Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Booksie's shelves, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving has rolled around.  Everyone on Facebook is writing this month about all the things they are thankful for.  I have a lot to add to this list.  I have a wonderful family, with a husband who has stuck with me through thick and thin for forty-two years and a beautiful daughter in her senior year.  My son and his lovely wife have four gorgeous children, my grandchildren.  We are all healthy.  I also have the luxury of being retired and doing as I please.  That means lots of reading which has been my favorite activity since I was a child.  Publishers and authors help me feed my habit and I'm thankful for them also.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Fox And The Star, Coralie Bickford-Smith, children's book, sent by publisher
2.  Written On My Heart, Morgan Callan Rogers, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Song Of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons, historical fiction, sent by publisher
4.  A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding, Jackie Copleton, historical fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Year Of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, memoir, sent by publisher
6.  Boston Harbor Murders, James Mullen, mystery, sent by author
7.  If You're Lucky, Yvonne Prinz, Young Adult, sent by publisher
8.  The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club, historical fiction, sent by publisher
9.  The Precious Ones, Marisa De Los Santos, literary fiction, sent for book tour
10.  Food Whore, Jessica Tom, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  The Muralist, B.A. Shapiro, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  The Last Witness, Denzil Meyrick, mystery, sent by publisher
13.  The Ramblers, Aidan Rowley, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
2.  A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, Will Chancellor, Kindle
3.  A Banquet Of Consequences, Elizabeth George, hardback
4.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
5.  The Silent Girls, Eric Rickstad, Kindle Fire
6.  Identity, Ingrid Thoft, paperback
7.  Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio

Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Fox And The Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

If you are looking for an absolutely charming picture book for a toddler or younger child, look no further.  The Fox And The Star tells the story of a scared, lonely little fox who is terrified of the forest he lives in and who has no friends.  At least, no friends except one.  When he looks up at night, he has one friend, a star that shines brilliantly and gives him the courage to navigate his environment.

When the star disappears, the fox is distraught.  After mourning, he finds the courage to go looking for his friend.  The story of his search and the wonderful ending he finds are wonderful fare for little ones to hear.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous and readers will enjoy each page.  They are mostly black and white with wonderful vibrant orange and red to make the pictures pop.  This is a book that young readers will reach for again and again and it is highly recommended.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Our Times, The Age Of Elizabeth II by A.N. Wilson

A.N. Wilson is an English writer and commentator.  He has written a series of books explaining Britain's history, memorable biographies as well as a series of fiction novels.  This book, Our Times, covers the time period from the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 to the present.  While it is set during her reign, this is not a biography of the Queen and in fact she is not even a main focus of the book.

The focus is a wide survey of all that makes up Britain.  Each political faction and leader is portrayed, with their rise to fame and their accomplishments and shortcomings explored.  The book also covers other areas of British life.  Britain's role on the world stage is covered as well as its waning influence in world affairs.  The economic life of the country is explored with a realization that the country is currently in better shape than the years after the World Wars when Britain was brought to poverty by the enormous amount of money and lives that it took to be victorious.  The loss of the colonies and the end of the British Empire has occurred.

There are chapters that explore the Irish rebellion and the world of the IRA.  Unions and the breaking of the coal miners strike is a topic covered in depth.  There are chapters on literature, the rise of rock music, the changing sexual mores and women's liberation.  The changes that have occurred with the rise of immigrants from Middle Eastern and Asian countries is covered.  The book ends with a highly relevant look at the rise of militant Islam and how it will affect all our lives going forward.  Although the book is focused on the period of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the royal family is not a main focus, although there is a chapter on the story of Princess Charles and Princess Diana.

As an American, it is interesting to see how the English view their world and the world around them.  The focus is not on America, but the inevitable influence of the American culture is discussed in depth.  We don't come off that well, but then again, A.N. Wilson seems to not think that well of anyone.  His sharp, witty exposure of various persons and their motivations for their actions on the world stage is cutting and sometimes malicious.

A.N. Wilson was educated at Oxford.  Although he was originally focused on joining the religious life, he later became an atheist and spent thirty years mocking religion.  In his later years he has returned to religion and now uses his sharp pen to jab those who are against religion.  His writing has won accolades.  In 1988, he won the Whitbread Award for best biography and has written biographies on C.S. Lewis, Walter Scott, Hilaire Bellloc, Tolstoy and Iris Murdoch.  This book is part of a three part history of Britain.  The others in the trilogy are The Victorians and After The Victorians.  This book is recommended for history readers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Life And Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

Don't get in a comparison match with Libby Miller for the worst day ever.  Libby visits her doctor and finds out that the tumor she just had removed was not benign as he expected, but instead is a fast-growing aggressive cancer.  He estimates that she has six months.  When she goes home to be comforted by her husband, Tom, whom she has loved since high school, he blurts out the news that he is in therapy because he is pretty sure he is gay. 

Reeling from the news, Libby is not sure what to do.  Her mother died of cancer when she and her twin brother, Paul, were ten, and she is determined not to put her brother and father through that misery again.  She decides she will not do treatment, but will instead live for as long as she feels healthy, then end things before they get bad.  She divorces Tom, sells her furniture and apartment, then flies off to Puerto Rico after her father tells her that he and her mother visited there and it was the happiest time of their lives.

While in the Caribbean, she meets several people who start to change her mind.  Her landlord, Milagros, is a vibrant woman in her sixties with a unique view on life.  Shiloh, the pilot who flew her charter to the island, becomes a lover and friend.  Each encourages her to fight for her life and when Paul flies down, he makes the third person who is determined to change Libby's mind.  Will she give up to spare her friends and family the agony of watching her fight, or do her best to beat the cancer?

