Thursday, June 25, 2015

Heard: "The Farm" by Tom Rob Smith

Heard: The Farm by Tom Robb Smith, 2014, download.

When my wife and I moved to Arizona at the end of 1999 we only knew one person there. Pastor Tom (P.T.) was my church's youth pastor when I was in middle and high school. When we married out-of-state in mid-1999 we asked him to officiate the ceremony.

P.T. had worked at my church for a while while attending grad school - as I recall. He then took a job in the Northwest Territories for a time. He left that position after a couple years, went elsewhere, and landed in Casa Grande, AZ working as a prison chaplain.  He was 1.5 to 2 hours away from us so we did not often see him. He later moved to Buckeye, AZ and we met him for lunch one day north Phoenix near my wife's workplace. My wife was working that day and she returned to her job after lunch. P.T. said he wanted to talk with me. OK, we stayed at the restaurant table and talked.

P.T. filled me on how his suspicions and certainties that he was being followed and observed. He couldn't identify who these people were but he had strong suspicions. P.T. told me these people were politically powerful. They'd been in his house. They were conspiring to have him fired from his job. P.T. was worried for his safety  He was scared and unsure how to proceed.This conspiracy seemed to be following him since his time in Canada.

How did I react? Well, P.T. was earnest. He was believable. He was an unimpeachable authority figure since I was a teenager. How could I not believe him? P.T.'s education, training, and experience was in counseling and included mental health treatment. So, when he said, "Give me any test and I'll pass, I know this is happening," what could I do but believe him? 

Maybe a vindictive person really did have it out for P.T. and that person did have a couple friends with authority. It wasn't impossible that a whisper campaign had followed P.T. from Canada. I was a bit skeptical and thought he was worrying too much and exaggerating things. But, I also had enough faith in his observations and experiences that maybe something was happening.

Apparently a similar thing happened to Smith, except it was Smith's mother who was convinced people were out to get her. So, Smith wrote a book where a narrator gets a call from his dad saying that the narrator's mother has been hospitalized for her mental health. The narrator, Daniel, then gets another call from his mom. She has landed in London to meet with him.

Mom tells the story: Mom and Dad retired to Mom's home country of Sweden. They never told Daniel that they were broke. The purchased a remote farm property and hope to get by on farming and fishing and maybe hosting vacationers. Their nearest neighbor is Hakan, a wealthy and rude man concerned with power. Hakan's teen daughter, Mia, is adopted and Mom thinks her black skin leaves her an outcast.

Mom is very suspicious of Dad's new friendship with Hakan, She thinks, she knows, they are up to something and Mom starts to collect evidence. When Mia disappears Hakan says she ran away. Mom knows Mia is dead and collects more evidence. Mom tells the story and sounds crazier and crazier. But, there are questions.  Daniel ends up getting Mom admitted to a mental health facility. Three months later Daniel flies to Sweden hoping that he can find answers about Mia's disappearance that will help his mother accept treatment and recover.

Anyway. This write-up is running long. Audiobook narration by James Langton and Suzanne Toren was quite good. Toren had the tough task of being both nuts and believable. Mom sees patterns everywhere: the LCD panel on a outboard boat engine, a quilted wall hanging, the way Mia dresses, Hakan's sideways smile in a photograph. Her evidence is bizarre at best.

There do turn out to be hidden secrets. You knew there would be. Those secrets are a bit surprising and make sense.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Finally Done: "1914: Voices From the Battlefield" by Matthew Richardson

Finally Done: 1914: Voices From the Battlefield by Matthew Richardson, 2013, 9781848847774.

Richardson uses diaries, letters, and memoirs from soldiers to tell the main battle histories of 1914. Starting with the German push into France, brief stalemate outside Paris, attempts by both sides to swing north and flank one another, down to fighting around Paris and then to Ypres.

A neat book that fell victim to my tendency to study rather than enjoy NonFic titles. The maps were not very good. Speaking of which, I think I bought a WWI themed book of maps...yep, just found it listed on the shelf: Mapping the First World War: battlefields of the great conflict from above by Simon Forty. Those maps are from the British national archive and from the period.

Anyway. I liked this but must admit I was not enthralled. There are several times I lay reading this in bed and falling asleep. [Lay? Laying? Lying? No matter.] But, Richardson did a neat job of writing his own narrative of the battles which included researching details down to platoon and company level and then integrating the many personal stories of Allied and German soldiers.

1. The English Army in that first year was all professionals. The reserves that were called up had done several years in active duty before finishing their enlistment. They were still speed shooting their rifles.
2. The English soldiers were motivated to fight. So were the Germans. They both considered the other the aggressor. Discipline, unit pride, faith in each other, etc. kept them on the line under massive artillery attacks.
3. Massive and prolonged artillery attacks started out early in the war. That was not something that developed. I was reading through The Western Front Companion that covered how walking barrages were developed over time.
4. No civilian voices. British troops do write about refugees and civilians who hunker down trying to wait things out.
5. Throughout the book are portraits of some of the memoir writers and some of the many dead from each battle.
6. No stories of note for me to repeat. Human wave tactics seemed to be the norm. The Germans would advance across flat land against massed rifle fire, machine gun fire and artillery. It's amazing anyone survived enough to reach the enemy let alone overcome the enemy position.
7. Richardson mentions how several of the soldiers he includes wrote professionally in their pre-war and post-war lives. I'd like to look up a few of those titles but do not want to hunt through 1914 to find those people again. The bib. does list some of the full published memoirs he pulled from.
8. Reminds me of the first two books from Siegfried Sassoon's Sherston trilogy. The second book, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, was damn good. I still haven't read the third book.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Heard: "Don't Turn Around" by Michelle Gagnon

Heard: Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, 2012, Overdrive download.

Is this a YA novel? This is a YA novel, isn't it? I did not know this was a YA novel. I though Gagnon wrote fiction aimed at adults. No worries, this was a nice change of pace with teen characters in danger.

Orphan, and foster-system-runaway, Noa wakes up on a hospital bed but has no memory how she got there. She gets out of bed and discovers she is not in a hospital. Two men come in with, "Oh, you're awake." One leaves for help the other tries to stop Noa. Noa escapes with violence, speed and guile and finds herself outside in winter an among a warren of warehouses.

Meanwhile, rich kid Peter is at home feeling bad for himself. His parents are away for a marriage anniversary and his college girlfriend is busy. Peter starts messing with his attorney father's computer files. Peter is a hacker and when he finds something odd called Persefone so Peter starts pecking around. Soon enough big guys in black break into his house, take his computer, tell him to shut it, and that they know his parents. Oooh, spooky and scary.

Peter and Noa know each other from their online aliases. Peter started a socially conscious hacker group that exposes animal cruelty, child abuse, etc. After Noa's escape from the warehouse she gets back online and discovers a request for help from Peter. Peter's computer is gone and he is being watched so he cannot research Persefone. Peter offers payment to Noa and Newly-Noa-On-The-Street needs the dough.

Things happen. Noa is left with an odd scar from her abduction. Peter and Noa finds docs on the Persephone site showing medical experiments that seemed tied to an attempt to cure a wasting disease contracted by teenagers. The bad guys are part of a large conspiracy of wealthy people. They are able to cover things up and have the cash and people to move large labs. Peters parents are involved somehow but under the thumb of a mid-level bad guy.

The bad guys are very bad. They have been kidnapping street kids and experimenting on them, killing them, chopping up the bodies and disposing of them. Noa and Peter ultimately escape with Noa in the wind and Peter at home under his parents protection. Noa has escaped with another orphan and Peter anonymously receives an new AirBook from her to set-up the sequel.

1. Nothing of note to say. It was a fun read. Budding romance between the emotionally walled off Noa and Peter. There are big socio-economic walls between them. Noa was orphaned as a 9-year-old and bounced around bad foster homes until she used her computer skills to create a fictitious ID and get work as an online IT security consultant.
2. Peter's parents are benevolent in their neglect. They give him cash and a house. A computer and public school. They've never gotten over the death of Peter's older brother. Mid-way through the novel they declare, during a time of stress, that the wrong son died.
3. Not a lot of computer talk but enough to keep things on track for non IT people like myself.
4. The third book in the series does not have an audio version available in the state ebook collection. I'll fix that.