Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean


The year is 1992 and the place is a suburb in Australia.  It's summer and the hottest one in memory.  Five girls live on a cul-de-sac in the suburb and are inseparable.  Tikka Malloy is 11 that year; her sister Laura 14.  Their best friends are the Van Apfel girls.  Hannah is Laura's age, Cordelia is a year in school above Tikka and Ruth is the youngest.  The five girls are inseparable.  They go to school together and afterward, spend hours in the Van Apfel pool, eat ice creams, talk and tell secrets.

But there is one secret no one is talking about.  The Van Apfel family are religious and religion defines their lives.  Mr. Van Apfel controls everything in the house and the thing he most likes to control are his girls.  As time goes by, the Malloy girls start to guess the secret.  The secret of why Cordelia fell out of a tree breaking her arm.  The secret of why she sometimes had bruises or hair missing.  The secret behind the fact that the girls are going to run away.

And they did.  At the annual school Showstopper event, the girls vanished.  Did they run away?  Were they taken by someone?  Why aren't they being found, after days and weeks of searches and police investigations?  Their disappearance changed everything in the development and defined the Malloy girls' childhood which ended that night.

Now Tikka is back home for a visit.  She now lives in the United States and works as a lab technician.  While she is back, she and Laura work through that summer and their memories, trying to make sense of all the clues that they were too young to understand back then.

This is a debut novel and it's success makes Felicity McLean an Australian author to watch for in the future.  It was a highly buzzed book with such publications as Cosmopolitian and Entertainment Weekly calling it the book of the summer the year of publication.  I enjoyed the coming of age aspect of the novel and the slow unfolding of how Tikka came to realize that something was very wrong next door.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Broken Prey by John Sandford



The first body is that of a woman.  She has been left displayed, her naked body scourged by something like a wire flail.  Lucas Davenport gets a bad feeling about the crime as soon as he sees it, a feeling shared by his counterpart Sloan.  Sloan is about to retire and he doesn't want a major crime in his last days to investigate.  The second body is that of a young father and his son.  Again the man's body has been displayed and whipped.

Davenport gets his team together and they start to investigate whether other crimes have occurred and somehow flown under the radar.  As the body count starts to mount, the seasoned investigators realize that the crimes mimic those of some of the worst killers they have encountered in the past.  Those men are all still in prison.  Is their a copycat killer and if so, how does this new killer have all the details of the past?

The investigation moves to the prison and interviews are held with the men Davenport and Sloan have put away.  They leave convinced that the killers have coached someone to kill as they did, but who?  Is it a former prisoner?  A prison guard or other staff member?  A visitor?  As the investigation becomes more focused, the bodies continue to come and the plot moves through twists and turns.

This is the sixteenth Lucas Davenport novel.  Lucas' wife, Weather, is in London during this book with the couple's children on a surgical exchange.  Lucas is left to his own devices, pushing himself longer and harder than he usually does as there is no brake on his actions.  The plot is full of twists and the reader will be hard pressed to guess the ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen


This work is the definitive telling of the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe and how it became the preeminent tribe of the Southwest.  At the start of its rise, the Comanche were just another tribe of many others.  Hamalainen shows evidence that the tribe's rise to prominence came from its ability to entirely remake it's culture and daily living routines.  It went from a hunting gathering society to one based on horses, raising and trading them, using them to become master hunters of buffalo and changing from a stationary to a mobile society.

The area of land the Comanche claimed was claimed by other cultures as well.  Both the Spanish and the French had claims on the territory as well as the Americans after the Louisiana Purchase.  The Comanche were able to play these competing claims and governments against one another to aid them in creating their trade empire.  They also used the settlers in these areas as a resource for more stock; raiding and taking off hundreds and sometimes thousands of cattle and horses annually.  Some of these were kept while the vast majority formed the basis of their trade and a means to gain produce to make up for the end of their farming activity as well as the guns and other metal tools needed for their daily activities.

At its peak, there were approximately forty thousand members of the tribe.  The fall of the empire came from various catastrophes.  There were periodic epidemics of diseases such as smallpox that the natives had no immunity to.  There was the incessant migration of settlers, determined to claim and farm land the Comanche had used as free range.  Finally, there was the extermination of the vast buffalo herds, due to natural causes such as long droughts which impacted grazing ability and the indiscriminate hunting of both the Indians and those who would kill massive numbers of buffalo just for the skins or some small part of the animal.

This book is part of the Lamar Series of Western History and the author is an associate professor of history at the University of California.  It explores the intricate causes that allowed the Comanche to succeed and those details that eventually insured their defeat as a nation.  Along the way, the reader is exposed to a myriad of knowledge about topics such as daily life, the use of slaves in the society, the role of men, women and children in this society and how the negotiation style allowed the elders to interact with the interlopers threatening their way of life.  This book is recommended for history readers.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Body Leaping Backward


It was a typical family in the suburbs in the 1970's.  Maureen Stanton was born into a middle class family in Walpole, Massachusetts.  Her dad was a computer programmer and her mother stayed at home with the seven children.  There was a hot meal every evening and sing alongs with her dad playing the piano.  There were family trips and bedtime stories.

Then everything changed.  Maureen's parents separated and nothing was the same.  The just enough money became not enough money.  Her saintly mother now routinely shoplifted clothes and food with the children watching.  Her dad was relegated to infrequent, strained time with the children.  There was little supervision of the children and no more sing alongs.

The children spiraled downward.  One of the main features of their town was the infamous Walpole Penitentiary, where such criminals as The Boston Strangler were incarcerated.  Over the years, the children had various friends who ended up there as well.  They were left basically without supervision as their mother went back to work and then started dating; often leaving for entire weekends with her new boyfriend.  As is often the case, unsupervised children find bad things to do.

In Maureen's case, it was angel dust and alcohol.  For about two years in high school, she was high daily, smoking dust right before school which was not much more than a haze that occasionally interrupted her highs.  She and her friends lived to party.  They did dangerous things for money for drugs and sold them.  They hitchhiked and took rides from men all the time, usually so impaired that it was only by the grace of God that they weren't harmed.  Her mother and teachers didn't seem to notice or at least never seemed to intervene.  Maureen was left to work her own way out of her addictions and hopelessness. 

This memoir was meant by the author, I think, to highlight the issues surrounding drugs and how they can impact young people's lives.  What came through to me, instead, was the incredible lack of supervision and help she encountered from the adults in her life.  Today the helicopter parent gets lots of bad press and every generation has it's own way to get parenting wrong.  But the way that Maureen was left to flounder around steeped in alcohol and drugs without adult intervention was far worse in my mind.  This book is a warning to parents and recommended for readers of memoirs and those interested in social issues.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Night Boat To Tangier by Kevin Barry



They sit on the benches in the ferry depot, waiting.  They appear to be typical middle-aged men in their fifties, still full of life but with some issues.  One has a significant limp and the other man has a ruined eye.  They sit and chat, waiting for it emerges, the daughter of one of the men.  But Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond are not typical Irish men out for a pleasant outing.  They are longtime friends/enemies and the daughter they are waiting for won't be pleased to see them.

