The Perfect Alibi ~ by Phillip Margolin

I read the first in the Robin Lockwood series back in 2018 and gave it a rating of A+.  So this is #2 which I happened to luck into at the library.  I didn’t remember much about the over-arching drama, but it came back.  

*******
The Perfect Alibi 
by Phillip Margolin 
2019 /Read by Therese Plummer – 7h 6m Rating – A;  legal thriller
(Robin Lockwood #2)
*******

I read the first in the Robin Lockwood series back in 2018 and gave it a rating of A+.  So this is #2 which I happened to luck into at the library.  I didn’t remember much about the over-arching drama, but it came back.  

Robin Lockwood is a defense attorney in Portland, Oregon where she battles the powers-that-be in the police and prosecutor’s departments.  She’s also an expert trained practitioner of the marshal arts so she sometimes fights other people in other lines of work.  

This time the story starts with the rape of a young woman who chooses to press charges but it turns out the rapist is also a very talented football player with excellent prospects at pro-ball. He’s also the spoiled son of a wealthy local family while the victim is poor and the only child of an unemployed woman, divorced from her husband. The tale takes twists of revenge and set-ups.

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Burnt Sugar ~ by Avni Doshi

This was read for my Booker Prize Group -and the first 6 or so chapters were just perfect for me at the moment.  I was fine with the ramblings of the 1st person narrator, Antara.  She is a young Indian woman, married and living in Pune, India with her husband Dilip, and her mother Tara who is becoming feeble and losing her memory.  Some days she forgets who Antara is.  

*******
Burnt Sugar 
Avni Doshi 
2020
Read by Sneha Mathan 8h 35m
Rating:  8 / 21st century lit
*******

This was read for my Booker Prize Group – https://groups.io/g/bookerprize   and the first 6 or so chapters were just perfect for me at the moment.  I was fine with the ramblings of the 1st person narrator, Antara.  She is a 36-year old Indian woman, married and living in the modern city of Pune, India with her husband Dilip, and her mother Tara who is becoming feeble and losing her memory.  Some days she forgets who Antara is.

At first there are short references to and memories of prior times and as the first few chapters go by these references grow in length and detail. One day a closet door opens and the past reveals itself in a multitude of old saris and other clothes, many in that meaningful color, white.

But it’s not until Chapter 8, “My earliest memory concerns a giant,” that the tone changes and the story gets different. It feels rather abrupt, but it works. The reader is transported to Antara’s childhood with Tara, her wild, neglectful and generally irresponsible mother, the same mother she cares for now. IT seems that throughout her childhood Antara is left in various unhappy situations as is convenient for Tara.  This major transition from today to the past is about 25% into the book.
 
And then that’s the way it goes,  alternating the horrors and ugliness of the past with the uncertainties of the present.

https://fivedials.com/interviews/we-have-an-expectation-that-loss-comes-all-at-once-avni-doshi-burnt-sugar-interview/

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Pekoe Most Poison ~ by Laura Childs

Audio book from the library –
 
Beau was dead even before the paramedics come and the elegantly dressed guests were able to see that.  The husband of the socially prominent hostess, Doreen Briggs,  was apparently poisoned by the tea, of all things . Could that be right?  Had he really been poisoned while at a high society party charity function held for the benefit of Charleston’s public health interests?  

*******
Pekoe Most Poison  
by Laura Childs 
Read by Barbara McCulloh 9h 1m Rating:  C / crime-cozy
*******

Theodocia Browning and her friend and tea sommelier Drayton Conneley are at the party and Doreen talks Drayton into telling Theodocia she would love for them to help with investigation. So they do. The ending was pretty good unless you think about it. No, it’s not the stupidest cozy I’ve ever read – at least I finished this one, but I doubt I’ll be reading any more of Laura Childs’ books.  

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Red Widow ~ by Alma Katsu

I got this book because it just generally sounded good and then I found out that the author, Alma Katsu, usually writes in the occult/horror genre – usually.  This is her debut in the spy genre and appropriate since she has decades of real life experience as an analyst for US intelligence.  What I kind of had in my mind from reading the blurbs was a spy novel with women predominating.  I got that. 

*******
Red Widow
By Alma Katsu
2021
Read by Mozhan Marnó
10h 10m
Rating: A+ / crime – spy  
*******

The Prologue here is a kind of jump start to the book.  A man dies on an airline flight and as it turns out he is a Russian agent.  The book starts and in short order we’re told that the mentor of our protagonist has died suddenly on an airline flight – okay.  Now comes the problem of who killed him and why?  

Lyndsey Duncan is a CIA agent in the Russian division and she has just been transferred back from Beirut where she got in trouble for an illicit romance with an agent from the UK.  Not good.  She needs to redeem herself and her reputation.  There are investigations going on some by the CIA but others by the FBI and something doesn’t feel right.
 
She makes friends with a woman agent whose husband, also an agent, was killed on assignment.  And then it turns out that someone is lying. The thing about Lyndsey is that she is almost, not quite, a human lie detector.     

Suspicion is a huge theme, naturally, along with backstabbing and lethal ambition.  There are lies and lie detection as well as spies and double agents. And there are the sudden and unexpected deaths. That’s just the way it has to be sometimes.  

The narrator, Mozhan Marnò, is perfect.  

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The Last Equation of Isaac Severy ~ by Nova Jacobs

I picked this book up because it was on sale and then I found out it had won a bunch of lesser literary accolades if not awards.  It had been looking kind of good to me anyway but who knows?  Yes, imo, it’s probably flawed but it’s too fun to get picky about.

*******
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy
by Nova Jacobs
2020 /
read by Lisa Flanagan 9h 36m
rating: 9 / A+

*******


Whatever else,  it’s probably the fun-est novel I’ve read in a long time and it is a mystery although not a murderous one – or a thriller really.  It’s a math puzzler (I very much enjoy those) with a dysfunctional family comprised of brilliant people.  Possibly a wee bit occult side? 

There are so many characters in a rather complex plot I had to take notes.  There’s quite a lot of math, too, but as usual in math-fiction understanding this is not vital.  I got about 1/2 way and started over because I’m partially distracted by life-events while being mesmerized by the book. How does this happen?  

The Isaac Severy of the title, was a world renowned mathematician and the beloved patriarch of his own family. He dies before the actual narrative starts but first he mails a letter to his granddaughter Hazel, the owner of a seriously failing bookstore in Seattle where she’s now homeless too.  Hazel travels to the funeral in LA and her shop assistant has to mail her the letter from Isaac.

It seems Isaac has solved an important math equation and Hannah is to find it and preserve it from the others who seek it. The family of Isaac and Hannah is very dysfunctional but Isaac is a loving soul and so, apparently is Hannah.

Wall Street Journal’s “Mysteries: Best of 2018”
*Book of the Month Club Selection
*Edgar Award Nominee: Best First Novel by an American Author

And check out the blurbs in the Amazon review.

Many developed characters – the backgrounds of others are developed later in the book”

 Philip Severy  (50-something) – Isaac’s son and a physicist with twin sons who are tennis players.  He also has at least one daughter.  

Jane – Philip’s wife – 

Tom Philip brother of Philip and son of Isaac. He’s just getting out of jail for some kind of violence. He’s also very smart but is bad news for the family gene pool. Tom’s wife has disappeared somewhere.

Hazel –  30-something, Tom’s foster-daughter who as a child was sent to Isaac and loves him dearly.  

Gregory – brother of Hazel and Tom’s foster-son was also sent to live with Isaac. They are a part of the family. Gregory is a cop with the LAPD – 

Paige –  Isaac’s daughter –  rather mean, gossipy,  Greg and Hazel’s aunt –  She never married but she has a grown daughter/son (Alex?),  Paige is very mysterious. 

Alex – Alexis – son of Paige. An Anglophile. Not a mathematician now, but he was a prodigy until a car accident.  Now a photographer.  Mistaken for female – gay?  

 Syble – child of Philip and Jane.  She sleep walks and talks 
Jack –  Syble’s husband 
Drew –  age 5 – precocious daughter of Syble and Jack

Fritz – Isaac’s long term accountant 

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Gone Again ~ by James Grippando

Wow!  I’ve read Grippando’s books before, including in the Jack Swytech series, and enjoyed them to varying degrees, but this is like off the wall great partly due to the reader, Jonathan Davis.  Fwiw, it won the Harper Lee Best Legal Fiction award in 2017.   

Gone Again
By James Grippando
2017
Read by Jonathan Davis
Rating:  A+ / legal fiction 

Dylan Reeves is on death row for the viscous murder of Sashi Burgette the adopted daughter of the Burgettes.  Sashi was a very troubled and difficult teenage girl who originally came from Russia.  Sashi’s mother is convinced Sashi is not dead because there is a phone call every year on Sashi’s birthday.  The phone is dead, Sashi doesn’t speak at all.  

This works into one of the best courtroom dramas I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot of them – a favorite genre.  I have to say it won the Harper Lee Best Legal Fiction award of 2017.  I have no idea why I enjoy legal thrillers.  

