Friday, March 5, 2021

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes


Two men from two very different worlds, pitted against each other in a race against time.  The Saracen is a radicalized Muslim.  His father was beheaded for daring to speak out against the government.  His son vows to take down that government and believes the best way to do so is to cripple the United States which supports his government overseas.  His plan is to become a doctor and then to manipulate the smallpox gene so that it can be introduced into the population with a one hundred percent fatality rate.

Fighting against him is the best man the CIA ever had in the field.  He has retired while still a young man but is brought back in to fight and defeat the man who has hatched this plan.  His name does not matter as he changes identities as often and easily as other men change their shirts.  He goes undercover to Turkey where a call between the Saracen and a woman has been intercepted to locate and stop him.  His cover is as an FBI agent who has come to investigate the death of a young tech billionaire.  While solving that case, he discovers that Saracen has moved further ahead with his plan than anyone had suspected.  Can he uncover the plot and find Saracen in time to avoid the thousands or millions of deaths his plot can kill?

Terry Hayes is a screenwriter and his work on framing stories in a taut visual manner pays off in this thriller.  Told from the alternating views of the Saracen and the man sent to thwart his plan, the reader is fascinated with the life stories and maneuvers of each man.  All the characters are finely drawn, even those in lesser supporting roles.  The action is suspenseful and perhaps timely in this time of pandemic.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker


In a small California town, a tragedy has long consequences.  A young boy, Vincent King, has a car accident and a local girl, Sissy Radley, is killed.  He gets a harsh judge who sentences him to ten years in prison and when a prisoner picks a fight with him, Vincent's sentence gets extended to 30 years due to the other man's death after the fight.  Now it's time for Vincent to come home.

There are many in the town who remember the accident as if it were yesterday.  The chief of police, Chief Walker, was Vincent's best friend and has never forgiven himself for testifying against him at the trial.  Star Radley was Sissy's sister.  Her life after Sissy's death was a spiral downward.  Now she has two children she can't take care of, Duchess and Robin.  Star moves from man to man, often abusive men.  She drinks and drugs and often there isn't enough food for the children.  Duchess who is thirteen, tries to take up the slack and give Robin a happy childhood.  She does the best she can but after all is only thirteen and can only do so much.  

When Vincent comes home, new events are put in play.  The children end up living with their grandfather who slowly works his way into their hearts and is a stable influence.  Walker tries his best to help Vincent integrate back into society but it's a hard road and Vincent doesn't seem that interested.  Soon he is once again suspected of a crime and now Walker must put aside his own feelings and investigate to get to the truth. 

This book has gotten a lot of positive press.  It is an Amazon Best Book of March 2021 and a number one Indie Pick.  The characters are finely drawn and the book explores the themes of family and what that means, of friends and loyalty and keeping promises even when they are hard.  The locale is California and Montana but the novel has a Southern feel to me.  This book is recommended for readers of crime novels with a literary overlay.  

I listened to this novel.  The narrator, George Newbern, does an admirable job.  He has a mellow voice that tells the story as if he were telling it on a front porch at dusk, rocking in a porch swing.  I would definitely listen to another of his performances.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Wolf To The Slaughter by Ruth Rendell


Two events occur in a small English town that seem to be related.  A bloody room has been reported by the owner; the man he rented it to nowhere to be found.  At the same time an heiress, the sister of an up and coming artist, has disappeared.  Has a murder occurred?  The woman seems to have tons of men in her life and it's not outside the realm of possibility that she has taken up with a bad one.  

Chief Inspector Wexford, Inspector Burden and Constable Drayton look into the disappearance.  There seems to be mystery surrounding a lighter which may or may not be connected to the case.  Drayton finds himself drawn to a witness and is soon dating her under the radar as he knows it is not allowable.  Her testimony if ever required could be brought into question if their relationship becomes known.  Wexford and Burden are more focused on the missing woman.  Her brother doesn't seem to be able to account for her whereabouts and isn't even sure if he should be worried.  But that room and all the blood...

This is an early Rendell novel, the third in the Wexford series.  He is still fairly undefined in this book although easily the dominant character in the police station.  Burden is judgmental as always but his skills complement those of Wexford.  Drayton is just starting out and has a plan to become like Wexford who he admires and wants to follow.  The mystery twists and turns and has an interesting ending.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Breaks by Richard Price


Peter Heller is at loose ends.  He just graduated college, a great Ivy League university.  But he didn't get into the law school of his dreams and he doesn't want to go to the university that did accept him.  He thought he was geared for success but now he's moved back home with his father and stepmother.  He gets a series of dead-end jobs such as selling various items over the phone, soul deadening jobs.  Peter doesn't know what he wants in life now.  Should he become a standup comedian?  Go for a second-rate law degree?  

At loose ends, he drifts back to his college town where he still knows a number of the faculty.  One of his favorite professors is now head of the English department and he hires Peter to teach a freshman composition class.  Peter likes it at first but grows to dislike it.  He meets Kim, a secretary at the university and starts a relationship with her but worries that she is still in love with her ex-husband, another English professor.  Can Peter find a way forward?

Richard Price is acknowledged as one of the greats in American literature; his forte writing about city life, especially the law enforcement and criminal worlds.  This book, however, has a collection of unlikeable personalities and unfortunately, Peter is among them.  He seems to have no idea what to do with his life and his whining about it isn't pleasant to read.  The book is well written and Price definitely has the measure of someone at loose ends.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction that want to read one of Price's lesser known works.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Last Detective by Robert Crais


It should never have happened.  Elvis Cole's girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, has gone out of town and left her son, Ben, with Elvis overnight.  The two have a great time.  But when Ben goes outside to play with a game, Elvis cannot find him when he goes out after talking with Lucy on the phone.  He searches everywhere but soon has to come to the decision that Ben has been taken by someone.

