From a Low and Quiet Sea ~ by Donal Ryan

It took me two readings to “get” this one, but it was definitely worth it because  this is a totally wonderful book.  But it’s neither an easy read nor a fun one.  I actually didn’t think much of it for quite a long ways in, maybe 1/2 way,  but by the time the reader was doing the credits I was smiling and thoughtful.  Bravo!

Then,  after checking a couple reviews,  I decided to reread it pronto because it is so short and I felt I’d missed a lot.  The last couple chapters tie it all together but if you don’t have a firm hold on the story threads it’s not going to mean much.  On the second reading I found there were several more elements, some vital, which unite the characters and the stories than I’d understood on the first reading.

From a Low and Quiet Sea
by  Donal Ryan
2018/ 192 pages
read by 6 narrators – 5h 42m
rating:  9 / contemp fiction 

None of the three very distinct stories about different men in different parts of the world   has a real ending.  The last couple chapters unite the stories into a cohesive novel.  It’s actually brilliant, imo.

The first story is that of a refugee family from the war in Syria.  Farouk, a doctor and the son of an apostate,  is the focus character.  He fears the coming terrorist/ fundamentalist regime and puts his life along with the lives of his family beloved into the hands of human smugglers in order to get to Europe.  He is presented quite indirectly, almost like a 1st person. It’s very intense.

The second story is that of Lampy,  a 23-year old bus driver from a small town in Ireland who is still in love with a woman who rejected him and whose family has secrets. He, a good Catholic boy,  carries enormous guilt and anger and a restless ambition.

And the third story concerns a man named John, a very rich accountant, lobbyist and “fixer,’  who is making his life confession to a priest.  He says he has broken every commandment as tells his story.  He’s married with children,  but fell in love with a waitress.

All three are looking for answers to their existential questions about real life pain. It all comes together with surprise and incredible impact.  (I actually read the last long chapter three times.)

Donal Ryan writes beautifully,  light and real,  but still with an underlying intensity which is striking in addition to appropriate metaphors as well as the occasional very very light foreshadowing.

“He wasn’t sure of himself: he wasn’t able even to walk without considering his gait, the sureness of his step, whether his bearing seemed manly enough, whether his handshake was firm enough, without being so firm as to represent a challenge to the strangers, transmitted through their fingers and their palms.”   (p. 2) 

As the title suggests,  water and the ocean are involved always involved if only peripherally,  but there are also multiple themes which flow through each of the separate stories, loss,  guilt, family,  honor, money, and storytelling.  Religion also plays heavily in all of their stories,  but more importantly,  so does love.

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The Dark Flood Rises ~ by Margaret Drabble

Another really, really good one!  It’s so good I stopped about 1/3 through and downloaded the Kindle version to start over and read along.  I think maybe it really should be read in print so you can mentally switch characters when the narrative does as there are non-aural  clues that way.  In the book there are small dots to indicate these breaks,  but with listening only I’m not sure there was even a slightly longer pause in the audio verion.  Also, the reader doesn’t change her voice much because there really is only one 3rd person narrator relating the thoughts and speech of many characters.


The Dark Flood Rises
by Margaret Drabble
2018 / 337 pages
read by Anne Bentinck – 13h 21m
rating: 8.75   / contemporary fict

Okay but although I loved it,  it may not be for everyone.  It could be a really bleak and sad book if you read it that way.

The story arc involves several elderly people who think about their lives and family, mostly stay as active and involved in their individual lives as possible and are concerned in their own ways and to various degrees about death.  They remember their lives a lot so memory is a major theme but it’s never played with like a more post-modern approach would do.  With these folks the memories are sometimes clearer than what they did this morning.

Also of note is that it’s set in England circa 2017 with all the social-techie-political-climate-immigration issues of our times and those are like minor themes of a sort.  It could be taken as being very depressing. The issues range from elder care to immigration, finance, books, climate change and, of course,  death.  And each has his own special interest of course,  literature and the arts usually.    These are all part and parcel of their lives now .  Coloring (as in coloring books) comes up a fair amount,  almost as a little motif.

The ruminations of the characters kind of flow along from one subject to another and then, voila,  the narrative is describing another  character who, in his/her own circumstances,is doing the same thing.  (In print these are like chapter breaks.)

There’s Francesca Stubbs, a 70+-year old woman who is still employed as an expert advisor on housing for the elderly so she drives all around England touring facilities and attending conventions, eating soft-boiled eggs.  She loves this part of her life, but she also cares for her very-ex husband by cooking and leaving nutritious meals for him in properly marked freezer bags.  She’s very active although she doesn’t have to be.  I think it keeps age at bay but she’s aware she’s not what she was.

