Friday, July 10, 2020

Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale

When journalist Emma Skye comes to, she finds herself in the hospital.  She doesn't remember why she is there but her husband, Damien, tells her she has been in a car accident.  But there's more.  She was five months pregnant with their baby, Simon, and he did not survive an emergency Caesarean delivery.  Emma is shocked not from grief but because she doesn't remember Simon.  She doesn't even remember being pregnant.

After she goes home, she tries to recover her memories.  She remembers most things from her past.  She remembers falling in love and marrying Damien, who is a technology superstar with his own cybersecurity firm.  She remembers her parents dying when she was six as well as losing her best friend when she was fifteen.  But the events leading up to the accident continue to elude her and for some reason Damien is reluctant to talk about it with her.

After going back to work, she receives a plum assignment.  She is given the cover story of Nathan, a TV star who specializes in extreme sports.  She is shocked to discover that she has been given the assignment because she had started it last summer but the article was unexpectedly pulled.  She doesn't remember why nor does she remember Nathan.

When she goes to interview him, she has to confess that she doesn't remember him or their time together when she started the assignment.  He definitely remembers her and from his reaction to her, apparently they had forged a close relationship.  She doesn't know how close but her physical attraction to him and his to her suggests that it was more than professional.  Could she have been in love with him?  Did it have anything to do with her accident and loss of Simon?

Kerry Lonsdale has written an intriguing tale of a young professional woman, determined to have a career and a satisfying love life along with a family.  She relates the issues in trying to have it all and the story twists and turns as Emma begins to realize that secrets can kill any relationship.  Readers will find themselves plunging deeper into the story as it changes direction again and again.  This book is recommended for readers of women's fiction. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

Hanna isn't like most children.  Seven years old, she doesn't speak.  She doesn't take direction from her parents, especially her mother Suzette.  She basically rules the house, everything dictated by what she'll accept and what will cause her to go into a tantrum.  School is out as she has been asked to leave several of them already.

Suzette is a stay at home parent but she doesn't want to be.  She was a valued member of their architectural firm before she had Hanna but there is no one else who can take care of Hanna.  Hanna reserves the majority of her spite and tricks for Suzette who at times loses control and yells at her.  Suzette has health issues of her own and is determined to find some help.  This creates an all out war as Hanna is determined to have her way and to ultimately have her father, Alex, all to herself.

As Suzette continues to search for help, consulting psychologists and specialized schools, Hanna ups her game.  She now speaks occasionally to Suzette when Alex isn't around, cursing and declaiming that she is the last witch burned in France.  She even speaks in French sometimes, thus validating the teams of doctors that have insisted there is no physical reason for her not to speak.  Worse, she starts to plan and carry out attacks on Suzette, injuring her at times.  Can these parents find a way to help Hanna?

This book is every parents' nightmare.  The thought of a child determined to do anything to remove the parent from existence is so far from normality that it is a horror to contemplate.  It brings up the issues of nature versus nurture and asks the reader to determine which is at play with Hanna.  This is a debut novel and the author has an interesting future in front of her as she explores her thoughts in other books.  This book is recommended for suspense readers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

In 2009, a break-in and theft occurred that rocked the museum and scientific worlds.  The small Tring Museum, a division of the British Museum of Natural History has one of the largest collections of birds in the world.  Many are of rare birds and birds that are now extinct and were gathered by men who were contemporaries of Charles Darwin.  It is a priceless collection as it cannot be replicated and scientists from around the world use the birds in various research experiments on such subjects as pollution, extinction, genetics and others.

But after the museum closed one night, a twenty year old man, broke a window, got into the museum and started frantically stuffing bird corpses into a suitcase.  He stole hundreds of birds in a short time, then climbed back out, got on a train and returned to London where he was a student at the London Royal Academy of Music.  The man was Edwin Rist.  Rist was not only a talented musician who had won a scholarship from the United States to attend the college in London, but one of the world's acknowledged experts in tying flies to catch fish; specifically salmon.

There is an entire subculture devoted to the world of fly tying.  Specifically, those interested in this hobby are obsessed with Victorian fly tying and there are instructions which read like a recipe telling someone which feathers and how to make a specific fly.  The problem, of course, is that Victorian fly fisherman used feathers from birds whose feathers are now rare or impossible to get.  A few exist as attics are raided for female hats which went through a vogue of using large amounts of feathers or auctions of old estates of collectors.  But it is difficult and expensive to replicate the original flies.

Rist was brought up in the United States by parents who home schooled him.  He and his brother were encouraged to follow any interest that caught their fancy and the parents did anything they could to support the interests.  One of Edwin's interest was the flute and he was given music lessons by experts.  When he saw and was entranced by his first flies, his parents took him again to experts in the field and conferences where feathers were traded and sold.

What Edwin stole and later sold was priceless.  When he was captured and jailed, his parents' first thought was hiring experts to represent him.  When Edwin got to court, his legal team called a psychiatrist who explained the Edwin was on the autistic spectrum and could not be held responsible for his acts.  He was set free and has not served time for his actions.

The author learned about this case from a fly fisherman guide as he was fishing in the remote rivers out West.  He became fascinated with the case and was determined to find out what really happened and where the feathers which were never found were.  He spent years interviewing collectors, museum experts, fly tyers and those in the know about the crime.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime and for those interested in science, specifically ornithology.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black

During World War II, two million children were separated from their parents and sent out to the country to live with strangers in order to have them in a safer place.  This novel imagines what would have happened if the royal children, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, had been among those children.  The two girls are sent away to Ireland, as it was a neutral state, to an estate owned by an old Duke, in exchange for monthly shipments of coal which Ireland was in need of.

Of course, the girls are not send alone.  Celia Nashe is a young secret agent and is sent along to serve as their protector, although she is designated to the outside world as their nanny.  In addition, a member of the Irish Garda, Strafford, who actually grew up himself on a landed estate, is assigned as the liaison with the local police.  There are also military who guard the borders of the estate.

For the girls, the biggest threat is boredom.  They are homesick and there isn't much to do with their host not seen except at meals.  They are their only company and must entertain themselves with reading and riding horses and whatever else they can do.

But it isn't all boredom.  The local IRA is very interested in 'Ellen' and 'Mary', the names the girls are going by in an attempt to remain anonymous.  But its hard to hide any newcomers in the country where any small event is news for talk.  There are servants in the Hall with local families to repeat any tidbit and men who come and go to the estate.  Soon the identities of the girls are open secrets and the men who are always looking for a way to hurt England are scheming to take advantage of this gift dropped in their laps.  Are the girls safer or more in danger?