Elvis's theory is proven when Lucy gets a call from the kidnappers.  Her ex-husband blames her for leaving Ben with Elvis and as a wealthy man, brings in his own team of security to try to negotiate with the kidnappers.  Cole also has a team.  He has Joe Pike, the best friend and most tenacious detective he has ever met.  The kidnapper's throw in a curve, implying that the kidnapping is in retaliation for an event that happened in Cole's military past but he feels that it isn't the real reason as the details of that operation are top secret.  He and Pike work with the LAPD detective assigned to the case, Carol Starkey, to find Ben and return him.  Can they find him in time?

This is the ninth book of eighteen in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series.  Cole and Pike live by a code and while that makes them stand out from others, it is the only way they can honorably lives their lives.  Their military and police skills allow them to see things hidden to others and the twists that occur as the book progresses will shock the reader.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Last Hotel by Emily St John Mandel


This novel opens in the lobby of the Hotel Caiette, a luxury hotel.  It is on an island in Vancouver, accessible only by boat.  The hotel is owned by Jonathan Alkaitis who is extremely wealthy from his work as an investment manager.  Jonathan is expected to arrive that night.  Vincent is a woman in her twenties, adrift in life and working as a bartender in the hotel.  Her half-brother, Paul, is also working there but as a handyman.  There is also a shipping magnate, Leon, sitting in the lobby when a horrible message is discovered written on the glass windows.

Over the next several years, we follow these characters in their lives.  Viincent leaves the island when Jonathan does and becomes his mistress.  She is whisked from a mundane existence to one of in the land of the wealthy.  Jonathan is not only managing an investment firm but is also involved in a Ponzi scheme where he is steadily stealing the money of his investors, Leon being one of them.  One woman sees through the scheme and pursues Jonathan for years until she is able to bring him and his scheme down.  

This work is reminiscent of Emily St. John Mandel's earlier works.  It has a dreamlike feel as the characters all seem adrift in various ways.  Paul and Vincent are drifting through life, going and doing what circumstance puts in front of them.  Jonathan is living on borrowed time as he knows that eventually his scheme will be discovered.  The characters attempt to make lasting connections but those also seem unreal, transparent and temporary.  As the book ends, the various players find resolutions in their lives although mostly not as they had envisioned them.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Ten Thousand Doors Of January


We meet January Scaller when she is seven.  January is named after the god Janus, with two faces that forever looked ahead and back.  He is the symbol for duality, for seeing possibilities and facing past mistakes.  January is the child of Julian, a black explorer and Adelaide, a strong white woman.  She has never met her mother and doesn't even know her name.  She sees her father infrequently.  He travels the world seeking out lost antiquities and precious items for her guardian, Cornelius Locke.  Locke is a wealthy man of impecable background who is the president of an antiquities preservation society.  He employs Julian and watches over January while Julian travels.

January survives by being a good girl.  She travels with Locke and is treated with respect as his ward, not how she would be treated on her own as a mixed race child with no money.  She is quiet and studious but that changes when at age seven she discovers a door.  It is out in a field all by itself and as she got close, she started to feel the pull of the unexplained, the feeling that what lay beyond would answer all her questions.  But as she starts to go through, Mr. Locke calls her and she pulls back.  The next day the door is gone, only a pile of rubble in a field. 

That day stays with January however and the way the door made her feel.  When she is seventeen, she finds a quaint book hidden and seemingly meant for her.  It is a story of her background and of doors and the magic that can lay beyond them.  January is determined to set out to find more doors and to find her father who has disappeared on one of his journeys.  Perhaps she can find her own story and clues about the mother of whom she knows nothing.

January does find doors and as she does, she comes to realize that her life has been shuttered and only bits of her history have been revealed.  Mr. Locke is less the kindly guardian who has raised her and more an exploiter of both her family and the antiquities that propel his purpose.  January comes to realize that the doors she finds all over the world may eventually give her the answers to her background and give her the family she has wanted all her life.  

This is a debut novel which was highly anticipated as Alix Harrow had already made a name for herself as a short story author.  It is a coming of age story that hints at the mystery and wonder that the world can provide.  January is an entrancing personality and the reader cannot help but cheer her on.  This book is recommended to readers of young adult and fantasy literature.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye


Jane Steele grew up on a large country estate, told by her mother that one day it would all be hers.  But something is wrong with that scenario.  Jane and her mother lived in the carriage house while her aunt and cousin lived in the mansion and it was clear her aunt intensely disliked both her mother and Jane.  Her cousin was her only playmate and he delighted in mean tricks and terrorizing her.  When her mother died and her cousin died in suspicious circumstances, Jane was packed off to a boarding school.

But the school was even worse.  Run by a sadistic tyrant, Jane and her schoolmates lived in constant fear.  When the man is killed, Jane and a friend find a way to run off to London.  There they found a way to survive, her friend singing and Jane writing broadsheets about executions.  But death followed them there as well.  After the friends were separated, Jane needed to leave London.  Looking at the want ads, she finds that the man now living in the estate on which she grew up was advertising for a governess.  She applies and is hired.

The master of the estate is a former military man who served in India.  His butler and servants were all Indian as was her new charge.  The girl was delightful and adored by everyone on the estate and Jane also quickly fell in love with her.  She is finally happy but trouble is brewing.  Can Jane finally find a place where she fits in?  Will her past rise up and ruin this situation as well?

Lyndsay Faye has rewritten the Jane Eyre story in an endearing manner.  Mystery surrounds Jane and whatever she tries, murder always seems to follow her.  The romance between Jane and the estate owner is inevitable and engaging.  The mystery of the estate is satisfactorily revealed and the reader is left feeling justified.  This book is recommended for mystery as well as literary fiction readers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Little Bones by N V Peacock


First her name was Leigh-Ann.  She lived with her parents and had an idyllic childhood.  Then she was called Little Bones when her father was arrested and convicted of being Mr. Bones, a prolific serial killer.  He killed little boys and used their painted bones to make colorful sculptures, using Leigh-Ann to make the rides he offered seem safe.  After his conviction, her mother couldn't live with the infamy and killed herself so Leigh-Ann grew up in foster homes, always watched with suspicion and the first to be accused whenever anything went wrong.