She has often suspected that her last words to herself and in this world will prove to be ‘You bloody old fool’ or, perhaps, depending on the mood of the day or the time of the night, ‘you fucking idiot’.

There are five or six  other major characters who are related to some degree or another whose thoughts are followed.  There’s Claude,  Francesca’s ex-husband, a retired doctor who has a very attractive care-giver, Persephone.  And Christopher, the son of Claude and Fran, who is grieving the sudden death of his girlfriend while they were vacationing on the Canary Islands.  Also on the islands are Christopher’s aging gay friends,  Bennett, age 70-something is an well-known author whose  his companion Ivar is much  younger. They  live on the islands permanently,  in a wonderful old house. And there’s  Poppet, Christopher’s sister, a solitary soul who lives alone in the west of England and is very concerned about the environment – she is quite sensitive and does her level best to live her beliefs and keep up electronically with the world’s climate crises and protests.

Fran’s  friend Josephine is also elderly and on limited income, but getting along teaching classes for interest  and sometimes dining with her old friend Owen.  The two of them are friends with Bennett and Ivar.

And then about half way through,  some action seems to  start –  a bit-  Fran gets herself in a spot of trouble as does Bennett.  This puts some almost page-turning tension in the novel –  keeps it from going downhill like the lives of the characters are destined to do.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by Margaret Drabble so I grabbed it, nominated it, and read it, almost within a month.  And  I really enjoy reading about the post-retirement crowd,  my own generation, these days.

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The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

Okay,  fellow readers, this book is so good I was listening along, totally fascinated, but feeling like I wasn’t quite getting everything.  So at about 1/3 through,  I downloaded the Kindle version and started over while reading along.   It’s good but it’s not THAT good.  I liked it but probably not THAT much.   It’s intense – yes, it’s intense.

From Penguin Random House:

“The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, who continue to wage bloody war over a stolen woman–Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.”


The Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker
2018 / 304 pages
read by Kristie Atherton – 10h 44m
rating:  9 /  historical fiction 


This is Briseis’ side of the story from the time the Greek warrior Achilles and his men conquered her city of Lyrnessus, killing the men, including her father,  husband and brothers,  and taking the women as slaves and hostages.

“A slave isn’t a person who’s being treated as a thing. A slave is a thing, as much in her own estimation as in anybody else’s.”  page 32

So Brisius goes to Achilles as his slave.   She personally witnessed his slaughter of her family and now she is forced to sleep with him.  She is not happy,  but tries to make her peace in the midst of war.  It gets quite raw and real and emotionally intense.

One thing is that I’m really not all that familiar with the background of Achilles in Homer’s“The Iliad,” although I did read it eons ago.  And I read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (links to my review on this site) which was okay.

Why is it these old classical tales continue to fascinate us and engage our imaginations?  Updated spin-offs of the classics abound and I’ve really enjoyed several.

It’s divided into three equal Parts with the first part being mainly about Briseis, a conquered king’s daughter, narrating from her perspective as Achilles’ concubine by virtue of spoils of war.   She is not happy.

The tale goes on and we meet Achilles through a 3rd person narrator,  his long-term companion Patrolus, neither of them is happy.   The other women are featured a bit as they go through the adventures of war and slavery and concubinage and children, followed by more war,  preparing for war and mourning the dead while dealing with new and old relationships plus a few gods or immortals.

There are huge elements of feminism – it’s a main theme, like when Briseis says:

“Oh yes  I was to blame for the wars in the same way a bone is to blame for a fight between two dogs.”

I’ve appreciated Pat Barker’s earlier novels so yes,  I LIKED IT A LOT, almost loved it,  even though it’s not quite as compelling as Circe by Madeleine Miller which really wow’d me.    It’s a solid story,  wonderfully rendered,  interesting and, with a twist of the plot,  turns surprisingly good.

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Dispatches from Pluto: ~ by Richard Grant

Recommended by a friend several week ago, I really enjoyed this as a break from the Trump/crime/heavy lit material I’ve been reading.  It’s lighter but not at all “fluffy.”   Yes – I so needed the break and this proved to be a thoughtful one.   A definite winner!

From Simon & Schuster:

In Dispatches from Pluto, adventure writer Richard Grant takes on “the most American place on Earth”—the enigmatic, beautiful, often derided Mississippi Delta.

Richard Grant and his girlfriend were living in a shoebox apartment in New York City when they decided on a whim to buy an old plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. Dispatches from Pluto is their journey of discovery into this strange and wonderful American place. Imagine A Year In Provence with alligators and assassins, or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with hunting scenes and swamp-to-table dining.



Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
by Richard Grant
2015 / 321 pages
read by Simon Grindell – 19h 19m 
rating –  9 / memoir-travelogue

I’ve read plenty of travelogues and although this was my first by Grant,  I can tell he’s experienced and well regarded.  I’ll be reading more.

