I have a shelf called "Turned me off I did not read." This is "turned me off the more I read." Others have given many of the reasons why this is suchI have a shelf called "Turned me off I did not read." This is "turned me off the more I read." Others have given many of the reasons why this is such a disappointing novel about WWII women "at home" and waiting for "their men." I will mention two that bugged me the most: First, this big family had some minor hardships during the war but no one really suffered. All the little hardships were smoothed over as soon as the author could get around to taking care of them. Second and most importantly as so many have pointed out, the ending is ridiculous with no preparation in the personalities (as poorly sketched in as they were) as they lived through the war and as they came out of it. (The end of the war "just happened" and all of a sudden we are taken to the characters in, WHAT?, their 80's???)
One of the dumbest books I have read in this decade....more
I called this book historical fiction as well as fiction (and those other categories) because it was set in the beginnings of the US Vietnam War. TheI called this book historical fiction as well as fiction (and those other categories) because it was set in the beginnings of the US Vietnam War. The days when the military were already there and were bombing but "advisors" were still talked about, debated about, and marveled over--as excuses to get into a never-ending war such as the French had been in for two decades. The characters include Sydney Parade, a second level in the fictional Llewellyn Group: ". . . a benevolent arm of the government wholly separate from the Pentagon" (p. 40). Supposedly, Llewellyn Group were to build and keep in repair infrastructure of the sort that the Americans thought would bring Vietnam into the "real world."
Ward Just is one of my favorite writers. His books are always slender tomes but each sentence, each phrase packed with references and innuendo. A Dangerous Friend refers specifically to Sydney Parade who has tried to befriend people at different levels but especially a French man and his American wife who have a rubber plantation and want to keep their lives as separate from the war as possible. One key event pulls Sydney, another friend Pablo, a military man captured by local Vietnamese who are ready to turn him over to the VC, and Sydney's ambitious, credit-seeking boss. This leads to a horrible revenge bombing (leave it there for now) and a riff in a tapestry of "friendship" that had barely started and was soon damaged. While A Danger Friend refers to Sydney, it also refers to almost all of the key players.
I remember when my husband was finishing Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, and he and his friends were awaiting their first "orders," all dreading that they might be sent to Vietnam. I also remember how we debated this war--doubting President Kennedy and his administration's involving the USA in it. Then as that war became LBJ's war: "Hey, hey, LBJ/How many kids did you bomb today?" And later meeting John Kerry's wife and seeing the film that our friend (and Kerry's best friend) George Butler gathered on the anti-war protests and testimony. And that film continued into the days when John Kerry ran for President--and will probably come back now during the days of the Iranian/western powers negotiations. "Up the River with John Kerry."...more
The premise of the book is good. A tenured female English professor dislikes a new untenured, tenure track female English professor. Current theoriesThe premise of the book is good. A tenured female English professor dislikes a new untenured, tenure track female English professor. Current theories of feminism, literary theory, genderism, class distinctions are mentioned as important to the young woman. Both have men problems and some of these overlap with an unbelievably handsome sexy visiting professor from Harvard (which the author says is a type she has never met). Said hunk has affairs with tons of women but important to this book is his affair with a fragile 19 year old daughter of a multimillionaire who has promised to give a humongous endowment to "Manhattan University," a stand in for NYU. Arguments about whether chick lit is/can be literature and can be in "dialogue with" classics such as Austen and Woolf. Alas, for me the book was written in a somewhat trite fashion--very predictable.
Mostly all ends well and both women have "good" men in their lives, more or less, and have given up on the weak men they were drawn to before. Undergraduate student ends up is good shape; endowment is saved. Women profs get their hands slapped gently by a FEMALE dean, not of their dept for of their overarching dept. That one slipped by without a comment by the author.
I am glad I listened to this on audio CD while driving because I don't think I would have had the patience to read it in print. A review in the GuardiI am glad I listened to this on audio CD while driving because I don't think I would have had the patience to read it in print. A review in the Guardian called this a dystopian novel and I certainly agree. I have called other books post-apolcalyptic but had no shelf for them so I added "post apocalyptic/dystopian" just now. I just got weary of the characters in this book and really did not get into their "mysteries" as being real mysteries until about 2/3rd of the way through the book....more
Kai Bird, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
Or "The Good Ames"
This book is about CIA agent Robert (Bob) Ames who rose to be the predominaKai Bird, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
Or "The Good Ames"
This book is about CIA agent Robert (Bob) Ames who rose to be the predominant expert on the Middle East, learning Arabic, being posted to hardship posts in the Middle East, and listening intently to people he met as he made car trips through the region. Others have summarized the main points of the content so I will focus on key issues that grabbed my attention. And since we are now awaiting the announcement of an agreement between western powers and Iran, this book’s detailed history of Israel and Shiite Iran is very useful. At times, it sounds like 2015 instead of in the 1960’s through early 1980’s. And the end of the book, after Ames’ death in the bombing of the US Embassy in Lebanan in April 1983, the author goes on to describe what was learned and done about that bombing and the other terrorist events of the 1980’s. [Note: I had read some books about convicted counter-spy CIA agent Aldrich Ames. I do not think the two men were related.]
Ames was a serious young man who loved basketball but was never a leading player in college and also developed a curiosity about the Middle East and started learning Arabic. During a two year stint in the US Army signal corps in a hardship base near Asmara in Ethopian Eritrea, he learned a lot about what intelligence gathering, decoding, and analysis was like. He returned to the US, got married, applied unsuccessfully to the Foreign Service, and then applied successfully to the CIA. His training was at Camp Peary, near Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia, learning paramilitary skills and intelligence gathering skills. Over the years, he studied Arabic and became quite fluent and he became known as an “Arabist” in contrast with most of his classmates who were focusing on Russia.
And interesting footnote on page 31 was about the CIA backing a 1963 coup that brought Saddam Hussein and his Baathist part to power in Iraq. We know that in 2003 when the US invaded Iraq the leaders the Bush 43 administration sent in toppled Hussein and dismissed all his Baathist party military and administrative personnel. Hussein was Sunni but had ruled Iraq tyrannically but with Sunni and Shia families living side by side as ordinary citizens. Our war meant that the Shiites who had been in power through Hussein and the Baath party were now out of power and during the long war that ensued were resentful of this isolation.
Ames was a CIA agent who believed that we needed a back-channel to other Middle Eastern countries and not just our open alliance with Israel. He befriended and won the confidence of a young member of the PLO, a close comrade of Yasser Arafat. He was criticized for never “recruiting” Ali Hassan Salameh as a spy and not at least putting him on the CIA payrole. The US had an agreement with Israel during this period not to talk to members of the PLO—strange to look back on that from 2015. If Ames had recruited him, “talking” would be allowed. Salameh did not want to become a spy but wanted to have a relationship with Ames about the viewpoints of Islamic countries and the various sects within them. This included Iran which was also Shiite and became a militant Islamist country after the overthrow on the Shah and the return to power of Ayatollah Khomeini in the new Islamic Republic of Iran.
Well, I said I wouldn’t do too much summarizing of material that others have reviewed so well on Goodreads but the conflict between Iran and Israel and the conflict between Iran and the USA through our support of the Shah run through all of the history of Ames’ life and including his death.
Bird discusses all of the wars that Israel fought over the years after the Israeli state was set up following 1947-48 political shifts and the arrival in Palestine of Jews from Europe. The war that showed Israel’s strength and lightening power ability to conquer Palestinian fighters was the Six Day War. The most vivid period of Israel’s attack against attackers was during Civil War in Lebanon. Palestine forces in Lebanon had been attacking across the border into Israel in the late 1970’s and Israel invaded Lebanon all the way to Beirut.