But those days are behind her.  As soon as she legally could, she changed her name to Cherry.  For ten years, she has worked at a butcher's shop, her co-workers her friends.  She has a long term boyfriend and the love of her life, her son Robin.  All in all, it's a safe, predictable life and it's heaven on Earth to her.

But things are about to change.  A young boy has gone missing.  Worse, a college student with journalistic hopes has decided to create a podcast and his first case is that of Mr. Bones.  He has somehow tracked Cherry down and has outed her on his podcast, giving her new name and her place of work.  How can this be?  No one knows about Cherry's past.  She never even told Leo, her boyfriend.  How can she tell him now after all this time?

When Robin goes missing while at the fair with Cherry, everything stops.  She can't live without her son and the first boy never returned home.  The police assure her that they are doing everything possible but Cherry is determined to pull strings they don't have access to.  She reaches out to anyone she thinks can help, psychics, relatives of other missing boys and even her imprisoned father whom she hasn't seen in over a decade.  Can she find Robin before he suffers the fate of her father's victims?

I listened to this novel.  The main narrator, Stephanie Racine, uses her voice to portray the desperation and heartbreak Cherry goes through.  The novel is set in England and her accent transports the reader to that locale.  There is a secondary narrator who narrates various chapters on the podcast, a male voice that portrays the juvenile yearnings of the podcaster.

N V Peacock has written a chilling tale of the past finding the secrets about ourselves we hope to hide forever.  Cherry has built a new life from an unimaginable past but it can be torn away by anyone determined enough to research her path after the trial.  She also covers the popular world of criminal podcasts and the harm that those who cover crimes without investigative knowledge and a police background can do.  That's a topic I've thought about quite a bit as the criminal podcast world exploded.  Some are very well researched and provide answers that the police don't have the resources to find but some are just riding on the popular bandwagon and probably do as much harm as good.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda


The world has forgotten about Visitation Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  It's a neighborhood of blue collar workers, of immigrants and those who aren't about to make a mark.  Now a tragedy has happened.  One warm summer night two teenage girls, Val and June, take a blowup raft out on the water but only Val returns.  She doesn't remember anything about that night so June's disappearance isn't solved.

But there are others in the neighborhood.  Fadi runs a grocery and has hope for the neighborhood.  He prints a local newspaper and has high hopes for the cruise ship rumored to be coming bringing tourists to his market.  Cree is about to start community college, getting things together after the horrific murder of his father that tore his family apart.  Jonathan was Val and June's music teacher but he spends his nights getting drunk and picking up anyone who will sleep with him.  Ren paints the walls with his graffati and seems bent on protecting Cree.  As these characters interact slowly the mystery starts to be penetrated and perhaps the mystery of June's disappearance will be solved.

Ivy Pochoda has created a slice of life portrait that brings this isolated neighborhood to life.  The characters are recognizable types, their motivations vague as they try to figure out life.  Life has not been kind to the inhabitants of Red Hook but in various ways they strive towards a more successful life.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction with a twist of mystery.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha


This timely novel concerns the lives of two families in Los Angeles and how their lives intersect.  The Matthews family is an African-American family.  Shawn and his sister came to live with his aunt and his cousin Ray when their parents were unavailable.  Shawn grew up considering Ray his brother.  Now Ray is coming out of prison after a long stretch and Shawn is hoping to help him navigate the transition he made himself after some prison time.  Their lives were changed forever when Shawn's sister was killed in an incident in a convenience store.

The Park family have Korean heritage.  Grace is the daughter who still lives at home and who is a pharmacist at the family store.  She has a sister who lives in the heart of Los Angeles and is estranged from the family, especially their mother.  When Grace leaves the store one night with her mother and the mother is gunned down in front of Grace, everything changes.

It is touch and go whether her mother will make it but she survives.  As she is recuperating in the hospital, the family secret comes out.  Grace's mother was the woman who shot Shawn's sister all those years ago.  The incident rocked Los Angeles especially when the mother received a minimal punishment.  She changed her name and the family moved and she has hidden in plain sight all these years.  Now her secret is out and suspicion falls on Shawn's family.  Did one of them take revenge after all these years for the earlier shooting?  

Cha has written a tense novel about how events can both separate and intersect those who would normally never come in contact.  The desire for revenge is understandable yet the act would be as wrong as the one that set this crime in motion decades before.  How each family reacted to the earlier tragedy and this new one is discussed and the question of when forgiveness is appropriate is explored.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The City We Became by N.K. Jeminsin

 When Matt gets off the subway in Manhattan, he realizes he doesn't exactly know where he is or worse, who he is.  He's a graduate student, newly arrived in the city but he is dizzy and something seems to be happening.  New York residents step up to help him and he finds himself in a Checker cab heading to his new apartment.  He doesn't know much but he's sure he shouldn't be seeing a huge monster on the Long Island Expressway with waving white tentacles.  Somehow he knows how to fight it off but what next?

What's next is more than anyone could expect.  It turns out that cities are alive and something is trying to kill New York.  Furthermore, Matt has somehow been chosen as the avatar for Manhattan.  There are other avatars, one for each borough.  There's a community organizer, an art galley owner, another poor graduate student who is also an immigrant and a young girl whose father is a policeman.  Somehow they must unite and fight off the threat to the city.  Can they band together in time to save the city?

