Thursday, July 19, 2018

Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell


Margo Crane is not suited for this world.  Sixteen and blessed or cursed with unearthly beauty, she lives with her father on the Stark River which feeds into the Kalamazoo.  She doesn't like the things of modern life.  What she likes is what her grandfather has taught her; the river life, fishing and hunting, making do with what you have and working for what you want.  Margo's mother couldn't take the poverty and the boredom and headed out a few years back.  There's rumors she isn't that far away but no one seems to know.  Margo doesn't speak much but loves all her family and is a crack shot, in fact a sharpshooter.

But tragedy follows her.  Men can't seem to leave her alone due to her beauty.  When a family disagreement over her blows up into a fight that leaves her father dead, Margo isn't sure what to do.  She can't live with her aunt and uncle who have been her second family because that's where the fight occurred and there is bad blood and she doesn't feel safe. 

So Margo takes off in her grandfather's old boat which he left her when he died.  She drifts down and into the life of Brian who has been fascinated with her since he came to buy a deer from her father.  She is happy enough there but when Brian is sent to prison, she is once again adrift.  She ends up at Michael's, a man from elsewhere who lives on the river but isn't a riverman.  She makes attempts to find her mother but a letter sent to her when she hears where she might be only says it is not a good time to visit.  When another tragedy occurs, she leaves Michael's house and is on her own again, drifting and making her way.

There are other men, always entranced by Margo's beauty and not content until they possess her.  Margo takes what she can from each man, learning more about how to survive on her own and how to only give what she is ready to give. 

Bonnie Jo Campbell is a writer who draws the reader in immediately.  Her novels have won praise including a National Book Finalist nomination for American Salvage.  She was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011 and teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University.   She lives with her husband in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Her ability to write about those forgotten by society and those determined to live their lives outside the mainstream experience is the key to her success.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James


When journalist Fiona Sheridan hears that the deserted Idlewild Hall is being renovated and will be reopened, she is appalled.  Everyone in town has always avoided the place and it has been closed since the 1950's.  Fiona has a personal reason for avoiding it.  Her only sister had been found murdered on its grounds twenty years ago, the death that tore apart her family and that has kept her from moving on in her personal life.

Back in the fifties, four roommates bonded together to survive Idlewild Hall.  Known as a boarding school for problem girls, there was little about learning that defined the place.  It was all about rules and punishments.  Of the four, Katie Winthrop was the clear leader.  She had been sent there after an incident with a boy left her bruised and bloody, her parents blaming her.  Cece was the illegitimate daughter of a rich man whose maid mother tried to drown her in shame.  Sylvia was a French refugee from World War II and the horrors that visited France.  Roberta was the closest to normal, a girl with good grades and athletic talent.  But she had viewed up close and personal the effects of PTSD on her favorite uncle and it had broken her.  Together they managed to survive and even thrive in a place where everyone believed the ghost of an unhappy girl stalked the halls.

Fiona is determined to use this renovation to finally find the truth about what happened the night her sister died and was left there.  She does this over the objections of her boyfriend, Jaime, a local police officer, son of the former chief.  The first day she visits the place with the son of the new owner, workmen find a body down in an abandoned well.  It appears to have been there for fifty years or more.  How does this body tie in with the school and with Fiona's sister?  Can she find the answers before the evil manages to find her?

Simone St. James writes in the paranormal realm with novels that are both gothic and mystery.  Her work has won awards such as the RITA Award from the romance genre and the Arthur Ellis Award from Canadian mystery writers.  Her forte is the deft characterizations she creates; strong women who manage to thrive in horrendous situations.  In this novel, the transition between the 1950's, the 1990's and present day are handled efficiently.  This book is recommended for readers of paranormal mysteries. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Two Kinds Of Truth by Michael Connelly


Harry Bosch is retired from the Los Angeles Police Department but not from police work.  Unable to retire happily, he is now working part-time at the San Fernando Police Department, lending his expertise to their understaffed department.  While at work one day, he gets a visit from his past.  One of his old partners is now working cold cases.  The LAPD has created a Verdict Integrity division and one of Bosch's enemies is heading it up.  He has chosen to revisit the case of a man Bosch put on Death Row twenty years ago. 

The Integrity Team's evidence looks strong.  The main piece of evidence against the man is a necklace the victim always wore which Harry found hidden in the man's apartment.  The killer insists that Bosch planted the evidence.  Even worse, new forensic testing shows another man's semen on the victim's clothes.  The man has been granted a hearing on whether he should get another trial and the story is a front-page newspaper story.  If the killer prevails, Harry's entire career will be tainted and every case he worked will come into question.

In the meantime, his part-time job has heated up as well.  A pharmacist and his son are gunned down in their shop and it looks like an assassination.  Who would want to kill them?  Harry and his new team soon uncover a plot that makes the usual murder seem friendly and Harry goes undercover to solve the case.  Another ex-partner, Jerry Edgar, is involved in this one as well.

This is the twentieth novel in the Harry Bosch series.  Harry is not a necessarily friendly man but he is truthful and loyal to those he trusts.  He may bend the rules a bit but is determined to find the truth and put those who break the law away.  One of the most interesting things about this novel is the interplay with his ex-partners and the fact that the strong relationships Harry has built over time are what allows him to be successful.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Babes In The Wood by Ruth Rendell


It was a parent's worst nightmare.  The Dales were very protective parents, rarely going anywhere without the children.  Giles Dale was sixteen and his sister, Sophie was thirteen.  But when the parents had a chance at a weekend away in France, they took their chance.  One of the children's former teachers had agreed to come and stay with them so everything seemed fine.  But when the parents returned, the children and the woman staying with them had all disappeared.  What could have happened?

Chief Inspector Wexford had a job on his hands.  To complicate matters,  it had been raining for days and everything was flooded.  Roads were cut off and the police were busy helping people evacuate.  Everyone's first thought was that the trio had drowned, but Wexford had trouble believing it.  Even flooded, the waters were about four feet deep in the deepest flood areas and both the children could swim.  In fact, all three could have waded to safety.  But the search assumed the worst and valuable resources were diverted to search for the children and their babysitter along with her car.  Nothing was found.

Days went by and then weeks.  No sign of the three was found.  Finally, after weeks of frustration, the car was found miles away in a remote country estate which was deserted most of the year.  There was a body within.  It was Joanna Troy, the teacher who was staying with the children.  There was no sign of the children at all.

As the weeks and then months went by, Wexford and his team continued to search for the children and investigate what happened to Joanna.  Secrets started to emerge and relationships that had seemed solid now showed their cracks.  Would they ever find the truth?

This is the nineteenth Chief Wexford novel in the series.  He is an interesting character, a more cerebral man who has a skeptical outlook on life and who rarely believes that what is shown at first glance is all that it seems.  Ruth Rendell is, of course, acknowledged as one of the masters of the mystery genre and this novel does not disappoint.  The gradual unwinding of the mystery and the glimpses into the lives of the police involved are intriguing and the mystery's solution is one most will never see coming.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell


PBS viewers have been introduced to the Durrell family by the series on their time in Corfu.  Gerald was the youngest child and his distinguishing characteristic was his love of animals, a love that was indulged by his mother in a way few children experience.  This was a love that formed his life and work. 

Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons is about Durrell's time on the island of Mauritius in the 1970's.  It was the home of the dodo, the most famous example of extinction, and still at that time was home to many animals, reptiles and birds found nowhere else on earth.  Durrell's focus as an adult was not just on exploring and finding such animals, but on his work as a biologist who ran a refuge in Jersey where endangered animals could be brought to breed in captivity until their numbers were such that they could be reintroduced to their native habitat.  This work is ongoing after Durrell's death.

In this work, there are chapters devoted to the various animals he and his crew captured to rescue in their four months in the area.  There is a chapter about the pink pigeons, one about various lizards and skinks they captured and another about bats.  There is a luminous chapter about the coral reefs surrounding the island and all the never-before seen fish and other inhabitants of it.  There is a chapter about the capture of boas.  All of this work occurred in uncomfortable if not dangerous environments and Durrell's time there left him weakened and ill.

Readers will be enthralled with his adventures and his humorous method of making light of misfortunes and hard work.  Durrell's delight in everything he saw and his passionate determination to rescue species on the verge of extinction shines through on every page.  This book is recommended for readers of nonfiction who enjoy travel books and those interested in the environment.



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin


Rice Moore has found the perfect job for someone in his situation.  He is the caretaker on a remote setting in the Appalachian mountains; land owned by a Foundation that wants to preserve the pristine forest as it has always been.  Rice has a biology background and in addition to building a cabin, he spends his days making observations on the land, cataloging the plants and animals he encounters.  It's a far cry from the Mexican prison he spent time in after having drugs planted in his backpack.  That experience left him with scars and some dangerous enemies that would love to put an end to him. 

But things are never perfect.  Rice discovers that poachers are killing the preserve's black bears.  The paws and gallbladders are valuable commodities on the black market.  He decides that he will take on the task of stopping the poachers.  In the process he bumps up against local inhabitants who don't trust him as an outsider, a motorcycle gang and DEA agents that still believe he is a criminal.  He also meets the woman who had the job before him and hopes that perhaps a relationship might start there.  But danger surrounds him everywhere as his Mexican enemies get word of where he is adding to his local enemies.  Can Rice rebuild his life in the midst of chaos?

This is a debut novel for McLaughlin.  He grew up himself in the land he writes so beautifully about and holds both a law and MFA degree from the University of Virginia.  His characters are drawn well and the plotting is tight but above all, his love for the land and animals shines clear.  This book is being recommended as one of the best thrillers of the summer and it seems clear that McLaughlin has made an impressive start on his career.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman


Dr. Alex Delaware is surprised to hear from Tanya Bigelow.  Years ago, he successfully treated her as a little girl with OCD tendencies.  Now Tanya is nineteen and her problems are as grown up as she is.  Her aunt, Patty Bigelow, has recently died.  Patty was an ER nurse, very good at her job and very organized.  She stepped up and raised Tanya when her mother dropped her off as a two year old so she is the only mother Tanya remembers.  Before Patty died, she made a startling confession.  She started telling Tanya she had killed someone but died before she could give any details.  Was this the truth or was it the pain-filled fantasy of someone in the last minutes of life?

Delaware wants to help Tanya although he finds it hard to believe someone like Patty could have ever killed anyone.  He enlists the aid of his friend, Detective Milo Sturgis, and between the two of them they start to piece together Patty's life all those years ago.  Adding veracity to Patty's confession is the fact that one of the first people they talk to turns up dead days later.  They come to realize that Patty was telling the truth and that someone evil is stalking Tanya.  Can they find him before he finds Tanya?

This is the twenty-first novel in the Alex Delaware series.  It's one of my favorites as there is lots of action but little gore or violence for the sake of violence.  There is always a mystery and it is entertaining to watch as it unfolds.  The friendship between Alex and Milo is interesting and the ability for them to solve crimes with their mixture of orthodox police investigation and Alex's psychological insights is intriguing.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner


The day has come, as Sarah Keller knew it would.  For the past five years, she and her daughter Zoe have lived quietly in Oklahoma, far from her California home.  She fled there with Zoe when her sister, who is Zoe's real mother, was murdered by a religious cult.  When Zoe is in a bus accident and taken to the hospital, a fact that Sarah never knew is revealed.  She was given a microchip when she was a little baby and it reveals that Zoe's parents are not Sarah, which opens up a can of worms.

The police and social services are hesitant to turn Zoe back over to Sarah.  There is talk of putting her in the foster system until it can be determined whether or not Sarah is her legal guardian or a kidnapper.  Worse, the FBI are soon involved as they see Zoe and Sarah as their best bet to infiltrate and destroy the cult, which deals drugs for money to fuel their cult.  The cult also soon finds out what has occurred which sets their assassins on Sarah and Zoe's trail.

Sarah knows she must hit the road again.  Five years ago, she was helped by a US Marshal who sent her into hiding.  Now she reaches out for his help again.  Michael Lawless helped Sarah then without telling his superiors.  Will he risk his career to do so again?

Meg Gardiner has written a tense, jet-propelled thriller that will have the reader anxiously flipping pages to see what happens next.  Sarah is a real character, one that readers can imagine themselves being.  She is helped along the way by a woman who runs a skip-tracing operation, a nun who knows her way around guns and by Michael.  The villains are some of the scariest this reader has encountered and the maniacal determination of the FBI agent who is determined to bring Zoe in regardless of the cost in human life is implacable.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

First Person by Richard Flanagan


Things aren't going well for Tasmanian author Kif Kehlmann.  Married with a small child, he and his wife have just discovered that twins are on the way.  That is problematic when all the work Kif gets is part time and the mortgage is already difficult to meet.  Now Suzy can't work at all and things are getting tighter and tighter.  Kif is sure he is an author but in reality his first novel is still in the works.

As things get more desperate, Kif is contacted by his old buddy Ray.  Ray lives on the edge of society and it's never really wise to ask him exactly what he's doing these days for a living.  But this time Ray has an offer for Kif.  Ray has been working for Siegfried Heidl and Heidl is looking for a ghostwriter for his memoir.  Ray has suggested Kif.

Siegfried is Australia's disreputable con man, its Bernard Madoff.  He has skimmed approximately seven hundred million from the banks and is about to go to trial.  His life story has never been told and little is known about him.  When the publisher agrees to Kif as the ghostwriter, he packs up and takes off for what he thinks is his big break.

But it's not that easy.  Heidl can't bring himself to tell the truth, no matter the reason or the importance.  With a deadline looming, he refuses to answer any questions, even simple ones like where he was born or how his childhood was.  He spends his days talking on the phone and reading the newspapers, leaving Kif more and more confused and frustrated.  The publisher is pushing harder and harder and Kif starts to string together a few tidbits Heidl has let drop, padding the facts with more and more falsehood.  As the deadline fast approaches, Heidl gets further into Kif's soul and finally commits an act that will scar Kif forever.

This is Flanagan's newest novel.  It starts slow and the reader becomes as frustrated as Kif.  The final fourth of the novel flies and the reader is aghast at what occurs and how it plays out across the years.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friday On My Mind by Nicci French


Things are not going well for Dr. Freida Klein.  Her former lover, Sandy, has been found murdered.  Even worse, with enemies in the police department and in the psychologist who now works with them, Freida soon comes under suspicion and then rapidly becomes the only suspect.  When her lawyer tells her that they need to go in for more questioning and that she expects Freida to be arrested, Freida decides to take matters in her own hands.  She disappears and is now a fugitive, her disappearance making her seem more guilty.

But Frieda has knowledge the police don't.  She knows, incontrovertibly, that she isn't guilty so can view the evidence without that false filter.  She also intimately knows Sandy and so can interpret the things she finds out about him better than someone who didn't know him as well.  Her friends are appalled at what has happened and they help her as they can to remain free.  Can Frieda discover the truth about Sandy's death before her time runs out?

This is the fifth in the Frieda Klein series.  Readers who have followed the series will find this one fascinating with Frieda at her best.  She is a private person and one who can use the training and knowledge of her work with the human condition to see past the obvious and discover the truth in situations.  Although I am not a stickler about reading a series in order, this is one series that the reader will benefit from doing so as Freida's personality and life is slowly teased out across each novel.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey


The time is the nineteenth century, the 1860's to be exact.  The place is Australia, now colonized but still a very new country in terms of its English inhabitants.  The story is told through the lives of two young people.  Oscar Hopkins grew up in a small, remote English village, the son of the local pastor who was also a marine biologist.  There was little love shown and Oscar escapes to Oxford as soon as he can.  Lucinda is a teenager who is suddenly orphaned and discovers that instead of living on a farm and its odors and work as she has always done, that her parents sold the land and she is now an heiress.

Neither are what is considered 'the right sort' in the social pecking order but both are determined to carve out a successful life for themselves.  Lucinda buys a glassworks factory on a whim and then goes to England to see what it holds and perhaps find a husband.  Oscar is assigned to a parish in Australia.  They meet on the boat as Oscar comes to discover his calling and Lucinda returns, disappointed in her quest for love.  Oscar has an intense phobia of water and is the butt of jokes about it but Lucinda sees beyond his weaknesses to a man she would like to know.  They also find that each is entranced by the same vice; gambling.

Once back in Australia, things don't go as planned.  Lucinda is having a hard time breaking into the top rungs of society even with her money.  Oscar isn't his parishioners idea of a pastor and when one of them spies in his window and discovers the two playing cards for money, Oscar is disgraced and stripped of his parish.  The two, shunned by society, form a partnership and soon both are in love, although both are determined to hide the fact from each other.  Their love leads them to a strange mission and a stranger bet; to move and construct a glass church in a settlement across uncharted lands.  If Oscar is successful Lucinda will give him all her fortune. 

This novel won the Booker Prize in 1988 and it is clear why.  Carey's ability to capture the country of his birth and the people who came to inhabit it and make it their own is amazing.  The writing is luminous but it doesn't stray so far that the plot is forgotten.  It moves along inexorably toward an ending few readers would expect.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson


The year is 1942 and World War II is in full force.  Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse has been assigned to a secret division.  He is a mathematician and musician whose idea of fun is encrypting and decrypting messages.  He is assigned to a department whose other locations include Bletchley Park and men like Alan Turing.  Waterhouse's job is to hide the fact from the Germans that their unbreakable code, Enigma, has been broken so that the Allies can continue to use this valuable resource. 

He spends time in the outer reaches of Scotland and in the Philippines as his work takes him to different places.  In the Philippines and the islands nearby, he meets Bobby Shaftoe, a gung-ho Marine who is in charge of his safety and that of Douglas MacArthur who immediately sees his worth.  The Axis powers are fueled by their need to hide massive amounts of gold to rebuild after the war and this effort is centered in these same Asian locations.  A massive crypt is built to hold tons of gold and then buried under tons of rock and earth.

Decades later, Waterhouse's grandson, Randy Waterhouse, is back in the same Asian areas.  He has made his living in the tech world and has created a new business with his partner, Avi.  They plan to create a data haven where entities can store their data with no worries about security or loss due to natural disasters.  Randy meets and falls in love with Amy Shaftoe, the granddaughter of Bobby and a woman who works with her father on salvage operations.  They fall in with Randy's work as they all endeavor to find the fortune locked away many years ago.

A Neal Stephenson book is a wonder on many levels.  There are multiple plots and subplots all of which tie together beautifully.  Many characters are involved, each given a fully explained backstory and whose lives intertwine in mysterious ways.  There is lots of science and technology and a feeling that perfection is just always a tiny bit beyond one's grasp.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and literary fiction. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, June 23, 2018


Summer is here in full force with tons of time for reading!  I finished a chunkster this week, Crytonomicon by Neal Stephenson and I've just started another, a thousand page book of dense text about the painter Rembrandt.  That one will probably take the rest of the summer as the book is so heavy I can't hold it for long.  Another milestone is that after fourteen years or so with the vanity plate Booksie on my car I traded it in this week for regular plates.  That car is destined to return with my daughter to college this fall and she didn't want to be noticed everywhere she went.  I'll miss it though.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Border Child, Michel Stone, literary fiction, sent by publisher
3.  Dead If You Don't, Peter James, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Eagle & Crane, Suzanne Rindell, historical fiction, sent by publisher
5.  The Devil's Half Mile, Paddy Hirsch, mystery, won in contest
6.  The Great Believers. Rebecca Makkai, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Civil Terror: Gridlock, J. Luke Bennecke, nonfiction, sent by publisher
8.  Ohio, Stephen Markley, literary fiction, won in contest
9.  Conan Doyle For The Defense, Margalit Fox, true crime, sent by publisher
10.  Bring Me Back, B.A. Paris, mystery, sent by publisher

It looks like I never buy books and that's surely not true.  It's a rare day I don't buy either an ebook or an audible one but the list above is about the physical copies that make it through the door and clamor in their stacks and piles to be read.

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Shadow Tracer, Meg Gardiner, hardback
2.  Oscar And Lucinda, Peter Carey, Kindle Fire
3.  Friday On My Mind, Nikki French, paperback
4.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, paperback
5.  Grist Mill Road, Christopher Yates, Kindle Fire
6.  Two Kinds Of Truth, Michael Connelly, audio
7.  First Person, Richard Flanagan, hardback
8.  The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler, paperback

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy


Arundhati Roy's first novel in many years is an epic history of India and its recent history.  It starts around fifty years in the past and follows the story of Anjum.  Anjum is born with the organs of both sexes and after finding disapproval in society, moves in with a group of the Hijra, transsexuals who are in the midst of gender reassignment.  She leaves this group after many years and moves to a graveyard where she collects a group of others whom society would call misfits.

The story then leaps ahead to the conflict in Kashmir and the struggle between India to subdue it into a peaceful territory and the freedom fighters or terrorists depending on viewpoint, who continue the struggle.   The story is viewed though the life of Tilo and the men who loved her.  There is Naga, the journalist who marries Tilo after rescuing her from an interrogation center.  The is the Indian bureaucrat known as Garson Hobart who is influential enough that when he sends Naga to free Tilo his power insures it is done.  Then there is Musa, the gentle man who becomes known as a successful Kashimi terrorist after his wife and child are murdered. 

Each of the characters has a history of pain and struggle yet each finds a way to make a life and to treasure the small moments that are all one can expect to keep.  Along the way the reader is introduced to a host of other memorable characters each of whom's story is told in a way that makes their broken lives understandable.  This is a book of terror and struggle yet of hope and love also.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Death In The City Of Light by David King


The year was 1944 and the place was Paris, France.  Paris was under occupation by the Nazi regime of Germany although the tide of war seemed to be turning.  There had been mass roundups of those the Nazi's considered undesirable; Jewish individuals, gypsies, gangsters, etc.  There was a Resistance in place, in fact many groups of Resistance fighters.  With all the horror going on, no one expected the discovery that was made in March.  An horrid stench came from an apparently unoccupied house.  When the police investigated, a scene of horror was revealed.

