Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Threat by Andrew McCabe

That day, North Korea was on the president's mind. North Korea had recently conducted a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, potentially capable of sriking the U.S. -- Kim Jong-un had called the test a Fourth of July "gift" to "the arrogant Americans." But the president did not believe it had happened. The president thought it was a hoax. He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so.

~p. 136

I'm not actually sure what possessed me to order a copy of The Threat by Andrew G. McCabe. I've ordered a few political books, in the past year or two, but I'm not all that hot about getting to them. However, The Threat turns out not to really be a book about politics but a memoir, although McCabe certainly describes the Trump administration from his viewpoint and experience, including his direct interactions with the president and staff. It is, however, about Andrew McCabe's time in the FBI -- how he made the decision to go from a high-paying job as a lawyer to a much lower-paying job as an FBI agent, for starters. It describes his training and various cases that he was involved in during his FBI years. Yes, he does mention Trump and the dangers he believes this president is causing. But, it wasn't the defensive work of writing that I anticipated.

There were two things that really jumped out at me. One was that Andrew McCabe's early years were spent working on investigating the mafia, including the Russian mafia. I think I'd read that somewhere, but it didn't sink in till I read it a second time and in the words of McCabe, himself, and then it was a bit of an "A-ha!" moment. If, as many people have said, Trump is truly involved with Russian money laundering (I've been reading about that for years, long before he ran for president -- his connections with Russia are nothing new), it makes sense that he'd want to keep McCabe out of the top FBI job, doesn't it?

The other thing that jumped out at me was his description of his work after 9/11. On the day of the terrorist attacks, McCabe was posted in New York City but he was away from the office when the first tower was hit. His response was to drive into Manhattan, lights flashing, turn in his FBI vehicle, and get to work. Eventually, the people in the Manhattan office had to be moved because the dust from the Twin Towers was causing problems with ventilation. Truly, anyone who drove into the horror for the sake of American security is a hero to me, whether an emergency responder or a desk jockey.

I think perhaps the most important tidbit of information is one that most everyone has probably heard, by now, but which is described in better detail by McCabe than I've seen elsewhere and that is the president's complete inability to even listen to and process the daily security briefings. I'm recalling this without any reference (I didn't mark his descriptions of the briefings and don't even remember if he was present or he described this secondhand) but what he said was that on one particular occasion, not only did the president not absorb what he was being told but he only let the people briefing him talk for a minute or two and then spent the rest of the time talking, himself, about things that were totally irrelevant to security. The problem with that is, of course, that the president needs to have a complete understanding of the threats to our nation and be able to make quick decisions in the event of an emergency. McCabe has no confidence at all in his ability to respond to a national emergency with the knowledge and understanding needed.

Highly recommended - Personal opinion: every American needs to read The Threat. It's very well written and compelling information about how the FBI works, some of the cases they've solved (those McCabe worked on, specifically), security issues we face as a nation, and why our current president is endangering us. McCabe doesn't spend a lot of time defending himself from the president's accusations but the final chapter is a little emphatic. And, when relevant, he describes how the current administration treats members of various agencies and the reasons he considers the administrations actions a danger. McCabe also describes how right-wing "news" stories that are completely fabricated are being accepted by main-stream news as facts, constantly putting agencies in a defensive posture. It's a book that will unnerve you -- not just because of the dangers Trump poses but because of close calls with terror that McCabe describes. But, in general, it really is just a typical memoir and a very good one.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and M. E. Fontanot de Rhoads

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads is the story of a boy's journey from Mexico to the United States. I jumped at the chance to review it when I saw the advertisement on Shelf Awareness. I've read a few tales of people escaping hardship by immigrating but most have been about immigration to Europe, not the United States, so I was excited to read a story that happens closer to home (fictional).

Manuel's brother Toño rode the train (illegally, as in climbing on top of the train and alternately walking and riding) to the United States from their home in Oaxaca, Mexico, a few years ago. They know he survived the journey because he occasionally calls home. Manuel misses Toño, his family lives an impoverished farming life, and he is curious about life in El Norte. So he decides to also make the journey. He will begin the dangerous trip by running to jump onto the train locally known as "The Beast". Even climbing aboard is dangerous, not to mention riding on top of train cars without handholds. People have been known to fall off or miss while jumping aboard and lose limbs or die. But, Manuel is determined.