The scope is wide with the structure going from light and even humorous to bleak and maybe scary.  You get the feeling of what good Southern-like  writers are writing about when they write what’s called “gothic” and way slavery seems to kind of haunt so much of it while focusing on food and family and religion as well as race and tradition and spots of wealth amidst the poverty.  Sometimes it’s real scary to change – for any “side.”

Grant and his girlfriend Mariah moved to a large old house on a small piece of land near the center of Mississippi – near Money,  MS.   The house payments were less than their old rent in NYC had been.   The county is very rural and the population had decreased for decades.  But after they move he doesn’t stay in one town,  Richard visits many places throughout the state and the focus is on the culture and society today rather than the history or geography.

Richard, complete with his English accent,  learned to eat and hunt while Moriah, also eating contemporary Delta food,  learned to garden and clean and talk with the Southern ladies of the area while she worked on her masters thesis.   The accent comes up for discussion every once in awhile,  scattered throughout.

“This is an extraordinary place that sort of defies explanation,” he said. “It causes people to try to explain it through writing, through music,” Grant said. “I think it has one of the deepest, richest, most contradictory cultures in America.”   From an interview with Grant at:

This is the blackest and poorest county in the blackest and  poorest state in the union, as well as the most corrupt,  so there is plenty of material about the race issue,  historical and contemporary as expressed through many avenues,  crime and the criminal justice system,  education, tradition and so on.  There is racism all both sides. Each of these has its own chapter and the one on education really struck a personal chord with me.

A couple of the opinions and ideas expressed by the folks Grant interviews were relatively new to me (this is good).   The book presents both the lush beauty of the landscape as well as the ingrained corruption of the culture(s) from top to bottom and sideways.  There are old family networks which both blacks and whites have going on in different ways and in different places.

And there are more churches in this county than anywhere else in the US so everything is affected by religion,  even crime in a way.

Of course,  there is a great deal deal of Southern hospitality provided to Grant and Mariah with lots of food and bourbon plus beer,  there’s all  kinds of hospitality described,   black, white, mixed, neighborly, church member, barroom, etc. political, community,  etc.   to say nothing of all the parties associated with a Delta wedding.

The current situation is that the races are no longer legally segregated as in apartheid of old,  but they are segregated by attitudes and preference.  There are many kinds of racism and in Grant’s opinion the worst situation is in education.  People are becoming less racist on the whole but that can change if there is an incident.   Prejudice is pervasive along with corruption and outright racism and criminal activities.

And some of the scenarios he describes were also completely “foreign” to me – I’m familiar enough with hunting deer and ducks,  but the old blues and jazz parties?  Nope –

One very nice thing which was emphasized to a point,  was that politics do not matter when folks are just being neighbors when folks have troubles.  And there are some wonderfully quirky and very Southern,  rich, poor, black, white and even of Jewish and Chinese ancestry, characters described.

A kind of epilogue plus some info:

General news:

Another near-by town mentioned:

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The Fifth Risk ~ by Michael Lewis

The Fifth Risk – bottom line?  I  appreciated it quite a lot,  it was informative about the workings of the Trump agencies and it’s well written.  I love Michael Lewis’  books because he explains stuff very well,  usually focusing a bit on statistics,  but not always.    Read it!   As usual,  there is a slightly different focus than the other Trump-associated books.


The Fifth Risk

by  Michael Lewis
2018/ 221 pages
read by Victor Bevine
rating:   8 / current events  (lower score because it’s too short)

From W.W. Norton & Company

Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it’s not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.

(I’m trying something a little different here. At the top I’m telling you VERY briefly what I think of a book and then do the publisher’s summary (or a bit of it) to tell you what it’s generally “about.”   Finally,  I’ll give a more complete response – so… to continue…)

This is a startling book and although all of Lewis’ books are startling to a degree,  this one borders on terrifying.  I’ve been reading quite a lot of contemporary political books so I kind of knew what to expect but this one is specific about what has gone on and what is continuing to go on.

Trump is doing a LOT of damage with his insistence that political and business expediency takes priority over citizen welfare in places like the Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture.   Ha!  He and his cronies dons’t know what these departments even do!  They work (or have worked and should work)  on protecting the US from bomb threats and forest fires and health epidemics,  etc.   They take care of the National Parks and other natural resources.  They provide weather information.  It’s amazing.  And the departments being gutted for money and power and the science behind their activities is only the first victim because we’re all going to be the victims as a result.