Lebanon was an ancient country that in the 1970’s had Muslim, Druze, and Christian (Maronites). After its Druze President was assassinated, it elected a Maronite Christian Bashir Gemayel, from the Phalangist Party. He was assassinated before he could take power and in the ensuing power vacuum and civil war Israel remained a power invader and Iran was another, sending its key troops and special ops people into Lebanon. Ames worked to try to build some means of settling these conflicts from his various appointments in the Middle East and back in the USA in CIA headquarters. Bird does an excellent job of naming and putting the various militias and political groups in history and context.
Evidently Ames’ strong intellect, his ability to listen and to summarize succinctly in writing and in oral presentations, and his ability to empathize without becomes a romantic defender of Arabic nations let him become a much respected and much needed person in the CIA and later in the broader intelligence community, including becoming an advisor to Reagan, Carter, and earning the respect of Vice President and later President George H.W. Bush. Bird describes Ames at being able to show elected and appointed officials in the various administrations how to make the rather short term (as in 4 year election cycles) that would also have long term productivity.
A tragedy in Ames’ career and his personal life was the assassination of Ali-Reza Salameh in 1979 by a female agent for Mossad. Then Ames himself was killed in 1983 in the bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut.
The book includes a detailed discussion of the investigation of who was behind the bombing of the US Embassy in April 1983 and of the Marine Barracks in October 1983, both bombings in Beirut. These bombings and a series of other bombings, hostage taking, airplane hijacking, etc., events were all tied in some way to Imad Mughniyeh, an enigmatic figure who has mostly stayed hidden over the decades until his murder in 2008 from a bomb in his car headrest. Mughniyeh was tied via a series of links to post-revolutionary Iran. In 1995 he met in Khartoum with Osama bin Laden, showing bin Laden how suicide bombings could be used effectively as a weapon raining terror on the USA and other formal state/country entities.
Kai Bird gives the pros and cons about whether Mughniyeh was the key figure in charge of the U.S. Embassy bombing. Many argued that he was too young at the time to have pulled it off but Bird holds it very likely that he was very influential in the planning. There was no paper or electronic train for the Embassy bombing but there was one on the Marine Barracks bombing. These two bombings were powerful and set the example of massively effective suicide bombings. The amount of Iranian manufactured PETN military grade explosive used in the Marine barracks bombing was more powerful than the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While the CIA and other US investigations of these bombings are still classified (or were at the 2014 printing of Bird’s book), other nonclassified sources allowed Robert Ames’ wife, his children, and a dozen others killed in the Embassy to bring successful suit against Islamic Republic of Iran (2003 case before U.S. District Court judge John D. Bates). The chemical analysis of the PETN was used as highly valued evidence in this case. Testimony by a former Hezbollah member was also used in the case.
Mughniyeh’s mentor was the slightly older Ali-Reza Asgari, a high ranking Iranian operative. I had to do some digging about the short description of Asgari as defecting to the USA in 2007. Bird believes he had evidence that Asgari did defect to the USA, whether or not Israel’s Mossad helped in the defection. The Iranians claim that he was kidnapped but, however it went, Asgari has stayed far far underground. Bird credited him with providing much rich intelligence but the CIA remain shut about what happened to him. Wikipedia discusses arguments whether he defected or was kidnapped: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali-Reza... and Bird himself lists arguments for both/multiple viewpoints.