As they sit, they talk and over the course of hours, their life stories emerge.  It's a tale of modern day smugglers; their cargo the drugs that ruined a generation in Ireland.  It's a tale of love and betrayal, friendships forged in love yet betrayed in an instant.  It's a tale of women loved and cheated on, families left behind or put in danger, violence when necessary and months of hiding out from those who would do them harm.  It turns out the daughter has fled to escape the chaos of daily life around these two and will not be glad to see them if she appears.  They are sitting there on the basis of a rumor that she might be passing through, hoping to find her if she appears and that she will be willing to speak with them.

This novel is a Booker nominee this year and one of the best books I've read.  The slow unfolding of the men's stories, of their long friendship and casual betrayals, of an entire generation of crime and hopelessness in Ireland is unforgettable.  These are not cuddly men but they are men the reader will not soon forget.  This book is recommended highly for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Dogs Of Christmas by J. Bruce Cameron


Josh Michaels is a loner.  An IT guy who works from home, his social life had been his girlfriend Amanda.  When she leaves him for another man, Josh pulls even further into himself, living in the house he grew up in, friendly enough but not putting himself out to make much human contact.  Then his neighbor shows up at the door.  Josh has never much cared for the man as he is a party guy and kind of sketchy.  The guy begs Josh to take care of his dog for a day or so until he can find someone to take it on a more permanent basis.  He says he has to go overseas at a moment's notice and that this dog was his girlfriend's dog and she deserted it when she left him.

Josh knows nothing about taking care of dogs but reluctantly agrees.  The dog, Lucy, he notices, is about to have puppies so that is an even higher level of commitment.  When Lucy goes into labor, he takes her to the vet to have her puppies but the vet comes out and tells him all the puppies were stillborn due to the bad food the mother has been eating.  Heartbroken, Josh and Lucy drive to his cabin in the start of a snow storm.  As he builds a fire, Josh notices Lucy is sad.  When he goes out for more firewood, he notices a box has been left in the back of his truck.  When he opens it, there are five little almost frozen puppies; someone had brought them to the vet.

Josh and Lucy's lives are changed.  Lucy now has five puppies to raise and Josh starts to meet new people through the puppies.  Kerri works at the local rescue and helps him raise and socialize the puppies while encouraging him to adopt them out.  He meets people who fall in love with the puppies.  Is this the changing point of his life?

I've had this book for years but avoided it.  I don't particularly like books centered on a holiday and while I've always had a dog, I'm not a fanatic about it.  But this book was more about Josh and his struggle to overcome his introversion and make a new life than about Christmas or being devoted to a dog to the exclusion of other things.  It was predictable but that is the point of feel good books; you know whatever happens things will work out in the end.  This book is recommended for reading dog lovers.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Moon by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Someone is killing in New Orleans.  That's nothing new but the method of this killer is.  Two small punctures are made on the wrist and the victim is totally drained of blood.  Male or female, doesn't seem to matter.  There's a vampire serial killer at large and someone needs to find and stop it.

Detective Parks is the man assigned to the case.  He is willing to work it with all the resources at his command, but it's soon clear as the victims continue to mount that this is no ordinary killer.  It will take unordinary measures to capture it.  Marie Levant is an ER doctor but also the great-great-granddaughter of the Voodoo Queen Marie Leaveau.  She is drawn to the case and realizes that this is no human.  It is a spirit which has returned from the past to haunt New Orleans again as it did before.  Each kill gives the spirit more strength and a more solid presence. 

As the two partner together one more thing becomes clear.  The spirit vampire is not here by mistake.  It is here and drawn to Marie due to her ties to the past.  Her relative was the woman who sent it away before and now it is back to take revenge.  Can the two destroy it before it destroys Marie?

This is the second book in a trilogy that Rhodes has written about her heritage and the heritage of New Orleans.  It is full of the spooky, witchy feeling that New Orleans is known for.  As the killings and tension mount, the reader not only is drawn into the investigation but into the history of that city.  This book is recommended to readers interested in black literature, historical literature or thrillers.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Last Of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez



They were assigned as roommates at Barnard College in the late 60's.  No one would have expected them to become friends.  Georgette George never even expected to go to college since no one in her family ever had.  Her family was poor and dysfunctional; that year while she went to college on a full scholarship her younger sister hit the road and disappeared.  Ann Drayton was her exact opposite.  She was the child of wealth, the only child of two highly successful parents and who rejected everything about her background and upbringing.  Ann lived her life totally in opposition to everything around her; everything she saw as unfair.  She was there for the anti-war, anti-society movements such as the SDS, the Black Panthers, etc.  Ann was determined to see justice and equality in the world no matter what it cost and Georgette was the example of everything Ann wanted to make right.

Their lives diverted after college.  Each of them left before graduating.  Ann ended up living with an older man, an African American schoolteacher who made her happy.  Georgette ended up marrying twice and having two children and later in life, going back, graduating and becoming an author.  Ann's life was very different.  She ended up in prison for life, her sentence the result of killing a policeman who shot her boyfriend in a traffic stop incident.  The two women lost touch and lived separate lives yet the memories of their college days were strong in each of them as their later lives unfolded.

Sigrid Nunez has written an interesting portrayal of the late 60's, early 70's when the youth of our country rebelled.  They rebelled against the Vietnam War, against the racial prejudice that permeated our nation, against the inequality that was the way of life.  Inevitably, some learned to accommodate their lives to the society and work to change it from within.  Some were lost forever in their determined approach to change everything around them by whatever means, even violent ones.  This novel was named as a Best Book by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck


They met in Paris in 1854.  Ella Lynch is a courtesan who has been with several men but is at loose ends and looking for support.  Francisco Solano is a young brash man, rich and exploring Europe.  He is instantly smitten with Ella and soon she is his; the deal sealed with the purchase of her beloved horse, Mathilde.  Francisco loves being in Europe where he can have anything he likes and is admired by everyone but his father is the President of Paraguay and when he insists on Francisco's return, he must obey.  He decides to take Ella with him.

She packs up and goes, thinking she will probably stay for only a while.  Instead, she stays with Francisco through his rise to become the dictator of Paraguay.  They never marry due to his family's disapproval of Ella but they remain lovers and have a large family.  She is his closest confidante and the only person he trusts consistently over the years.  He falls out with most people, condemning his enemies to torture and death, even members of his own family.

As the years go by, Francisco becomes steadily more determined to control everything around him.  This leads him to enter a deadly war with the neighboring countries and to refuse to see that the war is going badly and he needs to talk terms.  Finally, his time is done and so is his love affair with Ella, who returns with her surviving children to France.

This is an interesting historical fiction about a time and place most people are not that familiar with.  The characters are roughly drawn and it is difficult to understand what turns Francisco into the monster he becomes from the debonair young man who won Ella's heart.  It is a bleak view of human relationships and a eye-opening view of the difficulty of everyday life in many countries at this time period.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, November 22, 2019

All The Paths Of Shadow by Frank Tuttle


Meralda has quite a task before her.  She is the new Mage of her kingdom, Tirlin.  She is young and there are those who don't believe she is up to the task.  Especially since she is the first woman to ever hold the title.  King Yvin appointed her as she was the brightest student to come through the academy in history and she had the backing of the former occupants of her office, but she hasn't really solidified his support.

Tirlin is facing a momentous occasion.  All the countries around, including the mysterious country of Hang, have arrived in the capital to sign peace accords.  It is the biggest event in anyone's memory and King Yvin is determined that everything will be perfect.  He calls Meralda to him and gives her the task.  She is to move the shadow of the Tower from where he will be giving his speech after the accord is signed.  Surely she can do a little thing like move a shadow, right?

