Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, author, Cassandra Campbell, narrator

crawdadsThe book takes place in North Carolina, and it covers the life of Katherine Danielle Clark, born on October 10, 1945, from her childhood to her death. The story is told tenderly, over more than five decades, through the memories of Kya, as she is called, and it is read expertly by the narrator, who interprets the different characters with perfect pitch.

The book begins in 1969, with a mystery. A body is discovered in the swamp. It is the body of the local hero, the upper class, Chase Andrews. Was his death an accident or was it murder? An investigation is begun. The novel then goes to 1952, and continues to switch back and forth from the past to the present as Kya grows up and tells her story, until she and the murder exist in the same place and time, in 1969, the year the body is found.

So we meet Kya, almost 7, in 1952 as she watches her mom walk down the road, never to return. Soon after, most of her siblings are driven away also, by their father’s brutality; he is a violent drunk. One sibling, Jody, was the last to leave her, and she always remembered him and the advice he had often given. When her father left, too, and never returned, seven year old Kya was completely on her own. She did not let anyone know that her family was gone because she was afraid of going into foster care. With the limited knowledge she had gleaned from watching her mother, she taught herself to cook. She took her father’s boat and shopped in town by bartering with Jumpin’, the man who ran the store where they had bought supplies. She brought him things, like mussels and smoked fish, and he gave her grits and gasoline in exchange. His wife Mabel taught her how to garden and she grew her own vegetables. Jumpin’ became like a parent, always watching out for her well being, warning her of danger. Jumpin’ lived in Colored Town with Mabel who took it upon herself to gather hand-me-downs for Kya, from their community. The people were happy to give her the things they no longer needed, unlike the whites in town who shunned her.

After the truant officer took her to school, one day, promising her a good hot meal, she vowed never to return because the children bullied her. So she never had an education.  One day, while she was out in the boat, exploring, she got lost. An old friend of her brother’s, Tate, saw her all alone, and he guided her home. They became friends, although he was older than she. When he discovered she was illiterate, he taught her to read and do simple arithmetic. Her world opened up. He brought her books and encouraged her to study them. She soon educated herself. She loved the natural sciences and read every book she could get her hands on. Soon she was cataloguing the things she discovered in nature, using her own artistic and writing skills. She grew to trust and love Tate, but when he too was gone, she lost her faith in people.

As time went by, she developed into a young woman and she caught the eye of Chase Andrews, a local boy who was handsome and rich. At first, because she had been abandoned by everyone else, she avoided him, but he made promises to her, even though he knew he couldn’t keep them, because their worlds were too different. She was naïve, and soon, she was persuaded to trust him. When he betrayed her too, she withdrew into her own world even further. She was a simple soul who only wanted to love and be loved, but she kept failing to achieve that.

Kya’s life story is heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. She spent her life running and hiding, protecting herself from the outside world. They did not understand her or want her in their midst and she feared them. The marsh became her mother, her world, when she had no place else to turn and felt completely alone and lonely. Through her scientific studies, she learned about the dominance of hierarchies in the natural world and she translated it into her knowledge of man. She observed behavior and the need that dominance inspired, and she witnessed inequality in the natural world and actually experienced it in her own.

The novel has something for everyone. It is very intense as injustice, arrogance, class warfare and racism raise their heads. It is a love story, a mystery filled with intrigue, and a legal drama with nail-biting court scenes. Each of the themes in the book is handled perfectly and culminates in satisfying conclusions. Toward the end, the tension builds on every page as Kya, accused of murdering her former boyfriend, awaits the verdict. The ending has unexpected twists and turns. While at times the story line stretches credulity, as we watch Kya come of age, it also begins to seem quite possible that someone so bright could accomplish all she did. We want to believe in her.

 

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The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne, author; Stephen Hogan, narrator

heartI was so looking forward to reading this book because I admire the author’s work. After reading the first few chapters, I raved about it and recommended it. The narrator was great, interpreting situations and voices well.
Soon, however, as I read more and more, I had buyer’s remorse. Although it begins with the story of a young Irish Catholic girl who is humiliated in church after being sexually impregnated by a relative, whom she protects, the story veers off from her life and centers on the life of her child Cyril. She disappears and the reader meets Cyril’s dysfunctional adoptive family and home life. When  Cyril realizes, at age 7, that he rather enjoys the sexual company of boys, and discovers his homosexuality, with no one to speak to and no way to understand it, I began to wonder if this was a book I should continue to read.

After Cyril is then sent to a private school run by priests as a scholarship student, but is too naïve to understand that there is blatant homosexuality in his midst, until his first homosexual encounter shows up and coincidentally becomes his roommate, I gave up on finishing the book. One because it seemed contrived, two because I am not interested in how boys or men pleasure each other and the scenes and language were too explicit for my taste.

