Mrs Smith Reads Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson, #CBR5, Review #14

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Everybody’s parents screw up. In Antony Baekeland’s case, it seems he never even had a chance against the completely off the scale fucked-up-edness of his parents and their raising of him. Savage Grace documents, through interviews, letters and remembrances, as well as medical and police reports, the long strange trip it was, growing up and becoming the poor little rich boy who murdered his mother.

Mrs Smith Reads Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson

Mrs Smith Reads Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden, #CBR5, Review #13

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As a descendent of the Cornelius Vanderbilt dynasty, Wendy Burden was guaranteed a life of money and privilege. But with that, she also had to endure a childhood full of bad parenting, indulgent and unprepared grandparents, her father’s suicide, her brothers’ drug abuse and alcoholism, her mother’s poor choices in partners and a life spent shuttling back and forth between family members, none of whom had any practical knowledge of how to raise children.

In Dead End Gene Pool, Burden relates her childhood with self-deprecating humor and a clear-eyed view of her parents’ and grandparents’ limitations as caregivers. After her father’s suicide, when Wendy was six, her mother just basically packed up and left her and her two brothers with their paternal grandparents—Gaga and Popsie Burden. Of course the siblings daily lives were really handled by the servants, which Popsie insisted one could never have enough of. All three children were constantly shuttled from pillar to post, Fifth Avenue, to Maine, to Florida, boarding schools and back again as the senior Burdens resided in their many seasonal homes.

Mrs Smith Reads Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Mrs Smith Reads The Jackal’s Share by Christopher Morgan Jones, #CBR5 Review #12

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The Jackal’s Share is Christopher Morgan Jones’ second novel. Jones worked as a London private investigator and has now become a writer of espionage thrillers, centered around his literary doppleganger, Ben Webster. I suppose the real life of an investigator might be rather mundane and procedural in general, peppered with the occasional exciting, life-threatening situation and Jones certainly writes to this formula, though, while probably honest, it isn’t very entertaining.

The story begins as Ben is assigned to do a background check on Darius Qazai, at the behest of Qazai himself, who is trying to organize an immense business transaction with an American company, and has been rejected due to a potentially damaging accusation of aiding in the smuggling of antiquities out of his native Iran. Qazai wants Webster to disprove the charges and vet Qazai as an honorable businessman, to counter the investigative report obtained by the American buyers from another agency.

Mrs Smith Reads The Jackal’s Share by Christopher Morgan Jones

Mrs Smith Reads Tenth of December by George Saunders, #CBR5 Review #11

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”…any claim I might make to originality in my fiction is really just the result of this odd background: basically, just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don’t have sufficient background to really understand. Like if you put a welder to designing dresses.”
—George Saunders

I really hesitated to read Tenth of December, a compilation of previously published short stories by George Saunders. I had seen Saunders on “The Colbert Report” and liked what I had heard from friends who had read his work. He’s often favorably compared with other writers that I really, really like and my own writing style was once described as being similar to his. And that was the problem. I did not want to be disappointed. Saunders had been proffered as the perfect author for me and I couldn’t bear to be let down, because obviously, the failure would be mine.

Mrs Smith Reads Tenth of December by George Saunders

Mrs Smith Reads Beyond Outrage by Robert B. Reich, #CBR5 Review #10

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If you’ve got about an hour, read Beyond Outrage by Robert Reich. You won’t be sorry, and, you’ll feel a little bit smarter about what’s going on with the US economy and its government but also be a little bit angry that there seem to be quite a few people in the world intent of screwing things up for everybody else, just so they can have a lot more for themselves.

Mrs Smith Reads Beyond Outrage by Robert B. Reich

Mrs Smith Reads The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick, #CBR5 Review #9

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Christ at Emmaus, Han van Meegeren, 1937, one of his many “Vermeers”

The True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century

The Forger’s Spell took me a long time to read. It’s one of those books that was interesting to me in its subject matter, but meandered and wandered all over the place, often heading down parallel paths that honestly had nothing to do with the main story.

Edward Dolnick plays out for us the story of Han van Meegeren, a mediocre Dutch painter with a flair for mimicking the styles of more famous artists such as Vermeer and de Hooch. He managed to become fabulously wealthy proffering his work to Dutch museums, wealthy collectors and, famously, fooling both Hitler and Herman Goering into competitively pursuing his Vermeer forgeries during the Nazi occupation of Holland during WWII.

