Tuesday, August 15, 2017

To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

In this debut book, Caitlin Hamilton Summie uses the medium of the short story to explore the important junction points of lives.  There is the man who waits in the hospital for his son to be born.  A young girl from a middle-class background finds herself living in Alphabet City in New York, adrift from all she knows about life and relationships.  A woman remembers a snowstorm and how shepherding schoolchildren to safety allowed her to find her adult strength and know she was up to the task of parenting.  A grandfather dies and sisters discover the fault line in their sisterhood and the resentment when a family member grows in a way that is unanticipated.  A woman decides to write down her family's history and finds the story of the sister who was written out of the family memories.  One story picks up on a story related earlier, of sisters who have drifted apart but who are redefining what they mean to each other.

The character definitions are clear; the reader can picture the individuals who are portrayed and recognize their characteristics in other people they have known.  The descriptions are luminous, taking the reader to the place in which the story is set.  One example, 'My father grabbed me by the hand, and we jogged across the yard.  The night air was cold.  Subzero temperatures slapped me awake.  Our boots crunched the snow as we ran.  I will remember this always, this jog to the barn in the middle of the night with only the light of the stars.'

Caitlin earned her MFA With Distinction from Colorado State University.  Since then her stories have been published in various places but the reader will be glad to find them collected into one book.    Her deft writing explores what family means, how we love and how we let others down but as we keep trying to connect, find each other again and again.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how we all relate to each other.

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

Everyone knows the story.  A royal couple, after years of longing, have a beautiful baby girl.  All their subjects and the fairies and woodland creatures come to celebrate the birth.  But one evil fairy, miffed that her invitation didn't come, storms the party and curses the baby to prick her finger and fall asleep forever.

In this imaginative retelling, Robin McKinley gives an alternative story.  When the evil fairy, Pernicia, casts her spell, a fairy named Katriona is there.  She won the lottery in her distant, small village to come to the name day of the new infant.  She takes the baby in that moment of the curse and returns with it to her village.  The trip takes weeks and the two are helped along their journey by the wild animals they encounter; the female badgers and rabbits and foxes providing the milk a baby must have.

The baby, Briar-Rose, is raised by Kat and her mother.  They give a story about it being the baby of a distant cousin who needs a home.  Rosie grows up in the village with no idea about the royal blood she carries in her veins.  Instead, she becomes a horse vet as she has the ability to talk with all the animals she encounters.  It's a good life, surrounded by love and joy but has the ruse worked?  Will Rosie escape the curse laid on the babe twenty-one years ago?

This is a joyful book, full of spells and coincidences that turn out to push the story along.  Rosie is no wilting sheltered princess.  Instead she is a woman who knows her own mind and knows how to fight when it is needed.  Robin McKinley has written several fairy tale retelling novels.  She has won the Newberry Award for young adult fiction along with other awards.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Paul has always been there for Claire.  He is a successful architect and she has never had to work.  Instead she has led the typical successful suburban life with tennis and shopping.  He came into her life back in college where she was still reeling from the disappearance of her sister, Julie, a few years before.  Julie was never found and her loss tore Claire's family apart.  Her parents divorced and her sister Lydia escaped into drugs and terrible men.  But Paul took her away from all that and gave her a wonderful life.

Then tragedy strikes again.  On the way from a restaurant to their car, the couple is attacked in an alley.  Claire survives but Paul is knifed and loses his life while trying to save her.  In the days after, Claire is reeling and unable to fathom how she will ever move on.  Then she opens a computer file on Paul's computer and life will never be the same.  Apparently her wonderful husband hid lots of secrets and none of them are good.  Soon Claire is pushed into the fight of her life as she attempts to solve the mystery of what Paul was up to and to put her shattered family back together.

Karin Slaughter is one of the stars on the mystery/thriller scene these days.  Her plots are compelling and she can make the most unusual events seem inevitable.  Claire isn't an ordinary heroine; when the reader meets her she is dependent and spoiled, thinking only of herself.  Watching her rise above her decades old stupor to do something to help others is empowering and the reader is firmly on Claire's side.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Shame by Salman Rushdie

In his third novel, Salman Rushdie explores the history and political manuverings of Pakistan at the time of its creation in the partitioning of it from India.  He does so through the lives of several Pakistani families.  Omar Khayyam Shakil is an obese doctor who was born of three reclusive sisters (no one ever knew which was the biological mother) and raised in seclusion until he rebelled and fought his way out of his background.  Raza Hyder is a soldier whose two daughters bring him nothing but confusion and shame while Iskander Harappa is a politician and playboy who is friends with both the others.

The theme of the novel is shame and how it affects the people and country of Pakistan and how religion influences every act and relationship.  As Rushdie writes, 'We who have grown up on a diet of honour and shame can still grasp what must seem unthinkable to peoples living in the aftermath of the death of God and of tragedy; that men will sacrifice their dearest love on the implacable altars of their pride.  Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type.  Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.'

The families history intertwines.  Iskander Harappa is a notorious playboy who is accompanied on his debachuery by Shakil.  When Harappa decides to put his wild ways away, he becomes the country's ruler and employs Hyder to maintain order.  Hyder has two daughters.  The oldest, Sufiya, is simple, her life forever changed by a fever she survived when she was a toddler.  Shakil meets Sufiya and becomes obsessed with her.  He offers Hyder a marriage contract.  The family is appalled that this obese, debauched man thirty years older wants to marry their daughter, but in the end, decide that he is her only chance at a marriage and having someone to provide for her. They hide the fact that this simple girl is also capable of murderous impulses.   Hyder eventually overthrows Harappa and becomes the ruler himself.  All these events are mirrored in the history of the country and the eruptions of violence and shame that go into making a country.

This novel was written after Midnight's Children, which explored the history of India in the same fashion.  The author was influenced to write this book after reading about an 'honor killing'; a man who knifed his own daughter to death to avenge  what he saw as a blot on the family honor.  Rushdie is a master of allegory, creating individuals who portray the forces that sweep nations and influence its history.  The language is poetic even when writing of tragic, horrible events.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, August 8, 2017

August is well underway.  College kids are returning to their campuses and younger kids are starting another year of school.  That has to mean fall is coming, right?  I can't wait for football, cooler temperatures and a slower schedule.  A new kitty has been showing up at our house in the past few weeks.  Our reigning cat, Queen Lulu, seems to think the new one is okay so we may take it in.  Our neighborhood seems to be one where animals get dropped off.  This one is between houses so I'll have to ask the neighbors if anyone has actually claimed it before I load it up and take it to the vet.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  The Wife Between Us, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, thriller, won online
2.  Charlatans, Robin Cook, medical mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Room Of White Fire, T. Jefferson Parker, thriller, sent by publisher
4.  Delia's Crossing, V.C. Andrews, women's fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Gone To Dust, Matt Goldman, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Pretty Ugly, Sean Hillen, fantasy/sci fi, sent by publisher
7.  Kindle's End, Robin McKinley, fantasy/sci/fi, purchased
8.  The Lucky Ones, Mark Edwards, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Hope And Change Are Highly Overrated, Tom Starita, literary fiction, sent by author
10.  Only, Parker Sinclair, fantasy, sent by publisher
11.  The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers, Hollis Robbins/Henry Louis Gates, Jr., nonfiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Bear And The Nightengale, Katherine Arden, Kindle Fire
2.  Zodiac, Neal Stephenson, Kindle Fire
3.  Pretty Girls, Karin Slaughter, paperback
4.  My Sister's Grave, Robert Dugoni, audio
5.  The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire
6.  Lacy Eye, Jessica Treadway, paperback
7.  Shame, Salman Rushdie, paperback
8.  To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, paperback
9.  Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, hardback

10.  The Jury Returns, Louis Nizer, hardback

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Treatment by Mo Hayder

Detective Jack Caffery is called in once the couple is discovered.  A man and his wife, imprisoned in their house for days, beaten and left to die of hunger and dehydration.  Even worse, they have a young son and he is no where to be found.  As the police search for the boy, they find nothing and have to wait until the parents are able to talk.  By the time they find him, he is dead.

Caffery has an incident in his own past that makes working on cases like this even more painful than for the other officers.  His older brother, Ewan, was abducted when he was nine and never found.  The police suspected a neighbor but no proof was found and the man was never arrested.  Jack grew up in the house across the tracks from the probably abductor and killer of his brother.  He will never be able to give up the case until he finds out the truth about what happened that day years ago.

Caffery's pain seems to give him an insight into the kind of mind that could commit such crimes.  That's a good thing as everyone is convinced that this type of killer will strike again.  Caffery finds a related older case that no one else connected until now and it sends him on the trail of what he suspects is the next family to fall under the killer's eye.  Can he discover the identity before it is too late?

This is the second in the Jack Caffery novels.  Readers will be fascinated by the character of Jack and his need to find a way to put to bed the truths that have haunted him his entire life.  Jack's insights and abilities to go the extra mile to discover what has happened makes for a riveting novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

They call her the Red Queen.  Her name is Rose Zimmer and she rules all she surveys in 1930's Queens, New York.  Rose is a dedicated Communist and almost no one lives up to her ideals.  Fanatically zealous, she is determined to make changes in the way the country is run and the fact that she antagonizes all those she meets doesn't seem to sink in.  Rose has one child, Miriam, before her husband flees her to Germany to live out his life.

Miriam grows up and flees Rose as quickly as she can, escaping to Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle she finds there.  These two women are magnets to various men.  There is Douglas, Rose's married cop who is also black, not that she cares about either his race or marriage.  Lenny is a coin and stamp savant who is always around and idolizes Miriam, but she marries a folk singer from Ireland.  Cicero is Douglas' son, raised in a house where he always knew his father loved another woman.  Sergius is Miriam's son, raised by strangers in a boarding school after his parents disappear.

The novel ranges from the 1930's to the present.  Along the way, various social movements come and go.  There is the fierce raging of Communism in Rose's life.  Lenny is obsessed with getting a major league ballpark in the city.  Miriam and her husband are involved in the ideals of the hippie movement along with its antiwar focus.  They go to South America where the Sandinisitas are rebels and idealized.  Finally, the cycle swings and Sergius is involved in the Occupy movement.

Lethem explores the ideals of those focused on making a change in the lives around them and more importantly, how love works in lives.  Rose is unable to articulate her love and pushes people away.  Miriam is sure she knows exactly how to handle life and men which leads to her demise.  Lenny and Cicero are caught in Rose's web, unable to break away from her magnetism even as she appalls them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.