Palmdale, CA, United States
Wealth, War, and Wisdom by Barton Biggs was informative as well as entertaining. Its main thesis was that wealth could often be preserved in the face of war and other calamities. As a student of both history and the economy, I was not disappointed in the book. Biggs' account of World War II and the Korean wars (in all their tragedies and glories)was detailed. He related specific battles and events of the wars with an accounting of the stock market's performance in that specific country during that time period. (Of course, the underlying belief that the equities market is rational and responds reliably to political and social events continues to be debated.) In his conclusion, Biggs gave explicit recommendations regarding the content and proportion that one's holdings should take in the face of calamity. He also recommended the means by which to hold onto one's money in case the barbarians (in whatever form) contrived to strip the wealthy of their wealth. He further cautioned the reader to learn to recognize the appearance of black swans, which presumably herald the need to change one's investment strategies. The author's breadth of knowledge and research was exhaustive. Since I am not wealthy and thus have little to lose, reading the book was an academic exercise -- but it was also informative and thought provoking.
As a long-time fan of Dan Brown, I eagerly awaited his newest book. The book attempted to cover too much territory. Inferno dealt with such issues as transhumanism, genetic engineering, and global overpopulation. (It seems that such issues should be studied in an academic treatise rather than a fictional book.)
As a result, the plot of the story seemed to suffer. The storyline was basically linear in nature. For example, near the beginning of the story when Professor Landon and his companion were attempting to escape their pursuers, they passed through several monuments and sculptures. Mr. Brown described each in detail, noting its history as well as a detailed physical description. Areas of the novel read like a travelogue while others read like a history book.
There was an attempt at the book’s end to tie in the overarching theme of Inferno with those inherent in Dante’s work. There is where I found the Dan Brown I have so enjoyed over the years. Too bad that same spirit does not dominate the book in its entirety.
Attica Locke’s “The Cutting Season” is one of those rare books which enfolds the reader into the everyday life of Belle Vie Plantation. The protagonist was a hardworking single mother whose ancestral roots traced back several generations on Belle Vie. The author weaves an intricate story line, revealing a familial mystery spanning several generations. Though it seems that previous relatives possessed clues, it took the intelligence, curiosity, and bravery of Caryn Gray to solve the puzzle. Locke’s style cajoles even the most reluctant reader into understanding and appreciating her modern-day life at Belle Vie Plantation. This is a story of connections among diverse individuals to a shared past. It is also a story illustrating the importance of knowing when it’s time to move on leaving the past behind. Caryn Gray aptly demonstrates the key to overcoming trauma – acknowledging personal mistakes , picking up what’s left, and moving on. The protagonist earned our confidence and respect, which assures us that wherever she ends up, she will succeed. The narrator, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, instilled a New Orleans flavor and was largely responsible for making this reader feel at home.
Fantasy in Death was an engaging book. Lt. Eve Dallas was the perfect mixture of hardboiled professionalism, determined sleuth, and complicated and seductive wife. She was an in depth, independent thinker who held her ground even when that perfect husband of hers vehemently disagreed with her methods. She was neither too tough nor too compliant. This character was set in the backdrop of an intriguing story. How was the consummate gamer able to commit the dastardly deed while physically being somewhere else. Also, I have always been intrigued by villains. This story depicted a villain so lethal that he was able convince a trio of gaming friends of his love for years. At the end, when his treachery had been exposed, he, of course, blamed the victims. This is the third J.D.Robb book I have read, and it is my favorite, thus far.
The biggest challenge of A Matter of Justice was the ability to recall individual characters and their corresponding places in the story. The book was like a puzzle or, better still, like an onion (minus the smell) which the protagonist expertly peeled from the outside in. You had to do your best to hang onto the separate peelings. Then, like all puzzles, as the pieces slide in place, there is a feeling of accomplishment. The plot itself was a comforting one. The evil doers were punished. Due to some exhaustive detective work, Inspector Rutledge, who himself suffered personal hardships, prevailed. His efforts enabled him to eventually ferret out the villain. When the book ended, I had the feeling that all was right with the world.
Faithful Place by Tana French is long on cultural conventions and traditions but short on mystery. That was okay because the ways and language of the people of Dublin was intriguing -- in many ways reminding me of my own teenage years. Poverty bites and French faithfully captures its sting. Escaping poverty is tricky, as Frank Mackey demonstrates. Something always happens to thrust one back into the place from which he is frantically trying to escape. Narrator Tim Reynolds was fabulous. He was able to personify the characters: their heritage, education, temperaments, and motives. This was a good read -- somewhat different, but in a good way.
Power Down was the best political thriller I have read recently. Intense energy follows every thread from the Capitana platform outside of Columbia to the city of Long Beach into the White House and beyond. The physical and intellectual strength and stalwart dedication of Dewey Andreas makes one thankful that such a warrior is watching America's back. The book was thoroughly researched. Each detail thrusts the reader into the action. Psychological warfare against an intractable enemy is a major theme and a potent inducement to keep reading. I can't wait to read Coup D'Etat. (I'm not sure what the politician's interview of the author at the end of the book is supposed to do. I recommend skipping it.)
The Hauntiing of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a deliciously descriptive tale of suspense and horror woven together by intricately drawn characters. These characters are then placed within an artfully drawn setting so vivid that the house itself becomes a character. I could actually feel the coldspots, hear the moans, and smell the decay as the characters move from room to room. While licking at the edges of the supernatural, the author presents a most compelling story. David Warner's performance was excellent.
Set in Stalinesque Russia, Child 44 is a unique serial murder mystery. The listener lives the vicious brutality of the time. We experience the treachery of neighbor pitted against neighbor. We feel the sheer horror of being accused of anti-Russian sentiment, knowing that to be named is to be guilty in the eyes of the State. Residents realize that the only way to lessen their suffering is to sacrifice someone else. People denounce loved ones and foes alike -- only to find themselves on the executioner's block anyway. Leo's biggest error was the fact that his search for the child killer was in direct violation of the State's edict. This betrayal designated him as a western sympathizer. During the course of the story, Leo makes a profound change from a State supporter to a dissident in a relentless search for a murderer. He is not a western sympathizer; he does not want to abandon his country. He just wants to catch a killer; and in the process he becomes an honorable human being. Also, the narrator was phenomenal.
Of the three Vince Flynn books I have read, Memorial Day is by far the most entertaining. The nonstop action and political intrigue kept me involved until the very end. As always, Mitch Rapp continues his inexhaustible pursuit of the sworn enemies of the United States. Vince Flynn takes a combustible situation and combines it with bodacious brutality in a last ditch effort to save America from her enemies.
The real star of Treachery in Death is narrator Susan Ericksen. She made the story live, where it was otherwise dying. As a thriller junkie, this story was a little mundane for me. I had a difficult time getting into the storyline. But gradually, with Ericksen's help, I found a footing and hung in. If the writer intended to produce a female character who was often abrasive, overbearing, sanctimonious, vindictive, and violent, she succeeded. (By the way, I like strong female characters.) Eve Dallas' top dog status almost made me feel sorry her enemy, who came across as the underdog. J.D. Robb continues to be one of my favorite writers, but this one just didn't do it for me.
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