The queen has arrived

I had to requeen a couple of hives – both because the queens went missing, and one of which had a laying worker issue – and I added a mated queen to another, to bypass having the workers build one of their own, which can be an iffy thing.

Two hives went queenless, and a third was a split I’d made off a larger hive. When i went out to check on queen releases, all had been released by the workers – but I couldn’t find two of them. The queen in the split I found readily enough, but she was not yet laying. The other two? No dice, even taking down the entire stacks of boxes from both. That could have just been the queens being much faster than me, or me simply missing them and their blue dots.

So I went back out a few days later, and in one of the two where I had been unable to find the queen previously, I did spot her. I also found the girls pulling out the drone brood the laying worker had been creating everywhere. so she would have space to lay up the frames.  A very good thing, that. In the other: still no sign of the new queen. I’m going to head out tomorrow to try to find her one last time. If I can’t, I’ll be pulling the rest of the honey off that hive, reducing them down to two brood boxes (as I run eight frame mediums for everything), and ordering yet another queen to see if they’ll take her.

On the split, however, I caught the queen in the act of laying, something I’ve rarely seen and never managed to film. Until that day.

This was a four frame split from the larger hive, and I expect the queen to lay up the box to get it to full strength by “winter”, such as it is here. These new queens are from Wildflower Meadows, and they specifically breed as hygenic queens. Their customer service is also great. Between drones from my survivor hives, and the inevitable succession daughters of these queens, I should potentially get some great genetics for my yard.

Did I hold?

So….the last time I graced you with my presence, I had been talking about doing some limited gardening this year, to give my raised beds and myself a break.

To be fair, that’s how it started. I got some seed started in flats under the lights in the barn.

Things just snowballed from there. As long as I was growing x, I reasoned, I could just as easily go ahead and grow y as well. So I direct sowed carrot and radishes and cukes and sunflowers and okra and green beans and lima beans and sweet potatoes .  I stuck garlic cloves into dirt  in a window sill planter and put it in the barn under the grow lights. Before I knew it, I had a fully fledged garden operation going. Again.

And while I was at it, I thought, we should get some more meat birds so we could run them in and out before it got brutally hot. Once summer hits, it’s no fun raising meat birds. They’re hot, you’re hot, nobody’s happy.

So we did. I ordered 25 cornish cross chicks.  We lost one the first day, one the next, and I put the other 23 out in the chicken tractor as soon as I could. One of those vanished into thin air, perhaps in the jaws of a rather persistent red fox that’s been visiting the ranch, so at the moment, I have 22 tiny dinosaurs who don’t do much other than eat, sleep, and poop out on pasture.

Then, something got into the main  chicken yard and killed all but one of my laying hens – most likely a raccoon, since one was missing a head and raccoons do like chicken heads. That left one lonely chicken I’ve named Bernice. Despite my mother saying no more laying hens, I ordered six new baby layers. They arrived just before I was able to set the meaties out on pasture. Picture 32 chicks, peeping constantly except when they were sleeping, in your garage.  Now just he six layer chicks are out there, and foremost on my mind at this  very moment is looking for scrap wood tomorrow so I can throw together a small chicken tractor and get them outside –  but still have extra protection, as there’s a red-shouldered hawk that likes to hang out in the trees near the chicken yard, and a not-yet ready layer would fit in its talons nicely. The evening temps should also not be in the 50s again after tonight, although with the weirdo weather we’ve been having, I’ll have to have a contingency plan, just in case.

Two days ago, I got in on a bulk order of vanilla beans, which at retail and even some bulk places is worth more than gold right now. I put dibs on 20 ounces of Indonesian Grade A beans at $12/ounce, and if you know anything about vanilla, you know that is a major deal.

Then I lost my mind and wondered if we could grow vanilla here. It’s hot, it’s humid – those are the kind of conditions it prefers. o I ordered a 9″ vanilla orchid cutting to cultivate here. In the “winter” and spring, when it isn’t very humid during the day and the evenings can dip under 50F, I can either put it in the barn, or (more likely) I can build a small greenhouse for it. It requires hand pollination in the very small window of opportunity it presents flowers. Because what’s one more thing to add to the mix here?

I have four pots of bamboo I’m cultivating so in the future I can harvest and use it for projects around the ranch. I have a meyer lemon, ponderosa lemon, persian lime, and a fig tree in pots on my driveway.

There’s a wisteria in the front garden that acts like it was the star of The Blob. It has swallowed and killed half the blackberries along the fenceline, and is trying to move in on the blueberries (which are taking forever to ripen because of the weird weather).

I put 50 strawberry plants in amongst the asaparagus. There are at least 25 more coming, and I think around 30 more asparagus roots as well. The grapes on the western side of the north garden are beginning to fruit, and it’s a race to see who will get them first: disease, birds, or us.

I now have 12 hives in the beeyard, with one split trying to make a queen. For the first time in a couple of years, we’ll have honey to process again.  I designed an inner cover with ventilation and a place for a feeding jar for new colonies so I don’t have to put feeders at the front of the hives, which can often put a hive at risk for robbing. This way, the feeder is safely inside, covered by an empty hive body, bu the bees cannot get up into the empty space to draw comb that winds up being a pain. Several of the hives are new, and the queens in those hive are absolutely slamming it – if they don’t produce enough honey for m to take some off after the current nectar flow dries up, they’ll surely have some for the fall flow.

As for me: I’ve been out exactly three times since the first week in March. Two of those were to the post office to pick up birds and bees. One was to the NOC. This is not something I particularly mind, as I’d rather be home (although I do kind of miss wandering around the garden center at the two major hardware big box stores).

I hope all of you are well and not going stir crazy from quarantines.

Until next time, peeps: be well. Stay safe.

So much happening

Out there in the world, I mean. Some time ago, I stopped following the news. I also ditched social media, for the most part, except for business-related things. I have to say that it was liberating, and has reduced my stress levels quite a bit.

As I type this, the country is basically shutting down, because the incompetence of the current Administration virtually guaranteed that our initial response to COVID-19 would be…..nothing. The first case of COVID-19 showed up here in the US in JANUARY. Despite warnings, the dumbass in chief downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, and now here we all sit, quarantined, with a finally-reacting government unable (and, truthfully, I think, unwilling) to do a whole lot about it. Our situation here in the US is worse because after deciding that nothing was probably not the correct approach, they’ve moved to the slow, tedious, red-tape filled response level. It has been astonishing, after dipping my toe back into the news, to see the bullshit from the White House about this.

I can only take so much of it, though. As much of an information junkie that I am, I still cannot justify to myself any need to have all the social media crap open in my browsers or on my phone through the day. Is there anything I can do to increase the speed at which our government acts? No. Is there any information I personally have about COVID-19 that would be useful to anyone? No. Do I need to be reminded time and again that stupid people exist and that there are far more people only concerned about themselves (that would be you, spring breakers, telling the news that you had this trip planned for months, and you’re going to party, dammit!) than most people in general realize? Nope, I get enough of that at my day job.

So, I’m just working. Taking care of my dogs and my chickens and my bees. Still no gardening this year. I’ve discovered that years of recurrent pneumonia means I just don’t have the stamina to do it all this year. But next year, I’m planning big things in the garden.

A couple of days ago, I ordered a batch of meat birds. They will ship on the 31st. I’ll raise them up, and then process them at about eight weeks. I also ordered some more layer hens, to get our egg production back in order.

The dogs have an appointment to get their teeth cleaned on the 31st. I was on the edge about canceling that, but they really do need it, as last year they didn’t go. Plus, the interaction I have at the vet for this is much less than a regular visit.

I canceled all my own doctor visits slated for March and April. I don’t think hanging out in areas full of sick people or possibly sick people (given the spread of the virus by asymptomatic people) is the best idea for me. The next appointment on the calendar is for the first week in May, with the ENT who did my laryngectomy. It will be one year since the Big Op, which just amazes me. Time flies and all that.

That’s it for now. Nothing very exciting is happening, and I’m continuing to read a lot of books (and I owe reviews on five or six right now, which I will write up later this morning). I am also discovering lots of new sites and YouTube channels that I probably would not have had it not been for those few forays back into social media. Happy accidents.

Until next time, peeps: be well. Wash your hands. Stay home.  We’re a resilient species, and most likely, we’ll get through this one way or another.

Review: House Privilege (Joe DeMarco #14)

One of the best things about reading is stumbling across a series you didn’t know existed.

One of the worst things about reading is stumbling across a series you didn’t know existed.

I would say House Privilege falls into both of those categories for me. The first, because I do enjoy books like this, where a fixer works (mostly) behind the scenes to do things to support an Important Person, whether that Important Person is a politician, a big business/union leader, an athlete, and so on. The second, because it means that I don’t know the canon of that fixer: their history, their strengths or weaknesses, and how successful they’ve been in the past to fix something for their employer. As this is number fourteen in a series, I’d be inclined to guess that Joe DeMarco is fairly successful.

House Privilege opens with DeMarco returning to Washington, DC, after his equivalent of a mob no-show job was discovered with the political winds having changed the US government, and his Democrat boss John Mahoney lost his role as Speaker of the House. Those winds have changed again, and Mahoney is poised to reclaim the gavel and, by extension, return DeMarco to his post as Mahoney’s personal fixer. His first job seems relatively easy: check up on Cassie Russell, the only survivor of a small plane crash that killed her billionaire parents and that left Mahoney as her legal guardian, as Mahoney’s wife is out west, seeing to a terminally ill friend.

DeMarco dutifully heads to Boston, where he meets the girl and the Russell’s housekeeper, and finds Cassie thinks she will just stay in her parent’s home and doesn’t understand that isn’t quite how it’s going to work. But he doesn’t disabuse her of that thought, and heads out to meet the manager of the Russell’s trust, Erin Kelly, who appears to be capable enough, and when DeMarco asks her about a few things, has ready answers for how to handle them. He leaves, fairly confident that other than the girl’s ideas about where she will live, everything is fine.

Spoilers ahead….skip to SPOILERS END for the summary.


On his return to the Russell’s house to check in again on Cassie, the housekeeper gives him a name: Jerry Feldman. She overheard a conversation the Russells were having that indicated all may not have been well with Erin Kelly’s management of the trust, and that a CPA named Jerry Feldman was auditing the books for it. DeMarco heads out to find Feldman.

Feldman, unfortunately, has met his demise during a robbery of a convenience store, which seems rather coincidental, and DeMarco digs around, only to find that Erin Kelly is the niece of Mike Kelly, a notorious mobster in Boston. This raises the question for him – although not for us, having already received scenes between Mike and Erin that detail how angry she is that Cassie was not also killed in the plane crash and that she wants someone else killed as well – that perhaps Erin is not the chipper go-getter she appears to be.

DeMarco finds out that Feldman has been killed and believes Cassie may also be in danger, so he takes her up to a property owned by the Russells – a cabin in the woods, with few neighbors, and what neighbors there are a good bit of distance away. Pat McGuire, Mike Kelly’s top guy, has followed them there and attempts to kill Cassie. He is interrupted by a couple of teenagers (a young man and woman), and flees after shooting the young man and trying to shoot at Cassie as she swims away. One problem: McGuire has left fingerprints on the inflatable raft he used while there.

Now sure that Erin Kelly is a very bad person, DeMarco tells a Boston PD detective about all of it, but of course, jurisdictional problems are a thing. The NTSB, investigating the plane crash, won’t have a findings for awhile, and there are no direct links between any of it that he can prove.

DeMarco learns from Mahoney that there’s someone attempting to blackmail him with what are supposedly Mahoney cheating with a woman. Knowing that Mahoney does cheat on his wife, DeMarco meets with the blackmailer, who, it turns out, is a guy who was fired from his job for excessive absenteeism due to being an alcoholic, but who is now sober but in desperate need of money. He decides he just doesn’t have the heart to be a bad guy, and tells DeMaarco to forget it.

Meanwhile, McGuire, knowing he will be arrested once his prints are lifted, makes Mike promise that if anything happens to him that Mike will take care of McGuire’s elderly mother. Mike by now knows that his niece is in charge of billions of dollars and is considering how much he can wring out of her to keep her secrets – like the fact she came to him to get people killed, which has been captured on tape.

DeMarco realizes that the only solution is to keep the audit going, so it can be shown that Kelly was embezzling. He approaches the other two members of the three person board overseeing the trust (Mahoney is the third), and they agree the audit should proceed. A team shows up at the trust, taking everything and kicking Kelly out.

Before they get things locked down, Kelly accesses the trust funds electronically and transfers out over a hundred million dollars, then transfers those funds into other accounts at other banks, attempting to hide the trail. She then flees to London on her own passport and then to Montenegro under an assumed identity.

DeMarco turns to the investigative firm that had fired the blackmailer, and hires them to find Kelly, on the condition they hire the guy back and have him work on this case. They agree, since he had been one of their top investigators. They track Kelly to Montenegro, and DeMarco and his (now) crew, including the wannabe blackmailer, another operator from the investigative firm, and a disgraced doctor, head there. Mike Kelly also sends a crew there, to grab his niece.

The end is a caper. DeMarco and company put on a show to lure the bad guys into getting arrested, and act out their plan to grab Erin Kelly and hustle her out of the country. Back in the US, Erin Kelly is arrested for financial crimes and McGuire is arrested for attempted murder. Kelly thinks she’s maybe get four or five years, max, and McGuire is prepared to keep his mouth shut to protect Mike Kelly, but after he learns his mother has died while Mike Kelly was supposed to be overseeing her care, thinks Mike murdered her and considers talking. He then talks himself into believing she died of natural causes, given her age, and is prepared again to keep his mouth shut. He is stabbed while in jail, but survives, and tell DeMarco that all the dirt Mike Kelly has collected over the years on powerful people, and the tape with Erin Kelly saying she wanted people dead, is in a safe on a property he owns. Everyone is toast at this point except McGuire.

The book ends with Mahoney’s wife spending time with Cassie, and telling DeMarco Cassie will live with her in the Mahoney’s home in Boston, and the housekeeper and her husband will move with them. DeMarco is then sent off to Minnesota to deal with another matter.

SPOILERS END

Overall, it’s a good, fast read, and fun, too, if you enjoy stories about fixers that involve capers. While this is a book deep into the series character DeMarco, it can be read as a standalone, as enough information is given on DeMarco to know who he is and what he does. There’s only one infodump, and it’s a bit of a required one, to describe the no-show job Mahoney had created to stash DeMarco so he would be around to do whatever things Mahoney needed him to do.

I liked this quite a bit and will be going back to the beginning to read more about Joe DeMarco.

A solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atlantic Monthly Press for the advance copy.

Reading, no writing, and arithmetic

I always wondered about “The Three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic” and why they were called The Three Rs when only one of the words begins with an R. Was it a pirate’s turn making up rules that day? Did the pirate work in an office with a bunch of teachers and won the office pool that day? “There’s three arrrrs, I tell you: rrrrreading, wrrrriting, and arrrrithmetic.” Then the pirate slams back a mug of grog and invites everyone to the ship for some rrrrum.

Anyhow, I have been doing quite a bit of reading, as one might tell from the reviews starting to pop up on this here blog. There are some people who will say it’s just refilling the creative well, but really it’s just something I can do between flurries of activity in the server migrations we’re doing. Fortunately, I read incredibly quickly and always have, so I’ve been pounding down books – mostly mysteries, as that’s my jam these days – courtesy of ARCs (advance reading copies) I get from publishers. In return, I do reviews of those books, on Goodreads and on Amazon when the books are released. I figured as long as I’m doing the reviews, I might as well stick them on the blog as well.

No writing: no real time. I know the old “If you want to write, you’ll find the time” but most of the things we’re doing with migrations is all hands on, with just brief periods  in between the various things that have to happen to get the migrations of done. Fortunately, as we approach nine months of non-stop migrations, we are reaching the end, so it isn’t as hectic. The next couple of servers we’ll start Monday. Between now and then, I’m working on mail-related stuff. It’s mostly to make my life easier, and give me some time back that would otherwise be spent on mail. Between this and the end of migrations, which is so close I can feel it, and with the addition of not doing a garden this year, I’ll probably be able to have some uninterrupted/unbusy time to get some writing done. I hope.

Arrrrrrithmetic: counting down to when the migrations will be done and over with, really, and counting the number of servers left to migrate. It will be nice to get that number to zero. Then we can sit back and say: we did it.

I hope all is good with you, peeps, and until next time: be well.

Review: Past Deeds (Brandon Fisher FBI #8)

Special Agent Brandon Fisher of the FBI’s BAU team investigates the sniper death of a prosecuting attorney in Arlington, VA.

That’s a bit misleading, as Fisher is not the AIC (Agent in Charge), but rather a member of the team under Jack Harper, who is the AIC and who I found to be both unlikable and annoying. This book is labeled a Brandon Fisher book, though, and we spend a lot of time in his head as we do in the head of Kelly Marsh, formerly Miami-Dade PD and who is (based on us getting hit over the head with it multiple times) new to the team.

Darrell Reid is killed by a sniper as he’s leaving a residential building. For some reason that isn’t made entirely clear, the BAU is called. But out they roll, to the scene. It’s pretty difficult to me that they would be, since at this point, there’s a single victim. It’s a real “it’s in the script moment”, to be honest.

In any case, back at the BAU, there’s the requisite computer geek who can pry records out of any system, anywhere, and soon it becomes clear there are three other killings, in other states, that match this particular one. The team splits up, with Jack and Kelly staying in Virginia, and Brandon and Paige (with whom he apparently slept with in a previous book) sent out west to revisit the previous killings to see what links they can find.

From there, it’s a standard procedural whodunit, with the agents going around to scenes, interviewing people, checking for video, and so on, until they make the connection and close in for the arrest.

I can say it’s reasonably well written, although there is more than one character who says “In the least” instead of “At the least” – a quirk of the writer, perhaps. I’m afraid I didn’t really care for any of the BAU agents. Jack’s an asshole (in my opinion), and maybe I just think that because I’ve not read the seven books in the series before this. Kelly does way too much second guessing of herself instead of just realizing Jack is an asshole, making her feel small. Brandon is wishy-washy and annoying, constantly going back to the time he and Paige slept together while he was still married, as if one, he’s still married to his wife and two, he doesn’t have a new girlfriend. Paige was just eh, she’s there and throws in her two cents now and again, although she nearly gets herself and Brandon killed by an oncoming vehicle because she’s zoned out, thinking about her and Brandon. The characters were cookie cutter and could be swapped out in any other book of this type without a beat being missed by anyone.

That said, the whydunnit was okay, and the sniper clearly nuts but doing the killing from what in her mind is a rock solid foundation. The fact that not one agent guessed at what the killer was going to do at the end of the book was disappointing, considering that they had all the information on the killer and certainly could have done a profile on that. That they didn’t says to me they may not be very good at their jobs.

There are some gratuitous “thank you for your service”s and a short commentary by Kelly on providing for veterans after they’ve exited the services. Neither did anything for the book or the characters.

Will I pick up earlier books in this series? Unlikely. But if you like Criminal Minds the show, you’ll probably enjoy this much more than I did.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hibbert & Stiles for the advance copy.

Review: One Minute Out (Gray Man #9)

Court Gentry (aka the Gray Man) is in Croatia to snipe a war criminal. As he watches the old man through his scope, though, he decides that far away through a scope just won’t do, and this man needs an up close and personal visit. Despite the presence of a small personal army and a couple of dogs guarding the war criminal, Gentry makes his way into the house only to find the old man not in his bed. Following sounds he hears, he makes his way into a basement and finds over twenty women and girls chained to the walls there. One woman, who was loose because the old man was about to bring her upstairs and assault her, runs out of the house (despite the presence of that small army and a couple of dogs). Gentry kills the old man and then wants to free the women, but one of their number tells him to leave, as he can’t protect all of them, and they will be punished worse if they leave and are recaptured.

Gentry reluctantly leaves them but vows to find them again and free them, and also to bust the human sex trafficking ring he has stumbled across.

The story moves from Croatia to Italy to the US, as Gentry follows the pipeline of women moved from country to country. Along the way, he picks up an ally – one of the womens’ sister, who works in financial fraud for EUROPOL – and she heads off on a side trek to engage the services of a hacker. after telling Gentry that not only is there a sex trafficking ring, there’s an ocean of bad money being laundered in the process. Meanwhile, Gentry keeps dogging the pipeline, killing quite a number of people in his path and getting beat up at various locales.

SPOILERS FROM HERE

The evidence continues to pile up, and when it points to a US-based businessman and movie exec as the ringleader, Gentry calls his office – the CIA – and asks for help. When it’s denied for reasons he isn’t told, he requests help from another, more personal source: a bad guy in Italy, where the women will be sold at auction. The bigshot US businessman will also be in attendance at this particular stop even though his head of security advises him against it, and Gentry wants to get to him somehow, and kill him. On the evening of the auction, Gentry spots members of a special ops team, realizes they’re hunting him, and eventually there’s a big firefight, with the bad guys hoping on a private plane with two women marked for “special handling” – that is, to serve as sex slaves for he crooked businessman.

