Texas family from its origins in big cattle ranching operations and before all the way to big oil companies and all that comes after -through the generations. An overarching theme is much broader than that history and has to do with the complex relationships between cultures as well as identify, love, hate, fathers and, of course, sons.

The novel goes back and forth through these times and generations so we get an overview of the general history as the story line puts the family history together. And because Meyer delves into details about the Comanches I’ve not read elsewhere it feels totally authentic and original in those sections. (I’ve enjoyed several books about the Comanches – fiction and non-). Historically the other sections are accurate, but not nearly as detailed.

The strength of the novel lies in the historical detail as well as the trajectory of the chronology. I could go on but truth is I feel like downloading the Kindle version and having another go.

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