Tuesday, August 15, 2017
In this debut book, Caitlin Hamilton Summie uses the medium of the short story to explore the important junction points of lives. There is the man who waits in the hospital for his son to be born. A young girl from a middle-class background finds herself living in Alphabet City in New York, adrift from all she knows about life and relationships. A woman remembers a snowstorm and how shepherding schoolchildren to safety allowed her to find her adult strength and know she was up to the task of parenting. A grandfather dies and sisters discover the fault line in their sisterhood and the resentment when a family member grows in a way that is unanticipated. A woman decides to write down her family's history and finds the story of the sister who was written out of the family memories. One story picks up on a story related earlier, of sisters who have drifted apart but who are redefining what they mean to each other.
The character definitions are clear; the reader can picture the individuals who are portrayed and recognize their characteristics in other people they have known. The descriptions are luminous, taking the reader to the place in which the story is set. One example, 'My father grabbed me by the hand, and we jogged across the yard. The night air was cold. Subzero temperatures slapped me awake. Our boots crunched the snow as we ran. I will remember this always, this jog to the barn in the middle of the night with only the light of the stars.'
Caitlin earned her MFA With Distinction from Colorado State University. Since then her stories have been published in various places but the reader will be glad to find them collected into one book. Her deft writing explores what family means, how we love and how we let others down but as we keep trying to connect, find each other again and again. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we all relate to each other.
Everyone knows the story. A royal couple, after years of longing, have a beautiful baby girl. All their subjects and the fairies and woodland creatures come to celebrate the birth. But one evil fairy, miffed that her invitation didn't come, storms the party and curses the baby to prick her finger and fall asleep forever.
In this imaginative retelling, Robin McKinley gives an alternative story. When the evil fairy, Pernicia, casts her spell, a fairy named Katriona is there. She won the lottery in her distant, small village to come to the name day of the new infant. She takes the baby in that moment of the curse and returns with it to her village. The trip takes weeks and the two are helped along their journey by the wild animals they encounter; the female badgers and rabbits and foxes providing the milk a baby must have.
The baby, Briar-Rose, is raised by Kat and her mother. They give a story about it being the baby of a distant cousin who needs a home. Rosie grows up in the village with no idea about the royal blood she carries in her veins. Instead, she becomes a horse vet as she has the ability to talk with all the animals she encounters. It's a good life, surrounded by love and joy but has the ruse worked? Will Rosie escape the curse laid on the babe twenty-one years ago?
This is a joyful book, full of spells and coincidences that turn out to push the story along. Rosie is no wilting sheltered princess. Instead she is a woman who knows her own mind and knows how to fight when it is needed. Robin McKinley has written several fairy tale retelling novels. She has won the Newberry Award for young adult fiction along with other awards. This book is recommended for fantasy readers.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Paul has always been there for Claire. He is a successful architect and she has never had to work. Instead she has led the typical successful suburban life with tennis and shopping. He came into her life back in college where she was still reeling from the disappearance of her sister, Julie, a few years before. Julie was never found and her loss tore Claire's family apart. Her parents divorced and her sister Lydia escaped into drugs and terrible men. But Paul took her away from all that and gave her a wonderful life.
Then tragedy strikes again. On the way from a restaurant to their car, the couple is attacked in an alley. Claire survives but Paul is knifed and loses his life while trying to save her. In the days after, Claire is reeling and unable to fathom how she will ever move on. Then she opens a computer file on Paul's computer and life will never be the same. Apparently her wonderful husband hid lots of secrets and none of them are good. Soon Claire is pushed into the fight of her life as she attempts to solve the mystery of what Paul was up to and to put her shattered family back together.
Karin Slaughter is one of the stars on the mystery/thriller scene these days. Her plots are compelling and she can make the most unusual events seem inevitable. Claire isn't an ordinary heroine; when the reader meets her she is dependent and spoiled, thinking only of herself. Watching her rise above her decades old stupor to do something to help others is empowering and the reader is firmly on Claire's side. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Friday, August 11, 2017
In his third novel, Salman Rushdie explores the history and political manuverings of Pakistan at the time of its creation in the partitioning of it from India. He does so through the lives of several Pakistani families. Omar Khayyam Shakil is an obese doctor who was born of three reclusive sisters (no one ever knew which was the biological mother) and raised in seclusion until he rebelled and fought his way out of his background. Raza Hyder is a soldier whose two daughters bring him nothing but confusion and shame while Iskander Harappa is a politician and playboy who is friends with both the others.
The theme of the novel is shame and how it affects the people and country of Pakistan and how religion influences every act and relationship. As Rushdie writes, 'We who have grown up on a diet of honour and shame can still grasp what must seem unthinkable to peoples living in the aftermath of the death of God and of tragedy; that men will sacrifice their dearest love on the implacable altars of their pride. Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type. Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.'
The families history intertwines. Iskander Harappa is a notorious playboy who is accompanied on his debachuery by Shakil. When Harappa decides to put his wild ways away, he becomes the country's ruler and employs Hyder to maintain order. Hyder has two daughters. The oldest, Sufiya, is simple, her life forever changed by a fever she survived when she was a toddler. Shakil meets Sufiya and becomes obsessed with her. He offers Hyder a marriage contract. The family is appalled that this obese, debauched man thirty years older wants to marry their daughter, but in the end, decide that he is her only chance at a marriage and having someone to provide for her. They hide the fact that this simple girl is also capable of murderous impulses. Hyder eventually overthrows Harappa and becomes the ruler himself. All these events are mirrored in the history of the country and the eruptions of violence and shame that go into making a country.
