Friday, August 1, 2014

I Adored A Lord by Katharine Caulfield

Ravenna Caulfield has had an unconventional life.  Living in an orphanage as a small child with her two sisters, all three were adopted by a rural pastor.  Although most women in 1800's England lead a structured, restrictive life, Ravenna could not do that.  She spent her time roaming out of doors, accompanied by her best friend, her dog.  Along the way, she learned how to take care of animals and then humans from those around her.  At seventeen, she hires herself out to a nobleman to take care of his dogs.

Things are fine in her life until one of her sisters married a duke.  The lord she worked for said he could not employ the sister of a duchess as a servant, and her sister wants her to start living in the new world she has attained.  When a young prince throws a house party in the mountains in Europe in order to find a wife, Ravenna is invited and accompanied by her employer.  She has no interest in living among royalty and does not fit in.

She escapes to the stables where she feels comfortable but even that refuge is denied her when she is followed by Lord Vitor Courtenay, brother to both the prince and an English Lord.  He gives Ravenna he first kiss; she responds by fighting him off and fleeing.  Thus begins a game of invitation and retreat, of drawing closer and springing apart.

The stakes are increased when one of the house party is found murdered.  Due to the party being snowbound, there is no competent law to investigate and Vitor and Ravenna are determined to solve the mystery.  Can they solve it before more victims are killed?  Will they resist the attraction between them or leap the bounds of class to be together?

Readers of romantic fiction will become fast fans of Katharine Caulfield.  Her characters are well-drawn and the pace is fast enough to draw the reader along.  The romantic scenes are compelling and the reader develops an interest in Ravenna and what will become of her.  This book is recommended for readers of historical romantic fiction.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Marine Park by Mark Chiusano

Marine Park is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and the location of the largest public park in the borough.  It is the home to middle class families; storeowners, firemen, policemen, and those who just seemed to end up there.

Mark Chiusano has written an anthology of stories about those who live in this neighborhood and what it means to be from there.  The majority of the stories focus on one family, with two sons, Jamison and Lorris, a father who is a driving instructor and a mother who is the school secretary.  The stories weave in and out of their lives, starting when the boys are young and following them as they grow up.  Other families and residents of the area star in other stories in the collection.

'They had lived alone together for many years...'  This is the opening phase from the story Vincent and Aurora.  Those seven words sketch quickly the status of a marriage where there is no true communion.  Many of the stories have this quick shorthand turn of phase that quickly illumines the topic being discussed.

There are stories about relationships, about kids growing up and finding their lives' work, about sports and how they define one, about how our neighborhood can define us and how we relate to others who live nearby.  The author has the ability to bring the reader into his world and give him food for thought.

Mark Chiusano received the Hoopes Prize at Harvard for outstanding undergraduate fiction.  His stories have appeared in the Harvard Review, Narrative, Guernica, Tin House and Paris Review Daily.  He was raised in Brooklyn and now works as an associate editor at Vintage.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy short stories and those interested in a sense of place and self.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Song For The Dying by Stuart MacBride

Eight years ago Ash Henderson was caught up in the investigation to find a heinous killer, The Inside Man.  This killer kidnapped women, cut them open and sewed them back up with a doll inside them.  Ash came close to capturing him, but was injured in the chase and the killer escaped. 

Eight years ago Ash had a career, a marriage and a family.  Now all is gone.  His career ended when he was kicked off the police force, his marriage ended when his own daughter was kidnapped and killed.  He is now an inmate, the toy of a psychotic woman high up in the crime organization that runs the city.  She makes sure he never gets parole by sending other inmates to attack Ash days before his hearings; attacks that he has to defend himself in to save himself but that make him look violent and not a candidate for parole.

Now the Inside Man has returned, and the lead investigator pulls strings to have Ash released from prison.  He is hired as a consultant to the investigation and along with a young psychologist, Alice, and his former mate, Shifty, he tries to catch the killer before he can take more victims.  Can they catch the killer this time around?

Stuart MacBride is one of the premier mystery authors working today.  His characters ring true as they make their way through the violent criminal culture, and they manage to get justice out of the horrors they encounter daily.  His pace is breathtaking and the reader is swept up in the investigation.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Harriet Burden is an artist.  Married to one of New York's most famous gallery owners, she feels her own art is neglected by her husband's refusal to show her work.  It also goes unnoticed by other galleries, her name just an add-on to her husband's fame.  After his death, Harriet decides that she will make a name for herself and prove society wrong in its preference for male artists at the same time.  She hatches a plot to display her work under the name of various male artists.  She uses three men at different showings, or does she?

The Blazing World is Siri Hustvedt's exploration of the art world as well as the question of gender differences, the formation of personality and the difficulty of trusting one's perceptions.  Told after Harriet's death, the novel unfolds through a series of documents.  There are Harriet's extensive journals, interviews with her children, lover and the men who she chose for her ploy, articles in art magazines, etc.  A picture emerges of how Harriet's personality was formed and the different ways she was viewed by those she surrounded herself with.  The reader is left to decide if Harriet really created the works she claimed she had done and then masked by using men to front for her in shows.  Was this real and Harriet a true artist not given her due?  Or was this false, a strange plea for recognition by an artist not judged worthy of acclaim?

Readers will be drawn into this world.  Harriet takes her inspiration from the medieval writer, Margaret Cavendish, who wrote the original The Blazing World, and whose work was never given the recognition it deserved.  Questions of whether the world is still male-centric, whether women can ever be given true recognition outside of the roles of mother and wife, and what role perception plays in exposing reality must be decided by each individual reading this material.  The book is a tour-de-force and readers won't be surprised that it is a long-list nomination for the 2014 Mann Booker Prize.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

In 1895, female detectives were not common in San Francisco.  That's one of the things that made the detective agency of Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon so notable.  The other was the success that they had solving the troubling cases that come to them.  That successful reputation is put on the line when they take on cases that leave their expertise in doubt.

Sabina has been hired as to watch over the debutante of the season, Virginia St. Clair, during her coming out parties.  She should make a stellar marriage, and her affection for a lowly clerk is putting that goal in doubt.  Sabina is to watch over her and make sure Marcus, the clerk, gets nowhere in his pursuit of the heiress.  During her first debutante ball, however, Virginia leaves the dance.  Sabina follows her through the grounds in the dark, only to arrive at the cliffs on which the mansion is situated in time to see her client jump off to her death.  Even more stunning than the girl's suicide is the disappearance of her body.  For while the trail of her fall is clear to see, her body is nowhere to be found.  Sabina is accused of incompetence.

John, in the meantime, has taken on the task of finding the money stolen in a Wells Fargo bank robbery.  The agency will receive ten percent of the money stolen if he recovers it, a handsome reward.  He discovers the gang most likely to have committed the crime, but the case goes nowhere as the robbers are killed off one by one by somebody.  In frustration, John takes on a case where a new oceanside neighborhood is being disturbed by what seems to be a ghost.  Soon the partners find that all three cases are tied together and that to solve any of them, all of them must be solved.

Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini are recognized stars in the mystery field.  Married for many years, both have been recognized for their mystery series.  Muller created one of the first female detectives, Sharon McCone.  She received the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award in 2005.  Her husband, Pronzini, creator of the Nameless Detective series, received the Grand Master Award in 2008.  Each has a devoted fan following and readers of this combination mystery will be rewarded with the work of two masters at the top of their game.  This book is recommended for mystery readers, especially those who enjoy historical mysteries. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, July 25, 2014

Back from the beach and to real life.  I've been exploring the art world and gender issues in Siri Hustvelt's The Blazing World, back in Aberdeen, Scotland with Stuart MacBride fighting crime, in the jungles of World War II building a railroad with Richard Flanagan in his The Narrow Road To The Deep North, and with Emily Arsenault in her What Strange Creatures.  Great books have been coming in.  Here's the list:

1.  The Hundred-Year House, Rebecca Makkai, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Marco Effect, Jussi Adler-Olsen, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman, fantasy, gift from friend
5.  The Lost Tribe Of Coney Island, Claire Prentice, nonfiction, sent for book tour
6.  The Splintered Kingdom, James Aitcheson, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  The House Of The Four Winds, Mercedes Lackey/James Mallory, fantasy, sent by publisher
8.  Death's Witness, Paul Batista, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Dead Wrong, Allen Wyler, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  France On The Brink, Jonathan Fenby, nonfiction, sent for book tour
11. California, Edan Lepucki, literary fiction, sent by friend
12.  Band Of Giants, Jack Kelly, history, won in contest
13.  The Dunning Man, Kevin Fortuna, anthology, sent by publisher
14.  Island Fog, John Vanderslice, anthology, sent by author
15.  Further Out Than You Thought, Michaela Carter, literary fiction, sent by publisher
16.  Desire Lines, Christina Baker Kline, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's the list of what I'm currently reading:

1.  Advent Of A Mystery, mystery, Kindle
2.  The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt, Kindle
3.  I Adored A Lord, Katherine Ashe, Kindle
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  The Fever, Megan Abbott, hardback
6.  The Spook Lights Affair, Marcia Mueller/Bill Pronzini, hardback
7.  A Song For The Dying, Stuart MacBride, hardback
8.  The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan, paperback
9.  The Scrivner's Tale, Fiona McIntosh, paperback
10.  Marine Park, Mark Chiusano, paperback

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault

The Battle family knows how to handle disappointments.  Of course they do, they've encountered so many of them.  Jeff, who has a genius IQ, has never gotten going in life.  He has worked a series of dead-end jobs and drinks a lot.  Theresa, his sister, has spent years working on a dissertation on a medieval female religious hysteric, her marriage dissolved and her years working as a copywriter for a candle company mounting.  She lives alone surrounded by her pets.

Teresa worries about Jeff so when he asks her to pet sit his latest girlfriend's dog for the weekend she agrees.  She doesn't really care for Kim, but if it makes her brother's life easier, she is agreeable.  Kim is going home to visit her family but then she doesn't return, and upon inquiry, she never went home at all.  No one seems to know where she is and then days later, her body is discovered in a town where she seemed to have no connection.

That's horrible but what is worse is that Jeff is arrested and charged with Kim's murder.  The Battle family rallies round, but don't seem to have any positive ideas about how to help Jeff.  Theresa decides that she needs to investigate Kim and what she was doing in the last days of her life since the police seem to have stopped the investigation with Jeff's arrest.

As she delves into Kim's last weeks, she discovers a strange crew of acquaintances.  There's Kyle, who was Kim's first lover and who has remained in her life.  Nathan worked with Kim and is a strange guy with a penchant for snakes and mysticism.  Zack is a former teacher of Kim and Jeff's; his class on memoir writing where the two met.  Then there is Missy who knows many of Kim's secrets stretching all the way back to childhood. 

Emily Arsenault has written an engaging novel about the intricacies of families and what they will do to support each other.  Theresa is a memorable character.  At one moment she seems full of self-knowledge but at the next unable to act on the knowledge she has to carve out a satisfactory life.  The mystery about what Kim was up to is interesting enough to keep the reader going.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and those interested in family relationships and stalled lives. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

In the third DS Logan McRae crime novel, things are about the same in Aberdeen as criminals never seem to take a break.  Someone has dumped a body outside Emergency and the investigation takes the police force inside the seedy world of BSMD.  Logan's trying to find an eight year old killer and finding him elusive.  Then there is a serial rapist who is escalating and getting more and more violent with each new victim.  There's evidence that the rapist might be Aberdeen's star football (soccer) player and charging him will make the police even more unpopular.

Logan's personal life is also still complicated.  Logan is still torn between two bosses as both DI Steele and DI Insch think they should have all Logan's time as they compete against each other to have the best crime solve rates.  Logan is still living with Jackie Watson but Jackie was used as bait in the footballer's case and is determined to prove him guilty no matter what it takes.  One of Logan's contacts is determined that she should be dating him instead of Jackie and he's tempted.

Balancing all these threads and weaving them into a satisfactory resolution is what makes Stuart MacBride one of the best crime writers working today.  Logan is a compelling character and the reader is caught up in his cases and firmly on Logan's side in his day to day battles.  Aberdeen Police are portrayed as hard working and hard playing, their daily lives served up with a splash of morbid humor.  This book is recommended for mystery fans.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Book Of Life by Deborah Harkness

In this concluding book of the trilogy, Diana Bishop and Matthew De Claremont have returned to the present from the past. Diana is pregnant with twins although that shouldn't be possible. For Diana is a witch and Matthew is a vampire and such an unlikely pairing should not be able to reproduce.

