Death at La Venice by Donna Leon

I’d love to review a really good book right now, but the only fiction I seem to be reading since Cormac McCarthy’s new novels are not in the least little bit inspiring. They’re not even good for escape (except possibly the The Christmas Express – Alexandra Benedict / 2022).  Death at La Venice was boring.  I think it was written so the author could show off her knowledge of Venice, Italy, views, food, art and other cultural elements. Then the protagonist of what became a series, Detective Guido Brunetti, got popular. I think I read one of these several years ago.  (So… checking… checking … yes, I read “Falling In Love” in 2016 and rated it a C+). I should have known better this time.  I hate when this happens, Oh well. –  live and learn. This is one reason for keeping my blog!!!   

Death at La Venice 
by Donna Leon 
Read by David Colacci 9h 33m 
Rating: C- / foreign detective crime
(Commissario Brunetti series – Book 1)

From Audible: 
A conductor succumbs to cyanide at the famed Venice opera house, in the first mystery in the New York Times-bestselling, award-winning series. 

During intermission at the famed La Fenice opera house in Venice, Italy, a notoriously difficult and widely disliked German conductor is poisoned—and suspects abound. Guido Brunetti, a native Venetian, sets out to unravel the mystery behind the high-profile murder. To do so, he calls on his knowledge of Venice, its culture, and its dirty politics. Along the way, he finds the crime may have roots going back decades—and that revenge, corruption, and even Italian cuisine may play a role
***

The series has 31 novels to date. Donna Leon was born American and writes in English but moved to Italy and then to Switzerland becoming a Swiss citizen in 2002. Her works are translated into many languages, except she doesn’t allow Italian translations.  This has always struck me as being very interesting.

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The Plea – by Steve Cavanagh

I thought I’d read something by Steve Cavanagh before but nope, after checking his older books it looks like I was in error. So I ended up reading The Plea which is the second in the Eddie Flynn series.  Okay fine.  

The Plea 
by Steve Cavanagh 
2016 / 
Read by Adam Sims 11h 55m
Rating: C+ / legal thriller 
(#2 in Eddie Flynn series) 

I wasn’t too impressed with it until about Chapter 17 out of 90(?). Then the story clicked in and it took off like thrillers are supposed to.  Adam Sims, the narrator helps a lot with increasing the tension. I don’t think I’ve heard him before and he’s quite good. 

But then, about 2/3 through (page 250?), the plot got kind of crazy with set-ups and double crosses, so it almost becomes a “who really done it,” and a “what did they do,” along with new characters and so on. Eddie Flynn, the protagonist, is a very sharp con man, the son of a con man, so I suppose it fits. (?)

The story is basically what happens when people in big and seriously corrupt corporate law firms decide they have to frame someone to get what they, themselves want, so they set up folks and then play a “plead guilty” game with their clients in order to get away with their own crimes.

It was fun to start out, but became a real disappointment.  

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Forsaken Country ~ by Allen Eskers

This book is certainly a thriller. It might be partly procedural but that’s in the background because the “good guys” are ex-law enforcement. Forsaken Country is more of an adventure-thriller with the exciting chase-parts of it taking place in wilds of far northern Minnesota, right on the boarder of Canada.  

Forsaken Country
by Allen Eskens
2022 /
Read by Brian Troxell – 11h 8m
Rating: B+ / thriller-adventure 
#8 of the Detective Max Rupert series

The daughter and young grandson of Max’s old friend Lyle, a retired sheriff, have gone missing and the friend is convinced that something seriously bad has happened. Her ex-husband is definitely trouble. They investigate etc.  

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books of Allen Eskens until this one. This books is just not quite up there with his best. I did enjoy the setting though, northern Minnesota is an area I’m pretty familiar with.

A few years ago Max Rupert took an early retirement from his job as a detective with the Minneapolis Police Department and went to lives alone, almost as hermit, up north near Grand Rapids.