My initial thought, as I began reading, was that Manuel's journey would be an event that took a few weeks or a few months, at most, even though the cover description says he's "robbed, arrested, beaten, and left for dead." But, it actually takes him about two years because he has to keep stopping to recover. Along the way, terrible things happen but there are good people who care for him, help him recover, feed, and clothe him, as well. It's an emotional journey and I often got choked up, especially when reading about the kindness of strangers.

Highly recommended - The storytelling style is unique and I had to adjust to it, but once I became accustomed to Johnston's voice, I found the story compelling and eye-opening. It took a while, though. When I was about 1/3 of the way into the book and realized that Toño was an illegal immigrant and that Manuel planned to enter the U.S. illegally, as well, I thought, "Well, this isn't going to be a book that's helpful." I figured it was the wrong viewpoint and people who are prone to thinking of Mexican immigrants in a negative light would just shake their heads and say, "See! Just as I suspected." But, besides illuminating the good and evil in people one might encounter in real life, Beast Rider actually places you in the midst of the incredibly terrifying and life-threatening process that is illegal immigration from Mexico and shows you just how much people are willing to go through to seek out a better life.

Quite a few Spanish words or phrases are used and there is a 6-page glossary to refer to. Beast Rider is for ages 12 and up.

This next part may be considered a spoiler, so I'll type it in white and you can highlight it to read if you're not worried about potential spoilers. I won't give away the ending, but I will say I thought it felt right and it was what I hoped for.

Manuel eventually does make it into the United States, but because he's illegal he can't get a decent job and neither can his brother; they just scrape by. They live better than they did in Oaxaca, from the standpoint of living space. But, without legal documentation, there's really no way to move up in the world and they live in fear of being caught and sent back. As you're reading about Manuel's daily life in Los Angeles, it becomes clear that his family may have been poor but they were happy and they had a loving support system. In other words, while their life was one of hardship in Oaxaca, it was really a better life. As such, you could definitely look at the book as one that supports legal immigration. I'd like to see something similar that digs into what it's like being surrounded by gangs, threatened and extorted, having loved ones killed, like many of the current immigrants coming from Honduras -- one in which going back is likely a death sentence. But, as a way to learn about why the journey is so dangerous (and, thus, so many large groups have been forming to fend off that danger), Beast Rider is definitely illuminating. 

I received an Advance Reader's Copy of Beast Rider for review from Abrams Books. Many thanks!

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets and
  • Layover by David Bell - both from Berkley/Penguin Random House for review 
  • The Unspeakable Mind by Shaili Jain, M. D.,
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins,
  • The Binding by Bridget Collins, and 
  • On Democracy by E. B. White  - all from HarperCollins for review

Getting in the Easter spirit, here. That's my mantel bunny, who comes out annually. So . . . great mix, again. The Binding says it's literary fiction but it sounded like something my future daughter-in-law would like and maybe a little different from my normal fare (due to the magical elements) so I got it partly for the change of pace, partly to share. As expected, future DIL said she is interested and wants to borrow it when I finish. On Democracy and The Unspeakable Mind are both nonfiction, the former by the E. B. White of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little fame. It is a series of writings by the late author during a similar time of political change, with fascism on the rise. I've got a book of E. B. White's essays, so there may end up being some crossover (I haven't looked) but I'm hungry for wise words, right now, and very excited about On Democracy. The Unspeakable Mind is about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, something I've read about indirectly (in novels, where people are experiencing PTSD or being treated for it) but never really spent any time studying, so I'm looking forward to learning more about it.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is historical fiction about a slave who murdered her owners. Layover is a psychological thriller and The Last Woman in the Forest is a mystery thriller. Hmm, sounds like I'm going to need something light after this batch! Fortunately, I have some children's books winging their way to me, soon.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
  • The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Both were excellent reads. The Last Year of the War took me about 4 or 5 days to finish but a part of me didn't want it to end. I loved that story. One of the reasons it took me so long was that it occasionally made me tear up, so I'd have to set it aside and walk away for a while.

Currently reading:

  • The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Applehans 

I plan to add at least one more title, tonight. We'll see how that goes. I've been excited about Lenore's latest for ages, so it's one I pre-ordered. And, since Lenore is one of us (at least she used to be a book blogger), her book gets priority.

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

I don't remember whether it was Saturday night or the night before that we found ourselves sitting on the sofa, worn out from the day's chores, but I was in charge of the remote and had never seen the 2005 version of Yours, Mine, and Ours. So, I clicked on it when I happened across it on some movie channel (I don't recall which one -- not sure I even knew at the time). I've seen the 1969 version with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball and maybe a random scene or two of this one, but I'd never seen the entire movie and neither had Huzzybuns. I don't think he enjoyed it quite as much as I did but he didn't disappear into another room, so he must have enjoyed it at least a little. Now, I want to see the older movie, again. It's been a very long time since I saw the original.

The 2005 version has a terrible rating at IMdB and Rotten Tomatoes, so I have to wonder if I'd have disliked it if I was unfamiliar with the original, which I remember loving (so I had positive expectations). I thought Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo had excellent on-screen chemistry.

TV viewing was limited to NCIS and Chicago Fire (because I enjoyed it so much, last week), although Kiddo, who was home for Spring Break, turned on Eureka and we enjoyed watching a little of that. I'd never even heard of the show. Not a big TV person, obviously.

The rest of the week was spent alternately doing chores and peering out the window because our deck was ripped out on Monday and Tuesday and then some men showed up to do a bit of measuring and cleaning on Thursday, and they ripped out trees, moved dirt, and dug a trench in our yard on Friday. All this is the beginning of the work to replace our deck with a two-level patio. The trench serves as the outline of the upper level, which will have slightly different dimensions than our deck did. It's pretty exciting to trudge out to that mess (we have to go around the house; you can't get off the covered patio, at this point, or you'd sink into a pile of dirt and end up stuck behind a trench) to visualize what's coming.

That's my week in a very large nutshell. How was yours?

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Fiona Friday

I'm willing to bet you squinted to try to read the book titles.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell Mystery #4)

A Dangerous Collaboration is my first Veronica Speedwell mystery and it's the 4th in the series. You never know how that's going to turn out, starting in the middle of a series. Will it stand alone or be wrought with uncomfortable gaps that make little sense to those who missed out on the earlier entries? Will you be tempted to return to the beginning of a series or decide that it's not for you?

Well, no worries. I loved A Dangerous Collaboration practically from page 1 and it stands alone well. Occasionally, the author adds an asterisk that leads to the title of a book (or several titles) in which mentioned adventures occurred, but there was never a single moment that I felt lost or as if the explanation of past events was in some way lacking.

In A Dangerous Collaboration, Veronica is invited by her business partner Stoker's brother, Lord Tiberius Templeton-Vane, to travel along to an island off the coast of Wales. There, he is to stay with his long-time friend, Malcolm Romilly, and various members of Romilly's relatives in the family's castle. Stoker is told by Tiberius that he's unwelcome, but Stoker's curious and maybe a little jealous, so he tags along, separately. Veronica is to pose as Lord Templeton-Vane's fiancée because it would be unseemly for them to travel alone together, otherwise.

On the island, Veronica and Stoker discover that there is a mystery afoot. Three years ago, Malcolm Romilly married and on the evening of the wedding his bride unaccountably disappeared. Nobody ever figured out if she even left the island. Did she run away? Did she have an accident or was she killed? Malcolm has discovered a clue and Veronica is determined to uncover what became of Rosamund.

Highly recommended - It was the setting, the characterization, and the denouement that I loved best about this book. A castle on an island with priest holes and tunnels? I'm in. The mystery was one that couldn't be solved by the reader, although one could guess, I suppose. I didn't care about that. I found that I loved being immersed in the world to which Deanna Raybourn took the reader and I liked Veronica and Stoker. The other characters had enough dimension and mystery about them to convince this reader it was pretty much possible that anything had happened and most everyone bore a touch of guilt. I definitely plan to seek out the beginning of this series and hope to see what becomes of Speedwell and Stoker in future releases.

I received a copy of A Dangerous Collaboration from Berkley Books in exchange for my unbiased review. My thanks to Berkley/Penguin Random House.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Learning to See by Elise Hooper

Learning to See by Elise Hooper is a novelization of Dorothea Lange's life story. For those who aren't familiar with her, Dorothea Lange was a photographer who is probably best known for her Depression-era photographs, particularly "Migrant Mother".

Dorothea's story begins with a crime. She is 22 and has traveled to San Francisco intending to go on to Hawaii with her friend, Fronsie. But, then Fronsie discovers their money has been stolen and they realize they can go no further. Fronsie easily finds a job but Dorothea has to be a bit more clever finding work. With a leg damaged by polio and many employers unwilling to hire a "cripple", she has to pretend she has a minor injury to get a job. Later on, with experience working in a photography studio back East and money from her work locally, she starts her own studio and quickly builds a business photographing wealthy clientele.

This is the beginning of Dorothea's story and I realized, as I was reading it, that I knew little to nothing about her. I knew she was among the photographers hired to document the Depression, but that was about it. Learning to See illuminates her journey from portrait photographer to documentary photographer recording human struggle and how it affected her marriages and her children. If you're interested in photography, as I am, you may be slightly disappointed by the lack of technical description. There is pretty much none. Learning to See is about Dorothea's burning desire to bring light to human suffering, her need to keep moving and working, her hardships and triumphs. It's less about the photography than the photographer and her subject matter.

Recommended but not a favorite - Learning to See is great primarily for the examination of Dorothea Lange's life. I've admired Lange's photography and have seen "Migrant Mother" and other Depression-era photographs by Lange in various books for as long as I can remember, so I enjoyed learning about her. There was something about the book that kept it from being a favorite, though, and I can only describe it as feeling somewhat flat -- perhaps the dialogue didn't ring true to me or I didn't sense a depth of emotion? I'm not even certain I know what it was about the book that I didn't love. But, it was never anything that made me consider setting the book aside. I was enjoying learning about her life too much. I knew so little about Lange that I didn't even realize Lange was not her real name but her mother's maiden name.

Dorothea Lange hung out with other artists and photographers and was married to an artist, so I spent some time looking up the artwork and photography of her acquaintances during the reading. That may have been one of my favorite things about the book, finding artists and photographers who were new to me. The book appears to have been very, very thoroughly researched. At times, I bristled against certain aspects of her life and realized that I didn't want them to be true. Did she really think this, do that? I don't doubt that she did. One of the hazards of learning more about one of your minor heroes is that they always turn out to be human.

I received a copy of Learning to See from HarperCollins in exchange for my review. Many thanks!

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Devil's Daughter by Lisa Kleypas

Phoebe, Lady Clare, is a widow with two small children who married a sickly man knowing he would likely not live long. In his early days at boarding school, he was tormented by a bully named West Ravenel. Phoebe has not forgotten, so she's particularly horrified to find herself attracted to West when she meets him at a family wedding. Why, she's practically bethrothed to the manager of her estate, although he hasn't yet asked for her hand in marriage.

West was not a good man before his brother inherited the family title. But, in recent years he has found joy in farming the family land and working to improve the lives of their tenants. He doesn't think any woman deserves to deal with a former cad like himself, so he's chosen to remain single. But, if there's one woman who can turn his head, it's Phoebe and he even enjoys hanging out with her children.

Will Phoebe and West be able to give in to their attraction permanently? Or will they just have a fling and move on?

That last line is not how a publicist would probably choose to describe Devil's Daughter but Phoebe and West definitely give in to their attraction physically. There is a tremendous amount of sex in Devil's Daughter. It bears mentioning because, near as I can tell from my recent romance reading, the sheer quantity of bedroom scenes is atypical. Whether or not that's to your taste is something you might want to consider.

Devil's Daughter is the 5th in "The Ravenels" series. I haven't read any of the other books; this one was sent to me unsolicited by Avon Books and I just happened to be in the mood for something light, shortly after it arrived. It stands alone fine but I suspect there are subtleties that I missed because I haven't read the previous books.

Recommended - I really enjoyed the banter between the two characters, West's enthusiasm over farming techniques (again, probably not for everyone, but I thought it was actually quite interesting), and the interaction between the hero and the heroine's children. My romance preference leans "clean" -- minimal sex or none at all -- but that's never a problem because I can skim those scenes if I feel like it, so the number of sex scenes didn't faze me, although I thought it was notable. Devil's Daughter is not a plot-heavy book, although there's a nice twist toward the end, and the conflict is admittedly weak. Yet, I enjoyed the book enough to consider seeking out the beginning of the series. However, I recommend reading reviews by people who have read the other books if you're a regular romance reader, since my opinion tends to be a shade different than the norm.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.