Monday, January 27, 2020

The Circle by Dave Eggers


When Mae's friend helps her get a job at the Circle, she can't believe her luck.  She was working in a dead end job at a utility where she was bored to tears.  The Circle is everyone's dream job.  The best and brightest work there and the pay and benefits show that.  The campus has everything anyone could want, with exercise facilities, world class restaurants, dormitories for those who need to stay over and lectures and demonstrations of all that is new and noteworthy in the world. 

The Circle uses data to solve problems and it seems there are no problems it cannot solve.  Need to cut crime?  Saturate the area with tons of cameras.  Need to cure an intractable disease?  Network all those who suffer from it and the data collected can fuel cures. 

Of course, in order to collect the enormous amount of data needed for breakthroughs, some things have to be sacrificed.  Things like privacy.  Things like ever being disconnected from social media.  Things like having anything secret or doing anything that isn't open to public view and comment.  Things like working crushing amount of hours and having to meet performance goals that are in the 98th percentile with constant feedback and the pressure of doing whatever it takes to push the rate upward, always upward.

As Mae gets more entrenched in the culture, she faces issues she didn't expect.  She has to decide whether to retain friendships and family outside the Circle.  She has to determine if love can be a part of her life.  She has to decide what is more important, the goals of the Circle or her former life.  Which will she choose?

Eggers has written a novel that asks important questions about the data driven environment we seem to be moving toward.  There are benefits to be derived from the collection and analysis of massive amounts of data but what about personal privacy?  Unfortunately, the book often makes these points in a heavy handed manner but they are ideas that are important to consider.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Black Country by Alex Grecian


Inspector Walter Day and his Murder Squad are called to a small mining community.  A man, his wife and their smallest child have disappeared, leaving behind the three older children.  The three left behind are the children of a first marriage while the disappeared child is the child of the second.  Where have these people gone?  The innkeeper's daughter has made a horrifying discovery; a human eyeball plucked from its socket.  Is it related?

Day isn't keen on being out of town.  His wife is about to have their first child and he is consumed with worry about becoming a father and whether she will survive childbirth with a healthy child.  Survival isn't a given in 1890's England and there is cause to worry. 

The town itself is another cause for worry.  Day and his Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith have arrived in a setting rife with superstitions and rumors.  There seem to be few people around and little evidence that anyone is worried about the missing inhabitants.  The local policeman has called in Scotland Yard but he has few ideas about how to help.  There is a schoolteacher who is helping with the children of the missing family but outside of her, no one seems concerned or that interested in finding what has happened. 

This is the second mystery in the Murder Squad series.  For readers who enjoy the Victorian time period, this mystery is full of the flavor of Dickens with some murder and mayhem thrown in.  Day and Hammersmith are interesting characters; their loyalty to each other and to pursuing justice is evident.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

How The Dead Speak by Val McDermid


As the novel opens, things have changed for Detective Carol Jordan and profiler Tony Hill.  They are not working together for the police.  Instead, Carol has left the force due to the way her last case ended in violence and Tony is in prison.  They are not in contact as Tony has told her he doesn't want to see her again until she takes steps to work on her issues.

But crime goes on.  A discovery of over forty bodies has been made at a former orphanage run by the Catholic Church, specifically by an order of nuns.  Are these young girls' bodies the result of abuse and murder or are they just deaths that were not registered?  While investigating the deaths, Carol's former team makes another discovery.  Eight more bodies, this time more recent and of young men, are found in the caretaker's garden.  There is not much question that these more recent bodies are murders.  Are the two sets of bodies related?  Has the same killer been working for years or are there two separate murderers?

Carol, in the meantime, continues reconstructing her life away from the police.  She has converted a barn into her new home, doing all the work herself.  As she casts about for her next task, she gets caught up in two investigations.  The first is one she doesn't want to do: helping Tony's mother locate the man who stole all her money.  The second may become her new job; investigating the case of a man who may have been wrongfully convicted.

Tony is also casting about for his next steps.  He is doing a radio program from within the prison for other inmates,  attempting to help them improve their lives through meditation.  He is also interested in starting literacy programs for those prisoners who cannot read.  Outside of that, he is working on writing a book he has promised his publisher for years.

This is a departure from the Hill/Jordan novels the reader is familiar with.  It is the eleventh novel in the series.  While the others follow one specific case and are full of police procedure and twisted criminals that Tony Hill's talents can uncover, this novel is more of an exploration of the relationship between the two protagonists and where their relationship may lead in the future.  It will be interesting to see where McDermid plans to take this series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Goat's Tale by P.J. Hetherhouse


Gruff is a goatherder's son.  Bright and ambitious, he has been awarded a scholarship to the school where noble's sons are educated.  It's a great opportunity but he has no friends there as many of the scholarship boys quickly leave and the wealthy students ignore those who are not.  But spending his days herding goats, Gruff is used to loneliness.

His life changes forever when the big race comes up.  It is understood that the king's son will win the competition but Gruff is not willing to roll over and let the prince win.  He competes at his best and wins the competition.  This doesn't go over well with the king and soon Gruff is given an assignment.

He is tasked with making his way to Brightstone and bringing back the Son Of God who rules there.  It is an impossible task and it's clear that he is given the task to get him out of the way.  Gruff is given a partner, a knight whose womanizing has touched a lot of nerves and who also is regarded as best out of the way.  Morrigan is a lighthearted man, a true soldier but one who always sees the best in every situation.  He is a contrast to Gruff who is dour and bitter, determined to make his way and living by a code he refuses to deviate from.  Can they finish their assignment or will it's difficulty lead them to death?

This is the first in what is to be a full round of novels based on the zodiac.  It is also based in Celtic mythology.  The story seems deceptively simple at first but as the reader advances it becomes more impressive and exciting.  Gruff is an interesting character who grows during his trials and learns to make room for others in his rigid world.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Girls In The Picture by Melanie Benjamin


It's hard to imagine but there was a time when there were no movies.  A time when people did not idolize movie stars nor grant them authority to make pronouncements about how we should live our lives, politics, whether or not vaccines are viable or a myriad of other topics.  This novel is set in that time and the exciting birth of the movie industry.

