Audiobook Review: City of Saints

 Many thanks to Audiobook Juke Box and AudioGo for providing a copy of this audiobook.

City of Saints is another name given to Salt Lake City, Utah, land of the Mormons. It is a cold, snowy, early morning, 1930, and a violent, merciless murder has occurred. (Only after did I discover that this is based on a true murder mystery, one that remains unsolved all these many years later!) Salt Lake County Deputy Art Oveson and his brash partner attend a reported crime scene and discover a woman left dead in the snow. The whole scene depicts the vengence and hatred that was acted towards this unknown woman. Run over as many as seven times, every bone in her body broken, one eye missing, it is truly a horrific and disturbing scene for the officers to come upon.

Over the course of Deputy Oveson’s attempt to solve the murder of Helen Kent Pfalzgraf, wife of highly-esteemed, and very wealthy Dr. Pfalzgraf, corruption, cover up and greed abound. Working to compound the situation is a Sheriff running for re-election all to willing to turn away any attention from Dr. Pfalzgraf following his sizeable donation to the Sheriff’s campaign.

But Art Oveson knows something stinks something rotten in Denmark, or, Salt Lake City in this case. Oveson actually comes from a long family line of cops – his grandfather, his father – a highly honoured officer killed in the line of duty, and every single one of his brothers. For Art, law enforcement isn’t a choice, it’s an expected line of work. Art is also “affectionately” known by his foul-mouthed, abrasive partner as “Saint Art, Choir Boy, Boy Scout, Officer Squeaky Clean, etc.” due to his immensely squeaky clean lifestyle. Art doesn’t swear, is a faithful and devout Mormon, doesn’t drink, won’t drink coffee and above all loves his ice cream, his wife and his family.

After a particularly quick and tidy supposed close to the case, with the suicide of one of Helen Pfalzgraf’s many beaus claiming guilt, Art continues to dig to get to the reality of the situation. Why is Dr. Pfalzgraf so heavily guarded? Why has there been a series of particularly brutal murders following the close of Helen’s case? Why was his partner targeted? Did Helen’s lover really commit suicide or was that a set-up?

Sifting through layer upon layer of the case, Art comes upon much corruption, cover-up and stall tactics, yet he remains determined to get to the bottom no matter how intense the fear for his own life. The whole story is a very smart and snappy little caper that comes to a very satisfying finish. I particularly enjoyed how Mr. Hunt wrapped up the very end of this story. Not only does he take the time to provide all the details to wrap up the story nicely, he also takes the time to bring us back to the beginning, to the person behind this entire case, and pays homage to Helen Pfalzgraf. Mr. Hunt hasn’t let the readers forget her, to let us remember that she was a bright, beautiful young woman that walked the earth and held her own dreams. Nice touch Mr. Hunt to bring us back to the reason for the mystery in the first place. Helen wasn’t callously cast aside to forgot the true reason for this murder mystery.

Now, this was provided as an audiobook, and I feel I have to be honest here, that although as the story went on I became more accustomed to the narration handled by Richard Waterhouse, in the beginning I wasn’t overly thrilled with it. In the beginning his narration sounded quite stilted, almost amateurish, I suppose? His narration of the female voices left me laughing out loud, and not in a good way. But like I mention, as the story went on, I was no longer put off by it. I’m not sure I would recommend listening to this, but I most certainly do recommend reading it! (and in any format you choose.) City of Saints was the winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize  for best first novel and was a very worthy win! I truly enjoyed this one.

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Review: Redefining Success

Ok– let me start off by saying that the experience of reading this book was a bit like a roller coaster ride.

Catapult: It started with an email from W. Brett’s administrator/publicist/fun co-ordinator asking us to review a book that is TOTALLY outside of our normal realm of reading. Is it a business book? Self help? Memoir? Maybe all of the above? All we know is it is “a dude from the Dragon’s Den” and the fun co-ordinator said our blog was “fantastic” and had “great notoriety”! Awwww! Thanks! With dewy eyes we checked out his website (which I thought was quite clever) and, sure, we’ll review it.

