Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Outsider by Anthony Franze


Grayson Hernadez has come a long way but not as far as he dreams of.  Born in a poor neighborhood, he has fought his way out and become a lawyer.  Not an Ivy League lawyer, but a graduate of a city university with no prestige.  Instead of job offers at big-name law firms, the best job he could find was as a messenger in the Supreme Court.  Gray is thrilled to be there as he always idolized everything about the Court, but it hurts to be in a menial position while others his same age are chosen to work as clerks to the justices.  They are smarter or harder working, but they have the background and education expected of high flyers.

One day after work Gray steps in and stops a mugging in the Court's parking garage.  After the intruder escapes, he goes to help the victim and realizes it is the Court's Chief Justice.  The Justice takes notice of Gray and promotes him to clerk.  Gray is overjoyed and is determined to work so hard that the fact of his unorthodox entry won't matter.  The other clerks are less than happy to have him join the team but Gray is used to not fitting in and settles down to work.  Then the police who investigated the mugging ask for a meeting.

There have been several incidents and there are signs linking the crimes to the Supreme Court.  The police want Gray to be their eyes and ears inside the Court and report back anything suspicious he might see.  Gray is not happy with this plan but feels compelled to help.  There have been several murders each of which have occurred on the fifth of a month.  The next date is coming up and the police are determined to close the case before that date rolls around.  Can Gray help or will he get entangled in the murderer's plans and be executed himself?

Franze has written a thriller that educates the reader to the back scene procedures of the Supreme Court while unfolding a mystery.  Gray is a likeable protagonist although naive and too easily led by those around him.  As the mystery unfolds, he reconnects with his past and finds a way to merge his background and his future plans.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Death Of A River Guide by Richard Flanagan


Aljaz Cosini, a Tasmanian, has signed on as lead guide on a rafting trip down the Franklin River in Tasmania.  Cosini has been away from his homeland for a decade and is not in the best of shape for such a grueling job, but he's broke and needs a job.  His co-guide, Cockroach, is young and strong but doesn't know the river at all.  Still, it's a week and they need the money.  They collect their group who are a typical group of tourists and set out.  But the river is in the mood for blood.  The weather turns and steady rain causes the river to rise precipitously  When one of the tourists makes a foolhardy move, Aljaz jumps into the river to save him.  Instead, he finds himself head down stuck between two rocks, slowly drowning.

As his last minutes tick away, Aljaz finds himself having a series of visions.  He sees his life rush past, with jobs from footballer to sailor to handyman.  His marriage to the only woman he has ever really loved flashes past with the reason it failed in the biggest tragedy of his life.  He not only sees his own life, but that of his ancestors.  That includes his parents.   Harry marries an Eastern European woman he finds and falls in love with in Italy in a misbegotten attempt to become a sewing machine salesman.  They return instead to Tasmania where they live out their lives, their closest friend the midwife who assists at Aljaz's birth.  But Aljaz sees even further back to ancestors such as Ned Quade, who comes to Tasmania as the result of transportation for a crime he doesn't even remember.  He also has visions of the Aboriginal woman whose place in his genetic background is never talked about.

Richard Flanagan is acknowledged as one of Australia's premier authors.  He won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel, The Narrow Road To The Deep North, an exploration of the Australian experience during the second World War and the Japanese POW camps.  This was Richard Flanagan's second novel.  As always, he explores the history and lush environment of the land he lives in and loves.  He captures the beauty and the despair that is the characteristic of the people who live there.  He explores the exploitation of both Tasmania's natural resources and the native people who are supplanted there by those who come and conquer the land.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Widow's House by Carol Goodman


When Clare married Jess Martin, they had big plans.  Both graduates of the writing program at their university, they expected to have stellar writing careers.  Jess was first out of the gate with a novel that got a big advance and some praise, although their writing professor and mentor dammed it with faint praise.  Then their plans got stuck.  Jess's second novel just didn't seem to materialize.  Clare basically gave up her own writing to support them, working in the industry as a copy editor instead.

The couple decide to get out of the city and move to the country where it is cheaper to live and both can start their writing careers anew.  They are quickly dismayed when they realise their down payment won't buy anything they would want to live in.  Finally, the real estate agent shows them a cottage on a local mansion.  The owner needs a couple to move in and be caretakers on the property.  It sounds ideal until they hear the owner's name.  This is River House and it is the family home of their old college professor, Alden Montague, the man Jess believes killed his career.  Clare has other misgivings as River House is in her old hometown and she isn't ready to move back and reestablish a life in a place she couldn't wait to leave as a young girl.

But they overcome their misgivings in favor of a fresh start.  Monty, as he is known to all, seems delighted to see them both again and is quite encouraging of their efforts to rekindle their creative fires.  He has other creative artists in residence, a puppeteer and a sculptor.  Jess and Clare seem to fit right in.  Clare is caught by the interior of the house and a picture that reminds her of the story she wrote in college that first caught Monty's eye.  It was a story with gothic overtones of the Apple Queen, a local beauty queen who comes to a horrific end.  Clare, with Monty's support, starts to expand this work.  Jess's writing also seems to be off to a great start.

But things aren't that good.  As Clare delves deeper into the legend, she learns that it is based on a real tragedy, a tragedy that involved Monty's family.  His father had a torrid affair with a local girl but when she got pregnant, bought off the family with a farm and instead married a society girl, who also got pregnant right away.  Having two women living a mile apart, both pregnant by the same man and fighting for his attention, led nowhere good.  It ended in one baby stillborn, one woman drowned, the other hospitalized in a mental institution for life after killing the man who caused the tragedy.  Now Clare is so involved in the story that it seems to come to life for her.  She begins to see the ghost of the Apple Queen and comes to find that she may be related and more involved in the story than she had even imagined.  The marriage starts to feel the strain as Jess seems to become jealous of Clare's work, although he passes it off as concern.  Is Clare headed for a breakdown?

Carol Goodman specializes in novels featuring middle-class educated women who find themselves in situations that seem unlikely and border on the supernatural.  She is a master at plotting and building tension and the reader is surprised at the denouement and how it all works out.  This book is recommended for readers of psychological suspense.  It can be purchased at Harper Collins or Amazon.  I received this novel from TLC Book Tours.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Follow Me Down by Sherri Smith


Growing up, Mia Haas couldn't wait to get away from her small farming community in North Dakota.  Raised by a narcissistic, alcoholic mother and with few friends at school, the only bright spot in her life was her twin brother, Lucas.   He was the town's golden boy, handsome and a hockey star.   Once she graduated, she ran as fast as she could to college and then to a city life as a pharmacist.  Her brother had a harder time settling down as he always thought he'd play professional hockey, but after realizing that wouldn't happen, he eventually returned to their town where he seemed to be happy teaching English at the local high school and coaching the soccer team.  Their mother, who had never recovered from a car accident in the kid's senior year, still lived there in assisted living, but might or might not recognize them from day to day.