Also, the consequences of the Aids epidemic were alive and well in my lifetime, with friends and relatives suffering from the disease and succumbing to it. I did not care to read further about it. I simply found the content too disturbing. I felt as if it was written for liberals who are anti-church and LGBT activists. They may enjoy it far more than I did.

While I realize that I usually have an open mind and read a variety of genres, when I realized that I dreaded picking this book up each day, and got through only a few pages, I decided it was time to permanently put it down.

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Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump-David Corn, Michael Issikoff, authors; Peter Ganim, narrator

russian rouletteThe title gives the book away immediately. It is designed to make you believe that Trump’s election was corrupt from the beginning, starting with Putin, America’s new arch enemy. Although I had hoped this book would be a bit different, offering more neutral facts, but it was the same old, same old hatchet job, written by two Trump haters designed with the only purpose being to trash President Trump, and trash, they did.

A more discerning reader, than the average one who simply reads it to reinforce their dislike for Trump, and their anger at having their candidate lose what they are convinced was a stolen election, will actually begin to see the conspiring of the left, from day one, to destroy the legitimate election of President Trump by tainting it with investigation after investigation based on unverifiable facts, innuendo and any idea they thought would blow up into a scandal that would hurt him. Truly, the conduct of the investigations of the FBI and the behavior of the left, leaping to immediate conclusions that they thought would help their cause, including President Obama’s administration, is tainted with utter and complete bias, devoid of facts. Their actual intent was to alienate the electorate, convince them that the President was a criminal, and destroy his Presidency so they could have him removed because they could simply not accept the fact that he won. To do so would force them to face reality and their own failure. At first, there were saner minds prevailing,  but as time went by and nothing concrete developed, they grabbed at straws and with the help of a biased press and FBI, they succeeded in beginning an investigation which would taint the entire Presidency, which was their goal, to begin with; they succeeded. History will judge them all, including the hypocrites who wrote the books without fairly showing both sides of the story.

While it is true, that President Trump, a non-politician used non traditional methods during his campaign, it is also true that after he won, the forces against him piled on in far greater numbers and with far murkier methods to destroy him. While Trump used, rather benign, sometimes comical, labels for those he was running against, those that were against him, used far more incriminating terms to describe him, without any evidence to back it up. They took private conversations and made them public and than used them as excuses for their public denouncements. Bullying from the left was rampant and totally excused by a fourth estate that forgot its purpose because it is populated, largely, by left-leaning journalists.

The lies of the Obama administration were totally ignored, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton’s lies about the video blamed for Benghazi and Hillary’s use of a private email server were all dismissed as non-crimes, although they surely could have been investigated ad nauseum, as well, and a crime could have been discovered. Susan Rice’s unmasking of an American citizen’s private conversations was dismissed as well, when phony and uncorroborated excuses were used to allow it. John Kerry failed to understand what was happening in Russia, as did Obama, yet they were not investigated as to their possible reasons for dropping the ball. The attempt to attach a corruption charge to the Trump business dealings with Alfa Bank failed. When all of their so-called “legitimate” attempts failed to distract the world from Hillary’s offenses, the left created their own.

They were successful because the larger world was truly surprised when Trump won the nomination. They were further surprised when he won the election. In saner times, we would have moved on, but the left collaborated to keep Trump out of the mainstream, with incomplete briefings He was not informed fully about the Russian problem, partly because Obama and his friends did not want the world to know that they had dropped the ball.

If the Republican Party had hung tough, as the Democrats do, this might have blown over. However, there were moles in the party actively plotting against Trump, as well. They essentially shot themselves in the foot, starting with McCain, who disseminated the uncorroborated Steele dossier because it contained salacious information and McCain wanted to get back at Trump. Then you had Senator Flake and Corker who actively undermined every effort Trump undertook. Without the help of an honest media, the enemies of Trump had the stage and could plan the show as they wished. Scene after scene played out without any positive actions attributed to Trump. The only news was bad news about him. We were indoctrinated and we were being brainwashed. The idea that all the emails and other information about the corruption in the Clinton campaign were factual, didn’t matter. The media liked the unsubstantiated trash they could put out on Trump far better.

The left was quick to jump on anyone associated with the Trump campaign that seemed a bit dirty. They sullied even those with fine reputations by finding hints of wrongdoing from so many years ago it was neither possible to prove or refute them. They then callously ignored all of the truly underhanded people involved with Obama and Clinton, saying that was then, this is now. For their benefit, the time line jumped back and forth. For them, the past was meaningless. For Trump and his friends, it was all consuming. Although Trump has had a far more positive effect on the black and Hispanic communities, Issikof and Corn do not mention this. They reinforce his image as a racist, the name the left has branded all those who disagree with them. They decided their book would ultimately trash Trump, and the Afterword at the end of the book reinforces any notion of the book serving any other purpose. The choice of descriptive words by Issikof and Corn showed their deliberate intent to disparage Trump’s character and those that associated with him. Events were cherry-picked for the specific purpose of demeaning Trump; none were chosen to give him credibility.

When the Clinton campaign cheated and lied and misrepresented, it is treated as just a mistake…a mistake by seasoned politicians. When Trump’s campaign makes an error, it is egregious and criminal. This is probably the first time in history that the outgoing administration hindered, rather than helped the incoming one. Shame on them.

Incredibly, the fact that Obama interfered in Israel’s election is totally ignored as Russia is demonized from page one. I do not disparage the description of Russia’s intervention, only the absence of Obama’s into our allies election. The vindictiveness of the left is unsurpassed in history and history will not look kindly upon this period.

Corn and Issikof wrote a book which rocketed the Steele Dossier and Steele to star status. From the Times, some of their statements are analyzed. Anyone interested can read the entire article at this website:

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/dec/30/michael-steeles-russia-dossier-donald-trump-fails-/
Most of their claims have never been proven and Issikof has admitted it.

Below is all from the Washington Times article of 12/30/2018, written by Rowan Scarborough, Dossier fails the test of time; Trump-Russia collusion claims now called ‘likely false’

“Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, an early public conduit for Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier, now says the former British spy’s sensational Russia collusion charges lack apparent evidence and are “likely false.”

As Election Day loomed in September 2016, Mr. Isikoff was the first Washington journalist to write about Mr. Steele’s memos. He focused on Mr. Steele’s contention that Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page met with nefarious operatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a publicly announced trip to Moscow in July 2016.

As reported by the Daily Caller, Mr. Isikoff this month told Mediaite columnist John Ziegler: “When you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them, and in fact, there is good grounds to think that some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false.”

Mr. Isikoff is best friends with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, who hired Mr. Steele in May and June 2016 with money funneled through a law firm from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Isikoff was one of a handful of mainstream journalists who met with Mr. Steele in Washington as arranged by Mr. Simpson.

Mother Jones magazine’s David Corn wrote the second Washington dossier story based on an interview with Mr. Steele, who acknowledged he was desperate to stop the Trump campaign and prompt the FBI to ratchet up its investigation.
_______________________________________________________________________

The book helped Mr. Steele attract a large liberal following on social media that loyally attested to the dossier’s accuracy.

Mr. Steele also had a big fan in Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, who read his charges at a March 2017 hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Mr. Schiff assumes the committee’s chairmanship in January. Republicans speculate that he will continue to collect and research Fusion GPS’s anti-Trump memos.

It has been 31 months since Mr. Steele submitted his first dossier memo in June 2016 to Fusion GPS; 30 months since the FBI opened an investigation that came to rely heavily on his work; 27 months since Mr. Isikoff wrote the first dossier story; 24 months since BuzzFeed posted the entire dossier; 24 months since the House and Senate intelligence committees opened their separate probes; and 19 months since special counsel Robert Mueller took charge of the Trump-Russia investigation.

The Washington Times looked at Mr. Steele’s core collusion charges to see how they have stood up:

⦁ Accusation: The Trump campaign was a partner in an “extensive conspiracy” with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election.

Today: There is no confirmed public evidence. No Trump person has been charged in such a conspiracy. Mr. Mueller’s office informed President Trump that he isn’t a target.

⦁ Accusation: Then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen secretly traveled to Prague in August 2016 and met with Putin aides to organize cash payments to hush up hackers who infiltrated Democratic Party computers.

Today: There is no confirmed public evidence. Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges and is cooperating with Mr. Mueller, still vehemently denies he ever went to Prague. No court filings indicate he has any knowledge of Trump collusion, and he has said he doesn’t.

McClatchy news service has published two stories asserting that Mr. Mueller has evidence Cohen went to Prague.

Fusion’s Mr. Simpson told Congress that Cohen could have traveled to Prague by way of a yacht and Russian aircraft.

Daniel Jones, a former Senate Democratic aide, told the FBI in 2017 that he had amassed $50 million from wealthy donors to keep investigating Mr. Trump. He said he hired Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele.

⦁ Accusation: Carter Page met with two Putin operatives and discussed a brokerage fee in return for pushing an end to U.S. sanctions on wealthy Russians and businesses.

Today: Pro-Russia energy investor Mr. Page embarked on perhaps the most suspicious course of action when he traveled to Moscow to deliver a public college speech in July 2106. He once worked in Moscow as a Merrill Lynch banker.

The FBI wiretapped him for one year based largely on the dossier. No evidence has emerged publicly that he ever met with Putin people or discussed bribes. He has told the FBI and Congress that he didn’t. He has not been charged.

⦁ Accusation: Mr. Page and campaign chairman Paul Manafort worked as a team to coordinate election interference with the Kremlin.

Today: No public evidence to support this scenario. The two say they don’t know each other and have never spoken. Manafort stands convicted of tax fraud and other charges. Mr. Mueller has made no court filing that indicates he is involved in a Russian election conspiracy.

Manafort attorney Kevin Downing filed a court paper saying he asked Mr. Mueller for any evidence of his client talking to Russian government officials. There was none, the attorney said.

⦁ Accusation: Mr. Trump actively supported ongoing computer hacking.

Today: No public evidence.

⦁ Accusation: The Trump “team” paid Russian hackers.

Today: No public evidence. Mr. Mueller brought indictments against the Russian intelligence officers who did the hacking and stole emails released by WikiLeaks. There is no indication that the funding came from Trump people.

⦁ Accusation: Mr. Trump maintained an eight-year relationship with Kremlin operatives in quid pro quo intelligence-sharing.

Today: No public evidence.

⦁ Accusation: Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev, owner of computer server provider XBT Holding, hacked the Democrats under pressure from Moscow intelligence.

Today: No public evidence. Mr. Gubarev’s attorneys say no U.S. authority has asked to interview him. The Mueller indictment against Russian hackers doesn’t mention XBT.

A U.S. District judge dismissed Mr. Gubarev’s libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed but not because the dossier is true. The judge ruled that BuzzFeed, which had published the unverified memos, was protected from libel because the FBI and intelligence agencies were using the dossier in their probes.

Mr. Gubarev is suing Mr. Steele for defamation in a London court. Mr. Steele has signed declarations saying his allegations needed to be investigated further.

‘Absolute dynamite’

In “Russian Roulette,” Mr. Isikoff and Mr. Corn paint a favorable portrait of Mr. Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence in London.

Steele was the heart of the operation. … Steele, who possessed a phenomenal memory, was a master of vacuuming up huge amounts of information and analyzing material,” they wrote.

The book says Mr. Steele relied heavily on a Russian “collector” who traveled to Moscow and learned supposed dirt on candidate Trump.

“Two weeks or so later, Steele flew to meet his chief collector in a European city,” the book says. “As Steele listened and took notes, he could scarcely believe what he was hearing. His collector, relaying what he had been told by his contacts, informed Steele that the Russians had been targeting and cultivating Trump for years and had even gathered kompromat on him, specifically tales of weird sexual indiscretions that the collector said ‘were an open secret’ in Moscow.

Steele was horrified. ‘I thought I had heard and seen everything in my career,’ he told associates. Steele immediately notified Simpson. He had ‘absolute dynamite,’ Steele said, mentioning the sexual kompromat,” the book says.

Mr. Steele would include in the dossier’s June 20 memo a tale of Mr. Trump engaging in sex with Russian prostitutes at Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. Mr. Trump has denied this and told The Washington Times in April 2017 that the FBI’s reliance on Mr. Steele was a “disgrace.”

“Russian Roulette” was somewhat guarded in endorsing Mr. Steele’s sex charge: “As with Steele’s first report, none of the sources in the memos were identified. Steele later told associates one of the sources for the information was the paramour of a Kremlin insider. In short, it was pillow talk.”

In an interview this month, Mediaite’s Mr. Ziegler asked Mr. Isikoff whether the Steele dossier “has been somewhat vindicated.” Mr. Isikoff said, “No.”

The Times asked Mr. Isikoff which Steele allegation he has come to doubt. He declined to answer, saying he was waiting for Mr. Mueller’s report “like everybody else.”

Mr. Trump tweeted: “Michael Isikoff was the first to report Dossier allegations and now seriously doubts the Dossier claims. The whole Russian Collusion thing was a HOAX, but who is going to restore the good name of so many people whose reputations have been destroyed?”

Five Trump campaign figures have been convicted of crimes not directly related to any Russia election collusion, which was Mr. Mueller’s main task assigned by the Justice Department. Each report of a plea deal has spurred speculation among liberal pundits and politicians that Mr. Trump is doomed.

⦁ George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign volunteer, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about when he joined the campaign and met with a Maltese professor in London. The professor told him he heard that Moscow owned thousands of Hillary Clinton emails. It may have been a reference to 30,000 emails during her tenure as secretary of state that she ordered destroyed.

Papadopoulos has said he never acted on the gossip and never met any Russians. He said he believes the FBI wiretapped him and assigned at least one spy to try to entrap him.

⦁ Paul Manafort was convicted in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, of tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to disclose foreign bank accounts. He pleaded guilty in a D.C. federal court to witness tampering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

⦁ Rick Gates, Manafort’s onetime business partner, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiracy against the United States.

⦁ Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about intercepted phone calls he conducted with the Russian ambassador during the Trump transition.

Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion on income from a taxicab business, lying to a bank and campaign finance offenses. He later said he lied to Congress about when negotiations ended with the Kremlin on building a Trump hotel.”

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The dinner list, – A Novel, Rebecca Serle, author and narrator

dinnerWhen Sabrina was still a university student at USC, by chance, at a photographic exhibit, she meets a young man from UCLA who is studying photography. For her, it was kismet, but they made no plans to meet again, and he soon disappeared from her life. When, four years later, not in California, but in New York City, she spies him again, their friendship begins in earnest. She is sure it was written into her destiny as their relationship develops and grows stronger. He is working as a photographer, and she works in publishing. Her career is more suited to New York, but California would be better for his future. It is a dilemma. How would it be resolved?

Sabrina had a best friend, Jessica, who was close to her and her mother and was almost like family. They had a birthday ritual. Every year, the girls took each other out to celebrate. The birthday girl chose the restaurant. One time, the two discussed which five people they would invite to their birthday dinner, if they could have anyone. Sabrina’s list was Audrey Hepburn, her father’s favorite movie star, Tobias, the love of her life, Jessica, her friend forever, Robert, her father who had abandoned her and her mother, and Conrad, a former professor who always left her with something to think about.

When Sabrina arrived to meet Jessica for her birthday celebration, there were more seats than she expected at her table. Her five people were actually attending her dinner. She stopped thinking about how and why the guests were there and allowed herself to experience an evening that shouldn’t have been possible.

As the dinner progresses, Conrad is the one who encourages the conversation and Audrey facilitates it. Jessica keeps interjecting with her own opinions which are sometimes contrary to Sabrina’s, and Tobias seems to want to reassert their relationship. Robert reveals the details of his life. The reader discovers that not all of the guests are alive! The dinner conversation delves into their lives and examines their relationships. Love, loss, friendship, grief, disappointment, and need are just some of the emotions that are explored. The conversation allows each guest to relieve their minds of certain burdens.

The story takes on a bittersweet reunion atmosphere. Poor choices are revealed and some of the guests are able to explain the circumstances that changed and influenced her life and theirs, although Sabrina had not known about a lot of the facts that they are exposing. It enlightened her and enriched her life in such a way that she was now able to move forward, where before she had been stuck grieving over past mistakes, losses and things beyond her control.

At times, she had been selfish and at times she had deliberately overlooked things that she should have dealt with that could have solved a problem, Instead, she took the less stressful, easy way out. At times, she was immature and wouldn’t deal with reality because it was painful. As each of the guests faced and revealed their lives by looking back, through memories, at their pain and sorrow, Sabrina realized that she was not alone in her feelings of sadness and pain, there were others who also suffered losses and grief, and dilemmas that were difficult to solve. Although there would only be this one brief dinner to work through all of her questions and doubts about her life and to ponder about any changes she would have or could have made, the conversation was able to enrich her and enable her to move forward.

There was a bit of magical realism in the story, but it was more dreamlike than make-believe. It was simple and easy to read. The characters revealed themselves well as they explained behavior and character traits she had never understood or accepted. The experience allowed Sabrina to say good bye to her past instead of remaining stuck in some part of it. It also allowed the rest of the characters to move on to occupy a space in her life that was more acceptable to both Sabrina and them.

In general, I don’t think authors should read their own books on audios and this one reinforced my belief. The author’s voice lacked the resonance and maturity of a professional and, at times, it was irritating to me because it was almost too matter of fact in its portrayal of the narrative. Still, it was an interesting story with an imaginative plot. It made me wonder, at my stage of life, if there would be five people I would like to revisit with in order to explore our relationship, and it made me wonder if there was anything in my life that I would go back to and change if I could.

What would you do if you could pick five people to have dinner with, living or dead? Who would you pick? If the opportunity really arose, how would you handle yourself? Would you be happy to be with the people or would you unload all your hidden anger and resentment? Would problems get resolved? Would they grow worse? Could you be mature enough to deal with the issues that are suddenly revealed to you that you never knew about, unknown families, resentments, needs? It is an interesting question to ponder. It makes one realize the importance of the choices we make because we carry them with us down the road of life.

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Judas, Amos Oz, author; Jonathan Davis, narrator

judasI would describe this book as literary. I do not think it will appeal to a broad audience, but those interested in the history of Israel and the relationship of Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot, will find it inspirational. Various theories about their relationship and the relationship between Arab and Jew, and about the creation of the Jewish nation, are philosophically and historically explored with positive and negative views as competing ideas are presented.

The time is near the end of 1959. A young, rather unkempt looking, sensitive, university student, named Shmuel Ash, a Socialist, grows completely disillusioned with his life when his girlfriend, Yardena, suddenly leaves him to marry her ex-boyfriend. His personality, which is difficult to define either positively or negatively, no longer suits her. At the same time as this traumatic break-up occurs, Shmuel’s father suffers a business and financial reversal. He can no longer pay for Shmuel’s education. Rather than go to work to support himself and his studies, he leaves school, gives up his thesis on the Gospel of Judas, disappointing his family, and abandons his friends to wallow in his disappointments. He answers an advertisement to be a part time caretaker for an elderly, disabled man. The pay is a pittance but he needs a place to stay and wants to get away from everyone.
The elderly man, to whom he becomes a companion, Gershom Wald, lives with a woman, Atalia Abravanel. She is the widow of his son, Micha, who was killed in the War for Independence, fought in 1948, right after Israel was born. Wald had been a staunch Zionist. He believed in the Jewish nation. Atalia’s father, however, Shealtiel Abravanel, had not. He was considered a traitor and friend of the Arabs. Abravanel thought everyone should simply live together, all people, and didn’t believe in two separate states, either. He predicted the riots and upheaval to come if Israel became a reality, and he was ostracized by everyone. When Micah went off to fight, Atalia, begged him not to go. Shortly afterward, he was tortured, mutilated and murdered by the Arabs.