First Drop: Penny gets the book in the mail a few weeks later– in all of its over packaged, self-indulgent glory– and we are told we have a deadline! “Please read and review as close to the release date as possible” which is 2 days away. We are thinking “Hand over the pen filled with goat’s blood cos we’ve signed a deal with the devil here ladies!” and we all have a nice laugh.

Airtime: My experience with Dragon’s Den was the commercials I had seen while watching Rick Mercer or The National on CBC. Meaning, I had absolutely NO IDEA who W. Brett Wilson was. Was he the mean bald guy? Was he the woman with the red and grey hair? I had no clue. I get the book from Penny and notice that it is littered with photos of the guy in all kinds of unnatural poses. There are cheesy musings written to describe each contrived photo. All I can think is: He must be full of himself.

Fast straightaway: OK, the guy is quite successful! He started out as an investment banker (at a very high level) and became a bazillionare at a very young age. Ahhhhhh! And I see that he is quite the entrepreneur. His entrepreneurial mind works in a very entrepreneurial way. His MBA in entrepreneurship seems to have really helped him to become successful in all of his entrepreneurial ventures. Did I mention he is an entrepreneur?. Ok– one more time– entrepreneur!

Screeching Halt: The 80’s and 90s were very good to W. Brett. He has it all– success! money! family! He is rubbing elbows with some of the richest people around. There is a lot of name dropping of money giants from around the world that all seemed to be “very successful”, “close and personal friends” that he “learned a lot from” and “highly respects” (I recognized the name Richard Branson of Virgin Records fame but that was about it– my bank account is not that big!). Then, at the height of his success his wife leaves him because he works too much. He still has money but loses his family that he has been making the money for (and oh– he finds out he has really bad prostate cancer at the same time– it comes across as an aside in the book as well). He realizes these mistakes so he completely changes his business philosophy– stay filthy rich but take care of your loved ones and your health first. Bla! Bla! Bla! Cheesy, rich guy– I don’t feel sorry for you. I need a break! The book gets put aside– deadline or not.

Cork Screw: We get a reminder from the fun co-ordinator. “Your review isn’t done yet. When it is done please upload it  HERE.” We (as in I) have committed to reading it so let’s get back to it. I pick the book back up and I happen to be at the Dragon’s Den part.

Twister: Dragon’s Den is a Canadian show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch to five multi-millionaires, with the expertise (and the money) to turn great ideas into incredible fortunes (I think it was called Shark Tank in the U.S.). As I mentioned I had never watched the show so I Googled some of the products that W. Brett had invested in and that is when I changed my opinion of him. I not only found myself watching 4 or 5 deals from “The Den” but a couple of his presentations, some T.V. interviews and footage from his yearly Garden Party as well. In the book I thought he came across as braggy and conceited but in real life real life he is a lot more soft-spoken, intelligent and charming. I misjudged him by reading his book before knowing who the heck he even was. If you don’t know him Google first, read later (DD bio).

Happy Ending: This is a memoir, not a business book (as I had originally pegged it) and if you go into it with this knowledge you will enjoy it more. I would have liked to know a bit more about his personal life rather than all of that business but I think that is what he knows best so that is what he writes. W. Brett is a true PHILANTHROPIST– which by my definition means that he is rich enough to make a difference and mindful enough of world issues to give a shit. W. Brett gives MILLIONS of dollars of his own money to various causes and he inspires others to do the same. The mistakes he has made in his past made him become a better person, father and partner and investing in people rather than money has allowed him to make a difference in the world. Did he need to write a whole book? Probably not but fans of DD and high power business folk will probably enjoy it better than a broke Lab Tech, Book Blogger but it is uplifting to see that not all super rich investment banker/oil moguls are jerks (and I love that he quotes from Harry Potter). 3 stars.