The stench came from an attempt to burn bodies.  There were dismembered bodies in the house and more outside in the yard in a pit full of lime.   The bodies were so decayed that there was little hope of identifying the victims or even numbering them or determining their gender.  Who could have created this horror?

The answer seemed to be the owner.  Dr. Marcel Petiot owned the house and the police believed, killed the people found there.   At first the headlines were lurid, hinting at sexual motives.  The police came to believe that he, instead, was so despicable that he used the circumstances of the death camps and the German occupation to victimize those most in danger.  Petiot offered desperate people passage to another country where they could be safe and start over.  For most of them, however, the trip started and ended at his house and they were never heard from again.

The trial was one of the most sensational in the country's history.  Petiot declared himself a Resistance fighter and said various things such as the bodies were put in his house by the Germans or that the bodies were Germans he had killed in his Resistance role.  There were never any firm body count.  The police eventually charged him with twenty-seven murders.  Petiot claimed he had killed sixty-one Germans.  Regardless of the number Petiot was found guilty and executed.

With the cover of the war, this case has never gotten the attention from true crime investigators that one might expect from such a large body count.  The war obscured Petiot's crimes and his trial occurred as the country was recovering from the Occupation.  David King has brought the facts of the case to light in this book and had access to previously classified documents from the police in order to do so.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Friday, June 15, 2018

I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamera


In the late 1970's and early 1980's, California was terrorized by a serial rapist and killer.  He began his crimes in Northern California in the small communities around Sacramento.  He committed hundreds of break ins and scores of rapes.  He stalked the victims in advance, and often broke in and committed his crimes while the women were in bed with their husbands.  He would have the woman tie up her husband, then move her to another room.  He would place dishes on the man and tell him if he heard them fall off and break, he would kill the woman.  He was known as the East Area Rapist or the EAR.

When the police investigation ramped up to a level that he feared capture, he moved his activities to Southern California.  There, he escalated to murder and is credited with ten murders.  He had killer a couple in Northern California earlier to escape so his murder toll is twelve, although many police believe it is higher.  Then, he seemed to stop.  This occasionally happens with serial killers and it often means the perpetrator has died or is imprisoned.  While the crimes stopped, the police investigations did not.  The police had the best clue of all, a DNA profile but for many years, it didn't provide any breakthroughs.

In addition to the police, an entire society of Internet crime fighters has arisen.  Michelle McNamera was one of these driven individuals.  The wife of actor Patton Oswalt, Michelle was consumed by this case and spent endless hours and funds investigating it.  She met and collaborated with the police investigating the crimes, found old witnesses and victims and talked with them, and spent endless hour discussing the case on Internet boards with other individuals interested in the case.  She started writing I'll Be Gone In The Dark to detail her work and gave the killer a name, The Golden State Killer.  Unfortunately, she died before the book could be completed.  Her husband and others found a way to finish her work and the book became an instant bestseller. 

Outside of the personal loss, the publishing community lost a great true crime writer when McNamera passed away.  Her tenacity, intense curiosity and empathy are clear in her writing.  The book has a forward by Gillian Flynn and an afterward by her husband, Patton Oswalt.  As most readers know, the DNA finally provided the impetus to charge someone with the crimes.  Joseph James DeAngelo, who is now 72, has been charged and will be facing charges.  This was a landmark book and will be one of the classics in the genre.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Patron Saint Of Liars by Ann Patchett


In the 1960's, it was still a family disgrace if a woman got pregnant outside of matrimony.  With abortion an illegal operation, women were forced into marriages which had little chance of survival or they disappeared for six months or so, supposedly to visit an aunt or travel somewhere.  In reality, they entered homes for unwed mothers which were set up to allow the woman to stay during her pregnancy.  The baby was taken from her right after birth and given to adoptive parents.

St. Elizabeth's is such a home.  It was in Kentucky and the girls that came there came from all over the United States.  They formed friendships but as soon as the baby arrived, the girls left hoping that chapter of their lives was closed. 

Rose was a different case.  She was married but decided that life with her husband was a mistake and that she just didn't love him.  She left California without a word one day and drove across country to St. Elizabeth's.  Rose didn't tell anyone she was married.  She just let everyone assume her story was the same as the other girls.  Also, unlike the others, Rose didn't leave and didn't give up her baby.  She helped in the kitchen and after her baby's birth, stayed on to cook for everyone.  She married Son, the man who helped with all the repairs and upkeep of the home and they raised the baby, Cecelia together.

Ann Patchett's forte as an author is creating believable characters, giving them backstories and telling their lives in a way that the reader wants to continue to see what happens next.  In this novel, she has created three such characters, Rose, Son and Cecelia.  Each tells the story from their own perspective and the reader soon grows to know more than any one of the characters do about their own lives since the other character's viewpoints are also clear to them while opaque to the other characters.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams


A serial killer is stalking Atlanta.  There are several confirmed kills and the pattern is such that investigators are sure these aren't the killer's first attacks.  The police are inundated with pressure from the mayor's office and the press as hysteria builds.  He's nicknamed The Wishbone Killer and as he gets more famous, the police look everywhere for clues.

Police lieutenant Aaron Rauser is in charge of the investigation.  He has years of experience and resources are his to use.  But he wants the help of the one person the department doesn't want involved.  Keye Street worked for the FBI as a successful profiler before she ruined her career with alcoholism.  Now pushed out of official law enforcement, she makes her living as a private detective, serving subpoenas and tracking down bond breakers.  She and Rauser are friends and he brings her into the investigation for her insights.  But the killer is aware of this move and soon fixates on Keye.  Can Street and Rauser catch the killer before more murders occur?

This is a mystery debut novel for the author.  Williams has written an espionage series prior to entering the mystery field.  There are currently three novels in the series.  Readers will be interested in this strong female lead and the fast-paced plot with plenty of twists and turns.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid


When skeletal remains are found on the roof of a deserted Edinburgh building, two strong women must come together to solve the mystery of who it is and who wanted him dead.  Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie heads up the Cold Case Unit and the case is assigned to her team.  The first thought was that the murder might be related to the sport of climbing old deserted buildings, but a bullet hole in the head puts paid to that idea.  This is murder and Pirie must first find out who it is. 

After forensic investigation, the body is identified as General Mija Petrovic.  He was instrumental in the Balkan wars of the 1990's and had moved to England afterwards with his lover, Professor Maggie Blake.  When he disappeared eight years before, she assumed he had returned to Dubronik and the life he left behind there.  Now that she discovers that he didn't leave her but was murdered, she is determined to discover who did this.  The two women work together, even going to Yugoslavia to discover Petrovic's background to see if his death is related to the war.  The International Crime Tribunal still working on the human rights violations of that time are also interested in discovering Petrovic's whereabouts and what part he played in all the violence of those times.  Who will track down the truth first and determine who killed Petrovic and whether his past played a part in his murder?

Most fans of Val McDermid know her as the author of the Tony Hill, Carol Jordan mysteries.  Karen Pirie is a different sort of police officer and this case focuses less on psychological probing and more on solid police procedures.  McDermid is a master at creating strong women characters and starkly outlining the brutality that makes up a police officer's daily life as they go about the work that few can do untouched.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery novels.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Silver On The Road by Laura Anne Gilman


Isobel has hit a milestone in her life.  She has turned sixteen and her days as an indentured servant have come to an end.  Her life has been one of working in the saloon, serving those who come to play cards with the Devil and learning their secrets.  She doesn't know what she wants to do next, but she knows she wants to do something different.  The man she works for, known as The Devil, controls the Territory and all within it.  He is powerful enough to help her start a new life if she can decide what to do.  But his help is never free.