I had a hard time getting into this book but after a couple of chapters I got used to Bird’s writing style. I also read some professional reviews of the book and built an external respect for his research. The book itself contains ample content notes, bibliography, and glossary. Bird outlines his own biases well. I will now have to keep this book because I found myself underlining and dog-earing the final chapters and going back and forth to get its events more firmly in mind. I heartily recommend this book for those who are interested in the Middle East, with a 5 star rating....more
The concept of twins separated at birth when their mother dies is interesting but how Enright carries it out is weird and off-putting. I have read TheThe concept of twins separated at birth when their mother dies is interesting but how Enright carries it out is weird and off-putting. I have read The Gathering twice and found it to be a strong novel. I was in the midst of reading novels and historical fiction set in Ireland, Scotland, and Britain so I think I was prepared to appreciate this novel. It is as if Enright went out of her way to make all of the characters unbelievable and unlikeable. Her shifts back and forth from Dublin and environs, to London, and to New York is nothing new or inventive. Marie/Maria is an interesting play on the names and how they came about but why Marie becomes Rose is buried. I never "got" it and didn't care enough to seek out the information. The mother's talk from "hell" or the afterlife is also weird, weird, weird. More than once Enright has her female characters "falling in love" from a first glance and then regretting it. How "Berts" could be one of those men to the "mother' is truly unbelievable and the "coincidence" of Anton's photo of the other twin is a low device.....more
I loved all the information and stories about elephants in Africa and in US sanctuaries. I expected to like the human story/stories. I just finished rI loved all the information and stories about elephants in Africa and in US sanctuaries. I expected to like the human story/stories. I just finished re-reading about the second half so I could get the characters and their stories straight. I won't say why I had to do this because it would involve spoilers. However, when I finished I was still not satisfied. This time I think Picoult got caught up in a twist of a plot and just couldn't handle it--at least not to my satisfaction. The character Serenity was interesting and had a certain warmth to her that held up through to the end. For the others, the twist of the plot just made them at first believable and then, at the end, totally unbelievable. The straight-forward plot of these characters was OK and would have worked without the twist.
The words to the country song, Crying Time, keep running through my head: "It's crying time again/You're gonna leave me/I can see that far away look in your eye. . . ." "Leaving Time," even the title has taken a bad twist now that I have finished the novel. My ex- used to sing a song that he wrote about another girlfriend. It had the line: "You left before you took yourself away." That captures my reaction to this book: its soul left before the book ended.
Well, Jodi Picoult, you played this one out. Giving this book 3 stars is overly generous. I had quit reading all her books because they were so uneven but the last one was excellent, I thought. So I had great hopes for Leaving Time. I guess the 3 stars are because the information on elephants and doing research about elephants was very interesting. Had she written this story without the twist, I might have been able to give it 4 or 5 stars. Do others resonate with this book? Or not? ...more
This book was sitting on my shelf for a long time until I read the second Jackson Brodie mystery. I think I needed the personality of Brodie to get inThis book was sitting on my shelf for a long time until I read the second Jackson Brodie mystery. I think I needed the personality of Brodie to get into this book. I had read the first couple of chapters before and found them boring. Today I read the entire book in one sitting and even had a few dreaming naps based on the stories in between. I have now ordered the remaining two of the four printed thus far....more
A Habit of the Blood by Lois Battle was extremely interesting to me. A group of family members from one of the most wealthy families in Jamaica have cA Habit of the Blood by Lois Battle was extremely interesting to me. A group of family members from one of the most wealthy families in Jamaica have come home. A series of love stories play out in this setting. One of them meets her long-lost love, a man she had lived with around 10 years before. He is a leader of the minorities in Jamaica, leading in strikes, protests, and other efforts to increase civil rights of the poor and black citizens. He is married and has a young son but realizes that she is his "true love." I won't tell how this love story worked out but I will with a couple of others. Her half brother has brought his fiancee to meet the family and rebuilt the "great house" and turn it into a hotel/resort. Fiancee is a nasty, bossy woman who has fired or had fired a number of the long term employees of the family. Husband is dealing with the mafia to raise money for these costly renovations and has planted a huge crop of ganja inside the well-established sugar cane fields--that crop is blown up, leading to the death of said husband/half-brother. The third couple is the father who is an actor whose career has gone downhill. Following an accident in which he and his daughter run away from the burning ganja fields and the mourning of his son, the daughter gets in touch with his first ex-wife (he has had 4 in all) who comes because she thinks he may be dying. This couple reunites with love but I won't tell you how. So, this sounds like a bunch of love stories--and it is--but it goes further into family ties by blood but also by history: the relationship of the servants to the family, the history of former marriages, and the history of former love affairs. I wish Battle had gone into more detail about the conflicts between the classes and races in Jamaica leading up to these events and at the heart of the events. I have read most of her others books and find her a thoughtful writer about families embedded in events of migration/immigration and other changes within families....more
NOTE: I don't have a category for "romance novel" in my Goodreads shelves, but I think that category fits this book more than "historical fiction.