The characters, except Max, are wonderfully well drawn. But Max Rupert is, in too many ways, a selfish, egotistical jerk.  He’s always promising things and “giving my word.”  And then when it doesn’t happen he mumbles “I’m sorry” and goes right back to more promises. He’s so dramatic, so sincere, so full of BS. Totally convinced there is RIGHT and there is WRONG and that he expects himself to be forever RIGHT.  I don’t remember him being this way in the prior books, but,  well, maybe a bit.

There’ll probably be another book because it does seem like a series even though Eskers denies that.  And I’ll most likely read it shortly after it’s release.

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Murder on the Christmas Express ~ by Alexandra Benedict.

And here we go again – after a couple hours looking for what might be a good Christmas-time murder mystery which was not too romancey or involved a non-murder type crime I found Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict.  Ha!  


Murder on the Christmas Express 
by Alexandra Benedict
2022 / 
Read by Sophie Roberts 8h 21m
Rating: B+ / cozy with a retired detective (and triggers)

As much as I read (voraciously) it’s easy to come across very similar plotlines (see The Hunting Party https://mybecky.blog/2022/12/13/the-hunting-party-by-lucy-foley/  my last review). But where the murder in The Hunting Party doesn’t actually happen until the last chapter – (but is in a Prologue-type chapter), the first murder in Murder on the Christmas Express happens about 1/3 into the book.  

And Murder on the Christmas Express was not at all what I was expecting.  I suppose it is either a cozy or a genre fiction book but it’s also very much a who-done-it in the best of the tradition.  It just has some added attractions – like rape – to the point that I have to make a warning about triggers because there are ways in which this book is very graphic.

That said it’s not exactly Christmasy but neither was The Hunting Party. Train passengers are traveling to the Scottish highlands on Christmas Eve.  There are 9 in The Hunting Party and maybe 17 or 18 in Christmas Express.  The passengers in Hunting Party are old friends, the passengers in Christmas Express are only loosely connected.  There is no protagonist inThe Hunting Party but it has a number of 1st person narrators. The Christmas Express has a definite protagonist and might even possibly be the beginning of a series. The Hunting Party’s structure was confusing, the structure of The Christmas Express was far more straightforward with only a couple of twisty parts. 

All that said, Christmas Express has a retired professional detective involved in a murder on a train which gets snowed in en route to Fort William in northern Scotland. Roz is on her way to be with her daughter at the birth of daughter’s first child. Also on the train are a relatively famous “influencer,” her partner, a school teacher, a tramp-like person, a married couple with a toddler and some college students. There are also a few staff members mixing things up.  

I was much more involved in this book than I was in The Hunting Party. I can’t say as I loved it and the last couple chapters seemed a bit much, but it was almost what I have in mind when I look for holiday books. 

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The Hunting Party ~ by Lucy Foley

This is a very difficult book to listen to. In fact one reviewer said of the print version that it was “confusing.”  there are too many 1st person narrators and many more characters all set in alternating time frames. Furthermore, in the time-tested traditional of who-done-it’s several those narrators are unreliable.    

The Hunting Party
By Lucy Foley 
2019 / 
Read by a cast 10h 8m
Rating:  plot A, execution  C

And it’s not just a who-done-it, it’s also a who-got-done and why’d-they-get-done?  

This is the story of a group of old friends who go for a week’s holiday around Christmas time and someone, according to the prologue, finds a dead body.  That sets up some tension right there.  But we backtrack through the eyes of alternating 1st person narratives to the beginning of the trip.  

Between the different 1st person narratives digging into their own past as well as the current day plus the alternating time frames it gets confusing. I’m very glad the producers used 5 narrators for it. The accents of some were difficult for me to understand.

I read this because it was almost a freebie, but had been in my wish list a year or so ago.  2. It’s a holiday-themed book – or sounds like it might be. 3 many years ago – (back in the early 1970s) my husband and I took a Christmasy holiday weekend with about 5 other couples to a mountain retreat in the Sierra Nevadas.  Great fun. Our trip was nothing like the book, but there was a hook sunk (several hooks) and I bought it and read it

So,  the characters are introduced on a train ride up to the cabins the group has rented at somewhat upscale hunting lodge. These folks are going on a hunting expedition .  – oh dear. They’re long term friends mostly from days at Oxford now in their 30s and all partnered up and some with a child. I had to write them out.

I tried to keep track of the characters by writing them down but except for a few, I still go mixed up.

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The Anglo-Saxons~ by Mark Morris

Generally, I enjoy reading while listening to the same book partly because of my eyes don’t work so good anymore but also because the audio distracts me from my tinnitus. Also, I love seeing the maps, source notes, graphics and sometimes actual layout and font differences which are present in the  hard cover, paperback, and ebooks, but not available in audio books unless there is a pdf file for ir.  With The Anglo-Saxons:  there are excellent maps, some nice photographs, plus both source and informational notes. Some sources are current, some almost ancient – Yay!  So I read and listened both.


The Anglo-Saxons:
A History of the Beginnings of England: 400 – 1066
by Mark Morris 
2021; 512 pages
Read by Roy McMillan, 13h 16m
Rating 9.5 / European history 
(Both read and listened)

The Introduction is very nicely done. It’s brief overview of what Morris is doing in the book. In it, he explains the absence of women from ancient history in general and his focus on the biographies of certain “great men.” Both of these are due to the availability of reliable sources. There was precious little written by or about women until the 18th century and even then it was slim pickings.  There were a couple reasons for this; first, women were rarely important enough to get written about and second, women themselves didn’t usually read or write. 

Nevertheless, within the framework of several “great men” of the era, he includes a few important women as well as providing a wide variety of information about social, cultural, intellectual and political life in ancient Britain.

Following the Introduction Morris begins his tale with “England” under Roman rule, observing that it was quite a good place to live if you were not a part of the working classes.  There was peace and prosperity enabling a nice foreign trade with solid military backup until around 300 AD when the Saxons from what is now Germany began raiding. With the decline of Rome as an Empire all of Europe was changing including England. And although Morris never uses the term “Dark Ages”  because it’s not really accurate, there was certainly a dimming of the lights especially in the century following 410 or so – “The implications of (the) data is unavoidable: society had collapsed.” (p. 22). 

Morris’ narrative is smooth and quite scannable although don’t let that deceive you. There is an abundance of substance in every chapter as the narrative flows from person to person, era to era, and region to region. The focus on individual biographies starts with Ælle and moves on to Caewlin, Æthelberht, Eadwine, Oswald, and Penda, “the last great pagan king of Anglo-Saxon England.” And that’s the end of Chapter 2.  More is known about the time from the 6th century on when the Kings were Christian and the Church was well established so that part is better attended.

In Chapter 3 we get Wilfred about whom there really is a kind of biography (for that day and age). After him comes Æthelbald who was murdered followed by the brief reigns of a couple power-grabbers. Then comes Offa who wanted all he could grab and the story continues through the centuries until we get to Harold and finally the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror in 1066. This is in 400 or so pages of narrative so the bulk of rulers is not covered but the social and economic aspects of the history is also briefly covered.

The Saxon Chronicles gets huge play as a source but so do the works of Bede and many others, both primary and secondary.  

Financial Times review (London) 
https://www.ft.com/content/c623818d-0470-4edf-9e9c-8961200b39e9

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Stella Maris ~ by Cormac McCarthy

Stella Maris is a term for a female protector or guiding spirit at sea. The title is sometimes given to the Virgin Mary, and it’s often the name given to Catholic Churches and aid societies.  

Stella Maris
By Cormac McCarthy 
2020 (198 pages)
Read by Julia Whelan, Edoardo Ballarini 
Rating –  8.5 / literary fiction 

Stella Maris is also the title of Cormac McCarthy’s second novel in the 2-book series starting with The Passenger which was just released about 10 days ago and which I just finished reading about 3 days ago.  Yes, Read The Passenger first. I don’t know what kind of sense I’d have made of Stella Maris had I not done this. 

Alicia Western, the sister of Bobby Western in The Passenger, has checked herself into Stella Maris, a psychiatric hospital in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.  Alicia is a brilliant and beautiful 22-year old doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago. She’s been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and has been a patient at the facility twice before. Also, she has $40,000 cash in her bag. 