This is the stuff which has happened and is happening behind the splashy scenes of the current crises – (not to make light of the Supreme Court nominations!).  We watch the circus in the media while our agencies,  which are to actually meant to serve the US as a whole and are tax-payer funded,  are turned into profit-making enterprises.  There’s also a good deal of hiding and/or destroying tons of valuable information,  including on climate change and epidemic data,  which should be available to everyone,  but … but Accuweather and others,  sell information as well as insurance.  We live in a capitalist world.

There are heroes here as well –  Kathy Sullivan,   “DJ” Patil,  Tim Schmidt and many others who are mostly gone from government now,  but told Lewis what was going on and what scares them most.  (lost or decaying nukes?)

The last part, about NOAA and the weather (Department of Commerce), including the experiences of the female chief under Obama who went from the astronaut program to the head of NOAA,  is at least partially included in the Audible version excerpt (I think) called- “The Coming Storm”  (link to my review on this site).  It was worth rereading (and I did get it for free), but just to let you know.   This large section also includes some info on Wilbur Ross who is now the US Secretary of Commerce.  Be warned, this is a sad and scary book. Omg.  ( Fwiw I use the National Weather Service website for my info –

Review at:


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The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald x2

As promised,  I reread The Emigrants quite promptly.   Actually,  what happened was that I started another book,  (pulp crime) and it just didn’t cut it. Back to Sebald.

I’d like to note that one of the reasons the book is so beautifully rendered in English is that the translation was done by the masterful poet and translator,  Michael Hulse.   The magnificent cover art is by the renowned Peter Mendelsund. 



The Emigrants

by W.G. Sebald
1992 / 238 pages 
read by Mel Foster  7h 10m
rating 10 / historical fiction 
(both read and listened – again)

So even on the second reading the narrative overall got a bit confusing because the main narrator (who goes by the name of Sebald) travels around interviewing people or reading journals about memories who provide  further internal/interior? narrators.  And Sebald is writing this down much later so it’s his memories woven and layered in with the memories of others.   And the memories of others are sometimes the idea of their trying to remember the times when they were trying to remember.  For instance Ferber the painter is telling Sebald about when he saw the man with a butterfly net (Nabokov), but when he was back to his studio a few months later trying to paint the man,  he had had a hard time remembering.   And then there are dreams and remembering dreams to tell someone else who will write them down for us –  layers within layers.

So what seems like a  “collection of 4 stories”  is actually a novel and was first published as such.  The narratives  feature the same 1st person narrator named Sebald (but NOT the author) and are thematically as well as stylistically connected.  The impact of all four stories together is profound and much greater than the parts in that when taken  alone they each manage to capture an intense private sense of personal displacement,  but when they are put together that theme becomes the displacement of a group,  all fairly well off and well educated Jewish people,  originally from Germany.

The 4 parts to the novel are of increasing length and each has an eponymous title.  The opening narrative concerns Dr Henry Selwyn whom the unnamed narrator meets when Sebald and his companion are seeking an apartment in Hingham,  UK which is in Norfolk.  It looks to have been written in the very early 1990s (page 116 mentions 1991)  and was published in 1992 so the feeling is supposedly contemporary.   Sebald lives in Norwich but is from the German village of “W.”

The now aged Dr Selwyn tells our narrator about his life, immigrating from Lithuania to London (by accident),  his education,  how he Anglicized his name and became a doctor but he and his wife drifted apart.  There is a tragic end.


One Paul Bereyter is featured in the second narrative which starts in 1984 with Paul’s suicide,  but turns back to the time when the semi-fictional Sebald knew him and follows Sebald as he posthumously investigates this man who, although known so briefly and at such an early age, made such an impression.

After describing Bereyter’s teaching methods,  the narrative turns to others characters with whom the narrator is acquainted and who also knew the man.  First Sebald finds and talks to old fellow students,  but later meets a woman named Lucy Landeau.   In this way a rather oblique picture of Paul comes to the reader.

It was Lucy,  a close friend of Bereyter who arranged for his burial in the local churchyard.  Sebald gets a kind of biography of Paul via Lucy,  especially the summer of 1935 when Paul met Helen Hollander and after which his life fell apart with the new laws of the Nazi regime.  Helen was probably deported via “special train.”

It turns out that Bereyter was 1/4 Jewish and his family was subjected to “meanness and treachery” by the residents of the small town in which they lived,  but he apparently served in the Nazi army.  Later he became a gifted and sensitive teacher with considerable skills in math and music, but remained anti-religion until his sad death.


The story of Ambros Adelwarth is longer and more poignant somehow,  if that’s possible.  Adelwarth is apparently the narrator’s own uncle and after Amrbose’s death he gathers information from other old family members.

Ambros went to America in about 1900 where he found moderate success and happiness for many years working for/with a very rich young man named Cosmo Solomon, the son of wealthy Jews.  The two may have been lovers.  Adelwarth knew several languages and apparently ived quite the elegant life.  They were together many years before the gambler/heir died.  Then it was Adelwarth’s turn to be basically alone, taken to a sanitarium where he thinks he sees a butterfly man which would be Nabokov.  He dies.


The story goes on a bit about the architecture of Normandy and how different things are today as well as a bit more which he learns about Cosmo and others in Vienna and elsewhere.  He dreams weird dreams about them (Kafka? Borges?)  And the narrative is harder to really comprehend – read carefully!   And he finds Adelwarth’s journal – early 20th century – pre-WWI – 1915?  The diary gets even more dream-like.

I think perhaps Sebald is trying to get so close to the narrator, and the narrator is trying to get so close to Ambros,  inside them really,  that the distinctions between the narrator and his subejcts disappears –  to say nothing of the reader he wants to bring along for the ride (or he wants them to) and the blending of narratives with minimal paragraph breaks shows this.  Toward the end he’s reading Adelworth’s journal which includes dreams – er-Riha.

Jerusalem is presented as being totally yukky – this is back in 1915 or so.

This is the most dream-like/magical/fantastical story of them all but at the same time it is as close to one of the main characters as we get as it is Adelwarth’s journal – supposedly  getting inside him.


Max Ferber is the longest and the most directly memory-laden or maybe I’m just really in tune with that theme by now.  The Holocaust and Ferber’s lack of memory seem similar to the author’s own experience.  (See Wikipedia)   The discussion commences with nothing about the horrors because Ferber doesn’t volunteer on the first visits,  but on a trip many months later he does.  Then it’s over with him but he gives Sebald a manuscript which is a wonderful description of middle class Jewish life in Germany prior to the wars.

So then we get the manuscript of Lucy Ferber which really outlines this life of the European Jewish middle class before and between the wars.

The main memory of the book,  the one which connects all of the stories in some way, however slightly or indirectly,   is the Holocaust. But I suppose a point of the book is to remind us that these displaced Jews were individual people and worthy of note in their own right.

There’s a melancholy here which I often associate with Orhan Pamuk as in his nonfiction book “Istanbul,” his home town.

I could read it again and focus on something else – the allusions or references to the Hoolocaust for instance.  I suppose that’s the sign of a really great book.   Or highlight the actual narrator’s bits with one color and where the interior narrator with another –  I did that in the last two chapters of this reading.


“An Interview with W.G. Sebald” by James Wood – in Brick magazine

And Questia;

When man truly approaches the Other he is uprooted from history.
–Levinas, Totality and Infinity

And finally:

“However fleetingly, various incarnations of Vladimir Nabokov materialize within the four segments of W. G. Sebald’s hybrid 1992 work, The Emigrants (Die Ausgewanderten). To begin with some details: Nabokov appears photographically in the Henry Selwyn section of Tim Emigrants (Figure 1) in which Dr. Selwyn presides over a showing of glass slides, an activity which itself echoes a chapter in Nabokov’s Speak, Memory (1967); when Lucy Landau first meets Paul Bereyter, she “had been reading” precisely “Nabokov’s autobiography” (43); Ambros Adelwarth, following his self-incarceration in an Ithaca, New York sanatorium (a city where Nabokov once lived), is preoccupied with the apparition of “the butterfly man” (a title Nabokov might bear) who acquires for him a totemic significance; Max Ferber recalls being restrained from a self-destructive impulse on the Swiss peak Grammont by a man “carrying a large white gauze butterfly net” who becomes the subject of his agonized, unfinished painting, “Man with a Butterfly Net” (173-74); finally, embedded in the diary of Ferber’s mother, Luisa Lanzberg, is her recollection of “a boy of about ten who had been chasing butterflies” during a youthful encounter, whom she retrospectively characterizes as “a messenger of joy” (214). (1) Nabokov is named only once (in connection with the photograph, which is ambiguously designated), and after that, the apparitional “butterfly man” is never directly identified. The purposes of these individual moments are not immediately legible, nor are these appearances suggestive of any obvious cumulative or retrospective understanding.”

An excerpt of  a longer piece which is behind a paywall but:

Sebald’s life and works plus a bibliography:

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True Crime Addict: ~by James Renner

This is an amazing book for readers of True Crime and/or memoirs.   I love really good True Crime although I’ll certainly admit much of it is junk.   James Renner was a lowly journalist working in the dailies we find free at restaurants and hotel lobbies until he was fired. He was also working on true crime novels and he turned to that more seriously when he got interested in the case of a young woman from Amherst Massachusetts who went missing somewhere in New Hampshire in 2004,   Maura Murray.


