Books Read in 2016

Books marked "LOGOS" are books I read in the
book store on the day I work

Return to Freedom by Alec Clayton
Fans of Garrison Keillor's "Lake Woebegone" stories will love this book.  It has the same comfortable home-spun narrative by a writer who knows how to use words beautifully.  This is Book 2 in Clayton's "Freedom Trilogy" (sadly, I did not read Book 1 first).  Residents of the small Mississippi town of Freedom have been severely affected by a hurricane, which brought death and destruction, but the town rebuilds and the bulk of the book takes place a year after the hurricane and follows principally the lives of three families, who move into a newly built condo as they try to get their lives back together.

There's the movie idol coming home for a break from the hurly burly of Hollywood, the charismatic Preacher with a Past who runs a very successful group for the town's teens, a coffee shop owner who learns a lot about her sexuality, a traveler in a trailer who changes her life, a melodramatic teenager, a grieving family with an alcoholic mother, and a parade of other unique individuals.

Characters are well drawn and well fleshed out so that you really get to know them, though there are so many of them you sometimes feel like you need a cast of characters to refer to.  As in Lake Woebegone, a lot of the action takes place at the town coffee shop, a good place to gossip about your neighbors.  The Big Scandal doesn't take place until about 3/4 of the way through the book and while riveting, doesn't last long, but changes everyone involved.


Talking to Alzheimers by Claudia J. Strauss
This book was given to me at a Dementia Support workshop.  While there are many, many books out there for dementia support, this one is geared to visiting the loved on in an assisted living facility, so ready made for me.  It goes through all the possible scenarios you may encounter and suggestions for what to say to make things go more smoothly for the visitor and the patient.  After so many years, I've learned a lot of these things on my own, but I did find some suggestions that I hope will be helpful as I move forward with my mother.


Memory Man by David Baldacci
This must be my month for school shootings.  A mass shooting at a school is at the heart of this story, and when I finished it and started another book by Jodi Picolt, that also starts with a mass shooting at a school.  Amos Decker returns from a police stake-out to find his wife, brother-in-law, and 6 year old daughter slaughtered in their home.  This sets off a tremendous slide into oblivion as he quits his job, eats himself into gargantuan proportions, loses his home and becomes a street person, working occasionally as a private detective.  Because of a terrible accident he endured when hit during a high school football game, his brain has changed and he is no longer able to forget anything, so every detail of his family's murder is as live as when he first discovered them.

More than a year later, a man walks into the police department and confesses to the murder of Decker's family. At about the same time there is a mass murder at the local high school and Decker is asked to help with the investigation.  As he works the case, he begins to suspect the massacre and the murder of his family are two connected events.  The search for the killer (or killers) takes turns you would never expect before the case is solved.


The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
"...
we live in a twisted world where everything, both big and small, is subject to our surveillance, and where anything worth money will always be exploited."  If there is ever a thought which hits home, it's this one from this book.  By the time you finish Spider's Web, you'll be convinced that computer hacking is child's play and that somehow not only Big Brother, but Big Sister and the rest of the family know everything you do every day. It will make today's headlines seem much more credible.

Lagercrantz has written the next book in the late Stieg Larson's Millennium series, which began with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."  It has been so long since I read the first 3 books that I can't really say whether he captured Larson's flavor or not.  I just know that once you get past the endless names of Swedish streets that you can't pronounce and gloss over the technicalities of how everything in the world (it seems) gets hacked, there's a darn good story here, which when it finally grabs you, keeps you reading until you've finished.

This time it begins with the murder of Frans Balder, who is on the verge of a discovery that will change the world, which he is about to reveal to Larson's hero Mikael Blomkvist, Sweden's most popular newspaper columnist, when he is murdered. As the investigation moves forward, all seems to rest on Balder's autistic son, who holds the key to uncover everything, locked away inside his brain.  As usual, Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander communicate via computer and together they are drawn into a world of spices, criminal, assassins, and Lisbeth's own sister. And Lisbeth discovers that the young boy is not as uncommunicative as people have thought, but is actually brilliant, perhaps on a level of her own brilliance.

A promising start for continuance of the Millennium series.


Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote
This is both a book about a dog and his person and a book about how a dog thinks.  Merle and Ted chose each other while Ted was on a river rafting trip with friends and Merle was a stray dog who wandered into camp and stayed with Ted for the next 14 years. Along with telling the marvelous story of the relationship between the two, Kerasote also talks about dog behavior and his philosophy for letting Merle make his own decisions.  This may be the most beautiful relationship story of man and dog I have read.  Merle's ultimate death, of old age, is beautifully and lovingly described in minute detail over many days and will keep you weeping long after the story ends.  Highly recommended for dog lovers.


Home by Harlan Coben
Myron's back! Win is Back! Esperanza and Big Cyndi are back! I don't know if this is the start of more Myron Bolitar books (I thought the last one was The Last One), but this one was wonderful, and such a great welcome back to old friends. Under an overpass somewhere in London, Win sees a boy who looks very much like one of two 6 year olds who had been kidnapped 10 years before (one of them was his nephew).  He calls Myron to help search for the boys, which takes the pair into the dark world of child trafficking in England and to all sorts of unexpected places. So much fun to watch them at work again, chasing guys like "Fat Gandhi" through the dark underbelly of London and other spots around the world, unraveling the mystery of where the boys have been for 10 years...and could they find the second boy, after rescuing the first.  The epilogue to this story is one of my very favorite Coben chapters ever, but don't try to read it first or you might not understand it at all.


The Cat Who Went to Paris by Peter Gethers
This has nothing to do with the delightful "Cat Who..." mysteries by Lillian jackson Braun. This is the feline equivalent to "Merle's Door" by Ted Kerasote, which I am also reading.  Peter Gethers, an American publisher, screenwriter and author of television shows, films, newspaper and magazine articles, and novelist; the author of several books, was a self-confessed cat hater until he was given an adorable Scottish Fold kitten, whom he called Norton (after Ed Norton of The Honeymooners).  It was love at first sight and the two became inseparable.  Gethers even carried the light-weight cat around New York in his pocket and later n a special bag he could wear over his shoulder.  As Merle, this was a special cat, who understood more and behaved unusually, made friends everywhere.  The book is an easy read and just a delight reading about Norton's and Gethers' adventures together.  I was afraid I would be reduced to tears at the end, but fortunately it is not Norton who dies at the end


You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams by Alan Cumming
I made a huge mistake with this book.  I saw Cumming on TV talking about this compilation of snapshots (believe me, he's no "photographer"!) and anecdotes from his life.  It sounded like fun and I decided to order it.  I thought I was ordering the real book, because I knew a book of photos on my old, old Kindle would be terrible.  I waited and waited for the book to arrive but it never did.  When I went to check on the order, I discovered I had accidentally ordered the Kindle version.  I wasn't about to reorder the regular book, so I read the whole thing in one afternoon at the book store.

As I figured it would be, it's a crappy collection of photos--too small, too fuzzy, too dull, black and white.  You can see most of most of them, but it wasn't what I hoped it would be -- my own stupid fault.  However, the stories he tells are no surprise that they are well written, clever, sometimes bawdy telling tales of downright debauchery, but then I would have been surprised if they did not. That sort of thing does not bother me.  It's a fun backstage look at TV and Broadway, and some warm stories of the people in his life that he loves or has loved.  The stories of his dog were particularly sweet.  Mostly, I found it an entertaining read.  Now I want to find it in a real book store and flip through the photos to see what I missed!


Being There by Jerzy Kosinski
I saw this movie years ago, when it first came out and was pleased to get the audio book.  I thought it would explain the unusual ending in the movie.

Chance has lived his entire life in the home of a wealthy man.  He has his own apartment in the basesment and he takes care of the garden.  It is hinted that he seems to be slow mentally.  He has never left the house.  When the man dies, the executors of his estate are confused by Chance.  There is no record of him ever living in the house, and all they can tell him is he must leave.  All he knows of the world is what he has seen on television.  As he wanders rather aimlessly, there is an accident and he is hit by the limousine of a wealthy man, whose wife brings him home to recover  They understand him to say his name is Chauncey Gardner and his simple responses to questions, especially when he talks about a garden (which listeners take as a metaphor for life) he is seen as brilliant.  Ultimately this is a satirical look at American media and how we are fooled by it.  But in the end, it differed significantly from the movie, so I never did find out what the end of the movie meant.


Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn
We finally finished this audio book, which we have been listening to for months. The only reason it took so long is that we haven't taken many long (or even short) car trips, definitely not because of disinterest.

Vince Flynn was a master of suspense and action.  What a loss to the reading world his premature death in his mid-40s of prostate cancer.  Flynn's hero is Mitch Rapp, a CIA counterterrorism operative, who saves the world in each book.  In this book, the White House is captured by a group of terrorists.  The president is hustled off to the famous "bunker" but many innocent civilians are taken hostage.  The terrorists set up bombs all over the While House and bring in a safe cracker to get into the bunker (which will take a few days).  With the assistance of a former White House employee (now retired), Rapp moves through the White House trying to free the President and keep the hostages safe, but a high-level government official is working against him. 

This book keeps you on edge throughout most of it and I give it highest ratings.


Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I saw the first trailer for the move made from this book and figured that I'd better hurry up and read it before I learn too much from buzz about the movie.  This book has been compared to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and I guess I can see the similarities.  "Gone Girl" tells the story from two points of view, the girl who disappeared and her husband, and the closer it comes to the denouement the more intense it gets.