Men are not known by their abilities, but rather by their choices. ~ Albus Dumbledore

Book Review: The End of Your Life Book Club

Grab a box of Kleenex and a pad of paper (or be VERY close to your Goodreads App)! As fellow Hoarder Penny says, “this book will make your ‘To Be Read’ pile EXPLODE!!” Thank you so much to Random House for sending us a copy to review! It will definitely be one that gets passed to all Hoarders! Liz! It’s coming to you next so get ready!

We chose this book for our “Wink 3” Book Club because it was going to be the featured book in October’s Chatelaine Magazine, it was starting to become a big buzz and, hey, it had Book Club in the title so why not?! It sure did not disappoint! As sad as the subject of losing a loved one to cancer is, this book somehow managed to be a truly up lifting story that you absolutely could NOT put down! This was author Will Schwalbe’s love letter to his dynamo of a mother, Mary Ann. Their Book Club of 2 took place in the waiting room of the cancer treatment centre. Mother and son were forever reading and their common interest in books became their way of communicating. “What are you reading?” was all they needed to ask and the conversations would be endless.

“We’re all in the end-of-our life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.”

One of the things I loved the most about this book (apart from the reading list) was that I could totally relate to these people despite the differences in our situations– proof that the “language” of reading is universal. We all feel the same when reading a good book– you just want to tell everyone you meet “HEY! You HAVE to read this book– it was soooo gooooood!”. Readers know what a thrill it is to meet another reader that is as passionate about books as you are. Like Will, I am also lucky enough to share my love of reading with my mom and I think that is another reason why this book resonated so much with me (that and Will’s difference in opinion with his mother as far as religion is concerned– my mother is religious (yikes! A CATHOLIC) and I am nowhere near that belief. He treats his mother’s beliefs with respect and understanding without sounding preachy and cheesy. I loved that!)

I also felt that even though the Schwalbes were a wealthy family and were very fortunate to live a privileged kind of lifestyle, it never seemed that they took it for granted. Will felt exceedingly lucky that he was able to quit his un-fulfilling job and Mary Ann never thought twice about giving her time (and I’m sure plenty of money) to refugees, volunteering overseas in Third World countries and building libraries in Afghanistan. Even being sick with cancer was something that Mary Ann was forever grateful that she could actually “afford” to do– many in the United States will go bankrupt when they get sick (Mary Ann’s dying wish was that Obama would FINALLY institute universal healthcare in the United States– something, I am thankful for every day as a Canadian– thank you Tommy Douglas!). Reading about these people made you want to become a better person rather than making you envious of all that they had. Will Schwalbe seems like such a genuinely great person! I would love to hang out with him!

And then there was the reading list! There were sooooooo many great books that I had read and was able to revisit and even more that I needed to add to the dreaded TBR pile (too many books– always a problem for a Literary Hoarder!). Some that were added were: The Lizard Cage, Felicia’s Journey, The Uncommon Reader, The Year of Magical Thinking, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, The Bolter, Suite Francais, A Long Way Gone, The Bite of the Mango and Continental Drift. When, oh WHEN, will I ever fit them in???

4 stars for this brilliant, feel good story that had me sobbing from page one! You HAVE to read this book! It was sooooo gooooood!

Mary Ann Schwable. Google her– she was quite the lady!

Note: Out of (morbid) curiosity I would have been interested in what Will and Mary Ann thought of the 50 Shades phenomenon had it been out during their time in the Book Club. Wow! Now, that would have been an awkward, but interesting, conversation for a mom and her gay son to have!! 😉

Book Review: Sutton (A Must Read)

Yes, I’ll say it right there in the title of the post: Sutton is an Absolute Must Read!!

You simply cannot tear your eyes away from the pages embellishing the life of William, Willie, “The Actor” Sutton, one of America’s most nortorious bank robbers. J.R. Moehringer has gifted us with a fine, fine, fine piece of storytelling.

