A Death in Live Oak ~ by James Grippando

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

(Jack Swyteck series # __)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Scholar ~ by Dervla McTiernan

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Defense of History ~ by Richard J. Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell ~ by Robert Dugoni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Hakawati – by Rabih Alameddine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Chris Watson in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

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


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Deep, Deep Snow ~ by Brian Freeman

On Daily Deal at Audible it was only released yesterday and there were some positive sounding messages about it on Facebook. I grabbed it and started in yesterday evening.

It’s an interesting book. The obviously fictional setting is somewhere in the US where there are woods and fishing and snow, and where, in a small town the sheriff is getting ready to retire and his daughter, Shelby Lake about ready to take his place. The town has it’s share of old secrets (as usual) including unsolved murders. Even Shelby, who was abandoned by someone but found and adopted by the widowed sheriff, Tom Ginn, has her share.

The Deep Deep Snow
by Brian Freeman
(an Audible Original )
read by January Lavoy – 10h 6m
rating: B+ / crime – procedural/psychological

One day a young boy goes missing and the whole town turns out to help look for him. He’s not found but while the FBI is there other crimes are solved.

Then comes Part 2, ten years later, when the town kids are grown but nothing else much has changed. There is a break, a new clue about Jeremiah, the original missing child and the story unfolds.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 39 Steps ~ by John Buchan

I finally got around to reading this classic wartime-thriller-mystery tale of adventure. I wasn’t impressed but I’m sure it was a hit ini it’s own day – WWI era.

Richard Hannay gets caught up in a strange spy scheme including a couple of murders right after he returns to London from Rhodesia. He’s Scot himself and decides to hide from police there. Hannay is presented in 1st person and spends a lot of time running and hiding from those who would capture him . Military secrets are revealed to him so there are several reasons he’s chasing around

The 39 Steps
by John Buchan
1914 / 112 pages
read by Adrian Praetzellis – 4h 18m
rating: C/4 – classic crime/spy thriller

Can’t think of much more to say about it. It’s very British and where I was expecting something along the lines of Josephine Tey, I fear it’s closer to Walter Scott.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Mars Room ~ by Rachel Kushner x2

This book finally came up on the Booker Group schedule and as promised, I’m re-reading it. My original reading was back in March. I really enjoyed reading Kushner’s prior novels but I’d put off reading this – no good reason. Anyway, here’s my review on this site. and links to Kushner’s other two novels

The book opens with Romy Hall, the main 1st person character, on a prison transport bus from a Los Angeles jail to the large women’s facility near Chowchilla. This is the only women’s prison in California for death row inmates but it’s renamed in the book. She’s not on death row herself, but she is serving two life sentences for murder. Her past includes many illegal activities from prostitution to drugs and so on. The book’s title comes from the bar she worked at in San Francisco prior to her big troubles.

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner
2018 / 352 pages
read by Rachel Kushner – 9h 41m
rating : 8.75 / contemp. fiction

Romy is only one of several characters with their own points of view – and Fernandez is another 1st prison. All these characters turn the prison into a fully fleshed out environment or maybe even “a character.” And sometimes characters who are from a prisoner’s past the past contribute to the character of the prison environment because those who are in prison bring them in via their thoughts and feelings – in actions and reactions. . It’s complicated.

The prison part of the book becomes like a frame in some places (a prison in a way) because real life took place in the past so much of the novel is backstory to give context to the present. Tthere is a plot which unfolds in the prison setting through. as well.

I wasn’t as impressed this site round although what I described above was a new insight to me. Maybe the shock value wore off – I don’t know.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Karolina’s Twins ~ by Ronald H. Balson

Balson has written 5 books so far and all in one series. I saw today that he’d just released another one so I figured I’d better catch up with the one I’d missed, Karolina’s Twins. It’s number three in the series which I missed because the sample in the Audio version was not what I wanted to read. But …

The stories in this series are individual enough they can be read as standalone, but there is a very loose overacting continuity dealing with the informal team of Liam Taggart a private detective and Catherine Taggart, a Chicago-based attorney.

