Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym) was born in Naples and is is one of Italy’s most famous but least-known contemporary writers. She is the author of The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. Her Neapolitan novels include My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stayand The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final volume in the series.

REVIEW BY ROSEANN LLOYD Special to the Star Tribune

Elena Ferrante’s rich, sprawling quartet that concludes with this new book, “The Story of the Lost Child,” centers on two lifelong friends, Lenú (Elena Greco) and Lila (Raffaella Cerullo). The first volume begins with a classic murder mystery scene: Lenú receives a phone call in the night that her friend has disappeared. Lenú decides to write everything she can remember about her friend, and so becomes the narrator.

Fiction like this is not often written: the friendship of two girls becoming women in the context of their culture, a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Naples in postwar Italy, with all its superstitions, politics, corruption, sexism and violence. Of special note is Ferrante’s detailed and dramatic descriptions of the struggle girls must make to advance in school.

Now the fourth book, “The Story of the Lost Child,” finds the women in the 1970s, middle-aged workers and mothers, somewhat estranged. Lila, the defiant and creative one, who has become a computer whiz and entrepreneur over the years, lives with her husband in Naples. Lenú’s cautious trajectory led her out of Naples to complete her education. In Florence, she publishes her writing but struggles with isolation, child care, work deadlines, marital difficulties. A love affair presents a solution and leads her back to Naples in 1979.

The two friends come together and help each other with their mutual concerns: child care, aging parents, work, reassessment of men and their childhood neighbors. They look after the children with loving joy and competition. As in the previous books, they are each other’s alter ego, critic and sometimes confidante. “Her approval gave me confidence,” writes Lenú.

Lila, on the other hand, speaks of dissolving boundaries, scientific knowledge and snap judgments of people. Together, they plot and carry out an exposé of local corruption, among other adventures.

One ordinary Sunday afternoon, in the midst of a happy crowd, a child goes missing. People rush to search. “A rumor took hold that later prevailed. The child had left the sidewalk to chase a blue ball. But just at that moment a truck was passing.”

The last hundred pages of the book reverberate with the story of the lost child, which connects to other losses in the community. The ’60s leftist friend, still underground. Lila’s brother, Gino, a heroin addict. Lenú’s older children in the U.S. Alfonso, a transvestite, beaten to death by thugs. Lila’s loss of hope for a revival for Naples. Lenú’s loss of youthful energy.

Inevitably, as the author promised, the end is a return to the beginning. Lila is gone. Ferrante gives us a brilliant, ambivalent ending, open to interpretation. Yet the ending gives a magical benediction to the lifelong friendship of Lila and Lenú. The last sentence haunts me: “I must resign myself to not seeing her anymore.”


The audio book is read perfectly by Hillary Huber who has narrated all of the Neapolitan novels and is 18 hrs and 27 mins long.

Watch YouTube video A Brief Guide to Elena Ferrante with Joanna Walsh. YouTube.



Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career
he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security
intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations. Matthews conducted recruitment operations
against Soviet–East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets.

As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and
counterterrorism operations.

This is Jason Matthews’ second book,
which is somewhat a continuation of his first, The Red Sparrow. He lives in Southern California.


A sexy Russian spy trained in the fine art of seduction and recruited as an American double agent helps set up a double-cross that could pit Russia against Iran in this blockbuster by former CIA operative Matthews.

Capt. Dominika Egorova, an agent of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, is spying for the U.S. A synesthete who can tell what’s in a person’s heart and mind by his or her aura, Dominika graduated from Sparrow School, where she learned how to seduce secrets from powerful people. Now she’s being drawn into President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and Marty Gable, a deputy CIA station chief, and Nate Nash, Dominika’s handler and lover, are looking to exploit that connection. At the same time, Nate’s also working with a new mole, disillusioned Lt. Gen. Mikhail Solovyov. When Nate reconnects with Dominika in Vienna to elicit important intelligence from Persian nuclear scientist Dr. Parvis Jamshidi and attempt to throw a kink in Iran’s bomb-building efforts, Dominika’s loathsome boss, Alexei Zyuganov, decides to have her killed. Soon, another mole comes into play, this time in the U.S. government, and both Dominika and the general find their lives on the line. Matthews’ vast experience working in the shadowy world of espionage and spycraft lends an authenticity to his story that few can equal. And it doesn’t hurt that he can write. There’s plenty of action and many taut moments, but readers shouldn’t open a Matthews book expecting James Bond. While Ian Fleming’s work had a bit of a campy feel to it, Matthews doesn’t take that approach; his spies are grittier and more human, more like those of John le Carré, and his knowledge of the inner workings of that world adds authenticity that other current writers simply can’t approach.

Although Matthews’ technique of using food as a running theme (complete with recipes) doesn’t always work, this is another must-read for fans of the spy genre.

A candid, inspiring narrative of the author’s brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self.


The audio book is read is superbly by Jeremy Bobb and is 20 hrs and 7 mins long.

Watch YouTube video of Jason Matthews discussing writing Palace of Treason. YouTube.


Cheryl Strayed was born in Spangler, Pennsylvania, on September 17, 1968. She graduated from the University of Minnesota and earned a graduate degree in fiction writing from Syracuse University. Her first book, Torched, debuted in 2006, and the autobiographical work paved the way for Wild, a memoir of Strayed’s life-changing hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild went on to become a New York Times No. 1 bestseller and Oprah Winfrey’s first pick for her relaunched book club. The film version premiered December 5, 2014 (USA).


Unsentimental memoir of the author’s three-month solo hike from California to Washington along the
Pacific Crest Trail.

Following the death of her mother, Strayed’s (Torch, 2006) life quickly disintegrated. Family ties melted away; she divorced her husband and slipped into drug use. For the next four years, life was a series of disappointments. “I was crying over all of it,” she writes, “over the sick mire I’d made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly.” While waiting in line at an outdoors store, Strayed read the back cover of a book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially, the idea of hiking the trail became a vague apparition, then a goal. Woefully underprepared for the wilderness, out of shape and carrying a ridiculously overweight pack, the author set out from the small California town of Mojave, toward a bridge (“the Bridge of the Gods”) crossing the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border. Strayed’s writing admirably conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking. Along the way, she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet and persistent hunger. Yet the author also discovered a newfound sense of awe; for her, hiking the PCT was “powerful and fundamental” and “truly hard and glorious.” Strayed was stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her. Most of the hikers she met along the way were helpful, and she also encountered instances of trail magic, “the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail.”

A candid, inspiring narrative of the author’s brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self.


The audio book is read by Bernadette Dunne and is 13 hrs and 6 mins long.

Watch YouTube video of Cheryl Strayed discussing writing Wild. YouTube.


Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. After Milford Haven Grammar School, Waters attended university, and earned degrees in English literature.

She received a BA from the University of Kent, an MA from Lancaster University, and a PhD from Queen Mary, University of London. She has been an associate lecturer with the Open University.

She has written six novels: Tipping the Velvet(1998), which won the Betty Trask Award; Affinity(1999), which won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday /John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; Fingersmith(2002), which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and won the South Bank Show Award for Literature and the CWA Historical Dagger; The Night Watch(2006), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize;The Little Stranger(2009), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the South Bank Show Literature Award; and The Paying Guests(2014)

She was included in Granta’s prestigious list of ‘Best of Young British Novelists 2003′, and in the same year was voted Author of the Year by both publishers and booksellers at the British Book Awards and the BA Conference, and won the Waterstone’s Author of the Year Award.


An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain—with really hot sex.

