A Matter of Will ~ by

I’ve read Mitzner’s legal thrillers before and very much enjoyed them so I pretty much snapped this up.

Will Matthews seems to be less than the up-and-coming young financial broker he dreamed of until one day he meets Sam Abbadon, the man who will make his dream career come true. The next day he meets the woman, Gwen Lipton, who seems to be the one to light up his life. Gwen is a financial lawyer and has just been given the case which will make her name.

A Matter of Will
by Adam Mitzner
2019 / 304 pages
read by Will Damron 8h 18m
rating: A+ / legal crime

Primarily we follow the lives of Will and Gwen as they deal with Sam and Eve, Will’s girlfriend, and get caught up in their disturbingly different world. The book starts out suspenseful with a big hint of dangerous and Mitzner skillfully builds that into a real page-turning oil-burner.

Before you know it, Will is involved in million dollar deals for Sam and very nice bonuses at his brokerage. So Sam and the brokerage both have hooks in him. Then Will witnesses first-hand a criminal act of the most violent kind.

Meanwhile, Gwen is getting deeper into a case she’s been fortuitously assigned which involves the murder of the wife of a famous movie star. The star was arrested but Gwen believes and is given assurance that he is innocent.

As I said, the tension starts out on low, but steadily ramps up to high in a plot which becomes nicely twisted. The characters are relatively believable although nothing special there. It’s a fun book.

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The Fifth Risk ~ by Michael Lewis x2

I read this back in October (my review on this site), but the All-Nonfiction Group chose it for this month. I’ve been rereading it as I truly appreciated the book the first time. Michael Lewis has a way of explaining very complex matters in a very comprehensible way. The Usual government is notoriously complex.

The Fifth Risk

by  Michael Lewis
2018/ 221 pages
read by Victor Bevine
rating:   8 / current events 

My first review is pretty comprehensive so if you’re interested in the brief story of how Trump is mangling the US government go there. The book is basically a look at how the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce went through their own “transition” periods and have changed for the worse (if you support their viable existence at all).

The Fifth Risk describes the incalculable risk that actual “project management” will be incompetent. Trump has installed Department heads who are, as is Trump, not terribly concerned about effective departments because they don’t like the departments.

I’ll only add to it by saying that Trump seems to be incompetently getting what he and his appointees want done. They’re turning the federal government from what they see as a swamp of massive departments with expensive and debilitating regulations to massive departments whose regulations are ignored, unenforced, or changed on whim and expediency. Trump’s group doesn’t even give them personnel.

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The Satapur Moonstone ~ by Sujata Massey

This is the second in the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey. The first was The Widows of Malabar Hill which I enjoyed so much and it felt like it was a good start for a series. Unfortunately, The Satapur Moonstone is just okay.

The Satapur Moonstone
by Sujata Massey
2019 / 361 pages
read by Sneha Mathan 12h 1m
rating: C / historical fiction – legal

I’m not sure why I didn’t care for it. The plot was really standard for Agatha Christie lovers, which I was many years ago. The characters are well enough developed, but not really interesting. The setting, historical and cultural, were the best things and they were rather standard. The writing was satisfactory but again, nothing special. Sorry.

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Pastoral ~ by Andes Alexis

This is the first of what is known as The Quincunx Cycle – 5 books by the Canadian author, Andres Alexis . I read The Hidden Keys a couple months ago and was delighted with it. But then I discovered that was the 4th book (3rd published) in the group so I backtracked for number one. (This is NOT a series – the books are not related by characters or plot. They seem to be only very loosely connected by theme but even that is vague. The connections are supposed to come in Book 3, Th Ring, which will be published some time in 2020.

by Andre Alexis
2014 / 164 pages
read by André Alexis
rating – 9 / “religious” fiction

Father Christopher Pennant, a young priest, has been newly assigned to a small parish in the rural southern Ontario town of Barrow. The town is small and gossipy but the residents take a liking to the thoughtful and non-judgmental Father Pennant.

The narrative changes thread and we meet Elizabeth Denny who Is engaged to Robbie Meyers, but Robbie is apparently having an affair with, and ini love Jane Richardson, a young woman discontented with life in Barrow and she is really playing with Robbie.

The first person Pennant meets is his household helper Louder Williams who has a strange life playing a cello and being a lowly almost free laborer.

The important themes are running through the narrative include faith. love, nature, identity and death. It’s a short but powerful book and it’s beautifully written.