This is the first book in N.K. Jemisin's newest trilogy.  It is a madcap adventure which emphasizes the need for all races and ages to come together to create a world in which everyone's talents and skills are valued.  Some may find the analogies a bit heavyhanded but the point is well taken in today's world; without each other we are doomed.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Booksie's Shelves, February 9, 2021


February in 2021.  Things are looking up a bit as DH and I are getting our second covid virus shots this Friday.  Football is done for the year and college basketball is revving up for March Madness.  In our area of North Carolina, the days are cold and dreary but we haven't gotten snow yet this year and probably won't this winter.  It's been fourteen months since I've seen my son and grandchildren but hopefully we will get to see them soon after the second shot has time to kick in.  I read fourteen books in January and four so far in February.  Most of what has come in have been ebooks and audibles but here's what's come through the door:

  1. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, literary fiction, purchased
  2. The Brass Queen, Elizabeth Chatsworth, historical fiction, sent by publisher
  3. Astrid Sees All, Natalie Standiford, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  4. The Sound Of Wings, Suzanne Simonetti, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  5. First Love, Gwendoline Riley, literary fiction, purchased
  6. The Lowering Days, Gregory Brown, literary fiction, won in contest
  7. The Perfect 10, Eric O'Keefe, mystery, sent by publisher
Here's the e-books I've bought recently:
  1. From The Shadows, Angel Haze, fantasy
  2. Collecting The Dead, Spenser Kope
  3. The Scholar, Dervla McTiernan, mystery
  4. Deacon King Kong, James McBride, literary fiction
  5. Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, Olga Tokarczuk
  6. Agency, William Gibson, science fiction
  7. Lies We Tell Ourselves, Steena Holmes, mystery
  8. Restriction, CM Raymond, fantasy
  9. The Invention Of Nature, Andrea Wulf, nonfiction
  10. The Labyrinth Of The Spirits, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, literary fiction
  11. Ritual, Mo Hayder, thriller
  12. Infinite Home, Kathleen Alcott, literary fiction
  13. Face Of Our Father, G. Egore Pitrir, thriller
  14. Pale Highway, Nicholas Conley, fantasy
  15. The Song Of The Sirin, Nickolas Kotar, fantasy
  16. Shadows Of Ivory, T.L. Greylock, fantasy
  17. Foundling Wizard, James Eggebean, fantasy
  18. Dead God's Due, Matthew Gilbert, fantasy
  19. Immortals, Joshua Smith, fantasy
  20. Darkblade Avenger, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  21. Shields In Shadow, Andy Peloquin, fantasy
  22. Children Of The Dead City, Noor Al-Shanti, fantasy
  23. Mary Toft, Dexter Palmer, literary fiction
  24. Black Bird, Greg Eslen, mystery
  25. The Edinburgh Seer, Alisha Klapheke
  26. The Cactus League, Emily Nemans, literary fiction
  27. West With Giraffes, Lynda Rutledge, literary fiction
  28. The Shadow Box, Luanne Rice, mystery
  29. The Long Way Home, Louise Penny, mystery
  30. On Beauty, Zadie Smith, literary fiction
  31. The Boy Who Lit Up The Sky, J. Naomi Ay, fantasy
  32. The Mountains Sing, Nguyen Phan Que, literary fiction
  33. Perfect Remains, Helen Fields, mystery
  34. Lady In The Lake, Laura Lippman, mystery
  35. The Traitor Beau Cormorant, Seth Dickinson, fantasy
  36. I'll Take Care Of You, Caitlin Rother, true crime
  37. Someone Else's Daughter, Linsey Lanier, mystery
  38. Bunny, Mona Awad, literary fiction
  39. False Value, Ben Aaronovitch, fantasy
  40. Infinite, Brian Freeman, mystery
  41. The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Eisenbery, true crime
  42. The Bone Ships, RJ Baker, historical fiction
  43. Hi Five, Joe Ide, mystery
  44. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James, literary fiction
Happy Reading!

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow


Wellbridge, Maine, is not what most mean when they think of a coastal town.  This is no hot in the sun, fun-filled, commercial strip where fun and romance is uppermost.  This is a small fishing village in a cold climate, a hardscrabble environment where livings must be clawed from the sea or those few tourists that end up here for a vacation.

As in most small places, there are several families that have been there forever and who will probably only disappear when their families die out, not because they moved elsewhere in search of a better life.  There are the Baines, a fishing family whose future dies with a ship wreck that drowns most of the men in the family.  The Moodys are considered white trash and are hard drinking poor people who aren't about to be told what to do by anything.  The Edgecombs are farming folk although the land isn't exactly thriving.

Over the decades, these families intermarry, fight and join.  They know each others' secrets going back for years and have ancient grudges.  Occasionally one of the young people marry someone from somewhere else and bring in new blood but these newcomers are rarely welcomed.  Their lot is to be at best tolerated as they are considered to be ignorant of the things that are needed to survive in this place.  There are shipwrecks, illnesses, even a murder or two.  

W.S. Winslow is a native Maine resident herself so she knows what she is writing about.  This is her debut novel and the structure makes this novel interesting.  It ties together the stories from the different families into a tapestry of survival in a bleak environment, of people doing whatever it takes to get by.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Queen Of America by Luis Alberto Urrea


Teresita Urrea moves to the United States with her father, Tomas Urrea as a teenager after the Mexican government declares them persona non grata.  Terestia is considered a saint by the native population after the sixteen year old recovers from a coma and states that she saw the Virgin Mary and could now cure people.  People came from near and far to be cured and the government soon considered her influence to be one that could forment revolution.

Tomas was the wealthiest landowner in the Sonora province but readily gave it up to travel with his daughter who was in danger of being imprisoned if they stayed in Mexico.  They moved around to several places while finding a home.  They started in Tucson, then moved to El Paso and finally ended up in Clifton, Arizona.  Wherever they went, people flocked to see Teresita and she was a celebrity.

As she grew older, she fell in love but with tragic results.   Her marriage lasted but a day when it became apparent that her husband was a violent man with mental issues.  Since her father had never wanted her to marry, Terisita felt she had failed him and moved to California under the protection of a business consortium that wanted to market her powers.  Lonely, she sent for a childhood friend, John Order and later married him.  They had two daughters and lived in California, New York and finally back to their roots in Clinton. 

This book is a historical fiction but based on a real person.  Terestia Urrea, the Saint of Cabora, lived from 1873-1906 and was the author's aunt.  He spent many years learning about her life and then wrote a two book history, this being the second recounting her time in the United States.  The first novel was The Hummingbird's Daughter which recounted Teresita's early years in Mexico.  The fact of the author's connection and his meticulous research makes this a powerful work.  This book is recommended for historical fiction readers as well as readers of diverse cultures.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Profiler by Pat Brown


When Pat Brown, a housewife and mother, was in her forties two things occurred that would change her life.  She and her husband rented a room to a new tenent.  Shortly after he moved in a woman was brutally murdered a short distance from their house on a path that the man was known to walk on almost daily.  Suspicious, Brown searched his room and found evidence that she thought pointed directly at him as the perpetrator; muddy and wet clothes thrown away although they seemed new, a letter opener filed down to serve as a knife and pornographic magazines.  She bundled up the items and took them to the police where she laid out her suspicions and the strange way he talked and acted.  Much to her disbelief, the police pretty much ignored her and the evidence she brought them and the case remained unsolved.