Benjamin Black is the pen name of the novelist John Banville.  As a Booker Prize winner, I expected more from this novel but the action was all pushed to the end of the book and everything at the climax happened rapidly.  The characters were not as well developed as I had hoped for either.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers and those interested in World War II literature.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Things aren't going well for Florence.  Eighty-four, she is living these days at the Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly but the administration is starting to make noises about her needing to move to the next stage in assisted living.  No way is Florence going to go.  Although things aren't perfect here at Cherry Tree, it has one unassialably advantage.  Her best friend, Elsie, is also a resident and she spends every day with Elsie and makes her feel better about life.

Florence and Elsie have been friends since they were children.  Elsie always knows what to say to help Florence remember things, to speak so that others understand what she wants or means, or just to make the days pass by with fun instead of boredom.  All in all, life is good as long as Florence is with Elsie.  At least until the day the new guy moves in.

As soon as Florence sees the new resident, she knows him by his true name.  This is Ronnie, the older guy who brought tragedy to Elsie's family.  Ronnie, who was cruel to the women around him.  Ronnie, who cheated and lied but who had a magnetism that women couldn't resist.  Ronnie, who Florence killed over forty years ago.

It couldn't be Ronnie, but Florence is convinced.  He is sly, grinning at Florence but otherwise acting perplexed at why she thinks she knows him.  Soon, Florence is being gaslighted, things moved around her apartment, things she thinks are missing showing up, events stages to make Florence look like her mental state is deteriorating.  She knows who is responsible but how to convince anyone else?

This novel was longlisted for the Woman's Prize in 2018.  It takes the reader inside the mind of an elderly person who is fighting to retain their dignity but who feels the world slipping away, slowly but inevitably, day by day.  It is also a mystery which is revealed slowly and with each retelling, the world shifts and we understand Florence a bit better.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Two Australian families' lives are intertwined due to circumstance.  The Pickles are a haphazard crew.  The dad is a gambler, poor when his luck is bad and rich when it's good.  The mother is a former beauty who drinks and parties and pretty much ignores the two children.  They inherit a huge house in Perth called Cloudstreet which they are forbidden to sell for twenty years.  Since Pickle is unemployed at times, it's good they have a place they can't be thrown out of, but the house is too big for them.  So they hit on the idea of renting half of it out.

The Lamb family are the renters.  They are the opposite of the Pickles.  Both father and mother are industrious, religious and love their large brood of children.  They quickly hit upon the idea of opening a store as there isn't one in their neighborhood.  The children all help; except for Fish.  Fish was a child everyone loved and was everyone's favorite.  While on a family outing, Fish has an incident and is almost drowned.  The accident leaves him with mental disabilities; he will never grow up.  The family rallies round and takes care of him.

The two families rub along together over the years.  Winton has them face various emergencies and difficulties and shows the reader how each family handles such events.  Throughout the years, the families are never close but co-exist peacefully.  When disaster strikes, the two families learn to help each other out.

This epic novel is considered one of the great novels of Australian literature. It won the prestigious Miles Franklin Award, which is Australia's top literary award.  The deft outlining of the various characters and the slow recognition of the change in Australia from a rural country to one more focused on the cities is entertaining and informative.  Each reader will have a favorite character to follow over the years.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty

Ulster, Northern Ireland in the early 1980's.  There is rioting as the Catholic men from the IRA who are imprisoned are on a hunger riot demanding their rights as political prisoners and they are starting to die.  With each death, Ulster erupts in riots and men in the streets fighting the police.  Detective Sean Duffy is in the midst of this.   He is one of the few Catholic policeman in the North, and so besides the animosity for all police, faces extra attention as someone who is considered a traitor to his background.  He is also a college graduate at a time when that is rare in the police, someone who majored in psychology.

This background is needed for his next case.  A man is found killed and left in an abandoned car.  He has the marks of the IRA traitor, shots in his knees and his hands removed.  When the man is identified, he is in the paramilitary groups but something else is brewing.  The severed hand left with him is not his and there are indications that this could be a murder done because the victim was homosexual.  There are also indications that the murderer is interested in classical music; opera in particular.  When another victim is found, also a homosexual and with the same forensic indicators, it seems clear that someone is applying violence to the men who are willing to break Irish law to live as gay men.

But of course there are always more cases coming.  The body of a young woman is found hanging in the forest.  She was the ex-wife of one of the prison protesters, and it is clear that she recently gave birth although there is no indication of what happened to the baby.  In the midst of this, Duffy becomes embroiled with the female pathologist who comes with her own baggage.  Can Duffy find the murderer before the violence blows Ulster sky-high?

This is the first book in the Sean Duffy series, of which there are currently six.  Duffy is an interesting character and the methods he uses to find out what is going on are engaging.  He must deal not only with crime but a society that is falling apart and in which he is an anomaly.  I listened to this one and the reader's Irish accent added so much to the narrative.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Of Ballots And Bears by Heather Lende

Heather Lende lives in a small Alaskan town called Haines.  She is the obituary writer for the town's newspaper and as such she gets to know most of the people she shares the town with.   Her husband runs a lumber business and her children grew up to be in the education business, along with other occupations.  In such a small town, everyone depends on others to help and everyone pretty much knows everyone else.

Lende feels the need to do more than write books and be interviewed on NPR.  She decides to run for the position of being one of six people on the town assembly board.  She didn't spend much on her campaign; she felt that after all her time living there, everyone pretty much knew her and her progressive policies.  Much to her surprise, she won one of the seats up for election as did the owner of the newspaper.

This book talks about what governing is really like, how it is often better to listen than to be the first one speaking or the loudest one.  For each issue, she has to balance her own position against what those who elected her feel is best.  She was shocked to see that sometimes, people she had considered friends for years, were against what she honestly thought was best, and would say or do things that were hurtful to her.

The best example of this was the recall election.  One of the biggest issues in Haines was the renovation of the town bay and port.  There were those who were determined to push their idea through stating that it was good for business and there were others who were hesitant to make the changes wondering about the environmental effect.  There was also the issue over hiring someone in the local government to oversee various construction projects.  When Heather, her editor friend and a third member voted to hire someone other than the local favorite, they soon faced a recall election.  It was heart-wrenching for her to realize that there were enough people who thought she had done a poor job to get the recall on the election cycle or that she had misused her position.

