Money trails and meyhem

Chasing the Dollar (Unabridged)

Author: Ellie Ashe Date: 2015 Narrator: Teri Schnaubelt Provider: Ellie Ashe Running Time: 7 h 23 min Audible Enhanced Audio Miranda Vaughn has spent the last year and a half fighting for her freedom. Arrested for a fraud scheme involving her supervisors, she’s lost her job at a prestigious investment firm, her fiancé, and her reputation. She walks out of the courtroom a free woman, only to find that life has a few more curve balls to throw her way. The jury may have found her not guilty, but Miranda is broke, in debt to her beloved aunt, and can’t find a job because of the cloud of suspicion still swirling around her. She’s not going to be able to move forward with her life until she finds out who set her up. Buried in the evidence against her, Miranda finds a larger scheme, one involving far more money than the $37 million her boss fleeced from unsuspecting investors. Determined to uncover the truth, Miranda begins her own investigation – leading her to Macau and Belize, and into the arms of one sexy FBI agent, who may or may not prove to be trustworthy. When the danger heats up, Miranda finds herself in a race against time to find the person behind it all. Before he finds her….

 

One of the things that made this book interesting for me (and there were several such things), was the premise that a “not guilty” verdict isn’t, necessarily, the end of the story.  I know that, if I think about such things, I think about the positive reactions of the accused, the celebrations, and then …well, life continues.  Life does, and the accused soon finds out that the “jury” of public opinion may be very different, and that the accused has lost reputation, and, perhaps, employability in his/her preferred field.  This is especially true, of course, when large sums of money are involved, as in this book, and this is exactly the situation in which the heroine finds herself. 

 

I am not especially fond of reading about financial matters, but this author made them interesting and even comprehensible, and, to my surprise, I got caught up in following the money trail with the characters in this book.  The writing was very good, too, and the plot was just on the right side of believability.  I did sometimes think that the heroine was a bit too capable, given the information we have concerning her skills and background, but again, the author knew just how far she could push that particular envelope, and she got away with it, rather nicely.

 

The characters were nicely drawn, too, and even if everyone who should have been trustworthy turned out emphatically not to be so, again, the author made it work.  The light romance was well done, too, and even credible, given the situation, and I ended the book hoping that these 2 very decent people would happily finish what they tried not to start.

 

The narration was extremely well done.  The phrasing, shaping, expression and character differentiation were spot on.  This is an excellent beach read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, sadly, sans beach.  I give both book and narrator 4 out of 5 stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast dot com.

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Extraordinary journey, fascinating life

Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (Unabridged)

Author: Robin Varnum Date: 2015 Narrator: Charles Henderson Norman Provider: University Press Audiobooks Running Time: 12 h 43 min Audible Enhanced Audio In November 1528, almost a century before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the remnants of a Spanish expedition reached the Gulf Coast of Texas. By July 1536, eight years later, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (c. 1490 – 1559) and three other survivors had walked 2,500 miles from Texas, across northern Mexico, to Sonora and ultimately to Mexico City. Cabeza de Vaca’s account of this astonishing journey is now recognized as one of the great travel stories of all time and a touchstone of New World literature. But his career did not begin and end with his North American ordeal. Robin Varnum’s biography, the first single-volume, cradle-to-grave account of the explorer’s life in 80 years, tells the rest of the story. During Cabeza de Vaca’s peregrinations through the American Southwest, he lived among and interacted with various Indian groups. When he and his non-Indian companions finally reconnected with Spaniards in northern Mexico, he was horrified to learn that his compatriots were enslaving Indians there. In Río de La Plata he tried to keep his men from robbing the Indians, enslaving them, or exploiting them sexually – policies that caused grumbling among the troops. When Cabeza de Vaca’s men mutinied, he was sent back to Spain in chains to stand trial before the Royal Council of the Indies.

While this is not, technically an academic work of history, at least not in this incarnation, it is a very excellent popular history of events not often covered in most American history courses.  We usually think of settlements in the New World in terms of the British, French and Dutch in North America, and although the Spanish settled in Florida and California (and other areas of the Southwest) we tend to think of them in terms, primarily of Central and South American exploration.  However, this book is the story of an explorer who was the first European to see much of areas in the South and Southwest, and of his establishment of some settlements that predated Plymouth and even Jamestown.  It is a story filled with adventure, hardships, and, ultimately diplomacy (between Spanish and Native Americans, between different groups of Native Americans, and ultimately between New World officials and the Monarchy of Spain.  The author’s presentation is colorful and interesting, and despite the length and denseness of this book, it makes for fascinating reading, if the reader, as do I, enjoys history.  In some respects this is a very dramatic tale, and some of the heroes are extremely unlikely, since they were, at heart, bureaucrats who would have been far more comfortable in a Provincial office, reading reports rather than wandering, (often with no idea where they were, or how to get to their intended destinations) around in often extremely hostile territory.  The main hero, from whose documentation much of this story is taken, found himself lost in completely unexplored territory, having to survive against sometimes overwhelming odds, and having to both protect his men and develop at least working cordial relations with various groups of Native Americans, of whose language, history, customs and beliefs he was entirely ignorant.  That he did so and found his way back to his own people after 9 years of wandering was a real feat ..and then, he had to fight for his life, his freedom and his reputation.

 

The writing is factual but colorful and accessible, and the narrator was professional, and completely comfortable with Spanish words and names, of which there were many.  I, personally, found his reading speed a touch too fast, because this is a complex book, and can’t really be skimmed successfully.

 

This is the 3rd book I’ve read from University Audiobooks, and just as I enjoyed the first 2, I also enjoyed this.  It is well written, well narrated, and obviously well researched, and I suspect, well documented, although the Audible book does not contain notes or bibliographies.  Still, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone interested in history or sociology.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast dot com.

Ancient murder, modern motives

The murder of Tutankhamen: a true story DB 47024

Brier, Bob. Reading time 10 hours, 54 minutes. Read by Bob Kuhn. A production of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress. Subjects: World History and Affairs Description: Combining modern forensic technological evidence with historical facts, Brier proposes that the eighteen-year-old pharaoh was murdered. He supports his theory by detailing circumstantial evidence gleaned from reviewing Tutankhamen’s remains and Brier’s studies of the interaction of society and religion with the role of rulers in Ancient Egypt.

  • ISBN: 0399143831, New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, c1998.,
  • Shoshana
  • The narrator is excellent, and enhances the written material beautifully.
  • Like most nonfiction histories, this is not a fast or easy read, and occasionally it drags just a bit, (or perhaps it delves into areas of less interest to me), but it is, overall, a very interesting and informative book.
  • First, don’t read this book expecting a straightforward mystery.  There are murders (possibly more than 1) and the author makes a good case for his theories as to what happened, and presents both the prosecution and defense for his ideas.  But this book is far, far, more.  It is a survey of ancient Egyptian history, focusing on the 18th and 19th dynasties, and it is also a survey of Egyptian politics, military strategy and religion.  In addition, the book also tells the fascinating story of the discovery of, and exploration of, King tut’s tomb, and tells why this tomb, especially is so special and unique.

Bella Italia, with a bit of blood

Italy to Die For: From the Savino Sisters Mystery Series (Unabridged)

Author: Loretta Giacoletto Date: 2015 Narrator: Susan Fouche Provider: Loretta Giacoletto Running Time: 8 h 35 min Audible Enhanced Audio From The Savino Sisters Mystery Series. Too much togetherness spells disaster for these thirty-something sisters vacationing in Italy. When glamorous Margo opts for a steamy romance in Florence, “plain Jane” Ellen travels alone to their next destination, a charming hillside villa at La Spezia. The owner Lorenz, a mysterious widower, insists on showing Ellen around Cinque Terre, five picturesque villages overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Ellen is determined to experience the local culture but instead encounters intrigue in Monterosso el Mare where gypsies are turning up dead faster than Lorenzo can show her the sights. Then Margo arrives, and soon discovers her own life is in danger.

This light, frothy romantic cozy mystery is as much fun as a vacation in Italy.  The writer has captured the delightful ambiance of the Ligurian Coast, and has created a setting that appeals to all of our senses in charming ways.  The mystery elements tease the reader, and the fun of this book is not as much in the resolution as in the clue by clue unraveling of the puzzle.  Alongside the main mystery are a few others, like why are the 2 main characters being threatened and by who?  This isn’t a serious book, by any stretch, but, as escape literature, it provides enough charm and fun to make it well worth the reading, and can function nicely as a mental palate cleanser after a more dense and serious book.  The writing is very good, sometimes direct, sometimes dramatic, and sometimes vividly descriptive, demonstrating the author’s stylistic capabilities to excellent effect.

 

In addition, the character building here is excellent.  Each character is unique and interesting, and all of them are believable.  They act in ways the reader would expect from the information either provided directly or implied (from what they say, among other techniques), and each character adds something to the story as a whole.

 

I cannot fault the narrator’s professionalism, either.  She is able to give each character his or her own “voice”, including the rather delicate task of differentiating 2 sisters of similar ages and backgrounds.  This becomes very important, because the story is told in alternating chapters, each narrated by one of the sisters.  One can tell who is narrating at any given time, just from the tone of voice, and certain speech mannerisms the narrator uses.  In addition, the narrator is obviously more than a little familiar with Italian pronunciation, so her presentation of Italian words and of accented English is impeccable.   True, her gypsies aren’t quite as natural or believable, but she still manages to make them unique from the other characters and from each other. 

 

I did find the narration sometimes a little overdramatic, and the narrators voice a bit too light and sweet for my taste, but that is a personal preference, and has nothing at all to do with her capabilities.

 

I give both book and narrator 4 stars, and recommend this lovely little “vacation” to anyone needing to walk on the lighter side of life for a little while.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from audioBookBlast dot com. 

Brilliant Speculative history, what if …

The Twilight Patriots (Unabridged)

Author: Charles D. Taylor Date: 2015 Narrator: Kevin Pierce Provider: Crossroad Press Running Time: 11 h 39 min Audible Enhanced Audio Admiral Theodore Magnuson, director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, didn’t like the idea of sending the Seventh Fleet to Vladivostok for a New Year’s celebration with the Russians. The president didn’t give a damn what Magnuson thought, however; he was after détente. Fearing the worst, Magnuson decides to run his own intelligence mission, sending men into Russia and China. The admiral is certain the US visit to the usually closed Soviet port is a cover for something. Something big. The Chinese are faced with a similar problem – and a big question. Why is a combined US-Soviet fleet steaming into the East China Sea?

 

Before I begin, let me say up front that this may well be one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while.  It is neither a fast, nor an easy read.  In fact it is as complicated as one of those 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, and the author puts that puzzle together in a meticulous, understated way.  This is a story of strategy, military, political and intelligence gathering, and each move sets off several moves in several other places and motivates a large cast of characters to act or react, which set off other moves, and more pieces of our puzzle fall quietly into place.

 

Several things add to the excellence of this book.  First, of course, is, and must be, the writing, which is incisive, often eloquent, and very occasionally, lyrical.  The use of language is brilliant, and the storytelling is truly amazing, especially considering that this is a tale that involves 3 (well, indirectly 4) powerful countries, each with its own set of important actors, and over 50 years of history.  While this isn’t one of those fast paced, hold your breath thrillers, each event builds to a climax that contains enough action to satisfy the most particular adrenalin junkies.  There is violence, and its impact is even greater because it is handled in such a matter of fact manner. 

 

For such a large cast of major characters, the character building is close to incredible.  Each person is unique, and each character has a definite purpose for being in the book, playing the role he or she is playing.  This, BTW, is as true of the minor characters as it is of the major characters. 

 

The author pulls no punches about the sometimes dubious morality of the field of intelligence gathering, or of the choices those in charge of intelligence services must make; choices that seem to casually sacrifice individuals for the sake of crucial knowledge.  In fact, in some ways, this book reminded me of the writing of John Le Carre, in its brilliance, understanding of the ways in which Governments work, worldwide, and in its understanding of, and compassion for, human motivations.  This author makes excellent use of “amateur” intelligence operatives, giving them just enough military background to make them plausible, but keeping them psychologically and emotionally separate from professionals.

 

The story is, in some ways, alternative, or perhaps speculative history, since it posits events that could have, but thankfully, did not occur.  But the fact that they *could* have at a time when most of the world was in a state of flux gives this a deeper, and perhaps the most chilling of all, thriller aspect.

 

The narrator was perfect, too.  He never attempted to reproduce foreign accents, because there would have been too many of them, and they would have ended up confusing the reader.  Rather, he used very subtle phrasing and emphasis to delineate whether the speaker was American, Chinese or Russian, and he did it so well that it worked beautifully.  This was not the kind of book one couldn’t put down, in fact, I had to do so several times, if only to absorb what I had read, and study the partially constructed puzzle in order to understand what I was seeing in my mind.

 

I can only give both book and narrator 5 stars, though I wish I could give several more, and recommend this book highly to anyone interested in history (alternate and actual), military history and procedures, diplomacy, or the world of intelligence.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from audioBookBlast dot com.

 

A town besieged, death on the prowl

Roulette (Unabridged)

Author: Don Pendleton, Linda Pendleton Date: 2014 Narrator: Johnny Peppers Provider: Linda Pendleton Running Time: 6 h 11 min Audible Enhanced Audio Police Detective Rebecca Storme, and her husband, veteran Detective Sergeant Peter Storme, both married more to the badge than each other, have inevitable conflict within their marriage, and their careers are put to the test when a psychopathic killer invades their peaceful Southern California community and turns it into a hotbed of fear and outrage. Rebecca Storme, the only woman in the detective bureau, and the sole member of the Sex Crimes Unit, finds that the Sunrise Killer will not only challenge her career, her marriage, but her very life. Her husband, Detective Sergeant Storme, has been caught up in the infighting of the police department and city management, and is drawn deeper into his career battles and challenges as the Sunrise Killer makes his appearance in their city. As the Sunrise Killer increases his maniacal assault on the innocent women and children of San Remo, his reach goes far beyond his actual victims and their families. The lives of those dedicated to preserving peace within the city are challenged to the limits, both in their personal lives and in their professional careers. This award-winning story is fast-moving, often riveting, often disturbing, as the cops are repeatedly challenged by a serial killer who has them all in his tight grip. Will the cops be able to break his grip and stop his horrific killings?

 

This book competently tells 2 stories that are, by their natures, incompatible.  First, it is the story of a manhunt for a vicious, organized and intelligent killer.  The 2nd story is of a marriage in trouble, and of how the couple deals with their issues under pressure.  Things are complicated because, flying in the face of established police department policy, the couple find themselves on the same task force, hunting the same killer.

 

The intertwining of these stories is so close to successful that it is difficult to define why, for me, it didn’t quite work.  Perhaps it was a matter of timing or event placement …events from one story line occasionally distracted from the other, and interfered with the established tension in one important area to draw attention to another.  Despite this, this is, essentially, a well written book, and a well told story.  It is meticulously detailed, and gives insight into how such task forces work, and what peripheral pressures they must deal with when racing against time to end the career of a serial killer.  In this area, the author excels.  We fully understand all the forces at play, and all the distractions created by having not just their own task force, but a Police Department from another State *and* the FBI to deal with and cooperate with.

 

I will admit I didn’t figure out who the killer was until almost the end of the book, although, thinking back, I always felt that person wasn’t quite …right, somehow.  I put it down to awkward character development, but it wasn’t at all.  In fact, the author developed *that* character very carefully, indeed.

 

His other characterizations were good, too, if a bit simplistic.  I could see each of them clearly in my mind, understand their motivations, and identify with them.  The writing style was appropriate for the material, too.  It is direct and straightforward, although occasionally I felt that the married couple agonized a bit too much.  Still, that was a minor issue, and others might not agree.

 

The narration was competent, as well, although I noticed more than one mispronunciation, which the editors should have caught.  And one phrase, which, had it been my book, would have sent me looking for a new editor!  I understood how it crept in, because it is one of those ubiquitous clichés that are so apt they spill out of the mind and on to the page almost instinctively.  But “it was a dark and stormy night????”  I read that, rewound, and read it again just to be sure, then had to stop the book to laugh out loud.  As it happens, it did describe the weather at the time, but that phrase has become weighted with so much critical baggage it should never appear in a serious book!

 

Even so, this is a book well worth reading, so I can give it, and the narrator both 3.9 stars. My issues with it are minor, true, but even minor issues, especially when they include less than excellent editing, mount up.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast dot com.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Sword Princess (Unabridged)

Author: Suzette Hollingsworth Date: 2015 Narrator: Joel Froomkin Provider: Suzette Hollingsworth Running Time: 7 h 51 min Audible Enhanced Audio Victorian romantic Mystery in the humorous vein of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. The Great Detective has more in store for his landlady’s niece than washing jars and labeling specimens: pistol shooting, fencing, boxing, and Jiu-Jitsu. This she can master, but Mirabella Hudson must face the greatest horror of all: Miss de Beauvais’ Finishing School for Distinguished Young Ladies. Sherlock Holmes gets more than he bargained for when he hires his landlady’s young ward to keep his laboratory in order. Mrs. Hudson’s niece might be clever, but Mirabella Hudson is insubordinate, talks too much, is an accident waiting to happen–and, worst of all, is distractingly pretty. Unfortunately, ‘pretty’ is just what Sherlock Holmes needs. Sherlock might be a master of disguise, but pretty he is not. The Great Detective requires a female operative to go under cover at London’s premier finishing school where Princess Elena Petrovic-Njegos of Montenegro is a client–and the target of an assassination plot. If the inexperienced Miss Hudson and her employer do not succeed in saving the princess, there is trouble brewing across the globe that could potentially lead to war on a massive scale. Montenegro is a small Serbian country, but she has among her allies the Mother Russia. One unsuccessful case could ruin this young detective’s career before it starts. Above all, Sherlock must have occupation. Work is the blood in his veins. Work is life. The game is afoot! And there can be no greater puzzle than what he receives in the form of one Mirabella Hudson–who might stump even Sherlock Holmes.

 

I approached this book with more than a little trepidation, because, for most of my life, I have been a unabashed Holmsian.  I’ve read the Canon, and I’ve read many modern interpretations and redesigns of Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson.  A few, such as the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King are excellent, true to the original conception of Holmes, and yet original in their handling of not just his character, but in the creation of, and management of, a most unlikely situation.  In fact, for me, the Mary Russell series is the “gold standard” of modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes.  Other books, such as “7% Solution” were extremely disappointing.  Sherlock Holmes is, however, and probably always will be, one of those iconic figures all authors who write mysteries yearn to revisit, either from admiration or because they want to “improve” modernize or reinterpret him.  Some attempts are serious, some are pastiche, but I will probably read all of them I can find, because, after all, it *is* Mr. Holmes.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite that it contained all the elements I dislike in revisitations of the Holmes Universe.  Mr. Holmes traits are emphasized in ways that make him into a caricature  of himself,.  True, he was not overly concerned with his appearance (except when essential) but he wasn’t sloppy about anything, ever.  Also, Mr. Holmes had fair hair and piercing gray eyes, not brown hair and eyes.  While his relationship with women has always been a challenge to modern interpreters, that relationship was a reflection of the attitudes of his own time (extremized, certainly), and so modern writers seem determined to either explain it away by making Holmes either neurotic and psychologically flawed, or simply change it by giving him an attraction.  That seldom works, and I didn’t expect it to in this book, but …it did.  Perhaps it worked because the young lady in question was atypical herself, though beautiful, and the author prepares the ground well.  These 2 individuals are attracted to one another on one hand, and repelled on the other, and end up fighting like 2 cats confined in one very small space.  Sparks fly, but each brings out the best in the other, and each virtually forces the other to consider different perspectives that result in success.

 

Despite the overblown and almost cartoonish elements of this book, it is a fun romp, and if taken as such, a delightful romp, indeed.  Is it true to what we have come to know about Sherlock Holmes? Despite some surface changes, exaggerations and departures (such as his physical appearance) from the original, yes, essentially, it is.  This author catches the heart of Holmes’ personality and methodology, and he understands something usually overlooked in portrayals of the Detective.  Despite Mr. Holmes’ anathemas against women, he showed, throughout his career, flashes of understanding and compassion.  This is more visible in Sir Conan Doyle’s later stories, for example “The Veiled Woman”, but even in one of his earlier stories, called, I think, “The Face at the Window” Holmes not only showed compassion for a wife with a secret, but became her advocate.  This was also one of the few riddles he did not solve successfully, and he understood that this particular failure was a reminder to himself that being human, he was also imperfect, and subject to his own prejudices and errors of judgment.

 

The action in this book is well done, if a bit overblown, and often comes across like “super hero” comic book fiction, not helped by the comic book elements in the text and emphasized by the narration, and yet, this book can’t quite be dismissed as a pastiche, because beneath the silliness and even sometimes in spite of it, the author has a keen eye for detail, for the portrayal of social and cultural environments, and an understanding of human nature.

 

Granted, I found a thoroughly English child of the 1880s referring to the giver of Christmas gifts as “Santa” jarring, since “Father Christmas” is a well known designation for British culture, but in the important things, such as workhouse conditions, and the state of charity at the time, what the author provided rang true.

 

I vacillated between wanting to give this book anywhere from 2 to 5 stars, depending on what I was reading at the moment, but, after sitting back and considering it as a whole, I have to decide that, while not to be taken seriously, taken on its own merits, it is a lot of fun, so I can, without many reservations, give it 4 stars.

 

The narrator’s performance complimented the book nicely, and he seemed to have grand fun narrating it, so for that alone, my compliments, and 4 stars. 

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review via AudioBookBlast dot com.