True Crime Addict:  How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray
by James Renner
2016 / 300 pages
rating:  8 – A+/  memoir-true crime
He went to started his normal searches via public documents and records and then on to interviewing people.  It was all an uphill climb as no one involved wanted him,  or his possible book, around.  This included friends, neighbors, her family and especially her father.

Meanwhile his very young son was having behavioral problems and that is an issue which continues throughout the book because this is more than your run-of-the-mill true crime story.  It’s also the memoir of the author’s difficult life with criminal behavior and it’s affect, genetic or not, on his family.  –  I told you it was amazing.

He takes risks with people he doesn’t know and might really be dangerous.He gets involved in online forums,  It almost seems like he actually wants to get hurt or something and then – well – it gets pretty crazy.   Did I mention that James has his own inner demons and deals with them as well as he can.

I’m not sure if it was me or if Renner messed with the chronology of both the crime and his own life.  He did it in at least one place for literary interest but there were other places where I was a bit confused.  For instance,  when did he become a professor at Uni of Akron?)  On the other hand it is a memoir and the actual owner of a story gets to do what he likes with it – see Speak Memory by V. Nabakov.)   I generally don’t like it when chronology is messed with in crime or history books as that’s part of the story,  but … as I said,  memoir is different.

Sometimes –  “Closure is for doors.”

The downside:

But :

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The Emigrants ~ by W.G. Sebald

I’ll be reading this again very shortly,  I might even start later today or tomorrow, although it is rather intense and you don’t notice until late in the book  and you contemplate reading it again.  But it’s so incredibly good I personally think Sebald should have got the Nobel Prize in Literature at some point.

Fwiw,  I’ve read a couple of W.G. Sebald’s novels prior and truly enjoyed both of them but a friend recommended The Emigrants long ago and it’s been on my mental “bucket list” ever since.   I finally nominated it in a reading group and it made the schedule.   I’m so glad I got to it!



The Emigrants
by W.G. Sebald
1992 / 238 pages 
read by Mel Foster  7h 10m
rating 9.75 / historical fiction 
(both read and listened)

The others I read?   I read Austerlitz first and I until I read The Emigrants I thought it was the best.  Then I read The Rings of Saturn and it was also extremely good,  but for some reason,  not quite up to the level of Austerlitz.   In general this man should have got a Nobel Prize at some point but that never happened an he died in 2001.  Here’s an obituary:

The narrative of The Emigrants consists mainly of the stories about four different fictional men as told by a series of character and an unnamed overall narrator who apparently knew most of them. (The overall narrator is probably Sebald himself as he reveals they have the same birthdays.)   The men and their tales are connected by themes of the post-WWII years and the traumatic events in Germany.   Three of the men left Germany,  the fourth stayed,  but felt like a foreigner in his own country.

As is very common in Sebald’s novels, the narrative is lushly illustrated by representative black and white photographs of representative subjects.

As would be expected there are many references to real people of the times.  There is also several allusions to Vladimir Nabokov among other people or things.

These are the main characters but I’ll elaborate on their different characters in a later review –  I think I’ve got  them confused in my mind.

Dr Henry Selwyn
Paul Bereyter
Amros Adelwarth
Max Ferber

“Kissengen’s Jewry”


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Down the River, Unto the Sea ~ by Walter Mosley

Well – that’s likely the last Walter Mosley book I read.  A long time ago I read his novel Little Scarlett  and seem to remember rather enjoying it.  Not true of  this one,  although I did finish it.  It was too gritty and imo,  rather a lot of “fem-jep”  (women as victims of crimes)  and disrespect for my tastes although,    does have a daughter he’s is very protective of.   And I’ve got another one in my library I’d overlooked!  …  Okay now duly downloaded now, but .., sigh.  To be honest,  these books feature three different detectives as well as narrators so my overall judgement may not be fair.  But I usually enjoy the narrator of this one,  so that’s not it.

Down the River, Unto the Sea
by Walter Mosley –
2018 / 337 pages
read by Dion Graham – 7h 44m
rating:  C- / crime-thriller 

Sometimes reading a book you seriously don’t like is good for appreciating the ones you do.  Mercifully I’ve started reading The Emigrants by W.G. Sebold and it’s wonderful!   And I have a few other promising books coming up soon.

Our 1st person protagonist,  John Oliver,  is a private detective working out of  New York City office.  About a decade earlier he had worked for the NYPD but had been fingered by a women and landed in prison for it.  Now the woman has come forward to make amends telling him she had been paid to frame him.  The case is on.

Interwoven with this case is the situation of a black journalist who is accused of killing two very corrupt police officers.   It’s a crime thriller,  not a who-done-it.  I should have known better.