Lende has written a series of books about her life in Haines and I've enjoyed every one of them.  The dependent nature of living in such an environment and needing to rely on those around you is clear in everything she writes.  This book shows a naive and vulnerable side of Lende that her earlier books did not but the stories she tells are familiar to those of us who fought politics in jobs and on issues.  Her ability to withstand the storms and learn a series of lessons from this time is interesting and informative.  This book is recommended for memoir readers.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

In this second installment of the Cromwell trilogy, Henry VIII has been married to Anne Boleyn for around three years.  The bloom is off the lily and although he tore his country apart in order to marry her, Henry is no longer that interested in her.  His first wife, Katherine, is dying in the remote castle she was exiled to, and Anne is still actively trying to get between Henry and his daughter Mary.  Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, is just a small toddler.  Henry's eye has lit upon one of Anne's ladies; Jane Seymour.

Cromwell, of course, is tasked with making what Henry wants happen.  He slowly starts to weave a web, talking with foreign ambassadors, lords of the court, religious men high in rank, and listening, listening, to all the court gossip.  If this is what Henry wants, Cromwell will make it happen and since there is no reason to waste a disaster, will use it to take out those men he has had a grudge against for years, when they conspired to have his beloved master killed.

Anne is arrested along with five men who are charged with having adulterous relations with her.  These include a musician who entertained her in her chambers, her own brother, and various men she has been linked to over the years.  The young men, scared beyond thinking, confess and even those who refuse to are tarred with the brush of adultery and treason and condemned to death.  All five, along with Anne, are executed at the end of this novel.

This book won the Booker Prize in 2012.  It is clear to see why as it is fascinating and the reader feels they have a front-row seat at the machinations of a Tudor court.  Cromwell is the spider in the middle of the web, always there waiting, never forgetting a slight or wrong, and biding his time until he can strike his enemies a blow from which they won't recover.  This book is recommended for literary and historical fiction readers.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell

Two people's lives collide in a story of aircraft disaster.  Charlie Radford is a young investigator for the national board.  His mentor has been doing this work for years and has investigated some of the most notorious airplane wrecks like the bombing of the aircraft in Locherbie, Scotland.  He tells Charlie that the work is to ask the right questions and to never make assumptions.  Only believe the evidence regardless of what others around you are saying.

Erin is a passenger on a cross country flight.  Her life has been in turmoil for the past year.  Her twin daughters have started college.  She had an affair.  Shortly afterward, she got cancer and has been undergoing treatment.  Finishing that, she is in remission and decides to fly to a cancer survivor retreat to decide what she wants to do with what remains of her life.

The flight is not smooth and halfway through, over a cornfield in the middle of the country, the airplane falls apart, the wreckage stretching for miles.   There aren't survivors or are there?  There is a persistent rumor that one woman fell from the sky still in her seat and survived, going to the hospital but with such light injuries that she is able to leave the next morning.  Is that true?

Charlie is surprised and proud to be on the team who goes to the site to investigate the wreck.  He is surprised that his mentor has been overlooked and is not heading up the investigation.  Instead, he is working for a man new to heading up such newsworthy investigations and who is a micromanager.  He decides early on that the woman who survived is real and tasks Charlie with finding out who she is and how she survived.

Richard Farrell has written an absorbing account of how an airline investigation after an incident proceeds.  It highlights the joy of finding a survivor and how such a person is thrust into the limelight and also discusses the rights of a person to remain private in the midst of a clamor for their story.  Both Charlie and Erin grow as individuals and the lessons they learn are ones that will change their lives.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason

Detective Chief Inspector Charles Field is proud to be in charge of the mission to safeguard the monarchs, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  When there is an assassination attempt right before his eyes as they travel through the streets of London, he is dismayed and unbelieving.  When a thief is killed a block away and in front of the Inspector, he realizes that this was not a random attempt but a conspiracy and the thief's death was just a distraction to keep him from his mission.

The year is 1860 and unrest is stirring around the world.  Things are heating up both in Europe and in the United States, both of which seem headed towards war.  In London, all the talk is of Charles Darwin and his publication of his master work, The Origin Of Species.  It is an epic work but one that divides the populace.  Some regard his work as groundbreaking while others are determined to dispute his conclusions and do what they can to stop publication.  This group are behind the conspiracy to kill the monarch but their target is Prince Albert rather than Queen Victoria.  Albert is interested in science and excited about the ideas of evolution.  He puts Darwin's name up for the most prestigious award in the country and those opposed will do anything to prevent this and the validation it gives to Darwin's ideas.

The conspiracy reaches into the highest areas of the country and the men who are considered aristocrats.  They hire an assassin who is one of the best surgeons in the country, a former choirboy at the best churches and a psychopath.  He cannot be deterred once he sights in on a victim and now Prince Albert is in his sights.  He furthers his work by kidnapping street children and breaking them until they will do anything he commands.  He has no fear, killing one of Chief Field's men right in front of him and his death toll rises day by day.  Can he be stopped?

This is a debut novel and it has already won critical praise.  It is a Forbes Best Historical Novel and a Barnes and Nobles Discover Pick.  The Victorian Age is one of my favorite eras to read about and the villain in this novel is one readers won't soon forget; his inability to be stopped and his cruelty chilling.  Readers will learn about the Victorian Age, the ideas of evolution and the opposition to them, the London police force at this time and the state of medicine.  This book is recommended to readers of both crime and history.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Prairie Fever by Michael Parker

The Stewart family is living in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, in the early 1900's and the living is hard.  The prairie stretches forever, but it's not necessarily easy farming land.  The winters are brutal with biting winds and blizzards that blow up out of nowhere.  The family has lost two small sons to 'prairie fever' or typhoid and only the daughters are left.  Lorena is seventeen and Elise is fifteen.  They feel alone in the world; their mother has never recovered from their brothers' deaths and their father is a big talker, little action buffoon who drags them from state to state on whatever whims move him along.

Every day the two sisters saddle up Sandy, their horse, and ride the miles into town to school.  Their teacher is Gus McQueen, a man just a few years older than them and with little education or aptitude for teaching although kind and interesting.  Lorena is organized and focused, the best student in school as well as the most beautiful.  Elise is different; she sees the world through dreams and odd takes on common views.  Most don't understand her or the depth of her feelings for those she loves.

When Gus and Lorena ride out in a blizzard to go after Elise who has taken off on what seems to her a necessary adventure, things change.  They rescue Elise right before death and Gus' relationship with the girls changes forever.  He and Lorena become a couple, but down the road, he ends up falling in love and marrying Elise instead; an act that creates a lifelong rift between the two sisters.

