Sunday, December 31, 2017

Books Read, 2017

1.     The World Beneath (Joe Tesla #1) - Rebecca Cantrell
2.     A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles
3.     Norwegian by Night - Derek B. Miller
4.     Deep Blue - Alan Judd
5.     Below the Belt (Stone Barrington #40) - Stuart Woods
6.     The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto - Mitch Albom
7.     The Man From Berlin (Gregor Reinhardt #1) - Luke McCallin
8.     One Man’s Flag (Jack McColl #2) - David Downing
9.     The Traitor’s Wife - Allison Pataki
10. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk - Kathleen Rooney
11. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jami Ford
12. Fast and Loose (Stone Barrington #41)  - Stuart Woods
13. We Never Asked for Wings - Vanessa Diffenbaugh
14. Prussian Blue (Bernie Gunther, #12) - Kerr, Philip
15. Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport #27) - John Sandford
16. Nighthawk (NUMA Files, #14) - Clive Cussler
17. The Tea Planter's Wife- Dinah Jefferies
18. Indecent Exposure (Stone Barrington #42) - Stuart Woods
19. Nutshell - Ian McEwan
20.  House of Spies (Gabriel Allon #17) - Daniel Silva
21. Barely Legal (Herbie Fisher #1)  - Stuart Woods
22. Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
23. The Late Show - Michael Connelly (Renée Ballard, #1)
24. The Martian Ambassador - Alan K. Baker
25. Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders (unfinished)
26. The Cuban Affair - Nelson DeMille
27. The Extra - A.B. Yehoshua
28. Commonwealth - Ann Patchett
29. Enchanted Islands - Allison Amend
30. The Romanov Ransom - Clive Cussler
31. Everyone Brave is Forgiven - Chris Cleave
32. Waking Lions - Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
33. Quick and Dirty - Stuart Woods (Stone Barrington #43)
34. Secrets of a Charmed Life - Susan Meissner

Favorites were A Gentleman In Moscow and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Secrets of a Charmed LifeSecrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book club book that I wanted to love. The story was interesting and engaging but I was somewhat unconvinced. A bit far fetched and stretched. Characters were interesting and seemed full and rich but I had a little trouble buying the story.
What I did like was seeing the lives of children who were removed from their homes. The image of London devoid of children gave to me another dimension to the blitz. Thanks Susan, as I write this review I'm going to add a star for what I learned about the blitz from a new angle.
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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Quick & Dirty (Stone Barrington, #43)Quick & Dirty by Stuart Woods
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stuart Woods always pleases me. His stories are fast paced and inventive. The characters are a mixture of old favorites and new faces. The plot is intricate, fanciful and fun. I love this guy. He might be my favorite author.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Waking LionsWaking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another book club book. Hard to read, uncomfortable story. I guess it takes me out of my comfort zone and exposes several human frailties that we may all have and not know how to deal with. What if we were faced with a life changing event and choose to lie and cheat to stay out of trouble.
Honesty may or may not be the easy way out and the punishment might be extreme. Quite a powerful examination of ethics from an odd point of view.

Hated reading it but I'm glad that I did. The book club discussion was stimulating and cast a whole new light on the book. That's what a discussion is for, right?

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Everyone Brave is ForgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book. Its my kind of story and it is set in a time I like to read about. In the end I fell in love with it but the courtship was a little long. Don't take the story lightly, its about war and the things it does to those who live through it. Its clear that the Blitz was war and the people of London were among the soldiers and they suffered beyond our imagination. This is the backdrop for an unlikely look at Britain and British society before and during the war and a complicated love story.
I found the writing beautiful and the characters, for the most part, rich and complex. The conflicts are remarkably clear but often unstated. I guess the author considers us smart enough to figure things out. The resolutions are also complex and leave one to think about what it must have been like during those harrowing three years. I also wonder how people managed to put their lives back in place.... but they did.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

The Romanov Ransom (Fargo Adventure #9)The Romanov Ransom by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clive Cussler is consistently fun to read. Not sure I was ever surprised with this plot but the action is non-stop and covers the globe. The story is somewhat formulaic in that the same characters and essentially the same plot line continues from book to book. This series might have run its course for me. With so many books to read I might look to other series.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Enchanted IslandsEnchanted Islands by Allison Amend
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just loved it. It seems to be a book with a bit of everything. A remarkable story told beautifully by a master writer. Ms. Amend grabs you and pulls you into an unlikely and unbelievable story. In some ways it reminds us that people make the story and interesting people make interesting stories. A few characters that are fully developed and completely believable. Should be because they are based on real people. Weirdest WWII story I've read but also gave a fascinating look at how people really behave.

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another book club selection that I loved. The story is beautiful and well crafted. No spoilers here but she is a magnificent writer with wonderful imagination and a real understanding of people and their problems.
Her characters are so real I feel like I actually know them. As in real life, some people are deep and challenging to know and others are thin, transparent and easily disregarded. So are the characters in this wonderfully conceived book. I highly recommend it.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

The ExtraThe Extra by A.B. Yehoshua
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting book. When I read a book that is a translation I often wonder if some of the magic of the writing is from the translator or the author. Either way Yehoshua weaves an enticing and engrossing story of a complex person with an equally complex family and past. The past, present and music are woven into a great book.
One should read it without spoilers. For those who have traveled to Israel, you might see familiar places through new eyes. This is in the end a book about people and the forces that shape who they are and who they become.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Cuban AffairThe Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this is the definition of a page turner. I must say that having taken a trip to Cuba of the sort that is depicted in the book made it come alive for me. He describes it beautifully. That was the hotel we stayed in and some of the excursions that our group took.
All in all, a great story well told. This is an example of great writing. I laughed out loud and the twists and turns often left me wondering what might happen next. I was often wrong. I mean this guy can tell a story. Can't wait for "Mac" to come back in another story.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

The Martian Ambassador (Blackwood and Harrington, #1)The Martian Ambassador by Alan K. Baker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That was an odd book, but good. Interesting premise in the late 1800's the human race and the Martians make contact. The world is just slightly different than our history and makes for a fascinating story told in an old style that is charming and quite honestly, engrossing. The adventure is a bit far fetched but still fun to read and the book has a wonderful allusion to climate science. If we ruin this world, do we have one to go to? That is the dilemma faced by one group in this story.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Late Show (Renée Ballard, #1)The Late Show by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this is a great story, well written and edge of your seat scary at times. I love Renee, Michael Connelly's new character. She is smart, very smart, a little conflicted and just as real as anyone can imagine. No spoilers here but this is a great read. The story is complex and takes some interesting turns. I enjoyed it, could not put it down. Michael, you've got a new fan.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a selection for my book club. What I love about the book club is that it takes me out of my comfort zone and introduces me to books I might have passed over.
This is a fascinating story of growing up in Nigeria with a domineering father and society that is crumbling at the edges.
The book chronicles real events in the guise of a coming of age story. The lines of love and hate, freedom and enslavement and religion and freedom are explored while giving the reader a taste of another culture.
This book is well worth the read. After you are done read some of the reviews and comments about the book.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Barely Legal (Herbie Fisher #1)Barely Legal by Stuart Woods
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, so this might not be a Stone Barrington but it was a delight to read. The story was excellent with plot twists that were choreographed. The reader knows what's going on but the people in the story have no clue. It was a hoot to read. I hope Herbie, i.e. Herb, comes back as a trial attorney. It made for some interesting sections. All in all Stuart Woods is my favorite writer.... at least this month.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

House of Spies (Gabriel Allon #17)House of Spies by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dainiel Silva is a constant. His books are readable, believable and filled with smart, clever action. The plots, though often a little repetitive, draw from current events. This book is almost too real. the people, places and actions are literally torn from the headlines. It makes for some exciting reading and gives one a perspective on the world that might be broader without his words. I highly recommend Daniel Silva but, if starting out, go back and read them all in order. Its a small pile of about twenty books that will keep you thrilled for months.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

NutshellNutshell by Ian McEwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a different book. At first I thought it weird and later I almost put it down. In the end I was glad I read it. Interesting concept well developed and executed. The idea of a fetus narrating a story where mom and uncle are the murderers. Not really a spoiler because you get the whole plot upfront. It the great writing that makes this work. In fact, better than great, often breathtaking. Cuts through to a wild look at our modern society. I liked it.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Indecent ExposureIndecent Exposure by Stuart Woods
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just love Stuart Woods books. They take me away from reality into a world that is exciting, interesting and fun. He has such an interesting life. Its just plain fun with enough current events accuracy to make it seem like it "could" happen.
Stone is stuck on the horns of a dilemma. Read it and find out how he handles things. His girl friend is the secretary of state and POTUS is his client. What a yarn. Can't wait for more.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Tea Planter's WifeThe Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a book club selection. Not a book I would have selected but I think I liked it. I often thought the Gwen was an air-head but... she was a young woman, away from home and thrust into a situation that she had no reference for. She could hardly have been expected to behave differently. So in the end I found the book interesting and tantalizing. It was an interesting period of history and I'd like to know what happened to the family next. If this is the first book in a series, I'd like to read the next episode.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Nighthawk (NUMA Files, #14)Nighthawk by Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler always pleases me. The NUMA series is exciting and barely believable. A lot of sci fi and handsome characters. A plot that puts me on the edge of my seat wishing it was a movie. Always a clever ending and enough humor to grant me a smile now and then. I love these books. I look forward to new ones but there are several that I have not read and can go back when I have a lull.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport #27)Golden Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Sandford never misses. He has figured out what I like about his books and feeds that to me in spades. Action, adventure and clever people. Both the good guys and the bad guys are smart and it makes for an interesting story. I like the new job and the new characters that I feel sure will appear in #28. Just a pleasure to read.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

This is a Special Guitar

I recently bought someone's old guitar. A used guitar built by the luthier Ron Meilynski of Fox river Grove, Illinois. The guitar was hand made by this violin maker/woodworker turned luthier.
The guitar is an absolute beauty. Ron tells me that it is one of five that he has built. I've only seen two for sale and I was lucky enough to find one.

The wood is incredible and the craftsmanship beyond anything I've ever played. It has Benedetto pickups and the sound is very mellow and sweet. The body is chambered which means its mostly hollow with a solid center to hold the pickups and bridge.

Notice the curved edges and the three piece neck. The black binding between the woods I believe is to keep the species from bleeding into each other. All in all, its a work of art that plays like a dream and sounds superb.

Here are more pictures:

Fast and Loose (Stone Barrington, #41)Fast and Loose by Stuart Woods
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish there was a new Stuart Woods book every week. Stone Barrington never disappoints. The story is clever and pleasant with just enough humor and adventure to make them easy to read and define page turner. Can't wait for #42.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book, this time for a book club. I never would have guessed how different the read was in light of the divisive politics of our time. The extreme hatred of the Japanese following Pearl Harbor, while understandable, was never tempered by the reality of the Japanese citizenship status. We put our own, American born, not even naturalized, citizens into prison. We stole their property and we subjugated them, ripping away their freedom with the stroke of a pen.
Some will say it was in the heat of battle but, in reality it was just plain racism. We didn't inter Germans or Italians. There were cases of German infiltration of American political groups but still we didn't treat German Americans as traitors.
I do not think there was any collaboration between Japanese Americans during the war but there were many accounts of bravery and heroism among Japanese American Soldiers in Europe.
This book sheds a light on this period of history with a gentle hand. It recounts a teenage, first love that remains warm and tender to the end.
A book worth reading and maybe a good read for youngsters in today's heated political climate. Most Americans are immigrants and we should welcome new ideas and cultures so that ours will be broadened and kept vital and fresh.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Prussian Blue (Bernie Gunther, #12)Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Philip Kerr leads Bernie Gunther in and out of history, meeting and spending time with real people. We get to see the Nazi's time in Germany from the ground level and I often marvel at how much they look like some of us. In fact for Americans today its a bit frightening and unnerving to see how blind obedience and unwavering belief in perverted ideas can lead to national disaster.
This is a story about that. How bad people can be if given the chance. Bernie has little chance to change anything or make any of the evil go away. He takes us along as observers of the rot and stink of history.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Jockomo - The inlay people.

This is sooo much fun. I bought this guitar. Its an Ibanez Pat Metheny model. I bought it because its my kind of guitar, not because of Pat, a fine guitarist. There was a pearl inlay with his name at the 22nd fret. I replaced it with a new inlay from This is a Japanese company that sells all kinds of guitar inlays. They are like decals that transfer to the guitar and are completely removable. This one was custom made and came from Japan in about a week with free shipping.
I've put a few turtles on the back of guitar pegheads in honor of Sammy. He loved turtles and guitars too.
Here is the turtle on the back of the Ibanez. Its beautiful and looks and feels like a real inlay.

Friday, May 5, 2017

We Never Asked for WingsWe Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Timely and heart wrenching. This was a book club selection and the discussion was a bit off the topic of immigration reform and more on the personalities and motivations of the characters. I was struck by the matter of fact way that this underclass of illegals was woven into the society. Many of the haters profiting from the labor and hardship of the immigrants and their children. It is truly sad that we refuse to see children raised and educated in this country as our own.
Easier to understand why a demagogue would want to demonize and denounce those who work hard and seek the good life here in this country.
I read the whole book with these thoughts and this distracted me from the story and the characterizations. The book is highly non-political but rests on a a political issue.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Counting The Omer.... Why?

As a child, holidays came and went. Each had its own rituals and foods. Some I didn't even notice, others were pretty much good for a day off from school. Now that I am older, and have time to think about these things, I spend a little more time wondering what it is all about.

When my dear daughter asked me to write her an Omer counter I had to look it up to find out what it was. I find the idea interesting for many reasons. Most of which it makes the counter, if you choose to be one, cognizant of the passage of time and the season more than ever. It gives us a chance to prepare for the holiday that celebrates G-d giving us the Torah.

The Torah, everything you need to know about life in one easy to handle scroll, is an amazing gift and however you believe it came to be, it certainly has had a profound impact on Jews and non-Jews alike.

I found a couple of interesting articles on Counting the Omer. The first is from the blog PunkTorah regarding the counting:

So, what does this all mean to us now? Well, it can mean many things. Counting the Omer can be used as a tool of self reflection. We can take this time to recognize the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt, from the gift of our freedom. The Sages tell us that G-d freed us from slavery in order to give us the Torah on Shavu’ot, so this should be a time of preparation. Counting the Omer gives us the time to learn from the gift of freedom G-d has given us and incorporate it into our lives, to grow one day at a time, taking a spiritual accounting, to make sure that we are heading in the right direction, to look at what we are doing that is right or wrong and to try to make ourselves ready to receive the honor of the Torah.
Counting the days is another way of directing our mindfulness to the passage of time. Be aware of the days as they pass, count them, give them meaning. We have been freed from slavery, rejecting the confusion and idolatry (philosophically, literally, and spiritually) of our own Egypt’s and are being made ready to re-focus our lives.
I guess a good take-away from all of this is that one must make each day count. Make each day worth living for you and the people you love. 

(This is a repeat of a post from last year)