Trust the Plan: by Will Sommer

Although I was immediately attracted to this book when it was released back in February of 2023, I wasn’t sure how current it was – I mean I hadn’t heard anything substantive about QAnon in months, maybe not since 1/6.  I’d read a few pieces about it prior to that but is that what I was going to be getting here?  

Trust the Plan:
The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy
That Unhinged America
By: Will Sommer / 2023
Narrated by: Joe Knezevich
Length: 8 hrs and 12 min
Rating:  8.5 / politics and government  

Okay fine – tt went onto my Wish List but… well… I procrastinated. Then, out of the blue, I read something somewhere and caved.  Yes – let’s just get it.  I was wanting a good juicy nonfiction that wasn’t true crime again.  I had started a science book but that was something I had to pay close attention to (“Power, Sex, Suicide” by   Nick Lane) – so far so good in it but really,  I was ready for a kick-back and enjoy book.  

And yes, there was a lot more in this book about QAnon than I knew. Sommer has been following and investigating and reporting on QAnon for “The Daily Beast” for years. I was aware of the origins, the power struggles, and the search for the writer of the Q-Drops. but what was going on with since the rowdy followers were removed from Facebook and Twitter?   

The story is fascinating as the loose group and their leader, the anonymous”Q,” move from a base at 4-Chan to 8-Chan to Facebook and Twitter groups writing about the accusations of Child Abuse and nonsense about Covid-19. And a lot of innocent people got hurt.

 I had no idea all this was going on, but then I don’t frequent those kinds of social media. I’ve never even been curious enough to investigate, besides, maybe the news shows and sites I do go to were playing that down. I remember reading one good article about QAnon and they were mentioned in others with some mainstream TV and internet exposure thrown in.  I suspect some of my friends were more seriously infected with the ideas than I knew (sad to say).

“At its core, QAnon is about distrusting institutions. The media, the government and big business are all out to get you and your kids. The only people you can trust are QAnon and Trump.”  Chapter 7 somewhere  –  (I listened to the book.) 

“Conspiracy theories have been around since the earliest days of this country and even before. The main story is something like, “A small group of powerful persons is acting in secret for their own benefit, against the common good.”   

What is at the heart of QAnon?  Sommer says that it’s child trafficking, but he also says that “…it’s the racism and anti-Semitism which are at the heart of Q-Anon.” Having read the book I’d say it was the racism and anti-Semitism first and then it got into child trafficking which really struck a chord with the followers and brought new members in.

Sommer doesn’t go into the possible psychology of QAnon believers beyond the idea that they’re alienated from US social and cultural life and it creates problems for those who care about them – also it seems that psychologists aren’t too sure about what to do with them. Sommer’s advice is to leave them alone with their delusions as long as you can tolerate it.

QAnon is certainly not dead – in fact, it’s growing globally in some places. 

One thing I appreciated but didn’t use a lot was the Source Notes section which you can download from your Audible library (I imagine it’s included in the book but ??? ). There are about 25 pages of notes.  Sommer wrote some of what he uses in earlier articles, but certainly not all – Vanity Fair is mentioned as well as other news sources, interviews and blog posts.  

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City of Dreams ~ by Don Winslow

The plot line of this series starts in City on Fire, the first book of the series/trilogy, where Danny Ryan and his Irish gang in Rhode Island get into a bloody war with the Italian gang.  Danny is on both sides due to marriage and after a couple of drug deals and thefts, he ends up leaving town with some buddies as well as Danny’s brand new baby son by his newly deceased wife. .

City of Dreams 
By Don Winslow 
Read by Ari Fliakos 8h 8m
Rating A+ / crime-thriller 
(#2 in City on Fire trilogy) 

They eventually head for Los Angeles where the movie industry captures their attention. But organized crime is there, too. And Danny is also packing a lot of worries about everything – his old drunk father, money, food,  the Feds, the baby. He gets to Los Angeles and finds himself with the “fresh new start” he wants.  But it’s not new, not really. The life goes on.   

And now after escaping the Irish gang and the Moretties gang, the Providence police, as well as family problems, Danny Murphy and a couple buddies are on their way to San Diego. His wife has just died leaving him with a a baby boy to take care of on his own.  

This is a SEQUEL to City on Fire (my review on this site) which was a great novel. No, not up to the standards of The Cartel series but there was more to come and there was definite promise. I don’t know what a reader would get out of City of Dreams if they hadn’t read City on Fire.  Lots of names and plot points and confusion?  