Michael Parker has a talent for bringing characters to life and leaving readers not only interested in other times and the difficulties people had then, but with lifelong friends in their minds.  No one reading about Elise will forget her quickly and the stories of life in those earlier times shows starkly the difficulties of communication and how distance meant something back then that it doesn't mean in our hurried world.  The story unfolds slowly giving the reader time to sink into the time period and get to know each character.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Happy Isles Of Oceania by Paul Theroux

In the early 1990's, travel writer and author Paul Theroux is at a lifestyle change as his marriage has fallen apart.  He decides to go back on the road and travels through the islands of Oceania where he will have time to process the change and think about the future.  As he travels, he explains the layout of the archipeleo as well as the culture of the people he encounters.

It is an ambitious undertaking.  He visits islands which most people have heard of, Fiji, New Zealand, the Solomons, Samoa, Hawaii, Easter Island and Tahiti.  But he also visits small islands many people have no idea existed such as Vanuatu, Marquesas, Moorea, the Trobriand Islands, the Tongatapu Group and the Vava'u Group.  He takes a small collapsible kayak and where he can, he paddles around the islands and camps out by himself.

Wherever he goes, he tries to establish contact with the local inhabitants.  He asks them all what words they use for various items, seeking commonalities between the islands hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles apart.  He asks them where they believe they come from and about their religion.  He asks them what they eat and how they cook it.  He asks about cannibalism as many of these tribes were involved in that in past times.

Theroux encounters difficulties.  One of the biggest is the relationships he wants to establish.  In these island cultures, family is everything, and a man by himself is seen as vulnerable and strange.  To prefer solitude is outside of their experience.  He also encounters crocodiles and rip tides that make boating difficult.  On many islands, every inch of land is owned and the subject of fierce dominion and there is no where he can camp.

Although he finds much to praise about the islanders, he also finds troubling aspects to their lives.  As in his other books, he bemoans the physical size and obesity of many of the tribes.  He doesn't like the way the old cultures and artifacts are ignored or destroyed.  The reliance of the inhabitants on various government handouts is troubling and he finds many people to be thieves or lazy.

I've enjoyed Theroux's travel books for many years.  I started with the train journey books and have read several of his books about different places such as various parts of Africa and England as well as the United States.  His keen eye for history and his interest in learning the stories of those he encounters makes for an interesting read.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy travel writing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

In 1960's Tallahassee, Florida, young men knew that if they fell afoul of the law they were headed to the Nickel Academy.  Set up to provide a residence and place for young men who didn't have homes or who broke the law, the original intent was quickly subverted and the institution became a hellhole where young males were subjected to horrible treatment.  Education was almost nonexistent as the residents were used as cheap labor, farming, running a print shop and doing odd jobs for well connected individuals in the neighboring towns.

This is the place Elwood Curtis finds himself in.  Curtis was a studious young man, interested in education and doing whatever he could to make life better for his grandmother and himself.  Instead, he finds himself swept up when he takes a ride from someone up to no good and before he knows it, he is at the Nickel Academy.

In addition to using the residents as labor, there were many other issues.  Food was cheap and poor, as the best food sent to the place was sold to bars and groceries in the neighboring towns.  Any boy could be disciplined and hit by any staff member and it was commonplace.  For those boys who offended more brazenly, staff would come in the night and take them to a shed where they were beaten until they required hospitalization.  Elwood finds himself in this category when he gets in a fight defending a younger boy.  The worst offenders against the men who ruled the place just disappeared never to be seen again until a secret graveyard was discovered during an investigation of the place.

Elwood makes some friends there like Turner who stays cool and reserved but who has plans to escape.  There is also Jose who is Hispanic so sent back and forth repeatedly between the white boy's barracks and the black barracks.  You needed friends to survive but you had to be very careful who you trusted.  Friendship was just another item that could be twisted to be used against you.

Colson Whitehead has written a novel that exposes the horrors of what occurred in such places.  It won the Pultizer Prize, the Kirkus Prize and is longlisted for the National Book Award.  It has been chosen as a best book of the year by multiple organizations such as Time, NPR, the Washington Post, Vox and others.  It takes the reader inside the lives of these young men and shows what occurs when someone is totally at the whim of those in power and when your life is valueless to them.  The book ends with a twist that is stunning and readers won't soon forget it.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction and those interested in reading about the experience of young black men and racism.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Hollowpoint by Rob Reuland

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Giobberti was one of the up and coming stars of the New York DA's Office.  He was until the death of his five year old daughter and the breakup of his marriage afterwards.  He was out of work for an extended time and now that he is back, he just can't bring himself to care much about anything.  Is what he does of any use in the world?  He careens from case to case and woman to woman, never caring much about anything.

Now he has a new case.  A fourteen year old girl has been killed in her bedroom, her baby in the same room.  She lived with her mother who is an addict and an older sister.  The girl was shot in the head, while she was naked and in her bed with a hollowpoint bullet.

A neighbor reports seeing a man fleeing the scene.  She knows the man who used to live downstairs with his grandmother growing up.  He has been in prison but recently released.  He seems like the perfect suspect and is quickly arrested.  But his story points to a more sinister story.  Was the mother a prostitute and did she prostitute her daughters for money to buy drugs?  Was the man the father of the young girl's baby?  What actually happened that night?

Rob Reuland is following the old maxim 'Write what you know' in this novel.  He is himself a senior assistant district attorney in the Brooklyn district attorney's office.  He does a good job of portraying the cynical nature of the men and women forced to deal with senseless crimes day after day.  It leaves them numbed and unsympathetic, both to their clients and themselves to the reader.  The case is successfully resolved and by the end, perhaps DA Giobberti is starting to find redemption also.  This book is recommended for readers of noir detective novels.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce

Harold Frye has retired and he's not sure what the rest of his life will be.  For the past six months, he has basically sat in his house with his wife Maureen, and done nothing.  He and Maureen don't have much of a marriage anymore; in fact they barely speak.  She spends her time cleaning and cooking and making it very evident that she resents doing both.

But things change with the delivery of a letter.  It is a letter from a former co-worker, a woman named Queenie Hennessey.  Harold hasn't heard from her in years since she left the firm suddenly and the news now isn't good.  Queenie is writing to tell him that she is dying and remembers their friendship fondly.

