Friday, March 31, 2017
It's an annual ritual. Anxious high-school seniors, their dreams of their future lives and careers on the line, start the grueling process of admission to the college of their choice. From the time they are in elementary school, the importance of this moment and what it takes to be successful are pounded into kids. You must have great grades. AP classes are not a choice but a necessity and you better do well in those. Your SAT and ACT scores will determine your future. You need glowing recommendations from educators who insist you are the best student they've ever encountered. Oh, and you better have tons of extracurricular activities, a driving passion for some subject, proof that you will shine.
Once all the grades and accolades have been collected, it's time to actually fill out the admission form. Your essay is the most important paper you will ever write. Because here's the truth. For every spot in great colleges, there are scores if not hundreds of students who also want that seat. Can you outshine the girl who has won her state's poetry contest? The guy who has lettered in three sports while also doing groundbreaking scientific research? The applicant whose parents and grandparents all went to this university? Better apply to four or five colleges to be sure of getting in somewhere next year.
As familiar as this story is for most families, the one that Jean Hanff Korelitz tells the reader in Admission is one they probably haven't heard. Korelitz tells the story of Portia Nathan, an admissions representative at Princeton University. Portia is consumed with a stressful career, the recruiting visits, the anxious questions wherever she goes, the reading and scoring of applications, the genteel wars conducted in the admissions committees as each admission representative fights for their favorites. Outside of her work, Portia has lived a settled couple existence with Mark, an English professor at the university. They are a quiet couple, no kids but work they love and a social live composed of other university couples.
Then everything changes. Mark falls in love with a new professor and Portia's home life is threatened. She meets a man on a recruiting trip who she is attracted to and who shares in that attraction. She also meets a fascinating student at an alternative school whose paperwork and grades are unlikely to win him a place at Princeton, but a student who will shine and who will contribute to the university as he has a unique, brilliant mind. Unsettled by her personal life, Portia is determined to push this student's application through regardless of all the shining applicants who will be pushed aside if she succeeds.
Readers will be intrigued to read this alternate view of the admission process. It is such an all-consuming process for families that most have never stopped to consider the people who are actually making the critical decisions that influence the rest of their child's life. Portia's quiet, settled life and her willingness to shake it up after years of contentment is interesting and the reader wants to get to know her better and understand her motivations. This book is recommended for readers or literary fiction or anyone with a child who will be undergoing the admission process.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Grayson Hernadez has come a long way but not as far as he dreams of. Born in a poor neighborhood, he has fought his way out and become a lawyer. Not an Ivy League lawyer, but a graduate of a city university with no prestige. Instead of job offers at big-name law firms, the best job he could find was as a messenger in the Supreme Court. Gray is thrilled to be there as he always idolized everything about the Court, but it hurts to be in a menial position while others his same age are chosen to work as clerks to the justices. They are smarter or harder working, but they have the background and education expected of high flyers.
One day after work Gray steps in and stops a mugging in the Court's parking garage. After the intruder escapes, he goes to help the victim and realizes it is the Court's Chief Justice. The Justice takes notice of Gray and promotes him to clerk. Gray is overjoyed and is determined to work so hard that the fact of his unorthodox entry won't matter. The other clerks are less than happy to have him join the team but Gray is used to not fitting in and settles down to work. Then the police who investigated the mugging ask for a meeting.
There have been several incidents and there are signs linking the crimes to the Supreme Court. The police want Gray to be their eyes and ears inside the Court and report back anything suspicious he might see. Gray is not happy with this plan but feels compelled to help. There have been several murders each of which have occurred on the fifth of a month. The next date is coming up and the police are determined to close the case before that date rolls around. Can Gray help or will he get entangled in the murderer's plans and be executed himself?