Mrs Smith Reads The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick

Mrs Smith Reads Testimony by Anita Shreve, #CBR5, Review #8

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Before Testimony, the only other Anita Shreve novel I had read was The Pilot’s Wife, which I liked, but didn’t really love. Testimony, on the other hand, left me feeling disgusted with it’s tale of sexual misadventure at a New England boarding school, the tragic events that set the story in motion and the fallout for all those involved.

The narrative begins with Mike Bordwin, Headmaster of Avery Academy, who has received a videotape which shows three male students and a 14-year-old Freshman girl, involved in graphic sex in an Avery dorm room. The unfolding events are told through myriad narrators, each of whom offer their remembrances of and involvement in the scandal, which eventually leads to suspensions, arrests, firings, divorces, and death, within the school itself and in the surrounding community.

I should probably offer a *Trigger Warning* at this point because I feel the need to discuss some of the awkward contrivances Shreve places in the story, all of which made me cringe inwardly as she attempted to make readers feel sorry for the “boys” involved and to place all the blame on the jezebel.

Mrs Smith Reads Testimony by Anita Shreve

Mrs Smith Reads The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton (A Laurence Bartram Mystery) by Elizabeth Speller, #CBR5, Review #7

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In The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, Elizabeth Speller attempts to bring back the English manor house mystery. Unfortunately, she tried, and failed. In 400 pages, Speller tries to bring three or four plot lines together into one long, confusing and yet somehow still blasé novel.

Laurence Bartram, whom Speller introduced in her first novel The Return of Captain John Emmet, is a wounded WWI vet who’s wife died in childbirth while he was stationed in France. After the war, he returns to his former profession as an architectural historian. At the opening of the story, Bartram has arrived in Wiltshire, at Easton Deadall to assist the Easton family in restoring their estate to it’s former glory, in particular the ancient church on the grounds, which has fallen into disuse and disrepair. The current head of the Easton family, Lydia Easton, has also decided to install a new stained glass window in the church to commemorate her dead husband and to build a maze on the estate grounds in honor of the many fallen soldiers of the community.

Laurence learns that thirteen years before, Lydia’s 5-year-old daughter Kitty had vanished one night and was never seen again. Lydia is the only person who still clings to the hope that Kitty is alive and Laurence is intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

Mrs Smith Reads The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

Mrs Smith Reads Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, #CBR5, Review #6

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Strangely, I wanted to read Going Clear, not because it’s about the crazytown that is Scientology, but because it was written by Lawrence Wright. I lovedThe Looming Tower and Wright’s ability to define and explain the birth and history of Al Qaeda had been clear and relatively free of prejudice. I was impressed with his ability to create a roadmap of the terrorist network from it’s fundamentalist beginnings to the massive 9/11 attack and was impressed with his informative and yet accessible writing style. I knew an examination of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard made a perfect undertaking for Wright’s investigative journalism skills and I was not disappointed.

Going Clear is really a story in two parts. The first, examines the life and work of L. Ron Hubbard, the inventor of Dianetics and subsequently, The Church of Scientology. The Church is notoriously protective of it’s founder’s image, yet Wright seems to have dexterously separated the facts from the fiction—mostly propagated by Hubbard himself. I found this section to be the most fascinating. It’s a deep-dive into the psyche of a seemingly self-loathing sociopath who managed to turn himself from a charismatic prevaricator into a messiah; a man who used his own self-defeating tactics to create a never-ending series of humiliating tests that would keep his followers on an unobtainable quest to become “clear.” Since Hubbard himself began his career as a science fiction writer, it will surprise no one that ultimately his new religion would include aliens and a quadrillion-year back story that generally serves to confuse even the most committed acolytes. I had heard jokes aboutXenu and Thetans, but upon reading the full explanation, I was laughing out loud.

Mrs Smith Reads Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Mrs Smith Reads Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyer, #CBR5, Review #5

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Before Where the Bodies Are Buried, I had never read anything by Christopher Brookmyer but it seems I latched on in a good starting place, as this Glasgow-based murder mystery is the first in a new series for him. As a long time fan of both Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover another author who could indulge my affection for all things Scottish and murder-y.

Where the Bodies Are Buried by Christopher Brookmyer