Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

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Barbara Kingsolver tells us a story built on important and interesting themes, supported by small but revealing details, more complete because they give the reader more to grab on to. Her voice in this novel is like a hymn and a celebration of nature.

Deep into southern Appalachia, farms struggle, people are poor, and nature continues its cycles. Coyotes have come back, some fear them but Deana Wolfe, a wildlife biologist, rejoices. Eddie Bondo is a hunter who comes into Deana’s isolated life where she is working for the forest service and living in an isolated mountain cabin.

The novel starts out in chapter 1 on predators saying: “Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits but solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.”

Deanna and Eddie’s story is one of three winding a path together in and around a small town.  Lusa  Landowski is a newly married city girl turned farmer's wife who becomes attached to the land and finds her education studing of all types of bugs of practical relevance.  After losing her new husband to an accident, her role as an outsider is a life saver to her husbands’ and now her new family.  Close by down the road are two older neighbors who fight over trees, bugs, pesticides and the world.  Garnett loves Chestnut trees and is trying to clone a new breed. Mrs. Walker lives next door and is trying to grow a healthy garden despite Garnett’s pesticides.

As the events unfold, we are moved with how we see the countryside before us in the details.  Trees, flora, fauna, predators, and  immense beauty come together all completing the adventure.

This author is a master of detail using an original approach to bring us closer to her characters to the point that we feel we have experienced a life changing event. An original approach to the narrative beautifully presented by Barbara Kingsolver.

Quotes

“Solitude is a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot, a tug of impalpable thread on the web pulling mate to mate and predator to prey, a beginning or an end. Every choice is a world made new for the chosen.” 

“How pointless life could be, what a foolish business of inventing things to love, just so you could dread losing them.” 

“If you never stepped on anybody's toes, you never been for a walk.” 

“I lost a child," she said, meeting Lusa's eyes directly. "I thought I wouldn't live through it. But you do. You learn to love the place somebody leaves behind for you.” 

 

Saving Faith by David Baldacci

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Faith Lockhart has been working with lobbyist Danny Buchanan to help poor children in countries around the world. Buchanan’s lifetime of lobby efforts lead him to find ways to pay off members of Congress to fund his efforts. Lockhart believes in the cause and in Buchanan and is a full partner in the plan.

Robert Thornhill, a Deputy Director in the Central Intelligence Agency, finds out about what Buchanan has done and sees it as a way to regain congressional support. With a renegade CIA faction, he attempts to reassert the agency's dominance over the FBI by manipulating members of Congress who fund both outfits. The plan to take over the bribery scheme but they must get Buchanan out of the way.

First, however, they'll have to kill the FBI person guarding Faith.  Buchanan has hired Lee Adams a private investigator to see what Faith is doing. Adams gets more involved that he expected when an attempt to kill Faith is blocked through his efforts and he winds up on her side. Faith is on the run from the FBI, the CIA and her boss, Danny Buchanan and she at first isn’t sure about Adams.

The plot twists and turns and we are left waiting to the end to see if Faith is Saved.

David Baldacci

His first novel, Absolute Power, was published in 1996, it tells the story of a fictional American president and his Secret Service agents who are willing to commit murder in order to cover up the accidental death of a woman with whom the President was having an affair. He was born August 5, 1960. To date he has published 36 best-selling novels 

Quotes

“were rabid, foaming bats blindly cleaving the air around his head. And it seemed that every few steps he would run straight into a twister of mosquitoes. Though he had been paid a large amount of cash up front, he was seriously considering increasing his daily fee on this one.” 

“And when they were elected, they arrived in Washington with absolutely no idea what to do. Their only goal had already been achieved: They had won their campaign. However,”

“People who believe themselves to be True patriots tend to be zealots. Zealots, in my opinion are one short step from being lunatics

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The Visitor, A Jack Reacher Thriller, by Lee Child

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The story is about the power to kill people saying: “People say that knowledge is power. The more knowledge the more power,” suggesting that if you have the knowledge to kill and get away from it you are powerful.

Found dead in their own bathtubs covered in army issue green paint, someone is killing ex-military female personal who have left the army after winning sexual harassment charges.