Karolina’s Twins
by Ronald H. Bolson
2010 / 317 pages
read by Gabra Zackman
rating – B/7 – legal crime – holocaust lit

One day Liam receives a phone call from, Lena Scheinman. an elderly woman who wants to hire him and Catherine to help sort out what she describes as a real estate problem. She calls him because of a prior case (Book 2) where the client was an old friend of Lena’s.

When they meet the next day she barely begins to tell Catherine the long story, only hinted at in her diary, of her friend Karolina and her twin daughters, lost in the Holocaust of WWII. This was 70 years prior and it takes days to tell. She has a book with

Bottom line, in order to settle the real estate issue she has to prove that although she’s in her 90s, she hasn’t got dementia and incompetent as her son claims. But this is 70 years after the facts in the US. She wants to find the twins because of a promise.

I suppose it’s a good book but I was kind of disappointed through most of it. It doesn’t seem as original as her priors. That said the ending is page-turning and I’m going to go ahead and read The Girl From Berlin, Balson’s 5th book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Palace ~ by Norman Eisen x2

I read this again for the Allnonfiction reading group and got a fair bit more out of it on the second reading. I’ll have to up my rating some, but that’s about as high as I can honestly go. More photos in the book would have been appreciated, but there’s a limit on pages publishers are willing to print and there are a lot of them available online. My prior review: https://mybecky.blog/2019/05/28/the-last-palace-by-norman-eisen/

Also, on the second reading I found Eisen’s online Notes mentioned in the Notes section of the Kindle book and when I got to checking these I was really impressed and followed along for awhile and checking them after that. They are ordered by page number and the book has only a few of those available at the url above.

The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House
by Norman Eisen 
2018 / 398 pages
read by Jeff Goldblum – 15h 36m
Rating: 9 / history 
(both read and listened)

This time I came to thee realization Eisen has written a very good example of “creative nonfiction” which is what most popular history books are these days. Creative nonfiction is more like journalism in that it works to get and keep the reader’s interest via more literary techniques and devices than actual historians use. The authors of more scholarly reporting or history writing. Historians assume the interest is already there and stick to facts and arguments and until recently, historians have not been noted for their writing skills.

So I was impressed by the way Eisen provided tension and heartbreak throughout the book – this is NOT a compendium of facts. It’s a kind of literary nonfiction at its best. It’s a book which was written for popular consumption, but one where excellent back-up sources are provided (albeit on the web).

Some would call it a history book because it’s about about history, but it’s not “technically” a History book – one you would normally find as a basic text for a History class unless the class was specifically on this building and a few of its residents.

No one history book can be all things to all readers. Those who are getting an introduction to the material can’t make full use of extensive notes. On the other hand readers who are already knowledgeable in the subject can be quite annoyed without detailed source material. Some readers quite appreciate the human interest stories which documented by personal letters, journals, interviews, etc while other readers are put off by this sort of thingl. Finally, the style of writing Eisen uses seems to be aimed at the general public rather at the academic or armchair scholar.

Eisen tried for it all and succeeded to an amazing degree. It’s only too bad his “Notes” section was so condensed in the published versions. (Here’s the online url again: https://www.normaneisen.com/notes. ).

Also, Eisen provided only brief reporting on the actual background to the events he reported from personal accounts. This made it a bit difficult to understand the Warsaw Pact’s invasion or the Prague Spring and its aftermath. – I suppose that’s okay considering it was not the aim of the book but …

My “criticism” re the footnotes and publishing space constraints becomes moot when one considers the book is not really for historians at all. . Eisen dd put the complete notes online if someone wants them and one can do one’s own Googling for additional photos. So I’m giving the book a 9.95 this time. I personally think the publishers saw the makings of a hot seller and weren’t going to mess up that aspect by making the book appear to be a scholarly tome in any way. It wouldn’t be mistaken by actual academics – Eisen writes too well.

