Love and Ruin by Paula McLain – Book

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Paula McClain wrote about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson in her novel, The Paris Wife and, this time, in Love and Ruin she writes about Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn. I can understand the fascination with the women who married this literary giant. What kind of woman does such a legendary figure find himself attracted to? Hemingway was a handsome guy. Women found him desirable. It is almost tempting to wonder why only four women. But Hemingway sounds like he was not really a “ladies man”. He spent most of his social hours with men. He also seems to have seen women as occupying pretty traditional roles in a marriage, although he seems to have treated his wives as companions some of the time. Everyone in Hemingway’s world had a nickname.

Some readers do not value a fictional account of a Hemingway wife as they would a nonfiction one, but Paula McClain does do her homework, which she describes after the novel ends. So Love and Ruin is grounded in fact. But the day-to-day exchanges in a marriage are usually private business between husband and wife, although friends are privy to some of it, and can only be imagined in fiction.

Martha Gellhorn and her mother were recovering from the death of Martha’s father when they made a trip to somewhere as different and faraway as they could get without complicated travel arrangements. They fled to Key West and who should they meet in a bar almost immediately upon their arrival but Ernest Hemingway.

Both mother and daughter were pretty, long-legged and not at all shy. Ernest, married to Pauline Pfeiffer (Fife) with three boys (two from his first marriage) had his home, with his wife, right there in Key West. But he offered these two Gellhorn women a tour of the island. It was then he found out that Martha Gellhorn was a published writer. He began their relationship as her mentor. She was quite a bit younger. It seemed innocent enough.

If they had never gone off to report on the Spanish Civil War (Franco) at the same time (together) they might never have fallen in love and broken up Hemingway’s thirteen year marriage to Pauline. But Martha Gellhorn was not a “little wife” type of girl. She always wanted to be at the center of the biggest storm. She wanted to live life and she insisted that involved covering events like wars that only men generally wrote about. She and Ernest began as fellow war writers; she for Colliers, he making notes for a novel. Both felt more alive when death was everywhere around them.

When they needed to get away from the war they fled to Cuba, a place that Hemingway loved almost as much as Key West. They could not go to Key West because Hemingway was still married to Pauline. Martha found an old Cuban farm and when her book sold she used the money to restore it. It became the famous Finca where Hemingway still resided at the end of his life.

Martha imagined a sort of nirvana, with two writers living and sharing their craft, but Hemingway did not cooperate. He was demanding and selfish, and loving and ardent, and a partier and a hard drinker. Martha often found him exasperating. But just before World War II began Hemingway and Pauline divorced and Martha and Ernest married. They went to Hawaii for their honeymoon but trouble already was brewing. Martha had an independent streak that Hemingway despised and when she wanted to go off on her own to work or visit home he pouted and acted out. Although they both went off to London to cover the war they were more like rivals than sweethearts by then. Their marriage barely survived the war.

HEMINGWAY's wives France 24

Martha Gellhorn went on to have her own career as a writer of some fame and Hemingway wrote one of my favorite books Islands in the Stream. Hemingway remarried to Mary Walsh, a bond that lasted until they both died in a plane crash in Africa. We leave Martha behind when her marriage to Hemingway ends which belies the contention that this is a book about Martha Gellhorn. It is a book about a Hemingway wife, but one stamped out of such an independent and adventurous mold that the marriage was doomed to end in ruin. It made me aware of her as a writer and a dashing person who was ahead of history, and an admirable person in her own right.

You will have to decide about the fiction/nonfiction choice for yourself and also about whether or not this is a “chick” book. But Martha Gellhorn is worthy of our attention and Paula McClain made her quite real. A worthwhile read.

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva – Book

the Rembrandt Affair HubPages

Book 10 in the Gabriel Allon Series, The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva, begins with Gabriel back in Cornwall, England by the sea and this time he is with Chiara. They have been released from the Israeli Secret Service, now being run by Uzi Navot from the “Office” on King Saul Boulevard. There is something quite romantic about Cornwall but also simple and rugged that seems appropriate to a man like Gabriel.

The problem with writing a long series of books with basically the same cast of characters is that accommodations must be made for readers who, perhaps, start with Book 10. This means that the author must describe characters that many readers already know, again and again. There are ways to do this but some people who have been with a series from Book 1 begin to find the repetition a bit tedious. However, in writing a series, readers also want the familiar characters to stay basically the same. Silva decides, in this case, to plug in old descriptions, sort of like boiler plates, to make the necessary introductions, or fill-in parts of the backstory. He has used more creative writing solutions to this dilemma in the past.

It took longer than usual to build to the action, but once the ride began, the thrill ride, Gabriel got called back into action, and since the mystery to be solved was about a painting, a Rembrandt, Gabriel and Chiara got sucked right out of Cornwall fast. It was Julien Isherwood’s fault, the Jewish/British art dealer. Where did a new Rembrandt come from? What was its provenance? Does this painting have any connection to the recent rash of art thefts museums are experiencing? Why is a man dead?

The hunt for this Rembrandt painting takes us back to the Nazi’s and the Swiss banks because there was no greater theft of a culture and a people than the possessions and the money stolen from Jewish families before they were railroaded off to concentration camps to be killed. A large part of what the Israeli Secret Service does is related to trying to restore things stolen from Jewish people and bringing those who stole and murdered to justice. This Rembrandt painting (not real, but symbolic of real paintings) has a sad, sad story to tell and conceals a secret that will help catch a greedy man posing as a very generous man.

This post war mishegas becomes entangled with Iran’s nuclear program because we are no longer dealing with the first generation of war criminals. We are now dealing with their children. How does the child of a father who was in the German SS turn out? Is he tainted by the sins of the father, or does he try to atone for the sins of the father?

What starts out slowly, gets very absorbing once it heats up. This time it is not Gabriel who takes a beating, and there is a new girl on Gabriel’s team. Will this be Zoe’s only appearance in a Silva book, or will she crop up again? What scary part of the world will Gabriel take us off to next time. Keep reading.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mesfegh – Book

my year of rest -You Tube

Do we act the way we do because of nature or nurture? Is our behavior inevitable, either genetically, or by upbringing, or do we always bear final responsibility for the way we behave? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Literally. If you consider the cover of My Year of Rest and Relaxationby Ottessa Mosfegh you might expect period fiction, but what you get is something quite of-the-minute, new and fresh right down to its bones. The young women our attention is focused on does not even have a name, perhaps because the book is written in the first person, but perhaps with some symbolic significance also.

We listen to a pretty, blonde, thin, 26-year-old who is already exhausted by life. She finds no authenticity anywhere, nothing to dedicate herself to, nothing to love, even, apparently herself. She nails the superficialities of various “cultural tribes” she is surrounded by at Columbia and in her neighborhood. The 40-something moms on the upper East Side come under her judgmental perusal as do the young males in the art history department at her college and the avant-garde artists who exhibit at the gallery where she works. She finds little to really admire in her handsome on-again, off-again boyfriend, Trevor, or her best friend Reva. Only Harrison Ford and Whoopi Goldberg escape her societal ennui.

When she is a junior at Columbia art school she loses both of her parents. Her parents were not exactly warm and fuzzy. About her mother she says: “She was not the type to sit and watch me draw or read me books or play games or go for walks in the park or bake brownies. We got along best when we were asleep.” “My father slept on the sofa in the den that year.” “None of us had much warmth in our hearts. I was never allowed to have any pets. Sometimes I think a puppy might have changed everything. My parents died one after the other my junior year of college – first my dad from cancer, then my mother from pills and alcohol six weeks later.”

Is our girl experiencing some kind of separation anxiety or does the loss of even bad parents cause us grief? Did her family’s inability to connect destroy her ability to feel empathy and affection? She decides that she will sleep for a year and then wake up a new person. Her inheritance from her parents allows her this option and she gets to sleep through the year in a very nice apartment on East 84thSt. which she owns outright.

But it is not so easy to sleep for an entire year. A psychiatrist must be found who has few compunctions about using a prescription pad. Dr. Tuttle is perfect, a real psycho-babble nut who knows her way around insurance rules. Pretty soon our blondie’s life becomes a long list of meds that she pops or guzzles whenever sleep is hard to find. Trazodone, Ambien, Nembutal, Solfolton, Xanax, Lithium, Haldol, Neuroproxin, Maxiphenphen, Valdignor, Silencior, Benadryl, Robitussin, NyQuil, Seconals, Libriums, Pacidyls, Noctecs, Miltowns, Lunesta, primidone and Risperdal, chewable melatonin…until she meets the ultimate sleep drug, Infermiterol. Too bad Infermiterol has one very worrisome side effect.

Even after a couple of months of chemical abuse our sleepy-head, catching sight of herself in the lobby mirror on one of her rare trips to the Egyptian bodega down the street says, “But I was tall and thin and blond and pretty and young. Even at my worst, I knew I still looked good.” But we wonder if anyone could actually survive on this much medication.

We have only covered two somnolent months of a long year. There is plenty more to this story. Do we care about this young lady? Should we care about her? Is there a message to this madness? Only you can decide. But for people who are tired of conventional fiction this certainly isn’t that. Just the gutsiness that comes up with fiction like this makes it well worth a read. Does it matter that our girl’s long sleep ends at a significant historical moment?

I keep thinking about this one, trying to care about this character. My admiration is more for form than any significance to the human condition at this point. Some books have to percolate. I also have a few caveats. One, don’t try this at home. Two, many of these scripts did not work as sleep aids. Three, as an experiment in rebirth, the outcome seems inconclusive.

Look for me on goodreads.com

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, You Tube

The Defector by Daniel Silva – Book

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In order to fully understand The Defector (Bk. 9, Gabriel Allon Series) by Daniel Silva it is helpful to recall the events at the end of Moscow Rules (Bk. 8, Gabriel Allon Series). Gabriel manages to escape from Russia (barely) with a Russian journalist, Olga Sukhova, whose colleagues have been assassinated, and with a man, Grigori Bulganov, who saved Gabriel’s life by making sure he did not die in Lubyanka, the Russian prison.

In The Defector we find out what Bulganov is up to in his new home, London. Silva, Daniel Silva, the author, calls London a Russian city because so many dispossessed Russians live there. Olga Sukhova, also in London with a new identity, is keeping a low profile. But Grigori is tempted out of hiding by another Russian who lives the high life in London.

When Grigori disappears on his way to a Chess game, Graham Seymour, head of British Intelligence, is not terribly upset. He decides that Grigori has become homesick and has “un” defected. However, when Gabriel Allon hears that Grigori is gone he has a different reaction. For one thing he knows that a very bad and powerful oligarch, Ivan Kharkov is still alive and well, although he has to stay in Russia for now. Gabriel also knows that he was able to help Ivan’s ex-wife Elena liberate some of Ivan’s money ($20 million) from a Swiss Bank. Since Elena is in protective custody in an unknown location with the couple’s two children, she needs that money. But you can imagine how much Ivan wants to get his hands on Elena, his children, and Gabriel. Since he can’t leave Russia right now, he must find a way to bring everyone to him.

Ivan Kharkov is a stone-cold bully boy who makes his money selling Russian weapons to people the rest of the world wants to keep weapons away from. Ivan’s hero is Stalin and he strives to model his behavior on the cruelty Stalin used as he purged (killed or tortured) any Russian citizen who he imagined might harbor sentients against his government (regime). Ivan managed to buy the dacha that once was Stalin’s summer home. Ivan uses his dacha to reenact Stalin’s bloody purges on a smaller scale.

When Gabriel doesn’t react right away to the disappearance of Grigori Ivan takes someone else and who he takes definitely gets Gabriel and his team moving.

Daniel Silva and his Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, along with his team of Israeli operatives, expose bad actors all around Europe and the Middle East and offer up the satisfaction of giving them what they deserve in fiction, even though we often do not experience such justice in real life. When The Defector ends are we finally shut of Ivan Kharkov? My lips are sealed.

In notes at the conclusion of The Defector, Silva connects his fictional spy story to actual historical events that inspired it.