Jack Reacher is forced by the FBI to help capture a serial killer whose profile matches Reacher's. They frame him after he helped a business being pressured for protection money. The FBI find themselves is looking for a killer who managed to kill the women in their own homes. The cause of death is unclear.

This is book #4 in the Reacher series and as expected he works with a good-looking helper in seeking out the bad guys.

At the end were surprised with the outcome. The plot is enjoyable and holds your interest to the end. I have read all of the books in this series becoming hooked on them as I reviewed them.

Quotes

  • “He had fallen out of the ugly tree, and hit every branch.” ...

  • “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” ...

  • “The third guy was different. ...

  • “The first day of the rest of my life.” ...

  • “No one expects a head butt. ...

  • “The best fights are the ones you don't have,”

The Enemy, A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

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It is the first of 1990 and the Berlin Wall has come down. On New Year’s Eve a General and three subordinates arrive in Washington DC on their way to from Germany to Fort Irwin California, but they stop off overnight. The General travels 289 miles south to check into a seedy motel to have sex where he is later found dead.

Military Police Major Jack Reacher from the nearby North Carolina Army base comes to investigate and the scene leads him to investigate a strip joint across the street.  He winds up beating up the owner but doesn’t find any answers.  Later, back at the base, Reacher gets another call: the general’s wife has been brutally killed during an apparent burglary of their Virginia home. Reacher teams up with Lieutenant Summer, an attractive black female MP, and they go to investigate.

Next a body of Special Forces soldier whom Reacher saw at the strip joint is found naked, dead and mutilated near the base. It turns out to be the same soldier who signed a complaint against Reacher about the fight at the club. The Special Forces think Reacher did it and plan to kill him.

With all this activity going on Reacher and his brother Joe go to Paris to visit their dying mother. More dead bodies show up. With Reacher out of the country the base commander issues a warrant for Reacher’s arrest.

With the Berlin Wall coming down the Army sees changes coming, with what seems to be the end to the Cold War the Army is facing a massive restructuring of purpose and personnel. It seems that Reacher’s reassignment to the North Carolina base and the new base commander may be connected to these changes and Reacher wonders if the death of the two-star general and the others may be too.

Child’s “The Enemy” weaves it story well. It gives us some insight in to Reacher as we learn more about his mother’s life.

The 8th book in the Jack Reacher Series. See more about those books and about Lee Child at BJ’s Favorite Authors. Click here

Quotes

“The Reacher brothers' need for caffeine makes heroin addiction look like an amusing little take-it-or-leave-it sideline.” 


“Everybody has a choice in life.”

 “This was like July 13th, 1943, the pivotal day of the Battle of the Kursk. We were like Alexander Vasilevsky, the Soviet general. If we attacked now, this minute, we had to keep on and on attacking until the enemy was run off his feet and the war was won. If we bogged down or paused for breath even for a second, we would be overrun again.” 

Put A Cherry On Top, The Secrets of Creating An Artful Life, by Ben Buhunin

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Amazon said about Ben Behunin’s book, “Put a Cherry on Top, The Secrets of Creating an Artful Life” , that “This book will encourage you to return to the place in your own life where you lived without fear and believed you were an artist.” The message of the book seems to be that we have the power within us to change the world around us and that we can change whatever we do into a work of art.

The cover and inside left-hand pages tell us this is a coloring book, and some may color in it, but most of us likely will just enjoy the quotes an art work.

About one forth of the book is a memoir telling us about Behunin’s story of becoming a potter and then a writer. It begins with his first year of high school, his service for his church in Germany and return to work there in a pottery shop. We learn of his marriage and how he made a living as a potter and then was drawn into writing.

My wife brought home a copy of this book from her “women only” book club. She told me about Ben’s life story which he had presented at the monthly club meeting.  Ben quickly adds converts to his skills in pottery and writing. A local radio show in Salt Lake City heard about him from a lady in San Diego who had learned of his work at her own book club.  

A very inspiring book.

Ben Buhunin Quotes

“There is more to a boy than what his mother sees. There is more to a boy then what his father dreams. Inside every boy lies a heart that beats. And sometimes it screams, refusing to take defeat. And sometimes his father's dreams aren't big enough, and sometimes his mother's vision isn't long enough. And sometimes the boy has to dream his own dreams and break through the clouds with his own sunbeams.” 

“We have to bloom where we are planted, enjoy the sunlight while we can, and thank the heavens for the rain that not only beats us down, but feeds us and makes us stronger.” 


― Ben Behunin, Remembering Isaac: The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp

The Hard Way, A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

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Lee Child's 10th novel, The Hard Way, begins with Reacher arriving at a New York café and ordering from the sidewalk table. “Espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china, and before it arrived at his table, he saw a man’s life change forever. Not that the waiter was slow. Just that the move was slick.”

The book starts right out in true form presenting Reacher’s amazing command of the tiniest details and observations.

What he sees soon leads him to ex-army officer Edward Lane and six Special Forces veterans who enlist him to track down Lanes’ kidnapped daughter and wife. Lane’s prior wife was also kidnapped and then killed 5 years before, so he has no intention of calling in the FBI this time.

Lane's lives and seems to be headquartered with his little private army in the well-known Dakota apartment close by to the shady sections of SoHo, Greenwich Village, and other challenging areas near enough by to make them vulnerable. 

As Reacher works to help Lane find the kidnappers, he learns of some chilling details of Lane’s past which reveal a horrible drama in a long forgotten nasty little war.

Childs amazing plotting skills twist and turn, bad guys become good guys and  the story ends with a standoff in a tiny little English farm in the country.  A trail of blood and gore mark this thriller.  

Quotes

“You think you've been in deep shit before, and then you realise you have absolutely no conception of how deep shit can really be.” 

“I’m not much to talk about. What you see is what you get.” 


“He liked the electric darkness and the hot dirty air and the blasts of noise and traffic and the manic barking sirens and the crush of people. It helped a lonely man feel connected and isolated both at the same time.” 

“Special Forces guys were usually small. They were usually lean, fast, and whippy. Built for endurance and stamina and full of smarts and cunning. Like foxes, not like bears.” 

See BJ’s Favorite Authors Section for all Lee Child Books and Reviews Click Here

The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man, by Jonas Jonasson

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“The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man”, by Jonas Jonasson, is a sequel that is even funnier the original book, “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” It helps to have read the first book because the humor registers with you right off.

Allan and Julius are living on Bali, surviving by using a bag of money from the original book, but they have run out and owe the resort where they have been staying at a lot of money.  They have chartered a ride in a hot air balloon, have three bottles of champagne and are waiting for the crew, when the balloon takes off without the crew.  After some spectacular views the balloon runs out of fuel and they are floating in a basket in the ocean when they are rescued by a ship returning to North Korea. The captain of the ship doesn’t know whether to toss them overboard or give them his assistants cabin to stay in, but he winds up taking them to North Korea.

The captain has a suitcase with nine pounds of enriched uranium that they picked up in Africa and are taking it to be used in the nuclear weapons program for Kim Jong-un. Allan and Julius wind up face to face with Kim Jong-un.

The trip turns into an international crisis involving world figures from the Swedish foreign minister to Angela Merkel and President Trump.

The events and of course our 101-year-old hero, Allan, are entertaining and funny. An enjoyable book.

https://connectedeventsmatter.com/blog/2017/8/18/the-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared
 

Hold Still , A Memoir with Photographs, by Sally Mann

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Sally Mann brings us her memoir through the viewfinder and lens of her camera, handwritten journals, the sequential events of ancestors and things found in old boxes. The views are from different perspectives but coming together they bring a unique approach of narrative and image to memoir.

Mann’s focus is on family, race, mortality, and the landscape of the American South. She retells the stories of her ancestors presenting personalities and events of interest but also searching for DNA explanations for her own characteristics.

The yellowed photographs she finds by sorting through boxes of family papers seem to be made to be presented with her own black and white photos that she developed herself. Pictures of a variety of drawings and report cards blend into the photo theme that she has woven into her personal history.

The chapters seem like mini books. Several were about the lives of her children growing up portraying their domestic routines and showing how those routines changed their lives. The pictures in these chapters were ones where she recorded much of those lives in scenes where no clothing was present and which Sally Mann, as a well known photographer, has had much written and said about them over the years. The memoir in these chapters gave her a platform to discuss her perspective on art.

The comment on the back cover that “In this extraordinary memoir, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Sally Mann’s abiding concerns………..are revealed”, is not just a introduction but sums up how you may feel when you finish this different and interesting memoir.

Quotes

“I believe that photographs actually rob all of us of our memory.” 

“You lost the remembrance of pain through inflicting it.” 

“The proverbial hospitality of the South may be selectively extended but it is not a myth.” 

“Part of the artist's job is to make the commonplace singular, to project a different interpretation onto the conventional.”

  “But like a high-strung racehorse who needs extra weight in her saddle pad, I like a handicap and relish the aesthetic challenge posed by the limitations of the ordinary.” 

 

Total Control, by David Baldacci

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Triton Global, already the world's leading technology conglomerate, wants to acquire CyberCom in a deal that will change the internet and the world for the future. Nathan Gamble is the very wealthy powerful head of this company. Jason Archer is a rising star in Triton, but he has been working on the side to uncover something important. It was assumed he was on a plane that went down where everyone was killed including the head of the Federal Reserve.

Sidney Archer works for the law firm that represents Triton and is deeply involved in the attempted purchase of Triton. Sidney and Jason love each other, and they have a young daughter they adore, but everything changes when it seems Jason has gone down in the plane crash.

An air-crash investigation team wants to know why the plane Jason was booked on suddenly fell from the sky. Lee Sawyer, a veteran FBI agent, joins the case and soon finds that Sidney is a potential key to finding the answers.  Other forces are also pulling Sidney deep into a violent twisting plot.

Jason Archer is found to be alive but missing and the search for him is complicated by the world he lived in of powerful computers, a multimillion-dollar takeover deal, artificial intelligence, and the Internet.

TOTAL CONTROL demonstrates Baldacci’s unique approach in weaving plots, parallel and sub plots. His skills as a master storyteller will drawn you in and you so will find yourself not wanting to put this book down.     

Quotes

“few governmental institutions are more misunderstood and feared out of ignorance than the Federal Reserve Board.” 

“When the Fed raises or lowers interest rates, for instance, then that affects the entire economy. Contracts or expands it.” 

“Give an economist a result you want, and he’ll find the numbers to justify it.” 

 
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The Girl with Seven Names, Escape from North Korea, by Hyeonseo Lee

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Lee Hyeon-seo (Korean: 이현서, born January 1980), best known for her book is a North Korean defector and activist who lives in Seoul, South Korea, where she is a student. 

THE GIRL WITH SEVEN NAMES brings fascinating insight into one of the world’s most oppressed societies Author, Hyeonseo Lee, grew up in Hyesan next to the Chinese border. She grew up believing that their country was the best in the world and that the South Koreans were planning to attack them. She survived North Korea’s repressive regime, indoctrination and even the Great Famine, to escape in 1997.

Lee said in a Ted Talk in 2013 that “Among those of us who were born in North Korea and who have escaped it, the story I am telling is not and uncommon one.” She then tells the audience she understands that they are probably asking themselves “why a country such as mine still exists in the world?” She then follow saying that she “still loves her country and misses it very much.”

Her father’s job in the military in her early life was why they were relatively well off. Things changed when her father was arrested by the secret police, on the pretense of spying.  He was beaten so bad that he later died.

Hyesan was located right on the Chinese border with nothing but a river between the countries. Crossing the river was often a source of illegal trade and eventually a way to defect. Lee’s relatives included her “Uncle Opium” who smuggled North Korean heroin into China. (Lee gave special names to her many family members to protect their identity)

Lee began to question her life because of the poverty and starvation she witnessed and felt it didn’t make sense if her country was, as she had been told “the best on the planet”.

At age seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was to be reunited with her family. What she never expected was that the years between her escape from the North and her arrival in the South were far more dangerous for her: going first to China, and then later for family members to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Lee’s survival skills were her ability to quickly pick up the Chinese language and using her savings for the many bribes she had to pay. Getting new names and identity helped a lot too.

She writes in her epilogue that "the smallest thing sends me back into steel-plated survival mode".  The story made me recall the book, “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick”, which presented a similar view of the North. 

More books by those who have escaped North Korea are coming out and hopefully it will be a help in bringing about positive changes. This is a must-read book that you will not want to put down.

See Hyeonseo Lee’s Ted Talk Click Here to Link to Talk