When Isobel has her talk with the Devil, he offers her the chance to be his Left Hand, the one who travels the land, determining what is going on and making sure that his law is being upheld.  Most would never consider a young woman as the likely Left Hand, but he sees things in Isobel that others cannot see.  She leaves the only home she has known to travel in the company of Gabriel, who has made his own bargain with the Devil.  He agrees to mentor Isobel in the ways of traveling in return for release from the pull of the Territory on his soul.

But this trip is not normal from the start.  The two encounter evil and dangers neither have even heard of before.  Someone evil is afoot in the Territory and they are the only hope against it.  They meet a Magician on the road and even though everyone knows magicians are not to be trusted, they form an alliance with him.  The unlikely trio ventures forward to attempt to rid the land of the danger that is apparent to them all.  Will they be successful?

This is the first novel in the Silver series by Gilman.  She is a Nebula Award finalist and this series is set in the Old West, an unusual setting for fantasy.  The premise and characters are intriguing and readers will be eager to read the next in the series.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, June 1, 2018


It's June 1 and summer has finally arrived in North Carolina.   It's my least favorite month as I don't like being hot and sticky but the plus side of that is more reading time.  I read thirteen books in May and hope to do the same this month.  I had a spell of bad luck in May that also increased my reading time.  My laptop gave up the ghost and I was basically without a computer for about a week till I could order a new one and get it set up.  The same week I picked up a nail in a tire and had to buy a new one and the air conditioner went out, which is a calamity indeed in North Carolina.  My phone also had to be replaced, as it decided not to hold a charge, although I think that was more of Apple doing me in with an upgrade than a real battery issue.  Nonetheless, I upgraded my phone as it had been three or four years since my last one.  My daughter arrived home for the summer from college and this could be her last summer home.  I so enjoy having her around and of course, she is a reader also.  I've been checking out books from the library after a long hiatus and I continue to read more and more on my Kindle Fire.  Those books don't make the list below of new physical books.  Here's the books that have come through the door:

1.  Rust & Stardust, T. Greenwood, mystery, won in contest
2.  The Waters & The Wild, DeSales Harrison, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Death Doesn't Bargain, Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy, sent by publisher
4.  Social Creature, Tara Isabella Burton, thriller, sent by publisher
5.  The Kept Woman, Karin Slaughter, thriller, sent by publisher
6.  Daughter Of A Daughter Of A Queen, Sarah Bird, historical fiction, won in contest
7.  The Devil's Half Mile, Paddy Hirsch, historical mystery, won in contest
8.  Hard Cider, Barbara Stark-Nemon, literary fiction, sent for book tour
9.  Broken Ice, Matt Goldman, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Hunting Charles Manson, Lis Wiehl, true crime, sent by publisher
11.  A Gathering Of Secrets, Linda Castillo, mystery, sent by publisher
12.  The Stranger You Seek, Amanda Kyle Williams. mystery, purchased
13.  America For Beginners, Leah Frangqui, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Silver On The Road, Laura Gilman, paperback
2.  The Skeleton Road, Val McDermid, Kindle Fire
3.  The Patron Saint Of Liars, Ann Patchett, paperback
4.  I'll Be Gone In The Dark, Michelle McNamera, audio
5.  Cyrptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, hardback
6.  Golden Bats And Pink Pigeons, Gerald Durrell, Kindle Fire
7.  The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy, hardback
8.  Everybody's Fool, Richard Russo, Paperback

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje


The year is 1945 in wartime London.  Fourteen year old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, know that this will mean huge changed in their family.  Their parents are going to a posting overseas and they will remain behind, going to school and being supervised by their lodger whom they have nicknamed The Moth. 

The children rebel at living in their schools and soon manage to come home where The Moth's supervision is less than parental. The children discover their mother's luggage in the basement, putting the lie to the fiction of an overseas posting.  The Moth is surrounded by an intriguing cast of characters, most of whom lead shadowy lives.  These become the children's mentors and they accompany them on many tasks, most of which seem to be criminal.  There is no word from their parents and the children start to wonder if there is not something horrible going on that no one wants to tell them.

Years later, Nathaniel looks back on this time as an adult, trying to piece together the facts he knows with what was really happening behind the scenes.  Why did his mother eventually reappear as quickly as she left, still with no explanations and with no mention of his father?  What happened to the Moth?  Why does his mother believe that the children and she are in terrible danger?  As Nathaniel slowly peels back the layers of secrecy that hid the truth from him for years, the events of his life take on a different meaning.

Michael Ondaatje will always be thought of first as the author of The English Patient.  This book has some of the same strengths; a misty remembrance of past events, strong characters, hints of a love that overshadows all else.  It demonstrates without preaching the integral role that parents take in a child's life and the necessity for knowing the truth about the events that make up a life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller


Circe is a demigod, daughter of the Sun God Helios and a water nymph.  Unfortunately, her human side is prominent enough that she is considered less than her siblings and ignored by her parents.  As she grows up, she discovers that she does have a power though; the power of witchcraft.  After she uses it to change one of the other nymphs in her father's household into the monster Scylla, she is given a sentence of eviction and isolation on an island with no one else to talk to.

Alone on her island prison, Circe grows into her own personality.  She gardens and gathers herbs and poisons and refines her spells and witchcraft.  She tames the wild animals who become her friends and guardians.  When she is threatened by visitors who would harm her, she uses her magic to turn those who would hurt her into animals.  She is occasionally allowed to leave.  She goes to her sister's household to help her deliver her child but even Circe is shocked when that baby turns out to be the Minotaur.  Circe even has occasional lovers such as Daedalus and Odysseus and the god Hermes.  After Odysseus' death, his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, come to the island to live with Circe.  She also has a son, Telegony, who she is determined to protect against all else.

Circe fights her surroundings and imprisonment over the ages to determine who she really is and which part of her, the goddess or the human, should she strive to be.  Finally, love makes that decision for her and she leaves to live the life that will finally satisfy her. 

Madeline Miller has made the classics the central theme of her life.  Both her undergraduate and graduate degrees were in the classics and she spends her time adapting the old stories for a modern audience to great success.  Her first novel, The Song Of Achilles, helped her burst into success and this newest novel continues that path.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.


Monday, May 28, 2018

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner


The Mars Room begins with a bus ride as Romy Hall is transported to the prison where she will serve two consecutive life sentences.  What her crimes are will be revealed later as will her life story.  She grew up in San Francisco, not the city that tourists love but the seedy parts where a girl with no parents who care about her will roam the streets searching for what she does not know.  Where a ten year old girl on the streets in the rain at midnight will accompany an older man to his hotel room when he offers her help, not knowing the price.  Where she moves through a variety of men one of whom gives her the only joy in her life, her son Jackson.  Where she spends her time working in the arid fields of sex work, her haunt the dance stage of the Mars Room.

Now her former life is stripped away, even her connection to her son.  She must master and find a way to survive in a new universe as it is the only one she will know for the rest of her life.  Some women will manage to leave but that is not Romy's fate.  She forms relationships with some of the women there and shows occasional flashes of kindness but the safest way to live is with no connections that can tear and break what little is left of her heart.

Ruchel Kushner is one of the younger generation of novelists whose work has been singled out for praise.  Her novels have been National Book Award nominees and finalists in many other literary recognitions.  She has the ability to quickly catch the character of individuals whom are strangers to the reader but whose lives will sear their way into the brain, difficult to forget.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sycamore Row by John Grishman


When Seth Hubbard commits suicide, few people in Ford County, Mississippi, knew or even really cared.  Hubbard was a bit of a recluse, an elderly man who made his living in the timber business, buying timber mills, land, and furniture factories.  He lives alone out in the country in a remote house and few outside of his employees even see him from week to week.  Hubbard had cancer and the doctors had given him very little time.

But Hubbard has surprises in store for the area.  The day after his death, local attorney Jack Brignance receives a handwritten will in the mail.  In it, Hubbard renounces all his other wills, specifically disowns his children and family, and leaves all his money to his housekeeper, a black lady named Lettie Lang.  She has worked for him and cared for him when he was sick, but has only worked for him for around three years.  Why would Hubbard leave such a bequest?

Jake is known in the town for his work several years earlier where he took on the local prejudice and got justice for a black man, putting his own life and property at risk.  Jake's house was burned down and he is still renting another, his wife and daughter still uneasy at the danger his practice brings to the family.  This will promises to bring more strife. 

Soon lawyers start to circle around.  Each of the children hires a lawyer to fight the will and claim something was amiss, that Lang exerted undue influence on Hubbard.  Lettie Lang's husband hires his own lawyer to make sure she is represented.  The lawyers who drew up the prior wills are in the mix and even retired lawyers make sure they come around hoping to get the inside story.  Jake works toward the trial date, sending investigators to try to discover Seth's brother and to discover what made Seth write such a will at the end of his life.

John Grishman has written more than thirty novels.  His best known are those set in his native Mississippi and focused on the law and the justice that it is meant to bring to all.  The intricacies of his plotting and his spotlight on his native South are what has made him one of the preeminent novelist in the legal drama field.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman


Hollywood detective Petra Connor has caught a bad one.  After a concert, someone drove by and opened fire on the fans, killing several of them.  Petra is put on a task force to find the killers.  Her boyfriend, Eric, is overseas with a special unit fighting terrorists and the only other thing on her agenda is mentoring a city councilman's pet project.  That project is a bright, some call him a genius, Hispanic kid who on the way to becoming a doctor has decided to get a master's in statistics and who thinks the police force would be a great place to write a thesis.  The kid, Issac, is nice enough but clueless about how a police force works.

So when Issac approaches Petra about an anomaly he has noticed, her first instinct is to brush him off.  He has discovered a series of murders, all of which have occurred on the same day in different years.  That day is June 28th and its about to roll around again.  Petra looks at the cases and discovers that all are unsolved and most had not gotten a very good investigation.  After looking at them for a while, she starts to believe that Issac may have indeed discovered a serial killer.  The question is whether she can discover who it is in time to stop the murder about to occur.

Most Jonathan Kellerman fans know him for his series about Dr. Alex Delaware, a former child psychologist who helps the police with investigations.  He wrote a few novels about Petra but then apparently decided to concentrate on the Delaware series.  Petra is an interesting detective, a woman who has made a success of her work and who strictly separates her personal life from her professional one.  This novel nicely hooks the reader into the serial killing while pursuing the drive-by killing and building the relationship between Petra and Issac.  It is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler


He has lived for hundreds of years and has created settlements all over the world.  When he goes to check on an African village he set up many years before, he is dismayed but not surprised to see that it has disappeared, its inhabitants either killed or taken for slaves.  As he walks away, he picks up a vibration that there is another individual nearby who it would be worthwhile to check out.  He changes course and soon finds Anyanwu, an African woman who has, like him, lived lifetimes.  He makes himself known to her and soon has taken her for his wife and plans for them to move on to America.

But there is a fundamental difference between the two.  Doro is determined to bend others to his will always.  He has fathered hundreds of children and uses them as social experiments as he tries to duplicate his own powers.  He must constantly kill in order to survive, taking the bodies of those he murders.  Anyanwu is a shape-shifter and while she can be cruel if it means survival, her first instinct is always to help those around her and to build a family.  These two unite in what will be a contest of wills that lasts for centuries.  Who will win?  Strength and cruelty or kindness and love?

This is an early novel of Octavia Butler's work.  It has an interesting premise and there are three other novels that follow this start in the series.  It is a classic battle of good vs evil, yet each of these individuals is forced to work with the other as there is no one else like them in the universe.  The reader will be caught up in their struggle as they each attempt to build a world that will survive.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers


Jack Shandy is sailing to Jamaica where he has discovered an inherited fortune awaits him.  He is bored on the trip and makes the acquaintance of one of the only other young passengers, a lady named Elizabeth Hurwood, sailing with her father and his friend.  As they near their destination, disaster hits.  The ship is attacked by pirates.  Shandy's ship doesn't stand much of a chance as it turns out that Hurwood and his friend have hired the attack and join in the fight. 

Shandy is one of the few passengers to fight back and as such he is given a choice; either die or join the pirates himself.  Thus starts another life, one where he is cook and all around handyman to a group of pirates and their charismatic captain.  He becomes close to the captain when he saves his life and before you know it, Shandy is chosen to accompany the captain and his friend, Blackbeard, on a trip to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. 

It turns out that Hurwood has an occult scheme in mind and everything that has occurred is in furtherance of his plans.  Shandy, who has developed feelings for Elizabeth, is determined to stop the plan which will end in her demise.  As he fights against time, he is accompanied by zombies, those with age-old magic and betrayal.

Tim Powers is one of the best of the genre.  Each of his books is unique as he plays out his fascination with such diverse topics as Victorian poets, pirates, modern day spies and professional gambling.  On Stranger Tides served as the inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Powers has gone The Phillip K. Dick Award twice and the World Fantasy Award three times.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ruby by Cynthia Bond


Growing up wasn't easy in the east Texas small town of Liberty if you were African-American.  Mired in poverty and prejudice, the townsfolk banded together to try to make a life, forcing those who didn't conform to the outside.  Ruby Bell's family was on the outside.  The three girls were beautiful and could even pass for white but their beauty didn't bring them joy.  Instead, it brought them the attention of men, both black and white, who took from them what they weren't willing to give.

If there was an admired family, it would be the Jennings family.  The father was the preacher at the local church and railed against the ills of his society.  There were two children.  Celia was the girl who always did what was expected of her and was at the church whenever the doors opened.  Ephram was her younger brother, ready to follow Celia's lead especially after his mother was taken away and hospitalized.  Celia had raised Ephram and the two live together as adults.

Ruby ran from Liberty as soon as she was able and went to New York where the rumor was her mother had fled before her.  She moves through the city searching for her mother but instead finds the seamy clubs and alleyways that operated on the fringe of society.  When a telegram reached her insisting her best friend growing up needed her, she reluctantly returned to Liberty.  There she quickly descended into madness and poverty as the sins of her society came to rest solely on her shoulders.

But perhaps there is hope.  Ephram has loved Ruby from afar even as a child.  Now can he find the courage to demonstrate that love to her and save her, even against the thoughts of the entire town and everyone he knows?  Can he find the courage to protect Ruby against the men who degrade her and the women who shun her?  Can he and Ruby perhaps find happiness?

Cynthia Bond is one of the new novelists who are gaining fame and this is her debut novel.  It was an Indie Pick, an Oprah Book Club selection and a Barnes And Nobles Discover Great New Writers pick.  Her ability to take the reader into a life that is hard to imagine and to create a heroine who refuses to let the world take everything from her is astounding.  Readers will not soon forget this book that draws a picture of what prejudice and evil can do to everyday people and yet where there is life there is hope.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Facts Of Life And Death by Belinda Bauer


Ruby Trick is ten years old and lives in a small town on the Cornish coast with her mother and father.  Her concerns are those of a child; the tension between her mother and the father she loves without reason, the bullying she gets at school for being poor and overweight and the scary woods and deserted house close to hers that provide plenty of fodder for nightmares.  But overall Ruby is a happy child.  With her mother working long hours and her father without a job, she gets to spend lots of time with him.  He is, along with a group of the other village men, fascinated by the American Old West and the group dresses as cowboys and knows everything about Westerns.  Ruby practises her quick draw with branches she finds and longs for the day when she can get a cowgirl outfit of her own.

But the village has concerns of its own.  A man is on the prowl, isolating women and forcing them to strip.  Once he does, he makes them call home and tell their parents or husband that they are about to die.  That's enough for him at first but as the weeks go by, its not enough and he starts to follow through on the threats.  The police, understaffed and without enough resources, aren't making much progress and the Cowboy group decides its up to them to patrol.  Ruby's dad starts to drive around at night, determined to catch the person involved.  Ruby gets to go with him but has to sit in the back whenever they pick up a young woman to give her a safe ride home.

As time goes by, it slowly becomes apparent to Ruby that things are not as easy as she has always found them to be and that her perceptions of the world have not accounted for the pure evil that can be suddenly, right next door to you.  She is forced to grow up quickly and desert her childhood dreams and crushes as she is faced with real evil.

Belinda Bauer is a Welsh writer who has found great success with her writing.  She has won both the Crime Writers Golden Dagger For Best Crime Novel for her debut novel, Badlands, and the CWA award for body of work.  Many consider her the heir to authors like Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters and her ability to slowly weave evil into ordinary lives keeps the reader guessing and cheering for those caught up in things they never expected to see.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Jury Returns by Louis Nizer


Louis Nizer was one of the greatest lawyers of the twentieth century.  He started his law firm in 1924 and when he died in 1994, he was still working there, a career spanning seven decades.  He was extremely successful and represented many famous clients such as Mae West, Julius Erving, Johnny Carson and others.  His work was credited with breaking the back of Hollywood and television blacklisting during the witchhunts of the 50's and 60's.  The Jury Returns is Nizer's account of several of his more memorable cases.

The book starts with a murder case.  Paul Crump had been sentenced to die for his part in a murder during a robbery.  Nizer knew he was guilty but believed that his role had not deserved the death penalty and that his rehabilitation during his time in prison was worthy of another chance.  This section details the procedures and strategies that Nizer used to defend his client and get his sentence changed from a death sentence to a more reasonable one of imprisonment with an eventual chance of parole.

In the second case, a divorce case is studied in depth.  This will be the most difficult for readers to follow as the law around divorces has changed significantly from the 1950's and 1960's.  In those times, divorce was a difficult thing to achieve with only a few reasons available that would lead the court to grant one.  There was no such thing as a no-fault divorce and many couples stayed together for decades in a loveless marriage.  Women were often left penniless in divorce actions when no or insufficient alimony and child support were granted and this was in the era when many women did not have a career of their own to fall back on.  This section follows the case of two couples where the husband of one couple fell in love with the wife in the other.  Nizer represented the wronged wife and it took several years to win her justice and the support she was entitled to.

The third case Nizer discusses was more serious.  Roy Fruehauf, owner of the Fruehauf truck shipping line, was accused of making bribes to the Teamsters Union.  This was in the time of James Hoffa and corruption was an everyday affair.  Nizer definitely proved that Fruehauf was not involved in this corruption and that there was no reason for his firm to be disciplined.

The last case in this book is the longest.  It discusses the blacklisting common in the movie and television industries in the era of McCarthyism.  John Henry Faulk was an up and coming star on television.  He had a successful radio career and was in the process of transitioning to television when he ran afoul of some right-wing organization.  They retaliated by naming Faulk as a Communist and then his career stalled.  Within a year, his work dried up and he could find nothing anywhere.  Networks that had been clamouring for his services mysteriously decided they no longer needed him as they cut him in fear of being associated with Communism.  It took several years, but Nizer managed to vindicate Faulk and in the process, end the rampant blacklisting that crippled the lives of many actors in this time period.

This is an interesting historical look back at law in prior decades.  It is difficult for modern readers to sometimes relate to the attitudes and laws that were in play fifty to seventy years ago.  But that is one of the benefits of reading this book; the realization of how attitudes on various things have changed and the role that the law has played in changing society.  Nizer was one of the giants of the legal field and a study of his cases is interesting to those willing to case their minds back.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers interested in legal theory and decisions.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Creatures Of Will And Temper by Molly Tanzer


Although they are sisters, Evadne and Dorina Gray couldn't be more dissimilar.  Dorina is the perfect Victorian lady; petite, fashionable, beautiful in all the accepted ways except for her dalliances with other women.  Evadne is a very different matter.  She is short, stocky and could care less for fashion and beauty.  Her passion is fencing and she devotes her time and energy to make herself a master at it.

When Dorina wants to visit their uncle in London and write a biography of his work as a painter, it isn't something she would normally be allowed to do.  Young ladies who haven't even come out don't go gallivanting off by themselves.  However, their parents decide it is permissible as long as Evadne goes along as her chaperone.

Their differences are magnified in London.  Evadne cares nothing about the museums and the art circles that have Dorina in ecstasy.  However, Evadne finds a fencing academy which has the promise of taking her skills to a new level.  Each of the girls also finds a mentor.  Dorina is entranced with Lady Henrietta 'Henry' Wooten, a rich, fashionable lady who cares nothing for what society thinks.  Evadne finds her teacher, George Cantrell, a firm yet gentle instructor who soon has her fencing moved up several levels in skill.  Although the sisters are at odds with each other, each has found a new joy in living.

Yet all is not well.  Evadne discovers that George has dedicated his life to a mission, one that he wants her to join.  He is sure that demons are around and that they take up residence in those who are willing to barter their souls in exchange for gifts like beauty, riches or some other skill.  He is determined to find and kill all of them and he wants Evadne to join his group of demon-hunters.  Evadne is especially sensitive to traces of demons.  Her greatest fear is that Henry is one of those who have made a bargain with a demon and that Dorina will do the same under her guidance.  Will Evadne commit to eradicating demons no matter the cost, even if it is her sister's life?

Molly Tanzer has written a fascinating look at a Victorian England that most never consider.  Her depiction of the slow seduction of Dorina by the demons and of Evadne by her faith in her fencing skills is masterful.  The pace is brisk enough to be a page turner while the descriptions of the people and the surroundings recreate England in another time period.  Her work has been nominated for several literary prizes and she moves between genres effortlessly.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly


Harry Bosch is nearing retirement.  As such, he has been transferred to the Open-Unsolved Unit, what many call the Cold Case Unit.  He has a new partner, Soto, who made detective after being involved in a shoot-out where she killed two gunmen in the midst of a robbery.  The case they catch is definitely a cold case and one that most detectives would have no chance of solving.

Ten years ago on a weekend afternoon, shots rang out in a crowded downtown plaza.  The man who was shot, a mariachi player, survived but with a bullet lodged in his spine that paralyzed him.  The current mayor used this crime and his determination to make sure that the Hispanic community received justice as a lynch pin of his successful campaign for mayor.  Now that man has died after ten years, the bullet he took that day finally killing him. 

There is pressure from the mayor's office to solve the crime, although it is an almost impossible one.  As Bosch and Soto work the case, they start to see that it may be tied to another, older, even bigger crime.  A fire was started in a low-rent building that ended up killing six children in a daycare located there.  Soto had been one of the children there that day but survived; the crime providing the impetus for her choice of a profession.  Are the two cases related and can either be solved after all this time?

This is the seventeenth Harry Bosch novel.  Harry is winding down his career but that doesn't mean his passion for solving crimes has diminished even a little.  He is cynical about the city and its government and never quick to warm up to anyone but as he and Soto work he realizes that she is a detective he can respect.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole


Ignatius J. Reilly has but a simple wish.  He just wants to improve the lives of all around him in New Orleans.  Of course, in order to do so, they must change their ways and follow his suggestions for a better life.  But, alas, Ignatius is misunderstood and ignored.  His obese presence and his superiority complex are off putting and make people flee from him.  From his mother who thinks a man of his age should be working to her friends who believe he should be put in a mental hospital, from the policeman who mistakenly tries to arrest him, to the various employers who attempt to fit him into their workforce, Ignatius is repeatedly misunderstood.

A myriad of interesting characters surround him.  There is the barmaid who wants to improve herself and become an exotic dancer in an act featuring a parrot.  There is the factory owner who doesn't want to supervise his factory but surely wasn't prepared for someone like Ignatius to come in and try to organize his workers.  A policeman who is misunderstood and forced to work undercover in a variety of disguises.  A hot dog vendor who tries to work with Ignatius and is unsure why he doesn't seem to bring in money but is out of product every day.  A socialist female friend from New York City who is concerned about Ignatius's virgin state.  A porter in the bar who is determined to change his fate.  Ignatius's mother who coddles him one day then conspires with her friends to do anything to change him.  What's a visionary to do?

John Kennedy Toole wrote this book while in the Army.  He later committed suicide and his mother began her mission of getting his book published.  She pursued her mission vigorously but unsuccessfully until the author Walker Percy read it and helped get it published in 1980.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.  The character of Ignatius J. Reilly is one that readers will not soon forget and his humorous adventures make this a uniquely American novel.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

American Woman by Susan Choi


The year is 1974 and Japanese-American Jenny Shimada is working as a restoration specialist in an old house in upstate New York.  Her work is meticulous and the elderly woman whose house it is is excited to have such beautiful work done and at such a low price.  Jenny can't complain about the pay or long hours.  She is on the run from the FBI and has been for several years.  She and her boyfriend made bombs and exploded several buildings in support of the anti-war effort for Vietnam.  He was captured and is serving a long term in federal prison.  Jenny went underground and is living a lonely life with only tenuous connections to the movement to sustain her.

Then one of her contacts insists on seeing her.  He recruits her to go help three other people in the movement who are staying in a farmhouse but cannot be seen in the nearby town.  They need someone like Jenny to act as their front, running errands while they write a book about their experiences.  Their experiences are from San Francisco where they kidnapped the wealthy daughter of a millionaire newspaper mogul.  Although the parents paid the ransom, the daughter did not return but re-emerged several months later as a willing participant in a bank robbery, having joined the terrorist organization herself.  Jenny agrees to help the three individuals, a married couple from the original group and the heiress who is now called Pauline.  She lives with the couple until an event ends their stay there then Jenny goes on the run with Pauline.  They manage to avoid the manhunt for another year until they are captured.

Readers who are older will not read far before they realize this is the story of Patty Hearst.  Her kidnapping and reemergence as a participant in the activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army were one of the major stories of the Vietnam War era.  Jenny is, in real life, Wendy Yoshimura, a Japanese-American woman born in the relocation camps of World War II who grew up to rebel against the society that could do such a thing to her family.  The women's struggle to understand each other and the gradual change in them while on the run explores all the nuances of the terrorist and anti-war experience of that time.  The story is told through Jenny's eyes and that distance gives the reader new ways to think about this story.  This book is recommended for literary and historical fiction readers.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Retribution by Val McDermid


Dr. Tony Hill's life has hit a new level of contentment.  During his hospital stay for a damaged knee, he found out one of the secrets of his life; who his father was.  More than that, he discovered that far from despising him as his mother had always said, he had left Tony his expensive house.  For the first time, Tony has a place that makes him feel safe and even loved.  More significantly, he is about to give up his job working with damaged individuals in a psychiatric hospital and move to live there.  The most important person in his life, DCI Carol Jordan, has agreed to live in the house with him as she takes up a new job there.

But plans often go awry.  Carol is faced with a new serial killer in her last days at her old job.  Street prostitutes are showing up dead and it is clear their murders are the act of the same person.  As she works the case with her team, something even worse happens.

Jacko Vance was imprisoned over a decade ago for his crimes.  He had kidnapped, tortured and killed seventeen teenage girls although the case against him for those crimes was thrown out.  He had been given a life sentence for killing a police officer, a new forensic profiler working under Tony Hill who was the first to see Vance for what he was.  The world saw him as a hugely successful TV presenter who had been on his way to winning an Olympic gold medal before the accident that ruined his chances.  Once that dream was over he felt free to indulge the desires he had always harbored.

Now Vance has managed to escape custody and it is clear that the main thing on his mind is retribution against the people he holds responsible for his incarceration.  That list includes his ex-wife but also Carol Jordan and Tony Hill along with other police officers from the original case.  Can the pair find and imprison him again before he can carry out his plans?

The Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series is one of the strongest in the mystery genre.  Val McDermid has created two private individuals, both scarred by events in their background, who have found each other and are making the best of the lives they've been given.  The tension is always high and the reader must find out what happens next.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Strangler by Corey Mitchell


In the late 1990's to early 2000's, Houston, Texas had a problem.  Young girls were turning up dead.  They were found tied up with cord around their necks.  It became obvious that the cases were related and that a serial killer was in residence.

Although the cases were investigated, not much progress was made for eight years.  At that time, DNA testing turned up a suspect who confessed when brought in for interrogation.  That suspect was Anthony Allen Shore, known as Tony.  He ended up confessing to four murders, one of them a nine-year-old child.  As the investigation progressed, he also admitted to serially molesting his own two daughters as well as raping other women.

The case went to court and Tony was charged with first degree murder with the death penalty as a possible verdict.  The prosecutor was one of Houston's most well-known, Kelly Siegler.  Fans now recognize her from her TV show, Cold Justice, but back then she was known as a hard-hitting prosecutor who ran many of the departments in the district attorney's office.  Working with the police officers, Siegler put on a convincing case that ended in his verdict of guilty.

In many ways, Tony Shore was a surprising criminal.  He tested at the genius level with an IQ of 150.  He was also a musical prodigy and at one time wanted to make music his life.  But his mindset and urges led him to a marginal life with jobs such as telephone lineman or tow truck operator.  He always had the ability to charm those around him and never lacked for a woman or two in his life.  But young women were his obsession and he craved the ultimate power.

Corey Mitchell is known as one of the more prolific true crime authors.  This case is an interesting one and readers will enjoy reading about the court case and the work of Siegler and her team.  Many of Shore's family members and women who dated him were interviewed and it is interesting to see how they viewed him.  Many of the police believe that he had more than the four victims he admitted to.  Shore is still on Death Row and perhaps he will eventually answer all the police's questions about his crimes.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.