After a brief “prologue,” the narrative consists of the transcribed psychiatric sessions she has with her hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Cohen.  These sessions start out being about her visits from imagined beings, particularly one named the Thalidomide Kid, a very small person with flippers for hands but before long they range in subject matter from o”tell me about yourself” to the nature of the universe, physics, math and mathematicians, dreams, language and a whole lot more.  

For someone who hasn’t really written much in the way of women characters prior to this (only one bit player in an early work), McCarthy has created a beautiful and sympathetic portrayal of Alicia. He’s always done men very nicely and Dr Cohen is no different.

But McCarthy’s strong point has always been his very powerful prose and when Alicia gets rolling the old style is still there –

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Snow – by John Banville

John Banville has written 22 novels so far under the name of John Banville.  And he’s got another 13 to his  credit under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Now, in 2022 he has gone back to using the name of John Banville saying that the pseudonym phase has passed that he is who he is.  After awhile he realized he can write pretty much the same way under either name so he dumped the Black back in 2020 and published his mystery book under the name of Banville.

Snow
By John Banville
2020
Read by John Lee 8h 22m
Rating:  A-8 / literary mystery 

I tend to agree. I loved the old John Banville, author of The Sea and The Book of Evidence and The Infinities.  I tried Christine Falls his first under the pseudonym Benjamin Black back in 2006 or so and “No,” that was just not for me.

Banville seemed to be using his Booker Prize winning style in who-done-its. Huh? Why? To make money? (It didn’t do a lot of that.) I guess he just wanted to see if he could do it. ???

Imo the reason it didn’t work is because who-done-its and thrillers need the emphasis on the plot or readers get bored – in the 21st Century anyway. The emphasis in literary fiction. at least until recently, should almost always on the narrative, its themes and metaphors, allusions, conceits and even structure.

This is why I rate crime fiction differently from general fiction. Tension building is hugely important in true-to-genre “mystery’ writing but it’s not to be considered in rating good old-fashioned literary fiction becuae it’s not important (see The Years by Virginia Woolf).

So prior to 2020, “Snow” would probably have been published under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, but Banville says he doesn’t need that “rascal” anymore. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/01/books/john-banville-snow-benjamin-black.html (Great article) 
And here: https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/10/snow-john-banville-detective-fiction-reality/616636/

But although there are few writers who can pull off grabbing both golden rings, Umberto Eco and Charles Palliser for instance, I really didn’t think that John Banville could do both. But it turns out that with 10 years and 11 books he’s become quite good with mysteries and then went on to write more using his own name. (The author’s identity was never a secret – it was simply to distinguish between the two types of novels he was writing.) 

In the case of Snow Banville used a character from the Banville books named St John (Sinjin) Strafford, a Protestant police detective in Dublin circa the 1950s.  A Catholic priest is found dead and mutilated at the home of an aristocratic family who call the Dublin police which is where Detective St John Strafford enters to figure out the whole complex situation.  It’s fun but don’t expect a thriller – it’s just a very good mystery story. And Strafford plays the lead character in Banville’s two subsequent mysteries, April in Spain and The Lockup.
https://booktrib.com/2021/01/13/when-a-pen-name-surpasses-the-authors

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A Gift of Bones ~ By Sarah Booth

 I found this several months ago and it just sat in my Wish List until a few weeks ago but now it’s the Christmas season so I bring it out.  

A Gift of Bones
by Carolyn Haines -2018
Read by Kate Forbes 8h 9m 
Rating:  C /  cozy private detective 
#19 in the Sarah Booth Delaney series

Very disappointing.  This is #19 in this series and I really do think it’s better if the books are read in order because I was lost as to characters more than once.

The first plot idea was moderately good – a pregnant woman is missing. She is young and unmarried, but quite smart and holding a responsible job at a local bank. After a few days a ransom note is received by the woman’s cousin, the victim’s closest relative at the moment.  The note demands a very large and specific amount of money. Private investigator Sarah Booth and her assistant, Tinkie, are called in and doing the best they can, interviewing people and checking out whatever turns up, but there seems to be very little in the way of clues.  There’s some romance and a lot of Southeastern Mississippi chatter, there are very bright and cutesy “critters” (pets), there’s light-weight Southern philosophy and manners and even some psychology.  Still, the plot of the second half is so unlikely as to be implausible. No more of this series for me.  