Brown was determined to find out more about killers and crime detection.  She was too old to start a police career and she couldn't find any schools that specialized in the subjects she wanted to study.  So she became a self-taught forensic investigator or profiler.  Far from mimicking  the practices of the legendary FBI unit that men like John Douglas set up to profile criminals, especially serial offenders, she used a different method and often disagreed vocally with the FBI and its conclusions.

This explanation of how Pat Brown began her career starts out this book.  The rest of the book is composed of various cases she profiled.  There were cases such a woman killed and found in the parking lot of a club, a young girl who disappeared during a sleepover with a neighbor and was found murdered and several suicides.  Interestingly, she reports that her work is made up of more suicide cases than murders as it is a verdict that families have a hard time accepting.  

While interesting, the book may leave readers with questions.  While Brown lays out the facts of the cases and gives her solutions and how she arrived at them, there is little to no evidence that her work is taken seriously and led to prosecutions.  She often is working with little evidence and no police cooperation and she puts the fact of prosecutions down to politics and shortsightedness.  Her work would seem more authoritative if her conclusions led to more prosecutions.  Her explanation of her methods and how she reached her answers is intriguing and will give the reader much to consider.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime.  

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu


Willis Wu has a typical life for an Asian man.  He lives in a SRO where both his parents also live although Willis is grown.  He tries to make a living in film and television starting as Generic Asian Man.  From there there are stages, Asian Man Number Three, then Two then One, then Guest Star then for those who work the hardest on their craft and are the luckiest, the pinnacle.  Kung Fu Guy is the absolute top achieved by only a few.  His father had been Kung Fu Guy when Willis was a boy and his dreams are focused on achieving it as well.

Daily he leaves the SRO for the Golden Palace restaurant which is the set of the detective series Black And White as well as the locale where his mother was the receptionist and his father works as a fry cook.  The detective show talks about the prejudice and stereotypes of black men and women who attempt to pursue jobs in male environments.  Yet its' use of Generic Asian Men is as stereotypical as any other show and Willis must fight for a couple of lines.

But this is where he meets Karen, his love.  They have a child but their lives are threatened by Willis obsessions on becoming Kung Fu guy and they start to drift apart.  Can Willis break free and have a real life?

This novel is a National Book Award Winner and a best book of the year by such organizations as NPR, the New York Public Library, Shelf Awareness, The New Yorker, Southern Living and others.  It is a wry expose of the invisibility that minorities feel in a culture where white is the majority.  It explores the fact that there is rivalry between the various minorities such as African American and Asian and Hispanic about which encounters the worst treatment and the shame of competing in such a venue.  Although it doesn't feel factually correct in this time where there are opportunities outside of the entertainment venue for minorities, it feels emotionally correct about the reality minorities encounter daily.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in the minority experience.  

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Mortal Prey by John Sandford


Lucas Davenport remembers Clara Rinker well.  Years ago, he almost died at her hands.  Clara was an assassin, hiring out to crime bosses to eliminate their enemies.  Lucas, as a policeman, was another category of person Clara often killed.  She was charming enough that when Lucas met her in a bar, they actually spent the evening flirting and dancing before she tried to kill him and missed.

But that was years ago.  No one has heard from her in years.  The word on the street is that she left the life and left the country.  But now there are rumors she is coming back.  The local crime bosses found out she went South and reached down there to try to kill her.  Instead they ended up killing her fiance and hit her.  She was pregnant and lost the baby as well as her future husband.

Now she is back in Minnesota with a blood lust and determination to kill the men on her list.  She kills the first before the police even hear about her coming back.  As the FBI tries to locate her, they draft Lucas to join the team as he has experience with her and a reputation for doggedness and never stopping until he finishes the mission.  But no matter what they do, the list of killed crime bosses continues to grow.  Can Lucas and the team catch her before she ends her revenge trip?

This is number thirteen in the Lucas Davenport series.  In this one, he is about to marry Weather and is determined to eliminate the threat of Clara before his wedding occurs.  The characteristics Davenport brings to law enforcement are in full display here along with his preference for regular police over federal agencies and their employees.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Survivors by Jane Harper


Kiernan left Evelyn Bay, Tasmania shortly after the accident.  The accident that killed his brother, Finn and another man.  The accident that everyone thought was Kiernan's fault, that the men had been coming to save Kiernan when he went in the caves known to be unsafe and got caught in the storm.  The men's boat had run into the rocks surrounding the caves and sunk and both men where killed.  In a place as small and insular as Evelyn Bay, everyone knew about the deaths and everyone thought they knew exactly what happened.  Kiernan knows that even his parents blame him.

Another death occurred in that storm; a young girl went missing and her body was never found.  It was suspected that she had been swept into the sea while walking home.  Only her book bag was ever found.

Now Kiernan has returned to Evelyn Bay but this time is different.  He's a grown man now, not a teenager.  He is married to Mia and they have a baby.  He has come home to help his mother move his dad, in the first stages of dementia, into an assisted living situation and to pack up their house for sale.  he meets with his old friends and acquaintances but can tell there are still those who remember the past and still blame him.

Then the unthinkable happens.  Another girl is found, this time murdered.  She was a waitress at the pub where Kiernan had gone the night before with his wife to meet old friends.  Suspicion falls on Liam, the son of the other man killed with Kiernan's brother.  Liam still blames Kiernan but apart from his surly nature, Kiernan can't believe Liam is involved.  

As the investigation into the girl's death unfolds, secrets from that time a decade ago start to emerge.  Why was Kiernan in the caves which were known to be off-limits?  How did Finn know to try to sail past the Survivors memorial to rescue him?  Why was Kiernan's father seen with both girls shortly before their disappearance?  

Jane Harper has created another brooding mystery that could only be set in the Australian and Tasmania lands that she has claimed as her locale.  The tourist town wouldn't exist except for fishing and tourist diving trips but both can be dangerous pursuits, especially in weather that can change in an instance and transform the sea from placid to murderous.  The smallness of the town and the sense that once the town defines you your personality is set for life to them combine with the ruggedness of the environment to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that makes escape seem impossible.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Terrier by Tamora Pierce


Beka Cooper is starting her career in the police force.  She is a rookie, a Puppy in the Dog Patrol with two mentors, Goodwin and Cantrell.  As a Puppy, she is to listen and learn and figure out how to police a place as crime-ridden as the Lower City.  But Beka has an advantage.  She was born and bred in the Lower City and knows most of the people there.  She and her family were plucked out of poverty by the Lord of the area and he is her mentor and protector.  The Dogs are in his employ and he approves of Beka's decision to join them.

The streets are teeming with criminals.  There are pickpockets, thieves, smugglers, beggars and plenty of aggression and fights.  There are also murders and two murderers are currently at large.  One is the Shadow Snake.  He kidnaps the children of poor people and the ransom is the one treasure they have somehow acquired and hung on to.  If they pay, their child is returned, if not, their body is.  Tansy, Beka's childhood friend, has just lost her three year old son to the Shadow Shape and Beka is determined to bring him to justice.  There is also a shadowy figure who is mining opals in secret.  To keep the secret, the workers are killed and buried on the site.

Beka's other advantage is her magic.  She can hear the voices of pigeons, who carry the ghosts of the dead and can pick up clues from their stories.  She can also understand the voices of whirlwinds who also know the gossip of the dead along with all the other stories they sweep up.  Beka uses these secrets to work with her Dogs to investigate the crimes, while forming an alliance with the Rogue's Court, many of whom live in her building.  Finding the murderers will make her place with the Dogs permanent and bring justice to those she loves.

This is the first book in the Beka Cooper trilogy, which in turn is part of a huge world with many novels.  It is written in the young adult genre yet there are dark occurrences like the omnipresent slavery and the casual violence of both the police and the criminals.  Beka is a lovable character and the reader will cheer as she advances in confidence and ability.  This book is recommended for readers of young adult fantasy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel


Haven Kimmel grew up in Mooreland, Indiana, a small rural town of three hundred inhabitants and four churches. It was a poor town and no one had much money.  Everyone knew everyone and they knew their families and backgrounds.  There weren't a lot of secrets in Mooreland.

Haven's nickname was Zippy and that's what everyone called her.  She was a spunky girl, not always kind but the view into how she innocently saw her world is priceless.  There were older siblings to contend with and look up to, parents who loved her, friends who might be a friend today and someone else's friend tomorrow and pets.  Zippy might not have been worldly but she wasn't a perfect child either.  She reports that none of her teachers liked her and she spent her time in school making their lives difficult.  She was sometimes cruel to her friends but usually loyal, much as other children are.  Zippy didn't believe in the whole Jesus legend, but she was in church every Sunday and other times throughout the week as her mother was very religious. 

Her family was normal as seen through Zippy's eyes.  Her mother spent her time not in church laying on the couch reading books.  She probably suffered from clinical depression.  Her father was gone for hours every day but always seemed to know what Zippy was doing and when she might need him.  He was the largest presence in her life even though he refused to enter the church at all so was considered strange by others in the town.  Her big brother was quiet and smart although he refused to read until well into his high school years.  Her big sister was also so much older than she was definitely a separate presence to Zippy.  

This is one of the most charming books I've read in years.  The reader cannot help but fall in love with Zippy even while thanking the gods that they didn't have to raise her.  I'm not a reader who laughs out loud at books, but found myself doing exactly that multiple times in this story.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in small town rural life.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore


Those looking in from the outside envy the Hawthorne family.  They live in a suburb of San Francisco in a lovely home.  The parents both have good jobs.  Gabe is a business consultant and Nora is a top-notch realtor.  They have three healthy and happy girls.  

But an inch below the surface, things don't look as good.  The eldest daughter, Angela is a senior in high school.  She is class valedictorian, active in sports and outside activities and has her heart set on Harvard.  But she is always exhausted and has little time to have a social life.  She has tons of homework every day after she finishes all her practices and charitable hours.  Anxiously, she wonders if she can really make it into the golden circle of Harvard admittees.

Cecily is the middle daughter.  She is obsessed with Irish dancing and considered an expert at it; something that requires hours of practices and classes.  Maya, the youngest girl, is in second grade and still not reading, getting bullied by her classmates about it.  Nora's career is always precarious dependent on whether or not she can sell the next house.  Gabe's saddled with an intern from hell who has managed to uncover his deepest secret and is trying to use it to blackmail herself into a permanent job.  Can the Hawthorne's keep all the plates spinning?

Meg Mitchell Moore has nailed the exhaustion and constant striving that success in America requires of families.  Children are overscheduled and set higher and higher bars to be considered a success.  Parents constantly balance careers and family responsibilities, spending hours after work trying to get everything done so that everyone can be everywhere they need to be.  Readers will probably recognize much of their own lives in that of the Hawthornes and read avidly to see how they solve the pressures of modern life.  This book is recommended for readers of family relationship novels.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood


Iris Chase has always been rich.  As a girl she and her sister, Laura, were the daughters of the wealthiest man in town who owned the button factory where most of the townspeople worked.  When the factory failed Iris was basically bartered to another wealthy man who saved the factory but controlled and abused Iris.  She was whisked away from Laura and isolated by her husband, Richard, and his sister.  

Laura didn't fare any better.  Just entering her teen years when Iris was taken away, she lived in the big mansion with her increasingly remote father.  After she died, Richard brought her to live with he and Iris and started his campaign to control her.  When that didn't work, he had Laura hospitalized in a mental hospital that served as a prison.  Laura got out and disappeared.  She turned up later and gave Iris the book she had authored before stealing Iris' car and driving it off the bridge.  She was twenty-five and became a celebrity author after her death.  Her book detailed an illicit affair between a young girl and her poor lover.