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Trump World – books

For the past  year or so I’ve been reading a lot of political books.  I was motivated by our tumultuous Presidency,  but the books have not all been directly about the election or Mr Trump’s his White House.  Rather, although the situation got me looking that,  it also got me interested in a variety of related areas of concern.  I’m not interested in the Fox news defense or the titillating exposés of the sensationalists.

I’m far more interested in the economics, foreign policy, environmental issues, military concerns and thoughtful analyses of what’s happening and why as well as how we go forward.

The books I’ve read range from  Has the West Lost It? – A Provocation by Kishore Mahbubani which has relatively little to do with Trump or his administration itself, to Fear:  Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward and Everything Trump Touches Dies: by Rick Wilson which are specifically about Trump in getting to the White House or his first year in office.  So far I count 12 books.   (The links are to my own reviews on this site and I tend to rate a bit high,  but there are no 10s on recent releases.)

Fascism:  A Warning
by Madeleine Albright
2018 / 289 pages (Kindle)
read by Madeleine Albright
rating  9 / current events –  international trends
(both read and listened 2x)


Fear:  Trump in the White House
by Bob Woodward
2018 / 358 pages
read by Robert Petkoff – 12h 20m
rating 9 / current events – White House
(both read and listened)

The Coming Storm
by Michael Lewis
2018 / 2h 27m
read by Michael Lewis 2h 27m
rating:  9.5 /  nonfiction – weather and technology and the current administration


Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence
by James R. Clapper and Trey Brown
2018 / 431 pages
read by Mark Bramhail – 18h 43m
rating:  9 / memoir – US intelligence
(read and listened)

Everything Trump Touches Dies:  A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever 
by Rick Wilson   
2018 /  336 pages (Free Press)
read by Rick Wilson – 9h 25m
rating:   7.75  – /  current events – political

Has the West Lost It? – A Provocation
by Kishore Mahbubani 
2018 / 102 pages
read by Jonathan Keeble – 2h 21m
rating:   9.5 /  global current events
(read and listened)

Russian Roulette:   The Inside Story of Russia’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump – 
by Michael Isikoff and David Corn
2018 /  353 pages  –  Twelve (publisher)
read by Peter Ganin
Rating:   9.5  / current events (politics) 

The Road to Unfreedom:  Russia, Europe, America
by Timothy Snyder
2018 / 346 pages
read by Timothy Snyder – 10h 9m
rating:  9.5  /  history
(both read and listened)


The Death of Truth:  Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump
by Michiko Kakutani

2018 / 208 pages
read by Tavia Gilbert – 3h 45m
rating:   8.5   / politics

The Perfect Weapon:  War,  Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age
by David E. Sanger
2018 /  384 pages (Kindle)
rating –  9 / nonfiction – current events


The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels
by Jon Meacham
2018/ 416 pages
read by Fred Sanders – 10h 54m
rating:  10  / history and current events
(read and listened)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
By Michael Wolff
2017 / 336 pages
Read by Holter Graham – 11h 56m
Rating:  8+ /  nonfiction-politics

I’ve got more to go – they seem to be coming out weekly or more often.

The Apprentice:  Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy
by Greg MIller –
due out 10/2/18

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russians
by Craig Unger

The Fifth Risk
by Michael Lewis
due out 10/2/18

Mr Trump’s Wild Ride:  The Thrills, Chills, Screams, and occasional Blackouts of an Extraordinary Presidency
by Major Garrett

Crashed:  How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World
by Adam Tooze

From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia
by Michael McFall

How Democracies Die
by Stephen Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
by Masha Gessen

Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President – What we Don’t, Can’t and Do Know
by Kathleen Hall Jamieson
9/24/2018    – no Audible

Here’s another little bibliography:

Trump White House:

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The Templars: ~ by Dan Jones

Oh I enjoy Dan Jones (The Plantagenets andThe Wars of the Roses links to my reviews on this site),  so when The Templars came out I immediately put it on my TBR-type Wish List at Audible.

And it was actually nominated by another member on the All-nonfiction list and it got voted to go on the schedule for October 2018.   So yes (!) I’m finally reading it.  I don’t like to read reading group selections too early.


The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors
by Dan Jones
2018/ 444 pages (Kindle)
read by Dan Jones (author) 15h 30m
rating:  8.5 / history medieval 

I don’t know when I first came across the Templars as an organization,  probably in high school world history.  But I became very interested in them when I read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum a long time ago, 1992 or so? And I’ve read some other stuff about the group in books like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (an entertaining but historically awful book).

Although it’s fiction,  Umberto Eco’s version is satire and it’s for readers who think, he is an historian of medieval aesthetics.

Back to the narrative of Dan Jones.  In the Introduction he carefully delineates a bit of background on the subject, what he will cover in the book,  and his method.  This is a great example of a good introduction imo, and I rather enjoy history in chronological order although there is a case to be made for the topical or thematic organization if you want to know about specific things,  their battle tactics for instance,  or eating habits, or the economics of a group or nation.