This novel was written after Midnight's Children, which explored the history of India in the same fashion. The author was influenced to write this book after reading about an 'honor killing'; a man who knifed his own daughter to death to avenge what he saw as a blot on the family honor. Rushdie is a master of allegory, creating individuals who portray the forces that sweep nations and influence its history. The language is poetic even when writing of tragic, horrible events. This book is recommended for literary readers.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
August is well underway. College kids are returning to their campuses and younger kids are starting another year of school. That has to mean fall is coming, right? I can't wait for football, cooler temperatures and a slower schedule. A new kitty has been showing up at our house in the past few weeks. Our reigning cat, Queen Lulu, seems to think the new one is okay so we may take it in. Our neighborhood seems to be one where animals get dropped off. This one is between houses so I'll have to ask the neighbors if anyone has actually claimed it before I load it up and take it to the vet. Here's what's come through the door lately:
1. The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, thriller, won online
2. Charlatans, Robin Cook, medical mystery, sent by publisher
3. The Room Of White Fire, T. Jefferson Parker, thriller, sent by publisher
4. Delia's Crossing, V.C. Andrews, women's fiction, sent by publisher
5. Gone To Dust, Matt Goldman, mystery, sent by publisher
6. Pretty Ugly, Sean Hillen, fantasy/sci fi, sent by publisher
7. Kindle's End, Robin McKinley, fantasy/sci/fi, purchased
8. The Lucky Ones, Mark Edwards, mystery, sent by publisher
9. Hope And Change Are Highly Overrated, Tom Starita, literary fiction, sent by author
10. Only, Parker Sinclair, fantasy, sent by publisher
11. The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers, Hollis Robbins/Henry Louis Gates, Jr., nonfiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire
2. Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, Kindle Fire
3. Pretty Girls, Karin Slaughter, paperback
4. My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5. The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6. Lacy Eye, Jessica Treadway, paperback
7. Shame, Salman Rushdie, paperback
8. To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, paperback
9. Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback
10. The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback
Monday, August 7, 2017
Detective Jack Caffery is called in once the couple is discovered. A man and his wife, imprisoned in their house for days, beaten and left to die of hunger and dehydration. Even worse, they have a young son and he is no where to be found. As the police search for the boy, they find nothing and have to wait until the parents are able to talk. By the time they find him, he is dead.
Caffery has an incident in his own past that makes working on cases like this even more painful than for the other officers. His older brother, Ewan, was abducted when he was nine and never found. The police suspected a neighbor but no proof was found and the man was never arrested. Jack grew up in the house across the tracks from the probably abductor and killer of his brother. He will never be able to give up the case until he finds out the truth about what happened that day years ago.
Caffery's pain seems to give him an insight into the kind of mind that could commit such crimes. That's a good thing as everyone is convinced that this type of killer will strike again. Caffery finds a related older case that no one else connected until now and it sends him on the trail of what he suspects is the next family to fall under the killer's eye. Can he discover the identity before it is too late?
This is the second in the Jack Caffery novels. Readers will be fascinated by the character of Jack and his need to find a way to put to bed the truths that have haunted him his entire life. Jack's insights and abilities to go the extra mile to discover what has happened makes for a riveting novel. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
They call her the Red Queen. Her name is Rose Zimmer and she rules all she surveys in 1930's Queens, New York. Rose is a dedicated Communist and almost no one lives up to her ideals. Fanatically zealous, she is determined to make changes in the way the country is run and the fact that she antagonizes all those she meets doesn't seem to sink in. Rose has one child, Miriam, before her husband flees her to Germany to live out his life.
Miriam grows up and flees Rose as quickly as she can, escaping to Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle she finds there. These two women are magnets to various men. There is Douglas, Rose's married cop who is also black, not that she cares about either his race or marriage. Lenny is a coin and stamp savant who is always around and idolizes Miriam, but she marries a folk singer from Ireland. Cicero is Douglas' son, raised in a house where he always knew his father loved another woman. Sergius is Miriam's son, raised by strangers in a boarding school after his parents disappear.
The novel ranges from the 1930's to the present. Along the way, various social movements come and go. There is the fierce raging of Communism in Rose's life. Lenny is obsessed with getting a major league ballpark in the city. Miriam and her husband are involved in the ideals of the hippie movement along with its antiwar focus. They go to South America where the Sandinisitas are rebels and idealized. Finally, the cycle swings and Sergius is involved in the Occupy movement.
Lethem explores the ideals of those focused on making a change in the lives around them and more importantly, how love works in lives. Rose is unable to articulate her love and pushes people away. Miriam is sure she knows exactly how to handle life and men which leads to her demise. Lenny and Cicero are caught in Rose's web, unable to break away from her magnetism even as she appalls them. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Monday, July 31, 2017
Friends in college, they have moved in different directions in the years following. Cory is determined to make the nonprofit at which she works successful even if it kills her. Will makes his living on the Internet with programming and other gigs. After years of no relationships due to his introversion, he is now in a relationship with the smart, beautiful and determined Vanya. Hendrik moved into a post-graduate research gig but it's just ended when the grant was cut in half and is at loose ends. Linda is the girl every man wanted but she just used them for fun and wasted relationships like she wasted her talent.
Now each has ended up in San Francisco and they are working on making dreams come true. Will has the money and he agrees to take in Linda when she is involved in a car wreck and can't work. Later Hendrik ends up there also as he is at loose ends. Cory, who has never lost track, drops in and out of their lives. None of them are making much progress at achieving their goals but maybe this month will be different?
Tony Tulathimutte is a graduate of Stanford and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His work has appears in Salon, The New Yorker online and other publications. As a member of the Millenial Generation, he is poised to explain their issues and dreams as few other writers are. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the new generation ready to take over as the mainstream of American culture.
Friday, July 28, 2017
The Last Empire is a collection of Gore Vidal's essays from 1992 through 2006. Vidal is a man of letters, best known for his acidic wit and his disdain for the establishment positions of American superiority and the assumption that American culture was better than that of the rest of the world. He came from an influential family, growing up in Washington, D.C. and going to the best schools. His family were in politics and business. His father was the founder of the TWA airline, and his mother was married for a time to the man who was also Jackie Kennedy's stepfather. Gore knew everyone who was anyone and he refused to let anyone put him or his life choices down. He was widely known as one of the first gay men to be actively out, although the truth was probably that he was bisexual. He wrote many novels, most based on historical events such as Burr and Lincoln. Many knew him best as the sparring partner of William F. Buckley in the first Crossfire debates.
This book is divided into four parts, each covering a specific number of years. The first covers topics such as pieces on Charles Lindbergh, the critic Edmund Wilson, Mark Twain and Sinatra. Part two becomes more political, covering topics such as wiretapping in the Oval Office and the Gore political family. The third part becomes more political with Vidal hitting his themes of the country steadily losing the freedoms the founders wanted us to have and the danger of the military and big corporations taking over the country and the legal systems. The last part continues this theme while spending a lot of time covering the President Clinton scandal and impeachment and calling for the populace to take back their country.
Vidal took no gruff from anyone. His putdowns and feuds were legendary. One rival was the author John Updike. A quote from his piece, "Anyway, I hoped that he would make some self-mocking play on his own self-consciousness as opposed to Socrate's examined life. Hope quickly extinguished. There is no real examination of the self, as opposed to an unremitting self-consciousness that tells us why he was--is--different--but not too much different--from others and what makes him the way he is--always is, as he doesn't much change in his own story, a small-town Philocetes whose wound turns out to be an unpretty skin condition called psoriasis." Another quote, "For Updike, fags and dykes are comical figures who like their own sex and so cannot be taken seriously when they apply for the same legal rights under the Constitution that fun-loving, wife-swapping exurbanites enjoy."
Vidal is not for everyone. Yet his love for his country and his dismay at how business and the military are taking over the rights we were given by the founding fathers shines through. Those reading this book will find themselves educated about past events and individuals and will emerge with a new appreciation for Gore Vidal. This book is recommended for history readers and those interested in the arts and how they intersect with government and world history.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Eilis is an eighteen year old girl, newly arrived in London from Ireland, there to study acting. Stephen is an established actor who is nearing forty. They meet one night in a pub and Eilis goes home with Stephen and sleeps with him; her first time ever. She expects that it will be a one time thing and he does also. But they are drawn to each other and keep running into each other. Each time they meet, they end up together for another night.
As the weeks and months go by, they fall deeply in love. But these are not two dewy-eyed lovers. Each is deeply flawed and battered by their prior family lives. They have been touched by abuse, drug addictions, poverty, loss of other loves and despair of ever having their careers take off. Yet they cannot stay apart and they confide in each other and slowly start to mend each others' souls.
This is Eimear McBride's second novel. Her first, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, won the Bailey's Fiction Prize as well as the Goldsmith's Prize. This novel was also nominated as a Bailey's Fiction for the 2017 year as well as shortlisted for the Goldsmith's Prize. McBride captures exactly the overwhelming nature of love, especially first love. She explores its power to break a person and to mend them and bring them to a healthy life. This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.
Friday, July 21, 2017
It's the kind of place one dreams about when longing to get away. Porto Vergogna is a small fishing village in Italy. There are a handful of houses, a place for the fisherman to cast off from and return to daily and a hotel, the Adequate View. Pasquale is the new owner of the hotel, his father having recently died. He has returned from school in Florence to take over the family business and he is full of plans to make this decrepit hotel a tourist attraction. His dream is to attract American tourists as everyone knows that is the measure of success.
It is a miracle when the boat approaches. An American tourist! Not only an American, but an American movie actresss! Dee Moray is in Italy as a cast member in the blockbuster Cleopatra, a movie that is making headlines even before it is finished as the press can't get enough of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and their on-again, off-again love affair that is just starting. Dee has been sent here by one of the movie administrators. She is very ill and is waiting there for her lover to come and help her through the illness.
Thus starts a novel that is a delight to read. It moves across time from 1962 to the present, across continents from Italy to America to London. Along the way are famous actors, Italian dreamers, and the men and women who come to Hollywood to try to make dreams come true. It is about love and dreams and how we sometimes settle or find the fulfillment of our dreams in unexpected ways. Above all, we are entranced with the characters we meet and the adventures they take us on. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Everyone wants to be Ani FaNelli. She works on a glamorous New York magazine and lives the life of a New York professional. She is engaged to be married to a man who comes from old money and who works on Wall Street. Her clothes are exquisite. She has come far from the days when she was Tiffani LaNelli, a scholarship student at a prestigious school that was her ticket out of a middle class world to the one she envied and was determined to be a part of. Surely she is the luckiest girl alive.
But Ani has a secret most people have no idea of. Her time at that prestigious school included a horrific event that changed lives and marred its reputation. Ani was right in the middle of it and now a television producer is making a documentary about it and wants Ani to be a part of it. She is torn. Should she just continue as she is, envied by others who don't know anything about her true self or should she take the chance at vindication and validation the documentary offers?
Jessica Knoll has written a chilling novel. Ani is that perfect girl that most women would give anything to be. The fact that she has to deny everything about herself in order to be that perfect woman is a trade off that she has been willing to make but that now tugs at her more and more insistently. Knoll has worked as an editor at top women's magazines herself and knows the subject she writes about. This book is recommended for thriller readers.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Lucas Davenport has left the police but he definitely hasn't lost his skills or his contacts. A man can only be retired so long and he didn't retire because he stopped loving what he did; he retired because he couldn't stand the bureaucracy any more. Lucas has been building a cabin and that has taken lots of time but the cabin is almost done when he gets the call.
The governor is an old friend and is thinking about running for President. He is doing the Iowa rounds where his real hope is to make enough of a showing that he is considered for Vice President when all is said and done. The front runner is a woman and there are rumors that someone is going to try to do her harm. Time to call in Lucas.
Lucas takes the nebulous rumors and starts to investigate. The issue seems to start with some of the disgruntled farm movements and some of them are fairly radical. The governor remembers seeing a woman with white hair, a bit heavy-set and her son, a tall man with striking gray eyes. They gave him a whiff of wildness, a shiver that all was not well.
Lucas and various law enforcement agencies take on the task of finding the people who want to do harm. The kicker? They have three days before the candidates go to the Iowa State Fair, a venue with thousands of people and an assassin's dream location. Everything is convinced that if something is going to happen, it will happen there. Can they find the radicals before the deadline?
This is the twenty-sixth Prey novel featuring Lucas Davenport. I've loved this series and Lucas but this one felt a bit tired, a bit too pat. The way everything fell into place so quickly just didn't seem realistic and having worked in state government, I know things don't work that quickly; it takes a long time to get everyone focused and moving in the same direction. I think the series may be working itself to an end which is a shame. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, July 17, 2017
It's been a busy July. We just got back from a trip to the beach. Super hot but the beach is always beautiful. DH and I are headed out this weekend to see the touring production of "The King And I" so I've very excited about that. I read a lot at the beach and since I don't do summer, I've been staying inside and reading quite a bit. In a overworked moment while loading the car to leave, I left my Kindle Fire behind at the beach but will retrieve it when my neighbors go there eventually. It is a loss as I was in the middle of several books on it. I also bought seven books at Audible this morning in their $4.95 sale. Here's what's come through the door:
1. Follow Me Down, Shelby Foote, nonfiction, sent by a friend
2. Mister Monkey, Francine Prose, literary fiction, sent by a friend
3. Shadow Man, Alan Drew, mystery, sent by a friend
4. Athenian Blue, Pol Koutsakis, mystery, sent by publisher
5. Anatomy Of A Scandal, Sarah Vaughan, mystery, won online
6. All We Shall Know, Donal Ryan, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7. The Hawkweed Prophecy, Irena Brignull, fantasy, sent by publisher
8. In The Shadow Of The Gods, Rachel Dunne, fantasy, purchased
9. A Hundred Thousand Worlds, Bob Proehl, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire
2. Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, Kindle Fire
3. Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Kroll, paperback
4. My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5. The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
7. The Last Empire, Gore Vidal, paperback
8. Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walters, paperback
9. Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback
Saturday, July 15, 2017
He is pleased when circumstances allow him to meet a relative. He stops to help a man who seems in need of assistance and it turns out to be his own cousin, Lukasz Kaminski. Their grandfathers were brothers, but Lukasz's branch of the family stayed behind. He is now a respected journalist but Adam is meeting him at the worst juncture of his life. His daughter, Basia, has committed suicide a few weeks before. Lukasz insists that it cannot be suicide and then is attacked and his apartment broken into. Is all this coincidence?
He asks Adam for help in unraveling the mystery. Basia had just started a job in government and Lukasz believes she uncovered something that caused her death. Adam is hesitant but when he sees how his cousin is ignored and pushed away at every turn, he cannot help but want to help. As the two men start to get answers their own lives start to be in danger. The tour guide, Sylvia, is also drawn in as she and Adam are starting a romance.
This is the first novel in the Adam Kaminski series. It gives a good overview of Poland and its current situation as it tries to recover from the war and then the stifling rule of Communism. It seems a bit unlikely that Adam and Lukasz are able to make so much progress in a few short days, but overall the plot is satisfactory and readers will get not only a mystery but a history lesson. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Out in the desert, a young would-be monk labors. He is on a mission for his monastery, a week of fasting and privation that all initiates must go through. As he works to create a shelter for the coming night, he sees a traveler approaching. No one travels the desert so he is filled with fear. The man approaches. He is a skinny old man, barely dressed and ready to fight anyone who he sees. He threatens the young man, then after a while, helps him by marking a stone to finish his shelter. After he leaves, the initiate removes the stone he has marked and finishes his shelter. Removing the stone creates a landslide and steps are revealed.
What has been buried is the entrance to a bomb shelter, for this is the age after the world has gone through nuclear annihilation. Few people remain and those that do mistrust each other. Roaming tribes kill everything in their path and intellectuals are disdained as they were the ones who created the bombs that ruined civilization. As the initiate explores, he finds a box with fragments of writing. Even more amazing, the fragments carry the name of Leibowitz, who is the man for whom the monastery exists. For these monks are charged with preserving what little writing and knowledge exists. They bury barrels of writing material in remote places and copy the words of existing manuscripts, even when they have no idea what the words mean.
What follows is a bleak exhibit of humanity. The reader sees the world through the eyes of time. Over the centuries, men start to value knowledge again. They rediscover the natural principles that underlie all progress, and painstakingly, over centuries, civilization rebuilds to the point that sophisticated machines and computers once again exist. Yet, every time progress is made, it is accompanied by the human nature that cannot help but tear it down again.
This novel is considered a classic of science fiction. It demonstrates a fear of learning and an underlying negativity about human nature. Yet, along with the bleakness, there is always a tendril of hope, someone who risks all in order to learn and spread knowledge. This book is recommended for science fiction readers.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Harry Bosch is caught up in a sensational trial. A movie director has killed a star during rough sex and Harry was both the arresting officer and the star witness at his trial. It has everything needed to draw media attention and the news reporters and television anchors are out in force. Bosch and the prosecutors believe the defendant has killed other women the same way but only have enough evidence to try him on this case.
Terry McCaleb couldn't be more opposite in his life choices. A former FBI profiler, he retired when his health took a serious turn and now runs a charter service for weekend fishermen. He has remarried and has a son and newborn daughter. His focus is on his job and family or at least until a former colleague on the LAPD asks his help in reviewing a murder case.
McCaleb can't resist. His skills haven't rusted and he misses his old life more than he allows himself to admit. As he works on his case, he is surprised to find that his path crosses that of Bosch whom he knew slightly in his former life. As the cases both continue, the two detectives find that there is more and more overlap between their work and they find themselves at odds. Who will wrap up their case and how will it affect the other man?
This is the seventh book in the Harry Bosch series and the one that serves as the basis for the third season of the Bosch series on Amazon Prime. The book follows the police procedural format of the other Bosch cases. The interplay between the two men and their take on law enforcement adds to the inherent drama of the murder cases being investigated. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
His name is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order Of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt. He left Russia as a young man after an incident with an officer who broke his sister's heart. He returned with the fall of the Tsar to arrange the safe passage of his grandmother out of the country. Now in 1922, he has been called to account by a government committee for the crime of authoring a politically questionable poem. The outcome is house arrest at the Metropole, the famous hotel where he is currently living in an opulent suite.
And there he remains. The months go by, then the years and soon the decades. A young man of twenty-two, he comes to manhood within the confines of the hotel and lives his adult life there. But his early upbringing as a gentleman serves him well. He makes friends with various staff members. He has routines that help to define his days. He makes surprising new friendships that last over the years and that bring love and laughter into his life. Through his constrained life, the reader sees the constraints that define Russia during the Communist era and the privations that the average person endures.
Amor Towles has created a memorable character whose life serves as an example to us all. His grace and joy in life is contagious and his ability to never let his circumstances define his essential core is endearing. The reader is left with the impression that this is a man who anyone would be thrilled to know and to spend time with. As the last page is turned, the reader is left uplifted and satisfied with the story and how things turn out for Rostov. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Is Dustin Tillman the unluckiest man in the world? One might think so. He comes from a horrific childhood. One morning he and his cousins woke up in their backyard from a camping night and went inside only to find both his and their parents brutally slaughtered. Dustin's adopted brother, Rusty, who is into Goth and dealing drugs, is the police's first suspect. When Dustin tells the things Rusty has done to him, Rusty is arrested and sent for trial. Dustin and his cousin are the main witnesses against him and Rusty is sent to prison for life.
Fast forward to adulthood. Dustin has reinvented himself and is now a psychologist living a normal family life in the suburbs. His wife is a lawyer and his two sons are healthy and happy. Then tragedy strikes again. His wife gets ill and passes away. The family can't move beyond their grief and fall apart. The older son goes off to college and Dustin and his younger son rattle around their house, rarely speaking and never communicating when they do.
Then Dustin hears the news. Rusty is being released after an Innocence Project has taken his case. It turns out that there was never any forensic evidence. Rusty was convicted in an atmosphere of societal worry about teenage kids and satanic cults, like the Memphis Three. Now thirty years later, he is coming out of prison and its unsure what he plans to do next.
In Dustin's own city, there is another troubling issue. One of his patients is a former policeman who has been sent for psychological help. Yet he is less interested in his own problems than in a case he believes he has found. Teenage college boys are being found in bodies of water. The cases seem similar; they go out drinking with their friends, disappear and are found drowned later. Most of the cases are classified as accidents or suicides. Yet the patient believes there is a serial killer out there and draws Dustin into his belief system. Soon Dustin is helping in the 'investigation' and neglecting everything else.
This is a haunting book. It starts slowly, portraying a normal family. Tendrils of menace float up occasionally, leaving the reader uneasy. Then the hits start to come faster and faster as one is drawn into the realization that Dustin has been removed from reality his entire life and that he is the ultimate unreliable narrator. The book is like a ride down a snowy hill on a sled. At first nothing much happens and then the reader is riding pell-mell to an inevitable end. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
When a mummified foot is found in a Danish bog, it's unclear at first whether the police or archaeologists are needed. As more bones are found and examined, it's clear that this was a young male in his twenties and that the death occurred about fifteen years before. So the police are in charge and are faced with what looks like an impossible task. They don't have an identity and with the passage of time it seems unlikely that they will be able to reconstruct the crime.
The case is given to Chief Inspector Tobias Lange. He is a veteran and in his forties. His team is skilled and they unearth enough clues to determine that the man was probably an eco-warrier. The main clue to his identity is a silver bracelet found with the silversmith's initials inside. After tracing her to Lapland, they discover she remembers the bracelet well and the young couple that had it made. Now they have a name for the woman and at least a first name for the man.
The investigation moves to an exploration of the groups that meet to protest building that affects the environment and various endangered species. This hits close to home for CI Lange, as he has a college age daughter who is involved in such a group. As he delves deeper, the case gets more involved when more bones are discovered in another location. Can this crime from the past be solved?
This appears to be the debut novel in this series or perhaps just the first translated for English readers. I hope that there will be more in the series. The protagonist is a likeable man, determined to solve crimes but also involved in his own life and that of his family. The book strikes the right note in showing enough police procedure without getting stuck in details. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, June 26, 2017
Winter is always a challenging time for the police in Edendale, Derbyshire. The blizzards and chilling winds make the bleak landscapes and twisting roads even more difficult to traverse and investigate in. But crime always goes on, regardless of the weather and the Edendale police have several cases in play.
A young woman is found buried in the snow. At first it appears she just got tired and lay down and was killed by exposure but the post mortem reveals bruises that are evidence of a beating. The case is reclassified as a murder and even more critically, it appears she had a young baby who is now missing.
Then a man's body is discovered when a snowplow hits it. Again, it appears to be a murder and the police don't even know who he is. His clothing shows a well-dressed man who should have been missed. Why isn't someone looking for him?
Then another strange event distracts attention from the recent murders. A woman has traveled to Derbyshire from Canada. She identifies herself as the granddaughter of a military pilot who crashed his plane into the mountains during WW II. All aboard were killed except for one Polish crew member and the pilot who supposedly survived only to vanish. He is blamed for the wreck and his granddaughter has come to clear his name. She is very determined but the police are already overwhelmed with work. She tries to enlist Ben in her search but his superiors have already forbidden anyone to help with the police force already spread thin.
When the cases all start to look as if they are connected, the police scramble to find out what all three have in common. Ben is the hometown boy who knows everyone and who is a town favorite. But his superiors, including Diane Fry, see him as a man who is easily distracted from the orders he is given. Will Ben's obstinate nature help to solve the crimes or is standard police procedure the way to go?
This is the third in the Cooper and Fry mystery series. In this one, Diane has just gotten the promotion that everyone assumed would go to Ben and is now his boss. This ratchets up the interplay between the two who come at every problem in a diametrically opposed fashion. Readers of the series will enjoy this further case and the unfolding of the relationship between the two. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
East Of Eden is a moral fable played out as the American Dream. It is set in the Salinas Valley of California in the late 1800's to around the time of World War I. It follows the life of the Trask family. Adam Trask came to California after growing up in the Northeast. He was the son of a famous military man who favored his other son, Charles, over Adam. The boys grew up in a state of rivalry that they never managed to get over. When Adam married Cathy, a woman who showed up on their doorstep, he had to leave when Charles would not accept her.
Adam and Cathy moved to California where Adam, a rich man, bought a large farm. Cathy had never loved Adam as she had never loved anyone. She used him to escape a situation. The couple had twins and as soon as she was able, she left Adam and moved out. Cathy became a whore and later the madam of the most infamous brothel in town. Adam was crushed, more or less ignoring his sons, Aaron and Caleb. The family's servant, Lee, basically raised and loved the boys.
Aaron and Caleb played out the same sibling rivalry as Adam, never learning from his own upbringing, played obvious favorites. Aaron was blonde and everyone loved him for his sunny disposition and good behaviour. Caleb was brunette, full of contradictions and a more complex child whose let his bad side emerge sometimes. The boys loved each other yet Caleb would sometimes hurt Aaron just because he could. The story ends with a major confrontation that had far-reaching consequences.
This is considered one of Steinbeck's master works. The retelling of the old Cain and Abel story from the Bible relocated to America touches the American reader as it was intended to. The story is full of Steinbeck's identification with the working class and his belief that man must make his own moral choices in life. Cathy is one of the most memorable villains in literature. The reader must make their own choice of who will have their sympathy, Caleb or Aaron. This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.
Monday, June 19, 2017
Babel Tower is an exploration of England in the 1960's, when so many things in society changed. It focuses on two plots. The first is the story of Frederica. She had been an intellectual child who went to Cambridge when that was still not the norm and became very popular and the center of attention of a group of young men. Afterwards, rather than marrying one of them and becoming an author as everyone expected, she instead married a man from the landed gentry, Nigel. Her sister had died in a freak accident and she wanted a complete break from what she had known. The couple had a son, Leo. But country life in a house full of Nigel's relatives soon palled. Frederica felt stifled and that her intellectual life was stymied. When she met her old crowd by happenstance, things came to a head. Nigel forbade her to see them and when she didn't agree, started to physically abuse her. She fled in the night, taking Leo with her.
Nigel insists he wants her back and storms around trying to find her and terrorizing her friends and family. The book explores the themes of women who want to work outside the home, the difficulty of doing so as a single mother, spousal abuse, society's changing mores about women, religion, sex, education, the best environment for a child and work.
The other subplot is about freedom in literature and the changing setting of society and what it will accept in the name of freedom of expression. It revolves around a novel written by a thoroughly unpleasant man named Jude Mason. The novel is about a dystopian society that falls into one of sexual excesses and cruelty and is considered obscene and charged as such. There is a trial in which the limits of society are explored. The Moors Murders case of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley serves as backdrop for this case. It was the most prominent child murder case of its time and many considered it a bellwether of how society changes were taking the world into dark, wretched places.
This is a huge novel that attempts to explain all of life in a specific time period. Readers may or may not like Frederica who is not a very sympathetic character but she is a model of how society has changed in considering a women's role. Most facets of society are portrayed along with the changes the sixties brought to each. The author, A.S. Byatt, won the Booker Prize for her novel Possession and that intellect and ability to explore society is a real reason for her success. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Few family names reverberate through history like that of the Borgias of Italy. The head of the family is Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish Cardinal who comes to Rome and rises to become Pope Alexander VI. He delights in the machinations of the Church and in his illegitimate children whom he disdains to hide. Instead they are given prominent places in society. His first son, Juan, is assassinated, a crime that marks Rodrigo's life ever after. Cesare is a former Cardinal who turns instead to military matters, conquering city after city in the Borgia's quest to extend their power. His daughter, Lucrezia, is used to solidify the family's power and influence through marriage. She is married three times by the time she is twenty-two.
This novel follows the family in the last year of their power, 1502. Lucrezia has just become the Duchess of Urbino, her husband Alfonso much the same kind of man as her brother Cesare. Cesare becomes increasingly erratic as he pursues a campaign of conquest, perhaps as the aftermath of what is known as the French pox. There is no alliance he won't make or break as it suits him, and both he and Pope make sure their enemies come to a bloody end. Pope Alexander is at the end of his life and concerned about his legacy. Finally, an outsider is also part of the story. Niccolo Machiavelli is a diplomat from Florence who is sent to the court in Rome to discover what he can of the Borgia plans and how his city can best position itself. He is fascinated by the Borgias, later basing his most famous book, The Prince, on Cesare.
Yet Dunant is interested in not just wars and betrayals but the life of women. Lucrezia is maligned throughout Italy as a courtesan and faithless wanton woman, but the reality is closer to that of a woman used as most women were in titled families, as a pawn to consolidate power. Her life in a forced marriage is explored as is the relationships within the family she married into, and her struggles to produce an heir. She loves her father and brother but fate moves her far away from them where she rarely gets to see them and must carve out a life for herself.
Sarah Dunant is considered one of the finest names working in historical fiction today. She is fascinated with Renaissance Italy and the powerful families that battle for supremacy. Yet she also takes time to examine everyday life. The influence of sickness, the fevers that annually take scores of lives and the new disease of syphilis, or French pox, is explored. The interplay between the powerful families and the Church is discussed. She skillfully dissects the connections between families and the alliances and betrayals that made the Borgia family name infamous. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Her name is Elise Perez. His is Jamey Hyde. She is a mix of cultures and races, brought up in housing projects where she had to scrap for everything she had. He grew up in Long Island mansions, Vail and Europe vacations, Manhattan townhouses. She grew up with a single mother who had her at sixteen and half-siblings from various men her mother lives with. He grew up the scion of an investment banking family with a famous actress mother. They couldn't be more dissimilar.
Jamey is in New Haven attending Yale and living with his best friend who he has known his entire life. Elise is in New Haven because that's where she ended up as she drifted away from Bridgeport, Connecticut looking for something, anything and living with a gay man who found her sleeping rough on the street and took her in. They are from different worlds and should have nothing in common. And yet, and yet. There is an immediate spark, an almost visceral attraction. Jamey has everything but has never felt that anyone really saw him. Elise has nothing but she knows about love and sees Jamey behind his facade for the man he really is.
Soon they are spending every moment together. Everyone they know is appalled. His friends don't know what to make of her and suspect that she is sizing him up to rob his apartment. Her friends suspect that nothing good can come from this, that Jamey is just slumming and will break Elise's heart. His family is simply appalled. Elise is like nothing they could have expected and the difference is more than they can accept. They try various methods of breaking the two apart, things that have always worked, threats of money being cut off and scandals that will shame the entire clan. Nothing matters. The love between Jamey and Elise is so incandescent that it outshines every difference, every obstacle. Or does it?
Jardine Libraire has written a modern love story that burns it's way into the reader's mind. Elise and Jamey are characters who will not be easily forgotten and their love is the memory each of us has about the first time we really, really fell into love. This is Jardine Libaire's second novel. She attended the University of Michigan's MFA program where she received the Hopwood Award. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and anyone who wants to remember how love feels.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
1. A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter Miller, sci-fi/fantasy, purchased
2. The Offering, Grace McCleen, literary fiction, purchased
3. The Confusion Of Languages, Siobhan Fallon, literary fiction, sent by publisher
4. The Sport Of Kings, C.E. Morgan, literary fiction, purchased
5. Emma In The Night, Wendy Walker, suspense, won in contest
6. The Bones Of The Earth, Rachel Dunne, fantasy, sent by publisher
7. Under Majordomo Minor, Patrick DeWitt, literary fiction, purchased
8. In The Cold Dark Ground, Stuart MacBride, mystery, purchased
Here's what I'm reading:
1. Commonwealth, Anne Patchett, audio
2. Blood On The Tongue, Stephen Booth, Kindle Fire
3. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck, paperback
4. Babel Tower, A.S. Byatt, hardback
5. White Fur, Jardine Libaire, paperback
6. In The Name Of The Family, Sarah Dunant, paperback
7. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
Monday, June 12, 2017
Dark days have fallen on the city of Alt Coulumb. Kos, the Fire God who keeps the city alive, has died. An influential law firm is called upon to figure out what killed him and what can be done going forward. Elayne Kevarian is the law partner sent to head up the case. She chooses Tara Abernathy as her associate. This will be Tara's first case but Kevarian has high hopes for her although her past is shaky. Tara was expelled from the Hidden Schools where all Craftsmen are trained. She dared to go up against a powerful professor there and expose his corruption but as often happens when novice goes against entrenched power, she lost.
How did Kos die? It appears that too much power was drained from him. As with most gods, Kos was involved in a series of contracts selling off his excess power. Elayne and Tara must go through all his contracts and determine if something was wrong in one of them and if they underlie his death. To do so, they must draw on allies. Abelard is a young priest who was the one on duty when Kos died and who discovered it. He is in the service of the Cardinal and the entire religious hierarachy. Another ally is the vampire pirate who brings them to the city and who seems to have knowledge of the various contracts that Kos was involved in.
But there are enemies as well. Cat is part of Justice, the group that sees that all is well in the city and which punishes wrongdoers. They don't trust Tara and her investigation. Then there are the gargoyles who believe both Justice and Tara are their enemies. They serve a goddess who used to rule in Alt Columb but who disappeared eons ago. Most deadly is the opposing counsel in the court case. It turns out to be Professor Denovo who is the professor Tara battled in academia only to be bested by him. The stakes this time are much higher. Can she prevail?
This is the first novel in the Craft series and Max Gladstone's debut novel. It shakes up fantasy by borrowing from several genres and adding in new twists such as the entire legal overlay, the concept of gods that can die and the explanation for creatures such as gargoyles and vampires. There are alliances and betrayals and one can never be quite sure what is happening. It is a complex world without being overwhelming and the many layers provide Gladstone with lots of room for surprising twists and turns. This book is recommended for fantasy readers.
Monday, June 5, 2017
Scotland Police has a long proud history of competent officers working in concert to solve crimes and keep the city and countryside safe. Then there is the Misfit Mob, a collection of officers that for various reasons have been shunted to the side and work on nonessential cases. There is Detective Constable Callum MacGregor who had a promising career until his girlfriend messed up a crime scene and he took the blame for her, leaving most people sure he was a bribe taker. DC Rosalind Franklin is a touchy feminist who is quick to believe that most men don't give her credit and only want her around for her body. DC John Watt is a curmudgeon who no one wants to work with. Detective Sargent Dotty Hodgkin is in the unit as she now rides a wheelchair after a work-related accident. DS Andrew MacAdams is dying of cancer but hiding the truth from his family and doctors. Finally, DCI Malcomson, or 'Mother', has been shunted to the group to recuperate from her own health issues.
Callum is called to a nuisance case. Someone has found something strange at the dump. When he arrives, it turns out to be a body, but one that is mummified. He is put on the job of calling all the local museums and science organizations to see if it is theirs. But the autopsy shows that the corpse is recent and soon other mummies start showing up; bodies that have been brined and then smoked like fish. The Misfit Mob retains the case as all the others are overloaded, although no one expects much from them.
Concurrently, there are strange incidents regarding Callum's own past. He was deserted at five years old, his mother, father and twin brother disappearing at a rest stop on the way home from a family vacation. He grew up in a series of care homes, each more devious and cruel than the next. His family's case has never been solved and as best he can tell, not given very high priority or worked on very hard. There seems to be some movement to cracking the shell of neglect and inattention the case received as it gets linked to a more current case. Can Callum discover the truth about his past as he works on the murder case?
Stuart MacBride is one of the most famous mystery writers working today. His prime character is DC Logan McRae and he has an extensive series of books about Logan, each a success. This book starts a new series, or at least readers can hope it does. These characters sing and meld into a hopelessly inept group that somehow manages to do everything right. The breezy style and 'just get on with it' mantra is exhilarating. The reader is carried along with twists and turns where least expected. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
The Whitshank family is a typical Baltimore family, one of blue-collar workers whose hard work has brought them success. Red is the head of his own construction firm while Abby was a social worker. Their four children are grown now and Abby and Red are slowing down as they age into their sixties. Although the children are grown, that doesn't mean there are no more sibling issues. There are resentments about who is doing more, which child was loved most, and who will help with their parents as everyone realizes that the couple may not be able to live alone much longer.
The novel veers back and forth in time over the family's ages. We get the backstory of Red's parents and how they overcame a scandal and the Depression to come to Baltimore from the hill country to carve out a living. We learn how Abby and Red fell in love. We learn that even with decades of marriage, there are still secrets in the family that threaten its stability as they are revealed. We also learn about the fourth generation of Whitshanks who are Red and Abby's grandchildren.
Anne Tyler is a recognized master at character development. Almost all of her books are set in Baltimore and most unravel the complexities of family life and the relationships that both sustain and threaten us. We see how families react to various events, how they are formed and what pressures can split them apart. A Spool Of Blue Thread was a Man Booker nominee as well as an Orange Prize nominee. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in families and their relationships.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
In England, the reign of Smoke has lasted 300 years. It is a portrayal of sin; whenever someone has a sinful thought or deed, smoke pours from every orifice on their body. The rich and powerful don't smoke, or so one would think. They send their children at a young age to boarding schools where they are punished and manipulated until they can control their tendency to smoke.
Boarding school is where Charlie and Thomas meet. One is the son of a powerful aristocratic family, the other a scholarship student whose family was wrecked when his father got into a bar brawl and killed a man. Unlike in every way, somehow they become best friends. They unite against the brutality of the head boy, Julius. Charlie is a good boy and sure that the way society is set up is the best. Thomas has a dark streak he fights against. Slowly, they start to realize that perhaps Smoke is not the way the world is supposed to work. Things they see on a class visit to London (The Great Smoke) make them question why the lower classes must be consumed in sin and smoke while the upper classes rise above all the poverty and crime. Rumors they hear about how England was before the Smoke and how other countries still exist without it make them more curious and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Over break, they visit the country estate of a wealthy family where they hope to pick up some answers. They meet the daughter of the family and both boys develop a fascination for her. They start to discover that the family is the centerpiece of a resistance to the Smoke society; the father driven mad by his studies, the mother drawn into a vast conspiracy to bring down Smoke. Unfortunately, it turns out Julius is the mother's first son although he has been raised by his father elsewhere. When he comes for a visit, he pits himself against the two boys and his half-sister and violence ensues. When the three flee, Julius sets himself as their punisher and starts to track them. Can the three elude Julius and the forces of Smoke long enough to discover the truth
Smoke is a fascinating novel. Vyelta creates a Dicksonian-like environment of downtrodden poor against privileged rich. His world building is first rate and the reader is transported to the vile underground where crime and poverty mix to create an atmosphere of fear but one where people can still be kind and generous. The tension between the three main characters is intriguing, and the reader is torn between supporting the simple kindness of Charlie or the darker interesting personality of Thomas. There is political intrigue and the eternal battle between good and evil. This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.
Monday, May 29, 2017
Harry Bosch has retired and it's not sitting well. Police work is what he knows and what he does best. When the wife of an old friend calls him he is ready to listen. Her husband has recently died and she wants Harry to look into it. Harry knew him from his years in the police force and the friend's work on The Poet serial killer case. At first Harry believes the death was natural but as he looks into it, he starts to realize that something is amiss.
Rachel Bolling, FBI agent, is also at loose ends. After her work on The Poet case and the scandal that attached to her that rose from that case, she has been marking time in North Dakota. When she gets a call to join a team in Nevada that has recently unearthed six male bodies, she knows The Poet has reemerged. He has left clues that point directly to Rachel and it is clear that he regards their relationship as unfinished.
As Harry works his case, he finds his friend made a mysterious trip to Las Vega before he died. That and other things takes Harry directly to the burial site where he finds a huge FBI contingent working the case and definitely not pleased to see him. He is assigned to Rachel to babysit and as the two compare notes, it becomes clear that the two cases have merged and that Harry's friend was perhaps the first victim in this current run of deaths attributable to The Poet.
This was Connelly's fourteenth novel and the tenth in the Harry Bosch series. Readers will be happy to observe Bosch working a case, this time as a retired detective who has recently discovered he has a daughter and questioning what the rest of his life should consist of. The tension between Walling and Bosch is interesting and the climax of the novel is stunning. This book is recommended for mystery readers.