But I did read the City on Fire first and it’s definitely better, But this, the second book, continues the tale and ties up a few ends, maybe sets the stage for #3, City of Ash.  

Anyway, Windslow is a master of writing atmospheric prose and developing believable characters along with masterfully spinning out the tension and word-smithery in general. The plots are twisty and somewhat gritty.  The narrator, Ari Fliakois, is spot-on.  


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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022 x2

Yes, I read this a second time and yes again, it was much better. I wasn’t so annoyed by the editor’s selections. I paid more attention to the substance of the essays.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022,
Ed by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
11/2022 / 324 pages
read by a cast
Rating: 9.5 / science & nature anthology

The best essays, to me, were the ones which dealt directly with science or nature. Saying that “people are a part of nature” is a cop-out defense for using sociology or anthropology. Oh well ..

I’m contemplating a pre-order for next year’s book.

My favorite essays are probably
(Section / Title)

“How Far Does Wildlife Roam?” by Sonia Shah –
Fascinating –

How We Drained California Dry by Mark Arax – well – he’s a favorite author anyway. I’ve read his books.

“Humanity is Flushing Away One of Life’s Essential Elements” by Julia Rosen

“Your Face Is Not Your Own” by Kashmir Hill

“Beavers Are Firefighters Who Work for Free” by Lucy Sherriff

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Blood & Ink ~ by Joe Pompeo

My goodness these historical true crime books are becoming popular!  I remember when the novels were called “Bodice Rippers” in a very derogatory tone. They were distinctly out of favor with publishers and for university literature classes.  History was thought of as material for a thick dry thick tome.  Today it’s the stuff of Booker Prize winners while the associated college classes empty out.  

Blood & Ink: 
The Scandalous Double Murder that Hooked America on True Crime  
by  Joe Pompeo 
2022 /  344 pages
Read by Robert Petcoff 10h 4m
Rating:  9 / True Crime- history 

(read and listened)

The last time I read “True Crime” was only about 11 days ago and here I am again. And True Crime only started being an acceptable genre when the tabloids became the rage, in the 1920s. And it was this case, the case of the minister and the choir singer, which helped push the sales of dailies with their use of big photos and sensational headlines which really drew the increased sales. Pompeo’s book is both, history of tabloids and true murder mystery of Florence Hall and Jim Mill, as told to reporters possibly from the 7 morning and 11 evening papers operating in New York City.   

The Introduction is very good.  It’s written with the “how this book came-to-be” theme emphasizing the history quite naturally while wrapping it in a tale of horror. There is also some courtroom action in there – love it!

The opening pages of this book and Hell’s Half-Acre are similar in that they both open with the action of bodies being found.. Blood & Ink opens with two teenagers finding them and calling the police. Hell’s Half-Acre has a small group of men who have been alerted by a concerned neighbor. 

The latter then moves to the violent history of Kansas while Blood & Ink starts the background and descriptions of key characters. Then Pompeo moves to  procedures which include two of the policemen hitchhiking to the scene, gathering evidence, a lot of interviews and so on. Apart from these similarities the books are very different, except I certainly got the message of how important journalists and newspapers were in the US.  

The main tale of Blood & Ink is the  murder of the very married clergyman, Edward Hall, and his much younger paramour, Eleanor Miller a married singer in the church choir. They were both unhappy in their marriages so they embarked on an affair making someone very unhappy, and they were murdered.

So … who-done-it?  The tale goes from two teenagers finding the dead bodies to the police and reporters investigating and reporting, hunting for suspects and/or evidence. Then come the trials. The minister’s wife, Florence Stevens Hall, is from a prominent, old-money, New Jersey family, while Eleanor Mills  is from a family of a lower class, her husband works as a janitor at local churches. There are a lot of characters

 In the title there are two stand-out words. The first is Blood which certainly points to a murder, but the other important word is “Ink” which, it turns out,  refers to the highly competitive business of the newspapers and tabloids of the day, a lurid and lucrative driving force of the investigation and trial. This was the Jazz Age of everything including news which still had a few old muckrakers.  The style of journalism in the 1920s reflected the times with an emphasis on photos and sensationalism. It definitely attracted new paying subscribers.  

Pompeo seems to have the voice of the era, like Kate Summerscale in The Suspicians of Mr Whicher.  Perhaps this is due in part to the style of newspaper reporting at the time.  It’s very well done.

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Now Is Not the Time to Panic ~ by Keith Wilson

Kevin Wilson has definitely made a name for himself and his strange little novels.  He’s published five so far but this is only my second.  It won’t be my last.  