Mia's life is better, although she is starting to get bored with her job.  Then she gets the call.  Her brother is missing.  Mia drops everything and heads to North Dakota.  When she gets there, it is a nightmare.  Lucas is not just missing.  He is the prime suspect in the murder of a beautiful high school girl, the daughter of the richest and most influential family in town. Even worse he is suspected of having a relationship with the girl who seemed to have a crush on him.  Mia can't believe any of that and she is determined to stay until she can find her brother and help him refute the charges.  Mia is the only person who seems to worry that something might have also happened to Lucas.

There doesn't seem to be much hard evidence, but the rumors and gossip that drove Mia away are in full force.  Could any of it be true?  Lucas had always been the one the town loved, his good looks and athletic ability making him a hometown hero, but now everyone seems to be against him.  Mia starts to look for other suspects.  Joanna wasn't the perfect girl everyone had thought her.  She had a boyfriend who was the local drug dealer.  She was in constant conflict with her mother, who was living her own dreams of becoming a dancer through Joanna.  But there are plenty of people ready to believe anything about Lucas.  The local sheriff has disliked him since their mother's accident, when Lucas was adamant that law enforcement wasn't getting the true story of what caused their mother to crash.  His former best friend married Lucas' old girlfriend, the girlfriend that couldn't believe it when Lucas and she broke up and who stalked him for months.  The press, sensing a juicy story, are out in full force, printing any rumor they can find.  These people are all too ready to believe the worst about him.  Mia is frantic to find him as she thinks Lucas could be in danger somewhere or murdered along with Joanna.  Can she find him when the police and the whole town seem to be against her?

Sherri Smith has written a taut, fascinating look at small-town life and how the roles never seem to change.  Those with money and good looks lead a charmed life at the expense of those around them.  People are assigned a value and place in society early on and it is almost impossible to change the community's assignment.  As Mia faces down the prejudice and smugness of a town ready for Lucas to get his comeuppance, she remembers why she couldn't wait to leave.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, March 19, 2017


It's mid-March already!  Time for St. Patrick's day and March Madness.  My Tarheels are in the tournament and I hope will have a great run.  After weeks of warm weather, it's now cool and damp and very unencouraging as far as venturing out.  I think I'll spend this week getting my taxes ready and reading.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  A Shattered Circle, Kevin Egan, mystery, sent by publisher
2.  The Velveteen Daughter, Laurel Davis Huber, biography, sent by publisher
3.  To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, anthology, sent by publisher
4.  The Curse Of La Fontaine, M.L. Longworth, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Beauty And The Beast, Penguin Classics, anthology, sent by publisher
6.  The Widow's House, Carol Goodman, suspense, sent for book tour
7.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, anthology, purchased
8.  Gateway To Everywhere, Ernest Frankel, historical fiction, sent by publisher
9.  The Lost Book Of The Grail, Charlie Lovett, thriller, sent by publisher
10.  Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  Duplicity, Jane Haseldine, mystery, sent for book tour
12.  The Book Of Polly, Kathy Hepinstall, literary fiction, sent by publisher
13.  The Skill Of Our Hands, Steven Brust/Skyler White, fantasy, sent by publisher
14.  Follow Me Down, Sherri Smith, suspense, sent for book tour
15.  Hide Me Among The Graves, Tim Powers, fantasy, purchased
16.  The Familiar, Vol I, Mark Danielewski, literary fiction, purchased
17.  Chemistry, Weike Wang, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  What Comes Next, John Katzenbach, paperback

2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
5.  Perfect Prey, Laura Salters, Kindle Fire
6.  Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7.  The Buried Book, D.M. Pulley, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback
9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

11.  Smoke, Dan Vyleta,  Kindle Fire

Happy Reading
!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

What Comes Next by John Katzenbach


Jennifer is running away from home.  The sixteen year old can't endure another day of her mother living with her horrible step-father or the school where she has no friends.  As she strides towards the bus station, her world is abruptly ended when a van stops and she is yanked off the street.  Her captors are a couple, young people whose minds are in total sync.  Michael is a computer whiz who thinks of himself as a star in the online world.  Linda is a business woman who thinks act is fine but only if there's money to be made.  Together they make a murderous, sociopathic pair.

When Jennifer's absence is noticed, Terri, the detective who catches the call, isn't sure what to think.  She has been to Jennifer's house two other times when the teenager ran away.  Isn't this just one more attempt, perhaps a successful one this time?  When a retired psychology professor comes forward and says he saw the abduction, she starts to believe it could be true.  But her police routines and procedures show no clue as to what as happened to Jennifer.

Jennifer is now know as #4.  She is confined in a basement with her every move captured on a camera and broadcast on the Internet.  Her captors sell subscriptions on the darkest parts of the Internet to those who are fascinated by the thought of a helpless girl confined and condemned to endure whatever her captors want to do to her.  The subscription is interactive so that the viewers can post suggestions or bet on when various acts might occur.  As the number implies, Jennifer is not the couple's first victim and the first three are all dead.

Jennifer's only chance is a strange trio of people.  Professor Adrian Thomas is recently retired, a former psychology professor who spent his life experimenting and observing the far reaches of the mind.  He has, however, just gotten the news that he has a neurological condition that will quickly take his mind and reasoning from him.  Detective Terri Cross is willing to help but burdened with too many cases and too little time.  Finally, there is the man who is a sexual offender himself but who the professor convinces to be his guide through the hidden, forbidden parts of the Internet.  Can this unlikely trio get to Jennifer before her time is up?

John Katzenbach has long been recognized as one of the masters of psychological suspense working today.   This novel is one of his best efforts.  The action moves inevitably to a gruesome end with the tension tightening and tightening until the reader both dreads and is compelled to continue reading to see what occurs.  This book is recommended for mystery and suspense readers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Lies Of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch


All Locke remembers is the street.  First he was part of a ragtag group of kids who were street urchins, pickpockets and thieves for the Thieftaker.  When he proved too intractable for the Thieftaker to handle, he was sold to Father Chains, also known as The Eyeless Father.  By day, Chains sat in front of his temple, chained and begging.  But as soon as night fell, he threw off his chains and eye bandages and showed his true colors, as the leader of a group of misfits known as The Gentlemen Bastards.  Chains raised this group of boys to be smart thieves, fearless in guile and fighting.  There are the twins, Locke and Jean.  They were taught to be thieves, yes, but they were also given an education and taught languages, how to cook and appreciate fine things and how to appear as gentlemen.  Most of all they were taught to be brothers forever, to look out for each other first and always.

Fast forward a decade or so.  Locke is now grown and the head of the group.  He is not the biggest, in fact he is fairly scrawny.  But he is brilliant and fearless.  Jean has grown to be the most feared warrior of the group, unbeatable in battle.  The twins are inseparable and loyal.  A fifth Bastard has been added.  Bug is the group's newest apprentice, learning everything he can about how to steal and prosper.

Locke is involved in a massive scam.  He is posing as a gentleman and scamming one of Camorr's finest noble families out of their fortune.   In the midst of this, he gets caught up in a battle royale between the current head of the city's underground society and a newcomer determined to take control.  Both expect Locke's loyalty and help.  Then there is the small matter of the head of the city's justice having Locke square in her sights as well.  Can Locke and the Gentlemen Bastards maneuver between all these enemies to gain their fortune and live another day?

This is one of the best books I've read in the fantasy genre.  Whenever I think about the fact that this is a debut novel, it is almost unbelievable.  Lynch has created a wonderful world, reminiscent of old Renaissance crime-ridden cities mixed with Dickensian-like characters and intricate plotting.  The reader cannot help but love Locke and the other Gentlemen Bastards, even though they are not of the side or truth and light.  Under their criminal veneer, their basic goodness and unending loyalty to each other is intriguing.  This is the first in a trilogy of adventures, and readers will close the last page ready to buy and read the next.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel


Lane Roanoke's mother dies when Lane is almost sixteen.  She is sent to her grandparents to live, the grandparents she has never met and whom her mother would never discuss.  They live in Kansas, a place totally dissimilar to the New York city streets Lane has grown up on.  When she gets there, she finds that the Roanokes are the premier family of the area, known for their riches and the beautiful Roanoke girls.  She finds a friend in her cousin Allegra, who has always lived there.

Lane slowly learns to adjust and starts to trust that she now has a family, one that loves her.  Her mother had never been happy and never really was a mother to her.  Lane doesn't know why but it was the only evidence of family she ever had.  Here, her grandparents are interested in her every move and love her unconditionally, especially her handsome grandfather.  Lane and Allegra become fast friends and as the weeks go by she meets other teens, including Tommy who is Allegra's boyfriend and Cooper, whose every look makes Lane feel things she has never felt before.

But there are secrets hiding in the Roanoke family.  Allegra and Lane are the only ones of their generation even though there were three sisters.  All are now dead or disappeared.  Even going back a generation, there are stories of women who died too early.  What is going on?  Why is the family both admired and feared in the town?  As the summer goes on, Lane starts to find out the secrets that underlie the family's facade and when the worst secret becomes evident, she becomes another Roanoke girl that disappears.  She packs a suitcase and hitchhikes away, never to return.

But now it is a decade later.  Allegra has gone missing and her grandfather calls her, asking for her help.  As much as Lane dreads going back, she feels that she owes it to Allegra to help find her while there is still time.  Nothing has changed.  The house is the same, her grandparents are the same, and even Tommy and Cooper are the same.  The only things that have changed are the fact that Allegra has disappeared and the willingness of Lane to blow up all the secrets to find her.  Can she recover Allegra and make amends?

Amy Engel has written a tense, compelling narrative both of a teen girl slowly discovering a horrible secret about her family and that of a grown woman determined to do what is best for the cousin she left behind.  It displays the insidious nature of secrets and how they can damage individuals for years, even decades and once again, shows the reader that those who seem the most fortunate may be plagued by misfortunes others can only glimpse.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels and readers of young adult novels who are ready for a more mature book.

Monday, March 6, 2017

City Of Bones by Michael Connelly


It's New Year's Day but that doesn't mean much to Detective Harry Bosch.  He's working anyway, holiday or not.  In fact, he catches a case when a man walking his dog reports that the dog has come back with a human bone.  The man is a doctor and insists he knows what a human bone looks like.  Harry goes out to see and looking around, finds the dump site and several other bones.

When the scene of crime technicians are through, the collected bones are sent to the medical examiner.  His report is that the bones are those of a young teen boy, probably twelve to thirteen.  Cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head.  Even more disturbing, the bones tell a story of continued child abuse with multiple fractures all over the boy's body.  Harry and his partner are determined to bring the boy's killer to justice even if this is a twenty-year old cold case.

Of course, things are never that simple.  Harry has met a new woman, a rookie cop who comes to the crime scene.  He knows it's probably not a good idea to get involved with someone from work but she's hard to resist.  Then there are his superiors who have always regarded Harry as a loner and a trouble-maker even if he is one of the best detectives the LAPD has.  There's always plenty of office politics to interfere in Bosch's cases.

Michael Connelly is one of the stellar names in police procedurals.  He has written over twenty Harry Bosch novels and Bosch is one of the detectives mystery readers recognize.  The character has even had an Amazon Prime TV series made to follow Harry's cases.  City Of Bones is the eighth Bosch novel and the one that Season One is based on.  Connelly is a solid writer and gives insight into a police detective's job and all the other factors that complicate an investigation.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Stress Of Her Regard by Tim Powers


It is the Romantic Era in England.  Dr. Michael Crawford stops at an inn the night before his marriage to the beautiful Julia.  He and his friends have a typical bachelor party and on his way to bed, inebriated, he takes his fiance's wedding ring out of his pocket and slips on the finger of a statue of a woman.  When he comes to the next morning, he rushes down to the yard but the statue is nowhere to be found.  He buys a substitute ring from the innkeeper and rides on to his wedding.  That night, he sleeps heavily after his honeymoon night with Julia.  He awakes the next morning to a horrific sight.  Julia has been murdered during the night and not just murdered but brutally torn apart.  He flees the room in horror and as he realises that he is the prime suspect, flees England also.

He comes to discover that he is the victim of the Nephelim, a race of vampires and stone creatures that crave human interaction.  He moves across Europe, helped by others in his same predicament.  Some are like him, brought into the realm of the creature's desires by fate or a foolish act.  Some seek the Nephelim out for their ability to become Muses and grant the victim marvelous powers of creation.  As he moves about, he encounters famous poets such as John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, all men desired by the nephelim.  They started by seeking them out for their ability to help them write poetry but end by being willing to do anything to break free of their insidious powers.  Crawford and his companion, who is Julia's twin sister, work with the men to break the control the vampire/Nephelims have over all their lives.  Can they be successful?

Tim Powers is one of the legendary names of fantasy.  He has won the Phillip K. Kick Memorial Award twice and the World Fantasy Award three times.  His most accessible work, On Stranger Tides, was the basis for the highly successful Pirates Of The Caribbean movies.  His trademark is lush language that outlines a historical venue that slowly turns horrific.  His research of the history on which he bases his novels is supreme and the reader is totally absorbed in his narrative.  I listened to this book over several weeks as I was on my daily walk and it was always a fascinating experience.  This book is recommended for fantasy and horror readers.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Last Days Of Night by Graham Moore


The year is 1888.  Gas lamps illuminate the night but change is coming.  Thomas Edison has invented the electric light bulb, or has he?  George Westinghouse has a competing light bulb and the two are locked in a epic patent lawsuit; the winner assured of a massive fortune.  Edison's invention uses direct current while Westinghouse's uses alternating current.  Which will win out in the marketplace and more importantly, in the courts?

Westinghouse is up against one of the most famous men in the country.  Edison is not only widely known and revered but has the backing of some of the most powerful men in the country such as the financier J. P. Morgan.  Westinghouse finds it difficult to find an attorney willing to take on such behemoths of industry and influence.  Most law firms turn him down until he meets a young man, just out of law school but considered a prodigy.

Paul Cravath is only twenty-six years old.  He takes the case but is soon consumed by it and Westinghouse is his only client.  Edison has sued Westinghouse across the country in multiple courts.  As the two fight the epic legal battle, Cravath is exposed to locales and individuals he never expected to see as the son of educators from Tennessee.  Outside of the two businessmen, he meets and befriends others.  Nikola Tesla is a brilliant inventor from Europe who cares nothing about the financial stakes as his only interest is in inventing things never seen before.  Agnes Huntington is a renowned singer who has entry into the parties and meetings of what is considered top society.  Paul Cravath is a novice in this environment, but his ingenuity and legal brilliance insures that his name will survive.

Graham Moore is a successful young novelist, similar in early success to Paul Cravath.  He won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for his work on The Imitation Game.  His first novel, The Sherlockian, was an Amazon Best Book of December 2010 and The Last Days Of Night was an Amazon Best Book of August 2016.  His forte is taking events and personalities from the past and writing an engaging tale that interests and educates the reader.  What could be a dull recounting of facts is instead an intriguing tale of shifting alliances, legal maneuvers, a retelling of famous lives and a fascinating adventure.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola


In 1837, London is abuzz with talk of a heinous crime.  A woman is murdered right at Christmas and parts of her body are found around the city.  First, her torso, then her head and finally her legs.  The woman is identified as Hannah Brown, a woman who owned a laundry and was finally about to get married to a man she had just met.  This man, James Greenacre, was immediately the prime suspect and arrested.  Arrested with him was Sarah Gale.  She and her young son had been living with Greenacre when he threw her out to marry Brown.  When the police came to arrest Greenacre, Sarah was back living with him and was also arrested as an accomplice.  Both are quickly brought to trial and despite their claims of innocence found guilty with a sentence of hanging.

Edmund Fleetwood is brought into the case once the couple are in prison awaiting their sentence.  Sarah Gale had always maintained that she knew nothing of the murder and was nowhere near the house the night Hannah was killed.  James agrees that Sarah is innocent and knew nothing, but sentiment against her led to a quick guilty plea.  Fleetwood is a struggling lawyer with good connections.  His father is one of the most prominent attorneys in London.   Fleetwood is given the chance to make his name when he is asked to review Sarah's case and determine if justice has truly been served.

Fleetwood begins to meet with Sarah.  He is faced with a wall of reserve and mistrust.  As he starts to slowly gain her trust and hears her story, he sees connections with his own upbringing and begins to believe that she is another victim herself; a victim of poverty, lack of connections and general bad luck.  He sees parallels between her and his own mother who was sent away in disgrace for some transgression he wasn't given details of when he was a small boy.  This makes him sympathetic and as the days go by, he starts to believe that Sarah is truly innocent.  But there is still some doubt as she is obviously not telling him everything.  He needs to know everything to make a proper determination and make his recommendation.  Can he find her secrets before time runs out?

This novel is based on a true case.  The author is an attorney herself and lives in London, giving her ample insight into a case such as this.  She explores the exploitation of women in Victorian England and the nature of secrets and what we'll do to protect what we've hidden.  She also questions what we will do for love in all of its forms.  The novel has already won several awards and Mazzola is now working on her next novel, inspired by another true crime.  This book is recommended for mystery and true crime readers.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, February 23, 2017

Two months of the new year have rushed by.  In North Carolina, we're in full spring bloom with daffodils, forsythia bushes, crocuses and cherry trees everywhere you look.  My second favorite past time is theater and I was lucky enough to go see The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night last weekend in Charlotte.  It was a very intense play and gives people an insight into how autistic individuals view the world.  Then of course, it's the most critical part of the college basketball season.  My Carolina Tarheels are doing well and I have high hopes for them as March Madness approaches.  Of course, I'm still reading.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  The Girl At The Bar, Nicholas Nash, thriller, sent by publisher
2.  I Love You Today, Marcia Gloster, historical fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Fall Of Lisa Bellow, Susan Perabo, suspense, sent by publisher
4.  Saratoga Payback, Stephen Dobyns, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame, fantasy, sent by friend
6.  Bright Young Things, Scarlett Thomas, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Mangrove Lightning, Randy Wayne White, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  Aren't We Sisters?, Patricia Ferguson, historical mystery, purchased
9.  The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel, mystery, sent for book tour
10.  Helen, Anita Mishook, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  Justice By Another Name, E.C. Hanes, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Lies Of Locke Lamorra, Scott Lynch, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola, paperback
5.  Perfect Prey, Laura Salters, Kindle Fire
6.  Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback
9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

11.  Smoke, Dan Vyleta,  Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shades Of Milk And Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal


Mr. Ellsworth has a dilemma.  He has two daughters of marriageable age.  Jane is the eldest and would normally be expected to marry first.  Melody is the younger sister and very beautiful.  At age twenty-eight, Jane is about to reach the age where she would be considered a spinster rather than an eligible wife candidate.  She may not be beautiful but is very talented.  She paints, plays the piano and is an accomplished user of glamour, or magic as it is called these days.

There are several eligible suitors in the neighborhood.  The Dunkirks live next door.  Mr. Dunkirk is a gentleman with varied business interests.  His sister, Beth, has come to stay with him.  The Viscountess FitzCameron is also in residence with her daughter and with one of Jane and Melody's old playmates, now Captain Livingston, her nephew.  Then there is Mr. Vincent, a talented glamourist who has been engaged by Mr. Dunkirk to tutor his sister in the art, but he is a mystery and of course, not gentry.

Melody sets her sights on Mr. Dunkirk but then is swayed by the younger, more exciting Captain.   Beth is also interested in the Captain but he seems set to marry his cousin, the Viscountess's daughter.  Jane, who knows she is called Plain Jane behind her back, has no real hope of attracting any man but still cannot help but harbor some faint hopes of love and marriage.

This faint hope seems unattainable when Jane discovers a secret that can wreck havoc on all the families in the neighborhood.  Should she keep the secret as she has given her word and she well knows the trouble that will ensue?  Or should she break her word for the greater good?

Fans of Victorian romances such as Pride And Prejudice or Sense Or Sensibility will be entranced by this updated version.  It follows the bones of the earlier novels while incorporating the magic of glamour for a delicious froth of a novel.  Mary Robinette Kowal made a splash with this novel.  It was a 2010 Nebula Nominee for Best Novel, a SF Chronicle's Top 10 SF/F of 2010 and a RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel 2010 winner.  It is the beginning novel in a series that will draw fans back over and over again.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Hanging Girl by Jussi Adler-Olsen


When Carl Morck, head of Sweden's Department Q where the coldest of cold crimes go to die, receives a call from a colleague on a remote island, his first instinct is to put the man off.  That is always Morck's first instinct and when he finds out the man is calling about a case that is twenty years old he is definite about not wanting to get involved.  When a stunning event happens to the detective who called the same day, Morck is reluctantly pulled into the case.

The case concerns the death of a teenage girl who was found hanging from a tree after a hit and run accident so forceful that she was thrown up into the tree.  She was found by the policeman who spent the rest of his life consumed with the quest to find out who hit her and left her to die.  After twenty years, what chance is there that a road accident can now be solved?  Still, that's Carl's job so he and his assistants Assad and Rose head to the scene.  They find out that the girl had recently come to a school there where she made quite an impact with her beauty and flirtatious manner.  Right before her death, she seemed to have moved her interest to a mystery man not connected with the school.  After studying the case, the team believes finding this man will be the key.  The only thing they have to go on is that he was a good-looking man who was fascinating to women and that he was interested in the old religions that worshipped the sun.  Is it even possible to find him?  Most would give up but that's not the Department Q way where once something catches Morck's interest, he cannot give up until he finds the truth.

This is the sixth installment in the Department Q series.  Fans will be delighted to spend more time with the Department Q staff, now enlarged with the addition of a new man, Gordon.  Carl is fascinating, reluctant to get involved but unable to put a mystery aside.  Assad is enigmatic and constantly surprises with his hidden abilities.  Rose has her issues but is a marvel of organization and the sparkplug that forces the men to never give up.  This book is recommended by mystery readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies


In this four part novel, Peter Ho Davies explores what it means to be a Chinese-American.  Three of the four parts are based on historical figures, while the fourth is based on an experience thousands have had.  The book starts with the story of Ling.  He is sent to America from the poverty that is all he has ever known to make his fortune.  He starts off working in a Chinese laundry but over time, he catches the eye of Charles Crocker, a wealthy San Francisco man who is building part of the transcontinental railroad.  After employing Ling for several years, Crocker decides that he is an example of the Chinese laborer and exactly what the railroad needs.  That starts the massive import and use of Chinese laborers to build the railroad.

In the second part, the life of Anna May Wong is described.  Anna was a famous actress at the junction of the transition from silent to talking movies and was the first Chinese-American actress to make a career in the industry.  She knew them all, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Orsen Welles and others.  She was feted from coast to coast and made the headlines everywhere she went.  But she was denied the right to marry a man not of her ethnic background by the laws in California and her fame only went so far.  When it came time to cast an actress in the groundbreaking role in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, a role everyone said she was born to play, she was passed over and a German woman was given the role and made up to appear Chinese.

The third part explores the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980's in Detroit.  He had gone with friends to a strip club for his bachelor party.  While there, he got into a scuffle with two white men, men who felt their jobs had been taken away by the success of Japanese imports.  They never considered that Vincent and his friends weren't Japanese, but instead Chinese, seeing only 'other' and holding a grudge against any Asian.  The night ends with the murder of Vincent and then there are years of attempts to bring the men to justice and have them pay for their crime.

The last part describes the experience that many American couples have, that of going to China to adopt a baby girl.  During the strict One Child policy years, many Chinese families left their girl babies at orphanages and hoped to have a son instead.  These girls were available to the extent that there were actual tours of couples who were all going to China to adopt.  The novel looks at this concept through the eyes of a couple who are on such a tour.  The husband is of Chinese descent himself while the wife is of Irish descent.

Readers of The Fortunes will have much to consider.  There is the fact that most Americans don't see a difference between Asians whose backgrounds come from different countries, seeing them all as outsiders and asking even those whose families have been here for generations, 'Where are you from?'  There is the expectation that all Asians are good at math and science and that all are expected to obey family norms.  The thought that America is never quite considered their native land but only an immigrant experience is one that most white individuals never have to think about.  Peter Ho Davies is the son of a Welsh father and Chinese mother and was raised in Wales.  He is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan and his first novel, The Welsh Girl, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  This book is recommended for those interested in the immigrant experience and readers of literary fiction.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dancing With The Tiger by Lili Wright


In the world of Mexican art, one prize has long been talked about.  It is the funeral mask of Montezuma, long fabled but never seen.  If found, it would be priceless.  When a tweeker digs it up deep in a cave, events are put into play that will lead to death and disaster.

Many people want the mask.  There is Daniel, an American collector who has spent his life collecting Mexican masks and wants nothing more than an exhibit at the Metropolitan bearing his late wife's name.  Malone is his greatest rival and has the advantage of actually living in Mexico along with his wealthy wife.  Anna is Daniel's daughter, at loose ends and determined to find the mask to save her father's dream.  Reyes is the drug dealer who buys the mask from the tweeker for a song and is enraged when it is stolen back.  The tweeker wants to find the mask to sell it and regain his life before drugs.  Hector is Reye's assassin, who is tasked with retrieving the mask no matter what it takes.  Salvadore is a Mexican artist who wishes to end the exploitation of his country's treasures by outsiders.

Each is determined to find the treasure and use it for their own ends.  Some want it for gain, some for glory, but each will do anything and use anyone to possess it.  The mask is moved around as it is lost, refound, stolen from one person, then from the next until it is impossible to tell who has it.  The best and worst of individuals come to light as they all strive to gain their goals.  Love and betrayal, evil and goodness, all come into play.

Dancing With The Tiger is Wright's debut novel.  She worked as a journalist for more than a decade and her first book was a nonfiction account of her trip from Maine to Florida.  In this book, she explores the concept of masks and how we hide our true selves, of friendship and family connections and what we will do for them, how sex can be used as a gift or a tool, and the exploitation of native cultures by wealthier ones.  The pace is fast, the action powerful and suspenseful.  This book is recommended to thriller readers.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder


When a teenage girl goes missing and is found murdered in a small town near Bath, two estranged sisters find their way back to each other.  Sally was the kind of woman who was raised to expect that her looks and position in life would ensure a great life with a man taking care of all her needs.  That expectation was rudely finished when her husband found another woman, leaving Sally ill-prepared to support herself and her teenage daughter, Mollie.  Mollie was a friend of the murdered girl and she and her friends' reactions in another challenge for Sally to deal with on top of her financial worries and having to deal with her social crowd's desertion now that she can't afford to do the things she always took for granted.

Her sister, Zoe, is a police officer and is assigned to the murder investigation.  Zoe was the black sheep in her family, so much so that the parents sent her off to boarding school to keep her away from Sally.  Zoe is fiercely independent and thinks she doesn't need anyone, even her partner, Ben, who wants a more personal relationship.  The investigation draws her into the seedy world of pornography and the young girls who think that it is a part of breaking into the modeling life they desire.  The murdered girl was one of those and Zoe is racing against the clock to find the murderer before it becomes common knowledge what the girl was involved in.

In the process, the two sisters are reunited when their lives intersect.  Sally is working as a maid in one of the suspect's home while Zoe gets to know her niece as she interviews the murdered girl's social circle.  As they gingerly feel each other out, the reader is left to wonder if they can find their way back to each other as sisters and whether the teamwork can catch a murderer before he can strike again.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bleak House by Charles Dickens


Esther Summerson's life changes forever when her aunt dies.  Her aunt never showed her any kindness and Esther's life was bleak.  Her new guardian is a kind man named John Jarndyce.  He also becomes guardian to two other children, Ada and Richard, who are cousins.  John, Richard and Ada are all participants in the long ongoing legal case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce.  This case, to determine the distribution of a great estate, has been going on for years, enriching scores of lawyers yet never seeming to move closer to a resolution.

There is a mystery involving people the Jarndyce household knows.  It concerns the well-known house of the Dedlock family.  Lord Dedlock is considered one of the country's leading lords and his wife is known for her beauty and mystery.  Their secret is well-hidden but there are many who are interested in finding it so it's time is limited.  How these two main families become aware of a connection and how they interact is the fulcrum upon which the book turns.

As always, Dickens is concerned with inequities in the English way of life.  In this book, he has the legal system, particularly the civil legal system, square in his sights.  He also turns a scornful eye upon those who neglect their own families to be 'do-gooders', those who spend their lives hanging onto their friends and families who have some wealth rather than making their own way, and those who take advantage of their children.  Moneylenders and lawyers are put under his withering microscope.  As with other Dickens novels, the reader is also introduced to a host of secondary characters, each of which is fully formed and developed to the reader's delight.  This book is recommended to readers of classic English literature and those interested in a rousing story of adventure and virtue conquering all.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Darkside by Belinda Bauer


Shipcott is a small, rural village where everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everyone's business.  There's little crime and that's just how they like it.  Constable Jonas Holly is the village policeman.  He grew up in Shipcott so all are comfortable with him.  Jonas planned a big police career, but when his wife, Lucy, developed multiple scoliosis, he moved back to the village where the demands would not be as great and he could watch after Lucy.

All this is thrown in disarray when a body is discovered.  Margaret Priddy was elderly and paralyzed, confined to her bed, not even able to speak.  She is suffocated one night.  That means the big guns in law enforcement are called in and that means DCI John Marvel.  Marvel is a brutish, arrogant detective who delights in showing everyone he's the boss, especially his subordinates.  He doesn't want to be in Shipcott, especially in the middle of a blizzard which lasts for days.  He takes an immediate dislike to Holly for not being subservient.  Far from using Holly's local expertise, he instead gives him a series of menial tasks, making it apparent to all that he's not considered useful.  As the days go by, more murders occur in the village, all of elderly men and women.  Apparently, Shipcott has a serial killer.

Someone in the village expects Jonas to solve the crimes.  He starts to get taunting notes, holding him accountable for finding the killer and saving the village.  Jonas is caught in a vise.  On one hand, his whole life is about protecting and saving those around him.  On the other, he is being kept on the outside by a man who knows nothing about the village or its inhabitants and who doesn't want Jonas' insights.  Can the killer be found?

Belinda Bauer is writing some of the most suspenseful novels around today.  She was written seven crime novels which have won some of the mystery field's highest prizes, such as the Crime Writer's Association Gold Dagger Award, the Old Peculier Crime Novel, and the CWA Dagger in the Library award.  Her books feature the small rural Wales she knows so well and the effect crime has in such places where everyone thinks they know everyone else, but in reality secrets are kept and often explode into violence.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, January 26, 2017

Somehow it is already the end of January in this new year of 2017.  I've been doing the usual things for this time of year.  That includes watching a ton of NFL football and college basketball, going to the gym, reading and watching tv.  I'm about to start a round of bookish trips with a visit to the book fair in Savannah in February and to Charlottesville in March.  In reading news, I've taken a step back and I'm reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  I'm really enjoying the slow pace which makes me remember why I like Victorian literature as well as steampunk fiction.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Losing The Light, Andrea Dunlop, literary fiction, sent by author
2.  Human Acts, Han Kang, literary fiction, sent by Amazon Vine program
3.  A Star-Reckoner's Lot, Darrell Drake, fantasy, sent by author
4.  Alif The Unseen, G. Willow Wilson, literary fiction, purchased
5.  Dead Clever, Scarlett Thomas, mystery, purchased
6.  World, Chase Me Down, Andrew Hilleman, Western, sent by Amazon Vine
7.  After You're Dead, Cary Allen Stone, mystery, sent by author
8.  The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola, literary fiction, sent by publisher
9.  The Beauty Of The End, Debbie Howells, mystery, sent by Amazon Vine
10.  The Dangerous Ladies Affair, Marcia Muller/Bill Pronzini, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  The Outsider, Anthony Franze, legal thriller, sent for book tour
12.  A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pana, mystery, purchased
13.  My Husband's Wife, Jane Corry, suspense, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Bleak House, Charles Dickens, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. Dancing With The Tiger, Lili Wright, hardback

5.  Hanging Hill, Mo Hayder, hardback
6.  Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

11.  Dark Side, Belinda Bauer, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just Try To Stop Me by Gregg Olsen


Brenda Nevins has a goal.  She wants to be remembered as the most prolific female serial killer of all time.  She made a good start as her murder of her husband and baby daughter gained her notoriety.  But being in prison seriously cramps her style.  She takes care of that detail by using her ability to psychologically manipulate others and her astounding beauty to turn prison staff into her willing accomplices to help her escape.

Not content with an escape, Brenda ups the ante.  She kills her prison accomplice, a move that brings all levels of law enforcement after her.  But she has plans.  She starts streaming bizarre messages through YouTube to the world, talking of her plans and hinting at more mayhem.  This is accomplished when she and her partner kidnap four teenage girls and threaten to kill them on line for everyone to see.

While all law enforcement is on alert, those in the Washington area where she has made her escape are particularly focused on the case.  One team works on it while facing other life challenges.  Kendell Stark is a sheriff's detective while Birdy Waterman is a forensic pathologist. Kendell is caught up in a power struggle with an overbearing FBI detective.   Birdy is dealing with the terminal illness of her mother so their collaboration is disjointed.  Still, when it counts they come together to try to stop this criminal.  Will they be successful?

Gregg Olsen is a successful true crime writer who is now writing a mystery series.  I discovered him back in his true crime days so was interested to read his fiction.  This is the fifth book in the Stark/Waterman series.  I was disappointed in this title.  The action seemed rushed and the characters were one-dimensional and flat.  There was a successful twist at the end of the novel and the partnership of Stark and Waterman will continue.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty


Bonbon Me grew up on a farm in Dickens, California, a city adjoining Los Angeles.  He is raised by his sociology professor father, his mother long gone.  His father is consumed with theories about racial discrimination and spends his time writing about the subject and conducting experiments on Bonbon when not spending time in the Dum Dum Intellectual Society, which he founded.  Bonbon grows up unsure what to do.  He raises the best produce around, surfs, and tries to decide how a man should live.

When Dickens is subsumed by L.A., completely wiped off the map, Bonbon has had enough.  He makes it his mission to return Dickens to its former status, as lowly as that had been.  But how to get attention to a poor, inner-city area that no one is particularly interested in?

Almost by accident, Bonbon hits on a plan.  As a birthday present for his best friend, Hominy Jenkins, he turns his on-again, off-again girlfriend's city bus into a replica of the old time buses Hominy would have ridden as a child when he was a minor character on the TV show, The Little Rascals.  Hominy is consumed by the past and the racial humiliations he and other black men have endured.  He declares that he is Bonbon's slave and shows up every day to do whatever work he decides needs doing.

When the bus incident turns out to have a surprising result, Bonbon realizes he has hit on a plan.  The threat of overt segregation causes the bus's riders to up their behavior and pull together to rail against the threat.  Spurred on, Bonbon, with the help of the local principal, creates a totally false 'exclusive' school which is across the street from the local school where students are mired in failure.  Once again, it unites the students and spurs them to improved academic performance.  The ploys land Bonbon in front of the Supreme Court as he is arrested on various charges and the case is sent ever higher.

This work of satire has garnered much praise.  It was the 2016 winner of the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 of the New York Times Book Review.  Beatty has written extensively about the black experience and how differently white and black society experiences it.  The novel's biting satire and depiction of how prejudice seeps into every institution and encounter spotlights it into a blinding light.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in a diverse society.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson


In twenty-first century Shanghai, nanotechnology has been fully integrated into society.  People are organized into cultural gatherings where they live, work and rarely interact with those from other 'claves'.  There are scientific claves, Victorian ones from the English that conquered and was a big part of the country for so long, those that hark back to ancient Chinese traditions, etc.  John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer.  He has worked on various products and come to the attention of both one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the Victorian clave and Doctor X, a man who works on the criminal side of the Chinese claves.

Hackworth is hired to create an interactive book or primer, that can be used to provide an education that goes beyond the structured education most children are given.  It's called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.  Although developed for the granddaughter of the wealthy man who hires Hackworth, Hackworth creates a second version for his own daughter, Fiona.  This version is then stolen when Hackworth is mugged on the street and it makes its way to a young girl in the poorest clave, Nell.  Nell's life would be expected to be poor and limited but as she interacts with the primer and learns its lessons, she finds a pathway to a richer, more interesting and exciting life than she had ever had the opportunity to even imagine.  There are other intriguing characters such as Miranda, the actress that acts the parts of the primer, Doctor X, who has a vision to help his society move forward and others.

This is the fourth novel Neal Stephenson produced.  It explores the fields of nanotechnology and the implications on society when anything can be produced cheaply and well and there is no reason for most people to work, an issue that American society is just now starting to grapple with.  It considers the role of education and how it can constrict as much as free students.  It talks about the reality that people tend to congregate with those like them and whether those who are unlike can ever truly integrate with each other.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction/fantasy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme McCrae Burnet


In 1869 in the small farming community of Culduire in Scotland, a horrendous murder occurs. Town Constable Lachlan Mackenzie, his fifteen year old daughter and his three year old son are brutally slaughtered in their home.  There is no doubt about the culprit.  It is seventeen year old Roderick McCrae.  What would lead someone so young to such an act?

The book is set after the crime, while Roderick is waiting in prison for his trial.  There are transcripts of interviews with the neighbors and inhabitants of Culduire.  There are findings by medical doctors as well as those who study the minds of prisoners.  There is an accounting of the trial.  Most prominently, there is the memoir of Roderick himself.

Roderick is a lonely boy.  His mother died in childbirth a year or so ago, leaving Roderick and his siblings with his dour father.  He is considered highly intelligent at his school, with the master coming to visit his father and plead for more education for Roderick, a plea his father turns down.  He has few friends as the others his age regard him as strange and set apart.

According to Roderick, the crime grew out of the prosecution of his family by Lachlan Mackenzie.  The enmity between the two families begins when Roderick is caring for sheep.  One of Mackenzie's is injured and Roderick kills it to end its suffering.  Mackenzie is incensed and wants punishment for Roderick as well as financial compensation.  The compensation is awarded but no legal punishment.  As a result, Mackenzie runs for town constable and is successful.  He becomes the voice of the factor of the land and is responsible for enforcing rules and regulations.  He soon starts to micromanage the town and the inhabitants quickly learn that it doesn't pay to cross him.  He singles out the McCrae family with punishment and humiliation.  Finally, Roderick can take no more and murders Mackenzie with the murder of his children done only to prevent them giving a warning.

But is this an accurate account?  There emerges at the trial a suggestion that Roderick's interest in the daughter and her rejection played a role.  Is Roderick insane?  Some neighbors believe so while others find him kind and gentle.  What do the doctors that examine him and his state of mind believe?  
This book was nominated for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.  It tells a compelling story through the use of documents such as memoirs, interviews, trial transcripts and medical conclusion reports.  The mean life of a Scottish farmer is portrayed and the helplessness one felt if they had a grievance against those in authority.  The reader is left to make up their own mind about what happened at the Mackenzie croft that bloody day.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and mystery readers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy


Harvey is a girl just living her life as little girls do.  When she is six, one day she is told her parents have both died in a car accident.  The family was small and there aren't grandparents to step in.  Harvey's only living relative is an uncle who had not been in contact with his brother since they were children.  Jason, the uncle, cut off contact when he went to prison for blinding a man in a bar fight.  Jason had been his brother's protector against their father who was an abusive alcoholic.  He didn't want his brother's chance at a good life done in by an ex-con with no prospects.

Now, years later, Jason ekes out a living by cruising thrift shops and finding things he can resell on Ebay and Craigslist.  He is not the typical kind of person who would be considered to raise a small girl, but the social worker, Wanda, sees something in him that makes her want to put the two together.  Jason flatly refuses but Wanda brings Harvey over to introduce her.  Before he knows it, Jason agrees and the court grants him temporary custody.  That later gets changed to a permanent basis and Jason becomes the only parent Harvey will know.

Simon Van Booy has written a charming tale of how the relationship between these two unlikely individuals works out over the years.  Jason knows nothing about raising a child but his heart is in the right place and soon there is nothing he wouldn't do for Harvey.  Harvey learns self-sufficiency and caring from Jason and grows into an accomplished woman.  

Van Booy has written several anthologies and novels, including Everything Beautiful Began After.  In this work, he explores the nature of parental love and the bond that grows between members of a family.  Harvey gets what she needs, a parent, but Jason also gets what he needed, a life work that gives him scope to work out his own issues and realize that he has worth even with his background.  Readers will cheer for Jason as he takes steps from being an isolated, separate individual to someone who can offer and receive friendship and love.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships and how people can change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo


When the Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand is discovered murdered, those high in government want the case solved.  They want the best policeman they can find and that, most agree, is Harry Hole.  For the Ambassador wasn't just murdered, he was murdered in compromising circumstances in a hotel known for prostitution.  This needs a quick solution so that it can be swept under the rug and forgotten as soon as possible.

Hole dutifully heads to Thailand.  He is determined not to drink on this trip as his propensity to falling into a drunken stupor for weeks or months is his biggest failing.  He quickly determines two things.  First, in addition to being associated with prostitution, it appears that the Ambassador may be involved in child prostitution, something that Thailand is known for.  Second, the entire case may be a setup and the Ambassador blameless.

Hole digs deeper into the case.  He works with the local Thailand police and soon meets government figures, high-stakes financiers and developers, and the Ambassador's family.  The wife seems stunned with grief but is that true?  The daughter is a bit mysterious and quickly develops a crush on Harry.  Will he solve the case in time and more importantly, will he find a solution that pleases his superiors back in Norway?

This is the second novel in the immensely successful Harry Hole series.  The seeds of the Hole personality and Harry's tormented life and visionary crime solving is featured.  It is impossible not to want Harry on your side while realizing that he has many issues of his own.  The reader feels for Harry and wants him to succeed but more importantly wishes he could find a way to be happy, although happiness and his chosen career are at odds.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, January 7, 2017


It's a snowy day in North Carolina.  We don't get that much snow, as a rule, so when we get eight inches you know you'll be snowed in for a bit as we don't have the snow removal equipment other places do.  It's a good weekend to be snowed in.  It's NFL wildcard weekend, my favorite weekend of the season with four games on in two days.  I'm about to put on a crockpot of apples, carrots and pork chops and plan on reading and watching tv for most of the next two days.  I haven't posted since Christmas and of course I got books for Christmas.  I only really trust my son to buy me books so he gave me some and then I got gift cards that I used.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough, mystery, sent by publicist
2.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler, literary fiction, purchased
3.  The Remnants, Robert Hill, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Jackaby, William Ritter, fantasy, gift
5.  Birds, Beasts And Relatives, Gerald Durrell, memoir, gift
6.  Menagerie Manor, Gerald Durrell, memoir, gift
7.  The Translation Of The Bones, Francesca Kay, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Jerusalem, Alan Moore, literary fiction, gift
9.  The Rising, Heather Graham/Jon Land, thriller, sent by publicist
10.  The Other Widow, Susan Crawford, mystery, sent by publicist
11.  Kenmore Square, Carol June Stover, mystery, sent by author
12.  The Nix, Nathan Hill, literary fiction, purchased
13.  The Sellout, Paul Beatty, literary fiction, purchased
14.  A Spool Of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler, literary fiction, purchased
15.  Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson, paperback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3.  
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. Cockroaches, Jo Nesbo, paperback
5.  Father Hood, Simon Van Booy, paperback
6.  His Bloody Project, Graeme McCrae Burnet, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback

9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback


Happy Reading!


Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Forrests by Emily Perkins


Dorothy Forrest is born into a large family.  The father comes from a wealthy family but has never been a success himself.  When Dorothy is seven, he impulsively moves the family from America to Auckland, New Zealand, where he can ignore the family and work on his get-rich schemes in peace.  This leaves the family in perilous financial trouble and there is little money to spare to raise the five children.  Sometimes the father is gone for months leaving their mother to make do as best she can.  Yet she also finds the kindness to basically take in another child, Daniel, who lives close but is basically raising himself, the only ambitious individual in a house of drug addicts.

The children grow up, as children do.  They survive their parent's upbringing, from moving to living on a commune while the father goes to America for a while, to other moves.  The children grow up tightly bonded although they aren't that attached to their parents.  Perkins follows the children over the years as they find jobs, marry or have relationships, have children, divorce, and even face death.  The one constant over the years is Dorothy's feelings for Daniel, which he sometimes reciprocates and sometimes ignores.  Finally, old age comes to the children and they themselves leave behind children for another era.

Emily Perkins has won several literary prizes such as the Best First Book of the New Zealand Book Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  The Forrests was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2013.  It shows the ebb and flow of a family, how relationships within the family sustain a person throughout their life and how love can bloom and survive even with years of separation.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Year In Review


2016 has come and gone and like most bloggers, I like to stop for a minute and take stock of my blog and reading.  I started this blog in 2008, mainly for my own purposes of documenting my reading.  Eight years later, I'm thrilled that others read about my reactions to what I've read, and I hope it helps someone find a great book to read.

It's been a busy year in our house.  Last year was senior year for our daughter with all the 'lasts' that brings.  We had a busy summer, going to Massachusetts for a technology/science conference and then a week at the beach.  I bought a new car and so did Rex.  There were multiple trips to Columbia, South Carolina for admitted students weekends and orientation and then in August our daughter started college at the University of South Carolina.  I love USC and it is a warm, caring place that is perfect for walking and learning to adult.

This year I read 112 books, far from my original goal of 150.  I'm disappointed, but I did accomplish some of my reading goals.  I went back and re-read and then read the last book in the George R. R. Martin epic Game Of Throne series.  I started listening to more books, mostly on long car trips and my daily visits to the gym.  I got sidetracked a bit as I discovered and fell into the world of podcasts, starting with Serial and then Undiscovered, then branching out to others.  I weeded my collection and gave away over five hundred books.  I discovered some great new authors.  I reviewed every book I read.

Of the books I read, these were the best:

1.  The Incantations by Susan Barker
2.  Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
3.  The Small Backs Of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
4.  The Last Days Of Magic by Mark Thompkins
5.  A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin
6.  Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

These were all great books:

1.  Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
2.  Nutshell by Ian McEwan
3.  The Everman series by James Maxwell
4.  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
5.  The North Water by Ian McGuire
6.  Lexicon by Max Barry
7.  The Fireman by Joe Hill
8.  The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell
9.  Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith
10.  The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott
11.  A Crucible Of Souls by Mitchell Hogan
12.  The Road To Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
13.  Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

For 2017, my reading goals are:

1.  I still need to hit 150 books so I'll keep that goal.
2.  I want to read at least three books by William Vollman
3.  Three books by Salman Rushdie
4.  I want to read the Wolf Hall series by Hiliary Mantell
5.  Ten books from the Man Booker and Bailey's Women Fiction lists, either past years or current

Happy Reading!