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The Passenger – by Cormac McCarthy

I’d been waiting for this one  (and the sequel which is due out in 2 days!)  I even had it stashed in my cart at Audible (rather than a pre-purchase) so when I became aware it was available I’d get it.  I read no reviews at all prior to reading the book – I didn’t even see blurbs except for one which said something about this being the first time McCarthy used a female protagonist but that was wrong anyway.  What I’m saying is that I went in cold and read reviews later.    

The Passenger 
by Cormac McCarthy
2022 / 
Read by MacLeod Andrews 12h 44m
Rating: 8/ literary fiction – 21st century 
(1st of 2 novels) 

I’d been waiting for this one as well as the sequel which is due out in 2 days! I even had it stashed in my cart at Audible (rather than a pre-purchase) so when I became aware it was available I got it and abandoning my current read, I started in. I’d read no reviews at all to this point. prior to reading the book. I hadn’t even seen blurbs except for one which said something about this being the first time McCarthy used a female protagonist, but that was wrong anyway.  What I’m saying is that I went in cold and read reviews later.  

I wasn’t ecstatic about the book, but I wasn’t disgusted either, so … And yes, two of the three reviews (New York Times and Slate) I read this evening (after finishing the book) agreed with my take; this is not McCarthy’s finest product by a long shot. That said, it does have some fine moments and I’ve read there is at least one literary one critic who praised it highly. (I’ll have to go read his take.)

.I think McCarth wanted to write like he used to, but it comes off different and maybe he tried too hard. Or just maybe 2022 is not the 1980s or even the ‘90s – bleak violence is not the thing Boomers are into anymore – not so much anyway. Also, McCarthy has inserted a lot more science into the story, I suppose this is a result of his 30+ year association with the Santa Fe Institute.  https://www.santafe.edu/news-center/news/cormac-and-sfi-abiding-friendship .

But I also read (just recently) that this was started a few years prior to the1985 publication of Blood Meridian. (I really should NOT compare the two books but how can I help it?)

Okay – so … The book opens with the description of an apparently attractive young woman’s body hanging from a tree in the country on a cold and wintery Christmas Day. A hunter with a gun finds her by the red sash she has tied around her.  He stops and and kneels but he doesn’t know of a prayer to say for this. He finds a ring and a key on a chain very nearby. That’s a kind of prologue. 

The narrative backtracks a bit and Alicia, a young gorgeous genius, is in a rooming house conversing with a very strange little dwarf called “The Kid” who thrives on puns and brings “entertainers” to do tricks for Alicia. (This is an hallucination.) He tries to get Alicia to come with him and she’s trying to get rid of him.  A boy named “The Kid” was the protagonist in Blood Meridian.

Meanwhile, or maybe later, Alicia’s brother Bobby Western is diving for salvage, getting bodies and cargo out of sunken airplanes, ships and helicopters, etc. He meets with friends and moves a couple times and a bit of this is backstory but mostly it’s not. The siblings’ father was employed to create the atomic bomb, which he did, but the siblings don’t know quite how to feel about that. Many scenes with Bobby and friends deal with it and Bobby tries to avoid some unfriendly men who are on his tail for something (we find out).  Meanwhile, in other scenes, he’s concerned about and looking for something from Alicia. 

The paranoia here is reminiscent of Don Delillo and a couple of the discussions reinforce that suggestion – (to me anyway). There’s the whole discussion about the assassination of JFK for instance.  But there’s also an attempt at whimsy like Pynchon – wise-cracking dialogues which are really very quirky (if that’s the word). 

There were a few instances of the old McCarthy here, but mostly, imo,  it was at about the level of No Country for Old Men. (Blood Meridian is on the level of Faulkner’s works and Moby Dick, McCarthy’s favorite novel.)

 I really tried not to expect anything. I’d not seen any hype, but I sometimes hype books in my own head and this is one I surely would have.  I’m a bit nervous to do that because … been there, done that. And besides – I was somewhat disappointed with No Country for Old Men so my expectations were msot likely about that level.  

I may read this again – there seems to be more than meets the eye on a first reading.

P.S. The good review – and it is good – is at:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/oct/26/the-passenger-by-cormac-mccarthy-review-a-deep-dive-into-the-abyss

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The Twist of a Knife ~ by Anthony Horowitz

I just kept going on to #4 in the Horowitz and Hawthorn series.  The thing about Hawthorn is that he gives nothing about himself away.  Horowitz is to write his biography but that can’t really be done without some knowledge about the subject, like his wife and child etc.  But Hawthorn is a detective, a very private one, and what he wants his biography written about is how he detects like Sherlock Holmes – brilliantly.  They’re funny books and the who-done-its of them are excellent.

 

The Twist of a Knife
by Anthony Horowitz
2022
Read by Rory Kinnear 8h 31m
Rating – A / mystery – Private Investigator
(#4 in A Hawthorne and Horowitz series)

The Word is Murder is the first book in the series, The Sentence is Death is the second and after those comes. A Line to Kill and finally there is The Twist of a Knife.  (And I’m hoping for at least a couple more.).

The author, Horowitz, has written himself into the books as the 1st person main character which some readers love but others don’t like so much. And yes, there are a few souls (moi) for whom it took a bit of getting used to, but I ended up loving it.  It’s a take-off on his Sherlock Holmes books which were

This time Horowitz himself is the main suspect for the murder of Harriet Throsby, a sharp-tongued theater critic who will be missed by almost no one, including her daughter. Throsby gave Horowitz’s play a thorough trashing.  Meanwhile, sprinkling some salt on the wound, the arresting officer is (ta -da) Cara Grunshaw with her seething resentment against Horowitz. He calls his last hope, the one-and-only, Hawthorne 

Again, a long list of characters and easy to get mixed up.  There are time frames and personal relations and lots of tiny details for which Horowitz is known, but at this point I think of huge interest to readers are the secrets of Daniel Hawthorne.

Now at some point I’ve got to read the more direct Sherlock Holmes spins.  

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The Sentence is Death – by Anthony Horowitz

It’s possible that the more books I read books by Anthony Horowitz the more I enjoy them and I think this may be one of his most enjoyable adult mysterie,  but I haven’t read them all yet.    https://mybecky.blog/2021/11/07/a-line-to-kill-anthony-horowitz/.   

The Sentence is Death
by Anthony Horowitz 
2019 / 
Read by Roy Kinnear 8h 36m
Rating – A+  / mystery 
(A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, Book 2
)

Sad to say that my second in the Hawthorn and Horowitz series was actually #3. My bad for not paying attention. https://mybecky.blog/2021/10/27/the-sentence-is-death-by-anthony-horowitz  So now I’m listening to #2 with #4 on the Wish List.  Yay!  Should I just plunge right in? 

The conceit here, as in several other books by Horowitz, because it seems to work for him, is that Hawthorne is a a kind of celebrity detective and uses Horowitz, a well-established crime writer (as the author is in real life), as his biographer. But Hawthorne pays Horowitz to follow him around as Hawthorne attempts to solve murders under contract with the police department. Horowitz’s job is to write Hawthorne’s biography, but he’s not happy about this arrangement.  Horowitz is the first person in this and Hawthorne is an arrogant and very mysterious, secretive may be a better word, character (so to speak.  It’s a spin on Sherlock Holmes. 

The victim this time is Richard Price, a divorce lawyer who has been clobbered with a bottle of wine and dies. Who? why? The unhappy ex-wife of a client is a distinct possibility.  Hawthorn is on the investigation from the start and, at Hawthorn’s request, Horowitz is shadowing him to write a biography.  The story slowly gets complicated and there are 56 characters and this link came in handy:
https://www.bookcompanion.com/the_sentence_is_death_character_list.html

The narration is very difficult for awhile but I did get used to it and I’ll look forward to listening to Ray Kinnear in the next book of the series.

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A Deadly Feast ~ by Lucy Burdette

This series takes place in Key West, Florida where Thanksgiving is coming up along with the wedding of the Hayley Snow, the series protagonist who works as a food writer.  But a few days earlier a woman dies on a seafood tasting tour. Was it poisoning?  And Hayley’s fiancé, a police detective, is called to a case he can’t talk about. 

A Deadly Feast 
by Lucy Burdette 
2019
Read by Laura Jennings 6h 35m
Rating:   B / cozy holiday mystery 
(#9 in the Key West Food Critic series)

With the groom being a police detective, crime and secrets are scattered all through the tale.  And overall it’s a good story – the plot is clever and twisty, the characters nicely defined and the writing is adequate for a cozy mystery.  

But (!) there’s too much romance and too much cooking chatter.  It feels intrusive.  

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Santa’s Little Yelpers ~ by David Rosenfelt

I’ve read 7 of the 26 Andy Carpenter novels and 6 of those have been the Christmas books.  I really should read more of the series because they’re “legal thrillers” (of a sort) and kind of fun. I can get some of these from my library. They’re quite popular. And although there have regularly recurring characters and some overarching plot development, the plots independent. 

Santa’s Little Yelpers
by David Rosenfelt
2022 /
read by Grover Gardener 6h 41m
Rating B+ / cozy legal crime

# 26 in Andy Carpenter series

This one was just released on October 11 of this year and it’s read by Grover Gardner so I had to get it. ! It’s old home week.  

Andy Carpenter’s former client Chris Meyers was wrongfully convicted of something, even now when he’s been released from  jail, he continues to deny doing. Upon release he began working at Andy’s dog shelter. Then one of the witnesses against him comes to Chris and reveals that he lied in court.  Chris goes to Andy for help and the next thing we know the informer is killed and Chris is incarcerated again. It seems this informer was working for a mob boss and the troubles are much deeper than they appear. 

These are fun books with complex crimes and trials. 

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The Years of Rice and Salt ~ By Kim Stanley Robinson

Oh my what a grand book! But it does get long and seems kind of repetitive after about the half-way mark (perhaps that’s part of the ultimate point).  I haven’t read a sci-fi book this good since the trilogy “Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, or maybe it was 2041 also by Robinson a few years ago.  This is essentially a series of interrelated novellas which tell the history of the world from about 1350 AD and on to the near future,  And it all comes together at the end. 

The Years of Rice and Salt
By Kim Stanley Robinson 
2003 – 784 pages
Read by Bronson Pinchot 25h 56m
Rating: 9 /A literary sci-fi fantasy – alt history

The stories start in the 14th Century when the Black Plague had just made its way through Asia and Europe killing  about 1/3 to 1/2 of the population and worst in Europe. It lasted about 25 years. Due in part to that plague the Christians didn’t make a lot of headway out of Medieval times while the Muslims managed to expand and thrive in many areas. The Mongol leader, Temur Khan, a Muslim, fought his way to Western France where the book’s first protagonists, Bold and Psin, are just getting ready to fight him when lightening strikes their tent and kills them. Their deaths put them in the Bardo, a kind of purgatory for reincarnations which is a regular feature of the novel. It serves as an intermission between incarnations and eras. There are 10 books with each containing several chapters and each with an accompanying trip to the bardo. The characters are named according to their function, for instance names beginning with the letter B are “believers” while P is for the “wanderers.” 

At about 25% I’d been getting too distracted by my real life, so I bought the Kindle version to go with the audio. The audio has really excellent narration and sometimes I like to read and listen at the same time or going back and forth. It keeps me very focused and I can go back for sentences or names or whatever I like.  Also,  the Kindle version has maps and graphics as well asr chronologies and cast lists but you can find it online (see the links at the bottom of this post).   

At any rate The Years of Rice and Salt is a collection of 10 novellas (loosely defined), in which there are usually several chapters. The first concerns Bold,  a very small cattleman, and Kyu, a black boy, who passes as Bold’s slave. They have both run away from the Mongols and get as far as Nanking and Beijing when the Emperor dies and …. Lots of thriller-type adventures with intermissions in the bardo –  Most of the Books include a “B…” character and an “I…”character and then come the “K…” characters (see below). 