Now is Not the Time to Panic
by Kevin Wilson
read by Ginnifer Goodwin 6h 13m
Rating 8 and very fun! / coming-of-age fiction

Frankie Budge is 15 when the story opens with 3 brothers, 16-year old triplets, but very few friends. One day at the beginning of summer vacation she meets a boy around her age and they strike up a friendship.  Zeke is also kind of nerdy and they become close not sexual. Zeke is talented in art and she very much enjoys writing. So that’s what they do.  They both have absent fathers and their unhappiness about that bonds them.

At some point they fix up an old copy machine and after a few practice copies create an artistically dark poster and make many copies.  They hang the posters all over their small town and eventually get noticed, commented on, and start a scandal which develops into the chaos later called the Coalfield Panic

This is a really engaging novel and although Frankie and Jake are only 15 years old I’m not sire of it’s a young-adult read or not. I think maybe 17-year olds.

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Glass Houses ~ by Louise penny

I got a bit burned out on nonfiction and picked up something available from the library.   I’ve surprised myself in becoming rather attached to this series.  I’ve worked hard to appreciate them but after reading 12 out of 18.  I’ve got 2 to go and I’ll consider myself caught up because I really can’t listen to Ralph Cosham and I enjoy listening to mysteries.  

Glass Houses
By Louise penny
2017 / 
Read by Robert Bathurst 13h 32m 
Rating A- / mystery – thriller 
(#13 in Detectivec Gamash series) 

A strange party crasher dressed entirely in black arrives for the Halloween party at The Bistro, a coffee shop in Three Pines where most of the setting of this series takes place.  It a way that setting is a character itself made up of the beautiful but remote location and the people of the village.

The village of Three Pines is an idyll, a place for family, friends and comfort. There’s a bistro, a bed-and-breakfast, a bakery, a bookshop, and other small businesses all owned by different residents. You can’t get there directly unless you’re very familiar with Three Pines. The average person gets lost two or three times before arriving. That said, bad people do wander in from time to time. That’s okay – the sometimes retired Chief Inspector Armand Garmache of the Surete du Quebec is on hand to detain them if necessary.

This crasher, costumed entirely in black is not really doing anything wrong, he/she simply stands very still in one place. Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are at the party and notice the stranger and his/her effect. It’s only the next day when the body of another party attendee, a woman this time, is found in the basement of the church that he thinks he might should have done something. A new Bistro employee has some knowledge of the strange visitor’s costume and tells the group the costume is that of a 
cobridor” which, in Spain, is either a debtor or, relatedly, a conscience to create shame.

And then Gamache and his assistant, Jean-Guy, start collecting and juggling clues – did the stranger kill the woman? Just about all of quirky residents of Three Pines were in attendance. so that juxtaposes the thrills, suspense and tensions of the best thrillers on the market with the cozy atmosphere of the Three Pines.


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Silent Spring ~ by Rachel Carson

I got annoyed by The Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2022 and wanted to read some really good science.  I’ve had Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in mind ever since 1964  when it was first published and my 9th grade science teacher gushed about it.  Okay fine – and I heard about it all through the rest of school and once in awhile since. Now is the time. Then I found it included in my membership at Audible and the Kindle version was available at the library. Oh yay me!   

Silent Spring
by: Rachel Carson 
1962/ 150 pgs Kindle)
Read by Kaiulani Lee – 10 hrs and 36 mins
Rating – 10: classic environmental science
(Both read and listened) 

I’m not sure what I was expecting from a book my teacher was enthusiastic about 60+ years ago, but it’s a whole LOT more than whatever I was thinking.  So I dived right in and a few hours later didn’t want to go to bed.  

Yes, it’s real science and yes it’s beautifully written catching both the particulars of the science and the poetry of nature. Fwiw, the narration is soft and somewhat understated adding in some way to the whole effect. As Carson states in the book,  “In nature, nothing exists alone.”  

After World War 2 both insects and plants were targeted by new approaches of control.  From the Introduction, “They should not be called “insecticides” but “biocides.”  

I’m sure the book was startling back in 1962. It’s not an easy book to read even today when so many chemicals and poisons are banned or heavily controlled by different regulating agencies.  During WWII a lot of poisons were developed for the war and by the 1950s they were in the hands of the corporations for use by the public, farmers, consumers, golf course managers, etc.  

Somehow. someone. somewhere realized that the pesticides and herbicides developed for the war might also work after the war.  And so they did – on the insects as well as on humans.  DDT was one of the first.  