Now Iris is an old woman and she is looking back at her life.  She writes in her journal everyday and along with her recounting of her daily life are excerpts from Laura's novel.  As the journal progresses, the secrets that this family kept are revealed in layer after layer of deceit and cruelty.  

This novel won the Booker Prize in 2000.  The reader is drawn into Iris' life and the sacrifices she made to try to have and keep a family and find love.  As the secrets are revealed one after the other readers will feel tenderness toward Iris, fury at the abuse and shock at what occurred.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Greenwood by Michael Christie


Greenwood starts out at an eco-entertainment refuge in 2038.  The Earth is choking on dust and people are dying everywhere, their children coughing so hard their ribs snap like kindling.  Greenwood Island in Canada is one of the last places with forested land and rich tourists pay fortunes to come and visit the trees.  Jake (Jacinda) is a ranger there and when she sees the first sign of disease in the trees, she is horrified and knows something must be done although her bosses do not agree.  

From Jake the novel travels back in time thought the generations.  There is Jake's father, a carpenter and furniture maker who works in reclaimed wood.  His mother Willow is considered an ecoterrorist and she threw away the fortune she inherited to live in the forest and do what she could to save them.  

But the majority of the book tells the stories of the original Greenwood brothers back in the 1920's and 1930's.  Harris and Everett are not really brothers but are raised that way, survivors of a horrific train accident that took their families and left them in the wooded Canadian north.  No one knows their family names so they are given the Greenwood name and left to the raising of an elderly isolated woman who sheltered them in a shack outside her comfortable home and ignored them.  That made the boys close, probably closer than those who did share blood.

Harris grows up and loses his sight to disease.  Regardless of his handicap, he becomes an influential and wealthy man, his fortune based on the timber he cuts and sells to those building railroads and houses in frontier and foreign lands.  His brother Everett goes to war in Harris' stead and returns a broken man.  They become estranged and only come together over their love for Willow and the mysteries surrounding her birth.  

This novel was longlisted for the Giller Prize.  It's structure echoes that of the great trees, with concentric circles leading backwards to the start of the tree's story.  There are analogies between trees and human families and an exploration of family secrets and love that spans the generations.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Trunk Music by Michael Connelly


It was a routine case, if murder can ever be called routine.  The victim was Tony Alisio and he was found on Mulholland Drive near his home in the hills, shot and stuffed in the trunk of his car.  Harry Bosch gets the call.  It's his first murder in a while as he has been in another department and has just come back to Homicide.  He leads a team of two other detectives, Jerry Edgar and Kiz Rider.  

The victim is returning from a trip to Las Vegas.  As the detectives start to investigate they discover that Tony is often in Vegas.  His wife is a cold beauty who doesn't seem that upset by her husband's demise and it soon emerges that Tony went to Vegas to gamble and have other women.  It's also quickly apparent that the source of his wealth is not the low-rent porn movies he makes but laundering money for the mob.  Was this a robbery of mob cash or was his wife finally tired of Tony's disrespect and catting around?

Bosch investigates the case in both Los Angeles and in Las Vegas.  While there, he runs into someone he thought he'd never see again.  Eleanor Wish had been an FBI agent the first time she and Harry had met.  They had a love affair but Eleanor ended up caught up in crime.  She lost her job and served time in federal prison and Harry feels that it was partly his fault.  Although he is still interested, he doesn't know if they can ever get past what happened before.  

This is the fifth novel in the Harry Bosch series.  For those following the series, this one fills in more of Bosch's background and introduces the woman who will be so important in Harry's life going forward.  The murder involves not only a twisted plot line but insights into the criminal world of gambling, the inner politics of the police force and the interrelationships between various police forces and other agencies such as the FBI.  There are multiple surprises and this novel is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Unwilling by John Hart


It's Gibson French, or Gibbie as he's known to friends, senior year.  He isn't sure what he wants to do with his life after that.  Should he go to college as his parents want?  The war in Vietnam is raging and he feels a pull to enlist and go there as his two older brothers did.  But Robert, his oldest brother, was killed there and Jason, the middle brother, came back but as a broken shell of what he had been.  Does the war deserve another French brother?

Then rumors start to float around that Jason has come back home after his dishonorable discharge and his time in prison.  It's said he runs with the motorcycle gangs now, that he deals drugs and guns and that he doesn't care for anyone.  So Gibbie doesn't know what to do when Jason seeks him out and seems to want to get to know him now that he has grown up.  He goes on an outing with Jason and two girls and finds a man very different from the rumors.

But more trouble arrives.  The girl dating Jason is found horribly murdered.  Jason is arrested and sent back to the penitentiary where he is at the mercy of a psychopath who runs the place.  When the other girl is kidnapped, the police assume that Gibbie is at the heart of that crime and now they are looking for him as well.  But Gibbie has also been kidnapped, a pawn in the power play between the man who runs the prison, Jason and the police.  Can he be saved?

John Hart has written a compelling view of a family torn apart by the times.  The French brothers grew up with a policeman as a father and his black and white view of the world makes it difficult for him to accept his sons as they grow up and have their own ideas.  He is quick to judge and although he loves his sons, he acts first and finds out the facts afterwards.  The novel touches on the national nightmare that the Vietnam war was for so many families.  It highlights the difficulties in growing up and separating from the child one was and it emphasizes family love above all.  The tension is high and is ratcheted higher with every plot twist.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

I listened to this as an audiobook.  The narrator was clear and did an excellent job.  Although the book is set in the South, there is no jarring Southern accent that so many outside the region get wrong.  He especially did a good job narrating Gibbie and his high school sweetheart.  The only wrong note was that of the powerful psychopath.  His voice is given as a slow, accented voice with a lisp and it doesn't set the stage for the fear that the reader is meant to feel for him.  Overall, the narration was clear and easy to listen to.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener


In her mid-twenties, Anna Wiener is in New York City, working a low paid job in the publishing industry.  Everyone she knows is working the same kind of barely making it job as they check their safety net of parents wondering how long they could subsist as they 'paid their dues'.  When she has the chance to change her life and move to California and work in the technology industry, she jumps at the chance.