Atalia mesmerized Shmuel, even though she remained aloof, only describing his duties to him and keeping her distance. He worked for a few hours a day, from mid-afternoon until early evening. The rest of the time was his to pursue whatever he wished. He was often encouraged to use his time to study or write. Shmuel and the old man engaged in conversation about philosophy, concerning Israel, Jesus and Judas, and also, on occasion, about his life. Slowly the history of their different relationships was revealed as were the different theories about Judas and his role in the death of Christ and its effect on future civilizations. Did Judas betray Jesus, encouraging the crucifixion, or did he truly believe that G-d was Christ’s father, and would save him with unique powers that would lift him from the cross? If Jesus was Jewish, did he found Christianity or did Judas, with his historic reputation of treachery? In many ways, Abravanel and Judas are twinned, as both are characterized as traitors. Abravanel was considered a traitor to Jews and to Israel, and he  predicted the chaos to come. Judas was considered the disciple who betrayed Jesus, and perhaps, caused the chaos to come.

While Wald provided Shmuel with somewhat of a father image, as Shmuel also was a stand-in for his son, it is more difficult to explain Atalia. She is somewhat of an enigma. Older than Shmuel, and depicted as the eternal grieving widow, she seems also to either mentor him or torment him as she entices him to her bed. It is difficult to determine her real purpose, and I found that the sex scenes seemed to add little to the narrative. One thing is certain, Shmuel is lonely and lost, and she seems to enrich his life, in some way.

In the book, the reader witnesses both Arab and Jew committing heinous crimes against each other, and although both viewpoints are presented, it seems obvious that the war, that 37 year old Micha gave his life to, was unavoidable. Gershom Wald is acutely aware of the fact that the Arabs wanted to drive the Jews into the sea, and his daughter-in-law’s father is acutely aware of the consequences he predicted becoming a reality. Are either of these viewpoints wrong? As Shmuel talks with the rabbi and his daughter-in-law, they develop and share ideas. They reveal their own characters to each other. Shmuel learns that Atalia is in complete control of Gershom’s care. They are both living in her home. She determined when each companion to Wald would leave, and none stayed very long. They all fell in love with her, and she soon tired of them. Shmuel would also suffer the same fate.

Did Abravanel truly betray the Jewish people with his opposition to the Jewish state. If there was no Jewish state, would Jews and Arabs live side by side? Would there be these constant wars in the Middle East? Was Judas really the man who betrayed Jesus or was Jesus really the G-d that Judas believed him to be? What would have happened to the world if there had been no Judas? Would there be anti-Semitism? Would there be a Christian Religion. Would a Jewish nation have been necessary? Would the world be at peace today, if Judas had been interpreted differently, if he really wasn’t the disciple who betrayed Jesus, but was a man who felt betrayed himself, by his own strong love and belief in Jesus as the son of G-d? If Abravanel’s warnings had been heeded would the world be more peaceful?

Shmuel’s fatal flaw seems to be that he always thinks too long about acting, but never actually does act. By the time he decides to do something, the moment has passed. Will he ever discover his own purpose in life as he is attempting to discover the purpose of Judas and Jesus? The book explores this and more, as Shmuel and Gershom write and speak about their thoughts on Jesus and Judaism and Jesus and Judas and discuss the Arab/Jewish problem in the land of Israel. Each of the characters was haunted by their memories and thoughts. Examining their innermost beliefs, the author is able to philosophize about the Arab/Jewish problems and the Jewish/Christian problems and the possibility of any of those conflicts being resolved.

The book examines relationships and the effect of different loyalties, political beliefs, socialization, and communication, on relationships as they all relate to each other, and how they relate to Israel and the Jews, to Judaism and Jesus. The book is particularly well read by the narrator with authentic accents and the expression of temperament that comes through with the portrayal of each character.

Two men are cast out, Abravanel and Judas, for similar reasons. We are left with the questions: What would the world be like if there had never been a Judas who was defined as a traitor, which ultimately birthed Christianity? What would the world be like if Abravanel had not been called a traitor and the Jewish nation had not been established?

