Inland, Téa Obreht, author, Anna Chulmsky, Edoardo Ballerini, Narrators

inlandInland is written very beautifully, and makes the modern books of today pale in comparison, but it also has an abundance of tangential details that sometimes makes following it confusing. It begins as the 19th century nears its end. Lawlessness reigns in the Western Territories of the United States, Indians threaten, the idea of statehood is becoming an issue, and water in its absence or abundance is an important theme. The lives of two characters, quite disparate, are covered alternately, and the reader is hard pressed to figure out how their stories will eventually merge, but merge they do. The description of their experiences and their surroundings is penned so clearly and in such detail, that the landscapes described grow alive in the mind of the reader and the characters seem very real, at times.

There are similarities that exist between both of the characters. One is the influence of water in both of their lives. Nora Lark is suffering terribly from the drought in the Territories, and is always thirsty. The absence of water in her life looms over her constantly. Lurie Mattie was in the Camel Corps, a little known experimental adjunct to the military, and camels were known, not to need water, but were able to hold and carry large amounts of it. Both Nora and Lurie speak to spirits. Nora engages in conversations with her dead daughter, Evelyn, who often advises her, and Lurie engages in conversations with his dead friend Hobbs who influences his “wants” in life. Each of them has a “confidant”, as well. Nora’s is Josie, a young psychic she has taken in to care for. They speak of connecting with the spirits of the dead. Lurie speaks to Burke, his camel, endowing the camel with human characteristics.

Lurie originally arrived in Canada, from the Eastern Mediterranean with his father. When his father grew ill and died, Lurie was sold, eventually winding up in a workhouse where he met two friends Hobbs and Donovan. Soon he was a member of their gang, and then he became a wanted man. Now he is an outlaw in the Arizona Territory, with his friend, the camel. Both he and Nora are trapped by circumstances they cannot control.

Nora’s husband, Emmett, a newspaperman, has gone on a trip and has not returned. The sheriff has not found any evidence of his whereabouts. Something odd is underfoot. Nora refuses to believe he is dead but suspicions arise. At this same time, her son Toby, 6 years old, has recently claimed to have seen a monster. Then, Nora’s other two sons go missing, either in search of their father or in search of revenge.

Secrets, mistakes, lies, choices, betrayal and deception are part of both Lurie and Nora’s life. The story is imbued with magical realism, anthropomorphism, ghosts and the natural threats and trials of life. It was hard to get drawn into the story and follow its thread and time line, at times, but the lyrical prose was its saving grace.

I won this book from librarything.com but never received it. I listened to an audiobook from the library.

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The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware, author, Imogen Church, narrator

keyThe novel reveals itself as a letter written by Rowan Caine to a prospective lawyer named Mr. Wrexham. Rowan had been a nanny and was now in prison, arrested for the murder of one of her charges, but she insisted that she was innocent. In the letter, she was attempting to explain her situation and hoping that once it was understood, the lawyer would choose to represent her.

She had taken a position as caretaker for the children of Sandra and Bill Elincourt. The reader learns that her post was in a lovely, large home called Heatherbrae House which is rumored to be haunted. It is owned by two architects who had installed advanced technology everywhere in the house, including cameras which were unnerving and voice command control of lights and window coverings which often caused her great confusion. Apps on the phone and Ipad controlled many other features of the house. There were three children, girls aged 14, 8 and 5, Rhiannon, Maddie and Ellie, who did not seem that receptive to her, and they actually worked to obstruct her efforts at first, but she made a valiant effort to overcome their interference.

The Elincourts were successful and their business required them to travel, leaving Rowan alone and completely responsible for the care of the children, although Mrs. Elincourt did leave extensive instructions for her. However, almost from the first day, the parents left on a business trip, and Rowan hoped she would be up to the task. She did not feel particularly well prepared to take on so much responsibility, but she made a very valiant effort, working hard to endear herself to the children. Still, there were many obstacles placed before her that were out of her control.

