Yes, And

 Yes, And by Cynthia Gunderson

A sweet story about an aimless young man and an irritable old woman finding purpose and comfort in an unexpected friendship.

Toby isn't sure the education he's getting will lead to a life he wants, so he quits - temporarily (maybe) - to see if there is something more worth doing with his life. One day he's out mowing his lawn and notices that the lawn next door is overgrown so he does that one, too.

Jo's becoming hard to get along with as her health declines, and she's suspicious of everyone - including her care-workers - and what they might want from her. When she looks out her window and discovers Toby mowing her lawn she's angry, but a shared interest in her favourite soap opera begins a friendship that will take them on some lively adventures, including roller-skating and a little private detective work. 

Though aspects of the plot seemed unlikely, Jo and Toby were interesting, believable characters and the story moved along at a fair pace. I listened to an audio version, then wished I'd read it instead to maybe get a little more out of it.  

A pleasant story that reminds us all how good it is to have a friend, and that we can all be a friend, even to - maybe especially to - those everyone else writes off. 

The Kitchen House

 The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Lavinia McCarten, 6, arrives in America alone, her parents having died on the ship coming from Ireland. With no one to claim her, she is taken as an indentured servant by Captain Pyke of Tall Oaks tobacco plantation, to be raised in the kitchen house by Belle, the Captain's, illegitimate black daughter. Mama Mae, Papa, their children and the other slaves become "Abinia's" family, teaching her how things are done and how to conduct herself when working in the "big house". 

Two narrators, Lavinia and Belle, show us life from the perspectives of a black slave and a white servant. In the beginning their lives are much the same, but as Lavinia grows up her white skin will give her advantages Belle's family will never have. 

When the Captain's wife - Miss Martha - becomes ill and is moved to a hospital in Williamsburg, her sister takes Lavinia with them intending to make a lady of her and find her a husband. After one disasterous engagement is broken off, she begins a courtship with Marshall, the abused in childhhood and now violently disturbed, son of Captain Pyke. 

Marshall and Lavinia marry and return to Tall Oaks, where he has become owner and master after the death of his father. At home his true nature becomes clear and Lavinia begins to realize she is as much his property now as she was his father's as a servant, and there is no way out. 

The book has a large cast of characters and thankfully there are enough good people to make it possible to keep reading about the awful ones. It's a great story, well written, and I do recommend it. Any negative thoughts I have about it are because I've had about all I can take of powerful people doing horrible things to helpless people. Every book I pick up lately seems to be that, and with the news full of the same thing morning, noon and night, I've got to start reading about less deplorable things before I start to hate the whole human race. But, that is my problem, not the book's. 

These two narrators tell a story that, while heart-wrenching, is also tender and beautiful in its portrayal of family and friendship. A very good read.  

The Coming Wave

 The Coming Wave by Mustafa Suleyman

An eye-opening, exciting and terrifying state-of-technology address to anyone who will listen. A prologue written by an AI will send only the first of many shivers up your spine.

The author begins by looking at technological developments in the past and how quickly the demand for new and useful inventions spread. Electricity, automobiles, computers - once the benefits were seen, their proliferation was unstoppable. He believes the AI in development now is also unstoppable and that controls must be put in place before it becomes too advanced for our own good.

Next he tells us where things stand currently and talks about the convergence of "atoms, bits and genes" - how physics, computing, and biology have all developed to a point where they can be used together to create things we can't yet imagine. He says technology is "no longer just a tool, It's going to enhance life, and rival - and surpass - our own intelligence", but .."we cannot know exactly what combinations will result."

Looking to the future, advanced AI has the potential for enormous good: "They will offer extraordinary new medical advances and clean energy breakthroughs, creating not just new businesses but new industries and quality of life improvements in almost every imaginable area." But there is equal potential for disaster: "We cannot know how quickly an AI will self-improve, or what would happen after a lab accident with some not yet invented piece of biotech....Even if you believe the chance of catastrophe is low, that we are operating blind should give you pause." As he says in the book, powerful new tech will be available to the good guys and the bad guys. ..."ask it to suggest ways of knocking out the freshwater supply, or crashing the stock market, or triggering a nuclear war, or designing the ulimate virus, and it will."