Harold writes a quick letter back.  He starts off out the door to walk to the mailbox but when he reaches it he decides that its a nice day and he will walk to the next mailbox.  He continues to do this until by nightfall he is several miles away from home.  Along the way, he meets a shop employee who tells him about her aunt who hung on for much longer than the doctors expected because she had things to look forward to.

That's it.  Harold calls the hospice and tells the nurse who answers to tell Queenie to hold on, that he is on his way.  Although it is hundreds of miles, Harold firmly believes if you just keep walking you will eventually reach your goal.  As the days turn into weeks, his trip becomes a pilgrimage that is widely publicized, although Harold can't figure out why.  As he walks, he goes back over his life and where it went wrong and thinks about how he can change things at home.  Will he make it to Queenie's side before she dies?

This novel was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2012.  Harold is an interesting character and the slow unfolding of his life and secrets will keep the reader's attention.  The novel provides plenty of things to think about, how our own lives might be different than we expected, the mistakes we let take over our lives, and what is truly important in life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Meadow and Carrie are best friends, growing up in Los Angeles.  It's not a friendship most would have predicted.  Meadow is thin, mysterious, the ultimate cool girl while Carrie is chubby and still looking to find herself.  They meet at school in a film class and become fast friends, making movies and finding their life's work.  They both get into a prestigious Eastern film university and Carrie stays and graduates from there.  Her work is mainstream and soon she is a successful filmmaker with awards from the industry and a marriage and children.  Meadow goes a different route, making indie films that are praised but not commercial successes, films that ask questions or just highlight a topic that Meadow finds interesting.  She moves too fast and at her own whims, going where her latest interest takes her.  She is moving too fast to accumulate things like a family or a home.

Jelly is a mystery.  She was blind once for months as the result of an illness.  She met people at the school for the blind she attended that introduced her to phone phreaking.  From that, Jelly came up with what sustains her life.  She calls men, rich successful men and seduces them, not with sex but with listening.  Soon these men stop whatever they are doing to talk with Jelly for hours, telling her things they never share with anyone else.  Jelly's life collides with Meadow's, when Meadow hears about her and talks Jelly into being the topic of her latest documentary.  The film and its consequences changes everyone's lives.

Dana Spiotta is one of those authors whom other authors respect.  Her works have included Stone Arabia, Eat The Document and Lightning Field.  These works have been finalists for awards such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  Her work highlights the absurdity of modern life and the yearning for connection with others that most people have.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Table Of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips

Sir Humphrey du Val's life has been better.  He used to be a Knight of the Round Table, respected by all.  But after his wife ran off with another man and the disgrace that followed that, he has been demoted down to the Table Of Less Valued Knights with those knights who just don't cut the mustard and must sit looking longingly at his former station.  So when a damsel in distress shows up looking for a knight to help her on a quest, Humphrey jumps at the chance.

Elaine is the damsel and she is looking for help to find her fiance.  He was kidnapped right after the tournament at which their engagement was announced.  Her parents seem to think it was her fault and have tasked her with the job of getting him back.  Sir Humphrey and his squire, a young giant named Conrad who rides an elephant, suit up and off the three go.

They aren't the only ones with a quest.  Queen Martha Of Puddock is on the road as well.  When her father died, she became queen but it was not what she wanted.  Along with the crown, she is married the day after her father's death to an obnoxious young prince who is determined that he is the true ruler and his ruling needs to start with controlling Martha.  She is determined to get out of being the Queen and the best way to do that is to find her long lost brother.  She takes to the road to find him and to flee her husband.  When the two groups meet and join forces, events start to fall into place quickly.

This novel was nominated for the Bailey's Prize for Women in 2015.  It is a rollicking tale that reimagines how it was to be royalty or a knight in medieval times and how those roles might be improved.  Readers will be delighted at how things turn out and will enjoy their time with Sir Humphrey, Elaine and Queen Martha.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

This novel explores the lives of twelve women of color in England.  Each chapter is written in the voice of the woman being featured and talks about her life and the various hardships and obstacles she has encountered.  The women's lives are intertwined in various ways and those relationships are explored as well.

Amma is a gay playwright.  Her work has been experimental and on the fringes but is finally starting to get mainstream support.  Her work partner is Dominique who handles the business end of setting up and managing plays.  Dominique goes to America with her latest partner and ends up in an abusive relationship where her partner wants to control her every movement and thought.  Shirley is one of Amma's oldest friends and is a teacher who starts out inspired but becomes cynical over the years.  She mentors students she thinks will benefit and Carole is one of these.  Carole goes on to become a banker with a stable marriage while her best friend LaTisha ends up working dead end jobs and having three children by three different men.  Bummi is LaTisha's mom and a cleaner while Carole's mom, Winsome ends up in an adultous relationship with Carole's husband.

Yazz is Amma's daughter and has grown up self-confident and sure of her path.  She is currently in college.  Penelope is another teacher who works with Shirley and who goes through several marriages.  Megan/Morgan is a woman who rebels against the upbringing and expectations of her parents and ends up in a stable relationship with a transgender man who is now a woman.  They spend a lot of time at the farm of Morgan's grandmother, Hattie.  Hattie accepts Morgan and Bibi's relationship and plans to leave the farm to them rather than to her daughter, Grace and her other children who never showed any interest.

This novel won the Booker Prize in 2019.  It is an interesting viewpoint into the lives of everyday women and how they manage to live their lives and work out the difficulties they encounter all of which are amplified by the fact that they have to handle the racism that is endemic.  The stories require close reading as it is easy to miss a touchpoint between the various women if the reader isn't paying attention or to lose track with so many main characters to keep up with.  But it is a magnificent work and one that will richly reward the reader.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in reading more about the experiences of women of color.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick

To be a pilot of an iron dragon, one must be at least a half human as humans can touch iron while fae cannot.  Caitlin of House Sans Merci is in training to be a pilot as she has fled her loveless home and the wicked woman who calls herself her mother.  All that remains in that place for her is her brother and that is not enough to live there.

But all is not well.  Caitlin has a mishap during a landing and her dragon is injured.  Not enough to worry about but there has to be an inquiry.  While she is awaiting that, she receives news that her father is ill and her presence is required at home.  She also finds that the routine inquiry has been escalated and she is in danger of being booted out of the Iron Squadron.

Returning home, she is there as her father dies and her brother is installed as the new Lord of Sans Merci.  Caitlin leaves there and soon is on the run when it turns out that after her departure, her brother has disappeared and she is wanted for his murder.  Aghast and desperate, she destroys her dragon and goes on the run to prove her innocence.

This is the second book in the faerie world Michael Swanwick created in his novel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter.  It is a cruel world, full of steampunk and cruel personalities whose true missions are shrouded in secrecy.  Caitlin meets many people on her quest, both friends and enemies although it is sometimes difficult to tell one from the other.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Booksie's Shelves, June 3, 2020

Another month of isolation at home, another month of reading as solace.  I read eighteen books in May but added many more.  As our country hides from the virus and tears itself apart over racial injustices, sometimes it seems more than one can stand.  Books are always solace and hope that things will improve.  We did loosen up our isolation a bit.  Our daughter came home for two weeks which was wonderful.  I've been to the dentist for a routine appointment and have two annual doctor's appointments in June.  I've been attending my three book clubs online and listening to author and publishers discussions.  In wonderful news, our son got engaged and we will have another daughter to add to our family.  But whatever else is going on, books are always the standby.  Here's the ebooks I bought in May:

1.  Saint X, Alexis Schaitkin, literary fiction
2.  Death Is In The Details, Heather Sunseri, mystery
3.  Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Letham, literary fiction
4.  Florida, Lauren Groff, anthology
5.  The Second Coming, Walker Percy, literary fiction
6.  The Turner House, Angela Fourney, historical fiction
7.  The Poison Path, Solomon Carter, mystery
8.  The Other Magic, Derrick Symthe, fantasy
9.  Night Moves, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery
10.  Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard, nonfiction
11.  Neuromancer, William Gibson, sci fi
12.  Beloved, Toni Morrison, literary fiction
13.  The Pleasing Hour, Lily King, literary fiction
14.  The Tethered Mage, Melissa Caruso, fantasy
15.  Theory Of Bastards, Audrey Schulman, fantasy
16.  Angelmaker, Nick Harkaway, sci fi
17.  Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellman, literary fiction
18.  Fires That Forge, R.J. Hanson, fantasy
19.  First Blood, Angela Marsons, mystery
20.  Department Of Speculation, Jenny Offill, literary ficiton
21.  American Elsewhere, Robert Jackson Bennett, fantasy
22.  Fake Like Me, Barbara Bouland, mystery
23.  And Their Children After Them, Nicolas Mathieu, literary fiction
24.  The Chimes, Anna Smaill, literary fiction
25.  The Year Of The Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota, literary fiction
26.  Into The Wildbarrens, Christian Sterling, fantasy
27.  Monkey Beach, Eden Robinson, literary fiction
28.  The Keeper Chronicles, J.A. Andrews, fantasy
29.  The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O'Neill, literary fiction
30.  Three Things About Elsie, Joanna Cannon, literary fiction
31.  The Most Fun We Ever Had, Claire Lombardo, literary fiction
32.  Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo, literary fiction
33.  The Keepers Of The House, Shirley Ann Grau, literary fiction
34.  Get Lucky, Katherine Center, women's fiction
35.  Dead Reckoning, Caitlin Rother, nonfiction true crime
36.  The Fallen, David Baldacci, mystery
37.  The Fix, David Baldacci, mystery
38.  Redemption, David Baldacci, mystery
39.  Righteous, Joe Ide, mystery
40.  The Silence Of The Girls, Pat Barker, literary fiction
41.  Your Blue Is Not My Blue, Aspen Matis, memoir

I've been buying a lot of the Booker and Orange Prize nominees.  Here are the physical books that came through the door:

1.  Operation Wandering Soul, Richard Powers, literary fiction, purchased
2.  Communion Town, Sam Thompson, literary fiction, purchased
3.  The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman, literary fiction, purchased
4.  Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty, science fiction, purchased
5.  Satin Island, Tom McCarthy, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Philida, Andre Brink, literary fiction, purchased
7.  Fever Of The Bone, Val McDermid, mystery, purchased
8.  The Plague Of Doves, Louise Erdrich, literary fiction, purchased
9.  Is This Tomorrow, Caroline Leavitt, literary fiction, purchased
10.  The MacGuffin, Stanley Elkin, literary fiction, purchased
11.  The World Before Us, Aislinn Hunter, literary fiction, purchased
12.  Richard Dooling, White Man's Grave, literary fiction, purchased

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Cloudstreet, Tim Winton, paperback
2.  Underland, Richard McFarland, audio
3.  Innocents And Others, Dana Spiotta, Kindle Fire
4.  The Table Of Less Valued Knights, Marie Phillips, paperback
5.  The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce, paperback
6.  The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, Kindle Fire
7.  Three Things About Elsie, Joanna Cannon, Kindle Fire
8.  The Happy Isles Of Oceania, Paul Theroux, paperback
9.  The Cold Cold Ground, Adrian McKinty, audio

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Lord Of Chaos by Robert Jordan

This is book six in the Wheel Of Time series.  In this novel, more of the main characters are brought back together.  Perrin senses that Rand needs him and he and his wife travel to the city where Rand is currently located.  Min also reunites with Rand and is determined to make him see her as more than a friend.  Mat is already there and serving as a general much to his dismay.  Even Lolial, the ogre has reunited with Rand as he has been staying with Perrin and comes with him.

But not everyone is there.  Elayne and Nynaeve are off on a mission to find a plate that will control weather even though Rand is looking for Elayne to make her Queen in her homeland.  Egwene has the biggest change.  She has been in the village where the Aes Sedai have gathered who fled the White Tower, after studying with the Aiel Wise Ones.  She is shocked to be selected as the new Amyrlin Seat at her young age and experience.  Can she live up to the new responsibilities?

Rand is determined to fight Sammael, one of the Forsaken.  He is gathering an army and deciding on strategy.  Many believe that he had Morganse, Elayne's mother, killed and that causes some discontent.  In reality, she fled and is amassing an army of her own.  Rand is visited by delegations from both the White Tower and the new gathering of Aes Sedai.  He doesn't trust either and soon will learn that he is right to do so.  This book is recommended for readers of epic fantasy.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Day Of The Dead by Nicci French

For ten years, psychologist Frieda Klein has been in the shadow of a psychopath, Dean Reeve.   She originally was treating his twin brother for depression.  Dean killed him and began to impersonate him.  Frieda was the only person who recognized what was happening.  Since then, Dean has indiscriminately killed and killed again, anyone who got in his way or just random people if he wanted to leave a message.  But one message is clear; he is obsessed with Frieda and will kill anyone he thinks is bothering her or too close to her.  Perhaps he wants to kill her himself.

