Books Read in 2019

An Elephant in my Kitchen by Francoise Malby-Anthony
After my positive review of "The Elephant Whisperer," by Lawrence Anthony, I was offered the opportunity to review an advanced copy of his widow's book, which I was delighted to do.  The original book made a big impression on me and I still remember that after Anthony's untimely death, the elephants in his herd walked  14 miles to the house to stand for 2 days, kind of in tribute to him.  Or so it seemed.  (They did the same thing a year later, on the anniversary of his death)

Like "The Elephant Whisperer," this is a "can't put it down" book that I finished in 2 days.  Malby-Anthony tells of her early days as a French woman adapting to the African bush, and how her husband reluctantly took a herd of elephants that were going to be put down and made them accept that they were better off living on his game reserve, Thula Thula.  The book has so many stories that show clearly the intelligence of elephants and the importance of family to them.

Malby-Anthony continues the wonderful stories of life with the elephants and learning how to solve problems like a growing herd that needs birth control, and a staff that won't accept orders from a female.  It's warm, funny, sad, and irritating.  We learn far too much about poaching and how rampant it is and how cruel and ruthless poachers are for elephant ivory and rhino horns (which have zero value except in the fantasy of the men who want them). 

Because of poaching, many babies are left orphaned and out of that situation grew a separate facility for caring for babies, whose survival is iffy at best.  I learned a lot about rhinos and how affectionate they are, and then there was the tiny orphaned hippo who was afraid to go into water and had to be tricked into it. 

The chapters fly by and when I finished I had to check Google to see photos of Thula Thula, which looks marvelous.  If I were rich, I would put a trip there on my bucket list, but alas that will never be financially possible, but it sure is nice to see how the other half lives.

The Crossing by Michael Connelly
This is the book I read while trying to get "The Guilty" to play on the ipod.  Harry Bosch teams up with his half brother Mickey Haller to help prove the innocence of a man who is in prison for murder.   A woman has been brutally murdered in her bed and all evidence points to Haller's client, a former gang member turned family man. Though the murder rap seems ironclad, Mickey is sure it's a setup.

Though it goes against his instincts to work for the defense against the police, there are just too many unanswered questions and Bosh feels that if the man was framed, there is someone out thee who is guilty and getting away with it.   With the secret help of his former LAPD partner Lucy Soto, Harry starts digging. Soon his investigation leads him inside the police department, where he realizes that the killer he's been tracking has also been tracking him.

Another page turner.

Six Years by Harlan Coben
Jake Fisher went to the wedding of the Natalie, the love of his life, who ditched him for a whirlwind romance.  At the wedding, she makes him promise to leave the couple alone.  He does for six years until he discovers the obituary of her husband, which says that he was married and had  two children.  Jake goes to the funeral and saw the eulogy given by his son, who is 15. He's confused.  But Natalie isn't there and when he investigates further, he learns that the man had been married for 20 years--Not to Natalie.  Was he a bigamist?  Now Jake is very interested in finding Natalie and the search for her takes him through twists and turns that only Coben can envision.  At one point he is kidnapped by men who want him to tell them where she is and when he can't do it, they beat him up until he kills one and manages to escape.  It goes on and on, each chapter revealing another unbelievable thing.  It was a good read, but perhaps not as good as the last Coben I read, "Play Dead."

The Guilty by David Baldacci
This was an audio book that we started awhile ago and then could not finish because my ipod wouldn't open the file.  When I finally got it to open, I think it skipped a bunch of the book, but we listened to the end, but I know I didn't get the whole thing.  This is Book 4r in the Will Robie series and Robie travels home to help his father, who has been arrested and charged with murder. 

Father and son haven't spoken or seen each other since the day Robie left town. In that time, Dan Robie--a local attorney and pillar of the community--has been elected town judge. Despite this, most of the town is aligned against Dan. His guilt is assumed.

To make matters worse, Dan has refused to do anything to defend himself. When Robie tries to help, his father responds only with anger and defiance.

But of course Robie can't just go away, as his father orders and eventually solves the mystery and learns why his father refused to fight the charges.  This probably would have been a better book if we had heard it all (and if I hadn't dozed off now and then!).  But I always enjoy Baldacci books.

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke
This book was an amazing surprise to me.  I have been reading books about Judy Garland since Gerald Frank's 650 page book published in 1975.  I have read many biographies and stories of parts of her life, so many that I stopped buying Judy Garland books and I'm not sure why I ordered this one except it sounded interesting.  That's putting it mildly.  I thought that by now I pretty much knew most of her life, so what a shock to discover that probably 80% of this 500+ page book was new to me!  The entire first half, for example, was an exhaustive (but fascinating) story of her years at MGM, and before, when her mother got her started on pills at 4 so she could perform with her sisters. up and down towns in So. California.  Anyway, for any Garland fanatic, even if you've read all the other books, good and bad, this is a must read.

Elizabeth and Barbara by Elizabeth Boardman
What a shock to look up information on this book and discover that I actually know the author, though at the time she lived in Davis and I can't remember how I came to know her.  She wrote a book called "I'm not a Tourist; I live here" and I don't remember if I read it for her or if I typed it or what.  It doesn't seem to show in my list of books read. Anyway, her latest book was an interesting late-life autobiography and quite a surprise.

Play Dead by Harlan Coben
In the introduction to this book, Coben requests that if this is the first of his books you are reading, you stop reading and read another one first.  This was his debut novel and apparently he does not feel it is the best example of his work and about 1/4 into it, I was reminded of it because it didn't read like the many Cobens I have read before.

This was an audio book we were working our way through and about 40% through it, we were at a very exciting part and I thought ahead to when we would have a chance to listen to more if it and ended up getting the real book for my Kindle and then sitting up until 4 am. finishing it.  It has more twists and turns than a mountain road, but it definitely holds your interest.

Laura, a well known model and fashion magnet and David, a basketball star, have eloped to Australia where, on their second day there, she goes to a meeting and he goes for a walk.  She never sees him again.  He supposedly drowned, but as time passes, Laura becomes more and more suspicious about the circumstances around his death.  It would give away too much to talk about the various twists and turns, but suffice to say the book refers to "the killer" throughout, without using any pronouns and I was gobsmacked to find out who "the killer" really is.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
I probably read this 40 years ago but my 11 year old granddaughter wanted to discuss it in our "book club" so I re-read it, having forgotten about 90% of it originally.  Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, one of the little people, withw furry feet, who loves the comfort of his home and is uninterested in any adventure until the wizard Galdalf convinces him to join a group of dwarves on an adventure to retrieve the dwarves' treasure stollen by the dragon Smaug.  Bilbo reluctantly agrees to go along and encounters lots of moments when he wished to be home again.  His most important interaction was with Gollum, a creature from whom Bilbo stole a magic ring that gives him invisibility (which sets Tolkein up to write "Lord of the Rings")

I enjoyed re-reading the book, but it's not my genre these days, so I was happy to have finished it (and no, we have not yet had our book club meeting)

The Suspect by John Lescroart
Lescroart is a local author but I have not read most of his stuff.  This is apparently Book 12 in a series, but the first I've read in this series.

Stuart Gorman finds himself the principal suspect in his wife's murder.  He found her nude dead body in their hot tub when he returned from a weekend in the mountains.  His friend, a congressman, recommends an attorney, Gina Roark, who is suffering from her own personal loss.  Investigation reveals that something in the victim's professional life (she was a doctor) may have been a part of the reason for her murder.  Lots of legal action in this book.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
Yes, of course I've read this book before.  We are in the midst of "droughtlander," waiting for the new book to be published and the next season to start on STARZ and a lot of fans are re-reading the books.  This is Book 6 of 8 (so far--9 should be out later this year) and I'm trying to get through them all so I'll be all ready for 9. 

In this book, Brianna and Roger with little Jemmy (and who is his father?) have settled on Frasier's Ridge with Brianna's parents, Claire and Jaime, everyone's favorite Scotsman.  This book is kind of a series of long vignettes, of things happening on the Ridge and politically with the lead up to the Revolution, Jamie nominally siding with the British, though with Claire's knowledge of history from the future, really with the rebels...and the problems that causes.  There are a few murders, a couple of kidnappings, a magnificent conflagration, Brianna discovering she has a brother, treachery among best friends, theft of gold and jewelry and the return of the odious Stephen Bonnett...and what will happen with Brianna's newest baby, who has a heart murmur?

It's the usual very long Gabaldon novel, which keeps you reading long into the night.

Top of the Mourning:  A Passport to Peril Mystery by Maddy Hunter
I was curious about the second in this series, especially since we HAVE been to Ireland.  Emily is now a tour guide and traveling with most of the people from the first book, this time to Ireland.  I didn't realize that this was pretty much the same story, with a different locale (N. Ireland, where we have not been).  Between Book 1 and Book 2, Emily and Etienne have carried on a love affair via email and he has decided to take this tour too, only despite many attempts to have a romantic evening together, they never do,  The same people are still annoying, the dead bodies keep piling up, Emily is determined to find the killer(s) and the only Irish locale that is discussed in detail is something the group has decided is fake.  The dialog is ridiculous and I can't believe these people actually want to visit a foreign country, much less  two of them.

At the end of the book, Emily land Etienne still have not gotten together and I am ever so slightly tempted to read the next book, which is set in Rome, but I need something more substantial before I go back to this lightweight silly series.

Alpine for You: A Passport to Peril Mystery by Maddy Hunter
I saw this in one of the right columns on Amazon and checked it out.  Hunter has written a series of very lightweight books about a young woman (Emily Andrew) who accompanies her grandmother on senior citizen travels around the world, 'cause Grandma won the lottery and has lots of money and wants to spend it.  This, book 1, takes them to Switzerland, where there are three murders over the course of 272 pages, bad luck following Emily around everywhere until she meets the handsome Etienne, police officer investigating the murders. But even that doesn't go right because the group all decide they want to go home NOW and, as she has been made the new tour director following the murder of the original one, there is no time to explore a relationship with Etienne further.  It's light, it's funny, it has mystery, and about a page or two of tension.  An easy read that can be done in a day.  I enjoyed it and decided to travel with the group to Ireland next.

Aunt Erma's Cope Book by Erma Bombeck
Another book found during the "book clean out," a Bombeck book I had not read.  Erma Bombeck is my hero and "Funny the World" came to be so I could figure out if I had the ability to write a daily column.  Nearly 20 years later, I've proven that I can, but I have yet to write anything that came up to the level of Erma Bombeck's daily columns.

This is one of her earlier books, in which she tackles self help books and the problems that can arise in trying to change your life according to the precepts of a book  It's very funny.  I particularly liked the chapter on "living cheap" where she suggests an at-home vacation to save money.  "Let's think f it as Disneyland...The kitchen is Adventureland, the utility room is Frontierland, the garage is Tomorrowland, the bathroom Main Street USA, and the bedroom Fantasyland."

Very funny book.  But then all of her books are.

French Lessons by Peter Mayle
I came across this book during our "book clean out."  Having read Mayle's previous books, I picked this one up at Logos when I still worked there, but had never read it.  I decided to finally read it, so I could give it away.  For this book, Mayle, an English author living in France, decided to investigate fairs and festivals connected with food and drink, the more unusual the better.  Frogs, truffles, snails, and always wine.  If he had read his maps correctly, he would also have written about a blood sausage festival.  I'm sorry to have missed that.  All of Mayle's books are so deliciously complete that you feel you were there.  You can taste 20 different wines in a night without a hangover.  He seems to have been invited to all the best events, including a French marathon (he was a spectator) where the runners take wine breaks rather than water breaks.  By the time I was halfway into this book, I had a strong desire to find a French restaurant, but being unadventurous in my food choices, I couldn't possibly have appreciated it the way Mayle does.

We are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai
The Taliban attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai when she was 15 years old, for the crime of advocating for education for girls.  She woke up 10 days later in a hospital in England.  After a lengthy recovery, she continued her fight to ensure that all girls, world wide, have the right to 12 years of free, safe, and quality education. She is currently a student at Oxford University, pursuing a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.

She won the Nobel Peace prize in 2014 (the youngest person ever to win a Nobel).  Now she has written about what it is like to have to flee your home country and attempt to find a place where one can live in peace.  With all the talk about terrorists, murderers and rapists trying to come into the United States, the first person stories of these young women around the world offers the reader a look at the other side, those who are escaping violence and death threats, and the horrendous conditions they are willing to endure, sometimes for years, in order to find that place where they can live in peace.

I travel to many countries to meet girls fighting poverty, wars, child marriage and gender discrimination to go to school. Malala Fund is working so that their stories, like mine, can be heard around the world.

This is a moving book and will be, for many, a shocking eye-opener.

The Tour: A Feel-Good Irish Springtime Read by Jean Grainger
You know how in formal dinners they often give you something like a small taste of sherbet as a palate cleanser between two bigger courses?  That's what this book is -- a palate cleanser.  Something pleasant after that awful book I just finished and to make me long for something a bit more "meaty."  It's a nice story of a bus tour through Ireland peopled by an unlikely group of tourists:  a Wall Street banker, a man-hunting serial divorcee and her son, a bored teen aged wanna be rock musician, a love-hungry cop, a widow and her overbearing traveling companion, a workaholic and his newly pregnant wife, and an older lady with an incredible secret.  Each of them (as well as their tour guide!) will be changed in significant ways through their week-long tour. You'll cheer the bad things that happen to the bad guys and cry at the good things that happen to the good guys.  As a book about Ireland, there is history tossed in almost gratuitously and I'm still not sure where they are touring, since I was not familiar with any of the names (wonder if it was northern Ireland).  It was not a bad book and it wasn't a particularly good book, but it did make me hungry for something with a bit more substance.

A Diary on my Screwing Up my Year Abroad by Natasha Holme
This is book 3 of a series, but the first I have read.  What a monumental waste of time. As a journalist, when I heard about these books, I was intrigued because Holme is supposedly the most prolific diarist in the world, having written (by her count) more than 7,000,000 words -- more than Samuel Pepys (4,000,000 words).  I kept reading, hoping it would get better, but 290 pages of drinking, drugging, vomiting, bulimia, food binges alternating with starving,  lusting after a heterosexual girl while longing for the ex-girlfriend whom she will never see again, (no sex), friendship with crooks who over and over again take advantage of her, shoplifting for fun, etc., etc., etc. The only thing it's missing is rape, which is remarkable, considering the low lifes she meets along the way.  There wasn't a single likeable character in the book, nor a single enjoyable episode, and by the end, I hated the author as well. If there was any plus it was learning that my long-unused French is more active than I thought it was.

In Pieces by Sally Field
This was, without a doubt, the most depressing autobiography I have ever read. Field's insecurity began with her childhood, raised by an alcoholic mother and a sexually abusive stepfather, she was terrified of grammar school and had no friends in school. As she moved into film with two popular TV series (Gidget and The Flying Nun) she never felt comfortable and she hated both series, especially The Flying Nun. She was married twice and had 3 children, though her happiest relationship seems to have been with Burt Reynolds, who was sometimes abusive, controlling, and as insecure as she as. After joining The Actors Studio, she was influenced by Lee Strasberg and started feeling comfortable with her acting, but even winning two Academy Awards and other awards, she still doesn't feel comfortable in her talent or secure in her work. (Read this book and you'll understand her oft-misquoted statement at the Academy Awards, "I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me," often quoted as "you like me; you really like me.")

Though she loves her kids, she seems to have been a mostly absent parent, leaving the parenting to her mother, "Baa," who was the single most influential person in her life. In fact, by the time you get to the end, you realize that the whole book (which took her 7 years to write) was trying to solve the complicated love/hate relationship she had with her mother, who died a few years ago.

An interesting, if very sad, very raw view of what goes on in the heads of some of our most famous actors.

If you're looking for a gossipy Hollywood autobiography, this is not the book for you.

Forever Restless by Rev Joseph O'Looney, CSP
It’s an odd situation to read an autobiography by someone you have known most of your life. Rev. Martin Joseph O’Looney came into my life when I was about 8 or 9 when he was stationed at Old St. Mary’s church in San Francisco and gave my mother instructions to become a Catholic. He loved my little sister, and treated me as if I were chopped liver, so I have avoided reading this book until now.

In 1996, he published his autobiography (which my mother typed) and though he could have used an editor to prevent telling some stories more than once, I found this a riveting narrative.

His San Francisco was my San Francisco so reading about his childhood (though he was obviously much older than I) walked me down memory lane. I was at UC Berkeley when he was assigned there as campus minister and though he and I had a lot of contentious confrontations, again, it brought back memories of those days of the Free Speech movement, Mario Savio, and People’s Park (I’m even mentioned in it)

I knew he was in the Navy and found his tales of his years as chaplain on the USS Kearsarge fascinating, as I did his experiences in Latin America during the era of the Sandinistas, and later his mission to Hispanics, sorely ignored by the Catholic Church in general (he doesn't have much good to say about Pope John Paul II)

He went into detail about the party celebrating the 50th anniversary of priesthood, but neglected to mention that he spent the earlier part of that day helping to bury our son. But let it pass.

This is an exhaustive list of every person he ever met who was important to him, and everyone who ever did him wrong (the revenge of the writer!), and that does get a little wearing after awhile. But overall it’s a page turner, his personal account of his awakening to the radical meaning of justice and peace, with perhaps a bit of puffery tossed in there.

He was quite a guy. I wish we had not been oil and water all of those years since we really more in common than I realized. He died at 88 in 2006.

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
I have re-read Book 5 in Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series (which I originally listened to as an audio book in 2011...this time I read the actual book).  Claire and Jamie are now in America with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger, and their son Jemmy. In a 1400+ page book, you are going to have slow parts. I could have done with the shortening of several parts of this book, but in the end I didn't care because I just love immersing myself in the story of the time-traveling Claire and her 18th century lover. This is set in the pre-Revolutionary colonies and the build up to the actions of 1776. There's enough intrigue, history, sensuality, and medicine to go around. Amazing things happen which will change the Fraser family forever, and there is the return of characters we haven't seen in awhile. The best review I can give this book is that I was going to wait before re-reading Book 6, but couldn't.  I've already started it.

Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
I spent the entire day engrossed in Elizabeth Letts’ new book, “Finding Dorothy”. I couldn’t put it down. Excellent story. I know enough about the making of “The Wizard of Oz” that this fictionalized (tho well researched) account filled in a lot of blank spots. And any story with Judy Garland as a bit player is even better.  I knew Elizabeth when she was a midwife but she is now a full time author.  This is the third of her books I have read.  She does her homework and researches extensively, which helps make her books so interesting.  (Check out "The Eighty Dollar Champion" which I loved)

The story is told through the eyes of Maud Gage Baum, widow of L. Frank Baum, who wrote the book.  It begins with her first visit to MGM during the filming of the movie and switches back and forth tracing Maud's life as the daughter of one of the country's leading suffragettes, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and her friends (like Susan B Anthony).  Maud was to be the first woman in her family to attend college, but she left school to marry the charismatic actor, Frank Baum.  The book follows Frank's many attempts to support his family, and along the way we see the bits and pieces of his life which become incorporated as big parts of the book (Maud's fear of scarecrows, for example).

If I have any complaints about the book it's that the success of the Oz book seems precipitous, from obscurity to overwhelming success within a couple of pages, but it was probably necessary to condense the story.

Maud's friendship with the young Judy Garland is fun to read, though it's difficult to know how much is based on fact and how much is conjecture.  But who cares?  It reads well and Maud's main desire is that this young actress get the "Dorothy" that her husband created accurately.

It's a great read for a lifelong Judy Garland fan and even though Wizard of Oz was never my favorite Garland movie, it did make me want to put on my copy of the movie and watch it again

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker
This was my granddaughter's choice for our next book club discussion.  It's a young adult book, the story of a young boy (Peter) and his pet fox.  When the father (a widower) joins the military, he has to leave Peter in the care of the boy's grandfather, and the fox (Pax) can't go along, so the father leaves him somewhere in the wilderness 300 miles from the grandfather's house.  The fox, who has known only humans, spends time trying to find his boy and the boy, miserable without his pet, runs away from home to search for the fox.  It's a sweet story with lots of adventure for both.  The ending, while bittersweet, was inevitable.

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