Friday, August 17, 2018

The Years That Followed by Catherine Dunne

They are sisters under the skin, although they've never met.  Each has a life that is irretrievably impacted by the wealthy Demitriadas family, a family from Cyrus whose wealth was made by shipping interests.  Each will love a man from the family and find their life changed forever.

Calista is an eighteen year old when she meets Alexandros who is in Dublin for talks with her father.  When he comes to dinner and shows an interest in her, she feels the spark of attraction and a sense that nothing will ever be the same.  She lets Alexandros rule their relationship and when she finds herself pregnant, they marry and he gets ready to take her back home.  Home to Cyprus, where she won't speak the language or know anyone.  Home where he is the youngest son of the family and doesn't get the respect he thinks he is due.  Home where he is able to control her every movement until even that is not enough and he starts to get violent.  Calista is too young to know what to do and soon there are her children, who are her life.

Pilar grows up in Spain in the depths of poverty.  When she is eighteen, her mother sends her to Madrid and puts her under the protection of a successful man who came from their village and who the mother knows she should have married.  Pilar lives and works for years and under the tutulage of Senor Gomez, learns about financial matters.  She is able to buy into an apartment house and live there, overseeing her tenants.  She meets Petros, the patriarch of the Demitriadas family while he is there on business.  They fall in love and have a year of wonder until Pilar gets pregnant.  Then Petros tells her there is no future, that he can never leave his family.

As the years progress, the women live their lives always under the influence of the Demitriadas family.  They learn to compensate and carve out lives for themselves and finally after decades, they share one final thing; a death that each think will change the rest of their lives.  Are they right?

Catherine Dunne is an Irish writer who explores the ways that love changes those in relationships.  She doesn't see much happiness coming out of these relationships and her message seems to be that women must protect themselves at all costs.  This novel is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

The Dutch in the early 1700's are the masters of the world.  Their clockmakers have created a series of mechanical men.  These beings are alive yet enslaved through chemical bindings to their masters.  They start to feel pressure whenever given an order and as every minute passes that the task is not completed, their pain increases until it is intolerable.  Thus, they quickly obey any order without pause or hesitation.  Their masters don't acknowledge that these are sentient beings who have feelings and aspirations but treat them as one would a vacuum cleaner or washing machine.  With such obedient creatures, the Dutch rise in the world standings as they have soldiers that never tire and slaves to do all physical work.

Jax is one of the enslaved but something wonderful happens.  While carrying out a task to deliver a package, part of it spills out and when it touches him, something changes.  His obligation to constantly serve any human who orders him has disappeared.  He can, for the first time, think for himself and about what he might want.  It's clear; he wants freedom and to escape from his masters.  Can he find a way to get away from the humans who see him as a rogue and a threat?

Ian Tregillis has created an interesting world in which the ideas of predestination and human freedom can be debated.  The mixture of fiction and solid historical research gives this world gravitas and serves as a stand from which an alternate view of history can be imagined.  This is the first of a trilogy and readers will want to continue with the other novels to read more about Jax's attempt to gain freedom.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

Most people thought Eve Singer had a charmed life.  They saw her beauty and her prestigious job as a television reporter.  What they didn't see was the reality of Eve's life.  Her beat was the crime beat so she was immersed daily in murder and mayhem.  When she left work, she didn't go home to a loving family.  Instead she went home to her second job, caring for her father who suffered from Althimezers.  There wasn't any time left for romance, friends or even rest and relaxation.

A murderer is in town and his crimes are getting more frequent.  He fixates on Eve and decides that only she can tell his story.  At first, Eve is willing if reluctant as being in contact with a killer is a scoop no other reporter can match.  But soon her repulsion forces her to break contact and the killer is incensed.  Eve now moves from his venue to get his story told to his obsession.  He is determined to ruin her life to pay her back for daring to refuse his requests for publicity.  Who will win, Eve or the killer?  Eve is familiar with working towards deadlines but now the deadline is how quickly the killer can get to her and kill her.

Belinda Bauer was forty-five before she wrote her first novel.  That first novel, Badlands, won the prestigious Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award, something unheard of for a debut.  Since then her novels have won her the mantle of the new Ruth Rendell and her ability to turn a story on its head makes her novels page-turners.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Girl In The Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

Something suspicious is going on in the technology world.  One of the foremost authorities, Frans Balder, feels that he is in danger.  He has been working on creating an artificial intelligence that will overshadow human intelligence and his work is of interest both to the private sector and various governmental agencies.  Rumors are that he has made a breakthrough but he has suddenly left his job in the United States and returned to Sweden.  There he takes his son back from his ex-wife and decides to devote himself to being a good father.

But that's not an easy task.  The son is autistic and doesn't talk.  He spends his days working complex jigsaw puzzles and occasionally having meltdowns.  No one seems to understand him but Balder feels that there is hidden intelligence straining to come out.  He starts to make progress but then his past catches up.  Hours after being warned by the Swedish intelligence agency that he is a target, he is murdered in front of his son.   Before he dies, he contacts journalist Mikael Blomkvist and asks to see him on an urgent matter.  Blomkvist arrives to a murder scene.  The boy, August, was a witness but anything he saw is locked inside his shell. 

The killers don't believe August isn't a threat, however, and decide to come back and finish the task of removing all threats.  Blomkvist and the police inspector contact the mysterious hacker, Lisbeth Salander, to help them understand Balder's work and to safeguard August.  Can they keep him safe until the killers are brought to justice?