“There, from August 1937 to October 1938, an estimated twenty thousand people were shot in the back of the head and buried in long mass graves. I visited the recently opened memorial at Butovo with my family in the summer of 2007 while researching Moscow Rules, and in large measure it inspired The Defector. One question haunted me as I walked slowly past the burial trenches, accompanied by weeping Russian citizens. Why are there not more places like this? Places where ordinary Russians can see evidence of Stalin’s unimaginable crimes with their own eyes. The answer, of course, is that the rulers of the New Russia are not terribly interesting in exposing the sins of the Soviet past. On the contrary, they are engaged in a carefully orchestrated endeavor to airbrush away its most repulsive aspects while celebrating it achievements. The NKVD, which carried out the Great Terror at Stalin’s behest, was the forerunner of the KGB. And former officers of the KGB, including Vladimir Putin himself, are now running Russia.” -Author’s Note

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, Daemon Books

August 2018 Book List

Books with Glasses bigAugust 2018 Book List

There is not as much current politics in the August publications as in other recent months but that doesn’t mean that all these new books are upbeat. Readers know, however, that plenty of really good reads are not necessarily cheerful, and some are downright dark. This month we have some writers who manage to be both funny and thought-provoking.

Once again I am sharing the list of new books I compile each month to help me (and you) select what to read next. This list has only titles, but, in each case, if you go to the source of my lists you will find more information about these titles. Amazon offers summaries of each book on its Amazon books page. The New York Times Book Review has assigned each of the titles on their list to an expert reviewer and these reviews are available on line and Publishers Weekly publishes a Tip Sheet each week where experts summarize and offer commentary on each book on their list. If a book sounds interesting go to the source and check it out, Google the title or try your library.

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Meet Me at the Museum: A Novel by Anne Youngson

Severance: A Novel by Ling Ma *

Rust and Stardust: A Novel by T. Greenwood

Up From Freedom by Wayne Grady *

The Air you Breathe: A Novel by Frances de Pontes Peebles

Other People’s Love Affairs: Short Stories by D. Wystan Owen

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

The Marvelous Equations of the Dread: A Novel in Bass Riddim by Marcia Douglas

Cherry: A Novel by Nico Walker

Ohio by Stephen Markley

Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Middlemen: A Novel by Olen Steinhauer

Feared: A Rosato and DiNunzio Novel by Lisa Scottoline

A Double Life by Flynn Berry

Rust and Stardust: A Novel by T. Greenwood

Pieces of Her: A Novel by Karin Slaughter

The Washington Decree: A Novel by Jussie Adler-Olsen, Steve Schein

The Third Hotel: A Novel by Laura Van Den Berg

Tailspin by Sandra Brown

Putney: A Novel by Sofka Zinovieff *

Vox: A Novel by Christina Dalcher

Biographies and Memoirs

Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammed Lori

King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age’s Greatest Imposter by Paul Willetts

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien

Been So Long: My Life and Music by Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Slick

Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon by Charles Casillo

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC 5, and my Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer

All Happy Families: A Memoir by Jeanne McCulloch

Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris *

Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Last Hero by Christian Di Spigna

Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor by Linda D. Dahl

Jell-o Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Black God’s Drums by P Djèli Clark

Temper: A Novel by Nicky Drayden

Rogue Protocol: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells *

Note to self: Murderbot Diaries

#1 All Systems Red

#2 Artificial Condition

#3 Rogue Protocol

#4 Exit Strategy

Dreadful Company (A Dr. Greta Helsing Novel) by Vivian Shaw

Blood of the Gods (The Ascension Cycle) by David Mealing

Shadow’s Bane (Dorina Bassarak) by Karen Chance

The Warrior Queen (The Hundreth Queen Series) by Emily R. King

Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu, Joel Martinsen

Raven Cry (Raven’s Mark) by Ed McDonald

Foundryside: a Novel (The Founder’s Trilogy) by Robert Jackson Bennett *

The Descent of Monsters (The Tensorate Series) by J. Y. Young

Nonfiction

Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart by Mimi Swartz

Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City by Sam Anderson

Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology by Lisa Margonelli

Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge by Susan Hand Shetterly

Beyond Birds and Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality by Bonnie J. Rough

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen

Devil’s Miles: The Rich, Gritty History of the Bowery by Alice Sparberg Alexion

Epic Hikes of the World (Lonely Planet) by Lonely Planet

Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back) by Mara Altman

New York Times Book Review

July 6

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (F)

Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy (Short Stories)

White River Running by John Verdon (Crime)

SNAP by Belinda Bauer (Crime)

Stay Hidden by Paul Doiron (Crime

Baby’s First Felony by John Straley (Crime

Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard (F)

Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig (F)

The Wind in My Hair by Masih Alinejad (NF)

My Brother Moochie by Issac Bailey (NF)

From Cold War to Hot Peace by Michael McFaul (NF)

The Unpunished Vice by Edmund White (NF)

Imperial Twilight by Stephen R. Platt (NF)

House of Nutter by Lance Richardson (NF) (Men’s Fashion Designer)

Tailspin by Steven Brill (NF)

Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson (NF)

Kicks by Nicholas Smith (NF)

The End of the French Intellectual by Shlomo Sand (NF)

July 15

Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams (F)

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (F)

The Shades by Evgenia Citkowitz (F)

T Singer by Dag Solstad (F)

Armand V by Dag Solstad

Give People Money by Annie Lowrey (NF)

The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang (NF)

Proust’s Duchess by Caroline Weber (NF) *

The Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein (Memoir) *

See You Again in Pyongyang by Travis Jeppesen (NF)

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (Essays)

Squeezed by Alissa Quart (Essays)

Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer (NF)

Little Panic by Amanda Stern (NF)

The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography by Deborah Levy

July 22

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (F)

Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne (F)

After the Monsoon by Robert Karjel (F)

The Third Hotel by Laura Van den Berg (F)

The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek

The Sinners by Ace Atkins (Crime)

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay (Crime)

The Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault (Crime)

Some Die Nameless by Wallace Stroby (Crime)

A Double Life by Flynn Berry (Thriller)

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager (Thriller)

The Price You Pay by Aidan Truhen (Thriller)

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones (Thriller)

The Banker’s Wife by Christina Alger (Thriller)

Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes (Thriller)

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh (Thriller)

Conan Doyle for the Defense by Margalit Fox (NF)

July 29

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (F)

The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise (F)

Early Work by Andrew Martin (F)

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg (F)

Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman (F)

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo (F)

The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon (F)

The Storm by Arif Anwar (F)

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (F)

The Distance Home by Paula Sanders (F)

Sabrina (Graphic Novel) by Nick Drnaso (F)

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani (NF)

Sugar: The World Corrupted by James Walvin (NF)

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers by Ben Passmore (NF)

Milk! By Mark Kurlansky (NF)

Charles James: Portrait of an Unreasonable Man by Michèle Gerber Klein (NF)

Loulou and Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de La Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent by Christopher Petkanas (NF)

Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric by Madison Moore (NF)

Publisher’s Weekly

July 9

The Brink: The President Reagan and the Nuclear War Scare of 1983 by Marc Ambinder (NF)

Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz (NF)

New Poets of Native Nations, ed. by Heid E Erdrich (Poetry)

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen (F)

A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall (NF)

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jenson (F) (YA+)

Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis (F)

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, trans. from the Spanish by Heather Cleary (“a wickedly entertaining tale”)

The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography by Deborah Levy (Autobiography)

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim (F) (sounds very cool) *

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mosfegh (F) (Next on my Kindle)

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (F) *

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen (NF)

The Lost Chapters: Finding Recovery and Renewal One Book at a Time by Leslie Schwartz (NF)

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (F) *

July 16

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (F)

The Wrong Heaven by Amy Bonnaffons (Short Stories)

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, editied by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Rizzulo (F) (A Deluxe Reissue)

OK, Mr. Field by Katherine KIlalea (F)

Homeplace: A Southern Town, A Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk by John Lingan (NF)

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown by Seanan McGuire (F) *

Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance by Mike Scardino (Memoir)

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva (F) *

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (F)

The King’s Assassin: The Secret Plot to Murder James I by Benjamin Woolley (NF)

Condomnauts by Yoss, trans. from the Spanish by David Frye

July 23

Devil’s Mile: The Rich, Gritty History of the Bowery by Alice Sparberg Alexiou (NF)

The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins (NF) *

Contagion by Erin Bowman (Science Fiction)

Mary B by Katherine J Chen (F)

The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl (F)

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh (F)

July 30

I Didn’t Talk by Beatriz Bracher, trans. from the Portuguese by Adam Morris (F)

Brother: A Novel by David Chariandy (F)

The Ghost Script by Jules Feiffer (F)

Poppy Harmon Investigates by Lee Hollis (F)*

Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar (F) *

The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies by Dawn Raffel (NF)

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw (F)

A Wolf Apart by Maria Vale (Fantasy)

The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes Who Fought for Justice in Schools by Vanessa Siddle Walker (NF)

August 6

If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar (Short Stories)

The Spy of Venice by Benet Brandreth (F)

So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernières (F)

Nameless Serenade: Nocturne for Commissario Ricciardi by Maurizio de Giovanni (F)

Perennial by Kelly Forsythe (NF) (Columbine) *

Desperate Girls by Laura Griffin (F)

Maeve In America: Essays from a Girl from Somewhere Else by Maeve Higgins (Essays) (“meaningful and funny”) *

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris (NF)

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim (F)

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and The Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy (NF)

A Short Film about Disappointment by Joshua Mattson (F) (“rife with ingenious humor and inventiveness”) *

Before She Sleeps: A Novel by Bina Shah (F)

Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf (NF)

Feel free to capture for personal use only.

*Top of my reading list

 

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – Book

 

warlight big lawn gnome publishingMichael Ondaatje never writes an ordinary book, at least in my estimation. His books put me in a reverie of unique experiences lived in far off places and times. In his novel, Warlight he writes of some of the people of England and London who performed secret services all over Europe and the Baltic states during World War II. These services had to be kept so discreet that it is difficult for these members of the intelligence service to reenter their prewar lives.

Wars don’t end on the day that a treaty is made. The hurts, the resentments, the losses stay with people affected by wars. People swear to avenge their loved ones from cruel strikes perhaps necessitated by war, but still seen as desecrations. Strategy may deem it appropriate to level a village but the relatives and friends or absent residents cannot rationalize. They carry their shock with them and they nurse their anger and they vow they will seek retribution.

When first their dad and then their mom leave, Nathaniel and his older sister Rachel are in their early teens. They think their mom has gone to Singapore to be with their dad who was sent there by his company, until they discover her carefully packed trunk in the basement of the family home in London.

These two have been left in the care of a man called The Moth, a rather lackadaisical caretaker, and all that was orderly about their lives falls away. Rachel (nicknamed Wren by her mother) learns that she has epilepsy and of course she is a girl so what she experiences is quite different from what Nathaniel is allowed to get involved with. The Moth is soon joined by another character, The Darter.

Nathaniel is allowed to work with the immigrant staff overseen by Moth at Criterion’s Banquet Halls, setting up for events and washing dishes. Later he helps The Darter smuggle greyhounds into unsanctioned race tracks through keeping a schedule of nighttime pickups at various stops along a network of rivers and streams near London. Nathaniel is the narrator of Warlight but he does not know why his mom left him and his sister with these strange guardians.

As a grown man Nathaniel (who was nicknamed Stitch by his mother, Rose), is offered a job going through the archives collected during World War II, and although he has been reunited with his mother, her continued secrecy prods him to take the job. He begins to learn about what his mom did during the war and how it has followed her home, why she feels she endangers her own children. With great detail Ondaatje creates a world of lives lived outside the mainstream, interesting but slightly dodgy lives. Rose’s caretaker picks prove wiser than they seem.

Ondaatje reminds us that the human memory is long and that there are rarely clear demarcations between one event and the next, in fact the more complex and heartrending events leave traces that may never quite go away. He teaches us that life, like certain passages in music has moments that can best be described by a term Mahler uses to mark a passage that is difficult or heavy. Life can be schwer. I think you will love learning Rose’s story along with Nathaniel, and how it intertwines with that of Marsh Felon, a thatcher’s son who once fell off the family’s roof and had to mend on a cot in their kitchen. And just to add a bit more mystery, you will find out about Viola and many more ordinary heroes.

Find me at Goodreads at Nancy Brisson

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Lawn Gnomes Publishing

The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva – Book

the Secret Servant by Daniel You Tube

The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva begins with a dead Jewish scholar, as Gabriel Allon books often do. Professor Solomon Rosner is “the first asset in the annals of Office history to have proven more useful to them dead than alive.” He is killed in Amsterdam in a normally a peaceful neighborhood. Rosner runs the Center for European Security Studies. “[T]he center had managed to produce a steady stream of authoritative reports and articles detailing the threat posed to the Netherlands by the rise of militant Islam within its borders.” Rosner had a lot of enemies both Islamic and Dutch. He is killed on the way to lunch by one of the painters who has been working across the street from his office. Obviously painting is not the man’s only job.

Gabriel Allon flies into Tel Aviv and is met by Uzi Navot. Once a katsaor western European undercover case officer, Uzi is now Chief of Special Ops. He had done jobs no one else wanted to do, executioner, kidnapper, bugger, blackmailer. Uzi is a bit bitter about Gabriel’s star status. Uzi to Gabriel: “Art restoration was your cover job, Gabriel. You are not an art restorer. You are a secret servant of the state of Israel and You have no right to leave the fighting to others.”

Shamron reveals that Rosner also worked for the Office. Rosner was to keep eyes and ears on Islamic extremism to give some early warning of possible terrorist targets. Rosen helped them stop and assassinate the members of an al-Qaeda affiliated “cell operating in West Amsterdam [when they] got their hands on a missile and were planning to shoot down an El Al jetliner.”

The painter who killed Rosen was named Mohammed Hamza and there was a videotape found in his apartment. Gabriel is to go get all of Rosen’s files which ends up being about 500,000 documents. Rosen started out as a sayan. “[S]ayanimare a worldwide network of volunteer Jewish helpers, Bankers are used to provide cash for Office agents, doctors treated them in secret, hoteliers gave rooms under false names, rental car employees gave them untraceable vehicles. Then Shamron recruited him.

Gabriel is given an assistant, Eli Lavon. He is described as small and bookish, with wispy unkempt hair and quick brown eyes – As usual he seems to be wearing all his clothes at once. And he is “the finest street surveillance artist the Office has ever produced.” He is an archeologist by training and has also been an ayinor tracker.

Gabriel and Eli Lavon meet Sophie Vanderhaus, Prof. Rosner’s assistant at the same café where Rosner was killed. At the end of a long day going over files Gabriel goes out for Thai food – and never comes back. Someone, an old Arabic man wearing keffiyeh and kufi, follows Gabriel and, after Gabriel almost kills him, the man says he has come to help them. He worked with Rosen. He is Ibrahim Fawaz.

Ibrahim tells Gabriel that, “Takfir was a concept developed by Islamists in Egypt in the nineteen seventies, a theological sleight of hand designed to give the terrorists a sacred license to kill almost anyone they pleased in order to achieve their goals of imposing sharia and restoring the Caliphate. To the Takfiri, democracy was a heresy, for it supplanted the laws of God with the laws of men.” “Muslim citizens of a democracy were apostates and could be put to the sword.

Fawaz also tells Gabriel about Samir al-Masri who is a dangerous man, and that Samir and four other young men have disappeared from Amsterdam. They go to search his room. In Samir’s room they find photos of Samir in Trafalgar Square, Samir with a member of the Queen’s Life Guard outside Buckingham Palace, Samir riding the Millenium wheel, Samir at the House of Parliament and the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Guess who’s going to London now?

As they part ways Eli says, “And so here we are again two nice Jewish boys, sitting on a European street corner at three o’clock in the morning. My God when will it end.” “It’s never going to end, Eli. This is forever.”

It can take a lot of build-up to get to the heart of the action in Silva’s popular spy thrillers. Back stories are long. Some readers run out of patience. But we are there now.

Gabriel is not exactly warmly welcomed in London and his cohorts there do not take the threat very seriously because they have been through so much. Gabriel narrows down the threat to Hyde Park and the American Embassy.

Robert Halton, the ambassador, waves his daughter, Elizabeth Halton, MD goodbye, not without trepidation, as she leaves for a run in the park. She is kidnapped in broad daylight by men dressed all in black and driving a park maintenance truck. Gabriel’s warning came too late, but he is in time to see the attack and shoot some kidnappers. Still, Elizabeth is gone.

Now Adrian Carter from the CIA, who is always a good partner joins the hunt since the American ambassador’s daughter is involved.

Who took her? What do they want? Will Gabriel get her back alive? What injuries will he sustain this time? Who is the mastermind of this plot.? How is Egypt involved? Who are the Swords of Allah? Who gets married?

Find me on Goodreads as Nancy Brisson.