It’s 1922, and Frances Wray lives with her mother in a big house in a genteel South London neighborhood. Her two brothers were killed in the war and her father died soon after, leaving behind a shocking mess of debt. The solution: renting out rooms to Leonard and Lilian Barber, members of the newly emerging “clerk class,” the kind of people the Wrays would normally never mix with but who now share their home. Tension is high from the first paragraph, as Frances waits for the new lodgers to move in: “She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax.” The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lilian and teases at the question of whether she will declare her love; when she does, the tension grows even thicker, as the two bump into each other all over the house and try to find time alone for those vivid sex scenes. The second half, as in an Ian McEwan novel, explores the aftermath of a shocking act of violence. Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight; when Frances and Lilian go on a picnic, “the eggs [give] up their shells as if shrugging off cumbersome coats”—just like the women. As life-and-death questions are answered, new ones come up, and until the last page, the reader will have no idea what’s going to happen.

Waters keeps getting better, if that’s even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.


The audio book is well read by Juliet Stevenson and is 21 hours and 28 min long.

Watch YouTube video of Sarah Waters Discussing The Paying Guests YouTube.


Ken Follett was born on June 5, 1949, in Cardiff, Wales. He received his degree in philosophy in 1970
from University College in London. His first job was as a trainee journalist and rock music columnist
at the South Wales Echo from 1970-73. He started writing fiction when he needed money for car repairs.
He told the Chicago Tribune: “It was a hobby for me. You know, some men go home and grow vegetables.
I used to go home and write novels.” He became a full-time writer in 1977 and had
written his first bestseller before he turned thirty.

Many of his early novels, published under various pseudonyms, were murder mysteries or crime fiction
based on cases he covered as a reporter. It was his 11th book, Eye of the Needle, that was described
as “quite simply the best spy novel to come out of England in years.” Follett’s heroines are so realistically
portrayed that the author has been able to lure female readers to his novels that traditionally appeal to men.
In 1989, Ken Follett took a break from his highly successful thrillers and penned The Pillars of the Earth,
his first of three historical novels. Critics were skeptical but Pillars became his most popular book.

Follett has taken readers from the resistance underground of World War II Paris,
to the brutality of the Scottish mines of the 18th Century, to 1958 and the height of the Cold War
in the U.S. and beyond. He enjoys the label of “popular writer” and says,
“I’m not under the illusion that the world is waiting for my thoughts to appear in print.
People want to be told a story, and that’s what I’m up to.”


Another sprawling, multigenerational, continent-spanning saga from long-practiced pop-fiction writer
Follett (Winter of the World, 2012, etc.).

One might forgive the reader for taking Follett’s title literally at first glance; after all, who has time for the
eternity of a 1,100-plus–page novel, especially one that’s preceded by a brace of similarly hefty novels?
Happily, Follett, while not delivering the edge-of-the-seat tautness of Eye of the Needle (1978), knows how
to turn in a robust yarn without too much slack, even in a book as long as this.

The latest and last installment in the Century Trilogy spills over into our own time, closing with
Barack Obama’s electrifying speech in Chicago on winning his first term as president—an
emotional moment, considering the struggle some of Follett’s protagonists have endured to
see it happen.

His Freedom Riders make plenty of history of their own, risking violence not just for stirring
up the disenfranchised, but also for engaging in more personal forms of protest.
One, George Jakes, comes near the top of Follett’s dauntingly long dramatis personae
(in which more than 100 named characters figure); he’s a crusader for justice and often in fraught places
at the times in which he’s most needed.

George has his generational counterparts behind the Iron Curtain, some of them pretty good guys
despite their Comintern credentials, along with a guitar-slinger from East Germany swept into
the toppermost of the poppermost in the decadent West. (“They quickly realized that San Francisco
was the coolest city of them all. It was full of young people in radically stylish clothes.”)

Follett writes of those young hipsters with a fustiness befitting Michener, and indeed there’s a
Michenerian-epic feeling to the whole enterprise, as if The Drifters had gotten mashed up with
John le Carré and Pierre Salinger; it’s George Burns in Pepperland stuff. Still, fans of Follett won’t
mind, and, knowing all the tricks, he does a good job of tying disparate storylines together in the end.

A well-written entertainment, best suited to those who measure their novels in reams instead of signatures.


Well read by John Lee who is the expected voice for the entire series.
The audio book is 36 hrs and 55 mins long.

Watch YouTube video of Ken Follett introducing Edge of Eternity YouTube.

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