Saturday, December 31, 2016
Kiewarra is a small farming community in rural Australia and Aaron Falk's hometown. He lived there until he was sixteen when the town turned against him and his father after the death of his girlfriend. Some called it murder and some suspected either Aaron or his father of the crime. Aaron was never formally suspected as his best friend Luke gave him an alibi. The problem was that the alibi was false. The town at first shunned Aaron and his father then the issue escalated until the two were basically run out of town.
Twenty years on, Aaron has made a life in Sydney. He is a Federal Agent, working in the Financial Division. He is startled when he sees a news story from Kiewarra. It states that Luke Hadler, his old friend, has killed his family and then himself. Aaron is shocked as it is nothing he could ever have believed of Luke. Then Luke's father calls, asking Aaron to return to town for the funeral and stating that he knows Luke's alibi all those years ago was a lie.
Aaron returns and the town is undergoing hard times. There is a drought the likes of which hasn't been seen in decades and everything is drying up and withering. Money is tight as more and more farmers go under and stores close. In the midst of the general suffering, the crime is even more horrifying. As Aaron learns more, he continues to question if Luke was really capable of doing this. Luke's father doesn't believe it either and the new policeman in town has doubts. He accepts Aaron's help and they start to delve into the crime and soon discover that the town is hiding even more secrets than they ever suspected.
This is Jane Harper's debut novel although she has been a journalist for years. It was a #1 bestseller in Australia and has already been commissioned for a movie. The story is stark, fitting the atmosphere and environment it is placed in. The writing is sparse and the reader is transported to a small farming community on the verge of panic as everything dries up and is tinder-ready. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Malcolm Fox never expects to be liked. As a member of the Professional Standards Unit of the police, more commonly called The Complaints, it's his job to investigate other policemen in the Scottish police force to uncover corruption. But that means he comes into every case with a big boulder of suspicion and distaste to overcome.
He is brought into his new case to investigate the other members of a police force suspected of helping Paul Carter, who is accused of using his position to coerce sexual favors from women. In the course of his team's investigation, Fox interviews the suspect's uncle, Alan Carter, a former policeman who now runs a security investigation. Carter is working on a case that has roots going back twenty years ago to an unsettled time in Scottish history. There were various terrorist separatist organizations and the rising star of one of them was killed nearby in a wreck. Carter has been hired to see if that long-ago wreck was the result of an accident or whether it was murder. Fox becomes embroiled in that case as well as the one on which his team is working when Alan Carter is killed, Paul is suspected and then also killed.
As Fox investigates the two murders he is drawn back into the secrets of the past and those who want those secrets to remain buried. In the meantime, his personal life is complicated by the declining health of his father and between the two situations, he is torn yet persistent. His dogged perseverance makes him unpopular but good at what he does.
Ian Rankin is one of the top mystery writers in Scotland. His long series about Inspector John Rebus is one of the most successful. He gives an accurate recounting of police procedures and the way that secrets can rise again years later. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
How did Kate Battista reach this point in her life? She doesn't know exactly what she thought her life would be, but probably not this. Kate is twenty-nine. She dropped out of college and now serves as her father's housekeeper and raises her teenage sister, Bunny. Dr. Battista is the original absent-minded professor, full of ideas about his research but uninterested in the house and raising the two daughters his wife left him when she died. His contribution to the household is a series of processes to make the house run efficiently. No time or energy to cook? It doesn't matter as once a week a mash of meat and vegetables is prepared and then every dinner is mash.
Kate has fallen into a stopgap job that somehow has lasted for years. She is an assistant at a preschool, where the children love her but the parents and administration are much less entranced with her honest, blunt truthfulness. No sugarcoating truths about behaviors for Kate. If a child asks who the best artist in the room is, Kate will tell him, not worrying about egos but feeling that the best artist is just a fact, not something to get a personality crushed over. She has some feelings for the only male on staff, a sensitive man who works in the two year old room, but has no idea if he has any feelings for her.
Then Dr. Battista has his brainstorm. His research is at a critical juncture. The university has grown tired of waiting for a breakthrough and his labs have been moved further and further away from the main areas. His only salvation is his assistant, Pyotr, a brilliant man who came over three years ago to work with him. They are about to get to the next level but Pyotr's visa is also about to run out. Immigration will insist on him returning to Europe. What to do?
It's obvious to Dr. Battista. Kate can marry Pyotr and then he can stay and work on the research as always. Pyotr, a younger version of Battista's singlemindedness, seems to be fine with the idea and intrigued by Kate. Kate is appalled and can't believe her father would marry her off like livestock. What will become of the Battista family and Pyotr?
Anne Tyler is one of the masters of American literature still working today. She has received the Pultizer Prize and been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She has written twenty-one novels, each probing the intricatcies of characters the average person may not wonder about, but Tyler reveals the truth that each of us is an interesting individual with hopes and desires of our own. This retelling of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew is a delightful addition to her work and is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Female serial killer Cara Linstrom is free from custody. Against the police's wishes, she was granted bail in San Francisco and quickly disappeared. FBI Agent Matthew Roarke, who has become obsessed with the woman and her crimes, has taken a leave of absence from the Bureau while he decides if he is done with law enforcement. Everyone knows her story, how when she was five a terrifying monster of a man broke into her house and killed her entire family. Only Cara survived and she was scarred for life by his slashing of her throat. She was known as 'The Miracle Girl' or at least she was until she started taking revenge.
In his quest to understand Cara, Roarke visits places from her childhood. He goes to the beach town where she stayed for a while, then goes to the small desert town of Las Piedras. He is drawn there by the call of a bitter police officer who accuses him of letting Cara go free, but he stays as he starts to realize that this town was the place where Cara started her life on the run. She was sent there by the social services system after spending two years in prison for wounding a social worker and a fifteen year old boy. There is no talk about what the two males were doing in Cara's room late at night, only that she has been violent. Las Piedras is supposed to be a new start but Cara finds that evil exists everywhere.
Cara was only in the town for a short while but it was an eventful time. The social worker she had been imprisoned for fighting is found murdered. A building is torched. And two girls die. One is the survivor of a horrific rape which left her injured and unable to go back into society. The other is a quiet girl that Cara notices in the high school and who commits suicide. Is Cara connected to these crimes?
As Roarke investigates he realizes that something more in going on in the quiet little town. A monster or maybe monsters reside there and evil has stalked the place for many years. He finds an ally in a elderly nun who has made her life's work helping children who have no other voice. Can Roarke find the men who are ruining Las Piedras and discover another piece of the jigsaw that is Cara's life?
This is the fourth book in the Roarke/Lindstrom series. Sokoloff writes a tense narrative, alternating the viewpoint between Matthew and Cara. Readers get to feel what it was like to be a young teenage Cara and the forces that bent her to the woman she is now. The author also uses the narrative to highlight a shameful fact of law enforcement. There are thousands of rape kits with possible DNA matches that were never tested. They remain on shelves, waiting for someone to have the funds and motivation to solve the crimes they represent. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
It seems like a routine murder, maybe one step up from the dreary domestic cases Antoinette Conway has become used to getting in her two years on the Dublin Murder Squad. She and her partner, Stephen Moran, head out to the scene when given the call by the boss, even though they are due to go home. The victim, Aislinn Murray, is all dressed up with the house ready for an intimate dinner with someone. She has fallen backward onto the fireplace, striking her head and bleeding out.
It seems an easy case at first. Lover's quarrel gone wrong. Boyfriend arrives for dinner, something goes awry, a fight occurred, maybe a shove, and suddenly it's tragedy. When they find the man who is coming to dinner, he seems ready-made for the scenario. Rory Fallon is hesitant, a bit of a nerd, someone who seemed unlikely to attract the stunning Aislinn. His story is that they met at his bookstore a month or so ago. They went out to dinner, had a drink and this was the first visit to Aislinn's house and a big step forward in their relationship. He is puzzled and angry when he arrives, rings the bell, waits a bit, texts and then phones her, but never gets a response. After waiting a half hour or so, he finally decides she is blowing him off for some reason and that he has been made a fool. He stomps off angrily and walks home.
The veteran detective, Breslin, helping with the case, is sure it's the routine story it seems to be and is pushing for a quick arrest. But Conway isn't sure. Aislinn's best friend is sure that Aislinn is over the top crazy about this new man in her life. She thinks there may be another man around, one that Aislinn is trying to move out of her life. Other strange things occur. Antoinette sees a man scoping out her street a couple of times. When she goes out to confront him, he is gone. The local pushy newspaper reporter all of a sudden feels free to go over the line and make Antoinette look incompetent and lazy, a move he'd never have had the nerve to do before. Conway is not a favorite on the squad, being the only woman. She has faced two years of harassment and her only friend is her partner and now she's not sure of him either. Can she close the case without making the mistake that gets her punted off the squad?
Tana French is one of the shining stars of mystery writing. Her forte is character development, giving the reader an inside look at the case and personality of a Murder Squad detective as the case slowly unfolds. There is always lots going on beneath the surface and betrayal and evil are quick to slow their faces. Her forte is the stunning conclusion and this novel doesn't disappoint in that regard. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Friday, December 16, 2016
It's almost Christmas so very busy everywhere. I've been shopping, wrapping, and harrying a vendor who lost my husband's big gift for Christmas. It finally arrived late yesterday after multiple delivery promises, daily or twice daily calls, getting the supervisor in California's personal phone number and tons of angst. My daughter is now home with a first college semester under her belt. The dog has been having health issues and its still unsure exactly what the diagnosis is but at least she seems to feel better with her new medicine. All in all, ready for a good holiday with the family here and then a trip to visit the grandkids.
Here's what has come through the door lately:
1. Dodge City, Tom Clavin, western, won online
2. The Lost City Of The Monkey God, Douglas Preston, nonfiction/travel, won online
3. The Devil's Country, Harry Hunsicker, mystery, sent by publisher
4. Setting Free The Kites, Alex George, literary fiction, sent by publisher
5. Nest, Terry Goodkind, thriller, sent by publisher
6. Secondhand Smoke, M. Louis, mystery, sent by publisher
7. The Fifth Petal, Brunonia Barry, historical fantasy, won online
8. Chaos, Patricia Cornwell, mystery, sent by publisher
9. The Spider And The Fly, Claudia Rowe, true crime, won online
10. Southern Gothic, Dale Wiley, mystery, sent by publisher
11. Karma And The Butter Chicken, Monica Bhide, culinary fiction, sent by publisher
12. Dangerous Pilgrims, Lawrence Swaim, thriller, sent by author
13. Leopard At The Door, Jennifer McVeigh, historical fiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin, hardbac
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
4. The Trespasser, Tana French, hardback
5. Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler, Kindle Fire
6. His Bloody Project, Graeme McCrae Burnet, Kindle Fire
7. The Forrests, Emily Perkins, paperback
8. Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback
9. Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10. Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback
Thursday, December 15, 2016
The letters BTK terrorized the Wichita, Kansas area for thirty years. They referred to a serial killer who had adopted the title of Bind, Torture, Kill as his chosen name. His acts were gruesome, starting with the torture and murder of four members of a family, two of whom were children. From 1974 when he killed the family to 2004, when he was finally captured, he killed ten people, mostly women.
After his arrest, confession, trial and imprisonment, Katherine Ramsland reached out and established a relationship with Dennis Rader, the man behind the BTK title. His case fascinated many in the true crime world. He had a spate of murders, then nothing for many years, then he started killing again after decades. This was contrary to serial killer profiles which assume that once started, a serial killer will never stop killing. A bigger shock was the identity of the killer. Rader was not a marginal person unable to hold a job or have a relationship. He was involved in his church and even elected president of his local church council. He was involved in the Boy Scouts as a leader. He was married to his wife with no outside relationships, and they had two children. He held a responsible job. What was the story behind his crimes?
Ramsland spent five years researching the case and speaking with Rader through correspondence, phone calls and prison visits. She outlines a man who had been consumed with thoughts of binding as an aid to sexual release since childhood. Rader had an extensive fantasy life, filled with thoughts of railroad ties on which he wanted to position victims, torture castles, abandoned railcars and old barns. He spent hours clipping pictures of women, writing about his fantasies, collecting true detective magazines and books about serial killers. If he didn't have a victim, he practiced self-bondage in what he called 'motel parties'. His wife didn't know about his crimes, although she had discovered him dressed in women's clothes and with bondage items. But he promised it would never happen again and she believed it didn't. Instead, Rader just went further underground, hiding his activities rather than ceasing them.
Readers will be chilled to read Rader's words, how he sees himself still as a good person who did some bad things. He was able to live under the radar for so long by 'cubing', totally separating the two sides of his personality. But he never really stopped. He spent weeks stalking a victim before attempting anything. He never stopped stalking women and he had long lists of 'projects' as he called women. Having worked in the security business, he knew about breaking into houses. Rader's nonchalant recounting of all the women he stalked is chilling. During his 'dormant' years, he was in reality still actively stalking women. He broke into several houses during this time only to find the occupants not there. If they had been, he would have killed them as he did the others. He was caught when he decided the BTK Killer wasn't getting enough attention and started a cat-and-mouse written correspondence with the police. That led to him being caught and arrested. He will live the rest of his life in prison.
Katherine Ramsland has devoted her writing life to studying the darker side of human nature. She had advanced degrees in forensic psychology, criminal psychology, criminal justice and philosophy. She has worked with some of the most well-known names in serial killer law enforcement such as John Douglas, Gregg McCrary and Henry Lee. She has, in this book, been able to reveal Rader's fantasies and demonstrated the extent to which his dark thoughts made up his world, even as he seemed innocent and trustworthy to those he met. This book is recommended to readers of true crime.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Eleven years ago, Lacey Campbell went through a horrific period in her life. The Co-Ed Slayer was attacking and killing women at her Oregon State University campus. He targeted and killed nine women before he was captured and put in prison for life. One was Lacey's best friend. Lacey barely escaped and was instrumental in putting the killer behind bars with her testimony at his trial.
Lacey has turned her life around since then. She has become a forensic odontologist at the state forensic examiner's office and is recognized as a professional. In that role, she is called out one morning to help with the discovery of a woman's body underneath an apartment building in snowy Portland. She is shocked when she realises where she has seen the dental appliance found in the victim's bones. It is that of her best friend whose body was never found after the night she was kidnapped and Lacey so narrowly escaped. Further tests in her lab confirm that these are the bones of her friend.
The skeleton is found at an apartment building owned by Jack Harper. Jack was a policeman until a tragedy left him injured and unable to continue. Now he has taken over the realty and development company his father started and is an eligible bachelor and man about town. He is pulled into the investigation because of his connection to the locale and the fact that a badge found at the scene belonged to his ex-partner. An ex-partner who has just been gruesomely murdered. New murders start occurring and they all tie back to the Co-Ed Slayer. Did police get the wrong man? Is the Slayer still out there and taking revenge? Is Lacey his next target?
Kendra Elliott has written a fast-paced thriller that throws Lacey and Jack together in a race to find the killer before he finds Lacey. They are a good team and romantic sparks soon fly. Readers will be swept along in the action and rooting for Lacey and Jack. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Harry Bosch's long career as a police detective is winding down. He has just been informed that he's been granted a three year extension on his request to remain past retirement. He is working in the Cold Case division with a partner, Cho, for the last two years. Harry doesn't care. He just wants to work cases.
He and Cho are given a case that morning. An old murder has had a DNA hit. Blood has been found on the belongings of a murder victim from twenty-one years ago. When the two men look up the DNA's match, they find it belongs to a convicted rapist. Easy win. But then it turns out that the man only raped young boys. It also turns out that at the time of the murder he was only eight years old and thus unlikely to be their man.
On the same day, Harry is called upstairs. Irvin Irving was a policeman who was forced out. He then ran for city councilman and won. He has since spent his life making life miserable for the police department he now despises. But today he has requested Harry. Irving's only son has been found dead as the result of a fall from a hotel balcony. Was it suicide or was he pushed? Irving dislikes Bosch but he knows Bosch is about the best at what he does. He insists he wants to know the truth and Harry is assigned to discover it.
This is the seventeenth Harry Bosch novel. In this one, Harry struggles with the winding down of his career, the new responsibility of raising a teenage daughter by himself, and as always, with his relationships inside the department and in his personal life. Readers will be caught up in the police procedure and the workings of a master detective's mind. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Twenty-two years ago, Frank Mackey had it all planned out. He was getting away from his dysfunctional family and the place he grew up where he would never be anything more than the son of a drunk who beat his wife and kids. More importantly, the love of his life, Rosie Daley, was coming with him and they had a bright new life planned. They'd never be able to be together in Faithful Place, Ireland as her family was totally opposed to her dating a Mackey.
But something went wrong. When Frank went to their meeting place, Rosie never showed. He went to their backup place and found a note, apologizing for the fact that she was disappointing him. Crushed, he decided to head out anyhow. He got himself to Dublin and found work. As soon as he could he joined the police and carved out a life and a career for himself there. In twenty-two years, he's never looked back. He has cut off his entire family without a word except for his sister who also lives in Dublin.
Then he gets the word. A suitcase has been discovered in the derelict house at the end of the street in Faithful Place. That's the place that was his and Rosie's backup meeting place. Against his better judgment, Frank heads back and meets his brother there to show him the case. He realizes it was Rosie's and soon Frank has discovered a body in the house. It seems that Rosie never dumped him that night like he thought. Someone prevented her from leaving.
The police in the area want none of Frank's help. But he can't leave this case alone. He knows people who will talk to him although they would never talk to the police. He knows the backgrounds and the environment that bred the crime. Most of all, he knows his family and the Daley family. Even though he is considered a traitor on the street for joining the police, the families there will talk to Frank when they will talk to no one else. Frank is determined to get justice for Rosie but can he live with that justice?
Faithful Place is the third Tana French novel. She has won numerous awards such as the Edgar, the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction and the Macavity. She writes about the men and women who make up the Dublin Murder Squad, and an interesting concept is that a minor character in one novel may be the main narrator in the next. This novel, told in Frank Mackey's voice, portrays a man who wants to do right but is constantly fighting the barriers his early life and family ingrained in his character. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Felix Funicello is an Italian-American who grew up in the 50's and 60's. His childhood claim to fame was his family's connection to the famous Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, a cousin. Felix had a typical Italian-American family. His father runs a diner, his mother stays at home but helps in the diner with the books. He has two sisters. Now, Felix is a 60-year-old man, divorced with one daughter, Aliza, whom he loves desperately. He is a professor on film and runs a movie club in his hometown.
One night while getting things ready for the club's evening viewing, he has the experience of his life. Although there have always been rumors that the old movie theatre is haunted, Felix never believed in that kind of thing. Now he encounters two ghosts, the most visible the ghost of the famous female director of the Twenties, Lois Weber. She now seems to be directing the story of Felix's own life and he is the first viewer.
Lois takes him back to his childhood and helps him to view the dramas of his life through the eyes of an adult rather than those of the child who was confused by what was happening. His family encountered family secrets that were kept from the children and mental illness. The secrets eventually came out and the family exploded as each individual resolved their own attitudes toward it. As Felix looks back, he sees the family secret against the backdrop of feminism as women redefined what a woman could do and be. The early pioneers like Weber may be forgotten but their legacy will be the changed way society looks at women.
Lamb concentrates in this novel, as in most of his novels, on the connections that make up our lives. He explores the concept of family and what we will do for our family members. The poison of family secrets and the damage they cause when finally exposed are highlighted. The changing relationships between men and women are another focus of this book. The reader will realize that our family is who we claim as family and that what is important in life is how we treat family and maintain our connections with them. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and family relationships.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
"You were going to work your way into my marriage and you were going to call its new three-way shape holy," writes the unnamed narrator of Dear Thief. The book, written as an ongoing letter to the narrator's best friend, Nina, discusses the period in which Nina shows up on the narrator's doorstep and works her way into her friend's life and marriage and motherhood. The narrator is married with a small child who adores Nina and nicknames her Butterfly.
Nina is the ultimate narcissist. She lives for the moment, taking whatever she wants with no apologies and no regrets. She moves into the house and is good to the child, when the fancy takes her. She also takes drugs and her only concession to the child's presence is to lock them up when she isn't partaking. She takes whatever food she wants, goes about her day with no regard for the household routine and contributes very little. She ultimately takes the narrator's husband, openly and with no expression of regrets, just an expectation that the narrator will adapt to new circumstances. Then when she has created chaos, she disappears. The novel is written eighteen years later after her disappearance.
The narrator talks about her life was changed by Nina. She discusses her reactions to the upheaval and how her longing for Nina's friendship allows her to move in and destroy all the narrator holds dear. She fantasizes that no one has heard from Nina since because she murdered and buried her. Instead of that powerful retaliation, she has instead led a life since Nina of steadily diminished expectations and rewards.
Samantha Harvey is considered one of her generation's upcoming authors. Her novels have been nominated for both Orange and Man Booker prizes and she was a nominee in the Guardian First Book Award. She delves into the human soul and documents our longing for connection, even if that connection is unhealthy. Readers will turn the final page of Dear Thief with many thoughts about their own friendships and the part they play in their lives and how trusting others opens us to possible devastation. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Kelly Spence is hurt and angry. Her beloved father was killed in a climbing accident and Spence is now a teenager on the run from foster care. She takes out her anger at society by climbing to rooftops and painting tags on places that it seems impossible to reach. Although her crime is mostly irritating, that doesn't mean she wouldn't be prosecuted if she was discovered. Worse, she would be sent back into the foster care system she escaped.
Cal Claxton is a former prosecutor who lives in Portland where Kelly is tagging buildings. Claxton is now in private practice and also devotes a lot of time to pro bono work with the homeless. His path unknowingly intersects that of Kelly when she witnesses a murder on the street while she is on a rooftop above. The murderer sees Kelly but has no way of reaching her. That doesn't mean he isn't looking for her. Cal gets pulled into the case when it turns out the woman murdered is the fiancee of one of his best friends.
Cal and the murderer are both looking for Kelly, one for good, one for evil purposes. But Kelly fears both of them and is determined to hide from both. She tries to find the man she saw commit the crime, figuring she can turn him in if she can only determine his identity. Can Cal find Kelly before her dangerous game turns disastrous?
This is the third novel is Easley's series about Cal Claxton. Cal is a sympathetic character with his emphasis on helping those who cannot help themselves. He has retreated to Portland after the loss of his wife and while on the dating scene, the book is not filled with unlikely sexual encounters like so many detective novels seem to be. Readers will be interested in the case and in Claxton and will be interested to read more about his work. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Fans of Brandon Sanderson and his Cosmere universe will be excited by this anthology which goes far to explain Sanderson's thinking and planning for his writing as one of science fiction/fantasy's premier authors. The book is a collection of riches. There are nine novellas and short stories, a graphic novel excerpt as well as illustrations of each selection.
Some of these selections have been published at Tor over the years. There is an all-new novella from the Stormlight world as well as a Mistborn novella that has never been in print before. Collected here together, they are a treasure trove for Sanderson fans.
My personal favorite was the first selection, The Emperor's Soul, which is taken from the world of Sanderson's first novel, Elantris. In it, the Emperor has been attacked and his mind left a void. If word of his condition leaks, there will be pandemonium and dire consequences. The emperor's advisers decide to take a gamble. They reach into the dungeons and bring up a witch named Shai. She has been imprisoned for forging a national treasure. The advisers make a bargain with Shai. If she can restore the emperor she can have her freedom. She is given three months. Neither side trusts the other and each schemes to accomplish their own goals within this massive task. This novella won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2013.
Each story is intricate and shows evidence of the careful planning behind it as well as revealing another slice of the universe Sanderson has created. His first well-known trilogy was the Mistborn novels. Sanderson was chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time series when he was unable to do so. He is currently working on the Stormlight Archives world. One of the most fascinating facts is that Sanderson had started planning and populating these worlds that make up the Cosmere universe as early as his high school days. The complex interconnected universe is an example of the best fantasy writing to be found today. This book is recommended for Sanderson fans as well as fantasy/science fiction writers.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Franklin, Tennessee, 1867. Home to one of the most ferocious and deadly battles in the Civil War, those who are left are trying to start their lives again, usually in vastly different situations. The local plantation is now populated by the widow of the man who owned it and she has made her life's work overseeing a vast cemetery of soldier and trying to connect them with families left behind. Her former life companion and slave, Mariah Reddick, is now a freed woman and discovering what that status means. Mariah is the town's midwife and brings new life into the world. Her only son, Theopolis, is the town cobbler and determined to live his life as a free man who is equal to those around him. A former sharpshooter on the Northern side of the war, George Tole, has washed up in Franklin and is trying to determine if there is a role for him in postwar America.
When Theopolis is murdered giving a political speech, things change for all concerned. Mariah is determined to discover who is responsible and find a way to hold them accountable. George, who has met Mariah and thinks she may be his key to a new life, is determined to bring the responsible men to justice and his kind of justice is deadly. The actions of these people bring about changes in the life of Franklin and all those who live there.
Robert Hicks is renowned as a chronicler of American history, specially stories about the South after the Civil War. A former novel, The Widow Of The South, is the story of the woman who remained at the plantation in Franklin. His research is impeccable and his ability to portray the characters he creates brings the era to life for readers. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those worried about the status of race in today's America.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
What is life like in the womb? How much sensibility and intelligence does a baby have before birth and how does it interpret it's world? This is the premise of Ian McEwan's newest novel, a tour de force that uses a fetus as the main narrator. This is a fetus with high intelligence, its viewpoints focused and widened by it's mother listening to podcasts and radio discussions.
What a mother she is. Trudy, twenty-eight and married to the poet John, is not having a standard pregnancy. She and John have split shortly after conception. John thinks it is a trial separation, perhaps a pregnant woman's whim. He expects to return home after the baby's birth. But that is not likely to happen. For Trudy has taken up with the odious Claude, a weaselly banal individual who brings out the worst in Trudy. Who covets the London townhouse Trudy is living in although it still belongs to John and that even dilapidated is worth millions. Who cares nothing about the baby and indeed seems to wish it harm. Who is actually John's younger brother, desperate to steal John's inheritance.
Claude and Trudy have incessant sex and drink like maniacs, neither actions those of someone worrying about the health of a baby. Indeed, the baby hears them making plans for giving him away soon after birth. But there are even more odious plans ahead. For Claude is determined to best John in all ways and steal the inheritance he feels should be his. How can this be accomplished? There is only one way to get John out of the way forever and Claude and Trudy are more than ready to take the final step necessary to remove John from the earth. Horrified, the baby can do nothing as he hears the two plotting the murder of his father. Is there any way to stop these two?
Ian McEwan has written a wonderful jewel of a novel, one that plays off the age-old rivalry of brothers and more specifically, Hamlet, that brooding work of murder and revenge. But this is far from a melancholy, angst-filled work. Instead, the language sparkles as the narrator finds his humanity and makes plans to survive and foil the odious pair. Readers will not be able to resist this baby and it's take on the world and human relationships. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
The Wangs had it all. Head of a cosmetic empire and living the good life in Los Angeles, Charles Wang had fulfilled all of the dreams he had when he arrived in the United States as an immigrant. He built an empire and became fabulously wealthy. There are three children. Saina, his oldest daughter, is a successful artist, currently taking a break and living in New England. Andrew is in college and full of dreams. Gracie is his baby and already has a style blog that is seen by thousands every day. His second wife, Barbra, is devoted to him.
But it all goes awry. Determined to expand in a contracting economy, Wang loses his fortune, shaking his belief in his acumen as a businessman. With all his accounts frozen and the house and cars foreclosed, he loads the family into an old car he had given the nanny decades ago and heads for the refuge of Saina's house. Along the way, the reader learns that the happy, successful picture the family projected was never anything more than a facade.
Saina is in New England in disgrace; her last show getting so much bad press and feedback that she has fled the New York art scene. Andrew wants nothing to do with the family fortune; his dream is to be a stand-up comedian. Gracie feels disconnected from everyone else in the family. Barbra, who named herself after Streisand when she immigrated, made a decision to come to America and woe and marry Wang when she heard about the accident that killed his first wife.
Together this unlikely family heads cross-country. As the miles pile up, they start to get reacquainted with each other as individuals and rediscover the family feelings they thought were well behind them. Charles has one last plan to regain the family's fortune and it may be their biggest adventure yet.
This is a debut novel for Jade Chang. It has received much praise with authors such as Jami Attenberg writing blurbs praising it. It is an Amazon Best Book of 2016 and a Barnes and Nobles Fall 2016 Discover Book. Chang delves into the Chinese-American immigrant experience and uses it to portray the timelessness of family loyalty. This book is recommended for readers interested in family dynamics and the immigrant experience.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
What a busy fall! The Presidential elections have come and gone so hopefully the country can concentrate on something else for a while. I've noticed that fall tv shows are having a harder time catching on this year as their schedules have been interrupted over and over with debates, election coverage, primaries and fall sports. One of the new shows, Conviction, has already been cancelled although I think only three or four episodes have actually been able to air.
Things are busy here also. Our elderly dog has had to have foot surgery for the third time. She has a benign tumor under a footpad that is impossible to completely remove so it returns again and again. She is a real trooper but going under gets more problematic every time. I've been getting books from a Facebook round robin which is always fun, and I've gotten several review books that I'm excited about. I've been Christmas shopping and making plans to see Broadway plays. We've got A Gentleman's Guide To Murder coming up right after Thanksgiving and then An American In Paris right after the Christmas holidays. Theatre is my happy place so I'm excited for both.
Here's what's come through the door lately:
1. Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns, historical/Southern fiction, sent from FB round robin
2. 4321, Paul Auster, literary fiction, won on Shelf Awareness
3. Enough, Bill McKibben, nonfiction, sent from FB round robin
4. Arcanum Unbounded, Brandon Sanderson, fantasy anthology, sent by publisher
5. The Furies Bog, Deborah Jackson, fantasy, sent by author
6. The Princess Bride, William Goldman, fantasy/adventure, sent from FB round robin
7. Make Your Home Among Strangers, Jennine Capo Crucet, literary fiction, Vine review book
8. Ashes, Steven Manchester, literary fiction, sent by publisher
9. The Years That Followed, Catherine Dunne, historical fiction, sent by publisher
10. The Darkness Of Evil, Alan Jacobson, mystery, Vine review book
11. A Trick Of The Light, Louise Penny, mystery, sent from FB round robin
12. Chocolate Jesus, Stephan Jaramillo, humor, sent from a friend
13. Bitter Moon, Alexandra Sokoloff, mystery, sent for book tour
14. Bury The Living, Jodi McIsaac, time travel/historical fiction, sent by publisher
15. Fair And Tender Ladies, Lee Smith, Southern fiction, sent from FB round robin
16. Gregg Olsen, Just Try To Stop Me, mystery, Vine review book
17. The Fortunes, Peter Ho Davies, literary fiction, Vine review book
18. Killing Jane, Stacy Green, mystery, sent by publisher
19. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, literary fiction, Vine review book
Here's what I'm reading:
1. Orphan Mother, Robert Hicks, paperback
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
4. Dear Thief, Samantha Harvey, paperback
5. Confession Of A Serial Killer, Katherine Ramsland, Kindle Fire
6. Nutshell, Ian McEwan, Kindle Fire
7. Something Blue, Emma Jameson, Kindle Fire
8. Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback
9. Arcanum Unbounded, Brandon Sanderson, hardback
9. Hidden, Kendra Elliot, audio
10. The Wangs vs. The World, Jade Chang, Kindle Fire
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Abbie Devereaux wakes without knowing where she is. What she does know is that she cannot see as there is a hood over her head. She cannot move as she is tied hand and foot and with a wire around her neck. She doesn't know how she got to this place or what will happen. Until her captor takes the time to tell her what he plans to do and how she will never know anything else until her death.
Miraculously Abbie manages to escape. She is taken to the hospital, dehydrated, bruised and with huge memory gaps. The police come and take her story. She tells them of the five women's name her captor kept repeating and that those women are others he has kidnapped in the past and killed. Things take a turn she didn't expect though. It turns out that no one realized she was missing. She had just quit a job and broken up with her longtime boyfriend so no one knew she had dropped out of her normal routines. Since she can't remember how she ended up captured and the police can't find any evidence of where she was held, the decision is that Abbie has made up the entire story either seeking attention or because she is having a breakdown.
She is released from the hospital, determined to find out what happened in the missing days leading to her capture and prove the police and doctors wrong. That determination becomes even more important when it becomes clear that the man who took her now considers her an even bigger threat and is actively looking for her to silence her. How ironic that the only one who believes her is the one who wants to put an end to her. Can Abbie find her captor before he finds her?
Fans are familiar with the work of Nicci French, a husband/wife writing team composed of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. They write novels of psychological suspense, both a series about a psychologist named Freida Klein and stand-alone novels. This is one of the stand alone novels and readers will find lots of twists and turns in Abbie's story. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, November 7, 2016
In this Booker longlisted novel, David Szalay gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of nine different men to represent the state of maleness in our time. Some are young, some at the end of their lives. Some are fabulously rich while others are barely making ends meet. Some are in great physical condition while others are facing the limitations of age and the inevitability of death. They interact with women, some in love that is unrequited, some facing the possibility of new life with a woman.
What binds these men and these stories together is the reaching out for connection and often, the impossibility of doing so. A couple who is truly connected is rare and blessed. Too many either miss the connection, straining towards each other but always missing, or the links are tattered and frayed by age. The couple has forgotten the joy of total connection and has let the relationship go limp with disinterest.
David Szalay is considered one of the new stars of literature. He was chosen as one of Granta's Best Of Young British Novelists in 2013. His novels have reaped critical acclaim. Prior novels have won the Betty Trask Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. This anthology has won the 2016 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for Fiction as well as the Man Booker longlist for 2016. It is recommended for readers interested in anthologies and the state of men's relationships in contemporary life.
Friday, November 4, 2016
Old crimes often come to light years after anyone expects them to. That's the case with the two small bodies that have been brought to light when demolition uncovers their final burial place under the basement of an abandoned building. Lucas Davenport, although not with the Minneapolis Police Department any longer, still goes to the site when he hears about it. These are the bodies of the two young sisters who were his first murder case and his work on the case had propelled him from the uniformed division to the detective bureau.
The first case had been declared solved when a street person had been killed during pursuit. Lucas, who had been instrumental in finding him, had his doubts, but the supervising officer had been about to get a promotion and was ready to put the case in the books as solved. Lucas, knowing he was the rookie and probably didn't know as much as the more senior officers, had eventually let it go. Now he is determined to find out if they all made a mistake back then.
Lucas suspected a shadowy man back then. He suspected that the clues they had to the homeless man had come from tips, and that those tips seemed very convenient, coming whenever the investigation seemed to be moving away from the transient. There was another man around the fringes of the case named John Fell, and although that was obviously a pseudonym, Lucas is convinced that finding Fell will also mean finding the murderer. Can he succeed now where he once failed?
This is a fascinating read for fans of Lucas Davenport. The curtain is drawn and the reader sees behind the scenes at Lucas' first case. They see the drive and determination that propelled him to the heights of success he later reached, and they see that the same drive and determination make him a deadly enemy to have. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, October 31, 2016
Reno drifts to New York as she drifts through every phase of her life. She loves speed and has, in her short life, been a competition skier and a motorcycle rider pushing the limit of speed. She even has the world speed record in a car on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Yet that speed and the focus needed for racing seems nonexistent in her daily life. She knows no one in New York City and has a few ideas to express her artistic vision, but really, that vision is still undefined.
Somehow, she falls in with a crowd of successful artists, artists who are currently on the cutting edge of the art scene. Her lover, Sandro Valera, is the son of an immensely rich Italian family whose money comes from tires and rubber, their trademark the motorcycles that Reno loves. Her best friend is working as a waitress as a life performance piece but now seems stuck in that life. Ronnie, who is also Sandro's best friend, comes from the same impoverished background as Reno. She, Sandro and Ronnie have a strange triad relationship.
In the background, rebellion is rising, both in the art world and worldwide. Students are rising as are workers. When Sandro and Reno go to Italy to visit his family, Reno is given an eye-opening look at what Sandro's life really is. She drifts into the Italian student radical life for a while then eventually moves back to New York.
This book received a lot of praise. It was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, a Top Ten book of The New York Times Book Review, and a Time magazine top ten book of the year. Kushner's writing is lyrical, the descriptions instantly transporting the reader into various settings where they can feel the speed of a racing motorcycle, the emptiness of an opening art galley, the frustration and infighting of a radical movement. She captures the feeling of a young person floating through various environments as they search to determine their own identity. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
The hunt is over. Female serial killer Cara Lindstrom is in jail in San Francisco. FBI Agent Matthew Roarke has spent months getting his case to this point. The fact that he is intensely drawn to Lindstrom doesn't mean he is willing to abdicate his legal obligations to prosecute Cara for her crimes.
But it seems the murders aren't over. Another pimp is killed and this time the top suspect is a sixteen year old runaway who has been staying at the local shelter. Jade knows the victim and was one of his stable of girls. The biggest issue for Roarke is that the razor used to kill this victim is the same one Cara used in her sprees. This introduces legal questions into Cara's arrest and her lawyer is determined to get Cara released due to the inconsistencies. More murders happen and there seems to be a cult starting in the streets; a cult that is determined to end female victimization and punish the men that participate. This is the same motive that drives Cara.
When Cara is released, Roarke and his team are torn. Do they stay in San Francisco where it seems new murders that fit the profile happen nightly or do they try to follow to other cities where murders also seem to fit the case? As the team races to make an arrest, the murders pile up and the cult worshipping the murderer strengthens. Who will win?
This is the third in Alexandra Sokoloff's series about the female serial killer, Cara Lindstrom. Cara was the victim of a mass family murder when she was a child and that experience plus the foster care she suffered afterward has turned her into a killing machine determined that others will not suffer as she has. The tension between Lindstrom and Roarke fuels the action and the pace is fast and intricate. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
In 2007, Helen Macdonald was a lecturer at her alma mater, Cambridge University. Her family was plunged into grief when her father, a photojournalist, died unexpectedly with an unexpected heart attack. H Is For Hawk is Macdonald's memoir about the year following this death and her journey through grief.
Macdonald was a falconer and had been fascinated by rapture birds since her childhood. She knew the history and had read all the famous books on the subject. Her first thought after the tragedy was to get a goshawk and train it, to plunge into the natural world when the everyday world was too painful to handle.
The goshawk came. Macdonald named it Mabel. The reader is taken into the world of falconry and the training of a wild bird to glove and to hunt. Macdonald bonded entirely with the bird. She obsessed over every move Mabel made, everything she ate and what Mabel might be feeling. She spent hours working with Mabel, shutting out people she had known. As she worked, she spent time thinking about the work of T.H. White when he attempted to also train a goshawk and his book documenting his methods. She thought about White's early life and how his painful childhood reflected in his training. She grieved with him when he lost his bird.
As time went by, Helen was able to start relating to people again. She took Mabel out in public to parks and wild acreage and talked with those lucky enough to see the bird, explaining what was going on. She worked through her grief and finally started to see the beauty of the world again.
H Is For Hawk was an immediate bestseller and has won multiple prizes. It was a New York Times Review 10 Best Books Of The Year and on the prize lists of such publications as Kirkus Reviews, Time, NPR, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Library Journal. Readers will be fascinated with the details they learn about falconry as well as sympathetic with Macdonald's grief. This book is recommended for science and memoir readers.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine's world has been a small underground prison. She was attacked and kidnapped on the street. Since then she has seen no one but her captor, heard no one, talked to no one. The torture and sexual abuse were unrelenting in the beginning but after three years the toll that malnutrition and neglect have taken on her body is even worse. But she hasn't forgotten who she is or her training. When a citywide blackout occurs, it gives her an advantage over her captor. Jude manages to escape and runs into the night.
Her case made huge news three years ago and her miraculous recovery makes even more news. The fact that her estranged father is the governor makes the story even bigger. But this is not the brash Jude Fontaine who was captured. She has been changed forever. Even when she recovers physically, her ordeal leaves its mark. She returns to the police department, homicide division, a changed woman. In that room, survival meant reading your opponent's every move and interpreting every muscle twitch. Jude now transfers that skill to her work.
She has a new partner, Uriah Ashby. Ashby has his own skeletons and he definitely doesn't think Jude has any business in a homicide division or even back on the force. But the cases keep coming and they have to be worked. Ashby and Fontaine catch a case where a teenage girl is found in the local lake, with stones in her pocket. It looks like suicide but the autopsy shows it was actually a homicide. When a girl they talk to in their investigation is also killed, the pair start to suspect that there may be a serial killer on the loose. Can they uncover a crime that has remained hidden and unsuspected for years?
Anne Frasier has created a memorable character in Jude Fontaine. The description of Jude's confinement and how she adapted to it to emerge with new strengths is excellent. The mystery is a bit predictable but it is fascinating to watch the partners unravel it as they learn to depend on each other and become a strong investigative pair. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Monday, October 24, 2016
The Moulin Rouge. Just the name of this famous Paris nightclub generates excitement and curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes of the exciting stage shows put on there. Over the years, many famous entertainers such as Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Maurine Chevalier and Billie Holliday have headlined there. Now readers can get a first-hand account from a man who spent a year dancing there.
Cliff Simon was born to a wealthy Jewish family in South Africa. His family immigrated to England when he was a teenager due to the social unrest in the country. Cliff was talented physically and was on course to compete for a spot on the British Olympic team but he decided that life was not what he wanted. He returned to South Africa and went through military training and served two years. At loose ends after his military service, he became a dancer. When a friend of his suggested that Cliff join him in Paris and try out for the Moulin Rouge, he was more than ready.
The book is a memoir of Simon's year there. He moved quickly from a part in the male dance team to a named performer. While he was successful on stage, his life offstage was a whirlwind of beautiful women, lots of drinks and many fights. Both he and his friend were hotheaded and thought nothing of starting fights with other men in bars or the police who came to break up the fights. Simon got in trouble with a prostitution gang when they felt one of their women was insulted and he barely escaped entanglement with the local mob. His work permit was for one year and after a year, he decided to move on.
Simon went back to South Africa where he won the first South African male contest. From there he moved into acting and landed a contract on a soap opera where he starred for seven years. He has since been featured on American series such as Stargate, CSI and others. This book is recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs and who are interested in Paris and the nightlife found there.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Life should be great for Luisa 'Lu' Brant. Part of an influential Maryland family, she has just won election as the first woman state's attorney, unseating her former boss. This suburban area of Maryland includes Columbia, a famous planned community that was supposed to be a utopia of equality and diversity when it was created. Lu grew up in Columbia and her father was the state's attorney at that time. Her big brother, AJ, was a big star at the high school with accomplishments in sports, clubs, drama and singing. He has gone on to become the spokesperson for environmental rights. Lu has two children, twins, and the only fly in the ointment was the death of her husband a few years ago.
Lu is determined to be the best states attorney ever seen. She wants to try the highly reported cases herself rather than farming them out to her staff as her former boss did. She sees her first big opportunity with a murder that shocked the community. A woman who lived alone, a solitary woman who worked as a waitress and lived modestly, has been killed in her apartment. The crime wasn't discovered for almost a week and that fact increases the shock value. Luckily, there is enough forensic evidence to quickly settle on a suspect. The man, in his fifties, also grew up in Columbia and attended the same schools as Lu and her brother and all their friends, although no one seems to remember him. He never managed to make it in life, still living with his parents and working dead end jobs when he worked. Was he trying to break in and find things to sell, the murder the work of panic when he was discovered? Had he actually targeted the victim? Not content to rely on the forensic evidence alone, Lu is determined to discover his motive and exactly how the crime unfolded. What she didn't expect was that as she unpeeled the covers on the murderer's life and crime that she would also reveal long-held family secrets that are tied up in the crime's motivations.
Laura Lippmann is a prolific mystery writer and her favored locale is her beloved Baltimore and its surrounding suburbs. In Lu she has created a woman who most women can relate to as she struggles to raise her family while also carrying the weight of a demanding job. The mystery is unfolded slowly enough to sustain interest and the denouement is shocking. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Friday, October 21, 2016
According to the calendar, fall is here, but someone apparently forgot to get the word to the weather gods. It's been very warm, up in the upper eighties most days here. North Carolina was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew and the eastern part of the state was hit with massive flooding. I spent yesterday chasing fall color in the mountains and went to Grandfather Mountain for the first time. I got enough color to satisfy my soul for a while until the color makes its way here to the Piedmont Triad in a few weeks. I've made several trips to Columbia for hurricane cancellations and fall break for USC, so I've been listening to more audiobooks. I also attended a great event, Bibliofeast in Charlotte where ten authors talked about their books to a fascinated crowd of readers. Here's what's come through my door lately:
1. Shadows Of Men, M. Lee Holmes, fantasy, sent by author
2. Silent Source, James Marshall Smith, mystery, sent by author
3. Paris Nights, Cliff Simon, memoir, sent for book tour
4. The Librarians And The Lost Lamp, Greg Cox, fantasy, sent by publisher
5. 8th Street Power & Light, Eric Shonkwiler, post-apocalyptic, sent by publisher
6. Joe Peas, Sam Newsome, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7. One Good Mama Bone, Bren McClain, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8. Fidelity, Jan Fedarcyk, thriller, sent by publisher
9. I'll Take You There, Wally Lamb, literary fiction, sent for book tour
10. Vanity Fair's Writers On Writers, edited by Graydon Carter, anthology, sent by publisher
11. The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. All That Man Is, David Szalay, paperback
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. Mr. Splitfoot, Smantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
4. H Is For Hawk, Helen McDonald, paperback
5. Confession Of A Serial Killer, Katherine Ramsland, Kindle Fire
6. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
7. Wilde Lake, Laura Lippmann, Kindle Fire
8. Cold Moon, Alexandra Sokoloff, paperback
9. Blood Defense, Marcia Clark, audio
10. The Wangs vs. The World, Jade Chang, Kindle Fire
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Jim Olsen has always done what was expected of him. He studied hard in college, graduated and got a great job with a great salary. He got engaged to a woman he loved. Everything was going along smoothly when the bottom fell out. His company unexpectedly fired him. His fiance decided perhaps they weren't a great match after all and left him.
Jim gets another job but won't start for a while. His friend is hiking in the Swiss Alps and asks him to join him. Since Jim hasn't taken a vacation in years since his high-pressure job didn't allow for much time off, he decides to go. The friends hike to a resort. That evening, while in the bar, they see three beautiful women who seem interested in them. Talking to the women, they discover that they are sisters and on a mission.
Their mother has left their father and is now out of touch with the entire family and they are worried about her. The sisters have to leave and won't have time to look for her. They don't want to get the authorities involved since their father is in politics and actually running for the Presidency of France. Could the two men look for her as they hike to their next destination?
Jim and his friend agree but his friend only has one day left before he has to return home. Since Jim doesn't start his new job for another week, he agrees to take on the project. Against all odds, he finds the mother, Calliope, and is surprised to find a vibrant, skillful women who doesn't consider herself lost at all. She just wants to get away from her husband and the life she was leading before. Should Jim try to talk her into returning?
Birkelund has written a story about what is really important in our lives. Should we go along to get along or should we carve out a life that satisfies our inner longings even if it isn't what others approve of? She explores the meaning of love and how much of ourselves we should give up to be in a relationship. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
In 1895, the Plaistow district of Old London was set abuzz with news of a horrific crime. Robert Coombes (13) and his brother Nattie (12) were seen about town, going to cricket matches and shows and treating their friends to sweets. Their father was a ship steward and on a trip to New York. But where was their mother? When relatives and neighbors asked, the boys insisted she went to the shore to visit a sister. They then got a man who had done chores for the family to stay with them, hoping to deflect suspicion. But after ten days, their aunt forced her way in and found her sister's rotting corpse upstairs in her bed, dead of horrific knife wounds.
The boys were the obvious suspects. They were arrested and taken to the Old Bailey to await trial. Robert quickly confessed. Nattie was more reluctant and was released as being considered the lessor of the two in guilt. The press went wild, insisting that 'modern' youth were heartless and capable of any crime. In particular, Robert's fondness for the penny dreadfuls, those tales of daring-do beloved of schoolboys, were blamed for inciting him.
At his trial, his lawyers were successful in claiming mental illness for him. Nattie testified against his older brother. Robert was then sent to Broadmoor, the infamous insane asylum. But as the story more fully emerged, it become clear that Robert acted because of feeling unsafe with his mother and to protect Nattie. The boys had run away at least twice and perhaps Robert felt that this was his only recourse. He stayed in Broadmoor for years and was finally released a young man.
The story could have ended there, but Summerscale goes on to research and discuss the rest of Coombes' life. He joined the military and fought in World War I on the Australian side. Both of the brothers emigrated there for a new life. He then spent the rest of his life in Australia, farming and continuing his love of music.
Summerscale was the literary editor for the Daily Telegraph. Her former journalist career is evident in the careful research and her sourcing of information. Robert's life is detailed, but so is the life in Victorian London, the history of penny dreadfuls, the medical regimen at Broadmoor and the military contributions of Australia in World War I. Readers will be fascinated at the wealth of detail Summerscale provides and the restitution of Coombes life. The author's books have been shortlisted for awards such as the Whitbread Biography Prize, the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction and the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. She has won the British Book Awards Book Of The Year. This book is recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the Victorian era.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Things haven't been right in Nan Lewis' world for a long time. A creative writing teacher at a private college in upstate New York, she can trace when her world fell apart to the day her four year old daughter was hit and killed on the narrow, twisting road in front of their house. Nan had gone inside for just a moment while her daughter played in the yard. She'll never know what made her go down into the road but her life ended when Ellie's did. Six years later she is sleepwalking through her job still, her husband gone.
The blows keep coming. Nan finds out at a faculty Christmas party that she will be denied tenure. Her colleagues, such as her nearest neighbor Clarissa and her supervisor, Ross, think she is on her way to being an alcoholic. Distraught, she gets in her car and heads home only to hit a deer on the same road where her daughter was killed. She tries to follow the deer into the woods to be sure it is OK only to fall asleep or is it passing out from too much drink? She awakens and stumbles home. The next morning she finds that her best student, Leia, was hit and killed right outside her home. The police see the damage on her car and she is immediately a suspect. What shocks her is how quickly her college community all turn on her.
Nan realizes that if she wants to be exonerated, she will have to prove her innocence by finding the guilty party. Is it local bad boy Troy who had a thing for Leia? Her supervisor Ross who some suspect of being way too close to the student he was supposed to have a professional relationship with? The woman who killed Nan's daughter who has been recently released from prison and who Nan has seen hanging around? Nan needs to find the truth soon before she is overwhelmed again.
Carol Goodman has written a series of mysteries, each a stand-alone novel. This novel echoes her own life. She is a creative writing teacher and lives in the Hudson Valley herself. Goodman's characters are fighting for clarification and resolution of life problems while fighting their own internal demons. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Friday, October 14, 2016
The year is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is no longer a young man. He has spent his adult life fighting wars, it seems, first the Indians and then the Civil War which took his livelihood. His wife is gone also and her death weighs on him. His two daughters are far away back in the South he has left. Captain Kidd is a news reader. He wanders from small rural Texas town to small town and in each town he books a meeting place. There he reads stories about the world from newspapers to people who will never travel to other places and who have a limited idea about the world and everything in it. It's not what the Captain expected to be doing in his seventies and he won't ever get rich doing it, but its a life and one that has its rewards.
Everything changes when he is hired to deliver Johanna Leonberger back to her family. Johanna was six when the Kiowa raiders came to her farm and killed her parents and siblings. For some reason, they took Johanna with them and she has lived with them for four years and now considers herself to be Indian. She has forgotten English and the German of her family. She has forgotten forks and knives, books and dolls, women's clothes and towns. She can make a fire and cook dinner and has a warrior's heart. All she wants is to escape from Captain Kidd and rejoin her tribe, the tribe that sold her back to the white settlers. Kidd agrees to make the four hundred mile journey through Texas to take Johanna back home, back to her aunt and uncle.
The trip is perilous and Johanna is not an easy traveling companion. She attempts to escape and it takes days to start to teach her how to eat and start to regain her former languages. There is danger on the road. There are roving bands of men who have little to lose after the war and rival loyalties that tear towns apart. There are people who want to capture Johanna for their own purposes. There are still roving bands of Indians as well as roving bands of desperadoes who will kill for a few coins. The weather and terrain are dangerous but all that Captain Kidd expected. What he didn't expect was to fall in love one more time in his life, a love for a child who seems to have no one else.
Paulette Jiles identifies as a poet and her poetry background is evident in the haunting language and descriptions in this novel. She explores the concept of family and the place that chance has in our lives. She has written bestselling novels such as Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color Of Lightning and Lighthouse Island. News Of The World has been selected as a National Book Award finalist. This novel is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in what makes a family.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
In this fascinating history and travel memoir, Paul Schneider takes the reader on a journey on the Mississippi River, one of the most striking geographical features of the North American continent. The book is developed around time periods and how the Mississippi played a part in each era.
The author begins with prehistoric times and talks about how the Mississippi was created and the various facts surrounding the river. He discusses the mammoths and other creatures who were inhabitants at that time. From there, Schneider moves on to the age of the Native American and how the river impacted the various tribes that made their home there. The Europeans came in their turn and possession of the river became important from a trading and military basis as the French and English fought to claim it, each willing to take what they wanted from the previous inhabitants.
After the battle to claim territory ended with the English the victor, the author talks about life along the river, the various ships that were used and what was traded and what an average riverman's life was like. The Civil War brought the prominence of the River back into focus as the North and the South each fought for strategic advantage and the ability to either expand or prohibit slavery. Finally, Schneider talks about the environmental impacts that the engineering features of levees to hold back floods has had. That decision and the 50,000 dams that are on the Mississippi these days, mean that what floods occur are more serious, that the farmlands along the river are not periodically replenished by new topsoil, and that Louisiana is slowly being eaten away. Regardless of topic, the reader learns a myriad of facts, each grounded in relevant context.
Readers should enjoy Schneider's writing style. It covers each topic in detail but without becoming dry or overwhelming. The book is a mixture of historical and sociological facts, interspersed with Schneider's own travels on the river. The author is a nonfiction writer who has been published in various magazines such as The New York Times, O, Audubon, Esquire and The New Yorker. This book is recommended for readers of history and travel writing.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
When Dr. Freida Klein opens the door of her London house, she doesn't expect to see Maddie Capel on her doorstep. Maddie was in her high school although not in Freida's group of friends. Freida has no interest in recalling old memories; she left Braxton when she was young and never returned or kept up with anyone she knew there. But Maddie hasn't come to reminisce. She has come to ask Freida to see her daughter, Becky, who is having trouble. Freida reluctantly agrees to evaluate Becky.
When Becky opens up, Freida's nightmare begins. Becky's behavioral issues stem from the night she awoke to find a man in her room, a man who raped her and told her not to tell anyone because they won't believe her. That prediction is true. Even Becky's mother doesn't believe her and won't even take her to the police. Frieda's blood runs cold. For twenty-three years ago, the same thing happened to her and was the cause of her departure. She was raped in her room also and she comes to believe that it was the same man then and now.
Determined to put an end to these enduring issues in her own past and to find justice for Becky, Freida returns to Braxton. All of her old crowd are still there. Some are financially successful; others have carved out careers in the arts. All are shocked to see her and are uncomfortable as Freida attempts to reconstruct what happened in the past and what is still happening in Braxton. Will Freida find the answers she so badly needs in order to put her past behind her?
This is the fourth installment in the Dr. Freida Klein series. French has created a singular character in Klein. She is so decisive, knows her own mind, and is not afraid to do and say the things she needs to in order to move forward and to help her patients. This time her patient is herself and the reader is fascinated with a look at the story that made Klein the woman she has become. This book is recommended for mystery readers.