The sales force was good – use more, use more, use more.  But they were putting poison in the gardens of humans and into the food stuff for humans so guess what? Humans suffered as well as other animals.  

The pesticide and herbicide industriesgrew with the help of the US Department of Agriculture and Carson is hard on everyone – government and manufacturers.  The government pushed the use of pesticides as hard as the developers and nobody really did enough research. Where we used to at least have a skull and crossbones on poison and everyone over age 8 knew what that meant – the producers of DDT didn’t bother with that – And DDT was all the rage for awhile. (My mom knew there was DDT in it but she didn’t think it was enough to matter – until later.)

Since forever, plants and animals have migrated along with humans so Klamath Weed got transported from Europe to California. Beetles and other insects feed on it in Europe so that’s what was done in the US with great success in some places. Other transplants were not so successful for the new home,  When there are no natural predators the newcomers take over – check out the cactus in Australia.  

There are excellent sections on Dutch Elm Disease,  fire ants, and more – the war against fire ants affected many birds because birds eat worms and worms were sprayed.  Cancer gets its own chapter (“One in Every Four”). 

Carson pulls no punches. She “tells it like it is,” or was anyway. It definitely alerted the population and the marketers were up in arms (of course – remember tobacco?). The current data of Silent Spring is dated but the general warning is definitely not, so now I want to read  “Silent Spring 60 Years Later “  from Pepperdine or “The Legacy of Silent Spring” from Treehugger.  T

The book ends on a positive note pointing to the advances being made (at the time) in using natural biological remedies.  I’d love to read this again but we’ll have to see about time!  Meanwhile – it gets a 10 for substance and writing and being a classic.  

An Introduction by Linda Lear:

Also see Amazon’s sale page for a great Introduction.

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Armageddon ~ by Bart D Ehraman

Ehrman haș done it again.  I’ve read a number of Ehrman’s books,. 10 or 12 probably out of 30.  Sometimes he gets repetitious and seems to only insert one paragraph of new information in each book.  Other times it all feels new. This is a happy case of the latter.  

Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says About the End 
by Bart D Ehrman
2023 / 
Read by Robert Petcoff 7h 57m
Rating – 9 /  Christian history and studies

The Book of Revelations in the Bible is o complex book.  I read it one time simply to say I had read it – I’d read the rest of the Bible – just not Revelations because what I’d heard scared me.   

Revelations seemed very confused to me but I didn’t examine further – just having read it was my only goal.  Ehrman, however, has studied it and drawn some conclusions as well as very interesting points of historical interest. 

He covers his own youthful indoctrination into the evangelical Christian world view (parts of this are in almost all of his books) and then gets into Revelations specifically.  What does it say? What does it mean? And how has it been interpreted down through the centuries?   

Ehrman goes from describing the author, John of Patmos and his background, to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict covering a number of prophets of the end times since, David Koresh, contemporary Evangelicals, Ronald Reagan and the environmentalists and apathetics. And then there are other apocalypses like Daniel and have visions and dreams containing wild beasts and supernatural beings.  The visions reveal Heavenly Truths,  explain human suffering and overcoming.   

Revelations is a tale of armageddon as told by John of Patmos who received a visio – this is NOT St. John the disciple and author of the Gospel John and some Epistles.  John of Patmos wrote Revelations for his own followers and there were and are many people who claimed it did not belong in the Bible.  

The book is well worth reading if you’re interested in the subject. There’s a lot of new information from Ehrman and it’s fascinating in places in addition to being as well organized as possible on this topic, and nicely written.   

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Strangers in the Woods ~ by Anni Taylor

I found this in the “bonus” collection from Audible so I took a chance because who knows?  I don’t usually read books which are advertised as “domestic suspense” and I don’t remember if this book was, but for the most part. that’s what it is,  Isla, a professional photographer from Australia,  arrives in the Scottish highlands, employed to take photos of the estate and family of Alban McGregor, a noted architect. 

Stranger in the Woods 
by Anni Taylor 
2018 / 
Read by  Harriet Gordon-Anderson 13h 57m
Rating: C / suspense thriller 

It turns out this family is seriously dysfunctional in part due to the abduction of a small child years ago. But Isla had no idea what she was in for – in many ways. Isla has serious health issues which include epileptic seizures for which she takes medicine. Her mother in Australia worries.  But Isla lands where she lands and has to deal with it.  

The blurb from most online retailers:  
Photographer Isla Wilson is thrilled she’s landed her dream job, but the clients who hired her are getting stranger by the day.It sounded so perfect – a month’s assignment at the misty, sprawling Scottish Highlands property of brilliant architect Alban McGregor, and his wife, Jessica.But deep in the woods, there is a chilling playhouse. Two years ago, the McGregors’ daughter, Elodie, died after being abducted and taken there. Alban refuses to knock the playhouse down, and he keeps a picture of it on his wall.Isla senses that both Alban and Jessica are keeping terrible secrets. The closer Isla comes to getting answers about Elodie, the more the danger mounts. And with a dense cover of snow now blanketing the town, all chance of escape might already be gone.

It starts out well enough with a youngish and single but ailing photographer in the Scottish Highlands. Then it takes a turn for the suspenseful, but rather unlikely, and that gets developed through twists and turns to even more unlikely scenarios and the conclusion.

The narrator is great with the accent being just right and is probably a large part of why I finished. 

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Hell’s Half-Acre by Susan Jonusas

I had this on my Wish List at Audible and then it came up at the library.  Oh my – yes – So I started listening but it was late and I kept drifting off and finally just fell asleep.   I woke up and tried to find where I’d lost it and just kept getting interested. So I finished but somehow I wanted more –  I still hadn’t got it all – I missed quite a lot in those dozing sessions.  

Hell’s Half-Acre:
The Untold Story of the Benders, 
a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier
By Susan Jonusas
2022 / 345 pages
Read by Lee Osorio 8h 16m
Rating – 8/A:  history-true crime 

So I started over – still just listening.  Hmmmm… this really is pretty good, so I got the Kindle sample – yes … excellent. And yes-  I bought the Kindle version and kept going on through the book on this, my “second” reading – kind of. 

Part of my problem was that I was expecting “True Crime” in the way I’m used to reading True Crime.  I didn’t expect an academic or scholarly history book with a crime at the core or with a lot of related material plus immaculate source notes. I think Hell’s Half-Acre  is what is sometimes called “creative nonfiction” because the conversations Jonusas describes are likely not found in the source documents. There are other factors – the story arc is important and the author skillfully built tension often appropriate to a thriller. The more scholarly history books I’ve read lately don’t do that – lol. The source notes here are good but they’re generalized – nothing indicates specifically where the author got these particular words or ideas.

This is a history book for members of the general public who just want a good read, not folks who are looking for scholarly source notes or carefully worded suggestions of what might be considered. .  

 Hell’s Half-Acre takes place between 1872 and 1889 in the southeast corner of Kansas, not far from the borders of Missouri and Oklahoma. The Civil War had just ended not too long prior, the Homestead Act had been passed and railroads were going through the West. Displaced Southerners as well as new immigrants to the US were coming to Kansas looking for a home. Oklahoma belonged to displaced (evicted) Natives and Texas was full of abandoned cattle just waiting to be rounded up and taken north to the new railheads. This was a time of change. The frontier would be declared “closed” by the Bureau of the Census in 1890 – but not yet.

This book is about the Bender family who lived on that half-acre mentioned in the title, and their serial murdering of 11 or more people who wandered onto their property (saloon/cafe/inn). It’s just as much or more about the efforts of law enforcement and others to hunt them down. A few suspects were found and a trial held, but no one was ever convicted. The Benders were not among them though and they apparently simply left the area when they were about to be found out.  

 Hell’s Half-Acre isn’t an action-packed thriller although there’s quite a lot of tension in places because these are “the ‘Kansas Fiends’ a family of murderers whose crimes sent the newspapers and the nation into a frenzy.”

As a lover of both True Crime and the history of the West, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think I might have come across the name Bender long ago, but I’m not certain. 

 Photo of setting with William York in the casket:c

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Indigenous Continent ~ by Pekka Hamalainen

What a marvelous book! This is the second book I’ve read from Pekka Hamalainen. a Finnish historian of the American West, and I loved the first, Comanche Empire. I grabbed this one when I saw it was available. 

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America 
by Pekka Hamalainen
2020 /586 pages hardcover
Read by Kaipo Schwab 18h 44m
Rating; 10 / world history 
(both read and listened)

What the reader gets is the history of the indigenous peoples of the whole continent of North America (mostly US) from the days of the last ice age, about 2.5 million years ago, to the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890. It’s quite a tale to be told in 464 pages of narrative. But it’s there and in extremely readable form.

This telling is not from the colonists’ point of view, nor is it entirely from the natives’ view. It certainly isn’t parroting the story of the US nation-builders which is what seems to have become our “official” national myth.  