Sutton is J.R. Moehringer’s vision (or “wish” for him as he states in the Forward) of the life and times of Willie Sutton as we follow him on the “nickel tour” of his life.

Nothing has panned out for me. As a kid I thought I would grow up to be happy. And good – I thought I’d be a good person, Bess. But I’m as bad as they come. The judge said.      No no no. You’re a good man who’s done bad things.”

On Christmas Eve 1969, Sutton was released from Attica after serving approximately 17 years. He was in poor health and by this time had spent many, many years in various prisons (and escaping from them as well). He did time, first in Sing Sing, then Dannemora, Eastern State in Pennyslvania (the first US penitentiary) and Attica, to name a few. The story is told from Moehringer’s perspective of what he thought occurred upon his release and from what transpired after Sutton’s lawyer agreed for him to spend Christmas Day with one reporter and one photographer to take them on a tour of his most famous crime scenes. The story that gloriously unfolds is, as I mention above, a pure gift of storytelling. A work of literary beauty. Seriously.

It’s Christmas Day, 1969: Much to the reporter’s dismay, Sutton takes them on a tour that begins all the way back at the location of his childhood home. Sutton was the fourth of five children, and the youngest boy. He was subjected to intense brutality at the hands of his older brothers and his main hang around, true to him always gang was two other boys from “Irishtown” in Brooklyn. (No one gave much thought or credence to those Irishtown boys. They were all good-for-nothings)

And, so begins a time when you will find yourself completely and whole-heartedly immersed in this wonderfully spun tale of Sutton’s life. You need to make sure you set aside a large part of your day because you will not want to put this book down. Chapter after chapter of fantastic story telling. From Sutton’s survival of sibling brutality, to his one and only, Bess, whom he forever spends the remainder of his life thinking of, to the first of his robberies, to his escapes, all the way until the final days of his life. In between the pages of Sutton you will read of an intense infatuation and love for his girl, Bess, to  times when he suffers some of the worst police brutality, the kind of which no person would ever survive, to 18 months spent in isolation during one jail term…. On and on as this wonderful, wonderful gift is unwrapped by you.

During one stint in Eastern State, Willie holds a job typing up notes from the prison psychiatrist (now wouldn’t that be an interesting job?) and the “Shrink” sums up much of Sutton’s life  and story quite nicely:

“So then. The alienation from the mother and father, the sibling abuse, the grim poverty of your early years, the simultaneity of your life span with a series of the most violent economic convulsions in history, it all created an uncommonly dangerous and potent witches’ brew. By the time you came of age you were very likely to go down the wrong path, to have a great deal of trouble controlling your impulses, but my God, Willie, add to all that the convergence of your first crime with overpowering first love – that sealed it. We don’t know if criminal natures are born or made, but you were certainly shaped by some extent, to a large extent, by external events, and by an environment that rendered criminality all but inevitable. Now what makes you different, what makes you more dangerous than other men in this institution is your first-rate intelligence….cunning. All of which makes you highly appealing, seductive, charismatic, to accomplices, to casual observers, to newspapers, even to some of your victims…..But no one will evewr pay more dearly than you Willie, you, because you still don’t think yourself a criminal. You see yourself, or portray yourself which amounts to the same thing, as an honest person who happens to have committed crimes.”

I eagerly encourage you to grab a copy of Sutton today. Spend your weekend immersed in Willie “the Actor” “Slick Willie” Sutton’s tale. You will most certainly and most definitely not be disappointed. Wrap it up and put it under your favourite bookworm’s tree this Christmas. It will surely become their very favourite gift.

After a frustrating trip for the reporter and the photographer (but a fabulous trip for us) the reporter concludes that Willie has led three separate lives: The one he remembered, the one he told people about, the one that really happened. Where those lives overlapped, no one can say, and God help anyone who tries. More than likely, Sutton himself didn’t know.

What else is cooking in the works Mr. Moehringer because I need more from you!