Lola is a young college student, spending her days larking about with her friends and attending classes.  When she needs a topic for her dissertation, she is steered onto the topic of Frieda by one of the lecturers in her college, a man who dislikes Frieda as she has shown his analysis of cases to be wrong several times.  Lola tries to contact Frieda but has little success so she starts to contact Frieda's friends and people she has worked with in the past.  Frieda is apparently in hiding, gone to be out of Reeve's sight and hopefully obsession.

As Lola wanders around trying to contact Frieda, she instead runs into Reeve.  When she does finally meet Frieda, Frieda sees a picture of Dean on Lola's phone and she knows Lola's life as she knows it is done.  She hustles Lola to her apartment and gives her ten minutes to grab anything she wants.  She throws away Lola's phone and cuts off her Internet access.  Lola and Frieda are on the run, moving from place to place one short step ahead of Reeve.  Frieda feels that things are coming to a head and soon either she or Reeve will be gone.  Which will it be?

The Frieda Klein series is one of the top series in the mystery genre.  Readers have followed Frieda for years, getting to know her and intimately feeling what being the focus of a psychopath would be like.  They have grieved with Frieda over the deaths Reeve creates and cheered as she solved mysteries sometimes with and sometimes without the police.  They have been consoled as Frieda pulls together a group of family and friends to sustain her.  Above all, they have worried about her as Dean's focus on her gets deadlier through the years.  The ending of this series is sad but gives resolution and this novel is recommended for readers of mystery.

Friday, May 29, 2020

In A Strange City by Laura Lippman

Private investigator Tess Monaghan didn't like this client from the start.  A small, roundish man, he reminded her of a pig.  Something about his story didn't ring true.  He claimed to have been scammed out of a priceless necklace, one that the wife of Napoleon's brother had owned.  He said that he knew who had it and how to get it back.

Every year, on Edgar Allen Poe's birthday, an anonymous figure leaves three roses and a half-full bottle of wine on his gravestone.  It was a Baltimore legend and no one had ever found out who it was.  But this man said he knew and knew the man was the one who stole his necklace.  He wants Tess to go there that night and follow the man home so he would know where he lived.

It just didn't sound right.  Add in the fact that Tess, like most natives of Baltimore, didn't really want for the anonymous figure to be identified and it was easy to turn the case down.  But it stirred her curiosity and that of her boyfriend and they decided to go that night and view the event.  It ends in tragedy when two figures instead of the expected one arrive and when one is shot and killed.

Now there are bigger questions, questions of murder.  As Tess works the case, she runs into unique characters in the antique business and another female PI who isn't afraid to get physical and who seems to have a real grudge against Tess.  There is also a reference librarian who helps her with information about Poe and a newspaper reporter who always gives her good ideas.  Along the way, Tess starts to get roses and threatening notes and she appears to be the killer's next target.  Can she solve the case?

This is the sixth novel in the Tess Monaghan series.  Tess is an interesting character; a former newspaper reporter whose nose for scandal and ability to see ahead led her to her new career as a private investigator.  The author's love for Baltimore shows through in these books and the reader will learn lots of interesting facts about the city and its inhabitants.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Heat And Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhablava

Heat And Dust tells the story of Colonial India under the control of England in the 1920's and in particular, the story of Olivia Rivers.  A young woman, Ann, has come to India.  She is there to explore and to track down the story of Olivia who was her grandfather's first wife.  Upon an estate being settled, the woman received a packet of  Olivia's letters back home and she is determined to walk in Olivia's shoes and find out the truth of a family scandal.

Olivia came to India as the wife of Douglas, an English official.  They are pretty much newlyweds.  Olivia is excited to be in an exotic land but soon discovers that it is pretty much boring old England transported to another locale.  She is expected to stay in her home and not go out without escort.  Her social life is to be with the other officer's wives, where she finds lots of social clique and hierarchy where she is decidedly on the bottom.  Soon Olivia is bored out of her mind and desperate for some excitement.  Douglas is out all day involved in his job responsibilities, about which he rarely talks.  She is left adrift with no friends.

The English colony is invited to a party at the palace of the Nawab, a minor prince.  He is handsome and charming and Olivia is taken with him.  The Nawab has an English firend, Harry, who lives with him.  Soon the Nawab and Harry begin to visit Olivia during the day and soon a car is being sent for her most days to go to the palace.  She become smitten with the Nawab and is dismayed to find that the opinion of him in her circles is that he is a minor player attempting to be a bigger one, a con man who is probably involved with the roving bands of bandits who make travel difficult.

As the weeks go on, Olivia begins an affair with the Nawab.   She finds herself pregnant with no idea if the child is that of Douglas or her Indian lover.  Her handling of this pregnancy and her subsequent decision to run off and live with the Nawab creates a scandal that Ann is interested to explore.

This novel won the Booker Prize in 1975.  It is an interesting juxtaposition of Colonial India and the more modern one of the 1970's.  Olivia knew only the upper echelons of society while Ann makes her home among the poorest and makes friendships with marginalized individuals.  It is a short novel that points out such themes as the pitfalls of colonizing countries, the effect of merging cultures and the expectations of women in different times.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

In this novel, Salman Rushdie takes on many aspects of our modern lives through the lens of the Don Quixote story.  In this version, Quichotte is an Indian pharmaceutical salesman who spends his life traveling the roads of America as he visits doctors and sells them the various medicines his extremely successful cousin, Dr. Smile, has created in his company.  When Smile decides that Quichotte has become too old and strange, he lays him off.  But Quichotte needs a mission and he soon settles on one.  He falls in love with Salma R, an Indian talk show host whose various life stumbles are part of her draw to the women who watch her show and try to emulate her.  He realizes that it will not be easy to win Salma's love and begins a slow courtship via letters.  He spends his time slowly driving from the West back to New York where she lives, using the trip to make himself a better person and try to understand the world around him.  He is accompanied by the son, Sancho, who Quichotte imagined into life.

The outer story of this story is that of novelist, Sam DuChamp, a former spy novelist who has created Quichotte to work out his own issues.  DuChamp needs to reconcile with his sister.  He fell out with her decades ago and now feels the need to reunite with her, only to find that she is losing a battle with cancer.  As he works through this trauma, he also uses the Quichotte story to work through other issues.