This book goes beyond revisionist thinking.  Rather, I saw it called a “counter-narrative” in one of the many laudatory reviews I glanced at (and will read now that I’ve finished the book). . I suppose “counter-narrative” means “revision” on a very large scale rather than in the details  A narrative which counters the “official” version.

Hämäläinen’s prior book, The Comanche Empire is also brilliant but I think he outdid that with the astounding amount of deep and thorough research which must have gone into this.. On almost every page I was surprised by the filling in of the bare outline of information I had previously. I think I need to read it again because there’s no way I could assimilate all of this.

Washington Post review

New York Times Review:

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Birnam Wood ~ by Eleanor Catton

Unless something really incredible comes along, this is my pick for best crime/mytery novel of the year. The author, Eleanor Catton, won the Mann Booker Prize back in 2013 for The Luminaries which is historical fiction with a crime (or several)  at the center. Both are complex and intricately plotted with sharply drawn characters. Both take place in New Zealand, where Catton is from. 

Birnam Wood ~ 
by Eleanor Catton
2023 –  424 p
Read by Saskia Maarleveld 12h 47m
Rating:  9.5 /A++ /mystery-thrille

But the differences include that The Luminaries is 846 pages in length, whereas Birnam Wood is only 432 pages (both hardcovers).  The Luminaries is filled with puzzles to figure out en route to the denouement.  Birnam Wood has a lot of chase scenes.  If I have to categorize (which, being a librarian type of person, I like to do), you might say that The Luminaries is a puzzler while Birnam Wood is more of a suspense-thriller. 

The title, Birnam Wood, is from of a prophesy made in Macbeth (Shakespeare) but in the novel it’s the name of an activist environmentalist group based somewhere on the South Island (Wellington?). The group apparently has an extremist streak. And it has some difficulties with morality and economics – a couple themes, plus the differences between the member.

The group basically does gardening on scattered bits of vacant land whether public or privately owned. They sell the produce and other organic products to make money for group purposes. Mira Bunting, one of the group leaders and a major character, gets word of a large and rather remote plot of land owned by a pest control entrepreneur and sets about trying to get permissions to plant larger scale. But the land is being purchased by an American manufacturer of drones, a billionaire who tells Mira he’s creating a survivalist camp there but he’d be willing to let the group do their thing while supporting them financially – an ongoing problem for them.  

The fictional mall town of Thorndike was cut off from the rest of the South Island by an earthquake and the prosperous Owen and Jill Davish, the owners of a large piece of property near there, are concerned and have received an offer to buy. The isolation is an attraction for Robert Lemoine, a billionaire American whose main company makes drones. But his plans for the property and Mira’s ideas don’t mesh at all. Lemoine wants to build a bunker there to hide his extensive illegal mining operations.

This is definitely a murder mystery with spy-type techie devices so it’s great fun but as told by a master wordsmith who is also superbly skillful at tension-building.

See The Conversation for a great review which compares Birnam Wood and Eleanor Catton to Lee Childs and Mick Herron’s Slough House series. I may have a new favorite author.



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Blowback ~ by Peter May

(finished 3/30) I think I’m done with this series. This book, the 5th, is more background on characters with a heavy dose of love interest thrown in.  The mystery is interesting when that’s the subject. A man has been missing for 7 years and can now be claimed as dead.  There’s also a lot of food and wine filling the pages.  

Blowback ~
by Peter May
2019 / 
Read by Peter Forbes 9h 12m
Rating B- / mystery – detective 
(#5 in The Enzo Files) 

The reason I’m “done” is there seems to be more time spent on non-crime threads than on anything else. Enzo has a complex personal life and it gets old.  

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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022, Ed by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

(finished 3/31)
The Forward and Introduction to this book of essays/articles are both quite good,  enjoyable, and informative. But it still took me some time to “get into” the whole and I was cautious for a long time even after I did.  The reader was told about the selection process and the organization by theme, but there was nothing to warn me about the organization by mood.  Actually the Editor plainly states that you can read it in any order you want.  I’m just a literal thinker and like things organized – 

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022,
Ed by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
11/2022 / 324 pages
read by a cast
Rating: 8 / nature anthology

I found the first two or three Sections of this year’s anthology so depressing I almost gave up on the whole book. But Section 4, “Humans Are a Part of Nature” showed real promise so I continued. And by then I was half-way through and as I progressed the tone got more and more promising, lighter. and the theme more solution oriented.  

Okay – but I’m also a very literal and organized type of person and I read books from front to back. That makes most sense to me and that’s what I did. I may go back and read a few I particularly appreciated and skip others. We’ll see.

Some thoughts:

Overall there seemed to me to be a few more Native American essays than one usually finds in these anthologies and there were definitely more women authors this time, but I’ve only read 2 or 3 of the Science and Nature anthologies. One Amazon reviewer commented that 28 of the 33 essays were written by women. Ronin

I also have to mention that one of my favorite nonfiction writers has a story here- “How We Drained California” by Mark Arax. It’s new – not from a book he’s published previously although this is his usual topic. I’m really glad he’s still going – maybe he’ll do another book. I’ve read 3 of his 4 books.

I think the best essay of the book was in  Section 4 “Ways of Knowing.”  I actually stopped putting my digital puzzle together and read with listening going back to catch something which maybe wasn’t quite clear.  “It’s Not Your Face” Page 205  Section 4, “Ways of Knowing\

The following line, from the last essay in the first section, was just kind of curious because of how often my reading group has come across Humboldt in our readings of the past year or so.  

“The nineteenth-century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt dismissed the birds as parasites.”
“How Far Does Wildlife Roam? Ask the Internet of Animals.”
  p 33
by Sonia Shah From The New York Times Magazine

Maybe we are progressing.

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Evan and Elle ~ by Rhys Bowen

This little murder mystery, #6 in Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evan Evans series, was way more involved and more fun than I expected.  After all my serious nonfictions lately I deserved some easy reading.  LOL!  (Not really.) 

Evan and Elle
by  Rhys Bowen 
2000 – 7h 13m
Read by Roger Clark – 7h 13m
Rating A- / cozy 
(#4 in the Constable Evan Evans series) 

Evan Evans left the big city and is a regular and highly regarded constable in the small town of Llanfair on the western edge of Wales.  What he’d like to be is a detective,  but that advancement keeps slipping by even though he is obviously the best candidate.  He has a girlfriend, though and likes the rural ambiance. 

In this story a new French restaurant has opened up at the edge of town and the cooking is supposedly marvelous. But just like a few other places lately, there’s a fire. The difference this time is that a body is found in the ashes.   Evans and Sergeant Watkins start interviewing and following a myriad of clues which lead them to France and some surprises.  

It’s a cute cozy with a good twisty mystery/thriller attached.  The town and it’s people are a huge draw. There’s a girlfriend for Evan and his co-workers are fine.  It’s the plots which will keep me going with thi so I’ll start at #1 which is when Evan moves to town and go from there. 

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How the South Won the Civil War ~ by Heather Cox Richardson

I got this at a pretty good sale, but I was interested in what Richardson, a moderately well-known academic professor of US history who also writes for a general audience, has to say about this idea that the South won the Civil War.  It’s a catchy title and it’s not quite accurate, but that said, what does Richardson, a very liberal oriented historian at Boston College, have to say on the subject?  The Washington Post calls the book “provocative” and “searing,” so it’s likely not a dry and dusty textbook. Even the words in the subtitle, “Oligarchy” “Democracy” and the “Soul of America” use some pretty emotionally charged and definitionally challenged words.  

How the South Won the Civil War:
Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight
for the Soul of America
by Heather Cox Richardson / 2020
Read by author /  9h 9m
Rating – 8.5 / US history 

Richardson seems to consider the official Civil War (1860-1864) to be an event in the broader conflict for the large idea of Democracy. To do this she immerses her argument in the party politics of Democrats vs Republicans, through Reconstruction, the progressive conflicts of the late 19th century and through the World Wars the Great Depression, on to the Civil Rights movement, Reagan, the Evangelicals, and finally, Trump (who was president when she was getting it published).  She covers US history as long as it’s useful to her argument.    

Although there were a few surprises and lots of unfamiliar details, I was pretty cognizant of the history and topics up to 1988 when more of it seemed new. Still, it was always the same message,  how horrible the conservatives (oligarch class) were toward the generally innocent and well-meaning progressives (working folks). In her mind the plantation culture of the antebellum South formed an oligarchy and that’s quiet likely true but the North had its own similar situations.

Anyway, according to records, the South did NOT win the Civil War so I’d say she doesn’t mean that in any literal way.  If you understand that for the North, the War Between the States was only about keeping the states united and ending slavery, then it’s obvious – the United States has not been carved up and there  is no legal slavery in the US.  Meanwhile for the South the war was for freedom and property rights which the North was trying to take away.

However we do have pretty serious case of polarization around the ideas of democracy (equality) vs freedom and in their own way those were the basic ideas involved in the Civil War. But imo, those ideas will always be at odds.