I haNOTE: I don't have a category for "romance novel" in my Goodreads shelves, but I think that category fits this book more than "historical fiction.
I have written comments on others' reviews and know already that I hold a minority viewpoint of this book. I feel somewhat more positive about Outlander now that I have read that this was her first book and her first attempt at writing historical fiction. I think Gabaldon writes very beautiful description of nature, plant and animal. Her writing style is pleasing and cohesive--long passages as well as short ones hold together nicely and, within her context, advance the story/stories she is telling.
One problem is with the characters and especially Claire, the main character. The book is supposed to be historical fiction about the history of Scotland during the period two hundred years prior to 1945. Claire is supposed to be a battlefront nurse with fairly OK libido who remains faithful to her husband of two years during World War II. The way she deals with trauma in that war and later in earlier Scotland is sketched in somewhat believably. She is 27-28 years old and yet when she "time-travels" back in time through stepping through a magical hole in one of the stones in one of the minor henges in Britain she acts like a silly schoolgirl in her first crush. Also she acts as the act of love, various techniques, and even orgasm are magically new to her. Claire seems to have lots of knowledge and curiosity about healing plants and that sets up her problematic situation in traveling backwards through time. I don't know if the author meant for her to seem to be stodgy, but that was my impression and I think the author plays off of that when she time travels to Scotland. I will return to her character after I discuss time travel.
Time-travel is another problem for me in this book. There is no motivation for this time travel except an accident of fate and it really isn't used in any very interesting way. She does occasionally mull over what would happen if she changed events in the past and whether she would be changing the future she wishes to go back to but this mulling isn't used in any very creative way nor is it dwelt upon for long. In fact, I skimmed ahead a number of times to see if she would even back to her original husband in England and missed the short sequence when her new husband, Scottish Jamie, "out of his love for her" takes her to the stone outcropping near where he had first found her in order to allow her to return to her times and her first husband. I won't tell how that came out so as not to spoil the plot but I will assert that the events around it were not very believable to me, NOR was it interesting about time-travel.( At least in the movies with the old doc and the young boy, the old doc was creating a car with the intention to travel in time!)
Now to Claire's character in Scotland. She goes through event after event in which she uses her nursing skills and in which she advances her knowledge of herbs and other substances used in healing. She mulls over the differences in knowledge of hygiene and the skills of medicine over and over. In the middle of all these instances, she is taken by "bad guys" and also by "good guys." "Good guy" Jamie, he of the wonderfully tall, well muscled, and elegant body is the love interest of the book. (Jeez, I am even using the language of "romance novel," and I should have asserted that I think this is what this book is more than "historical fiction." I will go back and correct that right now.)
I don't even pretend to have a clue about this author's attitude toward Claire. All of a sudden in Scotland, Claire becomes an ornery critter. This could have been interesting. Instead, the author uses it to have Claire always "disobeying" her new husband and wildly romantic lover, Jamie. This is set up in part as a difficulty in the roles of females in these two eras but more than that it is Claire's "hardheadedness" which Jamie always uses as a way to forgive his "lassie." But Claire does things that put her in more danger and put the others who are her new community and especially, her husband, in extreme danger. She does not seem to have much empathy nor much imagination about what her actions may lead to. Then all of a sudden at the end of the book she is once again a diligent, caring "physician" caring for her injured husband. (By the way, she is also a great detective and battle planner all of a sudden.)
I have given myself lots of time to reflect on this book and to read other readers' praise for it. Also I have read a couple of other books of historical fiction in between reading Outlander and writing this review. I still think this is more of a romance novel and I even harkened back to the days of "christian romance," a la Grace Livingston Hill. Good Jamie tames the sinful Claire and brings her to salvation in his wonderful arms but she has tamed him by healing his body (which, by the way, heals in amazing ways). ARRRGH, sorry Friends, but I just cannot recommend this as historical fiction. ...more