But there are bigger issues. Matthew decides to break away from the De Claremont family and start a branch of his own. He is fighting to control his own illness, the blood rage that afflicts some vampires. Worst of all, his son Benjamin has declared war on the family and is killing anyone Matthew holds dear.  Matthew knows Benjamin's goal is to capture and kill Diana.

But Matthew and Diana are not without weapons. Diana has one of the lost pages from the legendary Book Of Life. If they can locate the book, they might have the key to defeat their enemies and overcome the stigma of two different species mating. With a support team made of scientists, witches and vampires they set out on their quest to find the book.

Harmless has written a satisfactory conclusion to her series. Fans will enjoy returning to Matthew and Diana's world and will cheer them on. Then author treads the fine line that separates fantasy from farce and makes her world and the fantastical events believable. This book is recommended for readers of fantasy and paranormal books.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

They don't have time for a new relationship.  Each is facing big troubles.  Ed is one of the newly rich, a software developer who has struck it rich writing software.  To avoid the business side, he sold the company to another firm and is now facing jail for what the police are calling insider trading.  To Ed, it was just a way to get an unsatisfactory situation with a woman out of the way, but the law doesn't see it that way.  

Jess is one of the struggling poor, especially since her husband walked out two years before saying he just couldn't cope.  He left his son by a former marriage, Nicky, who is routinely getting bet up for being a goth kid who is sensitive and doesn't fit in.  It's even less likely that Tanzie will fit in when she gets to high school next year.  She is a math whiz and young for her age.  Jess can already see the mean girls circling and knows that Tanzie's sweet spirit will be crushed.  Then there is Norman, the biggest, smelliest dog in the world.  Jess is working two jobs to barely keep things afloat.  One of her customers is Ed, and she's not impressed with him at all.

Then a miracle happens.  A local private school offers Tanzie a place for the next year due to her math ability, or at least they have a place if Jess can come up with what is a fortune to her.  She hears about a math contest in Scotland with a prize that would pay Tanzie's school fees, if she can only get her there.  Destitute, she tries to drive a car her husband left behind and doesn't even make it out of town before the police pull her over.  Luckily, Ed comes along and for some reason he doesn't even understand himself, offers to take the whole crew to Scotland.  Can they make it in time and will Tanzie win the competition?

Jojo Moyes has written a charming tale full of love and the power of optimism.  Jess is a mother lion, proud and determined to do whatever it takes to save her kids.  Ed is a man with a good heart but who hasn't quite grown up.  The story of the relationship that develops is charming and the reader will close the book with their faith in good things happening to good people enforced.  This book is recommended to readers who enjoy women's literature and those in need of some sunshine in their lives. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, July 12, 2014

This past week has been an exciting reading adventure.  I went to Neverland to learn about Captain Hook's side of things in the battle with Peter Pan, followed a police investigation into a serial murder in London, time traveled with a man frozen in an iceberg for a hundred years then brought back to life, and followed the case of a lonely hearts killer in West Virginia.   As good as this week's reading was, the books that arrived show promise of even more exciting tales.  Here's what came through the door:

1.  Marine Park, Mark Chisusano, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Sweetshop Of Dreams, Jenny Colgan, woman's fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Perfect Stranger, Wendy Corsi Staub, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Fractured Legacy, Charles Neff, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Death Box, J.A. Kerley, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Stalkers, Paul Finch, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  Escape From Differe, Mikelyn Bolden, fantasy, sent by author
8.  Dead Float, Warren Easley, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Double Whammy, Gretchen Archer, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Double Dip, Gretchen Archer, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  Traitor's Blade, Sebastian De Castell, sent by publisher
12.  Skin Of The Wolf, Sam Cabot, thriller, sent by publisher

Here's the list of what I'm currently reading:

1.  Advent Of A Mystery, mystery, Kindle
2.  One Plus One, Jojo Myers, hardback
3.  The Book Of Life, Deborah Harkness, hardback
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  Broken Skin, Stuart MacBride, Kindle Fire
6.  The Spook Lights Affair, Marcia Mueller/Bill Pronzini, hardback
7.  A Song For The Dying, Stuart MacBride, hardback
8.  The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan, paperback
9.  The Scrivner's Tale, Fiona McIntosh, paperback

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George has had a successful career with her novels centering on the London police and particularly the career of Thomas Lynley.  There are twelve Lynley novels before this one, and readers delight in the intricate detailing of crime and the procedures used by the police to solve them, as well as the relationships Lynley builds both professionally and personally.  At the end of the twelfth book, With No One As Witness, George creates a stunning climax when Lynley's wife is murdered on their doorstep.  Readers were aghast, unsure why an author would write such a dramatic and unexpected conclusion.

In her thirteenth novel, What Came Before He Shot Her, George explores the societal factors that inevitably led to the murder.  Three siblings are left with their grandmother when their father is killed and their mother hospitalized for mental illness.  Tiring of her responsibility, the grandmother leaves London for Jamaica and dumps the children on their aunt.  Kendra, the aunt, has no idea what to do with these children.  Ness, the sister, is fifteen.  Her oldest brother, Joel, is eleven and the youngest boy, Toby, is seven.  Each has multiple issues that precludes a successful life for them.

The book follows the children's lives as they attempt to adjust to Kendra's house.  Ness immediately moves into the street life, mixing with girl gangs and hoodlums.  Joel is determined to take care of Toby, who has mental health issues of his own, but is unable to carve out a place of safety for them.  He is slowly drawn into the life around him, where individuals are forced to join one side or the other for protection. 

Many of George's fans were lost when she made her decision to have Inspector Lynley's wife killed.  They couldn't bear to revisit the pain that decision brought to them and were in no mood to hear about any explanation.  Yet George forged ahead and wrote this book to explain the reasons that crime occurs and how society fails those least able to make their own way in the world.  This book is recommended for fans of George's prior novels and will help them reconcile her decision and enjoy the series again. 

The Keeper by Luke Delaney

Detective Inspector Sean Corrigan gets the 'special cases'.  His own background as an abused child has left him sensitive to those whose warped minds lead them to commit horrific crimes.  He can visualize the crime scenes and get into the killer's mind, inching closer and closer until he knows their identity and the best way to catch and stop them.

Louise Russell has gone missing.  At first it doesn't seem like a case for Corrigan and his team, but soon there is the discovery of a body and it becomes clear that Louise is not the first woman who has been captured.  Someone out there is taking women from their homes, women with short brown hair and gleaming green eyes.  He keeps them for about a week then discards them when he is done.  Louise is just the latest in his game.  Can Sean and his team find her before her time is up?

Luke Delaney has created a compelling hero in Sean Corrigan.  His ability to use his own pain to form bonds with the most repulsive characters imaginable to save the innocent from their wretched compulsions is striking.  Along with the special talents Corrigan brings to an investigation, the reader is also brought into the inside of police procedure.  The bravery and dedication of those prepared to serve and protect are highlighted and the tale is finished with the feeling that the world is a better place for those who are willing to give so much for others.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

We all know the story of Peter Pan.  He's the original wild boy, the boy who won't grow up and brings a collection of children to his land of innocence, Neverland.  He fights the good fight against the evil Captain Hook, aided by the Indians and the fairies who also live in Neverland.  He is joy and the promise that you can have it all if you only believe.

But we've never heard Captain Hook's side of the story until now.  In Alias Hook, Liz Jensen brings us Hook's backstory.  He is born the son of wealth in London, educated and raised to be a noble.  He becomes a pirate out of the need to escape when he is captured while going to oversee his father's holdings on Jamaica.  He spends time in prisons and working in gold mines, and after betraying his lady love, a Caribbean witch, is cursed to spend eternity in Neverland.  He is always defeated by Peter and can never die, which means he dies a thousand deaths and must watch his crews be constantly defeated and killed.  Everyone there is his enemy, Peter and his boys, the fairies and the Indians.  He sees Peter, or Pan as he calls him, differently, a cruel, spoiled boy who will do anything to get his way and who rules Neverland with an iron fist.  Nothing and no one can survive there without Pan's agreement.

Or at least that's the way it's always been.  Then one day, Hook finds something amazing.  He finds someone lost, which is common and how he gets his crews.  But this is a woman.  A woman?  Pan will never allow a grown woman in his paradise, but here she is.  How did she get there?  What is her purpose?  Is this a crack in Pan's control?  Perhaps Hook can widen this crack and exploit it to find his way out of Neverland forever.

The woman is named Stella Parrish, and she is no meek and mild woman.  She is strong, lusty and determined to get what she wants.  As time goes on, Stella and Hook form a partnership that they believe will be eternal.  It will take everything they can do and everyone's help, even Hook's enemies,  to break Pan's spell and leave Neverland behind.

Liz Jensen has written a cunning, charming recreation of Neverland.  This is a seriously wonderful book.  It is a retelling of a tale we thought we knew everything about, a tale of self-discovery and love, of discovering that there is more in the world than what we thought we had to settle for.  Love can change us in mysterious ways, making us more than we thought we were or could be.  This book is recommended for fantasy lovers and readers interested in reading a book that makes us believe in ourselves.  I can hardly wait to see what Lisa Jensen will do next. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

The year is 1931 and while life moves more slowly, human beings are always the same.  Astra Eicher, a young widow living in Chicago with her three children, is haunted by financial troubles.  She thinks she has found the answer when she joins a matrimonial bureau and starts to correspond with an eloquent man named Harry Powers.  He says he is rich and looking for a wife to share his good fortune.
He asks Astra to marry him without the two ever meeting.

Unfortunately, Harry Powers is one of the many false names of a scam artist who is writing women all over the country.  After finally meeting the women, he kills them and takes their money and possessions, netting little as these are not wealthy women.  In Astra's case, he kills her and then returns to the family home to retrieve the children who he also kills.  Harry Power is finally indicted for murder for his last victim, the woman after Astra.

Emily Thornhill is one of the few female journalists for the Chicago press.  She is drawn to the story of Harry Powers.  What made him so appealing to women?  Why did he kill them once he had conned them out of their meager possessions?  More importantly, how many women are victims not yet identified?  She is drawn into the story and is compelled to find out Powers' secrets and those of the women he betrayed.

Jayne Anne Phillips has written an interesting book based on a true case.  Harry Powers, born Herman Drenth, lived and had his murder chamber in Quiet Dell, West Virginia.  He is suspected of as many as fifty murders.  He lured his victims through the use of matrimonial bureaus and flowery missives, luring them to his garage in Quiet Dell, which he had outfitted with basement cells.  Phillips spends less time on the gory details of the case than the emotional fallout and how those involved in the case handle the realization of Powers' crimes.  She accurately recreates the feel of the Midwest in the 1930's.  This book is recommended for fans of true crime and historical fiction. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

On a scientific expedition, researchers find a core of what they call hard-ice in a massive iceberg.  These scientists are gathering specimens, usually krill or shrimp, which have been frozen, and experimenting on reviving them, sometimes after long periods of freezing.  Now they have found a huge vein of ice and what appears to be a large mammal frozen there.  They expect to find a seal or a walrus, but what they find instead is a man, frozen solid.

After freeing him from the ice, he is transported back to their institute, where the same regimen is carried out, and the man is reanimated.  This is Jeremiah Rice, who went to sea and was swept overboard in 1906.  He has been encased in ice.  Although the experiment is successful, there is a world of difference between reanimating shrimp and a man.

Rice remembers his life before, his love of his wife and child.  He remembers his former occupation as a judge and what occurred those hundred years before.  He is amazed, startled and a little taken aback at how the world has progressed and the miracles that are commonplace in the modern world.  He struggles to understand what is around him and to establish relationships with the people he meets.

Everyone he meets has an agenda and not all are benign to him.  There is Cartage, who runs the institute and sees this project as his route to fame and fortune.  There is Dixon who is the journalist assigned to the project and is willing to ride it to his own measure of fame.  Then there is Dr. Kate Philo.  The head of the recovery project, she develops the closest relationship with Jeremiah and starts to question the validity of the project and what it is trying to accomplish. 

Can we come back and live a second life?  Would we want to, even if it's possible?  What are the things that are most important in a life?  These are some of the questions Stephen Kiernan asks in this poignant novel that sweeps the reader into a sea of inquiries that each must answer for himself.  The reader is entranced by the emerging relationship between Jeremiah and Kate and what the outcome will be.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in time travel and science. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

Things are never placid in the homicide department of the Aberdeen police department.  Sergeant Logan McRae has been shunted to the 'screw-up squad' after some unfortunate events on his last case.  He's reporting to DI Steel, who rides him hard and takes the credit for his accomplishments.  His old boss, DI Inche hasn't given him up and expects Logan to help on his cases also.  Add in trying to have a relationship with one of his co-workers, Jackie, and Logan's life is busy and chaotic.

The murders just keep coming.  Someone is picking up prostitutes, beating them and murdering them.  Six so far have been killed.  Then there's the woman who calls or comes in each day to see if anyone has found her missing husband.  Add in an arsonist who is now killing the people who live in the apartments and houses he picks out to burn, and there's not enough time to get to everything.

Throughout it all, McRae manages to solve cases while balancing the needs of his bosses and those of his friends and lover.  Stuart MacBride has created such an interesting character in Logan McRae that the reader can barely stand to put down the book at intervals to go on with their own lives.  It is imperative to read further and find out how Logan will solve the cases and resolve his personal issues.  The tone is not brutal even though it is talking about brutal events.  Rather it is full of the dark humor found in jobs that require its employees to see things most of us can't even imagine.  This is the second book in the Logan McRae series and is recommended for mystery lovers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson

It's the late eighties, and Tim Anderson is a typical high-schooler growing up in the South, specially Raleigh, North Carolina.  Typical that is, except for two things.  First, Tim is gay and hasn't told anyone yet.  He is trapped in the South, sure that there is an accepting, happy gay world out there somewhere if he can just get out and get to it.  Second, on a church trip to summer camp, Tim gets extremely sick and is rushed to the hospital where he is diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

How Tim handles these two facts are the basis for this humorous memoir.  Tim uses the format of starting each chapter with a recounting of a diabetic episode.  He is prone to low sugar plunges where he must have something sweet to counteract the effects.  After each of these tales, he talks about a different part of his life growing up.

Tim talks about going to high school, feeling like an outcast.  He talks about big high school parties with lots of drinking and drugs.  He starts at a small college, sure that it has a large gay population, then transfers a year later to a bigger one.  He studies a year abroad.  Throughout it all, he searches for acceptance and romance.  The reader learns about his life as well as about diabetes.

Anderson is the author of Time In Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries.  He also writes young adult historical fiction under the name T. Neill Anderson and blogs at  His account of his life will find two audiences.  Those who also have diabetes will enjoy reading about how he learns to manage his illness.  Young gay adults struggling with coming out about this central truth of their lives will like reading about Tim's struggles and how he managed to end up with a successful life that is satisfying. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, June 23, 2014

It's hot and muggy in North Carolina.  Summer days are best spent with an early morning trip to the gym, then home to read and veg out.  This past week I've visited rural Montana in Fourth of July Creek, gone to England with What Came Before He Shot Her, and spent time in Aberdeen solving mysteries with Stuart MacBride.  Of course, new books came to take their places on my shelves.  Here's the list:

1.  The Insanity Plea, Larry Thompson, mystery, sent by author
2.  Vertigo 42, Martha Grimes, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Story Of Land And Sea, Katy Simpson Smith, literary fiction, gift from friend
4.  Perfectly Miserable, Sarah Payne Stuart, memoir, sent by publisher
5.  Queen Of America, Luis Alberto Urrea, literary fiction, Paperbackswap
6.  Gold Digger, Frances Fyfield, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  A Song For The Dying, Stuart MacBride, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  Alias Hook, Lisa Jensen, fantasy, sent by publisher
9.  What It Was Like, Peter Seth, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10.  World Of Trouble, Ben Winters, fantasy, sent by publisher
11.  The Signature Of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  The Fever, Megan Abbott, young adult, sent by publisher
13.  The Book Of Life, Deborah Harkness, fantasy, sent by publisher
14.  The Lighthouse, Alison Moore, Paperbackswap
15.  I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes, thriller, gift from friend
16.  Daring My Passages, Gail Sheehy, memoir, sent by publisher
17.  Winter At Death's Hotel, Kenneth Cameron, mystery, gift from friend
18.  One Plus One, Jojo Moyes, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's the books I'm working on:

1.  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, reading on Kindle
2.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, reading on Kindle Fire
3.  The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson, hardback
4.  What Came Before He Shot Her, Elizabeth George, hardback
5.  The Sign Of The Book, John Dunning, hardback
6.  A Necessary End, Peter Robinson, paperback
7.  The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison, paperback
8.  Sweet Tooth, Tim Anderson, paperback
9.  Compulsion, Jonathan Kellerman, paperback
10.  The Spook Lights Affair, Marica Muller/Bill Pronzini, hardback
11.  Dying Light, Stuart MacBride, reading on Kindle Fire

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fourth Of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Pete Snow is a social worker in rural Montana.  His days are spent trying to help families who have fallen on hard times, and when they can't be helped, making sure their children are cared for.  He has a huge territory and no real co-workers so he is on his own, doing what he thinks best while working in isolation.  His own family, a daughter and an ex-wife, have moved to Texas so he works even longer hours to distract himself from the hurt of not being with his daughter, Rachel.

As he goes about his work, he comes across a boy who has been living in the wild.  Benjamin Pearl camps out with his father who is a survivalist, a man who believes in conspiracies and that the government is trying to find and kill him, while the whole world is about to collapse under a fiscal disaster.  The Pearls live on what they can hunt or fish or forage, and are dirty, in poor health and trust no one.  Over months, Pete manages to get Jeremiah Snow to trust him a little and is able to take them clothes, food and medicine.  He knows there is a wife and more children but Pearl never allows Pete to meet them. 

Disaster strikes when his daughter runs away from his ex-wife.  Pete takes off and scours city after city, using his contacts as a social worker to find out where runaways in each town congregate but he can't find Rachel.  He knows only too well the dangers a teenage girl faces as a runaway and is willing to go anywhere and do anything to find her.  His inability to help his own daughter tears at him, making him doubt himself and his work.

As the months go on, Pete is torn between his search for Rachel, his desire to help the Pearls and the increasing pressure from the government to help them capture Pearl.  The government considers him to be a domestic terrorist and wants Pete to use the trust he has built up with Pearl to betray him and help them capture him.  Pete's world is fraught with disappointments, pressure and a realization that he can't fix the world.

Smith Henderson has created a world that the reader usually never encounters.  This is the world of the working poor, those who have given up and live however they can and those who have opted out of society entirely.  Pete Snow is a fascinating character, desperate to help those around him and slowly realizing that he may not be able to.  This is a debut novel and one that will make Henderson's mark in the literary world; a blazing indictment of a society that fails at providing for those less fortunate.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer Suspense Reads from James Hayman

James Hayman is one of the hottest new authors in suspense and the Witness Impulse imprint is kicking off a summer of hot reads.  There is a read-along of the series with James Hayman's McCabe and Savage detectives ready to solve murders.  The discussion for the read-along will be on Goodreads and starts July 18th, with the author participating.  Use the hashtag #savagereads to participate.  If you're looking for great reads and great discussions, join the fun.  Booksie is planning to!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Faceoff, Edited by David Baldacci

The premise of this crime anthology is enticing.  Twenty-two of the top crime writers currently working are paired with a colleague.  The pair writes a short story that uses their detective characters working as a team to solve a mystery.  The pairs are: 

Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly
Ian Rankin and Peter James
R.L. Stine and Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child
M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner
Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein
Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford
Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson
Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay
John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker
Steve Barry and James Rollins
Lee Child and Joseph Finder

My personal favorite was the story by Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford that combines their two iconic detectives, Lincoln Rhyme, the paralyzed forensic specialist with Lucas Davenport, rich cop that is still hooked into being a street cop.  Along with their partners, Amelia and Lilly, the pair works to solve a serial killer murder in New York City that features a sculptor involved in S&M torture killings.  Although there is no love lost between the pair, by the end of the case there is respect. 

Mystery readers will enjoy the original stories as well as the concept of pairing their favorite detectives into new and unusual teams.  There are all kinds of crime; street crime, terrorism, paranormal, historical and just plain murder cases.  Some of the authors were already good friends while others are working together for the first time.  The result is a fun anthology that will keep readers entertained to the last page.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

For those who enjoy the book, or just those interested in the authors, a great opportunity is coming up.  All twenty-two authors will be attending Thrillerfest this year, the mystery conference held in New York City.  This years convention will be July 8-12 at the Grand Hyatt and affords readers a rare chance to meet many of the top names in detective fiction.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Purity Of Vengeance by Jussie Adler-Olsen

There's never any rest for Detective Carl Morck and his colleagues in Department Q.  There are always tons of cold cases to work and Morck just can't get the rest he knows he deserves.  His secretary, Rose, decides that the team's next case should be that of a brothel owner who disappeared without a trace twenty years ago.  As the team investigates, they find that there are others who vanished the same day and none of them have been heard from since.  What connection do they have with the head of a scary political party that is on the rise and whose politics are just this side of Hitler's?

Morck's right-hand man, Assad, seems especially upset about this case.  Morck is not sure what has struck a chord with Assad, but he knows that something has, and that something won't let him rest until the case is solved and the political head of party is stopped. 

In the meantime, Morck's life rolls on.  His ex-wife has agreed to a divorce, finally, but wants Morck to pay for her wedding to her new husband.  His stepson has left college just short of a degree and seems to do nothing but hang out.  His tenet has found a new lover, a physical therapist, who at least comes in handy in the care of Hardy, Morck's former partner who is now a quadriplegic and lives with him.  Then there is the delectable Mona, who Morck is determined to win for his mate. 

But the case won't wait on Morck's personal life.  It soon becomes clear that the team is being personally targeted by the culprits who think that if they eliminate Department Q that their crimes will continue to go unpunished.  Attempts are made on each member of the team and the chance of success rises with each try.  Can the Department Q team solve the crime before they lose their lives?

This is the fourth Department Q novel.  Jussie Adler-Olsen is Denmark's top crime novelist and he has gained many fans wherever his novels have been translated.  The characters on the team are each unique and their quirks merge satisfactorily to make them able to solve crimes that no one else has the time or patience to investigate.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Here Is Where by Andrew Carroll

Did you know that the first explorer to reach the top of Pikes Peak was a woman, Julia Ann Archibald Holmes?  That the oldest living tree, named Prometheus, was cut down in an afternoon by a scientist who wanted to study it?  That the Supreme Court used to have X-rated movie showing days back when the laws about obscenity were being tested?  That the 1918 Spanish Flu actually started in Kansas and before it was over killed fifty million people here and overseas, with 200,000 dying in the U.S. in thirty days?  These and other fascinating historical stories are showcased in Andrew Carroll's compelling new book, Here Is Where.

Carroll is fascinated with history and determined to find out the obscure tales and forgotten sites that make up the nation's life story.  Once he decided on this quest, he traveled the country finding the often overlooked places where those who contributed to our nation's history lived or worked.  He visited Hart's Island, the largest Potter's Field in the United States.  He visited the birthplace of the men who invented penicillin and then figured out how to get the medicine into mass distribution.  He visited the only original Declaration of Independence copy which is open to public display year-round.  He outlined the life of the man who was most responsible for preserving America's redwoods, Madison Grant, and went on to explain why he has been relegated to obscurity.  He visited the site of a plane crash discovered in the mountains fifty years after it occurred. 

The book is divided into several topics.  These include sections named Where to Begin, The World Before Us, This Land Is My Land, Landmark Cases, Sparks, Bitter Pills and Miracle Cures, Burial Plots and All Is Not Lost.  In each topic, Carroll's love of history and his determination not to allow it to be lost is evident.  The reader will come away from this book with many new stories and an appreciation for all the stories that didn't make it into the history books we used in school.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy history and travel, as well as for those interested in the accomplishments most people don't know about. 

A free copy of this book was received from Blogging For Books for this review.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

All Day And A Night by Alafair Burke

All day and a night.  That's prisoner and cop lingo for a life sentence without parole.  That's the sentence Anthony Amaro, better known as the College Hill serial killer, received eighteen years ago after the death of six women.  Everyone feels better knowing that he will never see the outside of a prison again.

But now, that reassurance is in doubt.  A woman is murdered, and there are similarities to Amaro's murders, including facts that were never released in public.  At the same time, the DA is sent a letter claiming that the man who killed the women before has also killed the most recent victim.

The letters stir up controversy.  A famous TV lawyer decides to take on the case and ask that Amaro's sentence be overturned.  In order to booster her efforts, she hires Carrie Blank, a lawyer who also happens to be the sister of one of the victims.  At the same time, the DA assigns the case to one of his up and coming associates; Max Donovan, to take a fresh look.  Max picks the best NYPD police detectives he knows to investigate the original case.  Ellie Hatcher and her partner JJ Rogan, have many successful murder investigations under their belts.  The fact that Ellie is Max's girlfriend is a complication that they think won't matter.

The lines are now drawn.  On one side the attorneys attempting to free Amaro and on the other side the police and DA's office attempting to reinvestigate to prove beyond a doubt that Amaro is where he belongs.  The tension rises as clues are followed, secrets start to emerge, and people start to get hurt.  Can the matter be resolved before another death occurs?

This is Alafair Burke's tenth novel, and the fifth in the Ellie Hatcher murder.  Ms. Burke is a former prosecutor who now teaches criminal law.   Her background means that the legal procedures and explanations for why an investigation is done a certain way are correct and explained so that a layman can understand.  The characters are interesting, and the reader is compelled to read to discover who really did all those killings.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Exciting Contest To Celebrate The Paperback Version of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature Of All Things!

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, Penguin Books, and White Flower Farm want to bring the gifts of nature into your home.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s New York Times bestselling novel The Signature of All Things is a spellbinding journey into the heart of the natural world through the eyes of Alma Whittaker, a young nineteenth-century woman who becomes a world-renowned botanist.

In honor of this exciting paperback release, we’re offering a sweepstakes for a chance to win a year’s worth of plants from White Flower Farm—a plant for every month! Coming in Paperback June 24.

" The Signature of All Things is . . . [a] vibrant, hot-blooded book . . . Every page teems with the glories of the natural world." JANET MASLIN, The New York Times

Enter Here:


A "A Plant for Every Month" subscription from White Flower Farm (http://www. which will run from September 2014 through August 2015. The subscription includes a selection of choice and unusual houseplants for every month of the year, sent in twelve separate shipments by standard delivery to one address only. Included in each delivery will be full instructions for the care of each plant. (Approximate Retail Value ("ARV") = $425.00). In addition, the winner will also receive a copy of The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert (ARV = $17.00). Total ARV of prize: $442.00. Residents of California and Arizona are not eligible to receive the grand prize.

Twenty-five (25) runner-up winners will each receive a copy of The Signature of All Things (ARV = $17.00 each).

No purchase necessary.

Open to residents of the United States and the District of Columbia, excluding Rhode Island, age 18 or older.

Sweepstakes begins June 2, 2014. Entries must be received no later than July 24, 2014, 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time.

Winners will be selected at random on or about July 31, 2014.

Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Field Notes From A Hidden City by Esther Woolfson

In this fascinating book, Esther Woolfson takes the reader to Aberdeen, Scotland.  She writes of the environment and biology of her city throughout one year's time.  Aberdeen is a rainy, cold city, home to sea animals such as seals and dolphins as well as the animals and birds that tend to live in cities.  Woolfson writes in detail of her observations during the year, taking the reader into a quiet, nuanced life that focuses on how we can live without harming the other creatures that share the world with us.

As she writes, the reader learns many interesting facts.  She talks of how pigeons which are often held in disdain, are merely a different kind of dove, a bird which is beloved.  Slugs may have contributed to the depiction of Cupid with his arrows from their own ability to shoot a 'love dart' during their courting behavior.   She talks about the rapid decline of many species, especially songbirds, leading to birds such as sparrows, which are considered very common due to their former numbers, now being put on endangered lists.  We learn that many birds, such as gulls, may live to be forty years old, and that they have the ability to remember places as well as recognize other birds over the years. 

Woolfson also writes of emotions stirred by our interaction with nature.  She talks of how our children's lives can be marked by the time pets lived in our homes.  She talks about the recognizable scent of baby birds, similar to people who talk about puppy breath.  She writes about how certain animals and birds are singled out for disdain, often because of how they are given human characteristics by their observers.  Two examples of this are magpie and spiders, each of which serve an unique biological function that can't be replaced if they disappear.  She also talks about the emerging field of 'invasion biology' which attempts to return an environment to some former point in time as regards the plants and animals found there, and the difficulties in justifying such an endeavor.

Kirkus Reviews recently put this book on their list '2014's Most Overlooked Books'.  Readers will be enchanted by the quiet beauty revealed by Woolfson's writing and compelled to look at the world in a different manner by her championing of the sharing of our world.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers and those interested in learning more of how our world works.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, June 7, 2014

Another great week of reading.  I finally finished The March Of Folly by Barbara Tuchman which I've had a bookmark in for months.  I also started some great mysteries, a couple of nonfiction books about historical places that have been overlooked and a year's nature observations in Scotland, and a fantasy book I think will be great.  Here's the new books I received since the last post:

1.  The Shadow Queen, Sandra Gullard, historical fiction, won in contest
2.  Down The Shore, Stan Parish, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Running Secrets, Arleen Williams, literary fiction, sent by publisher
4.  Joseph Finder, Suspicion, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  Fatal Purity, Ruth Scurr, biography, Paperbackswap book
6.  Face Value, Michael Kahn, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  Paw Prints In My Heart, Andrew Hessel, memoir/pet story, sent by author
8.  The Assassin King, Elizabeth Haydon, fantasy, Paperbackswap book
9.  A Barricade In Hell, Jaime Lee Moyer, fantasy, sent by publisher
10.  Mortom, Erik Thierme, mystery/horror, sent by author
11.  Thunderstruck & Other Stories, Elizabeth McCracken, anthology, Curled Up With A Good Book
12.  Frog Music, Emma Donoghue, literary fiction, gift from friend
13.  The Steady Running Of The Hour, Justin Go, literary fiction, Curled Up With A Good Book
14.  The Skin Collector, Jeffrey Deaver, mystery, Curled Up With A Good Book
15.  The Black Country, Alex Grecian, mystery, sent by publisher
16.  What Has Become Of You, Jan Elizabeth Watson, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's the list of what I'm reading:

1.  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, reading on Kindle
2.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, reading on Kindle Fire
3.  The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson, hardback
4.  Field Notes From A Hidden City, Esther Woolfson, hardback
5.  The Sign Of The Book, John Dunning, hardback
6.  A Necessary End, Peter Robinson, paperback
7.  The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison, paperback
8.  Here Is Where, Andrew Carroll, paperback
9.  Compulsion, Jonathan Kellerman, paperback
10.  The Spook Lights Affair, Marica Muller/Bill Pronzini, hardback
11.  Dying Light, Stuart MacBride, reading on Kindle Fire

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The March Of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman

In this groundbreaking work, Barbara Tuchman explores the reasons that humans, especially governments, persist in actions that by all logic, are foolish.  It is a common action, leaving us to often use the wisdom of time to look back at decisions that were made that seem so wrong and illogical.  What possessed those living in the moment to make such bad decisions, and more importantly, refuse to correct their course?

Tuchman studies several monumental historical mistakes to explore her thesis.  She starts with the decision that every schoolchild knows of--the decision to take in the Trojan horse resulting in total disaster for the city.  It's not like there weren't those who counseled against this course but their voices were overridden.  Those in power were entranced with the horse, determined to possess it, and did so, bringing total ruin on everyone.

The next case study is those of the Renaissance Popes who provoke the Protestant secession.  Tuchman gives the history of this period, the outrageous actions of a series of Popes who broke every rule they had vowed to uphold, and who refused to see the consequences that their actions would have once they were reviled rather than loved by the people they ruled. 

Section Three covers the Revolutionary War and how the British managed to lose the American colonies.  The short-sighted policies that sought to punish the colonies rather than form a stronger relationship, and the entire ruling structure in Britain lead to the mightiest power on Earth losing to a small group of determined men. 

The final section showcases the Vietnam War and shows that knowledge of bad outcomes is still with us in modern times.  Tuchman outlines the history of the war, the backroom negotiations, the fear of looking foolish which led to the reality of looking foolish, and the eventual defeat of the American effort to shore up the South Vietnam government.  Readers will remember the men showcased and the actions they took that not only led to military failure but to a lack of respect for the government and its actions.

What then, leads us to make and continue in bad decisions?  Tuchman suggests there are several reasons.  High on the list are greed and ambition which make men in a position to change course hesitant to appear to be weak or to ignore the greater good for their own benefit.  In the first stage, an erroneous conclusion is reached.  As opposing points of view emerge, the initial conclusion is codified as those in power resist having their viewpoint 'lose'.  Persistence in error is the main issue.  Even as evidence piles up and the cost of a bad decision becomes evident, it is difficult to admit defeat, leading to even more costs and an eventual stunning loss of prestige. 

Readers of history will welcome Tuchman's conclusions.  The research is evident and her conclusions are well thought out and never overblown.  Her suggestions on how humans can avoid the folly of sticking to bad decisions are weaker, as there is little evidence that we can effect a change in so basic a human tendency.  Still, one can hope that current leaders can read the results of historic bad decisions and apply the lessons to today's problems.  This book is recommended for readers of history and those who enjoy policy discussions.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Ray Jarrell doesn't do missing person cases.  Early in his private detective days, he managed to find a girl who the police couldn't locate after months of trying.  He felt like the best detective in the world.  At least until the girl was killed by the family she had been trying to escape all along.

But something about this missing girl, Rose Janko, touches him and tests his resolve.  Her father appeals to Ray's background and he knows that only someone with his background has a chance of finding Rose.  For Rose is a gypsy and that culture is totally closed to outsiders.  Ray is half-gypsy, and knows that he can get information that won't be given to anyone else.

Rose was married at nineteen to Ivo Janko and they quickly had a baby, Christo.  Rose disappeared soon after.  The stories vary.  Some say she met a gorjio (anyone not a gypsy) and ran away to get married.  Some say she couldn't face the fact that Christo has inherited the Janko family illness and will probably not make to adulthood.  Whatever the reason, no one has heard of her for six years.

Ray takes the case and starts to investigate.  Rose lived with the Janko family and that's where he starts.  There's Tene, the patriarch of the family, paralyzed after a car crash but determined to keep the family together.  Ivo and Cristo share a trailer.  Tene's sister and her husband share another, while their child, Sandra, and her son, JJ, live in the last trailer of the compound.  As Ray starts to peel away the layers that hide the family secrets, JJ also starts to investigate his family.  He has never known who his father was and hopes to gain that knowledge as Ray reveals more and more.  He isn't sure if he is really ready for all the secrets he never expected his family to be hiding.

Stef Penney has created an interesting novel sure to keep the reader's interest.  The story is told in alternating chapters by Ray and JJ, each sharing the nuggets of information they find and putting them together to create an answer of what happened to Rose and what secrets are the Janko family hiding.  The reader is drawn into the family and learns about a culture that most will never get a chance to know, that of the gypsy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow

Things are not going well in Caroline Meadows life at the moment.  She has just ended her long-term relationship when she and her partner realized that they weren't really in love.  Then she gets laid off at her job unexpectedly, making it more difficult to make both halves of the rent on her London apartment.  Even worse, her mom is starting the early stages of dementia, and Caroline realizes that a decision will have to be made about her mother's further living arrangements.

She goes down to the cottage where she grew up to help her mother clear things out.  While there, she uncovers a beautiful quilt, full of luxury fabrics and intricate needlework.  Since Caroline's ambition is to open a design business, she is intrigued by the quilt, but her mother can't remember much about who might have made it, just that it was in with Caroline's grandmother's things.  Caroline vaguely remembers a woman who may have lived with her grandmother who always seemed to be sewing.

With time on her hands, she starts an investigation of the quilt.  She soon determines that the woman who lived with her grandmother, Maria, was probably the quilt's creator.  As she researches further, she learns that Maria was institutionalized for decades in a mental hospital, where she was known as Queenie.  Queenie was the derisive nickname Maria was given as she insisted that she had worked as a seamstress for the queen, and that she had secretly given birth to the Prince of Wales son. 

There are two scenarios.  Either Maria was truly troubled, making up an elaborate fantasy to get through her humdrum life, or she was telling the truth and had been bundled away and deprived of a normal life for the sin of having a relationship that wasn't sanctioned by the royal family.  Can Caroline discover the truth so many years after the events occurred?

Liz Trenow has written an interesting novel that explores the scandal of the many lives buried away in the time period where women whose truth was inconvenient were hidden away against their will.  She uses the metaphor of the quilt to show how something beautiful can emerge in the worst of circumstances and how the truth will shine forward over time.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.