Franze has written a thriller that educates the reader to the back scene procedures of the Supreme Court while unfolding a mystery. Gray is a likeable protagonist although naive and too easily led by those around him. As the mystery unfolds, he reconnects with his past and finds a way to merge his background and his future plans. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Aljaz Cosini, a Tasmanian, has signed on as lead guide on a rafting trip down the Franklin River in Tasmania. Cosini has been away from his homeland for a decade and is not in the best of shape for such a grueling job, but he's broke and needs a job. His co-guide, Cockroach, is young and strong but doesn't know the river at all. Still, it's a week and they need the money. They collect their group who are a typical group of tourists and set out. But the river is in the mood for blood. The weather turns and steady rain causes the river to rise precipitously When one of the tourists makes a foolhardy move, Aljaz jumps into the river to save him. Instead, he finds himself head down stuck between two rocks, slowly drowning.
As his last minutes tick away, Aljaz finds himself having a series of visions. He sees his life rush past, with jobs from footballer to sailor to handyman. His marriage to the only woman he has ever really loved flashes past with the reason it failed in the biggest tragedy of his life. He not only sees his own life, but that of his ancestors. That includes his parents. Harry marries an Eastern European woman he finds and falls in love with in Italy in a misbegotten attempt to become a sewing machine salesman. They return instead to Tasmania where they live out their lives, their closest friend the midwife who assists at Aljaz's birth. But Aljaz sees even further back to ancestors such as Ned Quade, who comes to Tasmania as the result of transportation for a crime he doesn't even remember. He also has visions of the Aboriginal woman whose place in his genetic background is never talked about.
Richard Flanagan is acknowledged as one of Australia's premier authors. He won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel, The Narrow Road To The Deep North, an exploration of the Australian experience during the second World War and the Japanese POW camps. This was Richard Flanagan's second novel. As always, he explores the history and lush environment of the land he lives in and loves. He captures the beauty and the despair that is the characteristic of the people who live there. He explores the exploitation of both Tasmania's natural resources and the native people who are supplanted there by those who come and conquer the land. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Monday, March 27, 2017
When Clare married Jess Martin, they had big plans. Both graduates of the writing program at their university, they expected to have stellar writing careers. Jess was first out of the gate with a novel that got a big advance and some praise, although their writing professor and mentor dammed it with faint praise. Then their plans got stuck. Jess's second novel just didn't seem to materialize. Clare basically gave up her own writing to support them, working in the industry as a copy editor instead.
The couple decide to get out of the city and move to the country where it is cheaper to live and both can start their writing careers anew. They are quickly dismayed when they realise their down payment won't buy anything they would want to live in. Finally, the real estate agent shows them a cottage on a local mansion. The owner needs a couple to move in and be caretakers on the property. It sounds ideal until they hear the owner's name. This is River House and it is the family home of their old college professor, Alden Montague, the man Jess believes killed his career. Clare has other misgivings as River House is in her old hometown and she isn't ready to move back and reestablish a life in a place she couldn't wait to leave as a young girl.
But they overcome their misgivings in favor of a fresh start. Monty, as he is known to all, seems delighted to see them both again and is quite encouraging of their efforts to rekindle their creative fires. He has other creative artists in residence, a puppeteer and a sculptor. Jess and Clare seem to fit right in. Clare is caught by the interior of the house and a picture that reminds her of the story she wrote in college that first caught Monty's eye. It was a story with gothic overtones of the Apple Queen, a local beauty queen who comes to a horrific end. Clare, with Monty's support, starts to expand this work. Jess's writing also seems to be off to a great start.
But things aren't that good. As Clare delves deeper into the legend, she learns that it is based on a real tragedy, a tragedy that involved Monty's family. His father had a torrid affair with a local girl but when she got pregnant, bought off the family with a farm and instead married a society girl, who also got pregnant right away. Having two women living a mile apart, both pregnant by the same man and fighting for his attention, led nowhere good. It ended in one baby stillborn, one woman drowned, the other hospitalized in a mental institution for life after killing the man who caused the tragedy. Now Clare is so involved in the story that it seems to come to life for her. She begins to see the ghost of the Apple Queen and comes to find that she may be related and more involved in the story than she had even imagined. The marriage starts to feel the strain as Jess seems to become jealous of Clare's work, although he passes it off as concern. Is Clare headed for a breakdown?
Carol Goodman specializes in novels featuring middle-class educated women who find themselves in situations that seem unlikely and border on the supernatural. She is a master at plotting and building tension and the reader is surprised at the denouement and how it all works out. This book is recommended for readers of psychological suspense. It can be purchased at Harper Collins or Amazon. I received this novel from TLC Book Tours.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Growing up, Mia Haas couldn't wait to get away from her small farming community in North Dakota. Raised by a narcissistic, alcoholic mother and with few friends at school, the only bright spot in her life was her twin brother, Lucas. He was the town's golden boy, handsome and a hockey star. Once she graduated, she ran as fast as she could to college and then to a city life as a pharmacist. Her brother had a harder time settling down as he always thought he'd play professional hockey, but after realizing that wouldn't happen, he eventually returned to their town where he seemed to be happy teaching English at the local high school and coaching the soccer team. Their mother, who had never recovered from a car accident in the kid's senior year, still lived there in assisted living, but might or might not recognize them from day to day.
Mia's life is better, although she is starting to get bored with her job. Then she gets the call. Her brother is missing. Mia drops everything and heads to North Dakota. When she gets there, it is a nightmare. Lucas is not just missing. He is the prime suspect in the murder of a beautiful high school girl, the daughter of the richest and most influential family in town. Even worse he is suspected of having a relationship with the girl who seemed to have a crush on him. Mia can't believe any of that and she is determined to stay until she can find her brother and help him refute the charges. Mia is the only person who seems to worry that something might have also happened to Lucas.
There doesn't seem to be much hard evidence, but the rumors and gossip that drove Mia away are in full force. Could any of it be true? Lucas had always been the one the town loved, his good looks and athletic ability making him a hometown hero, but now everyone seems to be against him. Mia starts to look for other suspects. Joanna wasn't the perfect girl everyone had thought her. She had a boyfriend who was the local drug dealer. She was in constant conflict with her mother, who was living her own dreams of becoming a dancer through Joanna. But there are plenty of people ready to believe anything about Lucas. The local sheriff has disliked him since their mother's accident, when Lucas was adamant that law enforcement wasn't getting the true story of what caused their mother to crash. His former best friend married Lucas' old girlfriend, the girlfriend that couldn't believe it when Lucas and she broke up and who stalked him for months. The press, sensing a juicy story, are out in full force, printing any rumor they can find. These people are all too ready to believe the worst about him. Mia is frantic to find him as she thinks Lucas could be in danger somewhere or murdered along with Joanna. Can she find him when the police and the whole town seem to be against her?
Sherri Smith has written a taut, fascinating look at small-town life and how the roles never seem to change. Those with money and good looks lead a charmed life at the expense of those around them. People are assigned a value and place in society early on and it is almost impossible to change the community's assignment. As Mia faces down the prejudice and smugness of a town ready for Lucas to get his comeuppance, she remembers why she couldn't wait to leave. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
It's mid-March already! Time for St. Patrick's day and March Madness. My Tarheels are in the tournament and I hope will have a great run. After weeks of warm weather, it's now cool and damp and very unencouraging as far as venturing out. I think I'll spend this week getting my taxes ready and reading. Here's what's come through the door lately:
1. A Shattered Circle, Kevin Egan, mystery, sent by publisher
2. The Velveteen Daughter, Laurel Davis Huber, biography, sent by publisher
3. To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, anthology, sent by publisher
4. The Curse Of La Fontaine, M.L. Longworth, mystery, sent by publisher
5. Beauty And The Beast, Penguin Classics, anthology, sent by publisher
6. The Widow's House, Carol Goodman, suspense, sent for book tour
7. Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, anthology, purchased
8. Gateway To Everywhere, Ernest Frankel, historical fiction, sent by publisher
9. The Lost Book Of The Grail, Charlie Lovett, thriller, sent by publisher
10. Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11. Duplicity, Jane Haseldine, mystery, sent for book tour
12. The Book Of Polly, Kathy Hepinstall, literary fiction, sent by publisher
13. The Skill Of Our Hands, Steven Brust/Skyler White, fantasy, sent by publisher
14. Follow Me Down, Sherri Smith, suspense, sent for book tour
15. Hide Me Among The Graves, Tim Powers, fantasy, purchased
16. The Familiar, Vol I, Mark Danielewski, literary fiction, purchased
17. Chemistry, Weike Wang, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's what I'm reading:
1. What Comes Next, John Katzenbach, paperback
2. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
3. Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt, Kindle Fire
4. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride, paperback
5. Perfect Prey, Laura Salters, Kindle Fire
6. Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7. The Buried Book, D.M. Pulley, audio
8. Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback
9. Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10. Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback
11. Smoke, Dan Vyleta, Kindle Fire
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Jennifer is running away from home. The sixteen year old can't endure another day of her mother living with her horrible step-father or the school where she has no friends. As she strides towards the bus station, her world is abruptly ended when a van stops and she is yanked off the street. Her captors are a couple, young people whose minds are in total sync. Michael is a computer whiz who thinks of himself as a star in the online world. Linda is a business woman who thinks act is fine but only if there's money to be made. Together they make a murderous, sociopathic pair.
When Jennifer's absence is noticed, Terri, the detective who catches the call, isn't sure what to think. She has been to Jennifer's house two other times when the teenager ran away. Isn't this just one more attempt, perhaps a successful one this time? When a retired psychology professor comes forward and says he saw the abduction, she starts to believe it could be true. But her police routines and procedures show no clue as to what as happened to Jennifer.
Jennifer is now know as #4. She is confined in a basement with her every move captured on a camera and broadcast on the Internet. Her captors sell subscriptions on the darkest parts of the Internet to those who are fascinated by the thought of a helpless girl confined and condemned to endure whatever her captors want to do to her. The subscription is interactive so that the viewers can post suggestions or bet on when various acts might occur. As the number implies, Jennifer is not the couple's first victim and the first three are all dead.
Jennifer's only chance is a strange trio of people. Professor Adrian Thomas is recently retired, a former psychology professor who spent his life experimenting and observing the far reaches of the mind. He has, however, just gotten the news that he has a neurological condition that will quickly take his mind and reasoning from him. Detective Terri Cross is willing to help but burdened with too many cases and too little time. Finally, there is the man who is a sexual offender himself but who the professor convinces to be his guide through the hidden, forbidden parts of the Internet. Can this unlikely trio get to Jennifer before her time is up?
John Katzenbach has long been recognized as one of the masters of psychological suspense working today. This novel is one of his best efforts. The action moves inevitably to a gruesome end with the tension tightening and tightening until the reader both dreads and is compelled to continue reading to see what occurs. This book is recommended for mystery and suspense readers.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
All Locke remembers is the street. First he was part of a ragtag group of kids who were street urchins, pickpockets and thieves for the Thieftaker. When he proved too intractable for the Thieftaker to handle, he was sold to Father Chains, also known as The Eyeless Father. By day, Chains sat in front of his temple, chained and begging. But as soon as night fell, he threw off his chains and eye bandages and showed his true colors, as the leader of a group of misfits known as The Gentlemen Bastards. Chains raised this group of boys to be smart thieves, fearless in guile and fighting. There are the twins, Locke and Jean. They were taught to be thieves, yes, but they were also given an education and taught languages, how to cook and appreciate fine things and how to appear as gentlemen. Most of all they were taught to be brothers forever, to look out for each other first and always.
Fast forward a decade or so. Locke is now grown and the head of the group. He is not the biggest, in fact he is fairly scrawny. But he is brilliant and fearless. Jean has grown to be the most feared warrior of the group, unbeatable in battle. The twins are inseparable and loyal. A fifth Bastard has been added. Bug is the group's newest apprentice, learning everything he can about how to steal and prosper.
Locke is involved in a massive scam. He is posing as a gentleman and scamming one of Camorr's finest noble families out of their fortune. In the midst of this, he gets caught up in a battle royale between the current head of the city's underground society and a newcomer determined to take control. Both expect Locke's loyalty and help. Then there is the small matter of the head of the city's justice having Locke square in her sights as well. Can Locke and the Gentlemen Bastards maneuver between all these enemies to gain their fortune and live another day?
This is one of the best books I've read in the fantasy genre. Whenever I think about the fact that this is a debut novel, it is almost unbelievable. Lynch has created a wonderful world, reminiscent of old Renaissance crime-ridden cities mixed with Dickensian-like characters and intricate plotting. The reader cannot help but love Locke and the other Gentlemen Bastards, even though they are not of the side or truth and light. Under their criminal veneer, their basic goodness and unending loyalty to each other is intriguing. This is the first in a trilogy of adventures, and readers will close the last page ready to buy and read the next. This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Lane Roanoke's mother dies when Lane is almost sixteen. She is sent to her grandparents to live, the grandparents she has never met and whom her mother would never discuss. They live in Kansas, a place totally dissimilar to the New York city streets Lane has grown up on. When she gets there, she finds that the Roanokes are the premier family of the area, known for their riches and the beautiful Roanoke girls. She finds a friend in her cousin Allegra, who has always lived there.
Lane slowly learns to adjust and starts to trust that she now has a family, one that loves her. Her mother had never been happy and never really was a mother to her. Lane doesn't know why but it was the only evidence of family she ever had. Here, her grandparents are interested in her every move and love her unconditionally, especially her handsome grandfather. Lane and Allegra become fast friends and as the weeks go by she meets other teens, including Tommy who is Allegra's boyfriend and Cooper, whose every look makes Lane feel things she has never felt before.
But there are secrets hiding in the Roanoke family. Allegra and Lane are the only ones of their generation even though there were three sisters. All are now dead or disappeared. Even going back a generation, there are stories of women who died too early. What is going on? Why is the family both admired and feared in the town? As the summer goes on, Lane starts to find out the secrets that underlie the family's facade and when the worst secret becomes evident, she becomes another Roanoke girl that disappears. She packs a suitcase and hitchhikes away, never to return.
But now it is a decade later. Allegra has gone missing and her grandfather calls her, asking for her help. As much as Lane dreads going back, she feels that she owes it to Allegra to help find her while there is still time. Nothing has changed. The house is the same, her grandparents are the same, and even Tommy and Cooper are the same. The only things that have changed are the fact that Allegra has disappeared and the willingness of Lane to blow up all the secrets to find her. Can she recover Allegra and make amends?
Amy Engel has written a tense, compelling narrative both of a teen girl slowly discovering a horrible secret about her family and that of a grown woman determined to do what is best for the cousin she left behind. It displays the insidious nature of secrets and how they can damage individuals for years, even decades and once again, shows the reader that those who seem the most fortunate may be plagued by misfortunes others can only glimpse. This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels and readers of young adult novels who are ready for a more mature book.
Monday, March 6, 2017
It's New Year's Day but that doesn't mean much to Detective Harry Bosch. He's working anyway, holiday or not. In fact, he catches a case when a man walking his dog reports that the dog has come back with a human bone. The man is a doctor and insists he knows what a human bone looks like. Harry goes out to see and looking around, finds the dump site and several other bones.
When the scene of crime technicians are through, the collected bones are sent to the medical examiner. His report is that the bones are those of a young teen boy, probably twelve to thirteen. Cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head. Even more disturbing, the bones tell a story of continued child abuse with multiple fractures all over the boy's body. Harry and his partner are determined to bring the boy's killer to justice even if this is a twenty-year old cold case.
Of course, things are never that simple. Harry has met a new woman, a rookie cop who comes to the crime scene. He knows it's probably not a good idea to get involved with someone from work but she's hard to resist. Then there are his superiors who have always regarded Harry as a loner and a trouble-maker even if he is one of the best detectives the LAPD has. There's always plenty of office politics to interfere in Bosch's cases.
Michael Connelly is one of the stellar names in police procedurals. He has written over twenty Harry Bosch novels and Bosch is one of the detectives mystery readers recognize. The character has even had an Amazon Prime TV series made to follow Harry's cases. City Of Bones is the eighth Bosch novel and the one that Season One is based on. Connelly is a solid writer and gives insight into a police detective's job and all the other factors that complicate an investigation. This book is recommended for mystery readers.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
It is the Romantic Era in England. Dr. Michael Crawford stops at an inn the night before his marriage to the beautiful Julia. He and his friends have a typical bachelor party and on his way to bed, inebriated, he takes his fiance's wedding ring out of his pocket and slips on the finger of a statue of a woman. When he comes to the next morning, he rushes down to the yard but the statue is nowhere to be found. He buys a substitute ring from the innkeeper and rides on to his wedding. That night, he sleeps heavily after his honeymoon night with Julia. He awakes the next morning to a horrific sight. Julia has been murdered during the night and not just murdered but brutally torn apart. He flees the room in horror and as he realises that he is the prime suspect, flees England also.
He comes to discover that he is the victim of the Nephelim, a race of vampires and stone creatures that crave human interaction. He moves across Europe, helped by others in his same predicament. Some are like him, brought into the realm of the creature's desires by fate or a foolish act. Some seek the Nephelim out for their ability to become Muses and grant the victim marvelous powers of creation. As he moves about, he encounters famous poets such as John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, all men desired by the nephelim. They started by seeking them out for their ability to help them write poetry but end by being willing to do anything to break free of their insidious powers. Crawford and his companion, who is Julia's twin sister, work with the men to break the control the vampire/Nephelims have over all their lives. Can they be successful?
Tim Powers is one of the legendary names of fantasy. He has won the Phillip K. Kick Memorial Award twice and the World Fantasy Award three times. His most accessible work, On Stranger Tides, was the basis for the highly successful Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. His trademark is lush language that outlines a historical venue that slowly turns horrific. His research of the history on which he bases his novels is supreme and the reader is totally absorbed in his narrative. I listened to this book over several weeks as I was on my daily walk and it was always a fascinating experience. This book is recommended for fantasy and horror readers.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The year is 1888. Gas lamps illuminate the night but change is coming. Thomas Edison has invented the electric light bulb, or has he? George Westinghouse has a competing light bulb and the two are locked in a epic patent lawsuit; the winner assured of a massive fortune. Edison's invention uses direct current while Westinghouse's uses alternating current. Which will win out in the marketplace and more importantly, in the courts?
Westinghouse is up against one of the most famous men in the country. Edison is not only widely known and revered but has the backing of some of the most powerful men in the country such as the financier J. P. Morgan. Westinghouse finds it difficult to find an attorney willing to take on such behemoths of industry and influence. Most law firms turn him down until he meets a young man, just out of law school but considered a prodigy.
Paul Cravath is only twenty-six years old. He takes the case but is soon consumed by it and Westinghouse is his only client. Edison has sued Westinghouse across the country in multiple courts. As the two fight the epic legal battle, Cravath is exposed to locales and individuals he never expected to see as the son of educators from Tennessee. Outside of the two businessmen, he meets and befriends others. Nikola Tesla is a brilliant inventor from Europe who cares nothing about the financial stakes as his only interest is in inventing things never seen before. Agnes Huntington is a renowned singer who has entry into the parties and meetings of what is considered top society. Paul Cravath is a novice in this environment, but his ingenuity and legal brilliance insures that his name will survive.
Graham Moore is a successful young novelist, similar in early success to Paul Cravath. He won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for his work on The Imitation Game. His first novel, The Sherlockian, was an Amazon Best Book of December 2010 and The Last Days Of Night was an Amazon Best Book of August 2016. His forte is taking events and personalities from the past and writing an engaging tale that interests and educates the reader. What could be a dull recounting of facts is instead an intriguing tale of shifting alliances, legal maneuvers, a retelling of famous lives and a fascinating adventure. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.