Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

In 1837, London is abuzz with talk of a heinous crime.  A woman is murdered right at Christmas and parts of her body are found around the city.  First, her torso, then her head and finally her legs.  The woman is identified as Hannah Brown, a woman who owned a laundry and was finally about to get married to a man she had just met.  This man, James Greenacre, was immediately the prime suspect and arrested.  Arrested with him was Sarah Gale.  She and her young son had been living with Greenacre when he threw her out to marry Brown.  When the police came to arrest Greenacre, Sarah was back living with him and was also arrested as an accomplice.  Both are quickly brought to trial and despite their claims of innocence found guilty with a sentence of hanging.

Edmund Fleetwood is brought into the case once the couple are in prison awaiting their sentence.  Sarah Gale had always maintained that she knew nothing of the murder and was nowhere near the house the night Hannah was killed.  James agrees that Sarah is innocent and knew nothing, but sentiment against her led to a quick guilty plea.  Fleetwood is a struggling lawyer with good connections.  His father is one of the most prominent attorneys in London.   Fleetwood is given the chance to make his name when he is asked to review Sarah's case and determine if justice has truly been served.

Fleetwood begins to meet with Sarah.  He is faced with a wall of reserve and mistrust.  As he starts to slowly gain her trust and hears her story, he sees connections with his own upbringing and begins to believe that she is another victim herself; a victim of poverty, lack of connections and general bad luck.  He sees parallels between her and his own mother who was sent away in disgrace for some transgression he wasn't given details of when he was a small boy.  This makes him sympathetic and as the days go by, he starts to believe that Sarah is truly innocent.  But there is still some doubt as she is obviously not telling him everything.  He needs to know everything to make a proper determination and make his recommendation.  Can he find her secrets before time runs out?

This novel is based on a true case.  The author is an attorney herself and lives in London, giving her ample insight into a case such as this.  She explores the exploitation of women in Victorian England and the nature of secrets and what we'll do to protect what we've hidden.  She also questions what we will do for love in all of its forms.  The novel has already won several awards and Mazzola is now working on her next novel, inspired by another true crime.  This book is recommended for mystery and true crime readers.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Booksie's Shelves, February 23, 2017

Two months of the new year have rushed by.  In North Carolina, we're in full spring bloom with daffodils, forsythia bushes, crocuses and cherry trees everywhere you look.  My second favorite past time is theater and I was lucky enough to go see The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night last weekend in Charlotte.  It was a very intense play and gives people an insight into how autistic individuals view the world.  Then of course, it's the most critical part of the college basketball season.  My Carolina Tarheels are doing well and I have high hopes for them as March Madness approaches.  Of course, I'm still reading.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  The Girl At The Bar, Nicholas Nash, thriller, sent by publisher
2.  I Love You Today, Marcia Gloster, historical fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Fall Of Lisa Bellow, Susan Perabo, suspense, sent by publisher
4.  Saratoga Payback, Stephen Dobyns, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame, fantasy, sent by friend
6.  Bright Young Things, Scarlett Thomas, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Mangrove Lightning, Randy Wayne White, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  Aren't We Sisters?, Patricia Ferguson, historical mystery, purchased
9.  The Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel, mystery, sent for book tour
10.  Helen, Anita Mishook, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  Justice By Another Name, E.C. Hanes, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Lies Of Locke Lamorra, Scott Lynch, hardback
2.  Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem, Kindle
Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt,  Kindle Fire

4. The Unseeing, Anna Mazzola, paperback
5.  Perfect Prey, Laura Salters, Kindle Fire
6.  Death Of A River Guide, Richard Flanagan, Kindle Fire
7.  The Stress Of Her Regard, Tim Powers, audio
8.  Barkskins, Annie Proulx, hardback
9.  Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell, paperback
10.  Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel, hardback

11.  Smoke, Dan Vyleta,  Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shades Of Milk And Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mr. Ellsworth has a dilemma.  He has two daughters of marriageable age.  Jane is the eldest and would normally be expected to marry first.  Melody is the younger sister and very beautiful.  At age twenty-eight, Jane is about to reach the age where she would be considered a spinster rather than an eligible wife candidate.  She may not be beautiful but is very talented.  She paints, plays the piano and is an accomplished user of glamour, or magic as it is called these days.

There are several eligible suitors in the neighborhood.  The Dunkirks live next door.  Mr. Dunkirk is a gentleman with varied business interests.  His sister, Beth, has come to stay with him.  The Viscountess FitzCameron is also in residence with her daughter and with one of Jane and Melody's old playmates, now Captain Livingston, her nephew.  Then there is Mr. Vincent, a talented glamourist who has been engaged by Mr. Dunkirk to tutor his sister in the art, but he is a mystery and of course, not gentry.

Melody sets her sights on Mr. Dunkirk but then is swayed by the younger, more exciting Captain.   Beth is also interested in the Captain but he seems set to marry his cousin, the Viscountess's daughter.  Jane, who knows she is called Plain Jane behind her back, has no real hope of attracting any man but still cannot help but harbor some faint hopes of love and marriage.

This faint hope seems unattainable when Jane discovers a secret that can wreck havoc on all the families in the neighborhood.  Should she keep the secret as she has given her word and she well knows the trouble that will ensue?  Or should she break her word for the greater good?

Fans of Victorian romances such as Pride And Prejudice or Sense Or Sensibility will be entranced by this updated version.  It follows the bones of the earlier novels while incorporating the magic of glamour for a delicious froth of a novel.  Mary Robinette Kowal made a splash with this novel.  It was a 2010 Nebula Nominee for Best Novel, a SF Chronicle's Top 10 SF/F of 2010 and a RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel 2010 winner.  It is the beginning novel in a series that will draw fans back over and over again.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Hanging Girl by Jussi Adler-Olsen

When Carl Morck, head of Sweden's Department Q where the coldest of cold crimes go to die, receives a call from a colleague on a remote island, his first instinct is to put the man off.  That is always Morck's first instinct and when he finds out the man is calling about a case that is twenty years old he is definite about not wanting to get involved.  When a stunning event happens to the detective who called the same day, Morck is reluctantly pulled into the case.

The case concerns the death of a teenage girl who was found hanging from a tree after a hit and run accident so forceful that she was thrown up into the tree.  She was found by the policeman who spent the rest of his life consumed with the quest to find out who hit her and left her to die.  After twenty years, what chance is there that a road accident can now be solved?  Still, that's Carl's job so he and his assistants Assad and Rose head to the scene.  They find out that the girl had recently come to a school there where she made quite an impact with her beauty and flirtatious manner.  Right before her death, she seemed to have moved her interest to a mystery man not connected with the school.  After studying the case, the team believes finding this man will be the key.  The only thing they have to go on is that he was a good-looking man who was fascinating to women and that he was interested in the old religions that worshipped the sun.  Is it even possible to find him?  Most would give up but that's not the Department Q way where once something catches Morck's interest, he cannot give up until he finds the truth.

This is the sixth installment in the Department Q series.  Fans will be delighted to spend more time with the Department Q staff, now enlarged with the addition of a new man, Gordon.  Carl is fascinating, reluctant to get involved but unable to put a mystery aside.  Assad is enigmatic and constantly surprises with his hidden abilities.  Rose has her issues but is a marvel of organization and the sparkplug that forces the men to never give up.  This book is recommended by mystery readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

In this four part novel, Peter Ho Davies explores what it means to be a Chinese-American.  Three of the four parts are based on historical figures, while the fourth is based on an experience thousands have had.  The book starts with the story of Ling.  He is sent to America from the poverty that is all he has ever known to make his fortune.  He starts off working in a Chinese laundry but over time, he catches the eye of Charles Crocker, a wealthy San Francisco man who is building part of the transcontinental railroad.  After employing Ling for several years, Crocker decides that he is an example of the Chinese laborer and exactly what the railroad needs.  That starts the massive import and use of Chinese laborers to build the railroad.

In the second part, the life of Anna May Wong is described.  Anna was a famous actress at the junction of the transition from silent to talking movies and was the first Chinese-American actress to make a career in the industry.  She knew them all, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Orsen Welles and others.  She was feted from coast to coast and made the headlines everywhere she went.  But she was denied the right to marry a man not of her ethnic background by the laws in California and her fame only went so far.  When it came time to cast an actress in the groundbreaking role in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, a role everyone said she was born to play, she was passed over and a German woman was given the role and made up to appear Chinese.

The third part explores the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980's in Detroit.  He had gone with friends to a strip club for his bachelor party.  While there, he got into a scuffle with two white men, men who felt their jobs had been taken away by the success of Japanese imports.  They never considered that Vincent and his friends weren't Japanese, but instead Chinese, seeing only 'other' and holding a grudge against any Asian.  The night ends with the murder of Vincent and then there are years of attempts to bring the men to justice and have them pay for their crime.

The last part describes the experience that many American couples have, that of going to China to adopt a baby girl.  During the strict One Child policy years, many Chinese families left their girl babies at orphanages and hoped to have a son instead.  These girls were available to the extent that there were actual tours of couples who were all going to China to adopt.  The novel looks at this concept through the eyes of a couple who are on such a tour.  The husband is of Chinese descent himself while the wife is of Irish descent.

Readers of The Fortunes will have much to consider.  There is the fact that most Americans don't see a difference between Asians whose backgrounds come from different countries, seeing them all as outsiders and asking even those whose families have been here for generations, 'Where are you from?'  There is the expectation that all Asians are good at math and science and that all are expected to obey family norms.  The thought that America is never quite considered their native land but only an immigrant experience is one that most white individuals never have to think about.  Peter Ho Davies is the son of a Welsh father and Chinese mother and was raised in Wales.  He is currently on the faculty of the University of Michigan and his first novel, The Welsh Girl, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  This book is recommended for those interested in the immigrant experience and readers of literary fiction.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Dancing With The Tiger by Lili Wright

In the world of Mexican art, one prize has long been talked about.  It is the funeral mask of Montezuma, long fabled but never seen.  If found, it would be priceless.  When a tweeker digs it up deep in a cave, events are put into play that will lead to death and disaster.

Many people want the mask.  There is Daniel, an American collector who has spent his life collecting Mexican masks and wants nothing more than an exhibit at the Metropolitan bearing his late wife's name.  Malone is his greatest rival and has the advantage of actually living in Mexico along with his wealthy wife.  Anna is Daniel's daughter, at loose ends and determined to find the mask to save her father's dream.  Reyes is the drug dealer who buys the mask from the tweeker for a song and is enraged when it is stolen back.  The tweeker wants to find the mask to sell it and regain his life before drugs.  Hector is Reye's assassin, who is tasked with retrieving the mask no matter what it takes.  Salvadore is a Mexican artist who wishes to end the exploitation of his country's treasures by outsiders.

Each is determined to find the treasure and use it for their own ends.  Some want it for gain, some for glory, but each will do anything and use anyone to possess it.  The mask is moved around as it is lost, refound, stolen from one person, then from the next until it is impossible to tell who has it.  The best and worst of individuals come to light as they all strive to gain their goals.  Love and betrayal, evil and goodness, all come into play.

Dancing With The Tiger is Wright's debut novel.  She worked as a journalist for more than a decade and her first book was a nonfiction account of her trip from Maine to Florida.  In this book, she explores the concept of masks and how we hide our true selves, of friendship and family connections and what we will do for them, how sex can be used as a gift or a tool, and the exploitation of native cultures by wealthier ones.  The pace is fast, the action powerful and suspenseful.  This book is recommended to thriller readers.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder

When a teenage girl goes missing and is found murdered in a small town near Bath, two estranged sisters find their way back to each other.  Sally was the kind of woman who was raised to expect that her looks and position in life would ensure a great life with a man taking care of all her needs.  That expectation was rudely finished when her husband found another woman, leaving Sally ill-prepared to support herself and her teenage daughter, Mollie.  Mollie was a friend of the murdered girl and she and her friends' reactions in another challenge for Sally to deal with on top of her financial worries and having to deal with her social crowd's desertion now that she can't afford to do the things she always took for granted.

Her sister, Zoe, is a police officer and is assigned to the murder investigation.  Zoe was the black sheep in her family, so much so that the parents sent her off to boarding school to keep her away from Sally.  Zoe is fiercely independent and thinks she doesn't need anyone, even her partner, Ben, who wants a more personal relationship.  The investigation draws her into the seedy world of pornography and the young girls who think that it is a part of breaking into the modeling life they desire.  The murdered girl was one of those and Zoe is racing against the clock to find the murderer before it becomes common knowledge what the girl was involved in.

In the process, the two sisters are reunited when their lives intersect.  Sally is working as a maid in one of the suspect's home while Zoe gets to know her niece as she interviews the murdered girl's social circle.  As they gingerly feel each other out, the reader is left to wonder if they can find their way back to each other as sisters and whether the teamwork can catch a murderer before he can strike again.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Esther Summerson's life changes forever when her aunt dies.  Her aunt never showed her any kindness and Esther's life was bleak.  Her new guardian is a kind man named John Jarndyce.  He also becomes guardian to two other children, Ada and Richard, who are cousins.  John, Richard and Ada are all participants in the long ongoing legal case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce.  This case, to determine the distribution of a great estate, has been going on for years, enriching scores of lawyers yet never seeming to move closer to a resolution.

There is a mystery involving people the Jarndyce household knows.  It concerns the well-known house of the Dedlock family.  Lord Dedlock is considered one of the country's leading lords and his wife is known for her beauty and mystery.  Their secret is well-hidden but there are many who are interested in finding it so it's time is limited.  How these two main families become aware of a connection and how they interact is the fulcrum upon which the book turns.

As always, Dickens is concerned with inequities in the English way of life.  In this book, he has the legal system, particularly the civil legal system, square in his sights.  He also turns a scornful eye upon those who neglect their own families to be 'do-gooders', those who spend their lives hanging onto their friends and families who have some wealth rather than making their own way, and those who take advantage of their children.  Moneylenders and lawyers are put under his withering microscope.  As with other Dickens novels, the reader is also introduced to a host of secondary characters, each of which is fully formed and developed to the reader's delight.  This book is recommended to readers of classic English literature and those interested in a rousing story of adventure and virtue conquering all.