She works there for half a decade, cycling between several tech start-ups and more established technology companies.  Anna doesn't have technical skills; she isn't a programmer or a data scientist or a security guru.  She works in customer service, fielding calls for help, tracking down copyright infringements and checking company content boards for offensive and illegal content.  She is incredibly well paid compared to her NYC days and the culture is very different.  Employee structures are flat and perks abound.   Remote work is allowed and encouraged.

But there are drawbacks as well.  A higher salary doesn't mean much when all the technology money has made the real estate market so expensive that it is the rare person who doesn't have to have roommates well past the age that most people are on their own.  Perks don't mean much in work weeks that routinely are expected to be eighty to a hundred hours weekly.  Women are marginalized as are the non-tech employees.  The buzz word for compensation is meritocracy but it's strange how the merit all seems to reside in young, white males who look just like the founders of these young companies.

Uncanny Valley is a term used in the technology industry.  It refers to the fact that individuals respond more favorably to robots that appear human, but if the robot gets too human appearing, a revulsion sets in.  It is a metaphor for the technology industry that appears fascinating and desirable from the outside but is anxiety producing and barren from an insiders' view.  It is the casual data driven environment where every purchase and opinion is tracked and sold to companies so that they can better target their products and influence society.  It is a cautionary tale that only an insider can tell.  This book is recommended for readers of nonfiction and especially for those considering a career in technology.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen


The signs are all there if Vanessa had known to watch out for them.  Fleeing from a disaster in her college life she has fled to make a new life in New York City.  She has a good friend in her roommate Samantha and a job she loves as a preschool teacher when she meets him.  Richard is older, wealthy, a successful businessman.  He sweeps Vanessa off her feet and soon she is engaged to be married to him.  But there are little things that are off.  Sam and her other friends don't like Richard.  He gives Vanessa a trivalizing nickname, Nellie, rather than using her name.  He arranges all their dates and trips.  He even buys her a huge house in the suburbs as a surprise, without asking her if she wants it or if she wants to move elsewhere.  He assumes she will give up her job after their marriage.

By the time the beatings start, Vanessa has been totally isolated.  She is out in the countryside with no friends, no job and nothing to take up her time except cleaning and cooking for Richard.  When he starts an affair at work, she is more relieved than anything and soon they are divorced with her accepting whatever Richard deems is her right.  But now Richard is engaged again and Vanessa feels that she needs to do whatever she can to keep the marriage from occurring.  Can she thwart Richard's plans?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen have written a suspenseful tale with twists and turns in the plot at every juncture.  The reader isn't sure if Vanessa is a heroine or a vengeful ex-wife or what her motives are in following Richard's life after their marriage.  The flashbacks to her earlier tragedy fuel speculation about why she does the things she does as does the role of Richard's older sister, the one woman who is a constant in his life.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

A Measure Of Darkness by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman


When Deputy Coroner Clay Edison gets the late night call, he didn't expect what he found.  A huge block party had erupted into violence.  Opposing groups had opened fire and a panicked stampede had occurred.  There was a vehicle death on top of the gun deaths.  There was a six year old boy killed when a stray bullet came through the walls of the apartment he and his mother shared.  

All of this was bad and everyone turned out.  Clay was the last to leave and so he got the last body found.  It was found hours after the initial call and was the body of a young woman hidden in a shed at the back of the large property.  She didn't seem to have a gunshot wound; instead there was blunt force trauma and strangulation.  She was the victim of a murderous attack, probably by someone she knew.

Clay's job is to identify all the victims he is assigned, notify their next of kin and make sure all of the paperwork that accompanies a sudden death is correctly filled out and filed.  His job is not to investigate crimes but his curious nature and tenacity leaves him unable to leave things unexplained.  It takes weeks to identify the woman in the shed and when he does, he and a policewoman uncover credit card fraud of a massive nature the woman had been involved in.  Did this cause her death or did the answers lie even further back in her background?  

Readers will enjoy this father/son team of authors who combine talents to bring another Californian professional to life.  Clay is a former basketball star who lost his chance at a professional career when his knee was hurt.  He has fallen into the coroner's office by happenstance but enjoys the work and the occasional mystery he encounters.  He is dealing with the return of his black sheep brother into his family and with the intensifying of his relationship with his girlfriend.  All of this makes Clay as interesting as the mystery he solves.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Saturday by Ian McEwan


Henry Perowne is a man at the top of his game.  In his fifties, he is a renowned neurosurgeon working in a London hospital.  He is married to Rosalind who is a lawyer and who he still loves after many years of marriage.  They have two children.  Daisy is living in Paris and has just had her first book of poetry published.  Theo is still at home and is a jazz musician.  Everything in his life is going well.

This is a routine Saturday.  He plans to go to his weekly squash game, followed by a visit to his mother who is in care.  Then he needs to shop for a large family dinner.  Both Daisy and Rosalind's father are coming home to visit and Henry plans to cook for everyone.  The streets are crowded as there is a large antiwar protest against the intended invasion of Iraq which will set off a war.  

Because of the protestors blocking the streets, Henry takes a different route than usual and it ends in a fender bender.  The car isn't that hurt but the other man, Baxter, is upset and tries to intimidate Henry.  Baxter has two friends with him and it could end badly but Henry has learned skills that allow him to defuse the situation and go about his day.  But as everyone gathers, he sees that he didn't defuse the situation when Baxter and his friends show up unexpectedly at the Perowne household.  

This is a lovely slice of life novel.  McEwan captures the actions and thoughts of a middle aged man starting to wonder what the rest of his life will hold.  Unlike his operating theatre where he controls everything, his life cannot be controlled.  Children grow up and head off to their own lives, parents age and need different relationships.  Physical strength starts to wane.  World events seem to spin out of control and there is little the average person can do about things that will have a huge effect on their lives.  Few authors can capture a life in prose better than McEwan and the reader will be entranced with their viewpoint into Henry's life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.