Lagercrantz is continuing the series of Salander novels that made an instant success of their author, Stieg Larsson.  Larsson had three highly successful novels that made Salander one of the most recognizable figures in the thriller world.  This fourth novel carries the storyline onward.  Readers will miss some of Larsson's writing style and ability to make a story electric but will be glad to read another of Salander's adventures.  The novel considers the concept of artificial intelligence and what life would be like if humans were not the smartest organisms around as well as the moral quandaries of a world with constant governmental surveillance.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, August 7, 2018

We're into August and perhaps the end of summer is in sight.  I'm not a fan of heat and humidity so summer is my least favorite season.  Fall is my favorite so I'm looking forward to that.  We're about to move our daughter back to SC for her junior year of college.  Next summer she may be doing an internship so this may have been her last summer at home which is sad.  We've taken trips, cooked together, accomplished goals and read, read, read all summer!  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Ghosted, Rosie Walsh, modern fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The House Swap, Rebecca Fleet, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  Melmoth, Sarah Perry, historical fiction, won in contest
4.  Go Home, Afton, Brent Jones, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  So Much Life Left Over, Louis De Bernieres, literary fiction, sent by publisher
6.  Rush, Lisa Patton, women's fiction, sent by publisher
7.  November Road, Lou Berney, thriller, won in contest
8.  Stone Cold Sober, Rebecca Marks, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Old Fashioned With A Twist, Rebecca Marks, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Swift Vengence, T. Jefferson Parker, thriller, sent by publisher
11.  Unexploded, Alison Macleod, literary fiction, purchased
12.  Button Man, Andrew Gross, thriller, sent by publisher
13.  Believe Me, JP Delaney, mystery, sent by publisher
14.  The Whale, Mark Beuregard, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Since the last time I posted, I've also purchased 21 ebooks, with eight of those being boxed sets and downloaded about thirty ebooks as ARCS.  There's never a dearth of reading material in this house!

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, paperback
2.  The Girl In The Spider's Web, David Lagercrantz, hardback
3.  The Mechanical, Ian Tregillis, paperback
4.  The Crossing, Michael Connelley, audiobook
5.  All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, audiobook
6.  The Beautiful Dead, Belinda Bauer, paperback
7.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
8.  The Years That Followed, Catherine Dunne, hardback

Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Silk And Song by Dana Stabenow

Johanna Wu is the granddaughter of the traveler Marco Polo.  When he left, he put his wife and daughter under the protection of the merchant Wu, his best friend.  Wu's son married Polo's daughter and their only child was Johanna.  Johanna grew up on the road, traveling with the caravans across the East, learning the value of silks and gems, paper and maps.  Along the way, the family grew when they rescued a boy, the only survivor of a massacre that killed both his parents.  Jaufre's father was an Englishman, a former Crusader and Knight Templar who now sold his services for protection along the trading routes. 

Johanna and Jaufre are left at a loss when their father, Wu, dies.  It is unlikely that they will be welcome in China without their father as their European features mark them as different.  They decide to go to Venice to see if Marco Polo yet lives.  Along the way, they add to their group of friends.  There is Johanna's stepsister, a wise woman and healer who knows plants and medicine.  A Mongol assassin joins their group when he falls in love with the stepsister.  There is a troubadour and a traveling religious man, both strays whom the group takes in.  Another former Templar joins the group and along with his Mongol counterpart, train the group in self-defense.  Two women from a harem are rescued by Johanna and join them.  Finally, when they reach Venice, Johanna adds a street urchin who is sold by her father. 

Together the group travels and trades, encountering friendship and base treachery along the road.  Johanna has an amazing white stallion that she races and who has never been beat and will only respond to her.  Will they find the answers they seek in Venice?  Could Marco Polo be alive after all these years and will he remember the wife and child he left behind in China?  What is the mystery of Jaufre's background that is hinted at by those they meet?

Dana Stabenow is known for her mysteries.  This historical novel is a departure but the reader will find the same robust storytelling that has made her a success in her more familiar genre.  The relationships are interesting and the various quests and dangers are compelling.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Quick by Lauren Owen

James Norbury grew up, isolated, in the English countryside with only his sister, Charlotte, for friendship and affection.  Their mother had died and their father had little time or interest in them and left them to be raised by the servants.  After his death, they moved out of the huge mansion that would be James's when he was grown and into the cottage of their caretaker.  There James lived until he went to college.  Afterwards, in the late 1800's, he made his way to London.

He didn't have to work but wasn't as wealthy as many of the men he went to college with and now encountered in London.  James shares rooms with Christopher Paige, a man from a wealthy family who is well established in London.  They slowly build a friendship.  Then the unimaginable happens.  The two are walking in the streets when they are set upon by a man.  After the encounter, Paige is dead and James awakes to find himself kidnapped.  To his utmost horror, his captors are a society of those others call vampires and James has been unwillingly brought into their number. 

In the meantime, Charlotte has made her way to London to find James after her letters and telegrams go unreturned.   She finds him in the worst situation imaginable and in the midst of an epic struggle between those belonging to the upper reaches of society who are vampires and those in that category from the lower classes.  The two sets are determined to eradicate each other and then there are vampire hunters also.  Somehow Charlotte must weave her way between the rivalries and try to save James.  Is it even imaginable that she can?

The Quick  is a debut novel, the title referring to everyday humans who are known as the quick by those who hunt them.  Lauren Owen  has managed to recreate the misty London which always seems so mysterious and slowly build tension as the two groups fight their battle for supremacy.  This book is recommended for readers of horror and mystery fiction.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Indie Fantasy Readers

A new group has started on Facebook for those readers who love indie fantasy.  They are having a summer reading challenge to spotlight the novels and build membership.  Booksie rushed to join as soon as I heard as I love fantasy and always love to support the authors who bring us so many hours of joy.  There are great prizes and swag for the winners.  Winners are chosen from several tiers so if you read at a different rate or have a busy summer planned, you will still have a chance to win.  The link for the group is:

Good luck and good reading!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates

Early adolescence is a strange time.  Boys are starting to be interested in girls.  Some have shot up while others still appear to be children.  Girls are starting to grow into their beauty and flexing their attraction muscles.  All are unsure of themselves, how they fit into the world and how to make their way forward.  This was the case with the three main characters in Christopher Yate's novel, Grist Mill Road

Patrick is the kid everyone knows; his father a popular figure around town who is going places.  He is still small and unsure where he fits in.  Hannah is the girl everyone wants to be.  She is acknowledged as the prettiest girl in the class but there is still an innocence there as she starts to want to explore love.  Her family is the richest in town.  Matthew is the class bad boy.  A year older than the rest and much bigger, his father is the town drunk who beats up his family to keep them in some imaginary line.  He and Patrick become friends when Matthew moves from New York City to tiny Grist Mill Road.  A year later, he and Hannah notice each other and sparks start to fly.  The three decide to hang out one afternoon.  At the end of it, a senseless crime has occurred that will mark the three for life and send them all in different directions.

Christopher Yates's first novel, Black Chalk, hit the mystery genre like a bomb.  This novel has the same ingredients; an intricate plot that twists and turns into areas the reader doesn't anticipate; compelling characters that work their way into the reader's brain, and a mystery that shocks as it is revealed.  This novel is also unlike the first which is the bane of second novels and can easily stand on its own, not depend on the first novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride

Things should be looking up for Logan McRae.  Not only has he been promoted to Inspector at long last, but he actually has staff rather than being the low man on the totem pole.  He has a new girlfriend and his house renovations are coming along nicely.  Of course, he's now working in Professional Standards which is the equivalent of being a vampire in the police force but you can't have everything.

But McRae should know that good news doesn't last.  He is pulled back into the regular force when the body of DI Bell is discovered.  Everyone is shocked as they thought they buried him two years before.  Then another police body is discovered, this one a woman who was investigating the Bell case.  McRae is involved from the Standards side and when the rest of the force is short-staff due to a spate of recent child abductions, he must investigate the murders.  His pleas for additional help brings him the assignment of none other that his prior nemesis, Roberta Steele, now demoted back to the ranks and who must now work for Logan instead of bossing him around. 

Logan McRae is one of the most interesting detectives in a current series.  MacBride's patent humor in the face of horrific cases and his ability to portray the Scottish police as multi-dimensional characters is what makes this series such a delight with committed fans who wait eagerly for each novel in the series.  This one is the eleventh and fans will turn the last page already ready for the twelfth.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Murder On The Med by Peter Mayle

It should be a good month for billionaire Francis Pierre.  Of course, most months are good when you're a billionaire and have a gorgeous villa in Marseilles, France.  But Pierre's good friends, Sam Levitt and his fiance, Elena, are coming to visit for a few weeks and he is excited to see his friends.  Pierre plans outings and lots of sumptuous meals to share with them.  But there is a fly in the ointment.

A Russian tycoon, Oleg Nikita, lives on his yacht, sailing around the world and partaking of life's pleasures.  He is used to getting what he wants and unfortunately, he sees Pierre's villa and decides that is what he wants.  Nikita makes an offer for Pierre's home but Pierre isn't interested in selling, His interest now piqued even more, Nikita increases his offer but Pierre stands firm.

Nikita isn't used to the word no.  His past relationships are characterized by him emerging with what he wants and often the other person is left with nothing, sometimes not even his life.  Nikita has no problem with doing whatever it takes to win in every situation.  He decides he will have the villa no matter what and starts to plan Pierre's demise.  Sam, who is a veteran of tricky situations like this, takes matters into hand and starts to plan an intricate intrigue that will stop Nikita.  Will his plan work out to save Pierre and his villa?

Peter Mayle is known for his writing about his life in France and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  His book, My Year In Provence, was a huge bestseller, staying on the bestseller lists for over three years.  His other novels also highlight the food and culture of his adopted homeland.  He wrote four Sam Levitt novels and readers will delight in a novel that is entertaining and informative.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers and those interested in the area.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Margo Crane is not suited for this world.  Sixteen and blessed or cursed with unearthly beauty, she lives with her father on the Stark River which feeds into the Kalamazoo.  She doesn't like the things of modern life.  What she likes is what her grandfather has taught her; the river life, fishing and hunting, making do with what you have and working for what you want.  Margo's mother couldn't take the poverty and the boredom and headed out a few years back.  There's rumors she isn't that far away but no one seems to know.  Margo doesn't speak much but loves all her family and is a crack shot, in fact a sharpshooter.

But tragedy follows her.  Men can't seem to leave her alone due to her beauty.  When a family disagreement over her blows up into a fight that leaves her father dead, Margo isn't sure what to do.  She can't live with her aunt and uncle who have been her second family because that's where the fight occurred and there is bad blood and she doesn't feel safe.

So Margo takes off in her grandfather's old boat which he left her when he died.  She drifts down and into the life of Brian who has been fascinated with her since he came to buy a deer from her father.  She is happy enough there but when Brian is sent to prison, she is once again adrift.  She ends up at Michael's, a man from elsewhere who lives on the river but isn't a riverman.  She makes attempts to find her mother but a letter sent to her when she hears where she might be only says it is not a good time to visit.  When another tragedy occurs, she leaves Michael's house and is on her own again, drifting and making her way.

There are other men, always entranced by Margo's beauty and not content until they possess her.  Margo takes what she can from each man, learning more about how to survive on her own and how to only give what she is ready to give.

Bonnie Jo Campbell is a writer who draws the reader in immediately.  Her novels have won praise including a National Book Finalist nomination for American Salvage.  She was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011 and teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University.   She lives with her husband in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Her ability to write about those forgotten by society and those determined to live their lives outside the mainstream experience is the key to her success.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

When journalist Fiona Sheridan hears that the deserted Idlewild Hall is being renovated and will be reopened, she is appalled.  Everyone in town has always avoided the place and it has been closed since the 1950's.  Fiona has a personal reason for avoiding it.  Her only sister had been found murdered on its grounds twenty years ago, the death that tore apart her family and that has kept her from moving on in her personal life.

Back in the fifties, four roommates bonded together to survive Idlewild Hall.  Known as a boarding school for problem girls, there was little about learning that defined the place.  It was all about rules and punishments.  Of the four, Katie Winthrop was the clear leader.  She had been sent there after an incident with a boy left her bruised and bloody, her parents blaming her.  Cece was the illegitimate daughter of a rich man whose maid mother tried to drown her in shame.  Sylvia was a French refugee from World War II and the horrors that visited France.  Roberta was the closest to normal, a girl with good grades and athletic talent.  But she had viewed up close and personal the effects of PTSD on her favorite uncle and it had broken her.  Together they managed to survive and even thrive in a place where everyone believed the ghost of an unhappy girl stalked the halls.

Fiona is determined to use this renovation to finally find the truth about what happened the night her sister died and was left there.  She does this over the objections of her boyfriend, Jaime, a local police officer, son of the former chief.  The first day she visits the place with the son of the new owner, workmen find a body down in an abandoned well.  It appears to have been there for fifty years or more.  How does this body tie in with the school and with Fiona's sister?  Can she find the answers before the evil manages to find her?

Simone St. James writes in the paranormal realm with novels that are both gothic and mystery.  Her work has won awards such as the RITA Award from the romance genre and the Arthur Ellis Award from Canadian mystery writers.  Her forte is the deft characterizations she creates; strong women who manage to thrive in horrendous situations.  In this novel, the transition between the 1950's, the 1990's and present day are handled efficiently.  This book is recommended for readers of paranormal mysteries. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Two Kinds Of Truth by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is retired from the Los Angeles Police Department but not from police work.  Unable to retire happily, he is now working part-time at the San Fernando Police Department, lending his expertise to their understaffed department.  While at work one day, he gets a visit from his past.  One of his old partners is now working cold cases.  The LAPD has created a Verdict Integrity division and one of Bosch's enemies is heading it up.  He has chosen to revisit the case of a man Bosch put on Death Row twenty years ago. 

The Integrity Team's evidence looks strong.  The main piece of evidence against the man is a necklace the victim always wore which Harry found hidden in the man's apartment.  The killer insists that Bosch planted the evidence.  Even worse, new forensic testing shows another man's semen on the victim's clothes.  The man has been granted a hearing on whether he should get another trial and the story is a front-page newspaper story.  If the killer prevails, Harry's entire career will be tainted and every case he worked will come into question.

In the meantime, his part-time job has heated up as well.  A pharmacist and his son are gunned down in their shop and it looks like an assassination.  Who would want to kill them?  Harry and his new team soon uncover a plot that makes the usual murder seem friendly and Harry goes undercover to solve the case.  Another ex-partner, Jerry Edgar, is involved in this one as well.

This is the twentieth novel in the Harry Bosch series.  Harry is not a necessarily friendly man but he is truthful and loyal to those he trusts.  He may bend the rules a bit but is determined to find the truth and put those who break the law away.  One of the most interesting things about this novel is the interplay with his ex-partners and the fact that the strong relationships Harry has built over time are what allows him to be successful.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Babes In The Wood by Ruth Rendell

It was a parent's worst nightmare.  The Dales were very protective parents, rarely going anywhere without the children.  Giles Dale was sixteen and his sister, Sophie was thirteen.  But when the parents had a chance at a weekend away in France, they took their chance.  One of the children's former teachers had agreed to come and stay with them so everything seemed fine.  But when the parents returned, the children and the woman staying with them had all disappeared.  What could have happened?

Chief Inspector Wexford had a job on his hands.  To complicate matters,  it had been raining for days and everything was flooded.  Roads were cut off and the police were busy helping people evacuate.  Everyone's first thought was that the trio had drowned, but Wexford had trouble believing it.  Even flooded, the waters were about four feet deep in the deepest flood areas and both the children could swim.  In fact, all three could have waded to safety.  But the search assumed the worst and valuable resources were diverted to search for the children and their babysitter along with her car.  Nothing was found.

Days went by and then weeks.  No sign of the three was found.  Finally, after weeks of frustration, the car was found miles away in a remote country estate which was deserted most of the year.  There was a body within.  It was Joanna Troy, the teacher who was staying with the children.  There was no sign of the children at all.

As the weeks and then months went by, Wexford and his team continued to search for the children and investigate what happened to Joanna.  Secrets started to emerge and relationships that had seemed solid now showed their cracks.  Would they ever find the truth?

This is the nineteenth Chief Wexford novel in the series.  He is an interesting character, a more cerebral man who has a skeptical outlook on life and who rarely believes that what is shown at first glance is all that it seems.  Ruth Rendell is, of course, acknowledged as one of the masters of the mystery genre and this novel does not disappoint.  The gradual unwinding of the mystery and the glimpses into the lives of the police involved are intriguing and the mystery's solution is one most will never see coming.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell

PBS viewers have been introduced to the Durrell family by the series on their time in Corfu.  Gerald was the youngest child and his distinguishing characteristic was his love of animals, a love that was indulged by his mother in a way few children experience.  This was a love that formed his life and work. 

Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons is about Durrell's time on the island of Mauritius in the 1970's.  It was the home of the dodo, the most famous example of extinction, and still at that time was home to many animals, reptiles and birds found nowhere else on earth.  Durrell's focus as an adult was not just on exploring and finding such animals, but on his work as a biologist who ran a refuge in Jersey where endangered animals could be brought to breed in captivity until their numbers were such that they could be reintroduced to their native habitat.  This work is ongoing after Durrell's death.

In this work, there are chapters devoted to the various animals he and his crew captured to rescue in their four months in the area.  There is a chapter about the pink pigeons, one about various lizards and skinks they captured and another about bats.  There is a luminous chapter about the coral reefs surrounding the island and all the never-before seen fish and other inhabitants of it.  There is a chapter about the capture of boas.  All of this work occurred in uncomfortable if not dangerous environments and Durrell's time there left him weakened and ill.

Readers will be enthralled with his adventures and his humorous method of making light of misfortunes and hard work.  Durrell's delight in everything he saw and his passionate determination to rescue species on the verge of extinction shines through on every page.  This book is recommended for readers of nonfiction who enjoy travel books and those interested in the environment.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

Rice Moore has found the perfect job for someone in his situation.  He is the caretaker on a remote setting in the Appalachian mountains; land owned by a Foundation that wants to preserve the pristine forest as it has always been.  Rice has a biology background and in addition to building a cabin, he spends his days making observations on the land, cataloging the plants and animals he encounters.  It's a far cry from the Mexican prison he spent time in after having drugs planted in his backpack.  That experience left him with scars and some dangerous enemies that would love to put an end to him. 

But things are never perfect.  Rice discovers that poachers are killing the preserve's black bears.  The paws and gallbladders are valuable commodities on the black market.  He decides that he will take on the task of stopping the poachers.  In the process he bumps up against local inhabitants who don't trust him as an outsider, a motorcycle gang and DEA agents that still believe he is a criminal.  He also meets the woman who had the job before him and hopes that perhaps a relationship might start there.  But danger surrounds him everywhere as his Mexican enemies get word of where he is adding to his local enemies.  Can Rice rebuild his life in the midst of chaos?

This is a debut novel for McLaughlin.  He grew up himself in the land he writes so beautifully about and holds both a law and MFA degree from the University of Virginia.  His characters are drawn well and the plotting is tight but above all, his love for the land and animals shines clear.  This book is being recommended as one of the best thrillers of the summer and it seems clear that McLaughlin has made an impressive start on his career.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman

Dr. Alex Delaware is surprised to hear from Tanya Bigelow.  Years ago, he successfully treated her as a little girl with OCD tendencies.  Now Tanya is nineteen and her problems are as grown up as she is.  Her aunt, Patty Bigelow, has recently died.  Patty was an ER nurse, very good at her job and very organized.  She stepped up and raised Tanya when her mother dropped her off as a two year old so she is the only mother Tanya remembers.  Before Patty died, she made a startling confession.  She started telling Tanya she had killed someone but died before she could give any details.  Was this the truth or was it the pain-filled fantasy of someone in the last minutes of life?

Delaware wants to help Tanya although he finds it hard to believe someone like Patty could have ever killed anyone.  He enlists the aid of his friend, Detective Milo Sturgis, and between the two of them they start to piece together Patty's life all those years ago.  Adding veracity to Patty's confession is the fact that one of the first people they talk to turns up dead days later.  They come to realize that Patty was telling the truth and that someone evil is stalking Tanya.  Can they find him before he finds Tanya?

This is the twenty-first novel in the Alex Delaware series.  It's one of my favorites as there is lots of action but little gore or violence for the sake of violence.  There is always a mystery and it is entertaining to watch as it unfolds.  The friendship between Alex and Milo is interesting and the ability for them to solve crimes with their mixture of orthodox police investigation and Alex's psychological insights is intriguing.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner

The day has come, as Sarah Keller knew it would.  For the past five years, she and her daughter Zoe have lived quietly in Oklahoma, far from her California home.  She fled there with Zoe when her sister, who is Zoe's real mother, was murdered by a religious cult.  When Zoe is in a bus accident and taken to the hospital, a fact that Sarah never knew is revealed.  She was given a microchip when she was a little baby and it reveals that Zoe's parents are not Sarah, which opens up a can of worms.

The police and social services are hesitant to turn Zoe back over to Sarah.  There is talk of putting her in the foster system until it can be determined whether or not Sarah is her legal guardian or a kidnapper.  Worse, the FBI are soon involved as they see Zoe and Sarah as their best bet to infiltrate and destroy the cult, which deals drugs for money to fuel their cult.  The cult also soon finds out what has occurred which sets their assassins on Sarah and Zoe's trail.

Sarah knows she must hit the road again.  Five years ago, she was helped by a US Marshal who sent her into hiding.  Now she reaches out for his help again.  Michael Lawless helped Sarah then without telling his superiors.  Will he risk his career to do so again?

Meg Gardiner has written a tense, jet-propelled thriller that will have the reader anxiously flipping pages to see what happens next.  Sarah is a real character, one that readers can imagine themselves being.  She is helped along the way by a woman who runs a skip-tracing operation, a nun who knows her way around guns and by Michael.  The villains are some of the scariest this reader has encountered and the maniacal determination of the FBI agent who is determined to bring Zoe in regardless of the cost in human life is implacable.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

First Person by Richard Flanagan

Things aren't going well for Tasmanian author Kif Kehlmann.  Married with a small child, he and his wife have just discovered that twins are on the way.  That is problematic when all the work Kif gets is part time and the mortgage is already difficult to meet.  Now Suzy can't work at all and things are getting tighter and tighter.  Kif is sure he is an author but in reality his first novel is still in the works.

As things get more desperate, Kif is contacted by his old buddy Ray.  Ray lives on the edge of society and it's never really wise to ask him exactly what he's doing these days for a living.  But this time Ray has an offer for Kif.  Ray has been working for Siegfried Heidl and Heidl is looking for a ghostwriter for his memoir.  Ray has suggested Kif.

Siegfried is Australia's disreputable con man, its Bernard Madoff.  He has skimmed approximately seven hundred million from the banks and is about to go to trial.  His life story has never been told and little is known about him.  When the publisher agrees to Kif as the ghostwriter, he packs up and takes off for what he thinks is his big break.

But it's not that easy.  Heidl can't bring himself to tell the truth, no matter the reason or the importance.  With a deadline looming, he refuses to answer any questions, even simple ones like where he was born or how his childhood was.  He spends his days talking on the phone and reading the newspapers, leaving Kif more and more confused and frustrated.  The publisher is pushing harder and harder and Kif starts to string together a few tidbits Heidl has let drop, padding the facts with more and more falsehood.  As the deadline fast approaches, Heidl gets further into Kif's soul and finally commits an act that will scar Kif forever.

This is Flanagan's newest novel.  It starts slow and the reader becomes as frustrated as Kif.  The final fourth of the novel flies and the reader is aghast at what occurs and how it plays out across the years.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

Things are not going well for Dr. Freida Klein.  Her former lover, Sandy, has been found murdered.  Even worse, with enemies in the police department and in the psychologist who now works with them, Freida soon comes under suspicion and then rapidly becomes the only suspect.  When her lawyer tells her that they need to go in for more questioning and that she expects Freida to be arrested, Freida decides to take matters in her own hands.  She disappears and is now a fugitive, her disappearance making her seem more guilty.

But Frieda has knowledge the police don't.  She knows, incontrovertibly, that she isn't guilty so can view the evidence without that false filter.  She also intimately knows Sandy and so can interpret the things she finds out about him better than someone who didn't know him as well.  Her friends are appalled at what has happened and they help her as they can to remain free.  Can Frieda discover the truth about Sandy's death before her time runs out?

This is the fifth in the Frieda Klein series.  Readers who have followed the series will find this one fascinating with Frieda at her best.  She is a private person and one who can use the training and knowledge of her work with the human condition to see past the obvious and discover the truth in situations.  Although I am not a stickler about reading a series in order, this is one series that the reader will benefit from doing so as Freida's personality and life is slowly teased out across each novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey

The time is the nineteenth century, the 1860's to be exact.  The place is Australia, now colonized but still a very new country in terms of its English inhabitants.  The story is told through the lives of two young people.  Oscar Hopkins grew up in a small, remote English village, the son of the local pastor who was also a marine biologist.  There was little love shown and Oscar escapes to Oxford as soon as he can.  Lucinda is a teenager who is suddenly orphaned and discovers that instead of living on a farm and its odors and work as she has always done, that her parents sold the land and she is now an heiress.

Neither are what is considered 'the right sort' in the social pecking order but both are determined to carve out a successful life for themselves.  Lucinda buys a glassworks factory on a whim and then goes to England to see what it holds and perhaps find a husband.  Oscar is assigned to a parish in Australia.  They meet on the boat as Oscar comes to discover his calling and Lucinda returns, disappointed in her quest for love.  Oscar has an intense phobia of water and is the butt of jokes about it but Lucinda sees beyond his weaknesses to a man she would like to know.  They also find that each is entranced by the same vice; gambling.

Once back in Australia, things don't go as planned.  Lucinda is having a hard time breaking into the top rungs of society even with her money.  Oscar isn't his parishioners idea of a pastor and when one of them spies in his window and discovers the two playing cards for money, Oscar is disgraced and stripped of his parish.  The two, shunned by society, form a partnership and soon both are in love, although both are determined to hide the fact from each other.  Their love leads them to a strange mission and a stranger bet; to move and construct a glass church in a settlement across uncharted lands.  If Oscar is successful Lucinda will give him all her fortune. 

This novel won the Booker Prize in 1988 and it is clear why.  Carey's ability to capture the country of his birth and the people who came to inhabit it and make it their own is amazing.  The writing is luminous but it doesn't stray so far that the plot is forgotten.  It moves along inexorably toward an ending few readers would expect.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

The year is 1942 and World War II is in full force.  Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse has been assigned to a secret division.  He is a mathematician and musician whose idea of fun is encrypting and decrypting messages.  He is assigned to a department whose other locations include Bletchley Park and men like Alan Turing.  Waterhouse's job is to hide the fact from the Germans that their unbreakable code, Enigma, has been broken so that the Allies can continue to use this valuable resource. 

He spends time in the outer reaches of Scotland and in the Philippines as his work takes him to different places.  In the Philippines and the islands nearby, he meets Bobby Shaftoe, a gung-ho Marine who is in charge of his safety and that of Douglas MacArthur who immediately sees his worth.  The Axis powers are fueled by their need to hide massive amounts of gold to rebuild after the war and this effort is centered in these same Asian locations.  A massive crypt is built to hold tons of gold and then buried under tons of rock and earth.

