Sunday, October 14, 2018

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

If your family has an exceptional child, your life is different from those of other families.  Every resource the family has, time, money, attention is spent on supporting that child and making sure he or she reaches the goal they are pushing toward.  That was the case of the Knox family.  Their daughter, Devon, is a golden girl of gymnastics, one of the few each year who has the realistic potential to make the Olympic team and even medal at the next Olympic games.

Everything the Knox family did, it did with that goal in mind.  Katie, the mom, leaves her full-time job so that she can spend the time taking Devon to practises at a gym that can support her.  There is a second mortgage on the house and Eric, the dad, serves as the parent representative.  There aren't vacations; only family trips to distance cities where Devon is competing and maybe a few hours snatched between rounds.  The money goes quickly on gym fees, private coaching, competition leotards at several hundred dollars each, hotel bills, eating out, etc.  Devon's little brother, Drew, grows up on bleachers where he and his mother spend hours waiting on Devon to end practice.

Now, it's about time for all those sacrifices to pay off.  Devon is approaching the biggest trial in her career, the one that will put her in the stratosphere from which the Olympic team is chosen.  Nothing, nothing can be allowed to distract her or take time from her preparation.  Then something does anyhow.  A young man who is a fixture at the gym and who dates on of the young coaches, is found dead.  Even worse, it appears to be a case of hit and run, his life cut short on the side of a road.  The gym closes down but the rumor mill starts up.  Did the coach kill her boyfriend?  As she is the niece of the gym owner, it starts to affect practises.  The rumor mill gears up.  Hailey is being questioned by the police; Hailey and her boyfriend were seen fighting, Hailey was known for her jealousy.  Soon the gym is shutting down for hours and then days as the gym owner supports his niece.  What will happen next?  Will this put an end to Devon's dreams?

Megan Abbott has captured the concentration and focus that supporting a child with a dream entails.  The drama and suspense builds slowly, exposing the bones beneath the appearance of a successful family who has spent their lives focused on one thing.  It questions when support becomes obsession and exposes how it can affect every relationship.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Twelve years ago, a murder case hit the headlines and became a media sensation.  Eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was accused of murdering her mother, stepfather and little brother in a rage against the family.  The evidence was clear and there was never any doubt.  Since then, Hannah has been held in a secure psychiatric hospital but her name still strikes fear and repulsion in the public mind.

Now Dr. Frieda Klein has been approached and asked to meet with Hannah to give her read on Hannah's mental state.  Klein is reluctant but she is being asked as a favor she owes to a man high in the government who helped her and her police detective friend when she needed help so she feels she must agree.  She reads up on the case and goes to meet Hannah.

What she finds upsets her.  Hannah is unresponsive, a girl who is battered and bruised, obviously the recipient of inmate or staff abuse.  She is drugged and can or will make little sense.  Frieda is appalled and starts to think about the case in a different way.  What if Hannah wasn't guilty and has instead been buried alive to hide someone else's guilt?  What would that person do to keep their part in the crime hidden?  As Frieda begins to investigate and talk with those involved in the tragedy, her doubts continue to mount.  Can she solve the case that everyone thought was solved twelve years ago? 

This is the sixth in the Dr. Frieda Klein series.  Klein is an interesting protagonist.  She seems introverted which is a strange characteristic for a therapist to have.  She lets few people into her life but those she lets in she cares for intensely.  She is driven by a sense of injustice and her ability to sort through the tangled threads of a messy situation to discover the truth is a fascinating procedure to watch.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon

They are The Three spoken of in lore and myth.  Rhapsody is a Singer, one who speaks the truth through Naming a person or event's essential truth.  Achmed is the hidden one, an assassin who is destined to lead his people who have been considered monsters or half-men.  Grunthor is the giant who trains and leads the armies of Achmed and who is fiercely loyal to the others. 

Together they are to fulfill the prophecy of the Children of Blood, uniting all together, merging the civilizations that fled an Island kingdom only to unite in marriage with the Dragon civilization.  After a rupture in that union, all the various tribes of men have separated into their own realms and become deadly enemies of each other.  Now there is a chance of reunion.

This is the first novel in a nine novel series called The Children Of Blood.  Haydon has created an interesting world, filled with novel characters who have flaws to offset their virtues.  Rhapsody was a prostitute before she trained as a Singer.  Achmed was an assassin who served dark masters until he could break free while Grunthor cheerfully admits to cannibalism and murder.  The world frame laid down in this first novel will lead to more intrigue and depth in the eight following ones.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff

At first glance, Jonathan has it all.  Fresh out of college, he is living in Manhattan and working at an ad agency with his best friend.  He is engaged and about to be married.  He even has two dogs, his brother's pets that he couldn't take overseas so they are staying with Jonathan.  But when the top layer is peeled back a bit, Jonathan's life is anything but perfect.  He hates his job where he has no creative input and spends his days drawing his masterpiece, a comic version of the nine levels of hell.  His Manhattan apartment is one that doesn't even have a lease and he's not sure who owns it or when they will want it back.  His friends don't like his fiancee, who is an uptight, organized type, and now that it's getting closer, Jonathan isn't sure the wedding is a good idea either.

The only constant are the dogs.  They never complain, never seem to think Jonathan has made a major mess of his life.  They seem to support him in ways that others think are in his head but he's almost sure they are guiding his life.  But that's nuts, isn't it?  Is Jonathan headed for a crisis or is everything bound to work out fine?

Meg Rosoff has written an engaging novel with a protagonist the reader can't help but fall in love with.  Jonathan is the child everyone wants to protect, the good guy who just can't seem to catch a break but possibly, he is about to take charge of his life.  Rosoff has written six novels.  Her first, How I Live Now, was nominated for the Orange Prize for Women's Literature.  Subsequent novels have been nominated for such awards as the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Zoe Walker is headed home after a long tiring day when she sees it.  Glancing through the newspaper, she stops short at the advertisements.  Did she just see that?  What in the world?  Zoe has seen a picture in the personal ads and somehow, the picture she has seen is her own.  Looking again, she isn't as sure and thinks maybe its just one of those doppelgangers everyone seems to have.  She makes her way home, a bit uneasy but ready to shrug it off.

Then it happens.  She had checked the other ads when she saw the one that seemed to be hers.  Then she is watching the news and a shock of recognition comes over her as she listens to the crime news.  One of the women on the news has been robbed on the subway.   Even worse, as she focuses in on the news in the next few days, a recent murder of another woman brings the realization that she, also, had her picture in the ads.  What is going on?

It's not like Zoe doesn't already have enough problems.   She has a job that is stressful due to the bullying her boss provides; he knows she is not in any position to leave a well-paying job in the economy they face.  She faces a long commute daily which doesn't leave her as much time at home as she'd like.  Neither of her teenage children seem to be moving forward in life and neither likes her live-in partner.  They haven't forgiven her for the divorce when she left their father as she shielded them from his infidelities. 

Zoe reports her suspicions to the police.  They aren't interested until Zoe connects with a policewoman who is looking for a way to get back on the fast track at work.  Kelly made one mistake that almost ruined her career and has been working diligently to try to retrieve what she threw away in one moment.  Kelly listens to Zoe and as the murders start to pile up, brings the police force in on the deadly game that is being played out under their noses.  Will they solve the case in time to save Zoe?

This is a chilling book for any woman to read.  The reality of danger from the merest of suspicions makes the reader check their own lives for touch points and to wonder how safe they are as they go about their daily routine.  The author is a twelve year veteran of the police force in England so those portions of the book ring true.  The suspense builds slowly and steadily and the ending will surprise most.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900's, Sunja, a young girl from a poor Korean family, is not sure what her life will be.  She lives with her mother in the boardinghouse they run.  Her father, a crippled fisherman who loved her dearly, has passed on.  She expects her life to be spent on the island where she was born, working in the boardinghouse.  A chance encounter in the marketplace leads her to a relationship with Hansu.  Hansu is a tall, rich Korean who lives in Japan where he can pass as Japanese.  The two start a relationship and it is only when Sunja finds herself pregnant that she discovers that Hansu is married with three daughters in Japan.

This is a disaster to her family.   She has brought shame on them all and there is now no hope of marriage as no other man will look at her.  Then a miracle happens.  The two women have been taking care of a sick young man at their boardinghouse.  He is a minister who became ill on his trip to join his brother in Japan as a missionary.  Grateful that the two women have nursed him back to health, he offers to marry Sunja and take her with him.  With no other options, she accepts Isak's offer.

Thus begins Sunja's life in Japan.  Her son with Hansu is Noa but Isak considers him as his own son.  Later the two have a second son, Mozasu.  The couple live with Isak's brother and his wife and it takes everyone to carve out a living in Japan, where Koreans are discriminated against and given only the lowliest jobs.  As the years and decades pass, the family goes through many changes with deaths, new loves, marriages, new children, etc.  The constant is poverty and hard work and the bedrock of family and obligation.

Pachinko is a National Book Award finalist as well as a New York Times Notable Book for 2017.  Readers will be immersed in a culture about which they likely know very little.  It also explores the themes of family, obligations, prejudice and love.  Multigenerational sagas are often described as sprawling but this story is tightly plotted and will draw the reader into a world they never imagined before.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

While on a field trip in Montana, Professor Theo Cray hears a horrific story.  A woman has been killed.  He is shocked when he finds out that it was a former student of his, in the area doing field work.  Cray sees the body and although the first impression is that she has been killed by a bear, he doesn't believe it.  He takes pictures and samples and goes to the police with his thoughts only to find that they are determined to put this down to a rampaging animal or alternatively, to charge him as he seems so obsessed with the crime.

He reluctantly leaves the town but he isn't through.  As a computational biologist, he is a scientist and the police's theory just doesn't add up.  He is trained to see patterns where others do not.  In fact, he is just focused enough that he sees things others do not and socially awkward enough that he insists on his theories even when those around him don't believe him.

Theo goes to a neighboring town and tries to work out what happened.  Once he throws out the theory that the death was the result of a bear, he is left with the theory that it is a human killer who is disguising as a bear for the ability to kill without consequences.  Cray works out a theory that shows him the areas that such a killer would tend to target and then searches for missing people.  When he manages to find another body, killed a year before, the police can't ignore him although once again they reach for the comfortable animal killing idea.  Although the police don't believe him, the killer does and can't believe someone has managed to break his decades long streak of killings.  The killer is determined to put an end to Theo's theory and how better to do it than to put an end to Theo?

This is the first in a series of mysteries by Andrew Mayne, who is best known for his work as a magician.  He has both a TV series and a podcast about illusion which makes the sleight of hand necessary in a mystery secondhand to him.  In Theo Cray, he has created a fascinating character whose quirks seem believable and whose name, Cray, is a sly illusion to the Cray supercomputer which he is similar to.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, October 1, 2018

It's October and soon things will get cooler.  There is football and pumpkins, mums and soon there will be turning leaves.  Schools and colleges are having fall breaks and Halloween decorations are cropping up everywhere.  Soon it will be time to make crockpot potato soup and chicken and dumplings, food we never make in the hot, humid summer.  It's dark now by 7:30 as opposed to almost 9:00 a few months ago.  Obviously, fall is another great time for reading.  Here's what has come through the door lately:

1.  The Glovemaker, Ann Weisgarber, historical fiction, sent by publicist
2.  Red Hotel, Gary Grossman, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  Fed Up, Gemma Hartley, nonfiction, sent by publisher
4.  We All Love The Beautiful Girls, Joanne Proulx, literary fiction, Vine review book
5.  False Witness, Andrew Grant, mystery, Vine review book
6.  Sight, Jessie Greengrass, literary fiction, Vine review book
7.  Time's Convert, Deborah Harkness, thriller, sent by publisher
8.  The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin, historical fiction, Vine review book
9.  The Wreckage, Michael Crummey, historical fiction, purchased
10.  Rhapsody, Elizabeth Haydon, fantasy, purchased
11.  I See You, Clare Mackintosh, mystery, given by a friend

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, hardcover
2.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
3.  The Templars, Dan Jones, hardcover
4.  The Crossing, Michael Connelly, audio
5.  All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, audio
6.  You Will Know Me, Meg Abbott, paperback
7.  Jonathan Unleashed, Meg Rosoff, hardback

Happy Reading!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

In the years following the Civil War, a woman blazed onto the national scene.  Victoria Woodhull started life in a family of grifters and con men.  She was used by her parents to further their crimes as she and her sister, Tennessee, were forced to work long hours as fortune tellers.  This was the era of seers and spiritualists and many people believed that the dead could return to predict the future. 

Victoria fled her parents into an early marriage at sixteen, only to find that the man she thought would save her instead was at bad as her parents.  He was an alcoholic and thought nothing of beating her.  But there was a spirit in Victoria that refused to give up.  She and her sister went to New York and managed to meet the acquaintance of one of the nations richest men, Cornelius Vanderbilt.  With his patronage, the sisters managed to break into the heights of society.  Desperate for knowledge, Victoria used her acquaintance with Vanderbilt to learn about the stock market and the two sisters opened the first female stock brokers office. 

But Victoria's interests ran wide.  She yearned to make herself known and valued in all aspects and she became part of the suffragette movement to fight for the vote for women.  That led her to the trade unions with their message of rights and more power for those working.  She opened one of the first female newspapers in order to push her views out to more people.  Finally, in 1872, she became the first woman to run for President, believing that her spirit guide predicted her success.

But Woodhull's views were too outrageous for the times.  She had divorced her first husband and remarried another man but was adamant that she wouldn't be controlled this time.  She advocated for what she called free love, the right of men and women to love where they would regardless of their martial status, what would today be called an open marriage.  She befriended prostitutes and others from the lowest classes.  She fought constantly against the other women in the women liberation movement, like the Stowe sisters as she constantly pushed for more than most considered possible and was considered to be using the movement for her own purposes.  As Victoria came out with more and more radical ideas, she finally lost all that she had accomplished and today, few even know her name.

This novel won the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction in the U.S. women's history category.  It puts the spotlight back on a woman who dared to want equality and fought her entire life to gain it, not only for herself but for everyone around her.  Although ultimately she failed and was silenced by her critics, she is now being rediscovered and lauded for her accomplishments.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Making A Killing by John L. Hart and Olivia Rupprecht

As the Vietnam war rages, there are lots of events going on besides those on the battlefield.  There is CIA involvement in government affairs, and men who are cashing in on the vast wealth that the heroin trade in this area provides.  All of these factors come together when Kate Morningside is kidnapped.  Who has her?  Is the kidnapping part of a spy-counterspy plot?  Is she caught up in the machinations of the men trying to control the drug trade?

Kate is loved by JD Mikel, the CIA's top assassin but also the brother of the Poppy King, the man who controls the vast drug trade in the shadowy background.  Perhaps the kidnapping is part of a plot to force JD to betray his brother.  He reaches out for help from two unlikely sources.  Gregg and Izzy are two Army psychiatrists.  Gregg also loves Kate and the two are willing to help find her.  They travel from base to base, providing help to soldiers who are addicted while keeping their ears to the ground to pick up any clues about Kate's whereabouts.  Will they find her in time?

The writing team of John L. Hart and Olivia Rupprecht have created an intricate plot that brings together the worlds of espionage, drug trafficking and warfare.  The characters are interesting, especially that of JD.  The men they fight against include some of the vilest sadists and criminals imaginable.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

It is an unlikely encounter.  She is the best opera soprano currently singing.  He is an extremely wealthy Japanese industrialist.  They are brought together in a small Latin American country who wishes to court the fortune and influence of the businessman.  His birthday is coming up and one of the few personal things known about him is his love of opera.  So a massive birthday party is thrown and the opera singer is hired to provide the night's entertainment. 

At the end of her singing, the crowd of wealthy businessmen and their wives are silent, amazed at her talent.  At this moment, in swarms a group of guerrillas; it is hard to understand that they are actually there or what their purpose is.  They have come to kidnap the President of the country.  Unfortunately for their plans, the President didn't attend and his Vice President is the highest ranking official.  The guests are forced to the ground, their sumptuous garments crushed and matted.  What will the invaders do now?

What they do is settle in.  They soon get embroiled in negotiations with the police outside.  The women are all sent out in the first round of bargaining, as the terrorists realize they have too many hostages along with those who are ill.  That still leaves over forty men and one women inside; the soprano.  The terrorists are not willing to give up that bargaining chip. 

Now the negotiation period stalls.  Days, then weeks and soon months go by.  The terrorists begin to make ever more outrageous demands, and the police and officials outside provide nothing but food.  Soon the story even falls out of the headlines as days go by.  Inside, a new society emerges.  The men are all in love with the soprano.  A translator, Gen, who works for the Japanese tycoon, becomes essential as he can help these men from all over the world communicate with each other.  As the days go by, it is discovered that two of the guerrillas are girls who are disguised as boys.  Alliances are formed and love affairs emerge.  The most momentous is between the industrialist and the soprano but there are other love affairs as well.  Will this state of affairs go on forever?

Ann Patchett has written a story that is both torn from the headlines and timeless.  It is the story of people coming together in spite of differences.  It is the story of how we each long for beauty to make our lives more bearable.  It is the role of love in our lives.  The novel won the Orange Prize (now the Bailey Prize) and the PEN/Faulkner award.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler

Jackson doesn't who what he is exactly, but he knows he isn't like the other children in the orphanage that is all he remembers.  They don't really like him and he can take or leave them.  No one really bothers Jackson as the word is out of bad things that happen to those who cross him.  Jackson is content as he can be.  He has Sister Jerome Grace as a friend and that was enough for him.  Most days passed by without incident although sometimes others would see a momentary flash of scales or a hand that seemed to not quite be formed correctly.  Jackson doesn't know what these momentary flashes are but he knows he needs to hide them from everyone else.

Than things change at the orphanage.  A group of children are chosen to be adopted by families out West and Jackson's name is on the list.  He can't imagine who would want him as no one else has or why.  The woman in San Francisco who has chosen him goes by the The Widow and she is respected and feared by everyone around her.  There are others in her mansion and again, not everyone is fully human.  Jackson knows he has been chosen to live with The Widow for some purpose although he doesn't know why.   He finally feels accepted and that is a revelation to him.  Jackson meets Mae, who is a lion tamer at a circus/show a few blocks away who is mysterious and powerful and drawn to him.  At the same time, he meets a girl at a bakery who seems the epitome of normality.  Which girl is he meant to love and why?

This novella is menacing and murky while still being fascinating.  There are glimpses of myriad things going on in the dark and behind the scenes but much is left to the reader's imagination and interpretation.  The reader is left with the feeling that there is more to Jackson's story that hasn't been told yet and that further adventures await him.  This book is recommended to fantasy readers.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Twenty-eight years ago, a horrible event happened in the small Georgia town where the Quinn family lived.  Rusty Quinn was a defense criminal lawyer, an occupation that made him an unpopular figure in town.  His wife and two daughters, Samantha and Charlotte, were at their house when two men intent on revenge on Rusty broke in.  At the end of the day, Rusty's wife, Gamma, lay dead, Samantha was barely alive and Charlotte, at thirteen, was left to mourn the wreck of her family and then testify in the trial that sent a man to Death Row.

Now another horrific event has taken place in town.  A girl has taken a gun into an elementary school and opened fire, killing the principal and a young girl.  Unbelievably, Charlotte is mixed up in this event also.  Although she now is a practicing attorney herself, she had gone to the school before classes began and is caught up in the events as a witness.  Her father plans to defend the shooter and that night, when he ends up in the hospital, Charlotte has had enough.  Her husband contacts Samantha, who has lived estranged from Charlotte and Rusty all these years, and asks her to come home to help. 

It's the last thing Sam wants to do.  She fought for years to be able to walk and talk again.  She left home as soon as she could and became a patent attorney in New York City.  She is highly paid and the best at what she does but she cannot manage to cross the gap those distant events left to reach her family.  This is probably her last chance to reunite with her family.  She returns.  Can she reconcile with Rusty and Charlotte?  Can the two sisters unearth the secrets that remain from that event and find a way to work together in this new crisis?

Karin Slaughter is a successful novelist.  She currently has three works in film production, this being one of them.  She has two successful series and has written eighteen novels.  Her ability to spin a tense, compelling story makes readers want to continue reading to find out what is next.  What is next is often a twist that the reader couldn't see coming, but that makes everything fall into place.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

An unspeakable crime has occurred.  A man lies dead in his courtyard, his head split open by the hatchet laying nearby.  The only person there when the police arrive is his wife, Zeba.  The family lives in a small Afghan village and Muslim law is the norm.  The man, Kamal, was not a perfect man.  He had removed his family from the side of town where his family lived and there were rumors of the things he chose to do.  Zeba was expected to have no input into his behavior; to take whatever he chose to dish out and continue to be a perfect wife and mother to her four children. 

Now Zeba is in prison, the house with no windows.  She refuses to speak or give any explanation about what has occurred.  She is quartered with other women who are imprisoned for crimes, many of which boil down to zina, having sex outside marriage.  This could be loving a man one planned to marry, having an affair, being prostituted by one's husband or even being raped but blamed.  Women were not believed, their testimony not given any weight.  They were arrested by men, tried by men and judged by men.  Their punishment was given out and administered by men.

Into this environment comes Yusuf, Zeba's attorney.  Yusuf was born in Afghan but his family immigrated to the United States where he grew up and became an attorney.  Now he is back in Afghan as he wants to make an impact in the land of his birth.  He believes there is something in this crime that has not been uncovered, some reason that Zeba is not speaking.  Can he uncover all the hidden secrets that led to the crime?

Nadia Hashimi has shone a light into a culture that is difficult for most readers to imagine.  It is hard to conceive of a life where you have no hegemony, where your every action is dependent on what someone else decides you should do, where your desires and needs have no effect on any outcome.  Readers will be intrigued with the machinations that go on beneath the surface so that these women can survive if not thrive.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in feminist themes.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Trail Of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Maggie Hoskie is a member of the Dinetah tribe.  After the deluge that took much of the western United States, the tribe lives behind a huge wall that was created by the prayers of the Dinetah tribe leaders.   But all is not safe behind the wall.  Monsters are also living there and it is Maggie's decision to hunt and kill them, protecting those she loves.

Her mentor and lover was Neizghani, an immortal who is the greatest fighter ever known.  She worked and lived with him for many months, then in the midst of one of their greatest battles, he deserted her without a word.  That's what immortals do but they leave a hole behind them that is almost impossible to fill. 

After weeks of holing up in her trailer, Maggie is starting to move among her people again.  She is asked to rescue a young kidnapped girl from a monster and although she manages to kill it, she realizes that this is a new type of monster and she doesn't know who created them or for what purpose.  Her adopted grandfather introduces her to his grandson and suggests that they work together.  Kai seems to be a lightweight, turning aside situations by talking his way out of them rather than fighting as Maggie does but to please the old man she takes him along.  Can they discover who is creating the monsters that are preying on the tribe?  Can she find out what happened to her mentor and why he has deserted her?

Rebecca Roanhorse has written an entertaining tale that is unique in its setting in an Indian land after a dystopian event has changed the world we know.  Maggie is an interesting heroine and as she learns to trust and love others, the reader is taken on her journey.  The action is fast and furious and the book ends with the reader barely able to wait for the next novel in the series.  This book is recommended for readers of sci fi/fantasy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dead In The Dark by Stephen Booth

Even though they work in different police organizations now, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are both still busy with their work, murder.  Fry, who has transferred to work with a division dealing with more organized threats, is called to the murder scene of an immigrant.  He was a loner and kept to himself but she soon discovers the more common scenario for these immigrants from Eastern Europe is for them to live overcrowded in dilapidated residences, crammed in with others and paid starvation wages.  They are resented by the local inhabitants and experience prejudice wherever they turn.  This touches a chord with Diane, whose background in care left her with memories of children she lived with who faced the same unreasoning prejudice.

Ben Cooper, who is still in his small village, has been promoted to head up his team.  He now adds management worries to those of fighting crime in a remote village where he knows many of the inhabitants.  The most recent case he has brings back bad memories in the village.  A man has gone missing.  Ten years ago, the man's wife had disappeared and it was assumed by all that he had killed her.  He was charged even though no body was found but was saved at the last minute by an eyewitness account that seemed to clear him.  But memories are long and Cooper knows that his disappearance now could have its roots in those former times.

This is one of the success stories in the mystery genre.  This is the eighteenth book in the series and readers not only get satisfying puzzles but they get to see the development of the main characters over the years.  The series is called the Cooper and Fry series but, although everyone pairs the two, they themselves have a complicated relationship and don't always see themselves as a team.  Their friction makes for an interesting digression from the usual mystery series and keeps it interesting.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

The Redex Trial was a brutal car trip in the 1950's.  A total of 6,500 miles through unforgiving terrain, rally teams would fight for the chance to be crowned the winners.  It was a national sport with the drivers becoming national heroes.  Back then, the roads were still not reliable and the drivers had to fight terrain where the roads were mere wisps of dirt, streams had to be forded and supplies were few and far between.  It was an endurance race that could only happen in Australia.

Eager to make their name and fortune, one team set out to make their mark.  Titch Bob is the best car salesman in Australia but that doesn't mean he will be given the prize he covets; a Ford dealership.  His wife, Irene Bob, is a woman who knows what she wants.  She married Titch in part because he was a small, compact man and she knew her babies with him would be easy births.  She is outraged at his inability to get the dealership and is ready to do whatever it takes to help him win, even fight his larger than life father for him.

The Bobs are the drivers on their team, but they turn to their next door neighbor, Willie, Bachhuber, to be their navigator.  Willie has had a hard start to life.  He married young but left his wife in the hospital when their baby was revealed to be another race.  Stunned by that betrayal, he became a teacher but lost that job when his discipline methods came into question.  He was one of the first radio quiz show heroes but lost that job through duplicity.  Twenty-six years old, he jumps at the chance to go along on the Redex quest to see what is next for him.

The team's preparation pays off and soon they are the leaders.  But time and proximity exposes strains.  The Bob's marriage is strained and Willie's past and the secrets hidden there make him prey to a life-changing event.  The Redex Trial will change each of their lives forever.

Peter Carey is one of Australia's foremost novelists.  He is one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice.  One was for Oscar And Lucinda and the other was for The True History Of The Kelly Gang.  In addition, he was won The Miles Franklin Award, Australia's top literary award, three times.  His forte as an author is to develop intriguing characters that characterize the Australian personality and to bring the history of his country into his books and make it approachable to the reader.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss Jr.

They came chasing the American Dream.  Phoebe spends her days riding the California freeways, driving from doctor's office to doctor's office, her job as a pharmaceutical rep demanding that she flirt and sometimes more to make her quota of sales.   Nick came out to California believing that he had a job in the film industry only to find out that it was vapors when he got there.  He now works for a firm that clears out and cleans up houses that are foreclosed on and where the people living have just given up and moved on.

Nick and Phoebe are struggling, fighting every day just to keep their heads above water.  They live in an amazing house but just like their neighbors, they are upside down on the mortgage and struggling to make payments.  Their toddler son is with the nanny more often than with them.  In order to make it work they need to pull together but instead they turn on each other, using drugs and alcohol to fill the gaps.  Soon they are locked into a martial struggle that seems to have no resolution, each doing whatever they can to hurt the other.  Both indulge in infidelity and recriminations, blaming the other for their misfortunes.  Will they survive or be victims of the life they have chosen?

This bleak novel is not for everyone.  The main characters are struggling and as they flail around, hurting everyone they get close to, they are unlikeable and hard to emphasize with.  They know what the dream is but it is forever out of their grasp and they can't figure out why some people are winning while so many struggle and go under.  The reader moves on, unable to look away from the train wreck that is their lives and wondering if there is any hope of redemption.  This is not an easy book but it is a searing indictment of what chasing the dream can be.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

March Violets by Philip Kerr

The year is 1936 and the place is Berlin, Germany.  Bernhard Gunther, known as Bernie, is a private detective.  He became one after leaving the police force in support of his friends who were pushed out by political actions.  One of his biggest areas of work is finding missing persons; many are found to have been shipped to concentration camps or picked up by the Gestapo and killed. 

Bernie is called to the home of a multimillionaire.  The man's daughter and son-in-law have been murdered and a safe in their house containing an expensive diamond necklace has been burgled.  The man wants Bernie to run a parallel investigation to that of the police as he doesn't want to give the police all the information he has as he thinks it could have adverse financial impact on his business. 

Soon Bernie is up to his neck weaving his way between political bigwigs, the police, members of the criminal underclass and men from the Gestapo.  He meets a beautiful movie star and several women who have lost their jobs due to the new emphasis on women staying at home and being supported by their men.  It is a delicate task working through all the horrendous things going on in Berlin in that era but crime never takes a break.  Can Bernie find the murderer and the jewels?

March Violets is the first book in Kerr's successful crime series featuring Bernie Gunther.  There are currently fourteen books in the series.  Readers will enjoy the noir feel of the book and have room to compare German noir with that of Hollywood.  Bernie is an interesting character and his ability to maneuver between all the warring factions in Berlin is fascinating to watch.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, September 1, 2018

September has arrived and hopefully, autumn will be close behind.  Here in the South, we don't really get fall temperatures for six or eight more weeks, but I'm ready to decorate my door with my fall wreath and put out my glass pumpkins all over the house!  Last year I even made a glass pumpkin at a workshop which was fun.  We have delivered the college age daughter back to school so I'm back to days on my own, which translates into lots of reading.  I read twelve books in August and hope to match that in September.  Here's the ones that have made it through the door:

1.  The Island Of Always, Stephen Evans, literary fiction, sent by publicist
2.  Trust Me, Hank Phillippi Ryan, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  Grace Williams Says It Loud, Emma Henderson, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Stygian, Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy, sent by publisher
5.  Spies, Michael Frayn, literary fiction, purchased
6.  The Shape Of Rain, Michael Koep, fantasy, sent by publicist

Then there was the Audible sale last weekend.  I bought the following audio books:

1.  The Drowned Girls, Loreth Ann White, mystery
2.  The Water Knife, Paolo Bicagapuli, fantasy
3.  Brothers And Bones, James Hankins, mystery
4.  Gone To Dust, Matt Goldman, mystery
5.  The Naturalist, Andrew Mayne, mystery
6.  Silent Victim, Carolina Mitchell, mystery
7.  A Killer's Mind, Mike Omer, mystery
8.  Strange The Dreamer, Laini Taylor, fantasy
9.  A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms, George R. R. Martin, fantasy
10.  Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, literary fiction
11.  The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas, classic literature
12.  Wizard's First Rule, Terry Goodkind, fantasy

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, hardback
2.  The Crossing, Michael Connelly, audio
3.  Carousel Court, Joe McGinnis, hardback
4.  The House Without Windows, Nadia Hashimi, hardback
5.  All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy, audio
6.  Bitter Violets, Philip Kerr, hardback
7.  The Golem Of Paris, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, paperback
8.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
9.  Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Woman Is A Woman Until She Is A Mother by Anna Prushinskaya

In this collection of eleven essays, author Anna Prushinskaya discusses one of the common threads tying women together, that of motherhood.  She wrote these essays while she was pregnant with her first child and then after the birth of her son.  She discusses such topics as the feelings of being pregnant, labor itself, the change that pregnancy and birth makes in a woman's life and how motherhood and outside employment interact.

In the essays, several themes emerge.  Prushinskaya brings in the Russian influences of her heritage and she discusses the thoughts of prominent feminists about the topics of women and childbirth and of becoming a mother.  Her family emigrated from Russia in 1998 and she became a citizen in 2008.  She discusses the quandary of bringing into an imperfect world a being one loves immediately and wishes the best for.  She talks about the uncertainty of pregnancy; not knowing when labor will begin or how things will turn out.  She talks about the changes one undergoes immediately after childbirth as a new world is entered.  Readers, especially women, will be interested in this unique take on one of the common experiences that bind women together.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers and those interested in the female experience.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Two young boys start a friendship and grow up in a small Switzerland town.  Gustav lives with his mother, his father having passed away.  His father was the assistant police chief and during WW II, forged dates on Jewish passports to indicate they had entered Switzerland before the country's cutoff date on accepting refugees.  Due to this, he lost his position and the family struggled with poverty thereafter.

Anton is his polar opposite.  He is Jewish and comes from a wealthy family.  In addition, he is a musical prodigy and his family does whatever they can to support his talent.  Despite the differences, the boys maintain their friendship throughout their years growing up.

They grow apart in adulthood.  Anton has remained in town, becoming the music master at the local school, a far cry from the spectacular future everyone envisioned for him.  Gustav has accomplished his life goal; he owns a hotel in which he can maintain high standards and take care of his guests.  Taking care of others is very important to Gustav.  The novel turns on what happens between the two in their adult lives.  Will they be content to live out the dreams they had as children or will they reach out and try to find more? 

Rose Tremain is a successful novelist, with titles like The Road Home, Merival, Trespass and Restoration.  She has been nominated several times for prizes such as the Booker and the Bailey's Prize for Women and has won the Bailey's.  She focuses her novels on relationships and how individuals come together and support or tear down each other.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Life has not been kind to Jack Bright.  When he is eleven, the car in which he is riding with his mother and two younger sisters breaks down.  His mother leaves to find a phone telling Jack he is in charge.  She never returns.  Two weeks later, her body is found, the victim of an attack and murder.

Three years later, Jack's still in charge.  Unable to handle the stress of losing his wife, Jack's father goes out to get milk one day and never returns.  Jack is left to keep the family together and hide the fact that he is the man of the family.  The girls stay home now as going to school might reveal their situation and put the three into the system where they would be separated.  Jack makes sure they stay under the radar by keeping the house spruced up and making sure they have the material things they need to survive.  Since he is too young to get a job, he ensures their survival by stealing.  He breaks into houses and steals things to turn over for pay but also steals healthy food and books.  He steals a lawnmower so the grass will remain trim and steals paint in order to spruce up the outside of the house.  All appears normal.

Then one day while breaking into a house, Jack makes a discovery.  He finds the knife that killed his mother and he now knows the identity of her murderer.  He can't do anything about it himself but he brings the police in on his secret, even at the expense of being caught for the hundreds of robberies he has done.  Is Jack right?  Will the police detective in charge be able to prove it?  He is new to the district, transferred in after messing up elsewhere.  Can this be his redemption as well as Jack's?

Belinda Bauer burst onto the mystery scene with her first novel, Blacklands, in 2010, which promptly won the Crime Writer's Gold Dagger Award for Best Novel Of the Year.  She has written a series of mysteries since, and is often compared to mystery writers such as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters.  Her books tend to focus on young people who are exposed to crime through no fault of their own and who slowly come to realise that not everyone can be trusted.  This book has been longlisted for the Mann Booker Award this year and is recommended for mystery readers. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

NW by Zadie Smith

They all grew up in the Caldwell housing estate in NW London and now as adults their lives have diverged.  Natalie is a successful lawyer with a wealthy husband, a great job, two children and a huge house.  She grew up as Keisha but knew her name was another thing about her past she needed to move on from.  Leah was her best friend but she has never been focused, instead letting her life happen to her rather than directing it.  She works a job haphazardly at a non-profit and has finally married a good man, a hairdresser who wants to have a good life.

Felix and Nathan also grew up in Caldwell but their lives have not turned out as well as those of the women.  They have had encounters with drugs and petty street crime; their job prospects and history are not what one would want.  They still see the women but these days they are more of a reminder of what the women's lives could have been rather than a welcome friend.

In NW, Zadie Smith illustrates the hopes and dreams of the area she herself grew up in.  The stories are short and disjointed, the language the same.  The reader is taken into an area where the language is jerky and everyone is just trying to get ahead and carve out some peace and success for themselves.  It was chosen as a New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2012 and gives readers a peek into a life they have little knowledge of.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Einstein's Beach House by Jacob M. Appel

In these eight stories, Jacob M. Appel gives readers a view into the lives of others and what they do to survive and thrive.  The title story refers to a family where the father has the bright idea of claiming their beach house was once owned by Einstein and that he spent his summers there after a guide misnumbered the actual house and tourists started arriving.  His plan to make some much-needed money backfires spectacularly. 

Other stories show us a family who lives next to a sex offender and how the father reacts, a family where the child has an imaginary friend with coincidences that are unimaginable, a female rabbi who is having a hard time deciding on the appropriate response to a former lover who tries to take advantage of her good nature and a teenage boy who is invited to be friends with the teenage girl he already has a crush on by her parents.  Each story shows us the events in various viewpoints and leaves the reader pondering the nature of humans and their relationships.

Jacob M. Appel is an amazing person.  He holds a bachelors and master's degree from Brown University but also has five other master's degrees and a doctorate, including both legal and medical degrees.  He has taught at various universities and his work has won praise and awards in various contests such as the O'Henry and the Reynolds Price Short Fiction award.  He writes on reproductive rights and his medical essays are published in various journals and collections.  His insight on how humans relate to each other are interesting while being very approachable.  This book is recommended for readers of short stories. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Years That Followed by Catherine Dunne

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

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

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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer

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

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

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Girl In The Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, August 7, 2018

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

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

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

Here's what I'm reading:

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

Happy Reading!