In addition to Rowan, there was a housekeeper, Mrs. Jean McKenzie, who seemed put off by Rowan and a handyman/dogwalker/driver, Jack of all Trades who was actually named Jack Grant. Rowan and Jack bonded and became friends. He was a great help assisting her with the running of the household technology. When strange sounds and other odd events began to occur, Jack helped Rowan explore and solve the mysteries to take away the attention from theories of possible ghosts. Doors were found locked that had been left opened, windows were found open that had been closed, strange foot falls sounded on the ceiling, and there was even a secret door to an undiscovered attic, but mostly, all of these odd occurrences seemed to succumb to logical explanations. Rowan did not believe in spirits, even though she was sometimes afraid. She generally fought her fear and searched for logical explanations with Jack’s help or on her own.

Because the children did not take to her easily, as nannies had come and gone with great frequency, she had to keep trying to strike up a successful relationship with the children in spite of the games they played to torment her. Often, the children hid from her and could not be found, There was a frightening poison garden on the property, left over from a former owner, and the house had a history of sadness which could not be erased. There really were disturbing and strange things happening in the house which caused her great concern.

The author creates tension on every page, and it is hard to put the book down. As secrets are revealed it becomes more and more apparent that something odd is underfoot, but it is difficult to guess what is causing all of the mishaps occurring with greater and greater frequency and which culminate finally in the death of a child.

The ending is a surprise that I was not prepared for, but it was also a bit unsettling and felt a bit inconclusive. The reader is pretty much in charge of discovering what finally happened.

I recommend this book for its mystery and its engaging narrative which is totally absorbing! Imogen Church is a fantastic reader. Her accents and expression are spot on and enhance the novel. I was completely captured by it, and I listened to it in one day.

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Enemy Contact, Tom Clancy, Mike Madden, authors; Scott Brick, narrator

enemyLike in all the books about Jack Ryan Jr., who is the son of the President of the United States, there are many confusing ideas introduced which will converge in the final chapter to reveal and explain all of the mind-boggling and conflicting themes that arise. When the story begins, there is a violent, failed military event in Argentina involving Hezbollah, a terrorist organization intending to stage an attack on Jews who are planning a large gathering there. At this same time, Jack Ryan Jr. visits an old friend he has not seen in many years. His dying friend asks him to fulfill a promise he had made to his father, but was never able to carry out. Jack agrees to do this but is then prevented from fulfilling the task when he is sent to Poland by his employer to check out some unrelated and nefarious goings on over there that possibly concern cyber security. As the story develops, it goes in several different directions involving many countries like China, Argentina, Angola, Poland, Russia, Iran, the Middle East, and the Czech Republic. Soon the bodies are piling up and the mysteries widen. There are so many themes, and they all seem unrelated until the very end, as per usual.

There appears to be an effort not only to compromise the cyber security of the United States but there are also tangents concerning drugs, mining, human trafficking, spying, money-laundering and the cloud. There is so much misdirection in this novel, and there are so many underlying conspiracies which send the reader in different directions, that until the very end, the entire raison d’etre of the novel remains a mystery.

Jack Ryan, however, as usual, gets into many mishaps that defy the imagination for which he suffers unbearable guilt, and yet is extricated from each harrowing experience in ways that sometimes require the suspension of disbelief. This novel sometimes got  tiresome as the reader is forced to deal with Jack’s constant soul searching and brow beating as a result of his often thoughtless and witless choices for which he survives but most often, others do not.

Still, there is tension and excitement that the author builds to keep the reader coming back over and over in order to find out just how all of the many threads will knit together in the end.

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How to Breathe Underwater, Julie Orringer

This, the first book written by Orringer, is an excellent collection of original short stories, concentrating mostly on the young and the difficulties they have coming of age as teens or young adults. The problems they face are unique and the way that they approach them determines an outcome that will probably haunt them in some way throughout the rest of their lives. The author seems to have entered the heads of her characters and their stories seem more real than fiction.

Every story is rewarding, in some way. It is so refreshing today, to read a story that might contain sex, but is not about sex, that might have a foul word or two, but only if the words are there for a purpose rather than shock value. It is heartening to read about subjects that are not really political or biased or trapped in the PC culture of our modern times. Because it was written just over a decade and a half ago, there is no gender bias or confusion, little racism, and no hate for law enforcement. There is no call for resistance to the powers that be. There is racism, and there is cruelty, but it is managed well and with morality. It is not offensive. Best of all, politics does not invade every story with the author’s personal view.

Each piece that the author has written imparts a value lesson which is largely absent in today’s literature and in today’s daily life with the proliferation of social media and the need for so many to have fifteen minutes of fame and to learn all in a sound bite. This book was written in a more peaceful, or perhaps a more stable time, yet the subject matter covered would not be described as peaceful. Most of the stories are dark, and some are depressing, but they all end with a bit of  a hopeful outlook since they move on into a future that is somewhat successful. Problems are resolved either positively or negatively, but they are resolved in a palatable way. The readers are left with the task of thoughtfully ending each story for themselves.

The unwed mother raises her child, the conflicted teen figures out the right thing to do to help a friend, courage overcomes weakness, the missing child turns up, devastating loss is coped with in ways that carry the characters forward, few actually die during the story (that largely occurs before or in our imaginations later on), but the idea of death is front and center in some stories, religious confusion and intolerance are worked through discretely, without causing resentment, really poor decisions are recognized and acted upon correctly before they go completely awry.

The intuitive approach of the author is detailed and authentic. She knows her characters and their problems intimately. Her insight makes them feel like they are real and not made up out of whole cloth. Even the most bizarre or reckless of the stories has plausibility. They do not seem to be fiction, but rather more like mini memoirs. As the author touches children’s innate cruelty, people’s innate bigotry, teens innate jealousy, loss, illness, jealousy, anger, divorce, cruelty, kindness, and so much more in just a handful of stories, she analyzes the stuff of real life, the pain, the pleasure, the loss, the gain, the heartache, the frustration and the helplessness we all sometimes feel. Yet, in each story, there is a resolution that prevents catastrophe. In each story, no one is painted into a corner without an escape route, and most often, the escape route is chosen well.

This book is the author’s first, but it is well worth the read. Put it in on the nightstand and read one or two a night!

 

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Redemption, David Baldacci, author; Kyf Brewer and Orlagh Cassidy, narrators

redemptionI adore the Amos Decker series! The novels about him are easy to listen to and/or read. The big reveal never comes until the very end, but as the story builds, the mystery is always intriguing and absorbing.

Decker’s family was murdered. His failure to protect them at that time still haunts him, so every year he returns to the town where it happened and visits their graves. When a convicted murderer obtains a compassionate release from a life sentence, because he is terminally ill, and confronts him there, Decker is surprised. The man asked him and his former partner, Mary Lancaster, to prove his innocence, which was highly unusual, since they had been responsible for his conviction. When the man is murdered before he has a chance to be questioned further, Decker wonders, had they sent an innocent man to prison for a murder he didn’t commit? He becomes obsessed with finding out if he had made a mistake because he and his partner had been rookies at the time, and it was their first homicide investigation.

As Decker and Lancaster begin in earnest to re-investigate the case, reevaluating the evidence, a many legged spider is revealed. It veers in several directions with possible criminal activity. It is often hard to tell who is guilty and who is innocent, as the various characters emerge, but in the end, many of the threads are knitted together and the place of each character in the mix is explained.

What seemed to be obvious facts to Decker and Lancaster, had turned out to be easy assumptions instead. Had he and his partner as newly minted investigators, jumped to conclusions in order to have a quick, successful conclusion to their investigation? As bodies pile up and tensions build, occasionally the dialogue gets a bit trite, but most often, it is to reveal a clue or two to the reader. The other problem with the novel is that at the end, there are still pieces of the novel that are not resolved, and one wonders if there is going to be another Decker mystery which will take up the hanging threads, sometime in the future. If there is, I will be sure to read it!

 

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There, There, Tommy Orange, author; Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo, Kyla Garcia, narrators

there, thereThis is a good novel, but it is very heavy, so readers beware, be prepared. It is not a feel good book. It will take you places you might not want to go. The Native American Indian experience is explored with intuition and insight in such a way as to make the reader feel their pain, frustration, needs, loss, and hopes. The Indians suffer from the alcoholism, racism, unemployment and other ills that society brought to them.

