Saturday, September 24, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, September 23, 2016

September 23rd  and at least on the calendar, fall has arrived.  It's hard to tell here in North Carolina where the temperatures are still hitting 90 with high humidity.  Still, we had a cloudy rainy day yesterday and I pulled out the crock pot and made a pork roast while spending the day reading and watching tv.  Monday I hope to make the first soup of autumn.  The new fall tv shows are arriving and it's always fun to check them out and guess which ones will make it.  Then of course, there's football, the perfect sport.   All of these are reasons I love fall the best of all.  Here's the books that have made it through the door lately:

1.  A House Without Windows, Nadia Hashimi, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  Thursday's Children, Nicci French, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Friday On My Mind, Nicci French, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Escape Clause, John Sandford, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Family Plot, Cherie Priest, fantasy/thriller, sent by publisher
6.  Finders Keepers, Stephen King, horror, boomerang book (I gave this to my son, but he already had it so I took it home)
7.  Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King, horror, boomerang book
8.  Einstein's Beach House, Jacob Appel, anthology, sent by author
9.  The Fortress, Danielle Trussoni, memoir, sent by publisher
10.  A Shattered Empire, Mitchell Hogan, fantasy, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Last Days Of Magic, Mark Thompkins, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem,  Kindle
3.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4.  The American Girl
, Kate Horseley, paperback
5.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
Old Man River, Paul Schneider, paperback
7.  Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

8.  H Is For Hawk, Helen McDonald, paperback

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Middlesteins by Janie Attenberg

The Middlesteins explores the life of a Jewish family in the suburbs of Chicago.  Richard and Edie Middlestein have lived there for more than thirty years.  Richard is a pharmacist; Edie a lawyer.  They have two children, Benny and Robin.  The family looks happy from the outside but things are not good and the couple split up.  The cause seems to be Edie's out of control eating.  She is massively obese and it is affecting her health.  The marriage hasn't been good for years and Richard has finally had enough.

Even though the children are grown they are affected by the breakup.  Benny is married himself with two children.  He married Rachelle, the kind of woman who lives to control her world and make everything perfect.  She is furious at Richard and determined that she can turn Edie's eating problem around by helping her make better eating choices and exercise.  She cuts Richard off entirely from their family.  Robin is a teacher but not really doing well.  She drinks too much and has never had a lasting relationship.  She has just met someone new and wonders if it could work out.

Edie is furious.  She hasn't loved Richard for years and her constant picking and nagging is as much a factor as her obesity.  She isn't sure why she eats so much but at the end of the day is determined to live her life as she wants, even if that means eating everything in sight.  Her success as a lawyer seems diametrically opposed to her lack of control in her personal life.

Attenberg has written a saga of a family that has dissolved.  Everyone seems surprised when older couples divorce but once the children are grown, why would someone stay if there is no joy in their daily life?  She explores the role of personal responsibility, of what parents owe their children and children owe their parents and whether love can be found even as we age.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California in the late 1960's.  It's summer and fourteen year old Evie Boyd is at loose ends.  Her parents have split up and she's had a fight with her best friend.  What will fill the endless days of summer?  Bored, she goes to a park one day and there she is.  Suzanne.  Older than Evie and a different kind of person than she has ever met.  Suzanne could care less what anyone thinks about her.  She looks a bit dirty, a bit dangerous.  Evie can't tear her eyes away.

Several days later, they meet again in a convenience store and start to talk.  Soon, Evie is totally enthralled with Suzanne and goes with home with her.  Home is the ranch where a group of other girls also live.  No one works, they just scam and scavenge for everything they eat.  They all circle around Russell, a mesmerizing figure who controls everything at the ranch while pretending to espouse love and freedom.

As the weeks go by, Evie finds it difficult to remain in society, wanting the ranch and what she finds there over everything else.  Even as the atmosphere turns darker and she is drawn into actions she never thought she'd perform, she can't break away.  She is glued to Suzanne as if their souls have been stitched together.  How will the summer end?

No one who was alive in the 60's will ever forget the Manson murders and the girls who surrounded him, willing to do anything he said, even steal and kill.  Even today the case is fascinating and every move of Manson and the girls, now grown old in jail, makes the news.  But the focus has always been on Manson.  In The Girls, Emma Cline focuses on the dynamic of the girls and what drew them from their homes and what kept them together even as everything fell apart.  Readers will be immersed in a culture that is foreign to them but Cline makes it believable and unforgettable.  This book is recommended for mystery and young adult readers.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Skin by Mo Hayder

There seems to be a spate of suicides in the Bristol area.  Each is a young person, none of whom seemed likely candidates.  Their friends and families are all surprised.  Each has vertical knife marks on their forearms and are found near bodies of water, quarries and underwater caves.  Each is missing a lock of hair.

The police and coroner call each case suicide but Detective Jack Caffery is not sure.  Something about the cases bother him; he feels a subterranean pull of evil that makes him wonder if there is a hunter who is responsible.  Rescue diver Flea Marley also sees things that make her wonder.  The two don't discuss the case however.  Caffery isn't sure yet and is working in the dark, not even telling his supervisors what he is doing.  Flea is involved in a major family crisis that no one can help with and that keeps her to herself until she can find a way forward.  Is someone targeting vulnerable individuals?  Can Caffery and Marley find the killer before he finds them?

Mo Hayder has written a series of thrilling novels and mystery readers will be delighted to find another Jack Caffery novel.  Flea Marley is a more recent addition to the storyline and it is unclear if she will be a recurring character or maybe become a love interest for Caffery.  The writing is brooding and mysterious and fans will eagerly read to discover more clues about what makes Caffery tick.  This book is recommended for mystery writers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In this novel set during the end of the American military presence in the Vietnam war, the narrator is a man of many faces.  He is half-French, half Vietnamese.  He is the bastard of a native Vietnamese woman and a white priest, a child whose very existence is forbidden.  He grows to be a man who fits everywhere and nowhere, someone who can smile and help someone while plotting their defeat.

As the novel opens, the narrator is a Captain in the South Vietnamese army and the top assistant to the General.  Due to his placement, he is able to escape when the South falls along with the General and his family and the men the narrator picks.  They are relocated to Los Angeles and there they begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.  What no one knows is that the narrator has always been a spy for the Communist government of North Vietnam and he continues to report on the refugees while in California.  He lives with his best friend, Bon, who he considers a blood brother.  But that doesn't stop him from letting Bon get caught up in a plot for the South to take back the country.  He and Bon do horrible acts for the General while he plots the General's demise.  It is impossible to nail down the narrator's sympathies and loyalties.  Does he even know the meaning of loyalty?  Or is everything up for grabs, what one does in any situation what seems most expedient at the moment?

This book has won numerous prizes.  It won six major awards, including the Pulitzer, the Edgar award for best first book and the Asian/Pacific American Award For Literature.  It was named a finalist in five competitions such as the PEN/Faulkner award and the ABA Indies Choice.  It was named on the best novels of 2016 of twenty lists, including the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.    Readers will enter the mind of someone who doesn't know himself who he is and what he will do to survive.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, September 12, 2016

22 Dead Little Bodies by Stuart MacBride

Readers who are a fan of Stuart MacBride (and I definitely am) will be thrilled to read this collection of stories about the travails of DS Logan McRae and the worst boss in the world, DCI Roberta Steele.  The book starts with a novella about a murder case that happens during the election in which Scottish voters decide if they will break away from the United Kingdom.  Steele is an adament supporter of separation and she follows the election avidly, interrupting McRae as he goes about his day and his investigation.

Other stories give us a glimpse into a vacation gone very wrong where Steele tries to hide the fact she is working from her wife with limited success and one in which the two police must work together to save their own lives.  There are four stories in all, but one is a novella and one a short novel so the end result is more than three hundred pages of McRae and Steele to savor.  Steele is her normal self, a self that is hard to believe can continue as a police investigator.  She is profane, drinks on the job, bullies her staff and intimidates the criminals she encounters.  McRae is the long-suffering policeman who does his work despite her and has an incredible mind for crime detection.  Together the two can't live with each other or without each other.  Their bond is unbreakable but the reader can't imagine how or why.

Stuart MacBride is one of the premier crime novelists working today.  His DS Logan McRae is an unforgettable police hero, unassuming, brilliant, put upon by the world and always optimistic despite all the horrors the world throws at him.  Fans who follow him only have one quibble; that he can't write faster as the novels are addictive.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Downfall by J.A. Jance

A sheriff's life is rarely calm and placid.  But this is an unusual week for Arizona Cochise County sheriff Joanna Brady.  She is planning the funerals of her mother and stepfather after they were killed by a sniper while driving on vacation.  Her daughter has left for her first week of college.  Joanna is also pregnant with her third child.  Any of those things would be a major event in anyone else's life.

But things are going to get even more hectic for Brady.  A double homicide is discovered.  Two women are found killed in the desert at the foot of a local mountain.  It first appears to be an accident but as the police investigate it becomes apparent it is murder.  What isn't apparent is the connection between the two women.  One is a graduate student who has been spending the summer studying desert plants.  The other is a teacher in a local high school, the wife of a pastor.

As the investigation deepens, motives start to emerge.  The teacher is trapped in a loveless marriage, both she and her husband involved in affairs.  Even worse, it appears some of her lovers may be students from her own school.  Was she the primary victim or did the graduate student pose a risk to someone?  Of course, law enforcement is never static and another death happens that must also be investigated.  Will Joanna get through this horrible week?

J. A. Jance is a prolific writer of mysteries and the Joanna Brady series is one of her most successful.  This is the twentieth novel in the series, and longtime readers will be interested to see what Brady is up to now, and how her life is unfolding.  The novel gives a good picture of the routine of a police department and the daily tasks that unfold as well as how resources are allocated and how policing in a small town requires a delicate balance between knowing everyone and avoiding giving too much away.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, September 3, 2016

September is here and there is hope of summer heat and humidity dissipating in the coming weeks.  Here in North Carolina we've had a fairly brutal summer and fall can't come too soon to suit me.  I spend most super-hot days inside so you'd think I would have read more than ten books in August but Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Acorn TV takes up a lot of reading time.  Here's the books that have come through the door lately:

1.  Echoes Of Family, Barbara Claypole White, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  The Sound Of A Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, nonfiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Orphan Mother, Robert Hicks, historical fiction, Vine review book
4.  All That Man Is, David Szalay, literary fiction, Vine review book
5.  The American Girl, Kate Horsley, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  A Gentleman In Moscow, Amor Towles, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Father's Day, Simon Van Booy, literary fiction, Vine review book
8.  Ruby, Cynthia Bond, historical fiction, Vine review book
9.  Mateship With Birds, Carrie Tiffany, literary fiction, purchased
10.  The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
11.  The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
12.  Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater, fantasy, purchased
13.  Debt To Pay, Reed Coleman, mystery, sent by publisher
14.  Downfall, J.A. Jance, mystery, sent for book tour
15.  The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro, literary fiction, purchased
16.  The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem,  Kindle
3.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4.  Moriarty
, Anthony Horowitz, paperback
5.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
Old Man River, Paul Schneider, paperback
7.  Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

8.  Skin, Mo Hayder, hardback

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood

It's the early 1900's and Coney Island is at its peak as an entertainment destination.  Unusuals, as they call themselves, are those individuals whose lives will never be mainstream due to their bodies, and who are on exhibit everywhere in circuses and sideshows.  Entire villages of tribesmen from other cultures have been brought over to America to edify those who come to visit.  Every center must have a curiosity cabinet and Coney Island has Magruder's.  Inside it's halls, strange and amazing artifacts from all over the world have been collected and are on exhibit.

Kitty Hayward has come to America with her mother to meet her brother who has come ahead of them.  The Haywards are a wealthy English family and surely nothing bad can happen to them.  But the women arrive to find the brother has died and then they are separated themselves.  Kitty finds herself adrift in a park on Coney Island.  She is found there by Archie, a con man, and taken to Magruder's.

There she meets the regulars.  Zeph is a black man with no legs, cut off in a farming accident.  P-Ray is a young Arab boy who can only say one word but is considered family.  Doc Timur is an eccentric inventor who lives in his upstairs lab and creates wonders.  Rosalind is a gender fluid individual who delights in dressing half-male, half-female and shocking everyone.  Spencer is the son of an influential Senator and is not sure why he has come to Magruder's.  He brings Nasan who instead of falling in love with Spencer, longs to become part of Magruder's where her burning desire for knowledge and education is not sneered at.