Other than that I have nothing to add to my first review, really. When you get into the lives of individuals involved in things like Nazi attacks and Communist politics against the people’s desire to be independent you get plenty of tension – it doesn’t have to be created. Personalities like Shirley Temple Black add to that – she was no retiring and do-nothing Ambassador when the uprisings came to town.

Bottom line – I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Never Tell ~ by Lisa Gardner

Three women: Evelyn Carter, the prime suspect in her husband’s murder; D.D. Warren, the detective on the case; and Flora Dane, a woman who was horrendously victimized several years prior to the events in the book. The latter two join up to solve the case of the Evelyn’s apparently slam-dunk murder rap. They believe Evelyn even though she did confess to killing her father in a similar way when she was 16.

I’ve read Gardner’s books before and been so-so about them, but this one is better for some reason. They’ve always been a bit on the graphic side of fem-jeop for me (females in jeopardy) but this one had some rather enlightening aspects.

The book opens with the shooting scene itself but the whole picture is not clear. It “looks like” the pregnant Evelyn Carter shot her husband three times before putting a dozen bullets in his computer, but … why? Was she talking to her own head or was her mother there? And later it turns out there are timing problems. This is a real who-done-it.

Never Tell
by Lisa Gardner
2019 / 414 pages
read by Kirsten Potter – 11h 44m
rating: A / crime / procedural

Then there are chapters dealing with the background of Flora Dane who was the victim of another crime by a man now deceased. She recognized the victim of this crime from a photo somewhere and realizes she has to reveal more than she has. (Dane has been a character in prior Gardner novels.)

Although some backstory continues to thread its way through the story, it mostly turns to the work of the detectives actually solving the crime while also showing the point of view of the other women as they go through their days.

The plot has plenty of twists and turns but a warning is also in order because although the details are not too graphic, the thrust of crimes is fem-jeop (females in jeopardy) but the females here are also the heroines so it worked out for me.

Overall, I suppose the plot was fairly predictable overall, but it was quite twisty and surprising in the details. In other words, I pretty much guessed who-done-it early on, but how and why had to be revealed.

The characters and narration were particularly good but the writing was mediocre.

D.D. Warren has appeared in the 10 prior books of this series I’ve read a few of them and I’ll likely read another one, but it might be awhile.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Barracoon ~ by Zora Neale Hurston

Definition of barracoon from Merriam-Webster:
Barracoon definition is – an enclosure or barracks formerly used for temporary confinement of slaves or convicts —often used in plural.”

Although Hurston, the author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” (which I’ve read a couple times) wrote this in the 1930s and died in 1960, this, was not published until 2018. The introductory material takes up close to 1/3 of the newly published version but that material is fascinating in itself.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo 
by Zora Neale Hursrston –
2018- 193 pages
read by Robin Miles – 3h 50m
rating – 10 / historical Black history

Hurston is, today, a noted Black woman author and anthropologist from the early 20th century. Her work was not highly regarded during her lifetime in part because of differences within the literary, historical and social communities about the value of the African American experience and culture. She died in the nearly total obscurity of an unmarked grave in 1960.

In the 1970s Alice Walker came across Hurston’s gravestone and did the research. The rest is history. Bio -Nora Neale Hurston

In the introductory material it’s explained how the work came to be finally published and that’s quite a story, too, including plagiarism and professional vanity.

Hurston’s work has it’s own preface but then she gets down to the meetings with Cudjo Lewis and his life story in his own words. He was 19 years old when he was brought to the US in 1860 and died here in 1935 – the interviews https://www.hurstonwright.org/zora-neale-hurston/”

took place in about 1927 and 1928 so although Cudjo knew quite a lot about life in Africa, there was likely some memory loss. He was a minister and story-teller in his later years.

But his story includes some family/mating rituals in addition to how Cudjo was captured, sold into slavery, the journey to America on the slave-ship Clotilda, worked as a slave, found himself freed and tried to make a life.

This is a wonderful book with a series of Cudjo’s rather revealing stories at the end. Enjoy.




Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments