The Man Who Invented Florida

by Randy Wayne White, audiobook narrated by Dick Hill, book originally published 1997, Audiobook released 2010 by Tantor Audio

This is the third Doc Ford novel and not one of Randy Wayne White’s best efforts.  The plot seemed dull and the pace dragged significantly.  The ending has a bit of a twist but not enough to redeem the book.  Ordinarily White’s books are fun to listen to but this one was a bit of a chore.2 stars

A Green Journey

by Jon Hassler, 1985, Ballentine Books, New York

I picked this book up as I had run out of books to read, so I started looking around for something light to read in the bookcases in our condo in RI.  I seemed to recall that I had read something by Hassler in the distant past that I had really liked.  After looking at other books that he wrote it turned out that it was North of Hope that I had read many years ago.

It turned out that this book wasn’t much to my liking other that it was an easy read.  Hassler intersperses references to The Troubles that were occurring in Ireland into a tale about a soon to be retired school teacher and her visit to Ireland to connect with a pen-pal with whom she had been corresponding for some time.

The story was okay as were the characters, but not much more than okay.  The book just wasn’t compelling, and, as it is one book of a series, it wasn’t a complete story in and of itself.  The ending seemed as if it was just a convenient place to leave off so the reader could run out and purchase the next book to find out what the heck happened to the characters after the interlude depicted in this one.  I think the following book might be still on the shelf of the bookcase where I found this one.  Who knows?  Maybe I will find myself in the same situation in the future … roaming around looking for something to read that strikes my fancy at that particular moment and then I pick up the sequel.  Not a likely scenario at the present time, but I can’t predict the future.

Nonetheless, this book was somewhat enjoyable to read so it served its purpose.

2 1/2 stars

A Spy Among Friends, Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

by Ben Macintyre, 2014, Crown Publishing, New York

This story is fascinating as it probes how an upper-class gentleman in British Society could betray his country.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t give all the answers and leaves quite a bit to conjecture.  This may be due to the fact that so many of the records of the British Secret service pertaining to Philby remain sealed, but I would have liked to have come away from the book feeling a little more satisfaction that I understood Philby and the world he lived in.

The book also tends to be a bit repetitive in that it depicts the social situation that Philby lived in as being absorbed in endless drinking and the telling of ribald stories.  This, too, is unfortunate as the same story repeated numerous times tends to get old.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting book.  I just felt it should have given me a bit more.3 1/2 stars

The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett, 1930, 1st Vintage Books Edition

This book is a selection of our men’s book club for the coming season.  It has some interesting aspects and a very involved plot but it is certainly dated.  It has the alluring fem fatale character was so popular back in those times as well as the hoodlums, a punk, and, of course the somewhat shady private eye.  This last character, Sam Shade, is the most unusual.  Hammett depicts him as a not very attractive individual with slumped shoulders, a face that probably his mother didn’t even love, and a condescending attitude to the police and every woman he encounters.  Despite his physical shortcomings and lack of manners, he seems to be a magnet for most of the women in the book.  It feels quite different from more modern adventures such as Indiana Jones where the hero is at least an attractive individual.

Hammett’s writing style is sparse but it also seems awkward at times as it often doesn’t seem to flow.  Probably the best attribute of this novel is the plot, which is convoluted and interesting even if somewhat unbelievable at times.2 1/2 stars

Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande, 2014, Picador

What a depressing subject!  And yet, this is a book I found I couldn’t put down.  It is a book that everybody should read because, for many of us, our death or the deaths of our family members will not come quickly but will be a prolonged process.  This book provides a great deal of guidance and thought as to how to prepare and handle those situations.

The insight the author provides is extremely valuable  as he seems to have garnered it from a long career that involved a great deal of contact with persons suffering from debilitating and painful disease at the end of their lives.  The wisdom he passes along through his book is truly priceless.  What I really appreciated was that he does not talk down to the reader.  He basically says that he, as a physician, didn’t have a clue about any of this stuff either, but gradually came to his conclusions through a great deal of experience that he is eager to share.

Additionally, the book is extremely well written and structured.  That prose of this high quality could be written by a physician is a bit beyond belief, so I will surmise that he had an outstanding editor.  There are many authors out there whose primary livelihood is writing who don’t come even close to writing the way this book is written.

In reading the book one naturally refers to the deaths of close family members.  In my case, I constantly thought of my father who died of prostate cancer after dealing with the disease for many years.  I thought of all the decisions we made for him and the decisions we left for him and I found myself asking what we did right and what we could have done better.  I was pleased that the book reinforced some of the actions we took but it also gave me a lot of insight as to what my perceptions would have been had I been in the same situation.