The Books are mainly in chronological order for about 700 years, starting in 1400 AD and going to a few years beyond the current years. There is a time line in the book and also at the link showed at the bottom of this post. A very brief synopsis is also included.

The Books each deal with one or more specialties of human knowledge from geography to history and physics,  medicine, philosophy, religion, technology, society,  etc. It’s a very broad survey and includes alternate history without being entirely speculative. If you want to know what’s factual and what’s not you’ll have to do your own little searches via Google or whatever.  (I’ll tell you that I don’t think the Chinese made it to the California coast-lol!) This is alternative history with a certain emphasis on science so … 

My favorite Books are #s 1 “Awake to Emptiness,” 3 “Ocean Continents,” 5, “Widow Kang” and maybe others, #9 “ Nsara,” for instance. 

In some ways, The Years of Rice and Salt reminds me of The Incarnations by Susan Barker (2015)
https://mybecky.blog/2016/03/11/21076/.

And there was a TV show moons and moons ago which used the trope of arch-enemies across time being reincarnated to fight again (?).  I’m glad I read this book, but I’m also glad to be finally getting on to other things.   

https://www.kimstanleyrobinson.info/content/timeline-years-rice-and-salt
(Synopsis by Book – 10 books) 

Characters:  
B the believer (faith)
K the rebel (action)
I the scientist (thought)
S the corrupt leader (laziness)
P the wanderer (humility)
Z the warrior (strength)

https://www.kimstanleyrobinson.info/node/345

https://www.kimstanleyrobinson.info/content/timeline-years-rice-and-salt

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Dead Man’s Tale ~ by Ellery Queen

I read this book to complete the letter Q in the Alphabet Challenge of crime novel authors at 4-Mystery Addicts.  I think it might have been the last letter I had yet to cover.  (Yes, I know “Ellery Queen” was not a real life author, but rather the pseudonym of several people plus the eponymous main character they created.)  Also – I think this may be a atypical Ellery Queen novel. 

Dead Man’s Tale
By Ellery Queen (Stephen Marlowe)
1961 (
Read by Mark Peckham: 4h 56m
Rating: A / hard-boiled crime

Estelle Street, Barney Street’s new widow, is very annoyed. Instead of leaving his fortune to her he left it to one Milo Hacha, a Czech who sympathized with the Allies and saved Barney’s life in WWII.  Now Estelle’s lover, Steven Longacre, is under her orders to go to Europe and hunt Milo down. Steve is to return with the news that Milo is dead (however he can do that). But when Steve gets there he’s told that Milo is dead already, but Longacre needs more evidence than somebody’s say-so. 

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A Passage North ~ by Anuk Arudpragasam

This was disappointing.  I might have enjoyed it when I was younger, in the 1980s or something, but now?  It was included in the Booker Prize short list for 2021 and the Booker Prize reading group finally got to it on our year-long schedule. So I’ve been looking forward to this book since the lists were announced about 14 or 15 months ago,  I’ve read books about Sri Lanka and its ugly Civil War before but not books like this one. Michael  Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost and Reef by Romesh Gunesekera were great. 

A Passage North
By Anuk Arudpragasam
Read by Neil Shah: 9 hrs and 15 mins
2021 (304 pages) 
Rating – 7 / Literary Fiction

A Sri Lankan family gets a phone call informing them that their aging Grandmother’s personal caretaker, on leave with her own family in Northern Sri Lanka, has died suddenly. She fell in a well and broke her neck.

The grandson goes to the war-torn North to check for the family. While on the bus he thinks and remembers.He has just gotten an email from an old girlfriend so he remembers his time with her. And he thinks about love and life and yearning. Then he thinks about the poverty of the people in the North who are fighting for their own government and he knows he, personally, has it very easy – what should he do?.  He remembers the caretaker how the caretaker mourned her sons.  

Imo, this was an overly ambitious and ultimately depressing book.  Arudpragasam writes very well but he seems to really like his own voice, too..  I did finish it – 

 

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