There, There is about where there means. Where is there for them. For the Indian, the land was everywhere. The land was theirs. There were no boundaries; they lived where they found food and could provide shelter for themselves. The Indians love their heritage and try to preserve it with powwows held regularly. In this book, the powwow goes awry with a terrible and tragic event. The book leaves the reader with many thoughts that are unfulfilled. There are no solutions and no firm conclusions. Everything is up in the air as the reasons that poor choices were made are revealed and the consequences are explored.

Each of the characters had a flaw that changed their lives, each also suffered from deprivation of some kind, mistreatment of some kind, confusion and a knowledge that there were secrets in their lives that if revealed might hurt them even if they also set them free. The Native Americans were influenced by superstition, folk lore and the painful memories of what they had once had and lost when they were driven from their land. The book seemed to be about hopelessness, but then hope would appear on the horizon, only to be followed by despair and inevitable failure. There were some wasted lives, forgotten dreams, and nightmares that became real when circumstances merged to bring about catastrophe. Although they tried to rise above their problems, they were often driven back down by circumstances beyond their control.

The novel is well written, but it is hard to read because of its intensity. It is deep and dark. There are so many characters, it is often hard to follow and remember which one was experiencing the current trauma, but the overall effect of the story certainly makes the reader think about the plight of the Native American Indian and the injustices they were forced to endure. Death and disaster have unfairly followed them.

What does there, there mean in this novel? It is used in several instances with different meanings. I wondered what was really there, in the end, was there hope or hopelessness? Was there the place to which they wished they could return? Was it a nameless vast expanse where they could settle once again to practice their tribal customs and dance without the encroachments of modern society or did they wish to join the technological world we live in today?

Because this is the kind of book that a reader might want to reread or review certain parts, I believe a print book is better than the audio.

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Devotion, Adam Makos, author; Dominic Hoffman, narrator

devotionThis is a well written book that is read expertly by the narrator. It describes two men that became military heroes during the Korean War. One was white and came from privilege and one was black and came from poverty. Both men transcended the prejudice of the times to become close friends, in a time when racial injustice was front and center. It was a time when blacks were not accorded the same rights as whites. Even in the service, where they risked their lives alongside their white brothers, they was still a barrier in the places that excluded them.
Jesse Brown was the first black man to graduate from flight school and become a Navy pilot. He came from a humble background and was revered by all those who knew of his accomplishments. He gave others the hope that they, too, would overcome the injustices they faced. He had a quiet dignity that drew others to him and earned him the deep and abiding respect of his fellow soldiers. Jesse had a wife and daughter when he went off to fight in the Korean War. He was paired with Tom Hudner, a man from an upper class background who welcomed the opportunity to serve with him even though there were others who might not have been so honored. The two became fast friends as the months of training and fighting passed. Their relationship was uninhibited by either’s background or color. To insinuate that they were almost like brothers, devoted to each other’s safety, would not be an understatement.
In a war, with unfair rules of engagement that favored the enemy, their task was daunting. Subjected to freezing temperatures and a lack of manpower with which to face the Chinese fighters who entered the Korean war, even as China denied they were there, the American soldiers had a tough row to hoe, and history tells us that this war was not won by the United States. It indicts Douglas McArthur for his terrible judgement which caused the unnecessary deaths of many a soldier while he postured for the press and prompted President Truman to fire him. Although the military fought valiantly, the country remains today divided, neither free nor democratic.
As the story is revealed and the loyalty and love these two men had for each other grew, the author brings the war to the reader. The tension, the fears, the violence and the brutality are very palpable. The reader is at the graduation when they get their wings, at their first meeting when paired off, on the battlefield with them, on the battleship, at the Choisin Reservoir, witnessing the carnage and the celebrations, the rescues and the losses. It is a wonderful book about two wonderful and courageous men who fought side by side and had a fierce loyalty for each other’s welfare. Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery when he risked his own life to try and save Jesse’s. We could do with a few more men like them today. They were a true band of brothers, without color or class constraints.
Jesse was beloved by most for his achievements and quiet sense of courage and composure. Jesse was not about color, he was about character. Told through the eyes of Hudner and his friends, the pages are alive. We the readers are placed right into the thick of things as the war drags on and on. The unspeakable conditions these soldiers were exposed to were highlighted and the incredible patriotism and sense of nationalism is amazing and rewarding to behold.

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