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Mercy ~ by Victor Methos

I’ve read several of these legal thrillers but I missed this one because it seemed too much like some of Methos’ other books.  I finally grabbed it when I was seriously ready for another legal drama/thriller.  This is more of a legal drama than thriller. There is plenty of courtroom and law-office action – there are simply no guns and no chase scenes.  We know who has been accused and arrested.  The problem is to get the accused either found guilty or acquitted.  I like the twists some of these novels take en route.  This book was adequate – not great. 

*******
Mercy
By Victor Methos
2020
Read by A.W. Dickson
Rating: B / legal drama 
Neon Lawyer series – #2 
*******

Brigham Theodore is a trial lawyer working in Salt Lake City.  One day a man comes into his office and confesses to having killed his wife, the mother of his children – in the hospital – as a mercy killing.  

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How to Raise and Elephant ~ by Alexander McCall Smith

I was so looking forward to this book – until I saw the name of a strange narrator.  This series has been read by Lisette Licat since book 1 (and this is book #21). I’ve been following via Audible since maybe 2005 but have paperbacks and hard covers from before that.
READ THESE IN ORDER!!!  

*******
How to Raise an Elephant
by Alexander McCall Smith 
2020 / 257 pages
Read by Adjoa Andoh 8h 38m
Rating: 10 -book (4 -narrator)
(#21 in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series)
*******

A new reader is jarring and Andoh’s voice is a horrible screeching for Charlie and Grace Makutsi. It’s okay for Precious Ramotswe and some others, but I want Lisette back!

Fortunately, I found the book available in audio format at my library. YAY!!!! (I do get one or two library books a month. Adjoa Andoh is still narrating but at least I didn’t have to pay for it.

Botswana is the same as ever,  living halfway in the past while the other half is almost in the 21st century.  Precious still has her little white van – probably a 1985 – (lol).  The workers at   the garage and detective agency and the residents on Zebra Drive are tending to their lives as usual.    

The ladies have several interests going. There is a woman who wants to borrow money from Precious saying she’s a distant cousin and her husband has been in trouble.  A strange smell turns up in her van.  Violet, an old annoyance, is up to something. 

These are gentle books and it’s been the story arc of the series which has kept me buying the books as they come out.  I got the first one back in 1999 – when I read a review in Time magazine, I believe and, for some reason, had to get the book. 

The setting is almost always in or near Gaborone, Botswana which is just north of the country of South Africa.  Mma Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the detective agency, is a woman of “traditional proportions,” but she’s smart and independent.  Her assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi is not nearly so clever or intelligent but she thinks she is and she was the top student at a local secretarial school – quite a rise for a girl from poverty.  

Modernization is a kind of theme stressed more in some novels than in others. It usually concerns society and standards in Botswanan society.   
Over the course of the novels these two very different women along with a few other characters go through big changes in their lives with romance, marriage, babies, new employees, etc.  It’s so thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable. (Fwiw, I’ve not cared for Smith’s other books and series.) 

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Transcendent Kingdom ~ by Yah Gyasi

This had been on my wish list for some time but then a bookish friend recommended it so I upped its place in the “line.”   I’m glad she did.  It’s quite good.  So good in fact I may have to revisit shortly.  I read her debut novel,  Homegoing, a few years ago (2017) and my review is at the link. https://mybecky.blog/2017/05/07/homegoing-by-yaa-gyasi/ (This one is the better book.)

*******
Transcendent Kingdom
by Yah Gyasi 2020 / (288 pages)
Read by Bahni Turpin 8h 40m 
Rating:  9 / 
contemp fiction
*******

The novel is very ambitious involving a multitude of themes like immigrants from Ghana to Alabama.  Whole novels have been written on the “contemporary immigrant experience” alone.   The first person narrator, Gifty, is a graduate student working toward a PhD in neuroscience so there’s another theme with “the battle of science vs God.”  I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a novel with that theme.  

In Alabama Gifty has her mother, her father (The Chin-chin Man)  and her older brother, Nana.  Nana is also very bright as well as athletic.  Mom is religious. And Dad ,,, well, Dad goes back to Ghana and stays there. So Nana becomes addicted to heroin and Mom gets very ill.  “Loss and grief” are pervasive and powerful themes and very much a part of the immigrant experience.

Meanwhile, our protagonist is torn between her belief in God and her scientific ideas. She has problems with her mother who does not handle the losses of her husband and son very well.   She’s already having problems adapting to the US and the racism of Alabama, and then she gets problems with her boyfriend who wants them to marry.  The tale is not necessarily told in chronological order but that doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps it’s part of the whole deal when things kind of pile up on you.

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Klara and the Sun ~ by Kazuo Ishiguro

Of Ishiguro’s 8 novels I’ve read 6, missingThe Unconsoled and A Pale View of the Hills.  And I’ve read his volume of short stories.  I’ve really enjoyed reading his books although the last three have not been as good, imo.  Anyway, I felt I should read Klara and the Sun but procrastinated a bit at first and other books popped up.  