Calamity strikes when the plague strikes Coney Island.  Those with power and money decide the best way to treat the outbreak is to quarantine the island, regardless of all those who are now trapped there with no way to make money or get food or medicine.  The collection of individuals at Magruder's must work together to survive the outbreak and help each other.  Can they survive?

H. P. Wood has written an engaging historical fantasy that mixes true facts with flights of fancy, creating a world that is captivating and interesting.  The addition of history facts educates the reader as the book delights one's whimsy.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers and those captivated by carnivals and curiosity collections.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Man In The Monster by Martha Elliott

In the early 1980's, Michael Ross stalked, raped and killed eight women in Connecticut.  In 2005, he was put to death by lethal injection, the last person to be executed in that state.  In between, for the last ten years of his life, journalist Martha Elliott interviewed him through weekly phone calls, letters and in person to determine what made this man do these horrible acts.

Ross was an intelligent person who graduated college and seemed ready to have a successful career.  Instead, his compulsions led him to stalk and kill women as his personal life imploded.  His childhood was a bleak one, with a mother who was a monster herself and emotionally abused him.  It left him unable to have a sustaining personal relationship and his mental illness led him into a compulsion to control and punish women he didn't know.

Ross was in jail for more than two decades.  He asked for the death penalty to be carried out, and Elliott was curious why he would do that.  Once in prison, he had received medication that controlled his mental compulsions and he felt free from the monster that he felt co-inhabited his body with the 'true' Michael.  He felt that his death was the only thing he could offer the families of his victims, but Elliott wondered if it also wasn't a suicide using the state as a vehicle.   She interviewed not only Ross but those victim families who would talk to her.  Over the years she found herself in a friendship with this tormented man who had brought pain to everyone he knew.

Ross is a journalist who worked on newspapers for many years.  She also ran a newspaper and taught at both the university and high school level.  She was curious as to what made a man into someone who could do such horrible things and after years of work, discovered the man in the monster.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the inner workings of the mind.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Griffin has come to Cape Cod for a wedding.  He came early, leaving his wife, Joy, to catch up to him when she didn't immediately fall in with his plans.  Griffin is a college professor and son of college professors.  His family came to the Cape every summer but it wasn't necessarily a good time.  His parents enjoyed looking at the negative side of everything; the places they would rent quickly categorized as either 'can't afford them" or "wouldn't have it as a gift".  They certainly weren't child-centered.  Griffin was pretty much on his own to find friends or play alone while his parents drank cocktails and talked among themselves.

Griffin is at a crossroads.  In his earlier years, he was a screenwriter in Hollywood.  Now that his own child is grown and his marriage to Joy grown stale, he wonders how his life would have been different if he had made different decisions along the way.  He doesn't know what he wants, only that something seems to be missing.  Should he throw everything away and start over?  Should he learn to accept what he has and be grateful for it?

Richard Russo is one of our premier American authors.  He outlines the decisions and contradictions that characterize people, showing us truths about ourselves.  He seems a wise man, able to show us what makes life really worthwhile as he gently skewers the posturings we all use to hide our inner angst.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for anyone getting older and wondering what life is really all about.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Under The Harrow by Flynn Berry

It's a weekend like any other.   Nora leaves her job in London and takes the train out to the small village where her sister lives to spend the weekend.  As she walks up to the house, she imagines the relaxing weekend the two of them will have.  They are best friends and she looks forward to all her time spent with Rachel.

But when she enters the house, time stops and will never be free and easy again.  For Nora walks into the scene of a brutal murder, her sister lying broken and bloodied on the stairs.  The police come and take her away.  She moves into the local hotel and waits for the police to find her killer.

But the days turn into weeks and there doesn't seem to be any progress.  Nora gives up her apartment and job to stay in the village and look for Rachel's killer herself.  She wonders if the murder has anything to do with the attack on Rachel when she was just a teenager.  She wonders if every man she sees is the one who did this horrific thing.  As the days go by and the investigation continues, Nora wonders if she ever really knew Rachel at all, as Rachel's secrets are uncovered and brought out into the light.

This debut novel by Flynn Berry is an impressive start.  The mood is broody and menacing.  The book is told in first person, setting up the reader to wonder how honest Nora is and fighting through the miasma of grief and lack of knowledge that Nora fights.  This is an extremely wise choice for a mystery novel and it gives an immediacy that is very effective.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Storm Runners by T. Jefferson Parker

Matt Stromsoe is putting his life back together.  Two years ago, he was happily married with a child.  Then, his work as a policeman put him in direct confrontation with his best friend growing up.  Mike Tavarez had gone in a different direction than Mike, rising to become the head of one of Southern California's most vicious gangs.  Matt's wife had earlier been Mike's girlfriend so there was also a personal rivalry between the two.  When things blew up, so did Matt's life.  A bomb meant for him instead killed his wife and child and left him scarred physically and mentally.

Now he is trying to put his life back together.  No longer able to do police work, he tries to start over by joining a private investigation firm.  His first assignment seems like a simple one.  A local television weather lady, Frankie Hatfield, has come to the firm about a stalker she has picked up.  When Matt takes on the case, he sees that more is going on than a crazed fan.  Frankie is a scientist first and a weather reporter second.  She is working on a method to enhance rainfall, one that will make her rich while improving lives.  But there are those who don't want her to succeed.  Before all is done, Matt will be battling a large corporation with ties to his enemy, Mike.  Who will win this latest confrontation?

T. Jefferson Parker is an established name in the genre of thriller mysteries.  His characters are simple men whose sense of truth and justice makes it impossible for them to let injustices stand without working to fix the situation.  This novel is his fourteenth in an impressive career and readers will enjoy learning more about weather as well as watching the interplay between good and evil.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, August 20, 2016

Things have changed at our house.  Our children were born far apart; the eldest in his senior year in high school when the youngest was born.  I barely remember taking our first child to college; it almost seems like we drove past the University of North Carolina and opened the door and pushed him out.  We were consumed with a three month old.  This past week we took our younger child to the University of South Carolina.  There were so many events in this process and everything was extremely well organized.  Now, after thirty-six years of daily supervision of a child, the house is empty and I have only myself to please.  Both children are readers and I'm happy they share this love of mine.  This week has been a revelation of what this next stage in my life will be, or at least until my husband retires.  That will be another life milestone of change.  Here's what's come through the door since I last wrote:

1.  House Of The Rising Sun, James Lee Burke, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
2.  Wonder Women, Sam Maggs, nonfiction, sent by publisher
3.  News Of The World, Paulette Jiles, historical fiction, sent for book tour
4.  Mercury, Margot Livesey, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5.  California's Deadliest Women, David Kulczyk, nonfiction, sent by publisher
6.  Catalyst Moon, Lauren Garcia, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter, literary fiction, purchased
8.  Dear Thief, Samantha Harvey, literary fiction, purchased
9.  Everyone Loves You Back, Louie Cronin, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10.  The Shadow Of The Crescent Moon, Fatima Bhutto, literary fiction, purchased
11.  Clear To Lift, Anne Wilson, thriller, sent by publisher
12,  Drawing Dead, Andrew Vachss, mystery, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
13.  Peacekeeping, Mischa Berlinski, literary fiction, sent by Curled Up With A Good Book
14.  The Dollhouse, Fiona Davis, mystery, sent by publisher
15.  In A Strange City, Laura Lippman, mystery, sent by publisher
16.  Rogue Lawyer, John Grishman, mystery, from bring one-take one shelf at gym
17.  The Fisherman, Chigozie Obioma, literary fiction, purchased
18.  The Table Of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips, literary fiction, purchased
19.  The Illuminations, Andrew O'Hagan, literary fiction, purchased
20.  Home Field, Hannah Gersen, mystery, sent by publisher
21.  The Tourist, Robert Dickinson, thriller, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2.  The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
4.  Under The Harrow
, Flynn Barry, paperback
5.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
The Storm-Runners, T. Jefferson Parker, hardback
7.  Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 19, 2016

We That Are Left by Clare Clark

Ellinghurst is one of those English country estates that seem like they are of another world.  It is a place of great beauty, architectural wonders and treasures from around the world.  It is the ancestral home of one of England's great families, the Melvilles.  At the start of World War I, it seems a place of permanency and tradition that won't change.  This generation's family has three children.  Theo, the heir, is one of those young men whose very bearing shouts privilege and that great things are destined for him.  Phyllis is interested in study and is determined to find a way to escape a woman's lot and spend her days in work and scholarship.  Jessica, the baby, is sure that there are lots of men who will give her a great time before marrying her and providing a comparable life to the one she was raised with.

Ellinghurst at first seems imperious to the war.  The house's life moves on with house parties and weekend hunts.  One common visit is the wife's best friend and her young son.  Oscar is the same age as Jessica and he and she are commonly left out by the rest of the children being so much younger.  Oscar is terribly shy; most people never see his great intellect due to his inability to speak out and participate in groups.

But war changes everything.  An entire generation of young men are consumed by it and Theo is soon one of them.  Phyllis escapes to become a nurse and serve the hundreds of young men scarred and deformed by battle.  Oscar gets a place at Cambridge where he studies physics while even Jessica finds a way to escape to London and get a job.  There are rumblings of changes in society; changes to the social structure that will make it impossible to retain great family estates.  Throughout the changes to society are echoed in the lives of these four young people and their relationships with each other over the years.

This novel, like others of Clare Clark's work, has garnered praise.  It was a 2015 Washington Post Notable Fiction Book and a New York Times Editor's Choice.  Her former novels, The Great Stink and The Strange Lands, were both Orange (now Bailey's) Prize nominees.  It portrays a time and place that has largely vanished and gives the reader an insight into the landed gentry and their way of life.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in family relationships.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Ian McGuire uses the setting of the whaling industry to explore the dynamics of good vs evil.  The novel is set in England in the mid-1800's as the industry is starting to end as the whales were hunted out of existence and alternative fuels were developed.  It follows a ship to the far North and documents the tragedies that overcame it.

There are no heroes in this novel, only men of differing amounts of evil.  The protagonist, Patrick Sumner, the ship's surgeon, has returned from a military career in India.  He was discharged involuntarily and his reputation shattered after an agreement between men in his company went awry and he was left to take the consequences.  Unable to find work back in England, he agrees to become the ship's doctor on the whaling ship Volunteer.

He is contrasted by a man of pure evil, Henry Drax, a harpooner.  Drax has no lofty ambition or goals.  His only thoughts are to get whatever he wants at the moment whether that is a woman, drink, or money.  He will do anything to get what he wants.  Violence is his second nature and he is not bound by any qualms of morality.  This often gives him an edge in situations.

The ship sets sail.  After a promising start things start to go awry.  The ship is trapped in the frigid waters of the Artic long after it should have left.  The crew become surly and unsure of what the captain's plans are.  When a crime occurs onboard, it leads to open rebellion and the acrimony between Sumner and Drax comes to a head.  Which man will be successful?

The North Water has been long-listed for the 2016 Mann Booker prize.  It has been recommended by writers such as Hilary Mantel, Martin Amis and Ron Rash.  McGuire grew up in Hull, England and studied at the University of Manchester and the University of Virginia.  He is widely regarded as a rising star in British writing.  Readers will be swept up in the drama of whaling and the age-old fight between good and evil.  This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

The Manderly Resort is the newest luxury hotel, only days away from its opening.  It's been built by a millionaire, Charles Destin,  who is determined to spare nothing in luxury and security.  That command is carried out by a legion of employees.  There is Henri, the chef, who is a master at his job but tempermental. Franklin oversees general details but is lazy and a prankster.   There are Jules and Justin, former caterers who came to work at the hotel when their catering firm collasped.   There are maids and sous chefs and gardeners and security employees.  Overseeing it all is Tessa, an architect at heart who put that aside to run massive projects like the opening of the Manderly.  Then there is Brian, a man from her past who shows up on this most deadly day.

But something is very wrong.  Someone is determined that the Manderly will never open; that its name will conjure up images of horror instead of luxury and a resort from all daily cares.  That someone has employed a team of killers who are stalking the hotel floor by floor, killing everyone they encounter.  The hotel is so large that no one sees or finds the bodies as the killers make their way throughout the building.  There are secret elevators and security cameras everywhere but none of that makes a difference.  Who, if anyone, will survive?

Gina Wohlsdorf has written a stunning debut novel.  The writing is terse and cuts between scenes like a camera on automatic shutter speed.  The reader is not sure where to pay attention or even who is telling the story.  The tension builds quickly with one after the other falling prey to the killers.  Along with the suspense and horror, a love story unfolds.  That shouldn't work in this setting, but does.  This book screams out for a transfer to movie.  It is recommended for thriller and horror readers.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Monster's Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

In 1901 during the Boer War, a doctor at a British war camp in South Africa experiments on Boer prisoners, hoping to create a master race.  He creates many sad births of children who die soon after, most horribly deformed.  But he does create two children who survive.  Tessa and Ben both manage to escape the camp by various means.  Tessa is raised by a loving family while Ben survives a harsh orphanage.  They meet in school and become friends.

Fast forward to 1910.  Alet Berg is a young police officer, sent to a remote village after her shining debut ends in disgrace.  Anyone else would have been fired but she is the daughter of one of the most powerful police officers in the country and is given a chance to redeem herself.  The small village doesn't suit Alet at all, who longs for action.  Instead she is in a place where an occasional car wreck or lost cattle makes up the daily routine.

Then there is a murder.  An elderly woman, Theresa, has been found killed and burned.  Alet is excited to try to solve the case but nothing makes sense.  She can't find out anything about Theresa's background, at least nothing that makes sense.  Alet is friends with Theresa's daughter, Tillie, but even Tillie knows almost nothing about her mother.  As Alet doggedly digs into the past, she uncovers evidence of a serial killer who seems to have been killing for decades; a case her father never managed to solve.  Is there a connection between the serial killer and what has happened to Theresa?  Could Theresa be someone else entirely, connected to Tessa?

Michelle Pretorius's debut novel is making waves and it should.  It is an interesting mix of South African politics, police procedural and science fiction.  It highlights the fact that whenever there is a power differential, those on the side with power will do anything to try to retain it, but that over time, power will shift and those who performed systematic crimes will be brought to justice.  It is a complex story, told through the filter of racism and politics, that will enthrall the reader and that highlights Pretorius's debut as an exciting new author.  This book is recommended for readers of mysteries as well as those of historical fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, August 1, 2016

Busy, busy month!  After returning from a trip to Boston, we were home for two weeks, then off for a week at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  It is a beautiful place for a family vacation.   The beaches are wide and inviting and not overcrowded.  There is plenty of shopping and restaurants but the traffic is not that bad.  We'll be back.  On the way back, I got caught in an hour and a half delay on the interstate and my car's air conditioner decided not to work while I was stopped.  So after getting blown off by the dealer (this same thing happened last summer and I reported it then also), we went out and bought a new Hyundai Sonata Sport!  It's a lovely color and has all the technology anyone could want.  Of course, we're still getting ready for our daughter's move to University of South Carolina in two and a half weeks.  I read four books at the beach and have finished a book every day since I came back.  I just don't go out much in this heat and humidity.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Some Luck, Jane Smiley, literary fiction, purchased
2.  Early Warning, Jane Smiley, literary fiction, purchased
3.  Golden Age, Jane Smiley, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Dancing With The Tiger, Lili Wright, thriller, sent by publisher
5.  Harmony, Carolyn Parkhurst, literary fiction, sent by publisher
6.  The Hike, Drew Magary, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  With Love From The Inside, Angela Pisel, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8.  The Sixth Idea, P.J. Tracy, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  A Red Dotted Line, Simon Gervais, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  The Judas Game, Ethan Cross, thriller, sent by publisher
11.  Carousel Court, Joe McGinniss, Jr., literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Madame Presidentess, historical fiction, sent by publisher
13.  The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller, women's lit, sent by publisher
14.  My Name Is Leon, Kit De Waal, literary fiction, sent by publisher
15.  How To Party With An Infant, Kaui Hart Hemmings, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
2.  The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3.  The Monster's Daughter, Michelle Pretorius, hardback
4.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
5.  Under The Harrow
, Flynn Barry, paperback
6.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio
7.  We That Are Left, Clare Clark, hardback

8.  The Storm-Runners, T. Jefferson Parker, hardback
9.  Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall

The year is 1854 and as usual, Didier Rain is broke and desperate for work.  He doesn't understand how such a cultured man could have such bad luck or why he can't write the perfect poem that will make his fame and fortune.  No matter, something always turns up and that holds true in this case.  Rain is hired by a religious group to deliver a baby who is the chosen bride of a religious sect called the Church Of Restructured Truth.  Rain is not sure about his ability to travel hundreds of miles with a baby, but the money is good so he's game.

The road ahead is perilous, going through forests, mountains, deserts and populated with all kinds of wild animals.  There are also unfriendly Indians, hard men who live on stealing from travelers and many other dangers.  But Rain and Virtue press on.

This is an interesting tale that combines history, magic realism, violence, satire and just plain enjoyment for the reader.  Rain is one of the worst villains yet has a heart of gold.  He tries to do the right thing and it's hardly his fault if it all goes badly, is it?  Readers must be able to suspend disbelief in time as the baby becomes a woman by the end of the trip which covers only a few months, but their suspension of belief is rewarded with a fascinating, ribald tale that entertains and illustrates. It received the Editor's Choice award from the Historical Novel Society.   This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in an entertaining tale.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell

The year is 1965 and twelve year old Alek Dunahew has been sent to spend the summer with his grandmother, Alma DeGeer Dunahew in the small rural town, West Table, Missouri.  Tucked in the Ozarks, West Table is the kind of small rural town where everyone knows everyone and its hard to keep a secret.  Life is often hard and jobs are scarce.  There is food enough but it's plain food, vegetables from the garden and meat from animals you raised yourself or spent time hunting and fishing.

Alma isn't a kind, cuddly grandmother.  She is a small, rangy woman, full of old grievances and sure that those around her are no better than they should be.  Alma has spent time in the mental hospital a few times, once for several years.  The mother of three boys, she is the only one left in West Table and her boys are long gone.  She is stuck in the past and determined to make sure Alek knows about the great wrong done to their family.

Alma's mind is focused on 1929.  That was when her beloved sister, Ruby, was one of the forty-two people killed in a dance hall explosion and fire.  That kind of tragedy in a small town is overwhelming.  Everyone knew someone and most had a relative who died.  What caused the fire?  Was it an accident?  Were the mobsters who visited town after dark involved or the preacher who stood outside predicting hellfire for those who spent their evenings dancing and flirting?  Was it something darker?  Over the summer, Alma tells the story slowly to Alek, letting him in on the town's secrets she knows and the way she believes the fire happened.  Is she right or has grief unhinged her on this subject?  Each reader must make their own determination.

Daniel Woodrell is considered one of the South's greatest writers.  He has won awards such as the 2014 Heartland Award in fiction and had a book made into a movie.  He coined the phrase 'country noir' to describe the kind of stories he tells, of small town America where life is not rosy and no one's secrets are that hidden.  The unwinding of Alma's secrets leaves an impression in a reader's mind that won't soon be forgotten.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes

Dr. Alice Quentin is a forensic psychologist in London.  She has just started a new job, heading up a department in a top drawer psychological consulting firm.  That would be challenging enough but she is immediately drawn away by the police to consult on a baffling case.

Dr. Clare Riodan and her twelve year old son, Mikey, have been kidnapped while on a morning run.  Mikey managed to escape but the trauma of the ordeal has left him mute.  The police desperately need to know what he knows in order to try to find his mother.  As the case progresses, it turns out that Dr. Riodan, an expert in blood diseases such as hemophilia and leukemia, is only the latest in a series of abductions.  Several other blood disease doctors have also been abducted; two have been found dead.

Adding to the tension, Alice and the commanding officer of the investigation are involved in a personal relationship.  Burns wants a commitment but Alice is leery.   She doesn't let herself get involved with others.

It becomes apparent that the abductions and murders are somehow tied to a governmental/medical scandal of the 1980's.  The government purchased blood from abroad to make up a deficit and that blood had not been adequately tested as HIV and other diseases like Hepatitis C were not mainstream issues yet.  Thousands of patients were given this tainted blood and developed fatal diseases.  An investigation into the matter ended up with the government refusing to take responsibility and the victims getting only a nominal monetary settlement.  Alice believes that the killers are somehow tied to this scandal.  Can she and Burns solve the case before Clare is the next death?

This is the fourth novel in the Alice Quentin series.  Kate Rhodes does extensive research for each novel and this one is especially near to her.  Her own husband was one of the victims of this scandal, receiving blood that gave him hepatitis C.  Readers will learn about this medical subject along with an intriguing mystery.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Don't Look Behind You by Ann Rule

Ann Rule was one of the most famous authors in true crime.  She gained fame when she published her book, The Stranger Beside Me, about her life during the time she worked with and knew the infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy.  She started as a police officer but when she failed an eye test and had to leave the police, she turned to writing.  She wrote multiple true-crime books, typically writing two books a year.  One would focus on a single case while the other would be a compilation of various true crime cases centered around a theme.  Don't Look Behind You is one of the latter.  It focuses on cases that were solved or investigated many years after someone went missing.

The first case is that of Joe Tarricone.  Joe was an extrovert, a salesman who could sell anything and was a wanderer, always off to a new location and the next big deal.  After many years of marriage and seven children, his long-suffering wife refused to move with him on his constant search for adventure and wealth.  They divorced and the family stayed in New Mexico while Joe took off to Alaska and Washington.  The family was surprised when they didn't hear from him and that surprise turned to uneasiness and then fear as the separation grew longer.  They began to search for him and found that he had fallen in love with a young woman although she insisted she had no idea where he was or what had happened to him.  Decades went by without a clue then an ominous discovery finally led to the unraveling of the mystery.

The other large case is that of Robert Hansen and his wife Joann.  Hansen was known in his area as one of the meanest men around.  His wife Joann turned from a beautiful, vivacious woman to a terrified individual after marrying Hansen.  He beat both she and their children, beating a child from her first marriage so severely that Joann gave up custody of the child to her ex-husband to save his life.  After years of punishment, she decided to divorce and found the strength to leave.  Unfortunately, that was the last anyone saw of Joann.  She vanished and although the entire town suspected that Robert had killed her, he was never brought to justice.  He was even considered a leading suspect in the Green River killings but police never managed to tie him successfully to a crime.

What makes Rule so successful is that the reader feels that she is a true advocate for those who find themselves confronted with evil.  She spent her life around law enforcement, studying the procedures and getting to know those who solved various crimes.  Her empathy for the victims and the innocent bystanders make her books stand out.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Q&A With Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's last book, The Fever, took the literary world by storm when it was released. It won The International Thrillers Award and the Strand Critics Award.  It was also chosen as one of the best books of the year by Amazon, the Los Angeles Time, National Public Radio and the Boston Globe.   Her newest novel, You Will Know Me, has just been released and buzz is everywhere.

I'll be reading and reviewing this book in the near future.  Until then, here's an interview with Abbott:

What was the inspiration for You Will Know Me?
I’ve always been interested in families of prodigies. How power operates in those families, how ambition does. Then, during the London Olympics four years ago, I saw this video of the parents of American gymnast Aly Raisman watching their daughter’s uneven bar routine and it kind of blew me away. They were so invested in it, so connected to her. They moved as she moved. They knew every beat of the performance. The footage went viral and the response to it was tricky. Some people found it funny, others found it problematic and there was some finger pointing. I think we all struggle with how invested parents should be in their children’s development, but with exceptionally talented children, all that is thrown into high relief.
I could just feel the book taking shape after that. How does that kind of intense focus on a child’s talent affect a marriage, for instance? What about siblings? And families in general fascinate me—the place of the greatest darkness and the greatest light.

You are known for writing shockingly accurate portrayals of teen angst and an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of teen girls. Why are you so drawn to this subject matter?
In some ways because teen girls are still so often dismissed or condescended to. But every woman I know is haunted in some ways by their teen years, by the choices they made then and the way they crafted their identity and developed their sense of self.
And, as a writer, it’s such rich terrain. Everything is in such high relief during those years. All the big emotions of life seem to storm through us every day. When I remember myself at that age, it was like my nerve endings were all exposed. It’s when you’re both at your most curious (and, potentially, risk-taking) and also at your most vulnerable—especially to disillusionment. And when you’re a mom, like the main character in You Will Know Me, you’re in some ways living through it all again through your daughter, which is incredibly complicated.

You Will Know Me is a bit of a departure in that it focuses more on the parents’ perspective. Why did you choose to shift gears in this way?
My last book, The Fever, had three viewpoints, one of whom was the father of two teens, and I really loved it. Exploring the gap between how parents view their teens and how teens view themselves, and vice versa. But it seemed thrillingly different in the case of You Will Know Me. Katie, the protagonist, is so close to her daughter, Devon, because of the way the family has circled itself around Devon’s extraordinary talent. And that closeness fascinates me.
At what point does your child become a stranger to you? Because all children need to break apart from you to become themselves, but is it slower to happen in the case of a prodigy? A case when the parent, like Katie, is so tied up in her daughter’s everyday life?

What research did you do into the world of uber-competitive youth gymnastics when writing You Will Know Me?
Gymnast memoirs were a huge help. I read almost every one I could get my hands on. Both the flag-waving sports ones and the tougher ones too, the exposés. The one that had the biggest impact for me was Nadia Comaneci’s Letters to a Young Gymnast, which is a brilliant book on many levels (foremost her strong voice), and is such a keen distillation of what seems a pure, fire-hardened ambition. I also talked to former gymnasts and had one of them read the manuscript.
And, I confess, watching a lot of YouTube, and diving into online chat rooms, especially those devoted to parents of gymnasts. But the book’s title comes from Nadia, who tells her reader, “I don’t know you, but you will know me.” What could be more enticing to a reader?

What did you learn about this world that surprised you?
Everything! I became very fixated on the mental control and struggles the gymnasts faced. How much it is a head game. And then the sport’s impact on girls’ developing bodies. It is not a universal experience, but for many girls it halts their adolescence in certain ways, or it threatens to, and this prospect fascinated me and worked its way into the novel. Your body is both your greatest gift and your worst enemy. Maybe we all feel that, in a way.

Have any gymnasts or parents of youth athletes read and responded to You Will Know Me yet?
I’ve had a few early gymnast readers who’ve been very supportive. In particular, they’ve responded to the parent-booster culture in the book, the way parents invest in a gym and insert themselves into gym politics. The hothouse environment that the parent viewing area can take on. Or, “gym drama,” as it’s called. Which seems to have all the hallmarks of a great reality TV show, or a Shakespearean play.

After being so close to this world while researching and writing You Will Know Me, will you view the Olympics in Rio this year through a different lens?
I love watching gymnastics and this book reflects a love of, and immense respect for, the sport and the art. But in the end, I think the book is more about family and parent love than gymnastics, so probably my eyes will be more on the families than in past years. More on what it takes for a family to help make an Olympic medalist.

You’re working on TV scripts for your novels Dare Me (for HBO) and The Fever (for TNT). What is it like to adapt your own work for the small screen?
As much as people like to say that TV is the new novel, the two are so very different. By the time you sell it, it’s changed so much from the book—the world has gotten so much larger, you’ve had to create ways to make the story possibilities expand indefinitely—you lose all vanity about your own book. Instead, it’s something entirely new. But the biggest difference is how collaborative it is. Writing a novel, until the last stretch, is utterly solitary. Writing for TV is a cacophony of voices. Sometimes noisy, but never, ever lonely!

You recently joined the writing staff of David Simon’s (“The Wire”) new HBO drama “The Deuce.” How does that work differ from writing a novel? How did your career in fiction inform your work in the writers’ room? When can we see “The Deuce?”
Different in every way. I’d say apples and oranges, but maybe it’s more like apples and a large, cunning mountain lion! As collaborative as developing your work for TV is, being on staff for a show in production is a thousand times more so. You’re there to help in every way you can to bring the showrunners’ ideas to life. I think there are so many crime novelists writing for TV now because we bring a certain facility with plotting, but in the end what’s most exciting in the writers’ room is how different everyone is, how differently we see the world, and yet how we all value the same things: character, story, meaning.
And “The Deuce,” which stars James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, will be on HBO next year. I’ve seen the pilot, and it’s incredible.

Do you have time to work on another book with all of your TV project in the works? What’s next and when from Megan Abbott?

Somehow, I do! I have a new novel in the works called Give Me Your Hand, which will come out in 2018, I think. It’s about two ambitious female scientists who share a secret from their past. Very Hitchcock-inspired, this one.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

Fans of Jo Nesbo and his flawed detective, Oslo Police Inspector Harry Hole, will be thrilled to read this first entry in the series.  Harry is sent to Australia to help investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman there.  Unsaid is the fact that the police in Oslo are sending Harry to evaluate his fitness as he has just been involved in a major scandal.  Is he worth retrieving for his brilliant mind and ability to close cases others can't or is he just too much of a risk?

Hole is told by the Australian police that he is there to observe and just add an international flavor to the investigation.  He is paired with an Australian detective, Andrew Kensington, who is also considered to be a detective who works outside the system.  Andrew is one of the first Aboriginal detectives and introduces Harry to the non-tourist Sydney, one of boxers, prostitutes, circus performers, alcoholic natives and other characters living on the fringe.

As the case progresses, Harry realizes that this murder is not a stand-alone but one in a series of murders of blonde women.  There appears to be a serial killer at work, one who has gone unnoticed and undetected for his string of murders.  Harry and Andrew set to work, although in unconventional ways.  Along the way, we discover more of Harry's backstory and are dismayed to see him starting the pattern of resorting to an alcoholic spree that threatens to end his career.

Those who read the Harry Hole books are seldom content with reading just one.  Harry is one of the most interesting detective characters in the genre, a flawed man with a talent for detection but none for making his own life a success.  Readers cheer for him while knowing that despair and drink are probably in the works.  This first novel in the series outlines the broad strokes of the series that are later refined as Harry emerges as a character.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

At sixteen, Tessa Cartwright's life is irrevocably changed.  She is found in a field with a recently killed girl and the bones of several others.  Around them is a field full of black eyed susans and the girls are forever after known as the Susans.  The police soon arrest a man and Tessa's testimony helps put him on death row.

So much was taken from her that night.  Her ability to trust others.  Her sight for many months as her brain refused to see anything more.  Even her best friend as they fought bitterly over the trial and the part each played in it.

Now it is eighteen years later.  The man on death row is about to be executed.  Tessa has carved out a life for herself as a builder of other's ideas.  She has a daughter of her own who she loves fiercely.  And she wonders if the killer is not safely on death row but still stalking her.  There are signs that he is still on the prowl and interested in her and her daughter.

Desperate to determine if her earlier testimony was right, she turns to the lawyers fighting to exonerate the man about to die for the Black Susan murders.  She agrees after all these years to undergo hypnosis and to reveal her drawings created right after her rescue.  Will this give the lawyers enough ammunition to stop the execution?  If the wrong man is imprisoned, will this make him determined to finish the job he didn't complete all those years ago?

Julia Heaberlin has written a fast-paced, thrilling story of a long-ago crime and the fallout of that act.  Tessa is a believable heroine, determined to do what is right but unable to even trust her own memory.  The reader is drawn along cheering for Tessa and determined to find out what happened all those years ago.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Throw Away Girls by Jennifer Vaughn

Someone is stalking the sex clubs of Los Angeles.  The ones that test the edges, where pain and pleasure are intertwined.  Three women have been found dead in these clubs, a message that calls them Throw Away Girls left in their blood.

Jaycee Wilder, a local news correspondent, starts covering the case.  At first she sees it as a vehicle to spur her career upward, but she soon becomes emphatic with the victims.  While they died following a dangerous path, they were more than their sexuality.  They were daughters, mothers, teachers and were felled at the height of their youth and beauty.

Jaycee becomes determined to catch the killer.  She forms an attachment with the lead detective, Barton and hopes to use him to get exclusives and leads to her own investigation.  Barton warns her against trying to investigate.  Her boyfriend, Van, and her cameraman, Ben, also try to dissuade her but Jaycee is adamant.  She is determined to uncover the serial killer who is taking the lives of Los Angeles women.  But as she's been warned, this is a dangerous path.  With her public coverage of the case, she soon is in the killer's focus and he starts a deadly cat and mouse game with her.  Can Jaycee uncover the killer before he makes her his next victim?

Jennifer Vaughn is a well-known newscaster in New England, the recipient of many awards and several Emmy nominations.  She knows the world of a TV reporter inside and out and that expertise is clear in the novel.  Readers will emphasize with Jaycee as she learns to look beyond her own ambition to helping those without a voice.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Booksie's Shelves, July 13, 2016

Summer is here in full swing, with heat and humidity to spare.  It's good weather for staying inside and reading.  We've just returned from a trip up north (Massachusetts) for a week and getting ready for a trip to Hilton Head Island soon.  In between, preparations go on for our college freshman to move out in August.  I'm in the midst of a lot of books and of course, more have arrived.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, literary fiction, library
2.  Girl In The Afternoon, Serena Burdick, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler, fantasy, sent by publisher
4.  White Bone, Ridley Pearson, thriller, sent by publisher
5.  Making A Killing, John Hart, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  The Runaway Wife, Elizabeth Birkelund, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Maid's Version, Daniel Woodrell, Kindle Fire
2.  The Man In The Monster, Martha Elliot, Kindle
3.  A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin, hardback
4.  The Lore Of The Evermen, James Maxwell, audio
5.  Throw-Away Girls, Jennifer Vaughn, paperback
6.  The Bird Eater, Ania Ahlborn, audio

7.  Delivering Virtue, Brian Kindall, paperback

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

They have lived their lives in anticipation.  There are four Plumb children and each has taken a different path through life.  Leo is the eldest and is a charming, manipulative man who made a fortune early in his career with an online magazine that was a path breaker.  Jack runs an antique store and has recently married his longtime partner, Walker.  Bea is an author who showed great early promise but has produced nothing in years.  Melody is the baby and lives the most conventional life with her family in the suburbs.  She has twins who are about to head off to college and they consume all her energies.

In the background of each life was always 'the nest'.  This is their nickname for the trust that their father left.  It will be paid out when Melody turns forty and they have all planned their lives around the substantial amount each will get then.  No matter what poor decisions they might make, they rested easy in the knowledge that the nest was there to save them.

Then disaster occurs.  An event happens that depletes the nest and each person is now thrown back on their own devices.  They must decide if they will pull together as a family in a new way or each go off on a separate path, alone.  The loss redefines each person, highlighting mistakes yet freeing them from past expectations.

Sweeney has written an engaging tale that follows the life paths of the four siblings.  The family interactions play out along with the typical life choices that define each person's life.  Each individual's character is tested as they must change their life plans to accommodate a new reality.  This book is recommended for family relationship readers.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

I've wanted to read Bonnie Jo Campbell for several years now.  She is considered one of the strongest voices in new American authors, and documents the poorer side of American society.  The people she writes about are not the soccer moms or the wealthy country club set.  Instead, she writes of those who work blue collar jobs when they can get them, who grab what joy they can find in the world regardless of opinion, and those whose lives often don't work out as they had hoped.

In this anthology of sixteen stories, Campbell explores what it means to be a woman from all sides.  There are stories about a pregnant woman at her shower worrying about how to safeguard her new baby and one about a woman who has been a caretaker to her elderly parents for a decade and who is now exploring life on her own.  One woman thinks a stray dog is her ex-boyfriend come back to try to make things right.  One woman finds love in her sixties long after she thought all chance of romance was over.

In the title story, Campbell makes this statement about the relationship between mothers and daughters:

'You should've had a daughter of your own.  That would've been a bone for you to chew on all your life.  I guarantee, though, you wouldn't win any award for raising a daughter.  Hell, if had a daughter, she'd probably admire me, for my toughness and the way I like to laugh and party, for the way I've never given up, for my knowing how to break horses and grow vegetables and bale hay, and the way I overlook nonsense and small troubles.  If you'd had a daughter, you'd be more forgiving of what people do.  You think I've failed you, Sis?  Well, my ma failed me, too.  She let herself get locked in the nuthouse.  And you would've failed your own daughter if you had one.  That's women's studies.'

Every mother alive recognizes herself in these words.  We all have such high hopes when we have children but we all fail our children in some ways.  If we're tough and raise independent children, we were too unemotional.  If we are totally supportive and involved, we're spoiling our child.  No matter how many things you do, your child will always remember the one you forgot to do.  Yet even when we feel we fail, we are the touchstone for our children and how they view society.  Campbell is a master of exploring this territory of how women fit into the world and their families.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.