Gentry makes his way back to the States via a pretty humorous (considering the circumstances) method, and gets to California. Based on information provided by the EUROPOL analyst, he makes his way to the bigshot’s house. He realizes he can’t take the entire compound by himself, so enlists the help of some old operators (and I mean older in ago, as in, this sort of thing is a young person’s game). After killing some more bad guys, and talking the bigshot’s personal security out of protecting the bigshot, Gentry has come face to face with the bad guy – but he promised the CIA he wouldn’t kill the guy, because the guy is an asset to the CIA, providing information on the flow of money and arms around the world. Since Gentry can’t kill the bad guy, he shoots the bad guy right in the crotch, blowing his junk off. I guess that means no more sexytimes for him, assaulting or otherwise, although the way medicine is these days, and the fact that he’s a billionaire, it could be entirely possible bad guy could get his nether regions redone and go right back to his evil ways. On the other hand, it’s made clear in the last few chapters that the gad guy needs ED drugs and coke in order to be able to perform, so maybe not.

Gentry then walks away from the house, despite the LAPD showing up in huge numbers. He climbs into a van holding some CIA dudes, and they drive off into the sunset.

END SPOILERS

The end of the book evokes The Shawshank Redemption (or, for the pedants, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”) with a litany of “hopes”. This book really does seem to be one of the more adaptable ones of the series for the big screen, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it adapted into a screenplay and made into a movie starring some actor everyone will either love or hate, with the hate side pointing out all the ways X could not possibly be the Gray Man.

Overall, if you like the Gray Man series, you’ll like this book. I do, and I did.

Four solid stars out of five.

Review: You Again: A Novel

One day while sitting in a cab, Abby Willard spots a young woman on the sidewalk, only to realize moments later that it’s a younger version of herself.

From this opening, we delve into Abby becoming slightly obsessed with the younger her, and she begins to go to various places she went to when she was young, knowing she will find herself there. Surrounding the mystery of why she is seeing herself, and why there are gaps in her memory, are various other stories: her soul-sucking job for a big pharmacology company as a graphic designer, her husband’s work woes, her oldest son starting to run with a group of antifa protestors with his new friend Dmitri, who may or may not be what he seems, and her interaction with a detective after her son is arrested.

Amidst all of this, Abby continues to follow the younger her, eventually speaking to her, trying to talk her out of the mistakes Abby knows she will make. Interspersed with this are notes from therapy sessions, and a neurologist reviewing medical records and images – at the outset, we’re not sure what those records are or who they are about.

Along the way, we learn that both Abby and her husband are very talented artists, but both gave up their art when it wouldn’t pay the bills. The younger Abby then starts appearing to older Abby at random moments – proving the oddball nature of this goes both way – offering her own advice to the older Abby.

Events reach a crescendo in the last third of the book, with a fire, a death, and a question about space and time.

The writing is almost stream of consciousness, with sentence fragments scattered widely throughout the book, and this works well with the story, since we are watching Abby experience some very existential questions about herself and the world in which she now lives.

A solid three and a half stars out of five.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ecco for the advance copy.

Review: A Most Wicked Conspiracy: The Last Great Swindle of the Gilded Age

In the sunset of the days of the last real political bosses, robber barons, handpicked judges, and laws designed to help only them, Alexander McKenzie tries to wrest control of Alaskan gold mines from rightful claimants.

Author Paul Starobin has created an exceptionally readable book that traces McKenzie’s beginnings from poor and broke to wealthy kingmaker. It is superbly researched, and conveys not just the sentiment of the day – moguls say who will be sent to Congress, who will be President, and woe be unto you if you buck their requests for money and/or support – but also the aspirations of those seeking their golden fortune in Alaska after the California gold rush had settled.

McKenzie, already a rich man by the time the Alaskan gold rush begins, decides there is never too much wealth, and ropes in various people to assist with his takeover of the existing (and some not yet existing) gold claims in Alaska. Among them are Senators, judges, lawyers, former lawmen, and every day people who believe they are buying shares of McKenzie’s new company. He agitates for and receives the judge of his choice to be placed in Nome – and coincidentally, this same judge will hear the suits of the claim holders against corrupt lawyers and McKenzie. This is the same judge who (illegally) places the claims into receivership – with McKenzie as the receiver, thus freed to start taking gold out of the ground even while the other suits grind through the system, deliberately slowed by McKenzie and his cronies.

It’s a fascinating look at the politics of the times – one might even be inclined to say the politics of our times haven’t changed all that much.

It’s also a great look at some unrecognized heroes, standing against corruption on a massive scale. They include Senators, Federal judges in the 9th Circuit Court in California, lawyers not taken in by McKenzie, and, as always, journalists.

In the end, the punishment for these misdeeds – as is so terribly often the case in circumstances like these – is not befitting the bad actors. In that respect, there certainly have not been many changes from then to now.

Fans (as I am) of books about businesses and their leaders behaving badly (such as The Smartest Guys in the Room about the downfall of Enron), history buffs, and anyone ever tantalized by treasure should appreciate this book.

This is an eminently readable and enjoyable book. Five stars.

Contains photos and extensive notes.

Thanks to NetGalley and PublicAffairs for the advanced copy.

Review: The Words I Never Wrote

Warning: rape

Jane Thynne brings us an epistolary novel set in London and Berlin in the late 1930s in the runup to WWII.

In the present, Juno Lambert, a photographer working her way through divorce, comes across an ancient Underwood typewriter. The typewriter shop owner tells her it was once the property of Cordelia Capel, a journalist who covered fashion in Paris and then the aftermath of WWII. In the case for the typewriter is a partially-finished manuscript written by Cordelia. Juno purchases the typewriter. Her editor has asked her to go on assignment to Berlin, and she accepts with a double purpose in mind: to perform this assignment, and find out all she can about the Capels to complete the story the manuscript began.

In the 1930s, as the decade comes to an end, the Capel sisters Irene and Cordelia are about to head their separate ways. Close for their entire lives, this brings along a bit of angst, especially as Irene is marrying a German industrialist, who has also joined the Nazi party in order to expand his business. Cordelia, a bit later, heads to Paris to act as the secretary to the news bureau chief there, and eventually begins writing columns about her coverage of fashion there.

At first, the sisters write one another often, detailing the happenings around them – there are many historical people named in the novel, from fashion designers, writers, painters, and assorted other cultural icons in France on Cordelia’s side to Nazi leaders in Germany on Irene’s.

As the storms of war ramp up, Cordelia begs Irene to leave Germany and head home to London with her. Irene refuses, and after being warned by Mary Dodd (daughter of the US Ambassador) as well as a handsome Nazi officer (Abel Hoffman) to watch what she says and writes, and knowing that she will never be able to leave without her passport (now locked in a safe to which she does not know the combination), decides to restrict her letter to Cordelia to only the social goings-on she is party to as the wife of a wealthy and influential industrialist. She tells herself, however, to memorize the things she is seeing and hearing.

Cordelia, exasperated with Irene, tells her that the letter she is writing now will be her last, since Irene has apparently chosen the Germans over her family. Cordelia falls in love with her station chief, who decides to go to Spain, where a civil war is underway. She pleads with him not to go, but eventually she returns to London, alone. There, she works with British intelligence to prepare people to act as spies. She works with Kim Philby, the notorious double agent who penetrated the intelligence service.

Back in Germany, Irene makes a fateful decision to work with resistance fighters. Not in the field, but by bringing them materials they can use to fake papers, work orders, and so forth. Eventually, she also begins working in a hospital, to treat Germans injured in the war.

Thynne does a wonderful job of describing the environments in which the two sisters lived, but not to the point of it affecting the story negatively. The bustling of both Paris and Berlin prior to the war is depicted, as is the effect of war on the Germans as WWII grinds down on the country with the advances of both US and Russian troops.

The story is strongest when it is focused on Cordelia and Irene and the milieus in which they find themselves. Juno is certainly the weakest link, and when the book reached the last quarter, it was all Juno and what she had been able to discover, with her egocentric ex making an unwelcome appearance – an unneeded push to the story, as he served no purpose other than to reinforce to Juno that she was doing the right thing.

I won’t go into the very end so as not to spoil it. I will say this is one of the best books I’ve read this year so far, and very well written. It is dramatic without being melodramatic, romantic without being cliche, and descriptive without being flowery.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine books for the advance copy.

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