He concludes with a list of ideas for beginning the extremely complicated and difficult process of containtainment. Government, business, tech creators, and the public all have a role to play, starting with taking "a cold hard look at the facts, however uncomfortable". And some of this is uncomfortable, indeed. 

I did find some of it repetitive, but with much of the information being new to me, the repetition turned out to be a help rather than a hindrance. If you have any interest in technology, or the future of life on this planet, you'll want to read Suleyman's mesmerizing book. 


 Persuasion by Jane Austen

Second time for this, previous review here

This audio book was narrated by P.J.Roscoe, whose lovely voice and accent brought it to vibrant life. I heard, not someone simply reading, but the voices of the characters themselves telling me their stories. The nine hours was over too soon. 

Ten years ago, Ann Elliot broke off an engagement because she felt it was the right thing to do for her family. She loved him, and he, her, but she believed duty called her to walk away. Now, ten years later, they cross paths, memories are stirred and tensions rise. Not that there's much tension in Jane Austen's books, but there are questioning glances, bated breaths, and misunderstood meanings galore. Of course, you know how it's going to end, but the journey is fun no matter how many times you take it.

I love this book, though perhaps not as much as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Her writing, the elegant prose, the oh-so-genteel dialogue  - all of that keeps me coming back, though this was the first time I've listened to any of them on audio. I thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of having it read to me.

A Footnote to Plato & Possessing Genius

A Footnote to Plato by Tina Lee Forsee

A Professor of Philosophy at a small New England college is falsely accused of sexual harrassment, i.e. "standing too close to a student". He isn't sure if he has unintentionally done what he was accused of, or if, which is more likely, the current powers that be are using it to push him out. With the investigation heavy on his mind, he takes his students on a field trip to Greece to film an on-line lecture series, and there the truth comes to light. 

A quiet start, but it turned out to be quite a good story. Philisophical discussions (way more interesting than it sounds) draw parallels to the events unfolding in the plot and force you to slow down and think instead of rushing on to see what happens next. I love it when a book does that. The characters are fleshed out people you can connect to emotionally, and the settings - a small town college, and then Greece - are irresistibly appealing. Good reading.   

Possessing Genius by Carolyn Abraham

This is the story of Einstein's brain, and what happened to it after the rest of him was buried. I was hoping to learn how his brain differed from the brains of us lesser mortals and maybe something about brain function in general, but it was mainly about the scientists who had bits of Einstein's in their possession - or very much wanted to. Many wanted to be involved in the research but the man given responsibility for it wasn't keen on sharing. Not an uninteresting  story, just not what I hoped it would be.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

 Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

Elderly patriarch Simeon Lee invites his sons, Alfred, George, David, and Harry to gather at Gorston Hall, the family estate, for Christmas. Surprised, as they're far from being a close family, they and their wives discuss the pros and cons and decide, reluctantly, to accept. Upon arrival more surprises await, in the person of a family member no one knew existed, and then a visit from Stephen Farr, the son of Simeon's long-time business partner, who arrives unannounced to meet the man of whom his father had so often spoken.

Once gathered, Simeon, an invalid confined to his room, orders his sons to attend him and with a smug smile tells them he plans to change his will the next day, but doesn't say what the changes will be. After brutishly letting them all know how little he thinks of them, he dismisses them to a sullen dinner and an evening of what-if's and maybes...until a blood-curdling scream is heard from upstairs and they find his dead body, his room trashed in an apparently violent altercation.

Enter Poirot, who is spending a quiet Christmas Eve at the home of Chief Constable Johnson. When the call about Lee's murder comes through, Poirot accompanies Johnson to Gorston and the investigation begins. Through a series of interviews with the family and staff several motives for murder come to light, with a few red herrings slipped in to throw the reader off the scent.

The final scene is a gathering of everyone in the household, where Poirot reveals the true identies of some who are not who they claimed to be, makes a case against each one of them, and finally reveals the name of the murderer.

Looking back at it now I can see clues I missed that might have made me suspect the killer, but as it was I remained oblivious till the very end. I haven't read many of these books and I have to say I find Poirot irritating at times, but I like the way he thinks and I do enjoy being surprised at the end.

My book club chose this for our Christmas book, only to find it wasn't Christmassy at all other than taking place over that week. Even so, it was a pretty good detective story and fans of the genre will enjoy it.