As Meralda thinks of how she can accomplish this, she visits the Tower.  The Tower is the biggest structure in the kingdom and it throws a huge shadow.  More importantly, it is rumored to be haunted and those who dare to enter are never seen in the same shape again.  As Meralda explores the Tower with the help of her bodyguards, she learns a secret that can destroy the country.  Add in those who are working against her and the accords and her job seems impossible.  Can Meralda save her country?

This is the first book in a trilogy about Meralda.  This series is more of a young adult science fiction.  The magic Meralda uses is based in solid mathematics and her struggles as the first woman in her position ring true.  It is not very violent and the romance in it is quite tame.  Readers of the appropriate age will enjoy reading about Meralda and her abilities and challenges.  This book is recommended for young adult science fiction readers.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, November 18, 2019


It's almost Thanksgiving which is one of my favorite holidays.  There is food and family, football and lazy day indulgence.  This year my husband and I are driving down three hours to Columbia where my daughter is in her senior year of college and my son and his girlfriend are driving up from Atlanta to meet us there.  We're all going to meet for a meal and fellowship and I'm looking forward to it.  The local museum is having a Van Gogh exhibit that we can see while there and all in all, it should be a great day.  About two weeks ago I went to a great event at Bookmarks, a fantastic bookstore in Winston-Salem.  There were three speakers.  One was a publisher's representative who talked about upcoming books of note, another was a friend of mine who heads up the National Women's Reading group to present her list of best reads for this year and talk about successful strategies for book clubs and third was the author Therese Ann Fowler to talk about her latest novel, A Good Neighborhood.  As we left, we each got a book bag full of ARCs and it was one of the most satisfying events I've attended.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  A Good Neighborhood, Therese Anne Fowler, literary fiction, gift
2.  Just Watch Me, Jeff Lindsay, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  The Rabbit Hunter, Lars Kepler, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Our Better Angels, Jonathan Reckford, nonfiction, sent by publisher
5.  FKA USA, Reed King, literary fiction, gift
6.  The Idiot, Elif Batuman, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Cilka's Journey, Heather Morris, literary fiction, gift
8.  Renia's Diary, Renia Spiegel, memoir, gift
9.  A Rip In Heaven, Jeanine Cummins, memoir, purchased
10.  Greenwood, Michael Christie, literary fiction, won in contest
11.  The Wildlands, Abby Geni, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  All The Paths Of Shadow, Frank Tuttle, Kindle Fire
2.  Moon, Jewell Parker Rhodes, paperback
3.  The Last Of Her Kind, Sigrid Nunez, hardback
4.  The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, Felicity McLean, audio
5.  The News From Paraguay, Lily Tuck, paperback
6.  The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan, paperback
7.  Comanche Empire, Pekka Hamalainen, paperback

Happy Reading!

Friday, November 15, 2019

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster


This is a coming of age novel of Archie Ferguson, set in New Jersey in the 1950's and 1960's.  That could be interesting although rather commonplace but what sets this novel apart is that the author has created four different life stories for Archie.   Our lives are a series of decisions, and what we choose at various points changes the paths our lives will go down and make us a very different person that other choices might have resulted in.

We look in at the four Archies at various stages, young child, around ten, teen years, college years, etc.  There are similarities; all have the same parents, Rose and Stanley Ferguson, all love baseball, all are interested in writing, all fall in love with the same girl.  But the paths vary and sometimes the parents stay together, sometimes they divorce.  Sometimes Archie gets the girl and sometimes he doesn't.  He has various successes with his writing.  How he reacts to the large events of his time; the Vietnam War, the ending of segregation, the student uprisings at universities like Columbia, vary. 

This novel is a tour-de-force for Auster.  It was shortlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize and a Best Book of the Year by such publications as the New York Times Book Review, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, the Spectator UK and the Huffington Post.   It is approachable and a joy to read, unlike some of Auster's other works which are quite experimental.  The reader is caught up in each rendition of Archie's story and as the years go by, the life granted to him becomes clearer.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Gods Of Guilt by Michael Connelly


When Mickey Haller hears that a prisoner has asked to speak to him and hire him as his lawyer in a murder case, his first reaction is relief.  Things haven't been going well at the law firm.  After Haller gets a client off on drunk driving charges and that client later kills a mother and daughter in another drunk driving incident, Haller's name is mud in the local press.  His daughter knew the victims and she isn't speaking to him and his caseload went into a spiral.  Things aren't going well for Mickey.

When he meets with the prisoner, he finds out that the murder victim was someone he knew.  Gloria was a call girl and after helping her several times, Mickey had given her a stake so that she could move to Hawaii and leave the life.  Except he now finds that she didn't leave the life or even leave Los Angeles.  She's been there all along, on the same old game and now she is dead.  Her pimp, who ran her website, is the accused and Haller's newest client.

The more Haller talks to Andre the more he starts to believe he is actually innocent.  But if Andre didn't kill Gloria, who did?  After investigation Mickey thinks he knows that but how can he prove it in court and gain Andre's freedom?  There is danger whichever strategy he chooses but he needs to make things right with his memory of Gloria.

This is the fifth book in the Mickey Haller series.  Mickey has an entire group of people depending on him and his law practice, unlike his half brother, Bosch, who can be more of a lone wolf.  Haller has his ex-wife working for him and her new husband is his investigator.  He is training a new lawyer and spends lots of time with his mentor who is now in a nursing home.  Readers who are fans of Michael Connelly will enjoy this novel and the unfolding of another Mickey Haller case.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Girl Jacked by Christopher Greyson



When Jack Stratton returns home after his wartime service, he is at loose ends.  He decides to become a policeman which is the closest occupation to the skills he learned in the military.  He is doing well and taking all the training he can get but he is low man on the totem pole and most of the crimes he investigates are traffic related or breaking up fights in bars or at homes.  Underneath the calm exterior though, Jack is a mess.  He joined the service with his best friend, Chandler who he considered a brother after sharing a foster home for several years.  Chandler did not make it home and Jack blames himself.  He bounces from woman to woman, drinks too much and has not made it over to see Aunt Hattie,  Michelle and Replacement, the woman who raised him and Chandler and his sisters.

So Jack is shocked when Replacement shows up at his apartment one morning.  She informs him that Michelle is missing and they need Jack's help to find her.  Apparently, according to the police, Michelle left her promising college career to suddenly transfer to the West Coast and a university there.  Jack is hesitant to look for Michelle, knowing that this will bring him face to face with the abandonment he has committed with her family.  But as he remembers his childhood, he finally agrees to take it on.

Replacement is determined to help although she has no police experience.  She does have computer skills which Jack lacks and has found out that the West Coast university has no record of Michelle actually getting there and attending classes.  It's not possible that Michelle has just dropped out since her education was a hard fought opportunity she would never give up.  Can Jack and Replacement find Michelle?

This is the first in a series of detective novels featuring Jack and his sidekick, his former foster sister.  Jack is a troubled soul, the son of a prostitute who abandoned him one day when he was seven after telling him he didn't know jack.  His time with Aunt Hattie and his foster brother and sisters helped him join society and although he was later adopted, he knows he has a huge debt to pay to that first foster family.  Replacement was the bratty kid sister back then but has grown up into a woman who knows her own mind and has an ambiguous relationship with Jack.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson


Trond Sander has moved to a cabin to live out his retirement years.  It needs a lot of work but that is fine as he has nothing but time to fill.  He lives there with his dog and one neighbor, a man that he realizes is the younger brother of one of his childhood friends.  For Trond has moved back to the area where he spent his summers with his father as he became a young man.

As he looks back, the summer when he was fifteen is the one he thinks about most.  That was the summer he and his friend spent hours together, stealing rides from the neighbor's horses, fishing, swimming and getting into mischief.  It is the summer he is man enough to help his father cut a stand of timber and send it downriver to sell.  It is the summer he becomes aware of women and his response to them.  And it is the summer that he starts to realize that his father has many secrets, most of them related to World War II and his part in that conflict.

Per Petterson is a Norwegian novelist who writes of the lives there and the pain found in life.  He himself lost his family (mother, father, younger brother and niece) in a tragedy and this has shaped his writing.  This novel won the two most prestigious Norwegian literary awards and when translated to English it won the International Dublin Literary Award and was in the top 10 best books selected by the New York Times Book Review.  His look back at what events form us as individuals and the slow unfolding of the story make this book an instant classic and it is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan


This is the third book in the Wheel Of Time series.  As it begins, the group of individuals have split on different missions.  Rand has gone off by himself, not sure if he is really the Dragon but if so, he wants to protect those around him if he should go mad.  The three Aes Sedai in training, Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne, have returned to their training and punishment for leaving.  Mat is recovering from the near death he encountered by holding onto the knife of evil.  Perrin and Lolial are with Moiraine and Lan along with Min. 

As the action picks up, Rand decides he must know once and for all if he is truly the Dragon.  Lore tells him that only the true Dragon will be able to grasp and use the Sword of Callandor, secured in the Heart Of Stone tower in Tear.  He decides he must go there and find out his fate.  The three young Aes Sedai are given a mission by the head of the group.  Thirteen Aes Sedai have gone over to the Dark Lord and as the Black Ajah, are working for his good and Rand's destruction.  As they realise that these Black Ajah have gone to Tear, they understand that they must follow them there to defeat them.  Moraine has her own reasons for heading to Tear as she needs to do what she can to safeguard Rand.  Mat heads there when after learning that the man courting Elayne's Queen mother is planning to assassinate Elayne. 

All head for Tear where they will unite as Rand makes his climatic stand that will set his path going forward.  A new character, Faile, joins the group as she tries to find the Horn, unaware that it has already been found.  Faile will become the love interest of Perrin although it is unclear what part she will play in the story going forward.  All in all, this novel has lots of additional world building and ends with a battle between good and evil that will set the rest of the books in motion.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, October 28, 2019


It's getting late in October and I have a real treat coming this evening.  I was lucky enough to get a ticket to go hear Ann Patchett speak.  I love this author and have read most if not all of her books so I'm really looking forward to this.  You can read my review of her latest, The Dutch House, if you scroll down.  I'm moving along on my promise to my son.  His favorite series is the Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan.  I started it years ago but got sidetracked and I promised him this would be the year.  Since each novel in the series is 600 pages or more, it's a big time commitment but it's going well this time.  I just finished the third book yesterday and I'm off to the library for book four in a bit.  I've read some great books lately such as Lincoln In The Bardo and Kate Atkinson's Big Sky and I'm in the midst of other great ones such as Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  If You Tell, Gregg Olsen, true crime, sent by publisher
2.  The God Game, Danny Tobey, thriller, sent by publisher
3.  The Nanny, Gilly Macmillan, psychological suspense, sent by publisher
4.  The Cask Of Cranglimmering, Dawn Vogel, fantasy, sent by publisher
5.  Golden In Death, J. D. Robb, mystery, won in contest
6.  Body Leaping Backward, Maureen Stanton, memoir, sent for blog tour
7.  Elevator Pitch, Linwood Barclay, thriller, sent by publisher
8.  Unforsaken, John Swaine McKenna, western, sent by publisher
9.  Wolf Season, Helen Benedict, literary fiction, purchased
10.  Scatter, Adapt, And Remember, Annalee Newitz, nonfiction, purchased
11.  A Bond Undone, Jin Yong, sci fi/fantasy, won in contest
12.  The Middle Sister, Jesse Miles, mystery, sent by publisher
13.  The Forgetting Flower, Karen Hugg, mystery, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1. 4 3 2 1, Paul Auster, paperback
2.  The Gods Of Guilt, Michael Connelly, audio
3.  The Shadow Rises, Robert Jordan, paperback
4.  Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson, hardback
5.  Fates And Furies, Lauren Groff, paperback
6.  Girl, Jacked, Christopher Grayson, Kindle Fire
7.  Storm Prey, John Sandford, hardback

Happy Reading!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Big Picture by Douglas Kennedy


Most men would be glad to have Ben Bradford's life.  He has a wife and two little boys.  He has a great job as an estate lawyer, one that allows the family to live in an upscale Connecticut suburb from which Ben rides the train every day into Manhattan. 

But this wasn't the life he had envisioned and under the surface it wasn't nearly as bright as it appeared to others.  His great job was tedious and it surely wasn't the one of being a photojournalist that he had expected to have.  He periodically catches glimpses of his college girlfriend on television as she managed to get her dream job and is now a foreign correspondent on television.  He makes a lot of money but they spend it all on various things that don't bring satisfaction for long.  His marriage has gone cold after the birth of his second son and he comes to realize that his wife, Beth, has found her own release in the form of a torrid affair with a local guy who pretends he is on the verge of a discovery as a photographer. 

Ben is thrown for a loop by his discovery of the affair and it makes him reexamine his entire life.  What does it add up to?  When a tragedy happens that could send him to prison it becomes easy for him to set up the appearance of his death and flee his life to try to start again.  He ends up in Montana and there he finds the success he never expected to find.  Can his new life really be the one he was meant to live?

Douglas Kennedy has written a story of adult disappointments and how our lives seldom turn out to be what we had fantasized they would be.  It showcases how difficult it is to make love last and how living for someone else can only ever bring heartbreak.  Whether or not we have the strength to grab our lives and make them fit what we wanted is the main question we all face.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders


The time is 1862.  The United States is one year into the massive Civil War that tears its fabric apart, pitting families against each other and bringing death and destruction to so many.  The President is Abraham Lincoln and he questions whether what he has started was the right step and where his decisions will lead the nation.  In the midst of this, his beloved son Willie, sickens and dies.

Lincoln In The Bardo is George Saunder's imaginative retelling of the time right after Willie's death, when Abraham Lincoln is caught up in grief that will not let him surrender his son to the inevitable separation that death brings.  The Bardo is the limbo between death and the final destination of the soul, whether hell or heaven.  Lincoln visits his son's body at the cemetery where he has been taken and wonders how he will ever manage to let his son go.  The inhabitants of the cemetery, souls who have not yet left the Earth for their final trip, are caught up in the grief of the parent and the task of convincing him of the inevitability of death and the necessity of acknowledging it and moving beyond to acceptance.

There is a large cast of characters with all the souls waiting there.  Three men stand out as the main ones, a man whose inability to reconcile himself to the life that being gay would entail, a man who was not able to make his marriage work and a reverend who fears that he will never make it to heaven despite leading what he thought was a moral life.  There are many others who flit in and out of the story, a set of African-American souls who are working off the lifelong sorrows of slavery, those who spent their lives in poverty and acrimony, those who were snatched from life before they really lived it as they expected.  All are disappointed at their deaths and all must reconcile their earthly longings before they can move one.  In the meantime, Saunders also gives a feel for what the historical context of this moment in our nation's history was like.

Lincoln In The Bardo comes highly recommended.  It won the Booker Prize in 2017 and the Audie Award in 2018.  It is a highly imaginative and creative effort that stands out as a new form of literature.  It is also very divisive.  I read this with my book club and people either loved it or hated it.  I was on the side that loved it as it caught the reader up and transported one to a place where every decision is a weighty one that has decisive consequences.  I was shocked at the historical snippets that showed the vituperation that Lincoln underwent in the press and historical writings of the time.  We revere him as one of our greatest individuals but he was not loved in his own time; rather he was hated and mocked and his every decision questioned.  It gives a new way to process the divisive times of political turmoil our country is in at the present.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson



In this fifth Jackson Brodie novel, Jackson has moved up north and lives in a small fishing village.  His days as a policeman are over and he makes his living as a private detective these days, finding proof of cheating spouses his mainstay.  He isn't quite alone as his teenage son lives with him part-time as does the dog that comes with him.  Jackson didn't know about Nathan for several years as his partner, Julia, decided she wanted to keep him to herself for his baby years and its a challenge to raise someone of the new generation whose desires and expectations are so different from when Jackson was a boy.  Still, he loves Nathan and since he's on the outs with his daughter, it's his only chance at fatherhood.

As Jackson goes through his days, he encounters a new woman.  Crystal is drop dead gorgeous and has used her looks and intelligence to claw her way up from a horrid childhood full of abuse.  She's married to Tommy, whose first wife died in an accident.  Crystal has an adored little girl and a stepson, Harry, who she can't help but love.  Tommy is another matter.  He seems to have lots of secret business calls and trips and she isn't really sure what he does.  Tommy is part of a group of men who have solidified their friendship by going into business.  Steve is the boss, a lawyer who knows everyone and what is legal and what's not.   Andy is a charming man who can make anyone feel comfortable.  Vince is the odd man out; an ex-soldier with IT skills but going through a divorce in which he will lose everything.  Then Vince's soon to be ex wife is found murdered and things start to come apart.

It seems that there is a human trafficking circle in the area and all the men except Vince are involved.  In fact, that's the source of the money that keeps their willingly blind wives in luxury.  Jackson brushes up against the edges of the group as he goes about his investigations and soon becomes an ally of Crystal's. 

Kate Atkinson has created an endearing character in Jackson.  He has a clear moral compass, although it might not keep him on the legal side of the ledger at times.  He is determined to protect those around him but they often see him as failing at this job.  Yet Brodie manages to come through time after time, handing out justice and help evenhandedly.  This book is recommended for readers of  mysteries.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro


Ryder is a famous concert pianist.  He has come to an unnamed Eastern European city to give a concert.  It's unclear why he has come and he travels so much that he rarely even knows where he is or what his schedule is on any given day.  He checks into a hotel and everyone there is excited to see him and it's clear there is an enormous amount of hope being put into this concert.  As the days before his performance go by, Ryder finds he is caught up in other people's dramas to the detriment of his own work.  But they all seem to have a claim on him.

There is the famous conductor who has been mired in alcoholism for years but seems to have managed to dry out for this performance which he hopes will reestablish his career.  There is the woman who has waited years for him and is not sure if she should continue to hope that there can be a life for them.  There is the beginning concert pianist who isn't sure if his talent is really big enough to take him out of his hometown.  His parents are simultaneously his biggest fans and critics and their marriage which is disintegrating plays a part in how they perceive him.

As Ryder visits and explores he starts to realize that he has been here before and in fact, might even have lived here.  The main porter at the hotel may be his father in law, and he may still have a wife and son here who wonder why he has been gone so long.  Old friends want slices of his time to talk over old times and grievances and several factions in the city think that only Ryder can solve their problems.  Adding another level, his parents are to come to the performance and he hasn't seen them for many years.  As the performance approaches, Ryder gets further and further behind in his professional obligations as the personal ones he has ignored for so long push to the fore.

Kazuo Ishiguro has written a sly commentary on success and on the need for connection.  The writing is nonsensical at times and the reader can feel lost in all the dramas Ryder encounters.  But through everything, it is clear that only connection to others can save us and make our lives worth living.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller


When the cities disappeared, those people who managed to survive all had to migrate to continue to exist.  They fled the destruction, the violence that decimated tribes and families.  Eventually, they ended up in the enclaves and cities that still existed; cities like Qaanaaq, an arctic city built around an oil rig.  Everyone lives in one of the eight arms; the arms vary in their space and amenities.  As is the case worldwide those with money inhabit the nicest arm and those with less are pushed further and further down the scale into arms ridden with crime and disease.

But something is happening.  The shareholders who rule the city due to their wealth and possession of the controlling software that runs the city are more and more remote from the rest of the people and know little of their lives and problems.  A new disease has arisen.  The breaks, as it is called, is sexually transmitted and those infected are swarmed with the memories and thoughts of those they contracted it from and those who that person got it from, a chain of memories and thoughts that eventually drive the victims mad.  The breaks is no respecter of place or money; it destroys everyone it contacts indiscriminately.

Then something even more unexpected happens.  A woman appears in the Northern Sea, riding an orca and accompanied by a polar bear.  Who is she?  Why has she come?  What will she do?  She is violent and is determined to meet her goals although those are not immediately clear.  She inserts herself into the emerging chaos of the battle between the shareholders and the criminal overloads and gathers a family around her.  Who will emerge victorious?

This novel was nominated as a Nebula Best Novel in 2018.  It is an original, highly entertaining and thought-provoking novel, one that the reader will remember long after the last page is turned.  The world building is superb, with a cold, uncaring world that seems likely after a worldwide destruction yet the people who survive still search for meaning and connection.  The last ten percent of the novel are as stunning a resolution as I can remember reading.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Knife by Jo Nesbo


Things are not going well for Harry Hole.  He's back drinking again.  Rakel, the love of his life, has kicked him out and without her and Oleg, their son, there's just not much he cares about, least of all taking care of himself.  He's working on cold cases for the police department as the only thing Harry is good at is detective work.  A serial rapist and maybe murderer who Harry put away is back on the streets after being released and Harry is sure that this man cannot change his ways.  He wants to find the man and convict him of new crimes so that he cannot hurt more women.

But bad can go to worse and that's often the case for Harry.  He wakes up from a drunken stupor to a nightmare he could never ever imagine.  Someone he loves has been taken from him and he knows that the last thing he will ever do is find the culprit who committed the crime.  After he does, he doesn't care what happens to him if he ever did. 

This is the twelfth Harry Hole mystery.  Fans will rush to pick up this newest story in Harry's career but be careful.  If you love Harry, this novel will rip out your heart.  There are few detective series that I believe have to be read in order, but this is one.  This latest installment in Harry's life is one that no one would expect and it can be hard reading.  But it is satisfying and after lots of twists and turns, the answers will be comforting.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Blood Work by Michael Connelly


Terry McCaleb knows he's a lucky man.  A former FBI agent, he had to give up that work when his heart developed issues.  He waited two years for a transplant and it was iffy whether one would come in time as he had a rare blood type that made a match almost impossible.  But with weeks to go, Terry got his new heart and now he must make a new life post transplant. 

