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.
Monday, October 3, 2016
In this fourth and final novel in the Evermen epic series, humanity is facing a greater threat than it ever has. The Lord Of The Night has his banishment to another land where he and the other Evermen have been trapped for millenia. He has no love for humans; he sees them only as slaves and fodder to make essence to support his grandiose plans to conquer and rule the Earth.
All of humanity comes together to fight this threat. They are led by Killian who is the new emperor but who has an Everman father so has some of their power. But Killian is new to his powers and ruling and doesn't know everything he is capable of. Miro leads the troops into battle and is the veteran of many campaigns and wars. His sister, Ella the Enchantress, is at the side of these men and her willingness to do anything she can to serve her country means she puts her personal feelings on hold. Humanity is facing a threat they have never seen, an army of the undead. This means that even as their forces are reduced by battle, the opposing forces continue to gain in strength and numbers. Can humanity win this final battle for Earth?
Maxwell has created an intriguing world with magnificent characters. Readers will be fascinated with the land which is built on magic but where human choices and alliances mean the difference between life and death. The main characters are interesting with many secondary characters whose lives are also fully developed. The battle scenes are well done and the sweep and scope of the novels keeps the reader intrigued. This book is recommended for fantasy readers.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
The world is taken by storm when a young girl stumbles out of a forest in France onto a road where she is hit by a car and taken to a hospital. It turns out that the girl, Quinn Perkins, is an American exchange student. She is in a coma and cannot tell anyone what has happened to her. Even more ominously, when the police visit her exchange family, the Blavettes, it turns out that the entire family is missing. What has occurred? Does Quinn know the answers?
Local and international media descend on the small French town but it is a story with no answers, just lots of waiting at the hospital for Quinn to wake up or for the occasional police briefing with no new information. Online journalist Molly Swift isn't one to wait around. She worms her way into the hospital and then into Quinn's room by pretending to be Quinn's aunt. Will she break the story of what happened before she is found out?
Kate Horsley has written an intriguing thriller that will pull readers into a world of secrets and intrigue. The plot is slowly unfolded and the reader realizes that what has seemed sure is anything but sure and that nothing is as it originally seems. Sympathies are given then removed as secrets are revealed. This book is recommended for mystery readers.