This book is told from the point of view of 3 women, Rachel, Megan, and Anna.  Rachel rides the train to London every day because she is embarrassed let anyone know that she was fired months ago for coming to work drunk.  Her train passes by a certain house and she builds a fantasy around the man and woman who live there, creating a fantasy life for what she assumes is the happy couple she sees through the windows and on their deck.  She is interested in them because a house nearby is the home of her ex-husband and his new wife (Anna) and Rachel is still in love with her ex, Tom, and determined to get him back.

When Megan disappears, Rachel has an uneasy feeling that she knows something about the disappearance, but was very drunk that night and can't remember what happened.  She intrudes herself into the investigation by giving the police what she thinks is important information.

Rachel's mostly unsuccessful battles with alcohol (who knew you could buy gin and tonic in a can??) make her a totally unbelievable witness, and a nuisance for both Tom and Anna, as well as a support for Megan's husband Scott, whom she allows to think she was a confidante of Megan.

The suspense builds slowly but inexorably and I was glued to my seat for the last quarter of the book as the plot twists and turns in all sorts of unexpected directions.  I'm glad I read it before seeing more about the movie (which I probably don't want to see, now that I know that plot!)


Caught by Harlan Coben
I don't know if my problem with this book was the book itself or the narrator of the audio version.  It certainly is an intriguing story, finding a young girl who has disappeared, but the plot had more twists than a zig zag road through the mountains.  Not that this is a bad thing.  It certainly kept me reading.  But in the end, this was not my favorite Coben book, though it was a nice surprise to find several characters from the Myron Bolitar series popping up to help move the story.  The original disappearance leads to the suspicion of a plot against a bunch of roommates from Princeton many years ago, all of whom became successful, all of whom underwent devastating rumors which ruined their businesses.  The two events are connected, but I didn't figure out till the end why.


Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brains by Scott Adams
Scott Adams is the cartoonist who creates Dilbert.  This is a book of over 150 pieces, I think from his Blog. Reviews on the back cover compare him to Dave Barry and say he is almost as funny. I have read Dave Barry and he's OK, but I've never found him laugh out loud funny, which I did with Adams' book, many times in the 150+ pieces, on everything from lunar real estate to serial killers, not to mention politics, religion, dating, underwear, alien life, and the menace of car singing.  The chapter on "My History Learning" is very funny, talking about Jesus turds.  And his take on the presidential election is perfect, if depressing:  "We're judging how a candidate will handle a nuclear crisis by how well his staff creates campaign ads.  It's a completely nonsensical process."


Third Helpings by Calvin Trillin [Logos]
The capsule reviews on the back of this 1983 book say things like "this is the quintessential book for people who love to eat...and laugh." and "You'll laugh out loud."

Well...maybe people were more easily entertained in 1983.  I didn't laugh out loud.  Not once.  I did smile several times.  It's a quick, fun read (that I could finish in a day at the book store) which cover such things as the reason for replacing the Thanksgiving turkey with spaghetti carbonara, how to read menu Japanese for traveling to Japan, and an exhaustive comparison review of carnival fair, mostly Anthony Bourdain's favorite food--tubed meat.  It was a fun read, but not side splittingly funny.  Maybe so many similar books have been written since 1983 that it just pales in comparison.


Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth
Ever wonder what the Phantom did after Christine dumped him to marry her handsome suitor  Well, this book answers that question.  In fact, it begins before his years underground, in the Paris Opera House, introduces us to the woman who changed his life, and takes us along on his journey to the United States, where he develops an empire and becomes the Donald Trump of his day (all through a surrogate, so he never had to appear in public).  The woman who changed his life very early, also changes his life at the end of her life and gives him, perhaps the greatest gift anyone had ever given him.  A fun, fairly short read.


With a Feather on My Nose by Billie Burke
This is a strange, but charmingly entertaining autobiography, written in 1948.  Most of us my generation and younger remember Billie Burke as Glinda, the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz or perhaps as the ditsy wife of Cosmo Topper in Topper, one of her many dim witted roles, but this book talks more about her early years in theater in England.  Born in 1884, the daughter of a clown named Billy Burke, she grew up in theater.  She had made a name for herself in England before coming to the US at the turn of the century, where she became a darling of the NY stages as well.  In NY she met and married Florenz Ziegfeld, with whom she lived until his death in 1931. 