The first Part is about the establishment of the Templars, the times, the situation in Europe and the area around today’s Israel.  This involved some philosophical issues on the parts of Popes and other powers-that-were.

“If a cleric takes up arms in the cause of self-defense, he shall not bear any guilt.”  (p. 30)  

And that settled the foundation that the Crusader states (of the 1st Crusade on) could be defended by religious men.   Enter Hugh of Payns, a pilgrim who instead of going back home to France joined up with a few  other like-minded souls (between 9 and 30 men), ex-patriot knights maybe, in a loose brotherhood of warrior knights who seriously decided to live a monastic life. Rather inspiring.

Part 2 concerns the military actions and alliances of the Knights Templar,  including the battles in places from Aleppo in today’s northern Syria, to Damietta which is south of Gaza at the mouth of the Nile.   And here’s Saladin and Richard the Lion Hearted.  Very clever in some cases.

“If a cleric takes up arms in the cause of self-defense, he shall not bear any guilt.”  (p. 30)  

Part 3 concerns the banking and property the Templars accrued.  There was a LOT and it made them both popular and the objects of envy.  More fighting of course – the appendices and maps are very helpful.

Part 4, “Heretics,”  is about those who saw the Templars as enemies  – both within and without – from  Egypt to Paris.  Pretty horrific.

Good book –  I’ll read it again.

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Lethal White ~ by Robert Galbraith

For those who don’t yet know,  Robert Galbaith is the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling,  author of the Harry Potter books.  I read the first one and had I been 10 instead of 40 when I read it I would have been a total fan.  Fact is,  I read the one and put them down.  I’ve since rethought that and contemplated reading them all.  I’ve seen no movies (fwiw).

I did read The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling) and am now working my way through whatever she comes up with as Robert Galbraith.  This is the 4th novel in the Cormoran Strike series.  And YES they should definitely be read in order – there is an underlying relationship between Strike and Robini which winds its tortured way through the novels.   It hasn’t actually turned romantic so far but …  (would that ruin it?)




Lethal White
by Robert Galbraith
2018 / 656 pages
read by Robert Glenister – 22h 31m
rating:   A+ / crime – private detective team

I loved the first three books. The Cuckoo’s Calling,  The Silkworm and Career of Evil. 
they were so full of surprises. (links to my reviews).  I  looked forward to Lethal White from before it had a title.  Alas, what a disappointment.

I think Galbraith tried to pack so much into it that my interest as well as the tension got a little lost.

The book is so long (22 1/2 hours is a LONG time)  and packed with so many different threads,  bth old and new or mystery related or not, there is never much room for real reader involvement –  there wasn’t for me anyway.  There are so many characters I started keeping notes.  I quit that but it did help with the first half of the book.

Starting with Robin’s unfortunate marriage to Matthew the plot starts out almost right off with a strange mentally ill man crashing into Strike’s office where a temporary receptionist is working as receptionist.  This man, Billy, reveals some disturbing information before he disappears.  Robin returns from her honeymoon and she and Strike plus Sam, a newly hired part-time detective, start a hunt for whatever it was Billy was talking about; something about a child being strangled and buried somewhere. Billy  left a little note which gets Robin and Strike started.

That search is the beginning of the main plot which comes to include the offices of Parliament and a manor in rural England, a seriously dysfunctional family,  a bit of blackmail, and finally,  half way through this 650-page novel,  the actual murder of one of the characters.

En route the lives and pasts of Strike, with all his girlfriends, and Robin,  who now has PTSD are updated along with the ongoing relationships between Robin and Matthew or Strike and Robin. There is also quite a lot of politics involved in this story.

Still,  the core plot, a rather old-fashioned kind of thing,  is well thought out and nicely executed,  It feels a little like an English mystery of the olden days even though it’s quite firmly set in 2012 England with all the commotion about the Olympics.

A rather meaty and intriguing quote from Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm (1886) precedes each chapter.  I’ve included a bit of a description below and I’m really tempted to give it a listen on Libravox.

Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen  (from Wikipedia)

The theme of the play is social and political change, in which the traditional ruling classes relinquish their right to impose their ideals on the rest of society,[2] but the action is entirely personal, resting on the conduct of the immoral, or amoral, “free thinking” heroine, Rebecca, who sets herself to undermine Rosmer’s religious and political beliefs because of his influential position in the community. Rebecca has abandoned not only Christianity but, unlike Rosmer, she has abandoned the whole ethical system of Christianity as well. Possibly she may be taken as Ibsen’s answer to the question of whether or not Christian ethics can be expected to survive the death of the Christian religion.[3]

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