Klara and the Sun
 by Haruki Ishiguro 
2021 / 249 pages 
Read by Sura Siu – 10h 16m
Rating:  9.5

This book feels a lot like Never Let Me Go in that the main characters are not humans as we know them.  In Never Let Me Go they were clones but in Klara and the Sun they are Artificial Intelligence (Artificial Friend – AF) of some sort, worked into robots manufactured to be friends with young adults.  They sit on the store shelves waiting to be chosen and purchased to go to their owner’s homes to fit in as appropriate.  They are usually purchased for young teens to keep them from being lonely due to home schooling.
  
The first person narrator is Klara who is apparently a notch above the average AF and is a astute observer of human behavior.  So we have a naive narrator as is totally typical of almost all Ishiguro’s novels.  Her human is named Josie and although she is from a privileged family and very bright, she is also crippled in some way and has serious health issues.  She is home schooled. 
Rick is a neighbor boy who is different for some reason and not completely acceptable to Josie’s rarified crowd.  They are all considered children and have toy playmates (AFs) but are 12-14 years old.   

Klara doesn’t use the pronoun “you” to humans but uses their first names instead.  And it’s “the Mother” and “Melania Housekeeper.”  Rick is Rick though, but he’s different.  I think that’s probably to keep the characters distanced from the reader and the AFs from the humans.   The reader remains aware that Klara is an AF.  

The book is excellent for beating the Covid-19 depression.

 https://lithub.com/klara-and-the-sun/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klara_and_the_Sun
https://www.vulture.com/article/review-klara-and-the-sun-kazuo-ishiguro.html

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Win ~ by Harlan Coben

Although I’ve read a couple books, I haven’t been a big Harlan Coban fan until now.  He gets a bit too much into the fem-jeop violence for my tastes (females in jeopardy).  But the publisher blurb intrigued me (see below): 

Win
by Harlan Coben 
2021 / 385 pages
Read by Steven Weber 10h 35m
Rating – A+ / mystery-thriller 
(1st of Windsor Lockwood III series) 

“Over twenty years ago, the heiress Patricia Lockwood was abducted during a robbery of her family’s estate, then locked inside an isolated cabin for months. Patricia escaped, but so did her captors – and the items stolen from her family were never recovered.

“Until now. On the Upper West Side, a recluse is found murdered in his penthouse apartment, alongside two objects of note: a stolen Vermeer painting and a leather suitcase bearing the initials WHL3. For the first time in years, the authorities have a lead – not only on Patricia’s kidnapping, but also on another FBI cold case – with the suitcase and painting both pointing them toward one man.”
Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III is the series protagonist this time. He was the best friend and number 2 man in the Myron Bolitar series which preceded it.  His character is already pretty well developed from those books and from what I’ve heard people are enjoying him in his own series.  I think it’s possible he’s been given a much softer gloss with the appearance of an adult daughter.   

 I’ll be looking for number 2 in this series and I might be picking up a Myron Bolitar or two.  

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Smalltime ~ by Russell Shorto

Russell Shorto writes books of popular history, but this is his first memoir and it’s a family memoir with some history thrown in.  I guess I’m a Shorto fan because he written 7 books and now I’ve read 5 – I recommend any of them.

*******
Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob 
By Russell Shorto 
2021 / 272 pages
Read by author – 8h 27m
Rating 8.75 / memoir-family history 
*******

Smalltime focuses on Shorto’s paternal grandfather, Russ Shorto, who was at the center of the  Johnstown WV “Italian mob.”  He worked his way through Prohibition and on into gambling.  But Shorto’s father comes into it too because this guy didn’t want to join his father in the business and struck out on his own.  Not much is said about his mother but his grandmother and great grandmother come into the picture briefly.  

Life in Sicily, immigration and oppression are huge themes. The immigrants from Southern Europe had rough lives in part because they were Catholic, but also because they were usually darker-skinned than the Germans and Irish. It was better than Italy had been and in both places, America and Sicily,  people sometimes had to cut the straight lines and corners of the law to eat. 
And so the Italian criminal world was built and became the Mafia and crept out of New York into the smaller cities of America.  Between the KKK and the Know-Nothings there was organized resistance to the Italians as well as simple “no work here” results of prejudice. 

The Shortos lived in Johnstown West Virginia where Russell’s grandfather set up a gambling operation and moved into other activities as opportunities presented.  
The narrative is slow moving until the last third or so when Russo’s dysfunctional family is detailed.  That’s pretty interesting but more acceptable these days than it would have been  before.  There are lots of names. 

    

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