Rushdie takes on many issues in this novel.  There is the issue of opioid addiction, and Rushdie has a personal issue with this, having lost his youngest sister to it thirteen years ago.  There is the racism that Quichotte and Sancho encounter on their long journey across America.  There is the corruption of massive corporations.  There is the promise and danger of technology in our daily lives.  There is the danger of television and reality programming that promises truth while delivering a sculptured, manufactured lie.  Readers will find much to think and talk about as they read this novel and unwind its many layers.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

The narrator of this book opens with a tragic event.  She is an author, living in New York in a small city apartment.  She is rocked by the news that her long time friend, another author, is dead.  A suicide.  She spends days trying to deal with this unexpected blow, wondering why and what could have been done.

Just as she is beginning to reconcile herself, she gets a communication from one of her friend's ex-wives; he had three of them.  She learns that one of her friend's last wishes is that she become the guardian of his beloved dog.  The problem?  This is a large Harlequin Great Dane, an animal that needs space and exercise.  She lives in a very small apartment, one which doesn't allow pets.

The author isn't the only one grieving.  The dog, Apollo, was found one night by the friend in Central Park, already an adult dog.  He was obviously trained and housebroken.  How had he come there?  Despite extensive searches, no prior owner could be found.  The friend decided to keep Apollo.  Now Apollo is heartbroken due to his master's death.  Who knows what prior tragedies this one recalls?

Although the author isn't interested in having a pet and despite the fact that her apartment owners start eviction notices, she decides that it would be too disorienting to find another owner for Apollo.  Over the days and weeks that follow, Apollo becomes less distraught and begins to accept the author.  She also becomes attached to Apollo.  Soon they make a bonded pair.  Together they learn to accept the death of their friend and move on to the future.

Sigrid Nunez has created an interesting novel based on the premise of what pet ownership means to humans.  Why do we want to attach another being to us?  What roles does an animal play in our lives?  What do we owe an animal we have brought into our homes?  The ruminations on these subjects and others on the animal-human spectrum will entertain and bring up topics of thought.  This book won the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction and animal lovers.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Libby Jones has just turned twenty-five.  That's a milestone birthday for anyone but especially for her.  That's the day she reaches the age at which her trust about which she knows nothing is viable.  Along with not knowing anything about the trust, she doesn't know anything about her life before she was adopted at ten months by her parents.  She wonders if she will get all the answers she has been waiting for.

The first surprise is that she has inherited a mansion in one of the most expensive London neighborhoods.  The kind of property that is worth millions.  But that's where the good news stops.  Far from losing her parents in a car accident, she learns that they were suicide victims who left her in a crib while they died.  Apparently, she also has/had siblings about whom nothing is known since that day as they vanished and have never been found.  Were they killed?  There was also another man found dead with her parents and he was never identified.  There were rumors of other adults living in the house along with other children, all with no identity and all never heard from.  Libby has been handed a mystery.

The mystery continues as she attempts to reconcile the stories she has been told with the truth.  While in the house one day, she hears someone upstairs, yet the doors were all locked when she entered.  Is she imagining things?  The truth when she learns it, brings both horror and joy.

This is the second Lisa Jewell novel I've read.  This one was particularly interesting to me with many characters who were relatable.  The mystery unfolds slowly enough that the reader is drawn into the events, imagining how things must have been and slowly realizing the horror that the house was.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, May 22, 2020

A Necessary End by Peter Robinson

Even in the small town where Inspector Alan Banks lives, there is conflict.  This day is one of those days.  There is a demonstration against nuclear power and against allowing more American military in the area.  But something goes wrong and after the fighting between demonstrators and police stop, a policeman lies dead.

The policeman was not on of Bank's men but an officer brought in from a neighboring town who volunteered for the overtime.  But the police organization feels that the local force shouldn't be in charge of the investigation and sends a DCI from London to oversee it.  Banks is not happy with the choice, 'Dirty Dick' Burgess, a man he served with before and with whom he clashed.  Burgess is all about the quick solve and using any tactics to get a confession.

The obvious suspects are a group of people who have banded together to live a simple life on a farm.  The people there are craftsmen, furniture makers, pottery, art and other creative endeavors.  Most of them were at the demonstration along with local students who have formed a Marxist organization at the local college and a thirty-something protester who is dating a woman Banks considers a friend.  Burgess homes in immediately at one of the men at the farm as his suspect.  His interrogation tactics leave all the suspects even more suspicious of the police and Banks isn't sure that the truth will emerge.  Can Banks solve the crime before someone innocent is convicted?

This is the third novel in the Banks series.  Robinson portrays an unsophisticated country where farming and crafting are the norm.  Yet one thing I love is that when he goes into these country homes, the books he sees laying about are the classics such as Middlemarch.  Inspector Banks loves music, all kinds but especially blues and folk and it is a central trait of his to listen as he attempts to figure out the crimes he is faced with.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Office Of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian

America-Five is perfection.  Those living within have no wants unsupplied.  Their bodies are repaired if necessary and their lives are infinite.  Everyone has a job that supports the compound and lives are communal and structured.  No child is born until there is three times the resources that are needed to sustain it, and children are born in large cohorts that are raised by groups. As one ages, their job responsibilities and knowledge increases as well.

Surely it is the best of all worlds.  In fact, it is so perfect that the inhabitants have created an Office Of Mercy.  The purpose of the office is to constantly scan the environment outside the compound, where danger abounds.  Those humans who survived the great apocalypse which sent the America-Five citizens inside are pitied.  Their lives are barren and short.  Surely it is a mercy to end their suffering when they are detected.  Bands of humans are swept away by weapons that rain down fire on them and destroy them.

Natasha works in the Office of Mercy.  She is proud of her ability to successfully scan the Outside and proud to be on the teams that sweep away those who are out there suffering.  She is still young and rooms with someone.  Her best friends are her roommate, a man from her cohort who also works in the Office of Mercy and her boss, Jeffrey.

When a situation arises that will require Outside in person surveillance, Natasha is excited to be chosen as part of the team.  Most inhabitants of America-Five never go outside in their entire lives so it is quite an honor.  But things are very different than Natasha expects to find.  She gets lost and finds herself in close contact with a group of outsiders.  She is shocked to realize she can emphasize with them and that they are more like her than not.  Is the Mercy the blessing she has always be taught or is it genocide that cannot be defended?

Ariel Djanikian has written a debut novel that explores the interaction of humanity with technology and what changes might occur as we become more and more dependent on technology in our daily lives.  Her vision of the future is one that readers will have a hard time believing could ever be better than the freedom we expect in our daily lives.  Is freedom to fail more important than a leveled out society where all decisions are made for you?  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction.