Books Read in 2022

The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt
If at all possible, I highly recommend getting this as an audio book.  After his mother's brief, but serious illness at age 91, Anderson Cooper realized that though the two were close, he knew essentially nothing of his mother's family.  He was a member of the Vanderbilt family, one of  the richest in the country, yet there was no relationship between his mother and her relatives and she never spoke of them.  She had recently learned how to send text messages and over the next year, she and Anderson texted back and forth for a year, about her life and their feelings about the world.  The audio book is wonderful because each reads his/her own texts and it is much more colorful than just reading texts.

Both were strongly affected by death.  Gloria lost her father at age 9 and Anderson lost his father at age 10.  They both lost Anderson's brother Carter, who committed suicide at age 23.  The story of Gloria's childhood was completely unbelievable, with a mother who didn't like her and rarely even saw her, much less interacted with her.  An ugly custody battle between Gloria's mother and her aunt, when Gloria was 10 was the defining moment in her life and throughout the book much of her memories deal with the hatred between her mother and her aunt.

The book is a beautiful, loving celebration of the bond between mother and son.  Their texts end shortly before Gloria's 92nd birthday and she mentions that she hopes some day Anderson will become a parent himself.  Sadly, she did not live long enough to know that he actually did become a parent.  His first child was born a year after his mother died,  at age 95.


Earth Abides by George Stewart
This seems the perfect time to re-read this book, written in 1949.  I read it during college, but remembered very little of it.  The character Isherwood Williams ("Ish") is in the mountains for some "time away."  He is bitten by a snake and ends up in his cabin for a couple of weeks, recovering from the snake bite and some sort of illness.  When he returns to civilization, he discovers that there has been a massive pandemic and everybody is dead.  He is able to get food, a better car, gasoline, etc. by taking what has been abandoned.  He settles in his family home in Berkeley and then drives across the country, finding other individuals or small groups who have survived.  Returning to Berkeley.  He continues to explore and finds, first, a woman with whom he partners, and then a handful of others who have also survived.  Together, this small group start a tribe, with the birth of babies and learning how to deal with what has been left behind and how to cope when, for exampe, the electricity goes off and the water no longer flows.

The book takes you from the first days, when Ish is in his 20s, to his death as an old man and all of the changes that happen to society when all the familiar things are no more (e.g., he has access to the UC Berkeley library, but he is the only one who knows how to read and the children aren't interested in learning).

This is an interesting look at the start of civilizations and how they learn to live.  There is also a lot about how the land itself changes as the years pass without human intervention.  Makes one glad COVID-19 wasn't worse than it is.


Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
I've wanted to read this book ever since Bourdain took his own life, and finally got around to it.  First of all, Bourdain is a wonderful writer.  But even if he were not a wonderful writer, the stories he tells of what really happens in a restaurant kitchen are eye-opening and will make anyone think the next time they go out to eat...never go out on a weekend, and try to eat on Tuesday or Wednesday for the best food.  Never order fish on a Monday.  The stories of the drug use in kitchens is unbelievable.  And if you really want to find out what it's like to be a chef, you must read the chapter, "A Day in the Life" if nothing else.  I thoroughly enjoyed  this book and am sad that the depression he talks about often ultimately took his life.


The Secret Language of Dogs by Victoria Stilwell
This would have been a better book to read when we were getting a new dog, not after having that dog for 10 years.  Still, along with the basic things to teach a new dog coming into your home, the author goes into thing like the meaning of body and vocal language, what tail wagging really means, how to deal with aggression, and various odd behaviors (like rolling in bad smelling things).  The thing I learned from this book is that I've pretty much been doing it all right and that I interpreted many of our dog's behaviors accurately, though now I know why.


Rhino Dreams by Carolyn Waggoner and Kathryn Williams
When I read on Facebook that Carolyn Waggoner, who is a long-time acquaintance, had published a book, I had to get it right away.  The beginning of this book reads like Part  2 of "Eye of the Elephant," only 20-30 years later.  Clare Rainbow-Dashell, a professional photographer, lands in Namibia, hired by a luxury safari lodge to take pictures of the wild animals for their brochure.  The head of the lodge is in constant disagreement with Eric, a rhino specialist who is working to protect rhinos (and other animals) from poachers.  A terrible thing happening to one of the rhinos results in Clare moving to Eric's camp, which causes trouble with the luxury lodge

The first part of this books reads like a study on African animals and their dangers from poachers, while the last part is more of a developing romance without much about animals.

Still, the whole book was totally entertaining and I read it in one day.


The Match by Harlan Coben
This is the second book in the Wilde series, which Coben has started writing.  I read "The Boy from the Woods" earlier this month and thought it strange that with that title, Coben told very little about Wilde, who had been found in the woods when he was a young child, apparently having lived alone in the woods for years.   But the book wasn't about Wilde's childhood, rather it was a mystery that he took on.  "The Match" is all about Wilde and his reluctant DNA search to see if he could find out who his parents were and why they abandoned him in the woods.

It is amazing the situations that his DNA match led him into and the dangerous situations he finds himself in.  I won't even go into them because it's more fun reading about them.  And, as with all of his books, Coben's finale was a surprise.  I read this book in 24 hours and sat up until 5 a.m. finishing it because I couldn't put it down.


Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow
I have read a lot of celebrity autobiographies over the years and this may just be the best of the lot.  Not that the writing is outstanding (for that go to Kate Mulgrew) but it's so typically him, complete with all the comments breaking the 4th wall and talking to the readers. He's become a big star with friends like Stephen Sondheim, Carol Burnett and Patti LuPone, yet with as much shyness about meeting celebrities as I would have. I love that he describes himself as a "hard core, out-and-proud, full blown introvert.."  I know exactly how he feels!

Rainbow's (yes, that's his real name) childhood reads like the script of a bad sitcom that nobody would believe, but with a mother (whom he adores) who brought him up on musicals, which kept him sane despite bullies in school and a not very nice father.

It's fascinating to see how he uses the newly formed social media to create the person he will ultimately become, and how his early videos became so popular that they would have thousands of viewers in the first day (compared with millions with his later videos).

His chapter about his cat is worth at least two if not more tissues.  Learning about how the far right decided to take this Jewish gay man on as a homophobic anti-Semitic because of jokes he told at the start of his career, and how he dealt with that, thanks to advice from Carol Burnett is fascinating, if depressing. 

This is just a delightful book from start to finish.
 


The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben
The last book I read was so "heavy" that I wanted something light to read quickly and Harlan Coben is the perfect solution.  "The Boy from the Woods" features Wilde, a man who was discovered as a small child living in the forest. He had been living a feral existence, with no memory of how he got there or even who he is. Everyone just calls him Wilde. Nobody knew who he was, how old he was, who his parents were, why he could speak English, or how long he had been living on his own.  He was adopted by a family and now he is an adult.  He's now a former soldier and security expert, lives off the grid and is shunned by the community, until they need him. 

In this story, teen age girl, Naomi, has gone missing.  She has been bullied by her fellow students and was unhappy and withdrawn and nobody knows where she is.  Her friend Matthew (who is Wilde's godfather) asks Wilde if he will help find her.  Her divorced parents each claim that the other abused her. Wilde's search leads in all sorts of directions, which are difficult to describe without giving away the plot, but nobody in the story is who he or she claims to be, the receipt of a finger, which has been amputated helps bring the story to a conclusion and, as the fairy tales say, all live happily ever after.  Or almost all.  The description of Wilde's house is amazing.  And, of course, this being Coben there is a surprise ending that nobody expects.


The Eye of the Elephant by Delia and Mark Owens
This was not the book I expected it to be.  I expected it to be about elephants, but instead the Owens are conservationists, first working in Kenya observing lions and then, when expelled from the country, in Zambia working to get rid of poachers, who are in danger of destroying the elephant and other communities.

Since 1973 between seventy-five thousand and one hundred thousand elephants have been poached in the Luangwa Valley as a whole; that's roughly one for every word in this book. Perhaps twenty thousand to thirty thousand elephants are left in Luangwa....At this rate they will all have perished in four to five years.

While the book is fascinating, there is so much driving and flying in life-threatening conditions that it seems to be at least a quarter of the book.  It makes you wonder whoever would want to do such a thing.  Also, there is no mention whatsoever of where their funding is coming from. They are spending thousands on equipment and supplies to natives but nothing about money.  And they needed an editor...at least one discussion of a meeting was duplicated and dumped in the middle of a chapter on something else, with the chapter resuming at the end of the meeting.

In spite of that, however, this is a shocking look at what is happening to elephants by poachers and the work the Owens were doing in the 1980s to get the sale of ivory and other elephant parts banned.  Thankfully, in 2020 poaching is less, but still there are some 10,000 to 15,000 elephants killed each year.


How to Forget: A Daughter's Memoir, by Kate Mulgrew
Ned and Marta gave me Mulgrew's first book, "Born with Teeth" a couple of years ago. I found it such a well written, enjoyable book that I immediately ordered her second, but it has sat on my Kindle unread until this week. This book deals with the death of her parents and while that may sound like a boring subject for a book, as in her first, Mulgrew shows herself to be an excellent writer which makes the book enjoyable all the way through. She takes a break from her show biz work to come home and help her father, who is dying of cancer, to die, 3 weeks after his diagnosis (he refuses treatment). While he is dying, her mother is dealing with Alzheimers and the story of the relationship with both parents, and her 7 siblings, makes for a fascinating story. As she and her siblings care for their parents, she reflects on their upbringing by two very difficult parents, her father a withdrawn alcoholic (he never saw her perform--ever), her mother into the arts and not much into children.

Still they created a family that was very close and after the father dies and the mother's Alzheimer's gets worse, they move her into a home near a hospital and all of them help care for her. After she dies, Mulgrew realizes that their closeness depended on the mother and with the mother gone, it wasn't there any more. She deals with her parents' marriage and its problems and the various problems of the 8 children, including herself.

Having watched my own mother die of Alzheimers, I could relate to much of what she wrote about her mother, whom she describes as "the love of her life."


Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
This is an unusual novella about the queen suddenly discovering books, accidentally because of a traveling library which parks at Buckingham Palace once a week.  She has never actually read a book for pleasure before and with some advice from Norman, a young man who works in her kitchen, she begins to read, to the consternation of her family, her staff and even the corgis.  She becomes an inveterate reader and devours as many books as she can, which begins to affect her view of the public.  This reads like a documentary for half of the book and then obviously becomes fiction and ends abruptly with a surprising plot twist.  The reader of this book would be wise to have a dictionary at hand because there are so many unfamiliar words, like amanuensis, solipistic, and opsimath.


The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves
We've gotten into the BBC show Vera on PBS and I decided to check out the books that the show is based on.  I believe there are some 10 books and this is #1.  While the story is a good one that kept me reading, I had some problems with it.  First of all, Vera does not appear in the book until it's about half over.  The first half tells the background story of  the 3 women central to the plot and a great deal about the work they are doing for conservation.  It was so technical, I honestly got lost and couldn't figure out what they were doing, other than counting otters each day.  I finally had to rent the movie, which wasn't any help at all in helping me figure out what their jobs were!  (Also, the movie starts with the murder of one character whose suicide is an important point in the book!)

I also hated the description of Vera, who seems so completely ugly and unlikeable (including brown teeth!) that she had no resemblance to Brenda Blethyn, who plays her in the TV show.  Blethyn's Vera is older, overweight, unconcerned with her appearance, and has poor eating habits, like in the book, but she is at least more likeable.

Despite all that, the basic story was engaging and I will probably read another Vera book, since the early books are free for my Kindle on Amazon!


Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

I gave up reading this halfway through.  I felt that the author was eventually going to take the heroine into her adulthood and deal with the problems she had there, but I got very tired of reading about her high school days and her confusion.  The book got all sorts of good reviews, so maybe it gets better, but it read like kiddie lit to me and I just couldn't get into it.


State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton

In 2018, I read the collaboration by Bill Clinton and James Patterson and reviewed, "this was more a novelty than a good, solid book" I don't know if Louise Penny is a better writer than James Patterson since I've never read her before, but Hillary certainly must be a much better co-author than her husband. The book is described as a political thriller--and thriller it definitely is.

Given the situation in Ukraine at the moment, this quote by Einstein, found in the book, is appropriate both to today's political situation and the plot of this book:  I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

Buses in France, Germany and London are blown up and investigation into the bombings leads to a major plot to destroy a good portion of the world with nuclear bombs.  The US Secretary of State sets out to investigate.  Clinton's knowledge of what a Secretary of State goes through, how she thinks, how she interacts with leaders of other countries, and even her personal appearance etc. is fascinating.  Penny creates believable characters, and Clinton's feelings for Trump, barely disguised as an ex-president character, are very clear.  In fact, the part about meeting with him and how his personality affected her explained a lot about how he has remained in power.

This kept me reading far into the night, especially the last 2/3 of the book, where things get more and more dangerous for several groups of people.  My problem with it was timing.  the Secretary of State flies from one country to another in such a short period of time I wondered if the Concord was still running.  When you think of having to get to a plane, fly somewhere, then get to the head of the country's president's residence, having important meetings, being interrupted by more dangerous information, then having to fly somewhere else...well, it just doesn't make sense, time-wise, though definitely a gripping story.

The finale, with minute by minute counted down went on forever and just seemed to be too unbelievable...and hard to realize who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. 

But the negatives don't diminish the enjoyment of the book overall.  Five stars.
 


The Friendship Quilts by June Calender

This is not my normal genre of reading (nobody gets killed, for example), but I read this because my friend June Calender, the queen of the simile, has written it and has been writing about it on Swap Bot for some time.  Heroine Liz is preparing to write her thesis in art history and is looking for a subject. She is at a bad point in her life, where she has just broken up with her boyfriend of 4 years, with whom she lived in Mongolia, but who left her to study Buddhism. 

She learns of Geneva Gardner, a lifelong friend of her great aunt, in the tiny town of Friendship, Indiana.  Geneva makes quilts for the needy and most people find them ugly, but give her fabric to create quilts.  Her goal is to make 100 quilts to send to Africa for a missionary there.  Liz calls the quilts "outsider art" and thinks of 86 year old Geneva as a fabric Grandma Moses. 

The book is mostly her many interviews with Geneva, and their growing friendship.  There are also people who help her (like Jake, an amateur photographer, and Sam a professional photographer, both of whom become physically involved with Liz). The simple "write a thesis" project turns into making the photos into a coffee table book, a TV drama about Geneva, and a display in some museum.  I learned a lot about quilting, but was sad to learn that there is no photograph on line of something like Geneva's "ugly quilts," which makes them difficult to imagine, though I did get some idea by Googling "Outsider art, quilts."

One of the books that kept me reading late into the night toward the end and involved several kleenex tissues.


Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith

This was a surprisingly delightful book!  The Smiths decided to quit their jobs and visit all 59 national parks in the country.  The title of the book comes because presumably they wrote text messages back to their friends, who decided not to join them on their quest.  This is a sort of travel book, but not  really.  It's like the letters I would write to my friend Char if I were visiting a national park, talking about the park, the animals, the people, and the experiences.  Their own description reads, "“If you’re looking for a guide to the National Parks, this isn’t one. If you like long eloquent descriptions of mountains and rivers and rainbows, you won’t find them in this book. If you want to read about a couple accomplishing an incredible feat against all odds, look elsewhere. This is our day-by-day account of our travels together to some of the most stunning places in America.”

Though I enjoy the relationship of this many-years married couple, these are not people I would ever feel comfortable with, their primary activity being hiking (just a few miles a day....like 11 miles, 7 miles, etc.)  Since I can't make it from our front door to the sidewalk, "hiking" is not something that appeals to me, but they have seen incredible sights.  And the nice thing is that you can Google anything that seems extraordinarily interesting.

They seem to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day and more often than any other dinner, eat pizza all over the country.  But their stories and their experiences (especially with animals...in the Katmai National Park in Alaska, they saw about  100 bears in a day!) are just fascinating.  Read about their mid-air plane collision in Alaska and the hotel room Matt wouldn't stay in because it "smelled of BO."  Highly recommended.


Tell No One by Harlan Coben

I should know better than to pick up a Harlen Coben book at 11 p.m. just to read the first chapter and see if I wanted to continue.  Several hours later, I forced myself to put it down so I could try to sleep, but I picked it up again in the morning and pretty much did nothing all day but finish the book.

Eight years after the murder of his wife, Dr. David Beck is still mourning her loss and reliving that horrible night when she was taken from him and he nearly died in an attack.  Then he gets an anonymous e-mail containing a cryptic message, a phrase only he and his wife know and a caution to tell no one.  Can it be possible she is still alive?  Despite being identified in the morgue by her father and her accused killer on death row for killing her and 15 other women?

As Beck begins to relive and re-open the information about her case, bodies start falling as one person after another who helps him is killed.  The closer Beck gets to the truth, the more he is pursued.  As with all Coben books, things are never what they seem and the twists and turns are dizzying, but you won't be able to put it down.


Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

I had been a big fan of Patricia Cornwell for many years until 2003 when I hated her latest book.  I hated what she did to my favorite characters (Marino and her niece Lucy).  I read her next book and hated that too, so I have not read any Cornwell books in a long time.  But I won this in a GoodReads drawing and I finished it, so happy to see that the "old" Patricia Cornwell is back, the Marino and Lucy that I loved are back and I look forward to her next book!

Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta has left Massachusetts with husband Benton Wesley and has returned to Virginia to take back the job of chief medical examiner, which she held for several years.  She has replaced an inept examiner, who was loved by the staff, all of whom hate the new chief.  She’s inherited not only an overbearing secretary, but also a legacy of neglect and potential corruption.

Most of the story deals with investigating two grisly murders, plus who poisoned the special wine she was going to serve to her guests, At the same time, a catastrophe occurs in a top-secret laboratory in outer space, endangering at least two scientists aboard, which she has been called by the President to investigate.  All in 408 pages.  It's so good to discover that the Cornwell I loved for so long is back and I can't wait for her next book.

As an aside, there is a brief bit, near the end of the book, where she and Marino are flying in a helicopter over Washington ,D.C. and remarking on the changes in five years (the book was written after the Jan. 6 riot) --  the businesses that are closed, the graffiti everywhere, signs of civil unrest, and they say it is not the beautiful city they remember.  That made me very sad.  I have loved Washington, D.C.
 


Hiding in Plain Sight by Michael Starr
The Secret Life of Raymond Burr.

I was a big fan of Perry Mason and Ironside and I stumbled across something the other day about Raymond Burr that made me want to read this book.  I'd give it 2 out of 5 stars.  While the facts are interesting, the writing is not, especially in the beginning.  Amazing at how kind of boring it is.  Boring because he did so much in his early acting years that I'd never heard of.  Made dozens of film noir movies that I've never heard of, starring movie stars I've never heard of.

Not only that, but the author of the book tells the story of each movie in great detail, even if Burr only had a small role in it, as he did in most of his early movies.  Perhaps the biggest role he had was in Rear Window, which I know well.  He has no lines and is only seen from his apartment window throughout the movie, until the end, but the author of the book gives the entire plot of the movie, including what all the other people in other apartments are doing.  It's like the author is trying to make more pages in the book

Things get more interesting when he gets cast as Perry Mason and the story behind that and Ironside is interesting.  What is interesting about this man is how he fabricated his history to include 3 wives and one son.  One wife divorced him after a few months, the other two wives and the son, all of whom died, never existed. The military history he tells, including receiving a purple heart, never happened, but people believed it so much that these appeared in some of his obituaries.  Throughout his life he refused to discuss personal matters and it was not until he died that I found out that he was gay and had been living with his partner for 33 years.

He was a strange man who had an amazing work ethic and even worked on his last movie while he was dying of cancer, without telling anyone he was sick and in excruciating pain.  He had a terrible weight problem his whole life and at one point weighed 380 lbs.  He could be ridiculously generous, but he also had a terrible temper.  I don't think I would have liked him if I ever met him.
 


