Lethal Defense ~ by Michael Stagg

Good book!  This one kept me up very late and I popped it open within 20 minutes of rising.  (I often do this as there’s not much going on around here.) 

*******
Lethal Defense
By Michael Stagg
2020
Read by George Newbern 9h 56m
Rating:  A+ / legal drama
*******

Nate Shephard finds himself acting as “local counsel” on a case of 1st degree murder with extra penalties. There’s no question that Hank Braggi murdered a Dylan Chase, a member of a rock band,  by viscously beating him to death. But there are other issues – are there extenuating circumstances and what does mean?  How far can self-defense (or defense of another person) go? How much force is too much force?  

The writing and editing are not the best but if you’re up for a riveting story, with wonderfully interesting and likable characters and plenty of suspense and courtroom drama this is your book. 

From Amazon:
A client savagely kills a man to protect a friend. A lawyer with secrets must prove it was justified.

Attorney Nate Shepherd left a big firm to go out on his own. He sees nothing but opportunity when an out-of-town lawyer wants to hire him as local counsel on a high-profile murder case. Though his family worries that the case hits too close to home, Nate joins the defense team. 

When circumstances force him to take on a bigger role, Nate ignores his family’s fears and throws himself into his client’s defense. But as he digs deeper, every aspect of the case raises memories of a terrible event that Nate has tried his best to bury. 

Battling an aggressive prosecutor in court and a dogged reporter outside it, Nate fights to prove that his client’s brutal, bloody slaying of an evil victim was right. But when Nate’s own story is exposed, it threatens his client’s freedom … and Nate’s carefully constructed life.

Can Nate fend off his own demons long enough to save his client? 

Lethal Defense is the first book in the gripping Nate Shepherd Legal Thriller series. If you like razor-sharp dialogue, iron-willed characters, and slippery moral quandaries, then you’ll love Michael Stagg’s fierce courtroom drama.

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The Glass Hotel ~ by Emily St John Mandell #2

The cave came quickly and I reread The Glass Hotel.  And I got the Kindle to go with the Audible (from the library) this time.  This is a good thing because, for one thing, I could see how some names were spelled. And too, I missed a lot of connections. This often happens to me with books which really speak to me and where I want to go back.  It starts by me wanting to figure out what happened,  but then thematic connections start popping up again. 

The Glass Hotel 
by Emily St John Mandel 
2020 / 
Read by Dylan Moore – 10h 28m
Rating – 10 / contemp. fiction

In the case of The Glass Hotel it was the characters and their connections which sucked me back as well as the chronology.  

The environments of the main characters change so radically that how this happens is not necessarily obvious.  “How the heck did Jonathan land in jail?” (Not a spoiler.) –  In my second reading all was tidied up except maybe one or two important threads and kind of thematic idea which I shall not divulge.  
In the first reading I get a lot of the plot and the style and some character development.  But sometimes I just need to know how the plot got from point A to point C.  The Satanic Verses was my first book like this.  When I finished the book the first time I went,  “HUH??? How did that come about?”  And I flipped the whole book over and started again right then.  The experience with The Glass Hotel was pretty close to that.  Most second readings don’t happen until I’ve read a couple books first but these two were very compelling.  Even Cloud Atlas took me a few weeks or months before hitting it again.  

But I love the characters of The Glass Hotel – I want to take them all and hug them – they are us. 

Themes: 
** Dissolving borders. Jonathan and realityVictor and her own self 
Oskar and moralityOlivia and morality 
Paul and A (others?) –  drugs’
And states and businesses and countriesAnd identities – (what is an identity?)
 The border between poor and rich (Victor, others) 
Or rich and poor (most investors) 
False memories?  (Jonathan and Leon and ???) 
Characters get mixed up to me – their names anyway –
 Jonathan/Victor and their brothers
Trust and distrust – is there a borderline? 

 “It is possible to disappear in the space between counties.”  Page 251

Or in the space musical styles,  “… between classical and electronica…”  

Knowing but not knowing – where’s the border?Almost everyone.  The whole Ponzi scheme and the ways that works into the themes. 

** The statement, “Why don’t you swallow broken glass?” comes up twice or three times.  

And the book has a few coincidences strewn through it – how people connect and re-connect, for instance. 

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandell

Oh my-  this shouldn’t have been such a surprise but …. I put this book on my Wish List as soon as it came out.  And then I waited.  And I guess I saw a few reviews which weren’t up to what I thought they should be if this book was going to be as good as Station Eleven, Mandel’s prior novel.  And time went on.  I took it off my Wish List at some point.  Then I saw it as being “available” on the library audio shelves.  Okay – I got it, tried it. (And it’s so good I want to read it again!)

The Glass Hotel 
by Emily St John Mandel 
2020 / 
Read by Dylan Moore – 10h 28m
Rating – 9.5 / contemp. fiction

I was wrong.  This is at least as good as Station Eleven.  The structure is more interesting with alternating (almost random but not quite) time frames.  The main characters (there are many characters!) are wonderfully well formed and developed within themselves as well as over time, but the edges of the characters aren’t terribly sharp and clear. The whole books is kind of dreamy in a way.  They pop in and out of the time frames.  

From “The Atlantic” review which is excellent and the link is below:
 “The structure of The Glass Hotel is virtuosic, as the fragments of the story coalesce by the end of the narrative into a richly satisfying shape.”

The overall time frame is between 1994 (at the earliest) and 2018 as well as a brief foray into a snip of 2029.  Most of the real action takes place between 2005 and 2013 including the stock market crash (see Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme) and on into the Great Recession which started then.  

Some very important parts take place in a luxury hotel in the very northern part of Vancouver Island – the book’s “anchor” if it has one, but most of it takes place in New York with excursions elsewhere. as well as in prison. It’s like, as The Atlantic reviewer said,  “ a jigsaw puzzle “which is missing the box.  (You might say it’s also missing a frame – the edges but you never feel like you’re going to float off the page.

The plot involves a man who is now in prison for financial shenanigans and the people he’s involved with before, during and after his days of glory and the troubles many characters end up facing.  The book asks what is real, reality, transient, etc. among other things. 

The writing style matches the drifty, not quite real, ambiance of David Mitchell and the characters and setting match that so everything fits to create a whole.  At one point the lead character sees ghosts. I took that as evidence that his mind was bending, but it’s open.  This is not a major issue.  Themes are more about money and alternative realities and choosing not to know stuff.  

 I have to mention that the narration by Dylan Moore is outstanding – it also matches the whole atmosphere of the book.  

I love this book – it reminds me of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for the structure and the  dreaminess and the reappearing characters.  I wonder if I’d gone into this book expecting the hype to pop what my response would have been – disappointment?  I don’t know but that often happens to me with books which have been hyped.  

https://www.marmaladeandmustardseed.com/bookguidesblog/the-glass-hotel
There is an excellent character list which may come in handy. (It did for me!).

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/emily-st-john-mandel-glass-hotel/605548/ Great but wait until you’ve finished the book.  The actual review starts half way down the piece which also talks a lot about Station Eleven and our plague of 2020.  This piece also mentions the David Mitchell link (which I caught before reading that others thought the same thing).  

https://therumpus.net/2020/03/the-rumpus-interview-with-emily-st-john-mandel/ An interview in which Mandell actually states that she based the structure on what Mitchell did in Cloud Atlas and how she really feels about Montreal. (She was quite hard on it in one of her books which I also read years ago.) There’s a lot of stuff in this interview about the meaning of having one character from one book lapse over into other novels. Very interesting – fascinating actually. 

And from me to anyone in the All-nonfiction reading group there’s a bit of resonance in The Glass Hotel and Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener in that you know something but don’t know it – and that could be like the idea of our times maybe.  

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Dachshund Through the Snow ~ by David Rosenfelt

This is book #20 in the Andy Carpenter series and it follows one of my less favorite things that long running series get into. The authors seem to run short of local crimes for their protagonists to investigate and so the appearance of world-wide criminal activity comes into play in some way.  By the end of the book it’s not at all bothersome.  The second, less important, is the repetition of plot lines – and again, that’s only a small part of the whole. 

Dachshund Through the Snow
by David Rosenfelt
Read by Grover Gardner 6h 42m
Rating: A- / legal thriller 

Fwiw,  there’s some, maybe enough,  but not much of Christmasy interest in the book.  So between those two things there’s a small reduction in the rating because overall, by the ending, I definitely enjoyed myself. 

In Dachshund Through the Snow we have a relatively young man accused of killing an old girlfriend.  This is seemingly out of the blue and after 14 years – it had been a cold case and the young man was a teenager at the time of the killing.   So
the odds are stacked against Andy’s being able to solve this one for that reason alone but also because it involves DNA – again.  But what and why and how did an international mobster get involved?  

Quire by accident, Andy’s wife finds the young man and wants them to do what they can with what they can find, but things look very bad.  And the bodies pile up.  
As usual the best parts of the book, for me, are the trial procedures and shenanigans but the chase scenes were quite fun.   

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A Great and Terrible King: Edward I ~ by Marc Morris

I really enjoyed this book – it’s well written in a casual kind of style,  and gets to the points we’re interested in today (although I still don’t have much use for long battle details).  I only listened and feel like the graphics etc in the Kindle would have been invaluable. That said, it doesn’t really cover his whole reign – the focus is on the battles with Scotland and Wales.  But that means the subtitle: “The Forging of Britain” is right on.  

A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
By Marc Morris
2015 / 480 pages (hc) 
Read by Ralph Lister – 18h 28m
Rating:  8.75 / medieval history 

From Amazon –
 “Edward I is familiar to millions as “Longshanks,” conqueror of Scotland and nemesis of Sir William Wallace (in Braveheart). Yet this story forms only the final chapter of the king’s action-packed life. Earlier, Edward had defeated and killed the famous Simon de Montfort, traveled to the Holy Land, and conquered Wales. He raised the greatest armies of the Middle Ages and summoned the largest parliaments. Notoriously, he expelled all the Jews from his kingdom.In this book, Marc Morris examines afresh the forces that drove Edward throughout his relentless career: his character, his Christian faith, and his sense of England’s destiny-a sense shaped in particular by the tales of the legendary King Arthur. He also explores the competing reasons that led Edward’s opponents (including Robert Bruce) to resist him.

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The Turn of the Key ~ by Ruth Ware

The very privileged little girls, Petra, Maddy and Elli Ellenscourt, ages toddler through 8, have a new nanny – our 1st person protagonist, Rowen.  They live with their traveling parents in a large technologically advanced home. They hate it when their parents leave and they act out with R as their victim.  Sad to say one of them ends up dead and Rowen is in jail for the murder.  The book opens with Rowen writing to a potential lawyer explaining her predicament and then goes into her story as it unfolded. 

*******
The Turn of the Key
by Ruth Ware
2020 / 2019
Read by Imogen Church – 8h 13m
rating: B / crime suspense
*******

I’ve read only one of Ruth Ware’s books prior to this one and I wasn’t too impressed. So, since I decided to try borrowing audio books from the library and this was available and sounded okay. I got it.  It’s a kind of updated version of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” one of the best English language short stories and I understood that before reading it anywhere (I mean the title plus a nanny?  Duh.) But Ruth Ware is no Henry James and 2019 is not 1898. Don’t get your hopes up.

Okay so it’s high suspense, but sometimes there are just too many words. Rowan thinks and thinks and thinks. 

I was disappointed in the ending – I won’t say why. Just a difficulty with a certain plot twist which, imo, was stupid and clichéd. 

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Deck the Hounds ~ by David Rosenfelt

This is a series I don’t follow in order. I’m not really that much of a dog person and too much of Rosenfelt’s humor will do me no good.  Once in awhile though … so I’m reading his Christmas books from the Andy Carpenter series.  I don’t know if I’ll do another one this season or not – maybe. I know I’ll do another one at some point.

*******
Deck the Hounds
By David Rosenfelt/ 2018
Read by Grover Gardner 7h 19m Rating: B+ / legal mystery 

*******

“Deck the Hounds” is just what I needed. It’s a light murder mystery set in a medium sized New Jersey town during Christmas time.  Our protagonist, Andy Carpenter, is a multi-millionaire attorney who loves dogs.  This is book #18 so the background story arc has progressed quite a ways but I had no problem keeping up with the little fact that Andy   married Laurie who was in a couple priors at some point,  and they have a child, a boy age 6.  Andy still has his beloved retriever, Tara.  These characters don’t play much part in the plot. 

From Audible: Reluctant lawyer Andy Carpenter doesn’t usually stop to help others, but seeing a dog next to a homeless man inspires him to give the pair some money to help. It’s just Andy’s luck that things don’t end there. Soon after Andy’s encounter with them, man and dog are attacked in the middle of the night on the street. The dog defends its new owner, and the erstwhile attacker is bitten but escapes. But the dog is quarantined, and the man, Don Carrigan, is heartbroken.   

Andy’s wife, Laurie, can’t resist helping the duo after learning Andy has met them before…it’s the Christmas season, after all. In a matter of days, Don and his dog, Zoey, are living above Andy’s garage and become two new additions to the family. It’s not until Andy accidentally gives away his guest’s name during an interview that things go awry; turns out Don is wanted for a murder that happened two years ago. Don not only claims he’s innocent, but that he had no idea he was wanted for a crime he has no knowledge of in the first place. It’s up to Andy to exonerate his new friend, if he doesn’t get pulled into the quagmire first.   

David Rosenfelt’s signature wit, charm, and cleverness are back again in this most exciting installment yet. 

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10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World ~ by Elif Shafak

It’s a good thing this book is written so nicely and narrated wonderfully well because the plot has no particular substance and most of the characters are essentially interchangeable – that may have been semi-deliberate.

10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World 
By Elif Shafak 
Read by Alix Dunmore 9h 11m
Rating 7.5 

The framing device in Part I was clever, I suppose.  It’s what you’d expect from a Booker nomination in 2020 – the tragic story of an abused marginal woman in the city of a very poor foreign country (or in London).  And it was written by a non-European woman – Turkey.

 It does gain interest in Part II, about 2/3 through the book. But I learned next to nothing about Turkey, to me it seemed a tad too similar to India, although Istanbul was a bit different here than in the delicious books of Orhan Pamuk.  Maybe the really rough areas of all urban areas are very similar these days.  Except for a few touches, this could have taken place in New York or LA, I think.  
  
In the mid-1960s, a prostitute named Tequila Leila is left for dead in one of the rubbish heaps of Istanbul. Her heart has stopped beating, but her brain lives on for another “10 minutes and 38 seconds.” During that time she reviews her life.  It was rough, not one the reader would want to have lived. 

But then the narrative changes dramatically at about 2/3rds through when Leila dies. The story, however, continues because it’s not just her story. She has five very close friends, all from “the streets,” and we follow them as they got through their grief and loss.  The narrative also goes back a bit into the lives of those five people – some of this is done before the midway point and some after. They all have rather tragic stories because they are all generally from the streets and are generally known by aliases.  They have each other.

Up to Leila’s death the story is pretty predictable. That’s when the friends come into their own and have their own adventure.  

I maybe should have read the Kindle version of the book as there is a highly illustrated and detailed map in the front. I love maps but after looking at the map in the Kindle sample I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s a beautiful map – maybe too much detail – ?

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The Christmas Night Murder – by Lee Harris

I read this in honor of Christmas and a very cheap offer from Audible – free with Audible Plus! And judging from the blurbs and sample, it sounded good. It’s an old book but it was brought back by Audible. I found it a bit disappointing in some ways but I stayed with it and enjoyed myself.

*******
The Christmas Night Murder
by Lee Harris – orig 1993
Read by Susan O’Malley – 6h 49m
Rating: B- / cozy murder mystery
*******

I was looking for some kind of cozy mystery and it certainly is that. Maybe a wee bit cozier than I’m used to but. It’s book #3 in Harris’ Christine Bennett series.  Christine is an ex-nun who marries a cop.  Together they solve crimes. 

In this case the pair goes back to visit the nuns at her old convent. There have been a few changes over the years but it hasn’t been that long.  The problem is that the old Father who moved to Colorado hasn’t showed up yet. As time goes by the small group realizes he’s not going to show up – he’s missing.  Christine starts looking for him but the police aren’t very interested and then someone turns up dead.  Much of the plot involves the long ago suicide of a student at the school. Was it suicide or not? She had other problems.  

The book was interesting but I doubt I’ll read more of this series – unless something reminds me.  The narrator was usually okay but after awhile she sounded canned, like she was just reading off a script.  In looking back I see I’ve read one other of this series – the Thanksgiving Day murder – same narrator, too.   

I am however kind of interested in reading another book in the Gaslight Murders, a series of cozy mysteries which take place in 19th century New York. These are by Victoria Thompson.  

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The House in the Woods ~ by Mark Dawson

Not bad!  This latest one from Mark Dawson has a very twisted plot after you get into it but the characters are nicely developed and the story is supposed to be the first of a series.  On two fronts it ends like it definitely is the first of a series, but there’s only the one out so far.  (And the actual plot was tied up nicely.)  I chose to read it because it kinda-sorta sounded Christmasy, but it’s not – at all really.  

The House in the Woods 
by Mark Dawson 
2020 / Audible
Read by Simon Vance 9h 57m

Rating: B- / crime
(Atticus Priest series #1 – but there are no more on offer)

Atticus Priest is the new PI protagonist who assists whomever hires him – in this case Ralph Mallender, the defendant who has been arrested because although the shooting he reported took place inside a locked house, his actions and interests definitely look suspicious.  

From the publisher: 
On Christmas Eve, Detective Chief Inspector Mackenzie Jones is called to a shooting at a remote farmhouse. Ralph Mallender believes his father lies dead inside. When three more bodies are discovered, it’s clear a festive family gathering has turned into a gruesome tragedy. 

At first it seems like an open-and-shut case: a murder suicide committed by Ralph’s volatile brother Cameron. Then new evidence makes Mack suspect the man who reported the crime is in fact the perpetrator. 

But Mack isn’t the only one with a stake in the case. Private investigator Atticus Priest has been hired to get Ralph acquitted. That means unearthing any weaknesses in Mack’s evidence.

Irascible, impatient, and unpredictable, Atticus has weaknesses of his own. Mack knows all about them because they share a past – both professionally and personally. This time round, however, they aren’t on the same side. And as Atticus picks at the loose ends of the case, everything starts to unravel in a way neither of them could ever have predicted….

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The Killer’s Wife ~ by Victor Methos

This is one of the most brutal crime novels I’ve ever read. Believe me it’s not for the sensitive souls. I got it because I’ve enjoyed the prior books by Methos – (not loved but enjoyed) and it was on sale. Okay fine.

The Killer’s Wife
by Victor Methos – 2020
read by Brittany Pressley 9h 21m
rating A / procedural-legal thriller

Jessica Yardley, an FBI assistant attorney working in the Salt Lake City area, was married for several years to Eddie,  now in prison, and on death row actually, for a series of murders for which he was found guilty.  Yardley has custody of their now 15-year old daughter.

Jessica Yardley, an FBI assistant attorney working in the Salt Lake City area, was married for several years to Eddie,  now in prison, and on death row actually, for a series of murders for which he was found guilty.  Yardley has custody of their now 15-year old daughter. And then there’s Yardley’s current roommate – Wesley Paul, a college law professor. 

The problem is that now a new serial killer is on the loose and is apparently copy-catting Eddie’s crimes.  Jessica is the one who would know – or might know – the new guy’s next move.  To help the prosecution she has to put her life and the life of her daughter on the line. Still – it’s something she has to do.
 
The plot was good with lots of twists, but it was a bit strained in terms of believability.  The characters were nicely drawn.  I had problems with the narrator who sounded perpetually bored. 

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Uncanny Valley ~ by Anna Wiener

I rather enjoy memoirs and books about Silicon Valley on their own so when this book got selected for the All-Nonfiction group’s schedule I was pleased and I’m reading it the month before it actually comes up there.  

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir
By Anna Wiener –
2020
Read by Suehyla El-Attar: 8h 45m
Rating:  8.5 / memoir

This book started slow with Anna’s background on the East Coast (New York) literary circles, but maybe that had to be there in order to understand Wiener and hr background as well as to capture the culture shock of the East/West coast differences.  I don’t know. It picked up considerably after she has got settled in, met some people and explored a wee big of San Francisco where she is ensconced in the middle of the city.  

After that the narrative turns to work practices, ethics and behaviors of the Silicon Valley start-ups. Wiener is a great writer – the tension built as she got new assignments, switched companies and made new friends. Who knew it would end up with Anna exploring her ethics and being unintentionally and maybe peripherally involved in the shadier side of social media.  

https://www.newyorker.com/contributors/anna-wiener

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