The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke

It’s summertime in Houston, 1952,  and the 17-year old first-person Aaron Holland Broussard and his best friend Saber Bledsoe doing what kids do in the summer.   Aaron is actually a rather nice young man, smart and generally well- behaved although from a troubled family.  Saber on the other hand has some rough edges and a chip on his shoulder  big enough for him to attract the attention of various elements in the city from the teachers to the police, the local young hoodlums and their big-time daddies.

The Jealous Kind 
by James Lee Burke
Aug 30,  2016 / 400 pages
Rating:   A++  /  literary crime

With a huge thank you to Simon and Schuster for allowing me to preview and review this book!)   

One night Aaron is stirred to make some chivalrous moves to protect the beautiful Valerie Epstein from the anger of Grady Harrelson,  her rich, bad-boy boyfriend.  Aaron for some reason unbeknownst even to himself,  sticks up for her – calls Grady out on his behavior.  Grady gets a bit irritated, but Valerie apparently appreciates it a lot.  Grady doesn’t let things like this slide easily and his father is far, far more dangerous.   That’s okay  –  Saber has Aaron’s back.   Yeah? – This one may be beyond Saber’s skills.

Meanwhile a very obnoxious teacher is looking for troubled boys to send to some kind of “camp,”   Grady and his little gang get Aaron and Saber under suspicion for various things including the murder of a young Mexican girl.  Valerie’s father has some issues with Grady’s father but Aaron has his own link to a fringe element of mobsters.   And so it goes.   After Grady’s car is stolen, the big baddies show up and a far more intense type of criminal behavior is involved. Yup –  Aaron has a summer of growing up.

Although the narrative gets seriously gritty and late-night intense, it never turns into a page-turner in the “thriller” sense of the term because Burke’s style is too complex and involved,  too beautifully literary.   But rest assured the tension is all there – Burke is a master story-teller.

The characters are all wonderfully realized evoking a sense of time and place as well as individuals caught in the traps of life,  love, violence, family, etc.   The three women are solidly articulated but possibly more differentiated than the three incredible women in Burke’s prior novel,  House of the Rising Sun (2015), about Hackberry Holland and set in the wild west of the early 20th century.

The Hollands have their own issues. Aaron is the grandson Hackberry Holland who was the cousin of Billy Bob Holland and others in the family who show up in the various novels.   These are all  descendants of the original Son Holland and the series goes back to touch on the aftermath of the Civil War.    Finding the connections is fun,  but … important to note:

** Each novel is perfect as a stand-alone!! **

I’ve read seven of the ten novels which feature members of the extended Holland clan –   – I can’t pick a favorite but the latter books seem better somehow – maybe I just finally made the transition from Robicheaux to Holland? –

In The Jealous Kind Burke perfectly captures the teenage-side in collision with the ugly and treacherous underbelly of Houston circa 1952  – the music,  the cars,  the clothes,  the hair, the drive-ins, the lingo against the backdrop of the Korean War.  But he never overdoes the ambiance or the extraordinary literary passages.  The story itself stays front and center – a good kid’s falling in love while coming of age in a very troubled time and place.

And every once in awhile,  just the right once in awhile,  there’s the flash and thunder of delicious sentences which mark the philosophical and Faulknerian Burke I know and love from the Robicheaux novels.

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The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

First off,  although I rather enjoyed it,  I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone I know (maybe one person if the time an place were right) but … oh well.    The thing is I enjoy time-travel books to see how the authors work with the idea.  I don’t for one real minute believe it’s possible,  but it’s kind of fun to think about on different levels or in different aspects.    This book is actually,  in large part, “about” the time travel itself.


The Lost Time Accidents
by John Wray 
2016 / 512 pages
rating:  9 – literary sci-fi (time travel) 

Haunted by a failed love affair and the darkest of family secrets, Waldemar ‘Waldy’ Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he has been exiled from the flow of time. The world continues to turn, and Waldy is desperate to find his way back-a journey that forces him to reckon not only with the betrayal at the heart of his doomed romance but also the legacy of his great-grandfather’s fatal pursuit of the hidden nature of time itself.

Part madcap adventure, part harrowing family drama, part scientific mystery–and never less than wildly entertaining–The Lost Time Accidents is a bold and epic saga set against the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.

Walter Tompkins is writing to Mrs Havens in contemporary time and in the letter spins off into the tale of his great-grandfather,  then his grandfather and great uncle all of whom were amateur physicist exploring the nature of time, the 4th dimension, and something called the “lost time accidents.”

I actually quite enjoyed quite a number of the characters – not all of them.  Some of them are very cleverly named.  (This book really needs a glossary of names or a little family tree or something-  I hope this is right:

** Ottokar Toula- patriarch:   killed by an “auto-car,”  also Ottokar the flying pest

**Toula –  means “light”   –    Tolliver is Americanization of Toula

**Waldemar (von) Toula  – son of Ottokar, a very bad guy, name like the bad guy in Harry Potter

**Kasper – very good brother of W. – friendly ghost.  Marries Sonja and then Ilsa. father of Enzian, Gentian and Orson.

**Orson Card Tolliver -son of Kaspar and Ilsa (K’s 2nd wife) – father of Walter – author of many books and gathers a cult following and not too far distant from Orson Scott Card.

** Walter Toula –   1st person protagonist:  (Waldemar Gottfreidens Tolliver) son of Orson

**  Ursula Kimmelmann – Israeli boarder next door to Orson, lover, wife, mother of Walter
** Sonja – Kasper’s wife – lovely, dies early / daughter of Silvermann – Jewish?
** Enzian- Kaspar’s daughter – twin- WWII German missile – Orson’s sister – b 1927
** Gentian – Kaspar’s daughter – mother of Walter Tomkins (?)      “
** Nayagünem Menügayan (Julia) –  neighbor/ friend of Mrs Havens – name is backwards/forwards
**Mrs Haven – Walter’s paramour – wife of cult “minister,” Richard Haven.  She is a haven for Walter?
** Mr Haven – rich powerful – started a church but is not religious – Richie Havens? –  ?
** Ilsa Veronica Card – Orson’s  mother – 2nd wife of Kaspar  – sometimes called “the Kraut.”
**  Wilhelm Card – Sonja’s brother, lives in Buffalo NY – Buffalo Bill, Willy
**  Norm – Orson’s beatnik friend
**  Ewa Ruszczyk – Orson’s girlfriend

There are only a few time-travel books which do a very good job with the subject.  Stephen King’s contribution, 11/22/1963 was interesting and all of Connie Willis’ are good. Most of the others simply skim over the time travel itself and tell their story from there.

In TLTA the Möbius strip approach to time was new to me and curious. Also new to me was the idea of confusing someone with a backwards/forwards motion (a car orbiting a second car with both cars in motion – what does this feel like to the passenger of the second car? – Ottarkar again? )

Another thing: – I loved the satire on new-age pseudo-science cults/beliefs. Too funny. And the author did have some fair humor in his style –

The “Lost Time Accidents” at the industrial plant. – lol!

another example:

quote-1 Enzian was smiling her private smile now, the one she used only with her father and Genny. ‘Where do all those theories go, that Occam shaves away? How many tasty tidbits are we missing?’”

Finally, the ending was so satisfying – I didn’t really expect it, couldn’t figure out how in the world Wray was going to wind this up. But he did it, I should have seen it, perhaps from the beginning. lol

Anyway – not one of my best-of-year books but entertaining and it might stay with me for awhile.

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A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes

I really enjoyed the works of Julian Barnes until A Sense of an Ending  when  I wondered if the man had anything else to say.  It seemed I’d read this theme before only with a different plot.   With that in mind- A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters was chosen by a group including some dear friends,  so I read it.


A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
by Julian Barnes
1989 / 308 pages
rating 8 / late 20th century lit

Barnes is writer with great imagination and a nice clear voice – too bad he only invents new plots to prove his one theme.   That theme being you can’t trust anything or anyone – not history,  not science,  nothing.  There is no truth because it’s all subjective, invented, falsified, etc.

In Arthur and George the theme of “Truth”  was wound into a plot about heritage and “real” Englishman.  In Flaubert’s Parrot it was in trying to figure out which stuffed parrot “really” belonged to Flaubert.  In The Sense of an Ending the reader and protagonist were concerned with  a letter from a past lover really meant,  what did their love back then mean?   That’s when I got fed up with Barnes and his one-tune show.

A History of theWorld in 10 1/2 Chapters is more complex – more fun.  it’s

This time, in  A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters,  we have ten very  loosely connected stories and a parenthesis which are not in any kind of order that I could detect except that the first one starts with Noah’s Arc and the last is a sort of satire on heaven.

The Noah story has to do with a variation of the Noah’s Arc narrative and the following story is close to current day with a cruise ship which has been hijacked by terrorists.  Next story goes back to the Protestant Reformation,  then comes one from some future time – possibly.   Etc.  I think most are based on historical events but some from very subjective personal (to the characters) points of view,  while others are presented as alternative history.

Through all this runs a motif of rain, oceans, unreliable vessels,  narrators and artists, writers, etc – not to forget the wormwood (termites).   To Barnes “all is fiction” I guess.  But is that statement also fiction?   Is he, the presumed character/narrator of the parenthetical half-chapter (between Chapters 8 and 9)  unreliable?  – Imo,  a resounding yes!    It feels like he’s thinks he’s the divine messenger bringing this idea into our lives in new and impressive ways so we’re to think “My,  isn’t he profound?”  (lol –  Not any more.)

Anyway,  what is the definition of fiction –  is it the opposite of truth? – What if there is no truth? – oh dear – then even fiction is a fictional idea.  Maybe “subjective”  equals “fiction.”   But how can you have something like “fiction” without “nonfiction” – or “subjective” without “objective.” Anyway, believing nothing is true is such a dead-end thought – it just cycles around itself –  I don’t go there.

And as Barnes said somewhere – living in a real world necessitates our believing that some things are real and true – the sun did rise this morning – bad-smelling meat can make you sick,  time and history are linear or

But Barnes is fairly clever – the stories are various ways in which no one knows the truth.

** My problem and an aside:    If nothing is reliably and /or objectively true, especially when language and time are involved,  it  really makes me question how the recipe for blueberry muffins I got from someone who got it from someone else, possibly a grandmother,  turned out so good several times and I’ve even proudly used it for company.    Oh well – it’s all subjective, right?  Merely an accident or coincidence.   Whatever –  they are great muffins and I get huge compliments on them.

Chapter summaries From Wikipedia:

Chapter 1, “The Stowaway” is an alternative account of the story of Noah’s Ark from the point of view of the woodworms, who were not allowed onboard and were stowaways during the journey.
* Silly –

Chapter 2, “The Visitors” describes the hijacking of a cruise liner, similar to the 1985 incident of the Achille Lauro.
*- rather enjoyed this one –

Chapter 3, “The Wars of Religion” reports a trial against the woodworms in a church, as they have caused the building to become unstable.  Woodworms are obviously from the devil and they are threatening the theological/power foundation
* more difficult than most of the stories

Chapter 4, “The Survivor” is set in a world in which the Chernobyl disaster was “the first big accident”. Journalists report that the world is on the brink of nuclear war. The protagonist escapes by boat to avoid the assumed inevitability of a nuclear holocaust. Whether this actually occurred or is merely a result of the protagonist’s paranoia is left ambiguous.
* Too bizarre –

Chapter 5, “Shipwreck” is an analysis of Géricault‘s painting, The Raft of the Medusa. The first half narrates the historical events of the shipwreck and the survival of the crew members. The second half of the chapter analyses the painting itself. It describes Géricault’s “softening” the impact of reality in order to preserve the aestheticism of the work, or to make the story of what happened more palatable
*Rather horrible –

Chapter 6, “The Mountain” describes the journey of a religious woman to a monastery where she wants to intercede for her dead father. The Raft of the Medusa plays a role in this story as well.
*Strange –

Chapter 7, “Three Simple Stories” portrays a survivor from the RMS Titanic, the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale, and the Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis in 1939, who were prevented from landing in the United States and other countries.
* The St. Louis story is best – I guess some semblance of truth is possible.

Chapter 8, “Upstream!” consists of letters from an actor who travels to a remote jungle for a film project, described as similar to The Mission (1986). His letters grow more philosophical and complicated as he deals with the living situations, the personalities of his costars and the director, and the peculiarities of the indigenous population, coming to a climax when his colleague is drowned in an accident with a raft.
*Cute –

The unnumbered half-chapter, “Parenthesis” is inserted between chapters 8 and 9. It is different in style to the other chapters, which are short stories; here a narrator offers a philosophical discussion on love. The narrator is called “Julian Barnes”, but, as he states, the reader cannot be sure that the narrator’s opinions are those of the author. A parallel is drawn with El Greco’s painting Burial of the Count of Orgaz, in which the artist confronts the viewer. The piece includes a discussion of lines from Philip Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb (“What will survive of us is love”) and from W. H. Auden’s September 1, 1939 (“We must love one another or die”).

Chapter 9, “Project Ararat” tells the story of a fictional astronaut Spike Tiggler, based on the astronaut James Irwin.  Tiggler launches an expedition to recover what remains of Noah’s Ark. There is overlap with chapter 6, “The Mountain.”
* curious

Chapter 10, “The Dream” portrays New Heaven –  funny but not terribly original –
* I think I saw a Twilight Zone along these lines back in the late 1950s.


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Shelter by Jung Yun

Kyung Cho,  an immigrant Korean and professor at the local university and his Irish social worker wife Gillian are trying to sell their home because they have become over-extended  by  payments and bills.  This has been their own doing by living beyond their means and trying to keep up with the lifestyle of Kyong’s parents,  Jin and Mae who live in a near mansion only a few miles away.

One day Kyong, Gillian and a real estate agent see Mae running stark naked across the streets to their house.  She’s been beaten and raped.  She tells them something about Kyung’s father but they don’t understand –  they get her to the hospital.

by Jung Yun
2016 / 336 pages 
read by Raymond Lee
rating :  7  –  contemp lit

As the tale unfolds we find several clashes of  culture and of generations between the old Korean ways and the new young American ways,  between Korean and Irish ways,  between the 1960s and the 21st century.   There was physical abuse in Kyung’s childhood and he’s never forgiven either of his parents.

The plot in this one really twists – there were several times I was completely surprised by what happened.

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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Oh I do so love my reading groups! Sometimes they offer convivial chatter, sometimes they give fresh insight into books I read awhile back, but other times they push me into reading something I would never read on my own. Such is the case with H is for Hawk. And wow! What a book!

H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald
2015/ 288 pages
rating: 8.75 –  literary memoir 

This is a memoir, no problem with that, I enjoy an occasional memoir. But it’s also a book about training a bird, a goshawk, to be specific and I generally have little or no interest in the life sciences.

Macdonald is a journalist by trade but also a naturalist, and a research scholar at the University of Cambridge. As a child she became fascinated with hawks and her photographer father assisted and befriended her. They explored together, each with his own purposes.

So when he died rather suddenly Macdonald  was devastated to the point of near madness, and decided that now was the time to actually put what she had learned in a lifetime of reading and study into actual practice.  She would escape from the pain by training a goshawk. H is for Hawk is the story of that effort – and a hugely compelling and emotional effort it is to read about her journey with the goshawk while in a profoundly vulnerable state due to grieving her father.

Intertwined with the author’s own a experience is the story of the deeply troubled  T. H. White, the author of The Once and Future King (1958).  White also trained a goshawk but for entirely different reasons and with very different methods –  ineffective,  perhaps counterproductive and basically wrong in places.  This story holds its own interest and the transitioning  from White’s story to Macdonald’s is usually smooth and reasonable – only a couple times really intrusive.

Macdonald compares her training processes and experience to that of the lonely, frightened White. White is an interesting man and Mcdonald identified with him in some ways, I think, but she’s clear he was not in any way a father-figure – she had an excellent father whom she is grieving.

Also, of course there’s a bit about goshawks in general, their history in England, their habitat. That’s all pretty compelling stuff in itself (at least in Macdonald’s hands)  so yes, I googled and googled to see photos of it all,  places in England, what goshawks look like and how they fly, etc.

The best part, the part which is beyond interesting and into the realm of completely riveting, is when Macdonald is actually training, “manning” if you will, her bird.  I try to imagine her patience and am lost.  I almost physically ached for her. And the parts where she described running across fields to find dead pheasants or rabbits is page-turning.  The book definitely reads like a novel – lots of literary devices and touches and references.

T.H. White – The Goshawk

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

It glows – it radiates and shimmers and shines.  Amor Towles’ new historical novel,  A Gentleman in Moscow,  is so many things but basically a hotel-window view of Russia  from the time of their civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution,  through unification under the USSR,  through the long harsh era of Stalin,  and on into the middle of the Cold War.

A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles
coming September 2016 / 446 pages
rating: 9.5/historical fiction (Russia)
Published by Viking   (and a huge thanks to them and to Netgalley for the advance copy of this book. 


On the “what’s it about”  level,  the life of an aristocrat,  a “Former Person,”   in Moscow has to be lived within confines of the world famous Hotel Metropol where his good fortune is to have been confined indefinitely under “house arrest” rather than executed or sent to the icy north.  Over the course of several decades the history of Russia and the internal dynamics of a great international hotel are interwoven with his personal life – the life of an honorable, intelligent,  loving and gracious gentleman.

As the book opens,  it’s 1922 and his “Excellency,” the twenty-something Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, has returned to Moscow following a self-imposed exile in Paris. He has come back to reclaim some family heirlooms,  but finds himself confined,  by merciful court order,  to the upper floors of the Metropol Hotel.  His court sentencing also states that if he leaves the premises,  he dies.  Times have changed since the Count was last in Moscow four years prior, during the Revolution,  and the times will continue to change over the next several decades.  And therein lies a theme and a wonderfully well-told tale.

The Count has managed to secrete a fair sized stash of gold coins so he’s not really hurting for money.  He graciously arranges his now smaller and far less accommodating rooms on the 5th floor of the hotel and then meets a precocious young girl named Nina, the daughter of a fellow guest,  who shows him the ins and outs of the hotel – and there are many and it’s great fun.    Then the Count is employed as a waiter at the hotel’s main restaurant, the Boyarski.   His expertise is invaluable as guidance on a good many things from international menus and wines to seating arrangements. He understands princesses and knows what “class” really is.    And the book abounds with amazing descriptions of food.

As the story progresses Russia goes through some changes,  and life inside the hotel and restaurant has to go with the flow of the Stalin and the Communist state,  but the change is probably less evident.

Nina grows up,  Stalin comes and goes,  America becomes important,  but the restaurant “Triumvirate,”  Emile the chef,  Andrey the maitre d’, and the Count as waiter work together and remain fast friends through a series of troubles.   I won’t give away more,  but I became completely involved,  transfixed may be a better word,  in the story of  The Gentleman from Moscow.

Towles tells his story with sustained and perfect pitch matching the character of the Count –  a dignified intelligence,  a splash of humor,  a garnish of elegance, a hint of suspense, a dollop of history,  and a full measure of sparkling love.

I was fascinated by the novel’s footnotes which at times work to nourish the reader’s desire for a bit more information,  or at other times may create an added splash of intimacy,  with a delightful but unnamed narrator “intruding”  once in awhile with his own sardonic little line or bit of information with which to enlighten the reader.

This is the kind of book which is a joy to cozy in with somewhere and have a nice long read,  truly savoring the setting,  delighting in the characters, re-reading chunks of smart and lovely prose.  Get it now and stash it for your next rainy weekend with some blini or dumplings and tea from an old samovar (or vodka after supper), or black bread and borscht might be good or a good bottle of wine. (Did I mention the food descriptions are great?)

“So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.” –  Book One  – 1922 / An Appointment

And the point of all this is that although everything seems to change,  some people are able to evolve with the times meet the challenges and circumstances and survive- this is the story of one man who did – while keeping the best of the old,  the friendships, the love,  the elegance.

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Bad Country by CB McKenzie

Rodeo Grace Garnett is an ex-rodeo star turned private eye living in an abandoned housing development  just outside of Tucson,  on the Sonora Desert,  in southern Arizona.  One day he comes home from vacation to find a dead man at his gate.  He calls the police and his lawyer.  The sheriff and others show up and it turns out this man is only the latest in a number of murders where the bodies have been just laid out alongside the highway – findable.

Bad Country 
by CB McKenzie
2015 / 294 pages
read by Mark Bramhall  10h 37m
rating –  B+
(read and listened) 

One other murder is central to the plot,  though – the murder of Samuel Rocha,  grandmother of Kathryn Rocha, an old Indian  woman.  She is very poor but will pay Rodeo what she can to find his killer.

The story is definitely set in the southwest and it shows in the descriptions of everything from the heat and the landscape to the bulding interiors and from the ethnic mix to the language.   Even the structure seems like an interesting play on the setting –  McKenzie uses no chapters,  no quotations and no unnecessary commas.  This would be in keeping with the striking plainness of the desert.

There are a few too many characters but that might have been necessary for the development of the plot.  Actually,  I really only got interested at about the half-way point when a new person is found dead and some technology is introduced – at that point the crime turned into a puzzler and a who-done-it,  motives and all.

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