Decades later, Waterhouse's grandson, Randy Waterhouse, is back in the same Asian areas.  He has made his living in the tech world and has created a new business with his partner, Avi.  They plan to create a data haven where entities can store their data with no worries about security or loss due to natural disasters.  Randy meets and falls in love with Amy Shaftoe, the granddaughter of Bobby and a woman who works with her father on salvage operations.  They fall in with Randy's work as they all endeavor to find the fortune locked away many years ago.

A Neal Stephenson book is a wonder on many levels.  There are multiple plots and subplots all of which tie together beautifully.  Many characters are involved, each given a fully explained backstory and whose lives intertwine in mysterious ways.  There is lots of science and technology and a feeling that perfection is just always a tiny bit beyond one's grasp.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and literary fiction. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, June 23, 2018

Summer is here in full force with tons of time for reading!  I finished a chunkster this week, Crytonomicon by Neal Stephenson and I've just started another, a thousand page book of dense text about the painter Rembrandt.  That one will probably take the rest of the summer as the book is so heavy I can't hold it for long.  Another milestone is that after fourteen years or so with the vanity plate Booksie on my car I traded it in this week for regular plates.  That car is destined to return with my daughter to college this fall and she didn't want to be noticed everywhere she went.  I'll miss it though.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Border Child, Michel Stone, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Dead If You Don't, Peter James, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Eagle & Crane, Suzanne Rindell, historical fiction, sent by publisher
5.  The Devil's Half Mile, Paddy Hirsch, mystery, won in contest
6.  The Great Believers. Rebecca Makkai, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Civil Terror: Gridlock, J. Luke Bennecke, nonfiction, sent by publisher
8.  Ohio, Stephen Markley, literary fiction, won in contest
9.  Conan Doyle For The Defense, Margalit Fox, true crime, sent by publisher
10.  Bring Me Back, B.A. Paris, mystery, sent by publisher

It looks like I never buy books and that's surely not true.  It's a rare day I don't buy either an ebook or an audible one but the list above is about the physical copies that make it through the door and clamor in their stacks and piles to be read.

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Shadow Tracer, Meg Gardiner, hardback
2.  Oscar And Lucinda, Peter Carey, Kindle Fire
3.  Friday On My Mind, Nikki French, paperback
4.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, paperback
5.  Grist Mill Road, Christopher Yates, Kindle Fire
6.  Two Kinds Of Truth, Michael Connelly, audio
7.  First Person, Richard Flanagan, hardback
8.  The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler, paperback

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy's first novel in many years is an epic history of India and its recent history.  It starts around fifty years in the past and follows the story of Anjum.  Anjum is born with the organs of both sexes and after finding disapproval in society, moves in with a group of the Hijra, transsexuals who are in the midst of gender reassignment.  She leaves this group after many years and moves to a graveyard where she collects a group of others whom society would call misfits.

The story then leaps ahead to the conflict in Kashmir and the struggle between India to subdue it into a peaceful territory and the freedom fighters or terrorists depending on viewpoint, who continue the struggle.   The story is viewed though the life of Tilo and the men who loved her.  There is Naga, the journalist who marries Tilo after rescuing her from an interrogation center.  The is the Indian bureaucrat known as Garson Hobart who is influential enough that when he sends Naga to free Tilo his power insures it is done.  Then there is Musa, the gentle man who becomes known as a successful Kashimi terrorist after his wife and child are murdered. 

Each of the characters has a history of pain and struggle yet each finds a way to make a life and to treasure the small moments that are all one can expect to keep.  Along the way the reader is introduced to a host of other memorable characters each of whom's story is told in a way that makes their broken lives understandable.  This is a book of terror and struggle yet of hope and love also.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Death In The City Of Light by David King

The year was 1944 and the place was Paris, France.  Paris was under occupation by the Nazi regime of Germany although the tide of war seemed to be turning.  There had been mass roundups of those the Nazi's considered undesirable; Jewish individuals, gypsies, gangsters, etc.  There was a Resistance in place, in fact many groups of Resistance fighters.  With all the horror going on, no one expected the discovery that was made in March.  An horrid stench came from an apparently unoccupied house.  When the police investigated, a scene of horror was revealed.

The stench came from an attempt to burn bodies.  There were dismembered bodies in the house and more outside in the yard in a pit full of lime.   The bodies were so decayed that there was little hope of identifying the victims or even numbering them or determining their gender.  Who could have created this horror?

The answer seemed to be the owner.  Dr. Marcel Petiot owned the house and the police believed, killed the people found there.   At first the headlines were lurid, hinting at sexual motives.  The police came to believe that he, instead, was so despicable that he used the circumstances of the death camps and the German occupation to victimize those most in danger.  Petiot offered desperate people passage to another country where they could be safe and start over.  For most of them, however, the trip started and ended at his house and they were never heard from again.

The trial was one of the most sensational in the country's history.  Petiot declared himself a Resistance fighter and said various things such as the bodies were put in his house by the Germans or that the bodies were Germans he had killed in his Resistance role.  There were never any firm body count.  The police eventually charged him with twenty-seven murders.  Petiot claimed he had killed sixty-one Germans.  Regardless of the number Petiot was found guilty and executed.

With the cover of the war, this case has never gotten the attention from true crime investigators that one might expect from such a large body count.  The war obscured Petiot's crimes and his trial occurred as the country was recovering from the Occupation.  David King has brought the facts of the case to light in this book and had access to previously classified documents from the police in order to do so.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Friday, June 15, 2018

I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamera

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, California was terrorized by a serial rapist and killer.  He began his crimes in Northern California in the small communities around Sacramento.  He committed hundreds of break ins and scores of rapes.  He stalked the victims in advance, and often broke in and committed his crimes while the women were in bed with their husbands.  He would have the woman tie up her husband, then move her to another room.  He would place dishes on the man and tell him if he heard them fall off and break, he would kill the woman.  He was known as the East Area Rapist or the EAR.

When the police investigation ramped up to a level that he feared capture, he moved his activities to Southern California.  There, he escalated to murder and is credited with ten murders.  He had killer a couple in Northern California earlier to escape so his murder toll is twelve, although many police believe it is higher.  Then, he seemed to stop.  This occasionally happens with serial killers and it often means the perpetrator has died or is imprisoned.  While the crimes stopped, the police investigations did not.  The police had the best clue of all, a DNA profile but for many years, it didn't provide any breakthroughs.

In addition to the police, an entire society of Internet crime fighters has arisen.  Michelle McNamera was one of these driven individuals.  The wife of actor Patton Oswalt, Michelle was consumed by this case and spent endless hours and funds investigating it.  She met and collaborated with the police investigating the crimes, found old witnesses and victims and talked with them, and spent endless hour discussing the case on Internet boards with other individuals interested in the case.  She started writing I'll Be Gone In The Dark to detail her work and gave the killer a name, The Golden State Killer.  Unfortunately, she died before the book could be completed.  Her husband and others found a way to finish her work and the book became an instant bestseller. 

Outside of the personal loss, the publishing community lost a great true crime writer when McNamera passed away.  Her tenacity, intense curiosity and empathy are clear in her writing.  The book has a forward by Gillian Flynn and an afterward by her husband, Patton Oswalt.  As most readers know, the DNA finally provided the impetus to charge someone with the crimes.  Joseph James DeAngelo, who is now 72, has been charged and will be facing charges.  This was a landmark book and will be one of the classics in the genre.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Patron Saint Of Liars by Ann Patchett

In the 1960's, it was still a family disgrace if a woman got pregnant outside of matrimony.  With abortion an illegal operation, women were forced into marriages which had little chance of survival or they disappeared for six months or so, supposedly to visit an aunt or travel somewhere.  In reality, they entered homes for unwed mothers which were set up to allow the woman to stay during her pregnancy.  The baby was taken from her right after birth and given to adoptive parents.

St. Elizabeth's is such a home.  It was in Kentucky and the girls that came there came from all over the United States.  They formed friendships but as soon as the baby arrived, the girls left hoping that chapter of their lives was closed. 

Rose was a different case.  She was married but decided that life with her husband was a mistake and that she just didn't love him.  She left California without a word one day and drove across country to St. Elizabeth's.  Rose didn't tell anyone she was married.  She just let everyone assume her story was the same as the other girls.  Also, unlike the others, Rose didn't leave and didn't give up her baby.  She helped in the kitchen and after her baby's birth, stayed on to cook for everyone.  She married Son, the man who helped with all the repairs and upkeep of the home and they raised the baby, Cecelia together.

Ann Patchett's forte as an author is creating believable characters, giving them backstories and telling their lives in a way that the reader wants to continue to see what happens next.  In this novel, she has created three such characters, Rose, Son and Cecelia.  Each tells the story from their own perspective and the reader soon grows to know more than any one of the characters do about their own lives since the other character's viewpoints are also clear to them while opaque to the other characters.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

A serial killer is stalking Atlanta.  There are several confirmed kills and the pattern is such that investigators are sure these aren't the killer's first attacks.  The police are inundated with pressure from the mayor's office and the press as hysteria builds.  He's nicknamed The Wishbone Killer and as he gets more famous, the police look everywhere for clues.

Police lieutenant Aaron Rauser is in charge of the investigation.  He has years of experience and resources are his to use.  But he wants the help of the one person the department doesn't want involved.  Keye Street worked for the FBI as a successful profiler before she ruined her career with alcoholism.  Now pushed out of official law enforcement, she makes her living as a private detective, serving subpoenas and tracking down bond breakers.  She and Rauser are friends and he brings her into the investigation for her insights.  But the killer is aware of this move and soon fixates on Keye.  Can Street and Rauser catch the killer before more murders occur?

This is a mystery debut novel for the author.  Williams has written an espionage series prior to entering the mystery field.  There are currently three novels in the series.  Readers will be interested in this strong female lead and the fast-paced plot with plenty of twists and turns.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

When skeletal remains are found on the roof of a deserted Edinburgh building, two strong women must come together to solve the mystery of who it is and who wanted him dead.  Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie heads up the Cold Case Unit and the case is assigned to her team.  The first thought was that the murder might be related to the sport of climbing old deserted buildings, but a bullet hole in the head puts paid to that idea.  This is murder and Pirie must first find out who it is. 

After forensic investigation, the body is identified as General Mija Petrovic.  He was instrumental in the Balkan wars of the 1990's and had moved to England afterwards with his lover, Professor Maggie Blake.  When he disappeared eight years before, she assumed he had returned to Dubronik and the life he left behind there.  Now that she discovers that he didn't leave her but was murdered, she is determined to discover who did this.  The two women work together, even going to Yugoslavia to discover Petrovic's background to see if his death is related to the war.  The International Crime Tribunal still working on the human rights violations of that time are also interested in discovering Petrovic's whereabouts and what part he played in all the violence of those times.  Who will track down the truth first and determine who killed Petrovic and whether his past played a part in his murder?

Most fans of Val McDermid know her as the author of the Tony Hill, Carol Jordan mysteries.  Karen Pirie is a different sort of police officer and this case focuses less on psychological probing and more on solid police procedures.  McDermid is a master at creating strong women characters and starkly outlining the brutality that makes up a police officer's daily life as they go about the work that few can do untouched.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.