Friday, May 28, 2021

The Truth about Lies: The Illusion and the Evolution of Deceit by Aja Raden

The Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of DeceitThe Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of Deceit by Aja Raden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine you’re sitting in a bar nursing an afternoon cocktail and a person takes the stool next to you. It’s a lady with raven-colored hair and an enigmatic smile. She begins telling you in colorful, bar-type language about many of the ways people have been deceived, lied to, and otherwise led to believe in a variety of dodges and gimmicks that never end in their favor.

In The Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of Deceit by Aja Raden I felt exactly like that. I was entertained, educated and often amused by Raden’s story of lies and the myriad ways that unethical people have taken advantage of the unsuspecting, the greedy, or merely foolish victims. Raden describes the various ploys, including the simple shell game, Ponzi schemes, forgeries, and the “long con” that people fall prey to and have for centuries. What was most illuminating was that the reason many of the deceptions were so successful was that they took advantage of the human brain and its receptors operating just as they should.

Raden has assembled an impressive source list and then presented it in an off-hand, fun, but comprehensive way. The sad thing is that after reading it, like Diogenes, you’ll be left looking for an honest man.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book for review.

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge (Olive Kitteridge, #1)Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Olive Kitteridge is a woman who can't get out of her own way. The former teacher not only has trouble understanding the motivations and feelings of others, she often has no insight into her own. Her rigidity in dealing with strangers, friends and family very often undermines any attempt she makes at negotiating a pleasant detente with society. Told through a series of mostly connected stories, most featuring Olive, but some only including her tangentially, we watch Olive's struggles with the world at large.
Strout's stories are insightful, rich in feeling and full of wonderful characters who will leave you hoping for more. I anticipate Strout's "Olive, Again" will be a current read of mine very soon.
I enjoyed Kimberly Farr's narration. She captured Olive in all of her emotional struggles and provided a nice balance with the other characters as they sometimes saw in Olive aspects of herself that she missed.

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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Amity and Prosperity

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of AmericaAmity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amity and Prosperity by Eliza Griswold is an excellent, balanced exposition of the history of the fossil fuel industries in southwestern Pennsylvania and the recent effects that one of those industries , the natural gas fracking industry, had on a couple of families in the area.

Stacey Haney and her two children, Harley and Paige, live on a small farm in Amity, PA, next door to Beth and John Voyle, and their daughter, Ashley. Both families enjoy hard work, the outdoors, and working with animals. Stacey also works as a nurse at the regional hospital. When the natural gas boom arrives in their area, Stacey and the Voyles decide to get involved to make some money off of their land, and also do the right “Patriotic thing” for the country.

It doesn’t take too long before they have to consider whether they’d made a deal with the devil. A nasty odor permeates the air, animals and the children become sick, and their water becomes foul and unpotable. When they complain to the gas company, Range Resources, the company denies any responsibility, even claiming there isn’t even a problem.

Griswold covers the struggles of the Haney’s and Voyles, a few other neighbors, and a heroic husband and wife legal team as they battle for their health, their homes, their land, and their reputations in the community. Their foes are a company with deep pockets and government bureaucracies, local, state, and federal, seemingly aligned against them. Griswold unfolds the narrative in a straight-forward way, providing an in-depth examination of the legal and emotional aspects that guide industry practices in the United States, often at the expense of the people they’re intended to help.

Griswold does a wonderful job showing the spirit and industriousness of the people of southwestern Pennsylvania. I grew up in SW PA. The people there are a proud people who enjoy working. They’re a communal people who support each other. My dad and most of my friends’ dads worked in either the coal and the steel industries as they faded and left thousands of families wondering where their next job or meal was coming from. After decades of work, some employees found they didn’t even retain the pensions they were relying on. Griswold shows that pain.

Highly recommended.

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Monday, January 18, 2021

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch

An Extravagant Death (Charles Lenox, #14)An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch
In his 14th Charles Lenox mystery, Charles Finch has written an entertaining, if uneven, entry in this long-term Victorian series.

Charles Lenox has just spent two months investigating a series of robberies that led him to trouble within Scotland Yard, identifying three of four Detective Chief Inspectors involved in corruption, shocking Parliament and the people of London. To minimize damage to the ministers who recommended these detectives initially, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli believes it would be better if Lenox provided his testimony in writing and was out of the country during the actual trial. Disraeli proposes that Lenox “should meet with the police in the major American cities to establish international investigative cooperation and exchange the latest methods.”

As Lenox rides by train from NYC to Boston for the second leg of his visit, at an interim stop, he receives a telegram requesting he help with the investigation of the murder of a young woman in Newport, RI, where the wealthiest citizens of NY have “cottages”. One of those residents, a Wm Schermerhorn IV has requested the urgent assistance in investigating the murder. When a follow up telegram remarks on the unfitness of the local police, Lenox decides to put aside his future appointments and head to Newport to assist in the investigation.

Lenox’s investigation takes him to the cliffside mansions of Newport, where in addition to dealing with the murder of Lily Allingham, he finds preparations ongoing for Lady Caroline Astor’s annual ball opening the spring season in Newport. There, Lenox is treated to the wealth, glitter and glamour of 1880s Newport, surely something that would rival scenes to be found in aristocratic London.

Lenox’s charm is ever present, and he moves through the Newport society with his normal steadfastness. However, the pace of his investigation is restrained and the path to the resolution is exciting, but somewhat strained. Still, fans of Charles Finch should find much to like in his latest Charles Lenox mystery.

I thank NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an Advanced Reading Copy of this book.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2021

The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the BlitzThe Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Histories take various forms. Some concentrate on broad ranges of people and events. Others focus on singular events and a small number of historical figures. Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile captures a middle position, and does it very well. Larson examined the World War II period of May 10, 1940 to May 09, 1941 and focused the narrative on Winston Churchill and the German bombing of England during that period.

Larson deeply researched his work, using personal diaries and official histories from both sides of the conflict, to paint an intimate picture of the Churchill family and the circle of friends and government officials with a significant impact on the year he’s expansively covered. Unlike many histories, Larson avoids the pitfalls of densely cloaking his narrative just with facts, figures and events and ignoring the personal sides of history. This is a history that will enthrall history buffs, but also interest the casual reader as well. It is graced with humor, drama, and tragedy that unfolds as excitedly as a best-selling thriller.

Highly Recommended

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