Terry is restoring the boat left to him by his father, transferring the painstaking detail work of restoration for the detailed investigation and analysis his job required as he tracked down the worst of the worst, the serial killers.  His health regimen takes an enormous part of his day, taking meds, tracking his temperature, going on doctor follow up visits.  It's a different life but Terry is thankful for it.

Then Graciella Rivers appears one day.  She tells Terry about her sister, Gloria, and the murder that took her life.  It's a murder that hasn't been solved and a murder that is tied forever to Terry.  Gloria was the person whose heart was transplanted into Terry.  Without her death, Terry would not be living.  When Graciella asks him to look into Gloria's murder, there is an obligation he feels that won't let him put her off.

As Terry starts to look into things, he immediately encounters resistance form the Los Angles police who regard him as nothing more than another civilian.  He does have some contacts, such as Jay, a female officer whose career was jumpstarted by an investigation Terry helped her with when he was FBI.  She, at least, is willing to listen to him.  As the days go by, Terry and Jay are able to tie Gloria's murder to at least two others and they realize that another serial killer is on the loose.  Can Terry find a way to uncover this killer?

This is the first book featuring Terry McCaleb and Connelly has created an interesting character as always.  Terry is torn in many directions, his former skills making his ability to turn his back on the case impossible but his health demanding all his attention.  The killer is shadowy and the book focuses much more on the investigation and the emotions of those touched by murder.  This book won several awards such as the McCavity Award for Best Mystery and the Anthony Award for Best Novel.  It is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Chain by Adrian McKinty


Rachel O'Neill thought she had already had her ration of bad luck.  She had just gone through cancer treatment and her immature husband who she had put through school had divorced her.  That thought was before the call.

Rachel gets a call telling her that she is now part of The Chain.  Her daughter, Kylie, has been kidnapped and will be killed unless Rachel completes her tasks.  First she must pay ransom.  That's the easy part.  Than she must kidnap another family's child and only when that child is successfully in the chain will her daughter be released. 

How can she do this?  She is broke so how will she get the money?  Of course, she is told not to call the police or anyone else because Kylie will also be killed if Rachel breaks the confidentiality of the Chain.  Even if she gets the money, can she really bring herself to kidnap another child?  Threaten that child's parents that she will kill the child if instructions are not followed?  Be convincing?  How can she?  How can she not?

Adrian McKinty has written an original thriller that every parent can just imagine happening to them.  Although the ending has an impossibility that took away from the book, the premise and the execution of the plot is first rate.  McKinty has made his name writing detective series and this novel breaks from that and puts the spotlight on the victim instead.  This book is recommended for mystery/thriller readers.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Tangerine by Christine Mangan


They are the best of friends, Alice Morgan and Lucy Shipley.  They are close as only two roommates in college can get, both strangers but finding friendship and a feeling of family with each other.  Alice comes from money but is a fragile child whose parents died in an accident and who has been raised by a brusque aunt who never wanted children.  Lucy has fought hard to escape her childhood poverty and make a better life for herself than any of her relatives had.  Soon they are inseparable and make plans to build lives together after college and to never be apart.

But those are childish plans.  When Alice meets a man who woos her, she is torn away and starts to build a life on her own.  Lucy can't believe it and is furious.  She starts to treat Alice horribly, making her doubt her memories and attempting to make her feel guilty enough that she will leave the man and come back to her solitary friendship with Lucy.  She isn't making much headway with Alice until the accident that changes Alice's life again.

Now Alice is making yet another life.  She has hastily met and married a man who has taken her away to Tangier.  He is in his element there, scheming and partying with the other expatriates but Alice is lost and lonely.  But she isn't lonely enough that she is anything but shocked when she opens her door and finds Lucy on the doorstep.  How did she track Alice down?  What does she want?  What will she do to get her way?

Mangan has written a study on feminine friendships and the ways that jealousy and single mindedness can wreck a relationship.  Many readers will remember a time when they were involved in the same kind of close knit relationship.  But for most of us, that time is early adolescence and the friendship either matures and grows or is discarded along the way.  Mangan explores what happens when one party will do anything to keep the other in a strangling hold through emotional blackmail.  The atmosphere is one of the book's strengths and this debut novel makes Mangan an author to be watched.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and mysteries.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Booksie's Shelves, October 1, 2019


It's October although apparently this year North Carolina didn't get the message about cooler fall temperatures.  It's supposed to be a hot, muggy 95 or 96 the rest of the week.  Fleeing the hot temperatures, DH and I went north a few weeks ago and visited northern New York.  Neither of us had seen Niagara Falls and it was just an awesome sight, so much better than I had expected.  I've been visiting the library quite a bit this past month and then I found the prior year lists of the Women's National Book Association and I've been on a bit of a buying spree.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Big Lies In A Small Town, Diane Chamberlain, literary fiction, won in contest
2.  The Hearts Of Men, Nickolas Butler, literary fiction, purchased
3.  Cost, Roxana Robinson, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Appassionata, Eva Hoffman, literary fiction, purchased
5.  While I'm Falling, Laura Moriarty, literary fiction, purchased
6.  The Secret Diaries Of Charlotte Bronte, Syrie James, literary fiction, purchased
7.  The Giver Of Star, Jojo Moyes, literary fiction, sent by publisher
8.  The House On Fortune Street, Margot Livesey, literary fiction, purchased
9.  Savage Appetites, Rachel Monroe, true crime, sent by publisher
10.  What You See, Hank Phillippi Ryan, mystery, won in contest
11.  At Death's Door, Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy, sent by publisher
12.  Kill Zone, Kevin Anderson/Doug Beason, thriller, sent by publisher
13.  The Last Book Party, Karen Dukess, literary fiction, sent by publisher
14.  Mink River, Brian Doyle, literary fiction, purchased
15.  Just Watch Me, Jeff Lindsay, mystery, won in contest
16.  The Secret Guests, Benjamin Black, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro, hardback
2.  The Chain, Adrian McKinty, hardback
3.  Blood Work, Michael Connelley, audio
4.  Tangerine, Christine Mangan, Kindle Fire
5.  Blackfish City, Sam Miller, Kindle Fire
6.  Quichotte, Salman Rushdie, Kindle Fire

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan


A group of college kids visit the ruins of an old prison for fun one day.  There is Tripper, the everything guy who had it all; looks, money and charm.  Quentin was a dreamer and all the girls loved him, especially Rachel.  Maisie was a former girlfriend of Tripper's and had brought along her young brother.  Casey and Wailer had just gotten married the night before; Casey an overweight man with an enormous heart and Wailer was exotic with her foreign background.  Their old classics teacher was accompanying them as well.  The day ended in tragedy with Wailer missing and the police suspecting that she was killed but no body was ever found.

It's thirty years later and the book picks the group's stories back up.  During a renovation, Wailer's body is finally found and the police are determined to get answers.  None of the group is where they thought they'd end up.  Trapper is a lawyer with a child off to college and a failing marriage.  Casey is wealthy and has a chain of restaurants specializing in comfort food.  Maisie has spent her life taking care of her brother, Ben, who never recovered from the trauma of that day.  Rachel is a teacher and bored.  And Quentin is the biggest surprise of all.  The group thinks he is dead and he is, in a way.  After that day, he finally found the courage to fake his death and run away to transform as Judith.  Judith has a husband and family she's never told about her past and has much to lose if the truth comes out.  Who killed Wailer?

Boylan has written an intriguing mystery that has interesting characters.  The only flaw is that the book seems to be mostly a vehicle for discussing the transgender experience as that is also the author's experience.  This may be intrusive for some readers who are looking just for a mystery.  For most though, the novel will stand as an interesting read with characters who are relatable.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.


Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan


This is the second novel in the Wheel Of Time series.  In this one, Rand and his friends, Mat and Perrin are off to find The Great Horn of Valere.  They had turned it over so that it could be sent off and secured but it is stolen but a Darkfriend.  The Horn can call back the great dead warriors from the past so it is a legend and a very valuable item that should never be in the possession of those on the Dark Side.  Along with the Horn is the dagger that is needed to save Mat's life.

Egwene and Nynaeve are in Tar Valon where they are starting their training to be full fledged Aes Sedai.  The queen's daughter, Elayne, and Min, who can read an individual's future are there also.  When Egwene and Nynaeve are told that Rand and the others are in terrible danger and that only they can save them, they immediately break their training and set off.  It is nothing but a horrible trick, however, and they end up in the land of the Seanchan, where Aes Sedai are captured and leashed, forced to do only what their masters command. 

Rand is still fighting the fact that he can channel and he desperately tries to find a way to hold off this power and the title of the Dragon Reborn that Moraine has revealed to him.  Can he find a way to protect all of his friends and fight for the good without accessing this power that may kill him?

Fans of the series will find that this one moves more quickly than the first which had to be concerned with world building.  Rand and the others are coming more into their true natures as their trip moves them to accept what part they must play in the world for it to survive.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Whore's Child by Richard Russo



When I think of Richard Russo, I think of upper New York and towns that are struggling after the factories have shut down.  He writes about everyday folks, folks who just go out and work to put food on the table and who are happy to have the occasional treat.  After reading this anthology, I need to rethink Russo and acknowledge his deft way of drawing a character with no words wasted.  This volume has seven stories and each is a gem.

In my favorite story, The Mysteries Of Linwood Hart, a nine year old boy deals with his father moving out.  He tries to understand what broke up the marriage, why his father doesn't get along with his own family and why his mother is determined to change him.  Linwood is playing baseball for the first year and his coach also seems to be auditioning for the job of stepfather. 

The title story is about a former nun who is in a creative writing class.  Her first sentences in her stories are killer openings and the class soon realizes they don't know her or the inner workings of the faith that she has served at all.  In another story, a man visits the artist who his wife had a long term affair with after her death.  In Joy Ride, another child goes with his mother on an extended road trip when she apparently decides that her life as a wife and mother just isn't working out.

Each story is a gem that explores the inner life of ordinary people and helps the reader acknowledge the special qualities that each of us has.  Russo is at times laugh out loud funny and sometimes poignant or even outright sad.  But at the end of each story, the reader will be wiser about human nature.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz


Jack is in trouble.  A pirate of drugs, she uses her background and education to reverse engineer popular drugs and make them available for much cheaper to the population who can't afford them.  But this latest reverse engineer has gone deadly.  She reversed a popular productivity drug and now users are becoming addicted, unable to leave their work for anything else, not food not home not rest.  Scores are being hospitalized and some are dying.  Jack needs to fix this fast.  She takes her pirate spaceship down and revisits the labs she started in where she can get help.  She takes along Threezed, a slave she ended up with when she killed his master for trying to steal her ship.

Paladin is a semi-autonomous robot.  She works with Eliasz, a human intelligence agent who seems to have a past that won't let him live in the present and a fondness for Paladin that seems to cross the barriers between human and machine.  Their assignment is to find Jack and stop her by whatever means necessary. 

Annalee Newitz has created an interesting exploration of what it means to be human and outlines some of the new dilemmas we will face as artificial intelligence becomes viable.  Her world is set in 2144, not an impossible leap of the imagination. Jack is a sympathetic character as she tries to liberate drugs that can improve lives but Paladin is also sympathetic as she explores what it means to be human and to maybe one day have free will to do what she chooses.  Newitz writes extensively both fiction and nonfiction about the intersection that is outlined in this book and has a background that includes an MIT science journalism fellowship, a career as a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a PhD from Berkeley.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett


Danny Conroy knows well who the most important person in his life is.  It's his older sister, Maeve.  His father, Cyril, is a self-made man, someone who moved up from the poverty he was raised in to remake himself as a wealthy man dealing in real estate.  His first big deal once he struck it rich was to buy Dutch House, a fabulous house in the Philadelphia suburbs, built by a magnate and on the market with everything inside, clothes, furniture, kitchen settings, photographs, etc.  He buys this house and then surprises his wife with it.

She is definitely surprised.  She had planned to become a nun until Cyril talked her out of it halfway through her novice time.  She is appalled by the showy house and cannot get used to it.  She only wants to help others and slowly she moves away from the family, going back to the convent and staying for longer and longer periods of time, working with the poor.  Finally, when Maeve is a preteen and Danny around four, she leaves forever, running off to India.  At that point, Maeve becomes even more of a mother figure for Danny and his life revolves around her.

Cyril decides to remarry.  Andrea is younger than Cyril by several decades and she comes with two little girls.  The war between her, Maeve and the household staff is immediate and unrelenting.  Andrea is determined to remake everything in the house and their lives to suit herself and they all feel that they were doing just fine without her and her ideas.  When Cyril dies unexpectedly, Andrea has her chance.  She kicks out Danny who is fifteen at the time.  He moves into Maeve's apartment and they soon realize that Andrea gets everything and that they have gone from wealth to poverty except for an educational trust that will pay for Danny's college.

Over the years, Danny and Maeve's lives seem stuck in the rut of this injustice.  Although Danny marries and has children, Maeve seems stuck in the same place, same little house, same little job.  They are the most important person to each other no matter what else happens.  Marriages, children, jobs, careers, nothing outweighs the tie between the two and the horrible thing that happened to them.

Ann Patchett is an automatic read for me.  She seems interested these days in family relationships as this book and her last, Commonwealth, explore the various ways that families exist and what they mean to the members inside them.  Danny and Maeve are interesting characters and it is hard to see them stuck in the injustice that was done to them when they were just starting out.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

There There by Tommy Orange


The reader is introduced to a group of individuals whose lives paint the current Native American experience.  There are Jacqui Red Feather and Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, who are sisters, born to the same mother but with different fathers.  They are taken by their mother to the Native American takeover of Alcatraz in the 70's, where they live for a while with others.  While there, Jacqui is raped and is pregnant with a daughter she gives up for adoption.  This is Blue.  Tony is the victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and bears the mark of it on his features for the world to see.  Orvil and Lony and Loother are Jacqui's grandsons, being raised by Opal and whom she never sees.  Harvey is the emcee of various powwows, and now one is coming to Oakland where most of the characters live.

As the powwow gets closer, the characters interact in various ways.  Orvil is not sure what it means to be Native American but he wants to know and is there to dance.  He has learned the dances from YouTube, not from an older man or tribe.  Jacqui comes with Harvey who is also expecting to meet his son Edwin who has found him online.  A different group has decided that this would be the perfect venue to rob and has printed out plastic guns and comes prepared to do whatever it takes to get the money they are sure is there.

All these characters collide at the powwow in a mixture of discovery and tragedy.  As some discover family ties, others act out their rage and sense of hopelessness.  All along we see the effect of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, lack of opportunity and education.  This is a debut novel by an author who is himself an enrolled member of both the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.  It is recommended by those who wish to learn about the Native American modern experience and readers of literary fiction.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason


Imagine that you kind of accidentally killed a man in your living room.  You know it's not really your fault, but then again, would the police see it that way?  So you bury it in the back yard and try to regain the life you had before.  That's Jason Getty's situation.  He came to town after his wife died and left him some money.  He didn't really know anyone and he's a shy man who is easily swayed or even bullied by others.  When a charming sociopath takes a favor Jason did for him to establish a relationship where he came and took from Jason all the time, Jason doesn't know what to do and it ended in death.

Now imagine this.  When you bought your house, no one told you that a scandal had occurred there.  The wife of the family had just up and left one day, leaving behind her husband.  Except she didn't leave.  It turns out that she and the man she was having an affair with were surprised one day and now are on either side of the house, guarding it in death.

When the police learn about the deaths from the brother of the man who was married to the woman, they come to the house and quickly locate the graves of the two.  Jason, of course, never knew he was living between two bodies and now there's the added complication that he'll need to move the body he planted in the backyard before the police find that one as well.  But things never go smoothly for Jason.  Before the night is over, he is caught up in a live and death struggle along with the fiance of the buried man, the brother who killed them both and a police detective that has gotten suspicious.  How it will all turn out is anyone's guess.

Jamie Mason has written an engaging mystery with believable characters caught up in unimaginable circumstances.  This is Mason's debut novel and it was well received and reviewed.  On a personal note, I met Mrs. Mason at an author's lunch and was thrilled to hear about her process and her take on the book.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Mercy by Toni Morrison


It is the 1680's in the United States.  A farmer/trader has carved out a smallholding for himself, after starting in poverty.  He advertises for a wife and is pleasantly surprised with the young, beautiful woman who arrives.  As he is on the road so much, he needs servants to help her run his farm while he is gone.  He doesn't like having male servants, so he has three female ones.

Lina is the oldest, a woman who came to him after being misused in her prior life.  She has no desire for marriage or a man and is devoted to her mistress and Sir as he is known.  The mistress starts off very remote to Lina but as they are left on their own so much and as Lina helps her through her pregnancies and births, and as she grieves with the mistress over the deaths of all her children, they become close.

Sorrow is someone no one knows much about.  She is a white woman who grew up on her father's boat and after he died, was cast ashore with no idea how to survive.  She ended up at Sir's estate after the sons of her rescuers were taking too much interest in her.  Most consider Sorrow to be mentally challenged but she sees the world around her through a different filter than others do. 

Florens is the newest member, a slave girl who Sir accepted as partial payment of a loan rashly given to a plantation owner.  She is only six when she arrives; her mother having pushed her forward when Sir looked over the possible individuals the plantation owner was willing to give up.  Florens is attached to Lina, who sees Florens as the child she'll never have.  The mistress accepts her but also resents having this living child while her own have all died. 

A crisis occurs when smallpox attacks the farm.  Sir is in the process of having a big stately house built.  The pox spreads quickly through the farm's occupants, and it is decided that only the blacksmith who came to build the gates has a chance of healing everyone.  Florens is dispatched on her own to find him and bring him back, even though Lina distrusts him as she suspects that Florens has become infatuated with him.

Morrison has written a haunting tale that not only describes daily life in the time period with owners, indentured servants, slaves and children taken in after death removes their parents.  Slavery is shown for its cruelty and for the sacrifice that slave women often took; pushing their children forward to be taken out of cruel situations when they believe another situation might be better.  Of course the children see it only as rejection and many spend their lives trying to replace that motherly love and the sense of trust that is snatched away.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, September 9, 2019

American Predator by Maureen Callahan


The police and FBI had never seen a killer like Israel Keyes.  Most of their tried and true procedures just didn't work when tracking someone like him.  Keyes killed indiscriminately across the United States and possibly Canada.  He killed young, old, male, female.  He didn't kill anyone he knew; he just randomly found someone when he decided it was time to hunt.  Keyes had been serious about killing for years.  He traveled extensively and buried kill caches across many states, and then might not return for years.  The caches held things like guns, restraints, money, etc.  Those who knew him in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lived the longest, had no idea of his hidden side.  He was a contractor who did meticulous work to perfecting standards.  Even more strange, he had a young daughter who was the most important person in the world to him.

Keyes was raised in various extremist religious cults and many suspected abuse of the ten children in his family although none was ever proved.  He joined the military to perfect his killing ability and was well regarded there.  He lived on an Indian reservation for several years then moved to Alaska.  He was caught after one of his only sloppy kills.  He abducted and killed a young woman in Anchorage, Samantha Koenig.  He was caught when he started using her debit card while traveling in Texas.

Although he confessed the first interview to Koenig's murder, the FBI and police personnel interviewing him knew he had many more stories to tell.  Keyes wanted to be in control of the interviews and his main requirement was that those in charge help him get an early death penalty; he did not want to stay in jail the rest of his life and expose his daughter to the publicity his crimes  would create.  He eventually confessed to killing a couple in New Hampshire and hinted at many other kills before he decided those in charge weren't taking his requirements seriously.  He killed himself before telling everything that police had hoped to get.  Police have tied him to at least eleven murders and expect that there are many more they don't know about and now never will.  He is unique in his skill and coldblooded approach to killing.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Widows Of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey


In 1921, in Bombay, India, Perveen Mistry is a groundbreaker.  She is the first woman to practice law, although she isn't allowed to argue cases in court.  She works in Mistry Law, her father's firm, on civil cases and documents such as wills and contracts.  Perveen wasn't always a groundbreaker.  She had an early marriage that turned into a nightmare after she married the man and went to live with his family in Calcutta.  After managing to break free of him, she ended up going to Oxford for three years, getting her law degree.  Her family and especially her father, has always supported her dreams.

Perveen is faced with a vexing case.  A longtime client of the firm, Mr. Omar Farid, has died.  He was a Muslim man and left behind three wives who live in seclusion plus various children.  A man who worked for his firm has been appointed their guardian and has presented papers that would turn over each wife's financial legacy to his control.  Perveen worries that this is a case of compulsion and since the wives cannot speak to men, she is allowed to go talk with them.

She finds that the women are treated differently.  The first wife, Razia, was left land on which the company's buildings were located.  The second wife, Sakina, was left valuable jewelry.  The third, who was married to Omar for only a short time and who came from the city's entertainment section, was left only her musical instruments.  Perveen finds that the women know very little about their husband's estate, and what was left to each one.  Worse, she finds that the guardian is very abrupt and condescending and he has total control over the women.  He can marry them off to other men, force them to hand over their possessions and make their lives miserable.  Perveen is determined to help the women but before she can make headway, the estate agent is murdered in the house.  Were one of the wives responsible or did someone come in and do the crime?

Sujata Massey has written an entertaining tale that gives the reader insight into India and its customs in the 1920's, all the different religions and their rules, and above all, the restricted lives that women were forced to lead during the time.  Perveen is intelligent but even as a professional woman is so sheltered that her efforts to solve the crime are thwarted over and over.  Her final success is one that many readers won't expect.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.