West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge
The fact that I sat up until 3 a.m. finishing this book should explain how I felt about it.  The book is based on a true story of 2 giraffes who survived a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic and were transported by truck in  twelve days from New York to the San Diego Zoo in 1938.  The story is written by Woodrow Wilson Nickel, 105 years old, writing for the daughter of a woman who was part of the adventure. 

Seventeen year old Woody manages to get a job driving the truck with the giraffes, though he has no driver's license and no experience, but lies well.  He's an orphan whose mother, sister and father have all died in the dust storm that ravaged Texas and all he wants to do is to get to "Californy."

He falls in love with the two giraffes, Boy and Girl, and tries to impress The Old Man, who works for the San Diego Zoo, as well as a red haired woman who follows the truck, taking pictures, which she says are for Life magazine.  The experiences of bad roads, perilous detours, bad weather, bad people, unexpected kindness, attempted giraffe napping, and all sorts of adventures is a page turner and it explores what it means to be changed by the grace of animals, the kindness of strangers, the passing of time, and a story told before it’s too late.


Chaos by Patricia Cornwell
I received a free copy of Cornwell's latest book, "Autopsy," from GoodReads and started to read it, but realized I needed to know what happened in the previous book, so I read "Chaos" first.  I used to be an avid Cornwell fan, but several of her books from 2003 on were not up to par and so I haven't read her in a long time.  I'm glad to see that "Chaos" is as good as the earlier books I have enjoyed.

Almost the entire first half of the book is a conversation between Scarpetta and Marino as they approach the scene of a dead woman, found in a park.  That did drag a bit, but the second half was an in depth look at every possible thing you can do during an autopsy and the thing I needed to read before starting "Autopsy" turns out not to be important since the villain will not be in that book.

Anyway, it's back to the Cornwell I have enjoyed for so many years and that's nice.  Now to read "Autopsy."


Matchless Gene Rayburn by Adam Nedeff
When one of my penpals mentioned she had read this book, I had to get it.  We watch Match Game every night during dinner and I was curious to see what the book had to say about it.  The author has written several other books, all having to do with game shows and he definitely needed an editor.  Stories are told more than once, quotes aren't identified by where they came from and it just read like an un-edited draft.

That said, however, the story of Gene Rayburn's success, the dozens of quiz shows and stage shows he was involved with, and the problems he had with Mark Goodson, who produced the show--and hated it--was fascinating.  Problems with various celebrities were interesting, particularly Richard Dawson, who tried to get out of his contract when he was hired to do Family Feud and could not, so never participated in the camaraderie of the panel after that.  Very sad to read  that Rayburn died of dementia.


Juice and Crackers by Charlotte Blackford
My friend Char decided to write her autobiography.  It is 300 pages long and fascinating.  Since she and I have been friends for more than 60 years, parts of this book are like reading my own autobiography.  I laughed.  I cried.  I finished it in a day.


Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon
After waiting years for this book to be published, I am disappointed in it.  This would be a terrible book for a first-time Gabaldon reader to read because there is so much about things that happened in the first 8 books, plus the Lord John books, that aren't fully fleshed out. It's like she is setting us up for Book 10, the finale.  There is much too much written in Gaelic and French some of which is translated, some of which is not.  I know French, so I am able to translate the French, but have no clue what many of the Gaelic comments are and don't understand why they had to be there.

I also consider myself to have a pretty extensive vocabulary, but Gabaldon seems to choose unusually complex words.  Some examples:  stramash (a disturbance), rannygazoo (nonsense), absquatulate (leave abruptly), stertorous (labored breathing), and many more.

This is written like a number of short(er) stories, with characters going off on their own.  Not enough Jamie and Claire, who are the reason I read these books.  I don't need to have them having sex all the time, but I miss just their relationship as they grow older.

In the middle of one of the stories, I was interested, but there were too many places where things were happening that were just downright boring.

My big fear now is that, at 79, I am afraid that it takes Gabaldon so long to write a book that I won't live long enough to find out what happens to everyone at the end of the saga.


 


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