I have found that, after reading this book, I am constantly recommending it to many of my friends and family members.  In fact, for my family, I am going to suggest that it be required reading for the guidance it might provide them as to how I would like to be treated if and when I am in that same situation.5 stars

The Lowland

by Jhumpa Lahari, Audiobook read by Sunil Maholtra, 2013,

This is a story about two brothers who grew up in India and the very different paths that they took in their lives.  The book attempts to tie the directions that each took to the lives of their family members, but, unfortunately, in my opinion, fails in that endeavor.  The two brothers seem so different that it is hard to reconcile their two different fates.  Also, as a warning, the book just seems to end with no resolution and without imparting any real message.

I also didn’t quite get attached to any of the characters.  They seemed to be somewhat real, but the author didn’t really provide anything that I really could grab onto.

The plot was interesting at times and I learned a lot about the politics and recent history of India that I didn’t know.  The passages referring to Rhode Island were very relevant to me as I spend five months of each year precisely in the area where the novel takes place.  Most of those passages, however, were somewhat boring as the characters seemed to plod from day to day with nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy happening.  I sometimes dreaded continuing to listen.

The references to German philosophy in some of the passages seemed shallow and actually got to the point of name dropping.  They seemed to detract from the story.

The reader did a nice job.  The accents were appropriate as was the tone.

All-in-all, it was interesting about some individuals who came to America and settled in areas that I am very familiar with, but the book certainly didn’t light my fire.2 1/2 stars

Crazy Horse, A Lakota Life

by Kingsley M. Bray, 2006, Volume 254 of the Civilization of the American Indian Series, The University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK

I purchased this book at the Custer Battlefield at Little Bighorn just before leaving.  As I glanced through the book I suspected that it would be a bit of a chore to get through; I was right about that.

I didn’t really know much about the life of Crazy Horse, however, and I was interested in finding out more.  This book filled the bill in that respect and a lot more.  It was extremely well researched and fairly well written, but the level of detail sometimes got in the way of just plain enjoying it.  The plethora of the names of various Indian individuals and subgroups, as well as the geography, made it very difficult to keep track of what was actually happening.  I sometimes felt like crying out for Ken Burns to provide me some visual orientation.  At the very least, an appendix depicting the various tribes and subtribes along with their leaders would have been very helpful.

It appears that the author has a tremendous respect for the culture and practices of the Lakota Indians and I felt that respect come through strongly in this book.  I think he dealt with the character and actions of Crazy Horse and his contemporaries in a fair and even handed manner.  In the end, however, I’m still not sure whether Crazy Horse over all made things better or worse for his people. 3 1/2 stars

An Irish Country Girl

by Patrick Taylor, Audiobook read by Terry Donnelly, 2010, Midwest Tape, LLC, Holland, OH

This book started out pretty well with an Irish ghost story but the second part, which was consisted of the narrator’s life, was a bit dull.  The audiobook did, however, help pass some time on a long road trip vacation.2 stars

Washington Square

by Henry James, originally published in 1880 as a magazine serial, Audiobook read by Lorna Raver, 2008, Tantor Media, Inc.

This is a novel about a young girl living in New York City about 1830 and her affair with an unworthy suitor.  The novel itself is a bit dull but the reading by Lorna Raver is well done.  Her portrayal of Catherine’s aunt as a nosy busybody is superb!

I was hoping that the novel would give a little bit more insight into New York’s culture and society in those times, but the novel was so focused on Catherine and her relationships with her father, her aunt, and her suitor that it didn’t leave much opportunity to dwell on other aspects of life in New York at those times.

I think the novel would have been a bit dull to read, but I really enjoyed the audiobook.4 stars

The Private Patient

by P.D. James Unabridged CD Audiobook (An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery) Audio CD, 2008, read by Rosalyn Landor

This book is a murder mystery about some murders that take place at an estate that has been converted to a plastic surgery clinic.  It is beautifully written but that might be it’s major flaw.  P.D. James tends to be overly wordy in this novel and, while the prose is very well done and the characters are convincing, the plot is thin and the book suffers as it plods along.  There are absolutely no twists or turns as it goes from beginning to end.  Additionally, the reader has a very nice voice and does the characters well, but her voice is soft and soporific which also takes away from any excitement that a murder mystery should generate.  I have rated it a bit higher than it probably deserves because of James’ good writing, but, for a murder mystery, this is a not very suspenseful. 3 stars