There’s something about this book which reminds me of Alice Munro – maybe it’s because both artists (and that’s what they are) seem to have been inspired by the natural setting.

The book is said to be based on Beethoven’s Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony although I don’t know enough to say.

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A Death in Live Oak ~ by James Grippando

A Death in Live Oak
by James Grippando
2018 / 375 pagees
read by Jonathan Davis – 12h 6m
rating: A+ / legal – courtroom drama

(Jack Swyteck series # __)

I read one book by Grippando a long time ago and really enjoyed it but I never got back for a second helping. Alas – it’s been too long now because I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed it.

On the downside, it does get gritty and it’s long. Bu there’s far more to the upside than the down.

The plot concerns an up-and-coming young, man, the president of a fraternity at the University of Florida. But Matt Townsend, age 21, finds himself framed for the lynching (yes) death of the black president of another fraternity at the University of Florida. The evidence against Matt is strong, but there is more than one suspect including friends of Matt and outsiders. Jack Swytech is left to sort it all out and make his points in the courtroom while his wife ends up working a related case for the FBI.

The tension is very well done and it builds nicely with threaded plot lines to the point that the cliff-hanger chapter endings aren’t really necessary but they don’t get in the way.

The whole story line gets quite complex so I won’t go into details because there would likely be spoilers, but I will say that there is plenty of both courtroom drama plus a few rather gritty thriller scenes here, along with some history thrown in to bring things together.

I look forward to another in the Swytech series but it may be awhile – they’re intense and complex – and long.

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The Scholar ~ by Dervla McTiernan

Recommended by a friend in a reading group I’d also read The Ruin, McTiiernan’s first novel and the first in the series, a few years ago and quite enjoyed it. This seemed like a little change of pace.

Emma finds a seriously mangled woman dead in the road outside Darcy Therapeutics near the Galway University campus. The woman was apparently the victim of a hit-and-run. Emma calls her boyfriend, DS Cormac Reilly. On later examination the ID of Carline Darcy is found on the woman, but no other identifying features, including her face.

The Scholar
by Dervla Mctiernan
2019/331 pages
read by Aoife5 McMahon – 10h 19m
rating: A++ / procedural

Carline is heir apparent to the immense Darcy family fortune, but she’s at home, safe and sound, when Reilly comes to call and says she’s been home all evening. Her death is quite a shock to her especially as her grandfather has a been called.

It’s a hairy tale of greed and scholarship, full of twists and great writing, nicely developed characters and a skillfully executed plot line.

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In Defense of History ~ by Richard J. Evans

It’s been awhile, but I used to follow various developments in the study of history – historiography, the philosophy of history and kind of gave up in the mid-1990s when it looked like the post-modernists had the upper hand and were getting into feuds and overly philosophical. It didn’t seem like it was about history anymore.

Times have changed. Holocaust denial is no longer a valid historical position (if it ever was). I was far more familiar with E.H. Carr from old college days – pre revisionism and before post-modern deconstruction got very much involved but even Carr changed a bit.

In Defense of of History
by Richard J. Evans
1997 / 287 pages
read by Julian Elfer – 7h 52m
rating: 9.25 / historiography – theory
(read and listened)

Evans’ book puts the post-modern wars back on the table and brings it up to date (to 1997 anyway) while standing right behind Carr, although not with complete agreement, in taking the classic approach to the study of history. The main question I suppose is “Do historians report or create history?” My personal answer is that they do both.

There’s a lot of material to organize and present but Evans knows his stuff and was very highly regarded in the field even prior to this book with specialized academic work in German 20th century history.

The book includes a background to the subject – what is he standing “in Defense of History” from? (Post-modernist attacks) Then he goes into some challenges he raises – like in Chapter 1 dealing with science in relation to evidence.

Other issues Evans confronts are historical facts – what are they, who decides based on what. The validity and verifiability of language and sources is examined along with causation. What is knowledge – what is power, what is objectivity and how far can we take that? There are all thoroughly examined, and I think with the aim of teaching some non-historians what the study of history is about. YAY!

Of course it’s possible that Evans does not know much about the ideas of post-modernism. as has been charged, but I agree with him on the reality of history because, for very simple instance, I have a recipe handed down from my grandmother written when she was newly married in 1918. If I give that paper (which can be tested for age and her handwriting analyzed against her diary pages) to my granddaughter, age 19, my granddaughter in 2019 would likely be able to make the same kind of angel food cake my grandmother did a hundred years prior. She won’t make a strawberry pie from it. No, it won’t be the same exact cate in every respect but I wonder if my mother, eating both, would be able to tell the difference. Language and science work across time.

And my bottom line thought on a lot of it is that ieas in historical revisionism come and go without permanent major upheavals, but they do leave various impressions on the traditional methods of research, writing and reading of history. These ideas are probably as necessary in the study of history as they are in other subjects of study from biology to teaching to whatever.

Of course there was much criticism of this book when it was first released in 1997, but it is still published and sells quite well.

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The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell ~ by Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni usually writes some pretty fair crime thrillers (I’ve read two) but he occasionally takes a break from all that and pens some general fiction. This one turned up on sale at Audible a few weeks ago and I’m always on the alert for books I can just pick up between specific picks. Note: there are some specific and definite religious (Catholic/Buddhist) ideas here – none are evangelical.

Sam Hill was born with red pupils due to something called ocular albinism. Fortunately he is very bright and has wonderfully supportive parents. But that doesn’t help with serious bullying in school and later, (for the frame story) when he works as a ophthalmologist a child comes in to have her eyesight checked. She appears to have been the victim of abuse – her father’s name rings a few bells for Sam. because that boy had been the particular source of Sam’s problems.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
by Robert Dugoni
2018/ 434 pages
read by Robert Dugoni – 11h 41m
rating – 8 /

I was totally engrossed in the first 2/3rds of this book but then it got rather

There is nothing terribly literary about this book, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s a nice tale, very human and heart-warming and only gets a bit sentimental or hackneyed toward the end. . Actually, it’s quite original although somewhat predictable in a few places while beyond my suspension of disbelief in others.

Sam’s parents and two close life-long friends are stellar – wonderful characters who have each others’ backs. The end gets a bit much but the acknowledgements are wonderful – tying up some thoughts.

There are some distinct themes including bullying and physical abuse which were nicely developed. Still, it’s a feel-good book and I think it was kind of what I needed right now although I could have done with a bit less religion because a steady diet of crime can get to be a bit claustrophobic.

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The Hakawati – by Rabih Alameddine

Rabih Alameddine has a LOT of stories and in this book he spins out quite a number to entertain us. Think along the lines of One Thousand and One Nights. He is Lebanese by birth, but divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut.

I fell in love with Alameddine’s prior book, An Unnecessary Woman, several years ago and have had The Hakawati on my Audible Wish List for several years now. Because of a kind of negative reader review on Audible, I both read and listened.

The Hakawati
by Rabih Alameddine
2008 / 529 pages
read by Assaf Cohen – 20h 53m
rating: 8 / general fiction
(both read and listened)

It’s not what I expected and not as good as An Unnecessary Woman, but it’s definitely worth the read IF you enjoy a bit of fantasy. It reminds me a lot more of some of Salmon Rushdie’s works than it does of An Unnecessary Woman.

As his father is dying, the 1st person protagonist, Osama al-Kharrat, travels from Los Angeles to Beirut, Lebanon his native home. He will gather with his family there, to hold vigil and then mourn. The family is of the Lebanese Druze branch of the Islamic faith which is a bit different.

Osama’s grandfather was a Hakawati, a storyteller, and for as long as he can he continues that avocation as do his descendants both before and after his death. Alameddine himself is a wondrous storyteller.

The story of the relatives gathering serves as a kind of frame but it runs through the stories so they are thoroughly interwoven. The stories are the crux of the book but there’s plenty of drama in the real life situation of Osama. The stories are fascinatingly original and of all kinds – romantic, adventurous, inspirational, historical and everything combined and in between. The frame story is generally linear but there are flashbacks which make that confusing. The inner stories are also generally linear but there are breaks in this pattern which can make it a bit confusing.

From Chris Watson in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

“Be thankful for Rabih Alameddine’s new novel, The Hakawati. In one of the most delightful books of the year, Alameddine relates many of the stories that unite the people living in the Middle East. The narrator’s family are Druze living in Lebanon, but the stories we hear come from Cairo, Damascus and Turkey as well as from the Bible and the Quran. Modern readers have nothing to fear from Alameddine as the novel is contemporary as well as ancient. David Bowie and Santa Claus can be found in these stories as well as Abraham, Orpheus, jinnis, sultans, crusaders, magic carpets, virgins, houris and, of course, evil viziers. The story of why Aladdin is Chinese is superb. The Hakawati is a book to be read and read again.”


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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 39 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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