What Richardson does with the idea is show how from the Civil War on as we spread out over North America that conflict came up over and over again especially in our politics from Andrew Johnson to Donald Trump.

Richardson is quite liberal and mainly talking about oligarchy and democracy as we understand them today.  If you define the liberals/progressives as being for the working man and the conservatives as being for the oligarchs and the main thrust of the Civil War being Democracy then yup – Richardson is right, that was is sill going on in a myriad of ways.

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Come Back in September ~ by David Pinckney

From Putnam, the publishers: :  
“Critic and writer Darryl Pinckney recalls his friendship and apprenticeship with Elizabeth Hardwick and Barbara Epstein and the introduction they offered him to the New York literary world.

Come Back In September: A Literary Education 
On West Sixty-Seventh Street, Manhattan
By Darryl Pinckney: 2022
Rating: 9.5 / memoir 

  • National Book Critics Circle Award – Nominee 
  • New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year 
  • Washington Post Best Books of the Year

The New York Times calls it “elegiac,”although for the most part I didn’t quite understand that. There is certainly a tone of it”good-bye” especially in the last chapter, The title is oddly hopeful for an elegy. It’s more like an observation that an era has passed and this book remembers Pinckney himself as well as his mentor and long-term, good friend Elizabeth Hardwick.  The book is like an homage to Elizabeth Hardwick.

With no audio book available for this, I actually read it on my little iPad-Kindle. It took me quite a long time due to my senior eyes. Also, the book itself is dense with memories which seem to flow (or be choppy). I listened to other books along the way. This lack of an Audible book is rare and I think it mostly happens with the older non-classic books as well as to a few which just wouldn’t work very well (graphic novels?)

 To me, the sample Kindle read like a name-dropping memoir of New York literary snobbery and I almost decided not to bother, but I changed my mind because I am group leader at All-Nonfiction and this was our month’s group read. Besides, I’ve read every book since I joined in April of 2000 – I don’t want to break that record.

 I’m glad I read it. (What happened was that I kept procrastinating the decision to quit. – lol!)   

I have a couple of criticisms, but it still gets a very high rating!  If this book were only 250 pages long it might be much better – although maybe not quite so “elegiac” or nostalgic. I was really interested for only about the first 150 pages and then my involvement was in bits and pieces. That said, there is something worthwhile and compelling about this book – Maybe it’s the good-bye to that era with all the books and different kinds of news from the War in Vietnam (1973) to the height of the AIDS struggle (1980s) and on to the fall of the Berlin Wall so there’s also a bit of nostalgia.

That said, I kept going, but Gertrude Stein did this kind of memoir properly with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas which I read about 20 years ago. Stein’s book inspired me to compose a kind of annotated list of people mentioned and what they were noted for to go with the book.  I loved Stein’s book, but it’s only 206 hard cover pages and that fits what it was.

 In his defense, Pinckney tries for quite a lot more and ended up with 432 pages (also hard cover for comparison), for his 2-decade memoir and homage to Elizabeth Hardwick and he also includes information about his own family and some Black-American history.  

All that said, I enjoyed so much of it. I think he captured the ambiance of the New York literary circles in the 1970s and ’80s (much of it anyway).  I’ve read quite a number of the authors mentioned, but certainly not all. And yes, I feel like I got to know Hardwick as well as Pinckney.  

It was after trying the sample that I decided to skip it,  but I guess I only procrastinated the decision because I re-thought it and decided I should check out some background and that got me more interested and I decided to get it. And I read it. For the next 3 weeks I read it, taking notes and highlighting but not going very fast.  

Elizabeth (Liz, Lizzy) Hardwick, was age 50-something in 1974 when she became the professor and mentor of 19-year old Pinckney. Along with Barbara Epstein he kind of pleaded/advised/joked Hardwick into admitting him to her class and they became fast friends until her death 34 years later. (I read somewhere that he’s the custodian of her works.) This book doesn’t do much with the last couple decades of her life but I think Pinckney wasn’t around so much then.  

On the surface, this is NOT my era of New York literature. David Pinckney, is a Black New York writers born in about 1955 or so in Indiana.  (He’s rather coy about his age.)   Meanwhile I love the later New York of Don DeLillo and Jonathan Letham and Cynthia Ozick and others, Mark Helprin? Even Thomas Pynchon in his later days.

I can’t really recommend this if you weren’t a part in some way, even as a reader, of the literary life of New York in the 1980s and ’90s. But if you were an involved reader of the New York Review of Books or the kinds of books they critique you might really enjoy it.

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