In parts, especially the last quarter, this book reads more like a list of famous people but somehow it doesn't come across as vain, it reads like a lady who had a lucky life and who had many friends whom she loved and wants to share those memories with you.  The years with Ziegfeld seem to center on HIM rather  than her.  She admits she can't remember all the plays that she did, but she gives wonderful descriptions of costumes.  This is definitely a period piece...and if you expect to learn anything about Wizard of Oz, be advised that she devotes a whole 2 paragraphs (short paragraphs) to it, one of which is a conversation with Ray Bolger


God Save the Child by Robert Parker
This is Book 2 in Parker's Spencer series (only 25 more to go).  Spencer is contacted by Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett, distraught over the disappearance of their 15 year old son, Kevin.  They want to hire Spencer to find him.  There are all sorts of problems, writing-wise, with this book.  There is immediate animosity with the police who threaten to arrest him if he interferes with their investigation, for no reason, he never asks the parents anything personal about the boy and little things like that.  But let it pass.  The plot is good.  Parker goes into excruciatingly complete detail about every scene.  By the time you've finished three chapters, you are convinced you could find the kitchen and brew yourself a cup of coffee just by having read the description of the house.  But let that pass, too.  It became annoying, but the plot is good.

The Bartletts are not going to win Parent of the Year award.  Once having hired Spencer, Mrs. Bartlett is more concerned about her personal appearances and social engagements than hearing about her son.  In fact, when Spencer finds where the boy is and gets Mrs. Bartlett to come with him to pick Kevin up, her first response is "I can't leave the house looking like this" and has to go change and put on fresh makeup.  At one point a murder takes place and a body of a friend is found in the living room of the Bartlett home.  Mrs. Bartlett's first response is "Oh no!  I have 65 people coming for a party tonight!" (bear in mind she is still without her son at this point.)

However, the party scene had one of my very favorite comments about a mess following a party:  "the detritus of jollity."  I must work that into my vocabulary.

Despite my complaints about the writing, the story kept me reading for 3 hours until I finished it....  It has a little sex, a few drugs, some rock and roll, some bad guys, some good guys who turn out to be bad guys and in the end Kevin turns up...but definitely not the way anybody expected.


Airframe by Michael Crichton
It took me awhile to get through this book because I only read it at Logos, but I finally finished it.  I had a weird relationship about this story of the investigation of the accident of a big airplane that killed 5 people and wounded 50+ more.  There was a point when I was going to start this review warning people that if they read the book, they might never fly again, since it covers in minute detail the little things that can affect the plane's stability (one was a bent screw).  There are also lots and lots of charts of technical stuff, which I admit to having just skimmed over. The book is actually two stories, the story of the airline trying to figure out what caused the problem, and the TV show that wants to do an expose on how unsafe the airplane is.  Fascinating to read the mindset of the TV people, who could care less about learning the problem, but want to exploit the sensationalism.  In the end, I have to admit that I felt a lot safer about flying than I did halfway through the book, though I suspect it will stay with me for a long time.


Still Alice by Lisa Genova
I had seen this movie some time ago and am glad that I decided to read the book, because it so nicely complements the movie.  In the movie, you see Alice moving about her world and how her deterioration affects her and those around her.  But in the book, you are inside Alice's head and you see things through her eyes and you begin to understand the deterioration of Alzheimers a bit better.  I found it helpful in understanding my mother.  Just as an overview, Alice is a Harvard professor of linguistics, well respected in her field, who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers at 50.  The effect on her, her husband and her children is covered beautifully. It is very sad and very tragic.


Found by Harlan Coben
Well, I finished Book #3 in the series, also reading it in one day.  Mickey continues to try to get information about his father's death, though he is now on the basketball team and accepted by the group since he has agreed to help star Troy Taylor with a big problem, while at the same time he is helping Ema find her internet "boyfriend."  The dark secrets and revelations continue to come and things are seldom what they seem. But it all ends satisfactorily, with Mickey finally learning the truth abut his father's death, and fortunately I had no desire for another book about Mickey Bolitar!


Seconds Away by Harlan Coben
The first Mickey Bolitar book ended with such a cliff hanger that I had to immediately order the second one, which I did...and I read it all in a day...and then immediately ordered the third (and final, thank goodness) book.  "Seconds Away" continues Mickey's search to learn about his father and to find out more about Bat Lady and her secret past.  Myron has a slightly bigger role in this book and Mickey is surprised to learn he has been asked to be the bodyguard for a famous celebrity, who figures more prominently in Mickey's life (and past) than he ever imagined.

While continuing to search for the Butcher of Lodz, the mystery consuming Mickey and his friends is the shooting of their friend Rachel, which leads them into a drug smuggling ring and, again, aids the police in the solving of a crime.  At the same time Mickey is trying to get on the basketball team and being bullied terribly.  If it isn't threats by gun, it's threats by fellow students.  Mickey just can't win.

Again, this book ends at a spot where you absolutely cannot resist buying the third book to figure out how it is all going to end, which I figure I will be doing today.


Shelter by Harlan Coben
When I finished reading Coben's "Live Wire," I was dismayed to learn it was the last Myron Bolitar book.  I had followed Myron, Esperanza, and Win through ten books and I felt like I was hung out to dry.  No more Myron in my life!  I knew a series of books had been written about Myron's nephew, Mickey, but it was labeled a "Young Adult" series and I wasn't interested.  However, I decided to try the first one and, though it is obviously geared toward a younger audience, I did get pulled into the story of Mickey Bolitar, new kid in school, meeting "bat lady," the old woman who lives in a spooky house in the woods, who tells him that his father, whom he saw die in an auto accident, is not really dead.  Mickey has his own circle of pals, Ema (eeee-ma), the Goth girl outcast, and Spoon, the spunky son of the school custodian, and the one everyone likes to pick on.  These three are following the trail of Ashley, Mickey's girlfriend who just "vanished." The story is filled with the plot twists that made Coben's books such fun, but without the violence that permeates the Myron books.

As the story rushes toward its conclusion, it picks up a kind of silly pace that was not really in keeping with the rest of the story. But, clever author, Coben leaves Book 1 (of 3) at such a point that I had to immediately download Book 2.

The only thing I did not like about this book is that Myron does make an appearance, but bears no resemblance to the Myron I have enjoyed all these years.

However, while I enjoy the Mickey books, there is wonderful news that there will be another Myron book published this fall.  My life is complete.


Broadway Tails: Heartfelt Stories of Rescued Dogs Who Became Showbiz Superstars by Bill Berloni
When I was doing research on a recent version of Legally Blonde which was opening at Sacramento's Music Circus, and which I would be reviewing, someone told me that a member of the original cast was coming out of retirement to do this show one last time.  It was Chico, the Chihuahua who had been the original "Bruiser Woods" and he had been trained by a guy named Bill Beloni.

I did a little research on Berloni too and found that he is "the" guy to go to if you need an animal trained for stage work. I also discovered he had written this mini autobiography, 243 pages of behind-the-scenes theater stories in a career that spans more than 30 years (and which won Berloni a special Tony recently for his contribution to theater on Broadway).

It turns out to be a fascinating book.  At 19 he was part of the backstage team for the about-to-be launched original Annie, with Andrea McArdle.  He was given the task to go and find a "Sandy" for the show.  He rescued the original Sandy literally from the jaws of death, as he was about to be euthanized (and thus began a career-long habit of using rescue dogs for his shows, and then finding good forever homes for them).  He knew nothing about dog training, but somehow he got a good dog, he worked on instinct and the show was a rousing success.

The book details many of the animals you have loved over the years from dogs to cats to birds to even a pig, a couple of lambs and some rats.  It's a great read.  The thing that leaped out at me on so many pages is how much he had to fight for cooperation from surly stage managers and demanding producers.  He would arrive at the theater and find he had no dressing room and that it was too expensive to have rehearsal for the animals...but they were expected to be perfect.  In the process he met and married his wife and they now have a farm which is a kind of animal sanctuary (much like Jon Stewart and his wife have).  This book was a lot of fun and I enjoyed reading it.  I also learned a lot about the workings of theater...and here I thought I already knew a lot!


The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Years ago, Walt and I were in Cambridge, England and I saw a display in a book store window.  The book was Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island," a book he wrote driving around England, where he and his family had lived for many years, for one last look before returning to the US.  Walt and I were driving around England and Bryson's book became our most delightful tour guide, as he visited many of the spots where we visited.  Bryson is the master of the little known fact about things you never realized.  In this new book, he is taking another tour of England to see how it compares with his first book.  As in "Notes," this one is chock full of information you didn't realized you wanted to know and things about people you never heard of before.  Like Thomas Pritchard, who designed the first iron bridge in the world, in Shropshire.  Pritchard had never done anything in cast iron, because nobody had before, yet he never got to see it because he died before it was finished.

I also leaned about Building B30 at Sellafield, which is "the most hazardous building in Europe."  It and the building next door are filled with slowly decaying fuel rods and contaminated hunks of metal and machinery. 

But mostly, this  book is filled with tales of marvelous vistas, beautiful, walks, quiet beaches, quirky locations, eccentric people, and quaint little towns you have probably never heard of but suddenly desperately want to visit.  And who knew that more people are killed in England by cows than by bulls..?

This book celebrates the best...and the worst of Bryson's adopted country.   It's a great read.


Secrets of the Savannah: Twenty-Three Years in the African Wilderness by Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens
It has taken me forEVer to finish this book.  It's one I'm reading at the book store, so each week, I put it back on the shelf and then pick it up the next week.  My ability to get through it has nothing to do with content (which is fascinating), but with traffic in the store.

My lifelong dream had been to go to Africa and see wildlife up close and personal.  I will never get there now, so I read about it a lot.  Zoologists Owens and Owens talk about their work in Zambia's Luangwa Valley, known to be home to one of the largest collection of elephants, though the population was over 90% wiped out through poaching several years ago.  This was a wonderful complement to the book I read recently by Cynthia J. Moss (these two worked with Moss) learning more about elephant populations and how they are rebuilding their herds.  Interestingly, elephants typically breed for the first time around 10-12 ears of age and the male inseminate at about the same age, but because of the decimation of the population, females are now coming into estrus earlier and having babies earlier.  The problem with all of this is that they often don't have older adult females to imitate, or to help with the babies, so they are learning how to be mothers on their own. 

Elephants are endlessly fascinating to me.  This books talks about not only the elephants, but living as a scientist for so many years, and their relationship with all sorts of species of animals, and with villagers as well.


The Blackbird Papers by Ian Smith
I saw this book in the mystery shelves at Logos and picked it up because our tour guide in France and Italy was named Ian Smith...but he was a middle aged white man and this Ian Smith is a young black man, but I saw there was a rave review from Harlan Coben, whose works I like, so I started reading it.  And it was worth the read.

On a rainy night following the party celebrating his big prize win, Professor Wilson Bledsoe is murdered on the short drive home, and it is his estranged brother, FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe who is going to investigate.  Along the way there are 2 more murders and it becomes obvious that Professor Bledsoe had discovered something that someone was eager not get out and is eliminating anybody who knows anything about it.  Are the cops involved?  Sterling becomes the logical suspect and everyone is after him until he finally finds the last piece that completes the puzzle.

Harlan Coben says that this was an exciting first novel by an up and coming mystery writer, but this was published in 2005 and there doesn't appear to be a second novel.  Dr. Smith is well known for his medical books and apparently Blackbird Papers is his only work of fiction.  Too bad.  I agree with Coben that it shows great promise!


Private by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Finally another book by Patterson that I liked and didn't roll my eyes at.  Jack Morgan, who inherited an investigative agency and several million dollars from his incarcerated father has turned the business into a thriving one.  He is in the middle of investigating a big NFL bribing scandal and a serial killer on the loose murdering school girls when his best friend's wife is found murdered in her bedroom and the police suspect her husband, so Jack sets out to prove his innocence.

Somehow all three threads weave together along with Jack's evil twin who is out to destroy him.  Paetro has developed as a story teller and it's nice that Patterson lets her do his work for him.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I read this for book club...and then found out I had read the wrong book, but it was a good mistake because I enjoyed this book so much.  It's totally not what I expected from what I had read about it.  It tells the story of two young people growing up in the waning days of World War II.  Marie Laure is a blind 14 year old, living with her grandfather after the death of her parents.  Warner is an electronically talented orphan living in a mining town in Germany whose expertise with electronic gadgets wins him a place in the brutal Hitler Youth. 

Chapter by chapter, the book follows each character's life, through the war, the bombings, the atrocities, the terror.  Their lives intersect briefly in Saint-Malo in France, where Marie Laure has lost everyone in her life and Warner is realizing that Germany is about to lose the war and he will probably be killed.  The meeting changes both of their lives, but not in any way I would have predicted.

Doerr's writing is what makes this read so enjoyable.  Like a master class in constructing a story.


The Woods by Harlan Coben
20 years ago, chief prosecutor Paul Copeland was a counselor at a summer camp.  One night he sneaks off into the woods with his girlfriend for a bit of a bit of hanky panky.  Four other kids, including his sister, sneak off too.  Two of them are found murdered.  Two (including Cope's sister) are never found.  As this book begins, Cope is presented with the body of a murder victim who, despite his identity, is really one of the supposedly missing and murdered kids.  He suddenly wonders about his sister.  Did she make it out alive?  Is she still living somewhere? 

This plot intertwines with a rape case Cope is trying, two rich kids who raped a stripper and the "machine" that is working to dig up dirt on Cope and his family to prevent him from prosecuting the kids.

This book zig zags back and forth, connecting so many threads together with the precision of a Turkish rug maker.  It is a non-stop adventure and the questions never stop, not even at the conclusion.  Highly recommended.


Wait till Next Year:  A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodman [Logos]
Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodman takes a break from writing presidential biographies ("Team of Rivals," "The Bully Pulpit," "No Ordinary Time," etc.) to write a very personal history of her childhood and growing up a Dodger fan.  Goodwin is one month older than I and grew up in a home devoted to baseball.  I didn't get interested in baseball until the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, one of the big losses in her life.  This delightful coming of age story that parallels the history of baseball and brings back names I remember from my own childhood, like Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, and the new kid, Willie Mays, is an absolute delight. 


Elephant Memories: 13 Years in the Life of an Elephant Family by Cynthia J. Moss
I loved this book.  Moss spent 13 years in Amboseli National Park, following elephants and observing their interactions, their behaviors, how they handle everything from birth to death.  What happens during a drought? Rather than a dry scientific paper, this is told with the emotion of a novel and you come to love her "friends," Slit Ear, Teresia, Tuskless and the whole crew.  She suffered through the inevitable deaths and gave us a peek at the joyful births.  At the end, you feel you really have a feeling for the lives of these magnificent creatures.  There is quite a bit about ivory poaching, but since the book ends in 1986, with a postscript written in 1999 and much has been doing to try to eradicate poaching, that information is not really informative, other than historically.  For anyone who loves elephants, I highly recommend this readable, fun, informative book.


Alex and Me by Irene M. Pepperberg  [Logos]
Though I never read "Dr. Doolittle," I have been fascinated by the possibility of communication among different species.  I became dazzled by Koko, the sign language communicating gorilla and ever since I became obsessed with elephants, I have been interested in learning more about elephant society and communication among themselves.  The Alex of the title was an African Grey parrot who lived 31 years, 30 years of which with animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg.  In that time her experiments with him and ultimately other grey parrots, showed that being a "bird brain" was more of a compliment than a put down. 

Alex had a vocabulary of over 100 words, but more than that, he showed that he understood them.  He had an astonishing ability to communicate and understand complex ideas, and he also had a stubborn streak when he used words to insist that he get what he wanted.  He also learned to make connections between words, such as refusing to say the word "apple" because it tasted to him like a combination of banana and cherry, so he insisted it be called "ban-berry." 

After his death, he was mourned all over the world, a full page obituary ran in the (either the New Yorker or New York Times, I can't remember).  He had been called "the smartest bird in the world," but work with him just proved that animals are thinking more than we may think they are.

The book starts and ends with his death (from heart arrhythmia), so there is no doubt about what happens to him.  Still it is a tear jerker, especially Alex's final words for Pepperberg (the same words he said to her every night), "You be good.  I love you."  A wonderful book, and a beautiful love story. Another proof that we humans are maybe not as unique as we think we are.


Brooklyn by Colm Tolbin
I was so looking forward to this book.  Though it's not my usual genre, Eilis is a shy girl from Ireand (the land of my ancestors) coming to America to make a life for herself in the 1950s, the decade that I was growing up in too.  But it was a huge disappointment.  It has all the excitement of a Grandma Moses painting and is written as if the author was a scientist dispassionately recording the activities of a bunch of monkeys.  There is nothing that lets the reader know much about Eilis excxept that she is a wimp who is afraid to say anything to anybody for fear of saying the wrong thing.  Even mildly interesting scenes, such as buying a bathing suit, where there is the potential of something actually happening the incident is glossed over and never mentioned again.  I wanted to shake her all through the book (or shake the writer to tell him we wanted to like Eilis, not be frustrated with her for 275 pages.  Toward the end of the book, when she returns to Ireland for a vacation there is a hint of what this book could have been, but then the end just kind of peters out.  I was very, very disappointed.


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Bittersweet story of a widow, Addie Moore and a widower, Louis Waters.  Both have been living alone in their neighborhood houses, both very lonely.  Addie makes an unusual suggestion which will change both of their lives and the life of Addie's young grandson as well. 

Haruf's writing style is unusual and takes a bit of getting used to, but it is simple and, in its own way, eloquent once you get into it.

The story is filled with joy and heartache, but is full of simplicity and meaning.  The author wrote it when he knew he was dying and was perhaps making a statement about it never being too late to find love.

The ending was probably inevitable, given the nature of people, but it was difficult to read as well.  Was named Amazon's best book of June 2015.


Long Lost by Harlan Coben
Myron Bolitar receives a mid-night call from Terese Collins, from whom he has heard nothing in 10 years, since they ran away to a deserted island together.  "Come to Paris," she says, without bothering to say "hello," explaining that she needs his help. Myron, though in a rocky relationship, still has feelings for Teresa and flies off to Paris.  She was contacted by her ex-husband who said he must see her and that what he had to tell her would be "life changing."  But he never shows up and he is found dead, with Terese the lead suspect.  Investigating the death leads Myron into an international terrorist ring, capture, torture, and ins and outs with the Paris police.  This is the penultimate Bolitar book, but I read the final book earlier this month.  I am now in mourning that I will no longer have Myron, Win, Esperanza and Big Cindy in my life.  I thought this was one of the best of the series.

I "read" this as an audio book and the narrator was wonderful.  So much better than the book where Coben decided to read his own book.


Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
This is the kind of book I never read.  Pure trashy chick lit.  But I was looking for brain candy, I guess, and intrigued by the notion of a young woman, frustrated by the lack of man in her life and in love with the fictional Jamie Fraser of the "Outlander" series, deciding to go to Scotland and find her own Fraser.  As I said, I don't read chick lit so I don't know how this compares, but it wasn't bad, though the ending was predictable early on.  It was fun following Emma through Scotland.


Live Wire by Harlan Coben
I made a mistake reading this book.  I have read all of the Myron Bolitar books in order and midway through this book, I realized that this was the last book, not the next to last book.  So I already know how Myron's story ends and have one more book to read.  But, as usual, this was a good book.  Asked by a former tennis star client to intervene in a family matter leads Myron to a frantic search for his brother, from whom he has been estranged for years, meeting a nephew he had no idea he had and life changes for Myron himself, Win, Esperanza, Big Cindy and no doubt whatsoever that there will be no Book 11 for Myron.  I will miss him very much.  (But in the meantime I still have to read Book 9)


For One More Day by Mitch Albom  {Logos]
"...One day spent with someone you love can change everything." The week that our son, who died when he was 24, would have turned 44 and the week when our nearly lifelong friend Richard died and the day when I decided to skip seeing my mother because I just didn't feel like it was perhaps not the right week to read this book about a man, convinced he has ruined his life, who decides to commit suicide, but who, instead, meets his deceased mother and spends a day with her, learning valuable life lessons, and getting the answers to long-unanswered questions. 

Albom's books are always magic and this one is no exception.  I would say it's a book that will stay with you for a long time, but apparently I read and reviewed it in 2006, and in 2015 there was nothing whatsoever that sounded familiar!


Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
This story, told in the voice of 13 year old Frank Drum. relates events that happened in the sleepy town of New Bremen (near Mankato, for "Little House" fans!) in the summer of 1961. Frank's dad is the town Presbyterian minister. His mother is quite artistic, and brooding. There are 3 Drum children. The musically gifted Ariel is the oldest. She hopes to go to Juilliard in the fall. She has few friends because of the repair f her cleft palate, which has left her with a disfiguring scar. Frank's younger brother is Jake, with a terrible stutter, who is Frank's shadow. Before the fall, the town will have dealt with five deaths and the repercussions. Frank finds himself in an adult world that includes secrets, lies, adultery, betrayal, murder suicide and gender identity (not nearly as accepted then as it is now). The book moves at a fast clip and is an easy, enjoyable read


We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch
This is not an easy read, but it describes in very full detail the lead up to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. I wanted to know the difference between Hutus an Tutsis and what all the killing was about anyway, and it answers my questions very well. We have heard ever since the end of World War II and the liberation of the Nazi death camps that we should never forget, and never allow it to happen again, yet the entire world turned its back when nearly a million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda

When the killing was over, the UN came in and established a tribunal to bring the perpetrators to trial. In 20 years (and spending $2 million) they only convicted 61 men, mostly high ranking officials.

It should be an international disgrace that every country that the Tutsis called on for help (including the United States) ignored them.

Quote from the book: Take the best estimate: eight hundred thousand killed in a hundred days. That's three hundred and thirty-three and a third murders an hour--or five and a half lives terminated every minute. Consider also that most of these killings actually occurred in the first three or four weeks, and add to the death toll the uncounted legions who were maimed but did not die of their wounds, and the systematic and serial rape of Tutsi women--and then you can grasp what it meant that the Hotel des Mille Collines was the only place in Rwanda where as many as a thousand people who were supposed to be killed gathered in concentration and, as Paul [the manager] said, 'Nobody was killed. Nobody was taken away. Nobody was beaten.

Ironically, the UN came in to help when they learned that in the death camps in Rwanda there were dogs who were eating the dead. "They never used their excellent weapons to stop the extermination of civilians, but it turned out that the peacekeepers were very good shots. The genocide had been tolerated by the so-called international community but the corpse-eating dogs were a health problem."


The Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen
I haven't read a Gerritsen book in awhile and I'm glad to find that I still like her writing. This is the latest in the Rizzoli and Isles series, which bears very little resemblance to the TV show of the same name. This story takes place on two continents -- Boston, where Rizzoli and Isles live and work and Botswana, where a grisly crime mirrors murders they are investigating. It starts with the murder of a young female zookeeper by a rare white leopard at the Boston zoo. There are two stories which bounce back and forth--the tale of a doomed wild African safari and the present day tale of the investigation of the zookeeper's murder and similar kills of people found hanging upside down, gutted like a hunted animal. I wasn't sure how I liked this departure from Gerritsen's usual form, but as the two story lines came closer and closer together, I was hooked. Another winner for Gerritsen, though I suspect we won't be seeing this plot line on the TV spin-off! It's always fun to read Gerritsen's stuff because, as a medical examiner herself, her written autopsies, like Patricia Cornwell's (also a medical examiner) read very detailed and accurate, which, as a medical transcriptionist, I appreciate.


The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
Even if the story weren't so compelling, this is a worthwhile book because Guzeman's writing is so beautiful.  But she also weaves a wonderful story of a once-famous artist who stopped painting more than forty years ago because of a trauma that included himself and two young sisters he met on a summer vacation.  He suddenly calls an art historian  to reveal a hitherto unknown painting that he wants to sell.  It is the center panel of a triptych which depicts himself and each of the young women. When the art world knows of its existence it will be worth millions. He says he will only sell if the other two panels can be found, which begins a search for the young women.  The surprising secrets that are revealed kept me reading until 3 a.m. and then, 3 hours later, for another 2 hours until I finished it, in tears.  Highly recommended!!



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