Camille Pagan has created a heroine in Libby whom readers will not soon forget.  As a cancer survivor, I was very hesitant to read this book, but it is utterly positive and charming and leaves the reader with much to think about.  What do we owe those who surround us and are we ever better to be self-centered?  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in relationships.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Great news for Deborah Harkness fans!  On Tuesday, November 17th, Penguin is releasing a free, e-book only, richly illustrated real-time reading guide  that brings to life the world created by Deborah Harkness in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, retracing the events of these two bestselling novels with illuminating behind-the-scenes details and real-life events that figure into the books. It’s available for pre-order now.

The All Souls Trilogy began with A Discovery of Witches and continued with Shadow of Night. Now, as The Book of Life has brought Deborah Harkness’s #1 New York Times bestselling trilogy to its conclusion, re-immerse yourself in the enchanting fantasy world she has created and enrich your experience of the heart-stopping finale.

Deborah's next novel is coming in 2017 and is also set in the All Souls Universe.  It's called The Serpent's Mirror.  You can read about it here  Lots of excitement in the All Souls world!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Dangerous Age by Ellen Gilchrist

The attacks on 9-11 changed things for most Americans.  In this novel, Ellen Gilchrist explores how things change in the lives of several women, all cousins, after this time in our country's history.  The Hand family has been through several wars in their long history.  This generation has strong females and most are affected in some way.

There is Olivia, who has Cherokee blood mixed with the Southern blood of the Hands.  Olivia is a newspaper editor in Oklahoma, too busy for love and marriage.  That all changes when she meets Bobby, marries him and becomes pregnant.  He is in the military but safely in the States, where he flies drones whose actions take place overseas.  He takes information from those on the ground and finds and targets insurgents.  Louise is married to a recruiter who travels the country talking to young men and women and persuading them to consider joining the Army.  Winnie meets and marries a wounded soldier, several years younger than herself but someone she feels a connection with instantly.

There are other cousins, like Tallulah, who is a tennis coach on the college circuit.  There are fathers and grandparents, a whole web of family that encircles the cousins.  But this is their story, how they live their lives, find love and start families and how they deal with war.  What is it?  Is it ever an appropriate response?  What does a country do when attacked?  Each of the women must work through their own thoughts and ideals to determine how they feel about the war and the degree to which being married to a military man affects their outlook.  This book is recommended for those interested in strong family relationships and those interested in reading about how events affect those who live through them.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

"Our private lives are like a colony of worlds expanding, contracting, breathing universal air into separate knowledges.  Or like several packs of cards shuffled together by an expert anonymous hand, and dealt out in a random, amused way."
--Gregory Maguire, After Alice

In this novel released 150 years after the publication of Alice In Wonderland, Gregory Maguire gives us a further look into the world of Alice, Oxford and the wonders that surround us that we aren't aware of.  While there are characters from the original such as Alice herself, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen, the Mad Hatter and the rabbit, there are also many new characters through whose eyes we see what transpired that day that Alice fell down the rabbit hole.

There is Alice's big sister, Lydia, charged with watching over her but much more concerned with her newly maturing outlook on life at fifteen.  When Alice disappears, she tends to be blase, sure that Alice will eventually reemerge.  There is Ada, Alice's best friend, who also falls down the rabbit hole while searching for her friend.  There are many other characters such as Siam, an escaped slave boy from America, Miss Armstrong the governess and Mr. Winter who has helped Siam escape and has brought him to England.

We also get a glimpse of Oxford in the 1860's.  It is a rigid world started to have its strictures broken by the explosion of new scientific breakthroughs.  Charles Darwin plays a part in the story and we also see the social boundaries between servant and master and between the genders start to stretch and become a bit more flexible.

Maguire is interested in beginnings and in how something may not be what it seems but what is needed at the moment.  There are themes of being lost and then found and of myriad starts and stops as a new trail is forged and new understandings are reached.  All are served up with a liberal dose of the whimsy and humor found in the original novel.  This novel is recommended for Gregory Maguire fans, fans of the original Alice and readers ready for some lighthearted fun.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pig Island by Mo Hayder

Joe Oakes and Malachi Dove have known each other for years but the relationship was never a pleasant one.  Joe is a journalist and he investigated Malachi and his cult in its early days.  Malachi got into Joe's head and he barely escaped with his sanity.  But Joe's article made the American Southwest too uncomfortable for Dove, and he and his followers disappeared.

Now Joe has a lead on Dove.  It's rumored that he is the person behind the secretive cult on Pig Island off the western coast of Scotland.  Not that people have seen him.  No one sees the people on the island.  There is just one supply boat that comes to the mainland occasionally.  But people are getting curious and very uneasy. There are rumors of Satanic rituals.  A video has been leaked that shows a humanoid figure with a tail lurching through the undergrowth.  Joe's editor wants someone to find out what is going on, and Joe sees a chance for a book and to settle his score once and for all with Malachi.

Joe is given permission to visit the island.  Once there, he finds a small group of people, no more than thirty or so and deep divisions between them.  No one wants to talk about Malachi and no one wants to hear about the figure in the video.  In fact, it's pretty obvious that no one wants Joe there at all.  Before he leaves, he sets loose an evil that destroys everything in its path.  Joe barely escapes, taking Dove's daughter, who has never seen civilization, with him.  But the evil follows Joe, as it is rumored that Malachi also escaped.  Who will win the ultimate showdown between the two men?

Hayder is one of the finest crime/suspense novelists currently working. Her series about Detective Inspector Jack Caffery is regarded as one of the premier series available.   This is a stand-alone novel but it will give the reader uneasy nights and plenty of surprises along the way.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, October 27, 2015

Somehow October is almost at the end, having raced by.  Summer has finally departed and the leaves are turning and putting on their annual show.  I've been fairly quiet the last month with a cold that took a couple of weeks to shake and some oral surgery.  All the college applications for my senior daughter are in and now we wait to find out where she will go next year.  Regardless of season, reading goes on.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Wait For Signs, Craig Johnson, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Give Us This Day, Tom Avitabile, suspense, sent by publisher
3.  Host, Robin Cook, suspense, sent by publisher
4.  Front Runner, Felix Francis, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  An Apprentice To Elves, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, fantasy, sent by publisher
6..  After Alice, Gregory Maguire, fantasy, sent for book tour
7.  Life And Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagan, literary fiction, sent for book tour
8.  Warrior Of Fate, Debra Mullins, fantasy, sent by publisher
9.  A Banquet Of Consequences, Elizabeth George, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Delivering Virtue, Brian Kindall, historical fiction, sent by author
11.  Welcome To Braggsville, T. Geronimo Johnson, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Robot Universe, Ana Matronic, nonfiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
2.  A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, Will Chancellor, Kindle
3.  A Dangerous Age, Ellen Gilchrist, paperback
4.  Our Times, A.N. Wilson, hardback
5.  The Moral Lives Of Animals, Dale Peterson, hardback
6.  Pig Island, Mo Hayden, Kindle Fire
7.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
8.  Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio

Read and be safe!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Plus One by Christopher Noxon

Alex Sherman-Zicklin and his wife Figgy married in Los Angeles and have been living a comfortable life with their two children.  Alex works in advertising for a nonprofit and Figgy has written treatments for several proposed series.  Then everything changes.  Figgy's latest idea is scooped up, made into a TV series, then against all odds, actually wins the Emmy.   The family is catapulted into a new lifestyle of riches and everything changes.

Suddenly, Figgy is working all the time, coming home only to collapse and rest up enough to go back.  Alex is left with all the tasks necessary to run a family and household and soon it just doesn't make sense for him to also work.  He joins the fellowship of the Plus Ones; those men whose successful wives make the money and who they rotate around like a moon around the earth.

The novel is written with a light hand, and there are many laugh out loud moments.  The Hollywood lifestyle is skewered with its depiction of an ultimate consumer culture and the liberal sensibilities that only the rich can afford.  Yet, Noxon is not just going for a cheap laugh.  His book details the ebb and flow of a long-term marriage and the constant rebalancing that any successful relationship takes to maintain.

This is a debut novel.  Christopher Noxon is not a debut author though.  He has written for publications such as Salon, GQ and the New Yorker.  He is also married to a top Hollywood writer/producer so he knows the territory he writes so entertainingly about.  The reader will be charmed by Alex and spend the novel rooting for him to win out and have a happy life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and humorous takes on life.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah is what an individual is called in Nigeria when they have lived abroad in the United States and have returned to live again in their homeland.  Ifemelu is an Americanah.  She and her first love, Obinze, are determined to leave Nigeria for the opportunities found elsewhere.  Ifemelu is able to emigrate to the United States as she has an aunt already there.  Obinze is not able to get a visa in post 9-11 America, so he ends up instead in England.

Although they plan to make a life together, events conspire to move the two apart.  Ifemelu is consumed with finding a way to become an American citizen, taking any job she can find.  She is constantly exhausted and it becomes easier and easier to neglect Obinze's letters.  Soon it is too embarrassing to try to reestablish contact and the relationship lapses.  Ifemelu finds success in the United States.  She manages to get a college education and writes a popular blog about race.

Race is a defining characteristic of life in the United States.  It is the biggest surprise for Ifemelu.  When she was living in Nigeria, no one thought about being black.  She became 'black' when she moved to the States, the first time she thought of herself in that way and realised that others were thinking of her skin color and judging her because of it.

Ifemelu's success starts to be less important to her as she starts to be drawn back to Nigeria.  She has various relationships with American men, both black and white, over the years, but her heart remains in Nigeria and she eventually returns after thirteen years abroad.  There, she sees Obinze again and must decide if she will pick up their relationship once again.

Americanah won lots of awards.  It was an Orange Prize (now Bailey's) nominee.  It was a New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year award winner, as well as a Goodreads winner, an NPR 'Great Reads' Book and a Washington Post Notable Book.  It was winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.  Readers will find themselves in a life they have probably never imagined before, that of the immigrant experience.  One of the most striking ideas is one that Americans probably never think about; that race is something that is only important in countries with many races.  It doesn't exist in the countries where everyone is the same race, although humans will always find something to separate themselves from each other.  It explores not only the immigrant experience but the lure of going back home.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tales Of A Hamptons Sailor by Nick Catalano

This is an anthology of pieces about sailing.  Much of the book concerns a sailing trip the author took through the Middle East and the various stressful encounters he had with pirates, officials who wanted bribes and military vessels from countries who were not friendly to the United States.  Another set of stories involve sailing around the Hamptons.  Many of these stories focus on those interested in the sailing life.  They are portrayed as rich men who are really just interested in a place to get drunk and chase women.  The most touching story in this section is one about the author and his father when they went fishing and capsized and had to be rescued.  Another story focuses on a Mexican resort in the midst of college spring break with all that entails.

Nick Catalano grew up in the Hamptons, son of a local family  He spent time on boats crewing on charter boats, fishing, playing jazz in local clubs and meeting the famous visitors to the area.  These stories are veiled autobiographical sketches, where he uses the fictional character Joe Pisano.  Those interested in sailing and the antics of the rich and famous will enjoy the stories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Vanished by Elizabeth Heiter

Eighteen years ago, Evelyn Baine was a twelve year old girl, living with her grandparents in a small town after fleeing her single mother's unsafe household.  Evelyn's world changed forever when The Nursey Rhyme kidnaper made her best friend, Cassie, his third victim.  None of his victims were ever found; all that remained were the rewritten nursery rhymes the kidnapper left behind to taunt the families.

Her experience changed Evelyn and set the course of her life.  Now she is one of the FBI's most highly regarded profilers.  When she hears that new victims of the Nursery Rhyme predator are being taken, she gets herself assigned to the case over the reservations of her boss.  Evelyn is determined to find the criminal this time around.  What made him start up again after so much time?  What really happened eighteen years ago?  Was Evelyn herself one of his targets all those years ago?

Potential suspects start to emerge.  There is the town pariah, a young man who was convicted elsewhere of child molestation and who returned home to live with his parents after his jail sentence was served.  There is a man in a neighboring town who has an unsettling match to Evelyn's profile and a determination to insert himself into the investigation.  There are other men who match the profile in various ways.  Evelyn must find the answer to which man is the criminal as more girls are kidnapped.  Can she overcome her past to find the solution?

This is the second in Elizabeth Heiter's Evelyn Baine series.  Fans of the TV show Criminal Minds will find this an attractive reading option.  The case is intriguing while giving readers a view into Evelyn's mind and background.  She must overcome her past while racing the clock to save the latest victims.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

Mention the Donner Party and most people know the name.  They immediately think of the cannibalism that the name has come to represent.  But Daniel James Brown thought there was more to the story and set out to give a full account of what happened and how this tragedy occurred.

It was 1846 and promises of land and a wonderful life were being publicized to the American populace.  Settlers in many states loaded up wagons and set off in groups to make the long trek to California, usually thousands of miles.  Travel was much different than today.  There were no accurate maps, no laid out roads, no grocery stores and hotels along the way.  Travelers had to carry everything they would need for a months-long trip with them.  They had to trust to sketchy maps and guidebooks that were often written by individuals who had never even made the journey.  The travelers expected that they would run into problems.  They expected hostile Indian attacks, predator animals, horrific weather and sickness and possible injury.

In that environment, days could make a trip a life or death affair.  Such was the fate of the group that became known as the Donner Party.  They left the jumping off point three weeks later than recommended and those twenty-one days doomed their expedition.  Most people have heard of the Donners, but they were just one family that were in the group that made up the party.  Another major family were the Graves, with their nine children, including Sarah, a twenty-year old woman who had married her sweetheart right before the trip.

Most people don't know any of the particulars.  They don't know that there were several camps in the party who were snowed in.  They don't know that a group left the camp and walked for weeks in the midst of winter to find help.  These men and women walked over mountains, almost barefoot and naked, lying out in the snow and icy temperatures for nights on end.  Those behind in the cabins were no better off.  They were the weaker individuals and were slowly starving.  Each group separately made the decision that most people believe they would never make.  They decided to eat human flesh in order to survive.

Daniel James Brown has written a marvelous history of this event.  He made the trip himself and can write about the sights and sounds and difficulties the travelers experienced so that the reader feels that they are actually there.  He has researched the events around the tragedy and also tells the reader what happened after the events that these individuals will forever be known for.  Most of us have no way to visualize how difficult travel was in this age, and how a moment's decision could be the difference between life and death for entire families.  The reader will finish the book with much more empathy for how the West was populated and what early settlers endured to gain a better life for their families.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Treasure Island and Emma by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Today's post is about two more books in the popular Babylit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver.  This series of board books helps babies and toddlers expand their vocabularies with words and accompanying pictures.  Adams is the author while Oliver's bright, colorful illustrations demonstrate the concepts or items named.

Treasure Island is a shapes primer.  Readers will learn about squares, stars, hearts, triangles, ovals, rectangles, crosses, diamonds, circles and crescents.  My favorites are crosses and diamonds.  The crosses illustration is a treasure map with crosses indicating the treasure.  The diamond is illustrated with a large colorful parrot whose body is composed of a diamond.

Emma is an emotions primer.  Emotions covered are those of being excited, surprised, happy, sad, bored, angry, scared, amused, tired and loved.  Each emotion is illustrated with an appropriate color and gives the name of a character from the novel.  My favorite is scared where Miss Bates is faced with a spider.  Children often don't have words for what they are feeling and this gives them the vocabulary necessary to express themselves.

This entire series is a delight.  Children learn words for the items surrounding them while getting an early exposure to the classics of literature.  The illustrations are bright and colorful, making these books a child will reach for again and again.  These are the perfect books to buy if you have a small child, or if you are looking for an appropriate gift for one.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The New World by Andrew Morton

Picking up Jim Hawkin's story after Treasure Island, Andrew Morton imagines an epic journey across the American South.  Jim and his companion, a woman named Netty, take sail with a cargo full of silver.  Their dreams of riches disappears when their boat is caught in a storm and capsized.  Miraculously, both Jim and Netty survive the shipwreck, but their relief is short-lived.  They are captured by a band of Indians, who mercilessly slaughter the other survivors and take the two hostage. In the Indian's village, Jim and Netty are imprisoned and watch helplessly as other prisoners are murdered periodically in gruesome fashion.  When their captors' guard is done, the two manage to escape and to steal the tribe's most prized possession.

Jim and Netty take off across Texas, hoping to make their way to the nearest port and find a ship back to England.  Their trip extends across several years.  In the process, they travel across deserts and impenetrable forest, and take river trips.  They live for a time with a tribe of friendly Indians, travel with a troupe of traveling entertainers, and take up with another young couple off to make their fortune.  Yet they are constantly haunted by the specter of the Indian chief whose treasure they stole and who has devoted his life to following them and retrieving his treasure.  Wherever they go and whomever they are with, their goal remains the same: to get back home to their own families.

Andrew Morton was the poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009.  His background is evident in the language that describes the frontier of the Southern United States in the mid 1840's.  The historical accuracy and insight into the plight of the Native Americans as they are pushed from their land by the explorers and settlers is keen.  Yet the reader will be delighted by the various adventures Jim and Netty encounter.  Their implacable foe, Black Cloud, is a figure that will remain in readers' minds.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in books with a literary hook.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Margaret Holloway is driving home.  Her mind is not on her drive, though.  She is consumed with thoughts about her teaching job, her family and all the things she needs to get done.  The weather is bad.  Before she knows it, Margaret is caught up in a huge pileup on the roadway.  It's one of the largest accidents ever seen in England.  

Margaret is trapped in her car.  She starts to panic as she smells and sees flames.  Just when it seems that she is doomed, a stranger arrives and breaks her window and pulls her to safety.  Margaret is fine, or so she thinks.

As the days go by, her emotions become more and more out of control.  She starts to have flashbacks of another fire she was in, maybe years ago.  She knows she has a blank spot in her childhood, a time period she knows nothing about although she has a vague memory of being in the hospital.  What happened to her all those years ago and why can't she remember?  As the days go by, Margaret starts to remember more and more pieces of what happened all those years ago.

Lisa Ballantyne has written a compelling mystery that grips the reader and doesn't let go until the end when all the pieces are tied together into a satisfying resolution.  The story is told through the eyes of different individuals: Margaret, her husband, her father, the stranger who saved her, a reporter who knows her mystery and a gang member who will commit any crime to further his family's fortunes.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Line Of Blood by Ben McPherson

When their cat goes astray, Alex Mercer consoles his eleven year old son, Max, but to no avail.  The boy searches and comes to get his father as he finds the cat in the neighbor's yard.  Father and son climb the fence to retrieve the cat but before they can, the cat disappears into the neighbor's house through an open back door.  Uneasy, they follow it in and make a gruesome discovery.  The neighbor, Bryce, is in his bath dead.  There is also an electric iron in the bath and it appears that he has committed suicide.

Alex is appalled and worried about the effects of such an event on Max.  When his wife, Millicent, comes home, they worry about what has happened and find a child psychiatrist to talk with Max.  Alex is wracked with guilt over allowing his son to see such a horrific sight.  But the horror is only starting.

Soon the police come to take statements.  It becomes apparent that they believe that the death may not be a suicide, but a murder.  They are suspicious of Alex but he isn't worried, hardly knowing the man.  Still, as the days unfold, Mercer family secrets start to emerge and it begins to seem possible that the family is involved in the death.  Alex and Millicent's marriage has been in trouble for a while.  They are fighting to stay together and to keep a family intact for Max.  But as time goes by and revelation follows revelation, it becomes more apparent that things will never be the same again.

Ben McPherson has written a taut, mesmerizing mystery.  It's story unfolds in a way that keeps the reader turning pages, horrified to see what comes next but unable to turn away from the tragedy.  Readers will question how well we ever know anyone, even those closest to us.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Devil In The Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

The Marshalsea.  It sounds like a hauntingly beautiful coastal location.  But in London in 1727, it had a more ominous meaning.  The Marshalsea was the debtors prison and any who were sentenced there were lucky to escape with their lives.  Prisoners not only had to come up with the money they owned, but while in the prison had to pay rent, purchase their food, etc.  Those who didn't even had the money to do that were thrown into the common area where disease and crime was rampant and bodies were carted out of the wards daily.  Even death did not free the prisoner.  Their family had to pay to get the body to bury it.

This is the place where Thomas Hawkins finds himself.  He could have stayed in the country and been a parson, following his father's footsteps.  But the lure of wine, women and song was too strong and Tom moved to London.  His gambling debts piled up and soon he was slated to prison.  Tom made one last night at the gaming tables to try to win enough money to relieve his debts and unlikely as it may seem, actually did so.  But it was to no avail as he was mugged and relieved of his winnings and when he woke up from the beating he received, it was in the Marshalsea.

Once there, his friend Charles who worked for a powerful man, came to visit and try to find ways to get Tom released.  Tom is left to make the acquaintance of those around him, where no man could be trusted.  The worst of them all is Samuel Fleet, who everyone agrees is a man who would do anything.  Tom is horrified to find he must share a room with Fleet.  As the days pass, the jail is in a state of unrest as a recent prisoner with influence was found dead and most say murdered.  Tom is offered the chance to work his way out of the Marshalsea by finding the murderer of Captain Charles Roberts, an unlikely task when he doesn't have allies or trusted sources of information.  He is even more downhearted when he is assigned a partner in his investigation, who turns out to be Fleet.  Can the two find the murderer and win release?

Antonia Hodgson has written a well-researched historical mystery.  The Marshalsea was a real place and many of the characters are actual historical figures.  The reader will be appalled at the conditions encountered there and will not figure out the mystery ahead of its revelation.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, September 30, 2015

September is almost gone, although summer is still hanging on in North Carolina with temperatures still in the eighties and humid atmospheres.  I had the bliss of visiting my grandkids last week.  This week I have the inevitable cold as I always return from a grandkid trip sick.  But it has been raining here for days and continuing rain, so it's a good week to sit and read.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  The Three, Sarah Lotz, thriller, gift from friend
2.  A Specter Of Justice, Mark de Castrique, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Half In Love With Death, Emily Ross, thriller, sent by publisher
4.  The Death And Life Of Mal Evans, Peter Lee, sent by author
5.  Home Fires, Julie Summers, historical fiction, sent by publisher
6.  Girl In The Woods, Aspen Matis, memoir, sent for book tour
7.  Power Surge, Ben Bova, political thriller, sent by publisher
8.  Trouble On The Thames, Victor Bridges, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  A Crucible Of Souls, Mitchell Hogan, fantasy, sent by publisher
10.  Purity, Jonathan Franzen, literary fiction, purchased
11.  The Indifferent Stars Above, Daniel Brown, nonfiction, sent for book tour
12.  After You, Jojo Moyes, literary fiction, sent by publisher
13.  Twister, Genanne Walsh, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
2.  A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, Will Chancellor, Kindle
3.  The Devil In The Marshalsea, Antonia Hodgson, paperback
4.  Our Times, A.N. Wilson, paperback
5.  The Moral Lives Of Animals, Dale Peterson, hardback
6.  Pig Island, Mo Hayden, Kindle Fire
7.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
8.  The New World, Andrew Motion, paperback
9.  A Line Of Blood, Ben McPherson, paperback

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Slade House by David Mitchell

Something's going on at Slade House.  The first thing is its location.  An English manor house with extensive grounds just doesn't belong in a busy commercial district, down at the heels and crowded for space.  It's almost impossible to find although one would think such a large structure would stand out.  When located, the only way in is through a small iron door that won't open for just anyone.

Then there are the consequences.  Every nine years, someone decides they really, really need to go explore Slade House.  Every nine years, that person is never heard from again.  No bodies are found, no communications from far-flung places.  Just a disappearance that is never solved.

David Mitchell has created a new vision of the haunted house story as only he can.  This work will remind readers of his recent novel, Bone Clocks, and shares much of its storyline and its intricate plotting that reveals hidden connections.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those looking for an atmospheric Halloween read.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

When The Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson Jr.

Eight NBA championships.  Six MVP awards. These are just two of the statistics that tell the story of the rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson, Jr (Magic Johnson). Their relationship, starting with their college careers, is often credited with saving the NBA, which was riddled with drug issues and low attendance when the two entered it.  They battled each other for titles, for the best statistics and always kept an eye on what each other was doing.  They started as enemies but over the years developed a friendship that became close.

This book, written with extensive background help from Bird and Johnson, covers all aspects of the two men's careers.  It talks about the similarities in their upbringing as each came from large families where money was scarce and a work ethic was a given.  It follows their college recruitment stories and then covers their college careers and relationships with their college coaches.

Once the two entered the NBA the same year, they quickly had impacts on their teams.  Each was a team leader; Bird more by example and setting high expectations; Johnson more by his positive personality and desire to build everyone up.  Regardless of who they were playing, each had one goal every year.  They wanted to get back to the NBA championship and they wanted to play each other.

The championship series the two played together are covered extensively, with almost a play by play action.  The team relationships and strategies that the fan usually never sees are explored.  More than anything, the incredible drive and passion each player had is explained.  Raw talent is never enough.  In every field, the stars are not just full of talent.  They are driven to work more, to practice more, to constantly find new ways to shine at their chosen field.  Bird and Magic both did that.  They were touted as opposites, Magic was outgoing, Bird introverted; Magic was Showtime while Bird was old school fundamentals, one was black and one was white.  Yet they were more alike than different in their love of the game and their determination to excel.  They made each other better by their constant striving to outdo each other.  Many sports writers feel that this was one of Michael Jordan's only weaknesses; that there was no one consistent player for him to strive against during his time as basketball's greatest player.

Over the years, their rivalry started to turn into a friendship.  By the time Magic's HIV diagnosis caused his early retirement, Bird was one of the first people who was told.  They grew to make commercials together, go to awards shows together and keep each other updated on their lives.  Each asked that the other be a major speaker at their retirement ceremony, and Magic even had Bird present him when he became a Hall Of Fame recipient.

I've been reading sports biographies lately.  I've always been a sports fan so I remember most of the games and secondary individuals discussed.  Just the other night I was watching a NBA championship game between the Chicago Bulls and the Seattle team from 1996.  My son commented that he doesn't know anyone else who can get so worked up about a twenty year old game even making comments to the players about their performances.  I love sports and the personality components it demonstrates.  This book is recommended for other sports fans who will be entranced at this inside look at one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Little Woman In Blue by Jeannine Atkins

Everyone knows the story of Louisa May Alcott.  Most girls read and internalized the story of Little Women, the fictionalized account of the four Alcott sisters.  While Louisa was famous and remains so, little is known of the other sisters.  Jeannine Atkins remedies this oversight with this account of the youngest daughter's life.  Abigail May Alcott, known as May, also had hopes and dreams.

In the famous book, May's name is rearranged as Amy, the vain little sister who burns Jo's stories in the fire in a temper.  While May did have strong ideas, she loved her sister and was appalled at her portrayal in the book.  May was an artist and struggled to be able to paint and exhibit, ideas that were revolutionary in her lifetime.  There was a charming boy next door who was friends with the family, but May did not marry him.  They did have famous family friends such as the Hawthornes and Emersons, but that did not help the family out of poverty.  Instead, the girls struggled to help support the family.

The novel follows May as she, after years of struggle and poverty, manages to get to Europe.  It details how she had to fight to get painting and anatomy lessons, how certain topics were forbidden for women and how it was unimaginable for a woman to be both an artist and a wife and mother.  She ends up in France where she is just in time for the start of the Impressionist period, and other artists such as Turner of England. 

Atkins has shone a light on another inspiring figure for women.  May Alcott was just as determined as her older sister Louisa to live a meaningful life.  The strictures that encased women were things she fought against her own life, finally carving out a life that satisfied her instead of society.  Along the way, Atkins portrays the family life and obligations that stifled women.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those looking for inspiring women stories. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

This Is The Water by Yannick Murphy

Annie is caught up in the life of the mother of a dedicated youth athlete.  Her children's sport is swimming but parents of children in competitive soccer or football or dance or any other sport will relate.  There are daily practices for several hours.  There are tons of meets, often involving travel and hotel stays.  Your friends are the other team parents since you are spending the majority of your time with them and you all have the children and their progress in common.

But Annie has other issues to consider.  She has been dealing with the death of her only brother and trying to work through her grief.  She has been dealing with the fact that Thomas, her husband, seems to have retreated from her and feels like a stranger these days.  She starts what is supposed to be an innocent flirtation with one of the swim dads but it rapidly spirals into something Annie isn't sure she wants or knows how to handle.

Then there are outside pressures.  There have been a series of serial murders in the area.  They are all women who have been attacked and taken at rest stops.  When one of the girls on the swim team becomes a victim, all the parents are forced to realize the dangers their girls face in their innocent lives.  Who is this killer and how does he manage to continue in the midst of their area's daily life?  Why hasn't he been caught yet?

Yannick Murphy has captured the life of a sport team parent's and made it recognizable to anyone who has lived this life with their own children.  The time and commitment it takes, the minutiae that overwhelms everything else, and the overpowering urge to protect and promote one's child are very well done.  The cadence of the words is short and compelling, pulling the reader along.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan

Deborah Birch is a hospice nurse.  Not many people are suited for such a grueling profession, but Deborah knows that helping someone end their life is a gift given to few.  Her latest case, Barclay Reed, is a former professor.  He is ending his life alone without family or friends, his career a victim of an academic scandal.  He is bitter and combative but Deborah is determined to make his passing as easy and meaningful as it can be.

Reed isn't the only person Deborah is providing succor to.  Her husband Michael has recently returned from his third tour in Iraq and while he is back physically, he is definitely not the same man who went to war.  He is distant with Deborah and barely managing to control the massive anger that his actions left him with.  Although he went to war as a mechanic, his skill with a rifle is noted and he returns as a former sniper with thirty-one kills.  Those lives haunt him. 

As Deborah tries to help Michael and Barclay, Barclay starts to open up a bit to her.  He shares a story from World War II that few know.  It is about the only Japanese pilot to ever fly over and drop a bomb in the United States.  The existence of this story is at the root of the scandal that ended Reed's career.  As he and Deborah discuss it, Reed shares what he's learned about how to end war and find peace, lessons that Deborah wants to share with Michael.

Stephen Kiernan has written a hauntingly beautiful novel that explores the meaning of war and what it does to the men and women who go to fight.  The ability to turn away from the violence afterwards and live a life without it is at the root of those who are healed as opposed to those who mentally and emotionally never make it home.  The reader is left with questions about the best way to help a loved one's struggles and how to truly give what another person needs in their life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Booksie's Shelves, September 13, 2015

It feels like the back of the summer heat and humidity has been broken.  While it's still hotter than I'd like, it isn't overpowering.  Fall is on its way and football is back. In the fall, football takes a lot of my reading time, but I've still managed to read some great books.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  Shotgun Lovesongs, Nicholas Butler, literary fiction, purchased
2.  A Line Of Blood, Ben McPherson, mystery, sent for book tour
3.  San Miguel, T.C. Boyle, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Everything She Forgot, Lisa Ballantyne, mystery, sent for book tour
5.  Kings Of The Earth, Jon Clinch, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Slade House, David Mitchell, literary fiction, contest win
7.  Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert, nonfiction, contest win
8.  The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes, mystery, purchased
9.  The Lake House, Kate Morton, literary fiction, contest win
10.  The Last September, Nina de Lamont, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  The Hummingbird, Stephen Kiernan, literary fiction, sent for book tour
12.  The Unyielding Future, Brian O'Grady, medical thriller, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Path Of The Storm, James Maxwell, Kindle Fire
2.  When The Game Was Ours, Larry Bird/Magic Johnson, audio
3.  A Brave Man Seven Stories Tall, Will Chancellor, Kindle
4.  Dragon Heart, Cecelia Holland, hardback
5.  The Devil In The Marshalsea, Antonia Hodgson, paperback
6.  Meet Me In Atlantis, Mark Adams, paperback
7.  The Moral Lives Of Animals, Dale Peterson, hardback
8.  Mystery Walk, Robert McCammon, Kindle Fire
9.  This Is The Water, Yannick Murphy, paperback
10.  The Hummingbird, Stephen Kiernan, hardback
11.  Thorn Jack, Katherine Harbour, audio

 Happy Reading!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland

Things are in flux at Castle Ocean.  The ruling family is devastated by the death of the king in battle.  The ruler of the Empire he was in war with is determined to rule the kingdom and sends one of his brothers to marry the grieving widow.  She manages to put off the wedding until all of her five children are there to attend the ceremony.  The eldest son, Luka, is considered the new King by the inhabitants of the kingdom but the ruler of the Empire plans to put an end to that.

The other son, Jeon, goes to escort his twin sister, Tirza, from a convent where she has been staying to Castle Ocean.  Tirza is a problem to her mother.  Small in size, she cannot talk and her squeaks and shrill noises can be offputting.  As Jeon and Tirza sail home, the ships capsize and the two are separated.  Tirza is stranded in a pool with the cause of the destruction, a massive red dragon.  Amazingly, the dragon can understand Tirza and she spends her time with it telling stories.

Soon enough, she flees the dragon and Jeon, who also managed to survive, finds her and brings her home.  The family is reunited but there is a big obstacle in the way of their happiness.  The Empire must be defeated in its plans to take over.  Can they find a way to defeat the invaders?

Cecelia Holland is known for her historical fiction.  This book takes her into the realm of fantasy and readers will be interested to see what she does with this genre.  The castle itself seems to be alive and doing what it can to overthrow the interlopers.  The siblings work together and each does what they can to further the family's fortunes.  In the background looms the spectre of the dragon and what it plans to do.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another Life by Andrew Vachss

The two year old son of a Saudi prince has been kidnapped.  The average citizen knows nothing about it.  The prince and his government have made sure that the story doesn't hit any press.  There hasn't been a ransom demand and the investigation into the crime is going nowhere.  The Saudis use their influence to pull in the CIA.

The CIA knows the only man who might have a chance at finding the boy.  Burke lives in the murky underground where anything is possible and nothing surprises him.  Burke is a criminal but one thing is certain: no child will ever be harmed by him.  But Burke has no interest in working with any government agency.

But everyone has his price.  Burke's is simple; his love for his chosen family.  His father has been wounded in a caper and the government offers top notch secret care for him.  In addition, all of Burke's collection of criminals he has cultivated over the years will have their records wiped clean.  A chance at another life; a new life for all of his family. 

Burke cannot resist the lure of doing this for the ones he loves.  But he will have to go to places he's never been in order to secure the child's life.  He will have to touch his own emotions and lay them bare for anyone to see.  Burke has spent his life covering up but now he will have to reveal his own story. 

Anyone who has read one of the Burke novels knows the lure of this construct.  Burke is unrepentant about his criminality but also has a loyalty rarely seen for those he considers his family.  Each member has their own fascinating backstory and most readers will have read many of their adventures over the years.  This book is recommended for suspense and thriller readers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Hidden Relic by James Maxwell

Things continue to get worse for the heroes in the Everman series.  The Emperor's armies are now under the control of the Primate, the leader of the territory that produces essence.  Essence fuels all the magic in the various areas and so the Primate has historically been neutral.  But this Primate is power-mad, determined to unite all the lands under his rule.  He has learned a new way to use essence to control men and bend them to his rule.  He is willing to use any strategy or man to further his goals.

Milo and Ella stand against him.  Milo is the military head of the resistance and Ella is an enchantress.  As the primate cuts off the flow of essence, the war must be fought without the magic that has always enhanced the military. Things don't look good, but Milo is a master strategist and the resistance starts to make headway.

Meanwhile, Ella has returned to the desert and Prince Ilathor who also hopes to conquer the Primate and put an end to his evil.  She helps him march towards the Primate's stronghold from one direction while Milo moves from the other.  Each also finds love, Ella with the Prince and Milo rediscovers a former love he let slip away.  There is also countermagic occurring. A mysterious figure is determined to put an end to the Primate and his power before he can discover the most ancient and powerful relic in existence, and use it to further his conquests.  Ella's former love interest, Killian, helps this mysterious man in his attempts to neutralize the ancient magic that could end them all.

This is the second book in the Everman series.  Readers who enjoyed the first volume will find the same ingredients and enjoyment in this one.  The story moves at the right pace with much military battle strategy and love interests that aren't yet resolved.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Secret Wisdom Of The Earth by Christopher Scotton

Kevin is fourteen when he and his mother go to visit his grandfather in Medgar, Kentucky.  They are reeling from a family tragedy.  His three year old brother has been horribly killed in an accident in front of them.  His father lashes out at Kevin, blaming him for the tragedy.  His mother is just gone, lost somewhere in the mists of her mind.  That leaves Kevin to handle his heartbreak and rejection himself. 

But Medgar is a place where healing can happen.  His grandfather is one of the town's leading citizens, a veterinarian who grew up and raised his family there.  Kevin meets a friend, Buzzy Fink, and his acceptance and that of his grandfather starts to raise the gloom and guilt that has entrapped him.  Soon Kevin is doing the things a teenager in Medgar does, fishing, camping out, accompanying his grandfather on his work trips. 

Medgar is a poor place and mining has been the main economic engine.  As the mines play out, the town dwindles and poverty is a very real thing there.  Families all know each other and each other's families as most have lived there for decades.  Now, a new kind of mining has come; one that rips the tops off of mountains to allow for mining from above.  The fact that it destroys the mountains and forests and ruins the streams doesn't seem to count for much to the mine owners.

As the summer progresses, Kevin sees good and evil.  A man is killed in town and the secret of who the murderer is affects he and Buzzy.  In the story's climax, Kevin, Buzzy and his grandfather go on a camping trip miles back in the forest that will test every bit of grit they possess.

I've had this book for quite a while.  It got wonderful buzz and I was hesitant to read it, fearing it wouldn't live up to its promise.  I even got to meet and talk with the author at an event, finding him intelligent and charming.  I was so pleased to read this and find that it was as wonderful as everyone had talked about.   It had the same feel as To Kill A Mockingbird and it took the reader on a journey that explored both the physical landscape of rural Kentucky and the emotional landscape of a teenage boy finding his way to maturity after a horrific event.  This will be one of my top books for 2015.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, those interested in environmental science and anyone interested in a wonderful read.