 

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A Well-Behaved Woman, Therese Anne Fowler, author; Barrie Kreinik, narrator

well behaved woman

A Well-Behaved Woman, Therese Anne Fowler, author; Barrie Kreinik, narrator

Alva Smith was raised during a tumultuous time of history. Raised in the south, her family moved north after the Civil War. Class and financial background were very important at that time, but an aristocratic heritage was even more so. Her mother had a fine family name, her father, Robert Desha was a politician, and Alva was well traveled and well educated. She was brought up with an exposure to culture and studied in Paris. She was entertained at court, and she visited the cities of the wealthy and upper classes in the United States and abroad. With the death of her mother, Phoebe Desha Smith, followed by the grave illness of her father, Murray Smith, their fortunes changed dramatically. The family was now in dire straits. With opportunity and fortune diminished, the sisters decided that Alva, the most eligible woman in the family, should try and find a well-to-do husband, with a good family name, who could rescue them from the penury to come if she didn’t succeed. Already, tongues wagged and socialites talked and mocked her behind her back.

Although she faced adversity, many times, Alva maintained her courage and demeanor regardless of the cruelty of her peers. The snobbism was palpable as the pinnacle of society was reached only through birthright and wealth and they were an entitled bunch who looked down on those not as well situated as they were. The doyennes of society were fickle and cruel as they doled out their criticisms and withdrew their approval of her, time and time again. Friendships were withdrawn, at will, based on even subtle changes in financial situations and reputations. Invitations to social gatherings ceased.

When Alma seduced William Vanderbilt, and they married, she was still not welcomed back into society with open arms. His fortune was acquired from his grandfather, through the Commodore’s work and investments and not from an aristocratic background, but still, her situation was vastly improved. Throughout her life, Alma actively worked to gain acceptance into social circles that had once been denied to her. When she and William became one of the wealthiest families in the world, some former rejecters actually sought to be in her company and to be invited to her parties. Mrs. Astor, the leading lady of society was one of them.

Alma and William went on to raise three children, William, Harold and Consuelo. Alma was a strict mother who raised her daughter in such a manner that she would never have to compromise, as she did, because of poverty. In those days, women had few rights and were totally dependent upon their husbands for support. They owned little and if they had a fortune, it was under the husband’s control. If Alma had not married well, all would have been lost for the family and they would have been reduced to working as lady’s maids or tutors, never living in luxury or enjoying finery again. It was for this reason that Alma set out to make sure her daughter, Consuelo, married not only well, but also to someone from abroad, who lived in a country where women were entitled to own property. She engineered the marriage of her daughter to the 9th Duke of Marlborough, ensuring her security henceforth.

Alma, was a force for social change and she supported the women’s suffrage movement for all, even Negroes, and she convinced the architects who built her residences to allow her to collaborate with them on projects, a task frowned upon for women. They were thought to be inferior in those and other matters of the mind. Her strong will and perseverant spirit propelled her to greater and greater challenges and successful endeavors. Even though she was often demanding and haughty, she enriched the lives of those with whom she interacted.

Alma struggled with questions of proper behavior, but she always seemed to make the advantageous choice. Although she had close male friends with whom she worked and traveled, she was never anything but a proper lady. Then, she discovered a dreadful secret. Her husband had not been a proper gentleman. She had been betrayed. Although her marriage was never one of passion or love, but more one of mutual respect, she was always loyal and believed he was too. When she discovered his infidelity, she demanded a divorce, and the high society, that she had coveted, shunned her once again. After some time, however, her social standing was rescued. She married Oliver Belmont and was welcomed back with open arms. Such was the fickle nature of the social classes of her day. Social crimes were unforgivable, until they were not.

After suffering another devastating loss, when William, a man she truly loved, suffered from a burst appendix and died, she became more deeply involved with women’s issues and endeavors. She worked to achieve suffrage for women, all women, even those of color. However, the women of high society were not as kind as she. The rights they desired for themselves, they were unwilling to grant to others. They were nothing, if not selfish and pompous. Even the pious held great prejudices toward Negroes and Jews.

Alma was a woman of strong character who always obeyed her instincts and never abandoned her principles. However, to protect the family name and the children’s future, she had generally conducted herself in a way to guarantee her status and not threaten her situation in any way. William’s infidelity changed that and changed the course of her life, as well. As a woman, she was expected to be a good wife, obeying her husband and forgiving him his dalliances. This would preserve her position and the family’s. Her marriage to Oliver Belmont opened her eyes to many new things. She no longer thought of herself as a plank. She became more interested, personally, in social causes, and she did not only engage her checkbook.

In conclusion, the book was well researched and well imagined. The reader, like me, I hope, will be enthralled with the prose, even when the story line seems to have gaps and goes a bit astray. The narrator was perfect. Every character had a different voice, and I felt that each one was perfectly interpreted. This listening experience was truly like a stage performance. The author took liberties with the history to emphasize her own beliefs about feminism, but many tidbits and interesting facts of the times were also revealed. The Negro maid, Mary, was created by the author to emphasize Alma’s interest in social welfare and social causes. The book was written about a time in which women had no power, but the author showed the evolution of Alva’s life, illustrating her unique strength and ability to wield power when necessary. She schemed when she had to, and she cajoled and batted her eyes when it served her needs. She was convinced of the fact that she was right when she argued for what she wanted, and she rarely backed down or capitulated, unless her reputation would be sullied or her family hurt in some way.

When the book ended, I wanted more. I wanted to know what Alma did with her life after she was widowed; how did her daughter, Consuelo, fare after her own divorce? What became of the relationship between Alma Belmont and Consuelo Yznaga, the catalyst for her divorce and the best friend for whom her daughter was named?

The novel was followed by an epilogue from the author, in which she explained how Alma’s life continued. I felt it should have been part of the actual book, unless a sequel is already planned. Also, I was not interested in her political views. She went on to explain that she had rewritten the book because of her political feelings about Hillary Clinton and other women’s issues. I was disappointed that she allowed her personal politics to influence the content of her novel and to deviate from the facts that were known. For me, her comments were a distraction, and the interview, as well, detracted from the quality of the book since it focused a good deal on the political rather than on Alma Vanderbilt. The times and social situation of Alma and Hillary are quite different and to let her personal views color the story so that she could make a political statement was disappointing to me. Social conscience is important, but so is accuracy and common sense. I felt almost as if she was denying, and alternately emphasizing, the advances that women had made, based on Hillary’s loss in her run for President.

I do enjoy the writing of Therese Fowler. It is lyrical and authentic for the time and the place of Alva Vanderbilt. As with her book “Z”, about Zelda Fitzgerald, this book completely captivates the readers by the time one finishes the novel, almost making them feel like voyeurs looking into the windows of the character’s hearts and minds. Alva truly becomes a part of our lives. A perfect stage is set, replete with the trappings of real life in Alva’s day, and the society women waltz across the page, sometimes setting a scene of haughtiness, sometimes behaving genteelly with impeccable manners and carriage. She has brought the past to life with characters that are true to themselves and a setting that feels completely authentic.

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The Binding, A Novel, Bridget Collins, author

binding.jpgIn an indeterminate time, in a place called Castleford, England, books were feared because they could be used to remove memories, and essentially, a piece of a life. For some, memory removal was voluntary, as it was meant to be. Disturbing memories that could no longer be tolerated were removed and bound into books bearing their name. Memories that haunted them disappeared. For some, however, the memories were removed so that they could be abused over and over again by disreputable people. Others sold their memories for enough money to purchase the bare necessities of their lives, simply to survive.

Although it was forbidden to sell the stories of people still living, to prevent their pain or shame from getting out into the light of day, a black market had developed by unscrupulous book dealers for those very books. Like voyeurs, there were those who enjoyed reading about the suffering of others or of causing suffering which they could then wipe from the memory of their victims and subsequently abuse them again and again. Victims were often needy and coerced to be bound by their betters. As more and more memories were removed, they became empty vessels. However, there were certain people who were entertained by reading about the lives of those less fortunate and their rather sordid experiences. There existed a great divide between the common folk and those who were well-to-do, in both class and education.

Although, books were feared and forbidden in some families, bookbinding was considered to be an art by the more scrupulous book dealers. They were covered in beautiful fabrics with carefully hand-drawn, artistic designs. However, the cheaper versions were less well made and were mass produced for those able to afford to purchase them. The stories of the dead who had been bound could be more widely circulated.

Emmett Farmer and his sister Alta, lived happily on their farm with their parents until the day that Lucian Darnay became their neighbor. Darnay was a young lad of considerable charm, and both Farmer children were smitten by him, although Emmett’s feelings about Darnay confused him and caused him considerable angst. His sister Alta immediately fell head over heels in love. Darnay came from wealth, and he could even be her ticket out of poverty, if he loved her and married her. It was rare, but sometimes the wealthy did cross class lines and marry someone “beneath” their stature in life.

The wealthy had all the power and they wielded it mercilessly. Soon, Darnay’s presence in the lives of the Farmer family created chaos and upheaval, causing great suffering. Emmett, forced to become a bookbinder, is sent away, probably to never see his family again. It is a task to which he is said to have been born. He had already been bound himself, suffering great torment in the process.

The author handles the difficult and delicate subject of homosexuality beautifully. This novel becomes a love story, above all else. It never descends into coarseness or obscenity, and rather, it lifts the subject to a higher plane, removing the stigma and highlighting the devotion and the sacrifices that those who love each other are willing to make.

The story held my attention, but it often seemed to wander off in unknown directions. When reading books of this genre, the reader is led to wonder if this could ever happen in the real world; could this fantasy ever become reality? Sometimes, the narrative lacked that credibility. Overall, though, the book is a good science fiction read.

Speaking of bindings, I loved the way this book is bound. The cover can act as a book mark, on either end, and the detail on the cover conveys the artful workmanship and value that bookbinders placed on the books they legitimately produced. In addition, the font and page weight is comfortable and inviting, making the book an easy read.

 

 

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