The first movies were short and silent.   Fans were amazed to see anything and there were barely plotlines.  Then over time, writers were hired to develop plots and stories that resonated with the fans.  The first female movie star was Mary Pickford.  She was a little blonde woman who played a young girl with beautiful blonde curls and she was universally loved.  She was the first star and the country was in love with her.

Frances Marion fell into the movie industry when her regular life bored her to tears.  At first she was glad just to be there and did anything and everything.  She had the great luck to meet Mary and they became fast friends.  Eventually Frances found her forte which was writing.  She began to write for Mary and together they made successful movies. 

Both fell in love.  Mary had an early marriage to an actor who womanized and treated her horribly.  But her true love was Douglas Fairbanks, the leading male actor of the time.  Both divorced and their marriage was celebrated around the world.  They built a mansion and were the golden couple of Hollywood.  Frances had two early marriages but found her true love shortly before World War I.  He was a preacher and athlete and they loved each other unreservedly. 

Of course, time moved on and the women were eclipsed by newer stars and writers.  But they were the pioneers.  They fought to establish their vision and they found a way to have power in the man dominated world they lived in.  Although they had a falling out over the years, their friendship is a beacon of women supporting women.  Readers will thrill to their stories as well as discovering a lot about the movie industry's beginnings.  This book is recommended for readers of women's and historical fiction.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Lions Of The West by Robert Morgan


This is Robert Morgan's exhaustive biography of the men who extended the United States from one coast to the other.  They are the architects of the Manifest Destiny concept and fought against Spain, England, France and Mexico to make the vision of a United States that embraced all the land between the coasts a viable one. 

Each man is given a chapter in which his contributions are documented.  Some of these men are famous and every reader will know their name.  Some are less well known or even obscure.  The men include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, John Chapman, David Crockett, Sam Houston, James Polk, Winfield Scott, Kit Carson, Nicholas Trist and John Quincy Adams.  Their work and accomplishments on the settling of the West are documented but so are their family histories, their marriages, their philosophies and their relationships with the men around them.  While many are famous, many ended their days in poverty or bitterness.  Morgan is unsparing in his assessment of their character, calling them out for shortsightedness or meanness of spirit where appropriate.

Again, most schoolchildren learn about the settling of the East Coast but this book gives a solid foundation on how the country acquired such large parcels of land as Texas, California, and the Pacific Northwest.  Sometimes this was through exploration and subsequent books about the richness to be found in various areas.  Often it was through military action.  There were treaties that advanced the acquisitions that needed men skilled in negotiation and diplomacy.  For example, while most know of Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, many fewer know of James K. Polk's role in acquiring Texas and California.  One thing that is interesting is the part in which networking and knowing those in power advanced the roles of these men.  It was a very small group at the top of society and most knew the other members of the club.

This is a thorough treatment of the topic.  The writing style is such that the novelist that Morgan is clearly shines through and the book is very readable.  The emphasis on the various men's personalities and quirks makes them more human and secures them in the reader's memory.  It is an interesting addition to anyone's knowledge about the history of the United States.  This book is recommended for history readers.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield



The Thames runs where it will and man does not know its secrets.  One such secret is found one night when a man and a small girl are pulled from the river and brought to an inn.  The local nurse is sent for and she is able to help the man but the girl is beyond hope.  She has gone to another place.  As the body is washed, however, the girl suddenly startles and is alive.  How can this be?  Rita, the nurse, is sure the girl was dead and yet she is breathing and looking around although not talking.  Who can she be?

It turns out that she could be one of several girls who have disappeared.  The Vaughns, wealthy landowners, had a little girl who was kidnapped two years ago.  When the mother sees the little girl, she is sure it is her Amelia returned to her.  But the son of a local farming family claims that it is his daughter; his wife has recently committed suicide and his daughter disappeared although the mother was seen leading her towards the river.  A local charwoman is sure it is Ann, her little sister although the woman is in her forties and unlikely to have a four year old sister.  Some say she is supernatural, the child of the boatman who takes souls across after death.  Who can it be?

As the story unfolds, so do several other stories.  There is the story of the man who saved the girl, a photographer who falls in love with the nurse.  There is the story of the farmer who is the offspring of royalty and a black maid, never fitting into either of his families but who has created a wonderful family of his own.  There is the story of the charwoman and the abuse she has suffered and continues to suffer. 

Diane Setterfield has done a wonderful job of tying all these disparate threads together into a satisfying resolution.  The reader is swept into the watery environment and the rural setting and struggles along with the villagers to discern what has truly occurred.  The novel explores our sense of belonging and the feeling of separateness that many of us experience even surrounded by others.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.



Thursday, January 16, 2020

Storm Prey by John Sandford


It was supposed to be an easy heist.  Some local guys planned to break into the hospital pharmacy and steal their drugs.  It went off as planned except for two things.  The first was that one of the guys got antsy and kicked one of the pharmacists and he died.  The second was that outside the pharmacy, Weather Davenport, Lucas Davenport's surgeon wife, saw the robbery and the face of at least one of the robbers.

From that point, it got complicated.  The original two leaders, local bar owners, now had hired help who could be identified.  They took care of that by hiring a contract killer, Cappy, to eliminate the guys who could be identified.  But that still left Weather as a witness and the gang decided that she must be eliminated as well. 

But Lucas and his friends aren't about to let that happen.  The various police departments involved all owe Lucas and Weather goes nowhere without a police guard and usually several guards.  In the meantime, Cappy and the doctor who helped set the robbery up, got acquainted and realized they were a lot alike, if you count being cold-blooded killers.  Can Lucas find the gang before they kill others and especially can he protect Weather?

This is the twentieth novel in the Lucas Davenport Prey series.  If you like the series, this one is especially interesting.  It's always fun to see how quickly Lucas can put together the clues and how well he understands the predators he spends his life chasing.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Genghis Khan And The Making Of The Modern World by Jack Weatherford



Who is this man whose name has echoed down the centuries?  Born in the early 1200's as an illiterate, poverty-stricken son of a herdsman, he rose to rule his people and conquer much of the known world.  Khan rose to power within his tribe by killing his half-brother and then finding ways to curry favor with those in power while retreating and hiding from his enemies.  He learned to build alliances and play the political games necessary.

Once he commanded troops, his fame was assured.  Khan was innovative, learning something from every battle.  He adopted methods that worked for his enemies and perfected them.  His fighting men were fast and could move like the wind, rather than being bogged down dependant on supply lines.  This speed allowed him to quickly arrive before enemies could muster their strength and plans of attack.  In victory, he was adamant.  Those he conquered could join him and he took them into his empire and made them equal to his own tribesmen.  Those who opposed him were killed.   These tactics allowed him to quickly conquer and build the mightiest empire seen in years.

But lives were short and what set him apart is that he was so powerful and his ideas so revolutionary that his successors were able to maintain and extend his empire after he was gone.  His grandson, Kublai Khan, managed to conquer China.  Everywhere the Mongols ruled, they integrated cultures; taking the best of each encountered.  They valued learning and skills, trade and laws.  The culture was not cruel for cruelty's sake as so many medieval cultures of other countries were. 

Jack Weatherford has written an engaging history of Genghis Khan and his contributions.  Khan has retained his fascination for us down through the centuries and there is much to study and admire in this man lost in the shadows of time.  This book is recommended for nonfiction history readers.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning


Life is precarious in the 1860's for families.  None of the safety nets we rely on today were available and immigrant families in particular suffered.  Life was tenuous and when a parent died or lost work, the entire family was in peril.  That was the case of Anne Muldoon.  When the father of her family died, her mother tried to take up the slack, leaving Anne to raise her sister Dutch and little brother Joe.  But when her mother was injured and had to be hospitalized, society stepped in, put the children in an orphanage and then put then on one of the orphan trains.  Dutch and Joe were adopted but Anne found herself headed back to New York City along with Charlie, another orphan.  Anne was reunited with her mother, only to lose her for good when she remarried, got pregnant and died shortly after childbirth.

Anne was left to make her own way.  She became a housemaid in the home of a doctor.  He treated the families but his wife treated female issues and was a midwife.  Over the years, she took Anne as her helper and Anne learned how to birth a baby, what to do afterwards, how to prevent babies and in desperate cases, how to remove a baby before birth.  The problem was that all of that was illegal; contraception and definitely abortion was outside the pale. 

Anne continued her work even with the danger.  By this time, she had married Charlie and the money was good.  But more than anything, Anne could not avoid her pain seeing women sicken and die due to too many babies, lack of care and the general danger of childbirth at that time.  Add in the fact that a woman who became pregnant outside of marriage ruined her entire life and Anne saw the need for someone who would help when the world was crashing around a woman. 

Due to the danger, Anne became known as Madame DeBeausacq in her advertisements in the paper.  She continued to help women and continued to search for her siblings lost in the adoption so many years before.  Forces were in motion to stop her as the papers and especially the self-righteous Anthony Comstock, were determined to bring her down.  Will Anne be able to continue her work?

This novel is based on a true story.  It is difficult for women in this age to understand all the issues and emotions that surrounded pregnancy and childbirth before birth control was readily available or before society was willing to accept unmarried women having children.  The way that Anne was harried her entire life for her willingness to try to make a difference for these women is cruel and vindictive.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear


Halmey Dz and her partner, Connla, make their living salvaging ships in outer space.  They spend all their time on their ship, sailing vast distances and rarely encountering any other life forms or even gravity.  It's a life that suits Halmey, her only other companions, the ship's artificial intelligence, Singer, and the two cats that travel with the ship.  It's a fairly calm life far from the early stress and disasters that marked her earlier years.

That changes when the crew encounters a huge prize.  It's a ship larger than any they have seen and will take care of their accumulated debts plus give them shipping supplies for the future.  Halmey goes into the ship and discovers a nightmare.  It is a abbatoir where one of the oldest lifeforms in the Synarche, the massive Ativahikas, are killed and rendered down.  Before she can leave the ship, she is infected with a foreign substance under her skin.  The prize is taken from them at the last minute by a pirate ship.

The crew takes shelter at the nearest Synarche outpost where they report the crime.  They are not amused to find the pirate ship there also and soon Halmey meets Zanya Farweather, captain of the pirate crew.  Farweather seems to want something from Halmey although it's unclear if its information or a romantic interest.  Regardless, the crew leaves the outpost having made their report and the acquaintance of the law on the outpost, a giant mantis creature.

As they travel, the substance in Halmey's skin helps them start to navigate and soon they encounter a new part of space and a prize that is full of ancient technology that will take the Synarche light years beyond anything they currently have.  Unfortunately, Farweather has followed them there and soon she and Halmey are trapped on the new prize and it's clear that war has been declared.  Can Halmey and team manage to avoid the pirates and bring home the biggest salvage gain ever?

Elizabeth Bear has written a fascinating space fiction.  The characters are interesting and the relationships between different lifeforms is intriguing.  The novel delves into questions such as what makes life one to be treasured rather than exploited, what are the boundaries of intelligence, is there a true morality that should be held to across species and what is the place of society?  The reader will slowly unpeel the layers that bring these questions into play and hurtle towards an exciting ending.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Creatures by Crissy Van Meter


Evangeline grows up on a small island off the shore of Southern California.  It is home to a myriad of sea creatures which she loves to learn about and lots of wild areas.  It sounds like an idyllic environment but her life is far from ideal.  Her mother left early, popping in from time to time as she meanders from dream life to dream life, getting Evangeline's hopes up that this time she'll stay but she always leaves again crushing the hope.  Her father is the island weed dealer; getting by on charm and what he makes selling his customized brand of marijuana and the odd jobs he gets on boats.  They live in a series of apartments or houses, sitting for absent owners, taking shelter in lieu of pay, sometimes camping out for months.  It is a very unstable life.

As she grows up, what Evangeline learns best is that everyone betrays you, everyone leaves.  She meets a rich girl whose parents travel a lot and she becomes her best friend.  But later on, they drift apart and she is another in the long list of betrayals.  Evangeline meets and marries Liam but he is gone for long charters as a fisherman and soon there are other woman, another betrayal and perhaps another person who will leave her behind.

The story moves back and forth in time, slowly showing each layer that makes up Evangeline's life and what shapes her.  The writing is poetic and dreamy, describing horrific events in a way that makes them almost seem normal.  The reader can't help but hope that Evangeline will find a way to capture love as an adult despite her rough start in life.  This is a debut novel and the reader will finish knowing that it is a book they won't soon forget and eagerly awaiting Van Meter's next novel.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Watching The Dark by Peter Robinson


DCI Alan Banks finds himself with a new case as one of his staff, Annie, is about to return from time away due to an injury she received on another case.  In this new one, a DI is found murdered at a rehabilitation clinic reserved for members of the police.  That means this one is personal as it is one of their own.

But things are not that clear cut.  DI Bill Reid had a reputation as a good officer but when the team goes through his belongings, they find pictures that suggest he might have been blackmailed.  That means the Professional Standards team is involved and Banks is given a new team member from that area for his team.  He is not enthusiastic about working with Standards and his relationship with the new team member is iffy.

As the case progresses, another nagging piece is uncovered.  Reid was involved in one of the most famous cold cases in the area.  Six years before, a young woman who went to Estonia on a prenuptial party weekend, disappeared.  She got separated from her other friends and never made it back to the hotel.  Her parents have never given up and are still hoping for answers.  Did Reid have some of those answers and can Banks find out what happened?

This is the twentieth novel in the DCI Alan Banks series.  Banks is displayed with all his faults here; his determination to follow his own clues and work on what he thinks happened rather than what might be assigned as the next steps; his distrust of those outside his familiar team and his willingness to be casually cruel and unfriendly to the new member of the team.  Yet his strengths are also displayed with his determination and resourcefulness high on the list.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


Kya Clark is known in her small North Carolina settlement as 'the Marsh Girl'.  That sounds romantic until you drill down.  What it really means is that her family has drifted away, one by one, until she has been left out in the swamp in a rundown cabin since she was around ten.  She knows how to survive in the wild but it is a day to day survival with lots of hunger, no trust in humanity and loneliness and despair.

Kya only has a few bright spots in her life.  Tate was a friend of her brother before the brother left her life and he befriends Kya also.  Tate is the son of a shrimper and loves the marsh and its inhabitants as much as Kya does.  He teaches her to read and opens the world up for her.  She believes he is her love but he goes off to college and then there is no word from him.  Handsome Chase Andrews is quick to step into the breech.  He is the town star; the former quarterback who is handsome with rich parents.  He isn't a good man and only wants to take advantage of Kya.  They start a love affair but her heart is broken again when she realizes he has other women.

Kya becomes a woman the hard way on her own.  She breaks through the isolation by studying and documenting the lives of the animals and plants around her and her work is accepted for publication.  But when Chase is found dead, suspicion falls on Kya and she finds herself snatched from the marsh and put on trial.  Will she lose her way of life forever?

This was the buzz book of the last year.  It is a debut novel and the writing is luminous in places as the author describes the flora and fauna of the coastal environment.  It is hard to believe that a situation like Kya's could exist but the novel moves the reader along with a suspension of belief that flows.  The reader cannot help but sympathize with Kya and her life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 In Review on Booksie's Blog



2020 is now here so it's an appropriate time to look back on 2019 and think about my reading life.  I read 121 books this year in the following categories; 50 mystery/thrillers, 19 science fiction/fantasy, 39 literary fiction and 13 nonfiction or anthologies.  I belong to three book clubs with monthly books and I've been trying to read from my own shelves this year.  Here's what I've loved the most in each category:

Mystery

1.  Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
2.  Knife by Jo Nesbo
3.  The Child Finder by Rene Denfield
4.  The Sentence Is Death by Anthony Horowitz
5.  Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Science Fiction/Fantasy

1.  Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
2.  The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
3.  Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
4.  Blackfish City by Sam Miller

Literary Fiction

1.  Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
2.  The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
3.  Milkman by Anna Burns
4.  Night Boat To Tangier by Kevin Barry
5.  4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
6.  Lincoln In The Bardo by George Sanders
7.  In Our Mad And Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
8.  The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
9.  The Luminiaries by Eleanor Catton
10.  The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Nonfiction/Anthologies

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes by Simon Schama
2.  American Predator by Maureen Callahan
3.  Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen

Going forward here are my reading resolutions for 2020:

1.  Read 121 books.  That's 10 a month and should be doable
2.  Finish the Robert Jordan The Wheel Of Time series
3.  Reread The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
4.  Read 3 classics.  I'm thinking Middlemarch, a Dickens and an Austen
5.  Continue to read from my shelves instead of constantly reading the newest titles.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Milkman by Anna Burns



The place is Northern Ireland during the time of The Troubles.  The conflict is everything and every aspect of life is filtered through the prism of which side you sympathize with and whether any action or thought of yours can be construed as supporting the enemy.  Everything is scrutinized and the result is a claustrophobic existence in which even names are valuable secrets that cannot be bandied about with freedom.

One girl tries to make her way through the cloudiness and restrictions.  We never learn her name.  We learn that there is a man called The Milkman who has staked a claim to her.  He is fairly high up in the paramilitary that controls everything so even though she has no interest in him, the community assumes she is his mistress and then condemns her for it.  Every family she knows has lost children to the conflict; she has lost a brother, another is exiled as is a sister.  She still lives with her mother whose only concern is getting her safely married and her younger female siblings. 

She learns lessons.  She has a maybe boyfriend who never comes to her neighborhood and whose existence she keeps secret.  There is a woman who poisons those around her but since the police and medical establishment are considered agents of the state, the community tries to handle the situation and cure those poisoned by themselves.  She learns that you can never expect love to work out and you marry someone who can suit rather than the one you really love as it will be too painful to lose them as you inevitably will.  You must fit in with no actions or thoughts that make you stand out.  The community is everything, the individual nothing.

Anna Burns has written a book that will be long remembered by readers.  It won the Booker Prize in 2018 and is deserving of that honor.  It shows the results of a land torn apart in a way that is like a blow to the heart.  Those who see the division that has struck our own country can read this book as a warning of what can occur when we lose the ability to even interact with those we disagree with.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Orphan Master by Jean Zimmerman


The year is 1663 but all is not well in the city of New Amsterdam.  Someone is taking orphans and the colony prides itself on looking after these lost souls.  The children are found later, murdered, mutilated and even cannibalized.  Who could be doing such horrific acts?

The orphan master comes under suspicion as he has the most access to the children as he arranges work or families for them.  But suspicion also falls on others, from wealthy black sheep from the best families to a huge former slave to an Indian who believes himself to be the witika, a spirit which lived on human flesh. 

The governor, Peter Stuyvesant, realizes that this is a crisis and informs his rudimentary police force that the killer must be discovered and captured.  But there are others working on this as well.  Edward Drummond is an Englishman new to the colony.  He presents himself as a trader but in reality is an English spy sent to America to find the whereabouts of three men who signed the death warrant for King Charles I.  Blandine van Couvering is a female trader who has gained her living after starting as an orphan herself.  She looks after the African Americans in the colony as well as befriending Kitane, the Indian whose illness makes him believe in the witika.  Blandine and Edward fall in love and race to find the killer at great personal cost.  Blandine is named as a witch while Edward's spying is discovered and he is condemned to hang for treason.  Can the killer be found in the midst of this uproar?

Jean Zimmerman has written both a compelling colonial mystery as well as giving the reader an accurate peek into the daily life of a Dutch American colony.  The Dutch settlers were different from the English in many ways, one of which was their tolerance of more freedom for women as displayed by the women traders to be found.  The intermingling of the various factions is also displayed in a positive fashion as well as the inevitability of the Dutch losing their foothold in the Americas.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and mystery.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger


Nell Flynn couldn't wait to get out of Suffolk County.  She doesn't have good memories from her childhood there after her mother was murdered when Nell was seven.  Her father was a homicide detective and was briefly suspected but he and Nell were miles away, camping in the forest.  Afterwards, though, her father was cold and distant as her mother had supplied all the warmth and color a little girl loved. 

Now Nell has returned after the death of her father in a motorcycle accident.  Nell is now an FBI agent; she lives her life on the road, consulting with police departments across the country on serial killers.  The life suits her; she has no interest in forming relationships with anyone.  Her last case left her wounded so she is out on leave to heal and has time to settle the estate and decide whether or not to sell the house and sever the last ties with her childhood.

When a body is found, a detective who was a childhood friend comes calling.  Lee wants Nell's help and expertise.  When Nell finds that there was another body found a year earlier and that her father was working on the case, her interest is piqued.  Soon she finds the pattern.  Both victims are young Hispanic women, both were occasional escorts hiring out to party with the wealthy men who inhabit Suffolk County and its beaches in the summer.  Both were dismembered then tied up in burlap and buried.  Is there a serial killer at work?  And horrible as it sounds, was that killer Nell's father?  The clues could point his way and he was hiding a lot of secrets.  Can Nell discover the truth?

Alger has written an interesting novel about how our childhood influences our choices in life.  Nell is wounded by her early loss and her father's coldness and distance.  Her mother's murder pointed the way to Nell's career and her father's skills and early influence made her a skillful investigator.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, December 24, 2019


Christmas always means lots of books coming into the house.  I tend to give everyone I know books for gifts and while I'm buying for them, I often buy a couple for myself.  Then there are the best of lists that proliferate this time of year and I often end up buying books from various lists. Friends give me books they think I'll like and of course, I sometimes win books or various publishers send me books.   I wish everyone a happy holiday with lots of great books to read in the new year.  With that being said, here's what has come through the door lately:

1. From A Low And Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan, literary fiction, purchased
2.  Beginning With Cannonballs, Jill McCroskey Coupe, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Amnesty, Aravind Adiga, literary fiction, won in contest
4.  A Queen In Hiding, Sarah Kozloff, fantasy, won in contest
5.  The Outsider, Stephen King, thriller, purchased
6.  The Other Gloria, L. A. Villafane, thriller, sent by publisher
7.  Look Me In The Eye, John Elder Robison, memoir, gift
8.  Midwinter, Fiona Melrose, literary fiction, purchased
9.  Death Of A Rainmaker, Laurie Loewenstein, mystery, purchased
10.  Delicious Foods, James Hannaham, literary fiction, purchased
11.  Miss Austen, Gill Hornby, literary fiction, won in contest
12.  House On Fire, Joseph Finder, thriller, sent by publisher
13.  When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy, literary fiction, purchased
14.  The Guardians, John Grisham, legal thriller, purchased
15.  The Dark Lake, Sarah Bailey, mystery, purchased
16.  Crime Scene, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, mystery, purchased
17.  The Lonely Witness, William Boyle, mystery, purchased
18.  Beatlebone, Kevin Barry, literary fiction, purchased
19.  Bent Road, Lorie Roy, mystery, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Ancestral Night, Elizabeth Bear, Kindle Fire
2.  The Orphanmaster, Jean Zimmerman, paperback
3.  The Third Wife, Lisa Jewell, audio
4.  Milkman, Anna Burns, paperback
5.  Storm Prey, John Sandford, hardback
6.  Lions Of The West, Robert Morgan, hardback
7.  Once Upon A River, Diane Satterfield, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!


Thursday, December 19, 2019

If You Tell by Gregg Olsen


No one ever really knows what goes on in a family once the doors are shut.  Sometimes things are wonderful and everyone gets their needs met and the family is a happy, supportive environment.  But sometimes that place that should be the happiest is a place of terror where everyone walks on tiptoes around an abuser who can go off at a moment's notice.  That was the case in the Knotek household

Shelley, the mother, was the queen bee, her every thought and word law to the rest of the household.  There were three children, Nikki, Sami and Tori, all by different husbands.  There was a nephew, Shane, who Shelley and Dave took in and raised.  Finally, there was Kathy and Ron, two people who were on their own.  Shelley insisted she was helping Kathy and Ron but in reality, she used them as slaves around the house and property and over months, slowly tortured them until they died.  Her husband lived away, just supplying his paycheck to Shelley and coming home on some weekends where she used him as an enforcer.

The girls were all subjected to abuse.  Beatings were routine and they always wore long sleeves and pants to school.  Shelley would tear up their homework, burn their books.  She would wake them from sleep and push them outside, nude, to spend the night in the cold Washington weather.  She tried to keep them from talking to each other, as isolation was one of her tools.  She told them lies and coached them until they could tell the stories as she had recreated them.

The girls kept their bond, even in secret, from Shelley.  After the first death, that of Kathy, Nikki was old enough to get away.  She told her grandmother and then the police about what was happening but nothing seemed to get done.  Shane disappeared and none of the girls believed Shelley's story about that.  Finally, after Ron's death, all the girls came forward and finally the police got involved.

Shelley and Dave were both jailed.  Dave has been paroled and Shelley has a release date of 2022.  Doctors believe that her sadistic, narcissistic personality won't have changed and worry for the next isolated person Shelley comes across.  Olsen has written a chilling narrative of a true American monster, one who managed to evade the law for years and will be released back on society in the future.  The sisters have managed to create successful lives for themselves and that is another take away from the book.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Gods Of Jade And Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia



Casiopea Tun has been dealt a bad hand in life.  Her mother, daughter of the richest man in their town, had married for love.  The family never accepted her husband, a poor Mexican, as they had pretensions of wealth and their standing in society.  When he died, he left Casiopea and her mother penniless and they had to move back in with the family where they were treated as servants and looked down on by the rest of the family.  The young scion of the family, Martin, was Casiopea's biggest burden.  He spent his days thinking of chores for her and ways to make her feel less than.

Everything changed the day Casiopea opened a chest in her grandfather's room when he was away.  It held the bones of the God of the Underworld, Hun-Kame.  Hun's kingdom had been stolen from him by his twin brother, Vucub-Kame.  Hun needs Casiopea's help to reclaim his kingdom.  If she succeeds, her every wish will be granted.  If they fail, she will die.

Casiopea and Hun start on their journey.  Hun's brother had taken valuable items from him and he needed to track each one down and get it back.  As they traveled, the relationship between the two, god and mortal, became blurred and evolved into friendship and maybe even love.  Gods don't feel friendship and love but one of Hun's bones had splintered and a part went into Casiopea's hand.  It made her essence slowly move from her to him, making him less godlike as the mortal spirit entered him.  Will Casiopea and Hun manage to overcome all the obstacles and take back Hun's birthright?

This retelling of Mexican folklore is magical.  Casiopea is a remarkable young woman.  Although put down and degraded by those around her, she manages to retain her wonder at all the things in the world and to keep her dreams alive.  She helps a god and dares to try to change his nature to make him more charitable and in the process, she finds a way to forgive her own family.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy and those interested in the Latin viewpoint.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Finishing Touches by Hester Browne


Betsy Phillimore returns to London for a sad occasion.  Her adoptive mother, Lady Phillimore has passed away and this is the memorial, held at the finishing school that was her love and passion.  Betsy came to the Phillimores when she was left on the doorstep in a box with a note asking them to raise her as a lady.  The Phillimores adopted her and she was raised at the school.  Betsy had a happy childhood but now lives in Edinburgh as she wanted to make it on her own.

Things have changed or more accurately, haven't changed along with the world which did.  The furnishings are looking a bit tatty.  The hordes of elegant women who have returned to honor Franny Phillimore are much more put together than the house which is tired looking.  When Betsy talks with Lord Phillimore, she finds that the school is having financial difficulties.  The curriculum is as tired as the house and is still teaching the students how to be a lady according to etiquette and standards of the sixties and seventies.  As the world changed, fewer and fewer families want that standard for their children and attendance is down.

Betsy resolves to do something to help.  She also wants to stick around and see if she can finally find out anything about her birth parents.  With the help of her best friend Liz, Matt who is the bursar of the academy and Jamie, Liz's dreamy brother who Betsy has always had a crush on, she works on updating the curriculum to offer advice on what a young professional women newly out on her own needs to know.  The lessons seem to be catching on but there are existing administrative employees that work to undermine Betsy and her ideas.  Can she turn around the school and discover her own life story?

This is an interesting, light-hearted romance that will have readers smiling as they read.  Betsy is an indomitable spirit who anyone would love to call their friend.  The tension between Betsy and Matt and Betsy and Jamie is delicious as there is more than a hint of love in the air.  The reader is also compelled to find out along with Betsy the story of her origins.  This book is recommended for romance readers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean


The year is 1992 and the place is a suburb in Australia.  It's summer and the hottest one in memory.  Five girls live on a cul-de-sac in the suburb and are inseparable.  Tikka Malloy is 11 that year; her sister Laura 14.  Their best friends are the Van Apfel girls.  Hannah is Laura's age, Cordelia is a year in school above Tikka and Ruth is the youngest.  The five girls are inseparable.  They go to school together and afterward, spend hours in the Van Apfel pool, eat ice creams, talk and tell secrets.

But there is one secret no one is talking about.  The Van Apfel family are religious and religion defines their lives.  Mr. Van Apfel controls everything in the house and the thing he most likes to control are his girls.  As time goes by, the Malloy girls start to guess the secret.  The secret of why Cordelia fell out of a tree breaking her arm.  The secret of why she sometimes had bruises or hair missing.  The secret behind the fact that the girls are going to run away.

And they did.  At the annual school Showstopper event, the girls vanished.  Did they run away?  Were they taken by someone?  Why aren't they being found, after days and weeks of searches and police investigations?  Their disappearance changed everything in the development and defined the Malloy girls' childhood which ended that night.

Now Tikka is back home for a visit.  She now lives in the United States and works as a lab technician.  While she is back, she and Laura work through that summer and their memories, trying to make sense of all the clues that they were too young to understand back then.

This is a debut novel and it's success makes Felicity McLean an Australian author to watch for in the future.  It was a highly buzzed book with such publications as Cosmopolitian and Entertainment Weekly calling it the book of the summer the year of publication.  I enjoyed the coming of age aspect of the novel and the slow unfolding of how Tikka came to realize that something was very wrong next door.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Broken Prey by John Sandford



The first body is that of a woman.  She has been left displayed, her naked body scourged by something like a wire flail.  Lucas Davenport gets a bad feeling about the crime as soon as he sees it, a feeling shared by his counterpart Sloan.  Sloan is about to retire and he doesn't want a major crime in his last days to investigate.  The second body is that of a young father and his son.  Again the man's body has been displayed and whipped.

Davenport gets his team together and they start to investigate whether other crimes have occurred and somehow flown under the radar.  As the body count starts to mount, the seasoned investigators realize that the crimes mimic those of some of the worst killers they have encountered in the past.  Those men are all still in prison.  Is their a copycat killer and if so, how does this new killer have all the details of the past?

The investigation moves to the prison and interviews are held with the men Davenport and Sloan have put away.  They leave convinced that the killers have coached someone to kill as they did, but who?  Is it a former prisoner?  A prison guard or other staff member?  A visitor?  As the investigation becomes more focused, the bodies continue to come and the plot moves through twists and turns.

This is the sixteenth Lucas Davenport novel.  Lucas' wife, Weather, is in London during this book with the couple's children on a surgical exchange.  Lucas is left to his own devices, pushing himself longer and harder than he usually does as there is no brake on his actions.  The plot is full of twists and the reader will be hard pressed to guess the ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen


This work is the definitive telling of the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe and how it became the preeminent tribe of the Southwest.  At the start of its rise, the Comanche were just another tribe of many others.  Hamalainen shows evidence that the tribe's rise to prominence came from its ability to entirely remake it's culture and daily living routines.  It went from a hunting gathering society to one based on horses, raising and trading them, using them to become master hunters of buffalo and changing from a stationary to a mobile society.

The area of land the Comanche claimed was claimed by other cultures as well.  Both the Spanish and the French had claims on the territory as well as the Americans after the Louisiana Purchase.  The Comanche were able to play these competing claims and governments against one another to aid them in creating their trade empire.  They also used the settlers in these areas as a resource for more stock; raiding and taking off hundreds and sometimes thousands of cattle and horses annually.  Some of these were kept while the vast majority formed the basis of their trade and a means to gain produce to make up for the end of their farming activity as well as the guns and other metal tools needed for their daily activities.

At its peak, there were approximately forty thousand members of the tribe.  The fall of the empire came from various catastrophes.  There were periodic epidemics of diseases such as smallpox that the natives had no immunity to.  There was the incessant migration of settlers, determined to claim and farm land the Comanche had used as free range.  Finally, there was the extermination of the vast buffalo herds, due to natural causes such as long droughts which impacted grazing ability and the indiscriminate hunting of both the Indians and those who would kill massive numbers of buffalo just for the skins or some small part of the animal.

This book is part of the Lamar Series of Western History and the author is an associate professor of history at the University of California.  It explores the intricate causes that allowed the Comanche to succeed and those details that eventually insured their defeat as a nation.  Along the way, the reader is exposed to a myriad of knowledge about topics such as daily life, the use of slaves in the society, the role of men, women and children in this society and how the negotiation style allowed the elders to interact with the interlopers threatening their way of life.  This book is recommended for history readers.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Body Leaping Backward


It was a typical family in the suburbs in the 1970's.  Maureen Stanton was born into a middle class family in Walpole, Massachusetts.  Her dad was a computer programmer and her mother stayed at home with the seven children.  There was a hot meal every evening and sing alongs with her dad playing the piano.  There were family trips and bedtime stories.

Then everything changed.  Maureen's parents separated and nothing was the same.  The just enough money became not enough money.  Her saintly mother now routinely shoplifted clothes and food with the children watching.  Her dad was relegated to infrequent, strained time with the children.  There was little supervision of the children and no more sing alongs.

The children spiraled downward.  One of the main features of their town was the infamous Walpole Penitentiary, where such criminals as The Boston Strangler were incarcerated.  Over the years, the children had various friends who ended up there as well.  They were left basically without supervision as their mother went back to work and then started dating; often leaving for entire weekends with her new boyfriend.  As is often the case, unsupervised children find bad things to do.

In Maureen's case, it was angel dust and alcohol.  For about two years in high school, she was high daily, smoking dust right before school which was not much more than a haze that occasionally interrupted her highs.  She and her friends lived to party.  They did dangerous things for money for drugs and sold them.  They hitchhiked and took rides from men all the time, usually so impaired that it was only by the grace of God that they weren't harmed.  Her mother and teachers didn't seem to notice or at least never seemed to intervene.  Maureen was left to work her own way out of her addictions and hopelessness. 

This memoir was meant by the author, I think, to highlight the issues surrounding drugs and how they can impact young people's lives.  What came through to me, instead, was the incredible lack of supervision and help she encountered from the adults in her life.  Today the helicopter parent gets lots of bad press and every generation has it's own way to get parenting wrong.  But the way that Maureen was left to flounder around steeped in alcohol and drugs without adult intervention was far worse in my mind.  This book is a warning to parents and recommended for readers of memoirs and those interested in social issues.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Night Boat To Tangier by Kevin Barry



They sit on the benches in the ferry depot, waiting.  They appear to be typical middle-aged men in their fifties, still full of life but with some issues.  One has a significant limp and the other man has a ruined eye.  They sit and chat, waiting for it emerges, the daughter of one of the men.  But Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond are not typical Irish men out for a pleasant outing.  They are longtime friends/enemies and the daughter they are waiting for won't be pleased to see them.

As they sit, they talk and over the course of hours, their life stories emerge.  It's a tale of modern day smugglers; their cargo the drugs that ruined a generation in Ireland.  It's a tale of love and betrayal, friendships forged in love yet betrayed in an instant.  It's a tale of women loved and cheated on, families left behind or put in danger, violence when necessary and months of hiding out from those who would do them harm.  It turns out the daughter has fled to escape the chaos of daily life around these two and will not be glad to see them if she appears.  They are sitting there on the basis of a rumor that she might be passing through, hoping to find her if she appears and that she will be willing to speak with them.

This novel is a Booker nominee this year and one of the best books I've read.  The slow unfolding of the men's stories, of their long friendship and casual betrayals, of an entire generation of crime and hopelessness in Ireland is unforgettable.  These are not cuddly men but they are men the reader will not soon forget.  This book is recommended highly for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Dogs Of Christmas by J. Bruce Cameron


Josh Michaels is a loner.  An IT guy who works from home, his social life had been his girlfriend Amanda.  When she leaves him for another man, Josh pulls even further into himself, living in the house he grew up in, friendly enough but not putting himself out to make much human contact.  Then his neighbor shows up at the door.  Josh has never much cared for the man as he is a party guy and kind of sketchy.  The guy begs Josh to take care of his dog for a day or so until he can find someone to take it on a more permanent basis.  He says he has to go overseas at a moment's notice and that this dog was his girlfriend's dog and she deserted it when she left him.

Josh knows nothing about taking care of dogs but reluctantly agrees.  The dog, Lucy, he notices, is about to have puppies so that is an even higher level of commitment.  When Lucy goes into labor, he takes her to the vet to have her puppies but the vet comes out and tells him all the puppies were stillborn due to the bad food the mother has been eating.  Heartbroken, Josh and Lucy drive to his cabin in the start of a snow storm.  As he builds a fire, Josh notices Lucy is sad.  When he goes out for more firewood, he notices a box has been left in the back of his truck.  When he opens it, there are five little almost frozen puppies; someone had brought them to the vet.

Josh and Lucy's lives are changed.  Lucy now has five puppies to raise and Josh starts to meet new people through the puppies.  Kerri works at the local rescue and helps him raise and socialize the puppies while encouraging him to adopt them out.  He meets people who fall in love with the puppies.  Is this the changing point of his life?

I've had this book for years but avoided it.  I don't particularly like books centered on a holiday and while I've always had a dog, I'm not a fanatic about it.  But this book was more about Josh and his struggle to overcome his introversion and make a new life than about Christmas or being devoted to a dog to the exclusion of other things.  It was predictable but that is the point of feel good books; you know whatever happens things will work out in the end.  This book is recommended for reading dog lovers.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Moon by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Someone is killing in New Orleans.  That's nothing new but the method of this killer is.  Two small punctures are made on the wrist and the victim is totally drained of blood.  Male or female, doesn't seem to matter.  There's a vampire serial killer at large and someone needs to find and stop it.

Detective Parks is the man assigned to the case.  He is willing to work it with all the resources at his command, but it's soon clear as the victims continue to mount that this is no ordinary killer.  It will take unordinary measures to capture it.  Marie Levant is an ER doctor but also the great-great-granddaughter of the Voodoo Queen Marie Leaveau.  She is drawn to the case and realizes that this is no human.  It is a spirit which has returned from the past to haunt New Orleans again as it did before.  Each kill gives the spirit more strength and a more solid presence. 

As the two partner together one more thing becomes clear.  The spirit vampire is not here by mistake.  It is here and drawn to Marie due to her ties to the past.  Her relative was the woman who sent it away before and now it is back to take revenge.  Can the two destroy it before it destroys Marie?

This is the second book in a trilogy that Rhodes has written about her heritage and the heritage of New Orleans.  It is full of the spooky, witchy feeling that New Orleans is known for.  As the killings and tension mount, the reader not only is drawn into the investigation but into the history of that city.  This book is recommended to readers interested in black literature, historical literature or thrillers.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Last Of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez



They were assigned as roommates at Barnard College in the late 60's.  No one would have expected them to become friends.  Georgette George never even expected to go to college since no one in her family ever had.  Her family was poor and dysfunctional; that year while she went to college on a full scholarship her younger sister hit the road and disappeared.  Ann Drayton was her exact opposite.  She was the child of wealth, the only child of two highly successful parents and who rejected everything about her background and upbringing.  Ann lived her life totally in opposition to everything around her; everything she saw as unfair.  She was there for the anti-war, anti-society movements such as the SDS, the Black Panthers, etc.  Ann was determined to see justice and equality in the world no matter what it cost and Georgette was the example of everything Ann wanted to make right.

Their lives diverted after college.  Each of them left before graduating.  Ann ended up living with an older man, an African American schoolteacher who made her happy.  Georgette ended up marrying twice and having two children and later in life, going back, graduating and becoming an author.  Ann's life was very different.  She ended up in prison for life, her sentence the result of killing a policeman who shot her boyfriend in a traffic stop incident.  The two women lost touch and lived separate lives yet the memories of their college days were strong in each of them as their later lives unfolded.

Sigrid Nunez has written an interesting portrayal of the late 60's, early 70's when the youth of our country rebelled.  They rebelled against the Vietnam War, against the racial prejudice that permeated our nation, against the inequality that was the way of life.  Inevitably, some learned to accommodate their lives to the society and work to change it from within.  Some were lost forever in their determined approach to change everything around them by whatever means, even violent ones.  This novel was named as a Best Book by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction.