Friday, December 14, 2018

Absent Friends by Frederick Busch


In this anthology of fourteen stories, Frederick Busch explores how individuals deal with the missing parts of their lives, whether they attempt to rediscover it, to move past it, to be crushed by it or to move on to discover something else to take its place.  In the first story, From The New World, a man deals with the fact that his family will never accept the woman he loves and will try to control him even from beyond the grave through their money and influence.  In the last story, To The Hoop, he deals with a man and his son who are dealing with the aftermath of their mother and wife committing suicide and choosing to leave them.  Between, the dozen stories talk about loneliness, the aching to belong and the lengths individuals will go to in order to fill the voids in their lives.

Frederick Busch is known as an author's author; he is respected by those who know writing and are amazed at his ability to eloquently outline the human condition.  He has written several anthologies and several novels such as The Night Inspector or Girls.  This fifth book of stories is dedicated to Reynolds Price, another author who falls in the same category of a writer admired by other writers.  Busch was a professor of literature at Colgate University and a winner of the 1991 PEN/Malamud Award for short stories.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Border Child by Michel Stone


Life is hard for Hector and Lilia in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.  Hector works long hours at a physically tasking job in order to provide them a living.  Lilia looks after their toddler and is about to give birth again.  She works as a potter as the women in her family always have in order to make a little more money.  It's a hard life, not the one the pair had dreamed of as young lovers and then a young married couple.

Their dream was to go to the United States, where work was more plentiful and the money was much better.  Hector went first and found a job in South Carolina which was too far away for him to visit.  Lilia decided to follow him but when she reached the border her coyote said that he wouldn't take her across with her baby, Alexandra.  Instead, he would take her and his friend, a woman, would take the baby and meet them across the river.  Lilia didn't like the plan but had no other resources so reluctantly agreed.  She made it across the river by swimming but the woman never came to the agreed meeting place.  When Hector met up with her, they spent frantic days searching but there was no word and no trace of their baby.  They reluctantly moved on to South Carolina to make money to extend their search.  They were ultimately arrested and deported back to Mexico.

The loss carved a hole in their marriage.  It was almost impossible for Hector to forgive Lilia for her foolishness that had cost them their child.  Now, with a son and another baby about to be born, they have reached an equilibrium in their marriage.  It isn't the same as it was when they were young, but it has its joys along with its difficulties. 

Then a miracle occurs.  They find the man who arranged their passage with the coyote.  The coyote was killed in a car wreck so there can be no answers from him about their Alexandra but they discover that a woman and a baby were also in the wreck.  The woman was also killed but the baby survived.  Was that woman the one Lilia trusted with Alexandra?  Did Alexandra survive and if so, where was she now?  Hector immediately prepares for a journey to find out what happened three years ago and if Alexandra is still alive to rejoin their family.  He leaves Lilia, heavily pregnant, behind as they search for the missing piece of their family.  Will they be successful?

Michel Stone has written a moving account of why families immigrate and the perils they face as they do it without the legal protections that exist for legal immigrants.  Those who come illegally are at the mercy of whomever they meet, to provide work, to keep their secrets, to not cheat them or take too much from them.  Sometimes, tragedies occur and may rip families apart.  The reader feels for Hector and Lilia and their child who is torn from them.  This book is recommended for readers interested in current events.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Innocents by Ace Atkins


Things are different for Quinn Colson this time around at home in Jericho, Mississippi.  Colson has been in and out of the Army serving as a Ranger for a decade, reupping whenever home causes issues.  The last time Quinn was home, he was the Sheriff but he lost in the reelection.  He's thinking about going back to Iraq but as a contractor this time.  But things are pretty hot at home also and he's got to decide if he'll stay and help out there or go back overseas.

The new sheriff is a woman, Lillie Virgil.  She seems to have things under control or at least until Fannie Hathcock moves into town and takes over the local nude bar.  She uses a motorcycle gang to serve as enforcement and the whole scene is getting out of control.  When a former high school cheerleader is found murdered gruesomely after a short stint at Fannie's place, tempers run high and Lillie finds she needs help and offers Quinn a job as deputy.  Together they try to find out what happened that night to the girl and who was behind it.

This is the sixth novel in the Quinn Colson case.  Readers will appreciate him; he is a salt of the earth, decent man who takes care of others and does what he can to make his country better, whether its serving in the military or helping out back home.  Colson has issues but they don't stop the reader from liking him.  The mystery of what happened to the cheerleader is interesting and the bigger crime that is uncovered in the process is surprising.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Missing by Chris Mooney



Darby McCormick is a typical teenage girl, at least until that day in the woods.  Darby and her friends, Stacy and Melanie, are headed for their party place when they come across a man killing a woman.  They escape, but somehow the killer tracks them and before everything is over, Stacy is killed and Melanie is kidnapped.  Somehow, Darby manages to escape her friends' fate.

Twenty-five years later, Darby is now a criminologist with a doctorate in forensic investigation.  Her work gives her a way to silence the fears left behind from the trauma in her past.  That is, until another girl is kidnapped the way Melanie was.  Determined to find this girl, Darby, her partner Coop and the FBI soon determine that the case is bigger than one girl.  In fact, this is a serial killer the FBI has long called The Traveller, and he is responsible for murders going back thirty years.  In fact, it becomes apparent that he was the man from Darby's past, although another man was held responsible for those crimes.  Can Darby find the killer and put her past behind her?

This is the first in a series of eight thrillers starring Darby McCormick.  Although the formula is now common, with shows like Criminal Minds and podcasts and documentaries about true crime, its commonness does not take away its power to terrify.  This is a chilling book about a diabolical killer and the reader will be compelled to turn the pages until the resolution is complete.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The End Of The Wasp Season by Denise Mina


Alex Morrow's job as a homicide detective in Scotland is difficult enough.  But working the job while being pregnant with twins is another level of difficulty.  Alex is about to go out on maternity leave but the call comes in of a murder so she goes out to investigate what may be her last case before she leaves for the break.

It's a horrific crime.  A young woman, home to settle her recently deceased mother's estate, has been found in her childhood home.  The victim of an apparent home invasion, she has been brutally beaten to death.  Alex and her staff find some clues to go on, but when it is discovered that the woman made the money to care for her mother through prostitution, sympathy for her and interest in her case decreases.  Alex knows that's not fair but its life.

In addition to working the crime, Alex is especially challenged by this crime.  Interviewing witnesses brings her back to her childhood and her childhood friends.  Alex got out of the projects; most of her friends did not.  Even more troubling, the gangster brother she has distanced herself from is back in her life, asking for favors.  Can she balance all these issues while providing justice for the victim?

This is the second in the Alex Morrow series by Mina.  Readers will be drawn to Alex and the way she is singularly engaged in the work she has chosen.  Mina uses the novel to make points about family dysfunction and how our pasts influence our presents.  This is more of a police procedural than a mystery and its always interesting to see how police work is done in different locales.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Welcome Thieves by Sean Beaudoin


In this anthology of twelve stories, Sean Beaudoin explores everyday life from an offbeat, darker point of view.  Beaudoin made his mark writing YA novels but these stories show that he is an expert at working his way into adult minds and minds that aren't the ordinary ones.  These are minds at the edge of society and the situations he narrates are not your everyday normal occurrences.

In And Now Let's Have Some Fun, the reader is transported into the world of professional boxing.  In D.C. Metro, we meet Penny, who is renting a room and trying to go straight but who falls back into destructive habits she can't seem to escape.  Exposure is about a tenement apartment house and its inhabitants.  The Rescues take us inside the world of a collegiate lacrosse player after he has sacrificed his body for his sport and is left at an early age to figure out the rest of his life.  In each story, there is an offbeat aspect but also a human commonality that lets the reader feel that we are truly all connected, that there are emotions and experiences we all can relate to.  This book is recommended for literary fiction and anthology readers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Something For Nothing by David Anthony


All Martin Anderson wants is what he doesn't have.  Yes, he has a beautiful wife, but the neighbor's wive is more enticing.  Yes, he has a business where he sells planes and an ocean cruiser and a racehorse but he desperately needs money.  He's sure he is going broke, that everyone is always talking about him, that there is something out there, just out of reach, that will finally satisfy him.

When his horse trainer approaches him with a get rich quick plan, Martin is ready to listen.  The business isn't doing that well in the oil crisis of the 1970's, and Martin just needs a cash infusion to ride it out until things get better.  His partner, Val, has just the thing.  The DEA is cracking down on heroin brought in from Mexico.  The border checkpoints are getting harder and harder to get product through.  But Martin could fly down, load up the heroin and bring it back.  He doesn't need to do anything else and he can make five thousand for every trip.  Martin isn't sure but then agrees.  What can go wrong?

Apparently, lots can go wrong.  Martin is consumed with guilt about his role, sure that the police will show up any day.  When a DEA agent does show up, to ask about a plane he sold a few months before, Martin is thrown into a panic.  His marriage is having issues and his son isn't sure Martin is the hero he has always thought he was.  Can he pull it out before everything is lost?

David Anthony has written an engaging debut novel.  Martin is a character who the reader knows is doing wrong but can't help emphasizing with and liking.  The drama goes slowly from event to event until it is snowballing down the cliff, taking the reader along.  Although the situations are dire, humor is found throughout and Martin, the ultimate Everyman, gets the reader's sympathy.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller


Inspired by my resolution to read more classic novels and by the fact that the author Henry Miller played a part in this season's Durrells in Corfu PBS series, I pulled this novel off my shelf one afternoon.  An account of Miller's life in Paris after deciding that the United States was soul deadening, it was banned in this country for thirty years due to its explicit, sexual nature.

For many people, Miller does not come off well.  He is broke, his days spent roaming the sidewalk cafes and poor hotels searching for friends who might buy him a meal.  His friends are mostly in the same straits; searching for food, money and of course sex.  Miller has left his wife behind in the States and the fact that he is married has no effect on his constant searching for women.  He and his friends have little regard for the women they sleep with, describing them in crude terms and treating them with little regard.

Although one may not have wanted Miller as a friend, his ability as an author jumps off the page.  The writing is vibrant and immediate and the reader is transported to a Paris the tourists don't see.  It is one of poverty but freedom, the freedom to make a life that is what an artist needs. It describes men and women who are willing to live in poverty to have the freedom to carve out lives that matter, that allow them to freely express who they are.   It is obvious why this novel is considered one of the classics of literature and the language and attitudes don't seem any worse than much of what is commonplace in books and movies today.  This book is recommended for literary readers.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Murder In Hindsight by Ann Cleeland


They make a strange couple.  Kathleen Doyle is a sheltered, Irish Catholic girl who joined the police but retained her innocence.  Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair is also Lord Acton, one of England's wealthiest heirs.  They work together on the London police force and when Acton sees Doyle one day, he instantly falls in love with her.  He is actually obsessed with her and quickly convinces her that they must marry.  Now each is famous in their own way.  Acton has long been a darling of the press, his aristocratic background a major story in every situation.  Kathleen becomes a media darling when she jumps from a bridge to save her partner from drowning. 

A new case has come to light.  There is apparently a serial killer at work, one who has gone undetected for a while.  His victims follow no pattern of race, gender, social class or means of execution so there has been no connection.  Doyle, who Acton has put on working cold cases to keep her safe, makes the connection that each of the victims were individuals who had committed a crime themselves and escaped without legal consequence.  There is a vigilante on the loose. 

In the meantime, Acton's actions have made him a target for a shadowy figure.  He has, at times, taken the law into his own hands, and is, in fact, a vigilante who has killed before himself.  Now there is apparently a plot to get back at him and he has plenty of secrets to hide.  Can Doyle solve the murders while discovering how to save her husband?

This novel is the third in the Doyle and Acton series.  The characters are interesting but there are serious flaws in them.  It is hard to engage with a policeman who decides that the laws don't apply to him and who takes the lives of others when he decides it is best.  The worst thing that can be said about the characters is the author's insistence that everyone who meets either of them immediately falls permanently in love with them.  For Doyle, that is her partner, a shadowy figure mixed up in the plot against her husband and of course, her husband.  For Acton, it includes a journalist, a former lover at his ancestral home and every woman who comes in contact with him.  The couple have constant sex, several times daily, and yet constantly question if each other really loves them.  These flaws, if corrected, would make this a more engaging series.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Autumn by Ali Smith


Elisabeth grows up a lonely child.  Raised by a distracted and at times neglectful single mother and having little in common with most children, Elisabeth spends most of her time alone.  That is, until she meets her neighbor, an older gentleman named Daniel Gluck.  Daniel is literate and witty and knows things about the world that her mother would never think of wanting to know.  Her mother isn't sure about him but comes to depend on him as single mothers do with those near to them that are willing to help.

Despite an age gap of seven decades, Elisabeth soon finds Daniel to be one of the central figures of her life, giving her things to consider and think about she had never imagined and opening her life.  Daniel loves art and literature and music and he exposes Elisabeth to all of that.  In particular, he loves the work of a sixties female artist named Pauline Boty and that is the subject that Elisabeth eventually chooses as her doctorate dissertation. 

The novel picks up again when Elisabeth is 32 and Daniel is 101 and living in a care facility.  Elisabeth goes to see him regularly although he is in a type of coma and only sleeps while she is there.  She still goes regularly, reading aloud to him and reminiscing about their time together.  She is now a part-time art lecturer and is trying to form a closer relationship with her mother.  She uses her time sitting with Daniel to think about her life and put it into a form she can understand.

This is the first of an anticipated four book sequence.  The form is loose, like the ramblings of a mind left to ponder things in unguarded moments.  Along the way, Smith talks about how she finds the world or at least her corner of it, after Brexit, with a government who doesn't seem to care about its people, about how art can speak to us when we are straining for connection.  It was nominated for Best Book Of The Year by such publications as The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, The Guardian, NPR, and The Washington Post.  This book is recommended for readers willing to think about what their lives mean and readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Booksie's Shelves, November 17, 2018


It's almost Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays.  It's about family and food, not as much about commercialism or tons of decorating.  All in all, it's a pretty low stress holiday.  My son and all four grandkids are coming this year for the first time; my daughter will be coming home from college and DH will be here as well.  My plan is a big meal, followed by football and reading.  To aid in the reading, here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Love Can Be, anthology, sent by publisher
2,  Grace After Henry, Eithne Shortall, literary fiction, won online
3.  Astounding, Alec Nevala-Lee, nonfiction, sent by publisher
4.  The Librarians And The Pot Of Gold, Greg Cox, thiller, sent by publisher
5.  Death's Favorite Child, Frankie Bailey, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Roar Of The Sky, Beth Cato, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  In Defense Of Guilt, Benjamin Berkley, mystery, sent by author
8.  Golden State, Ben Winters, literary fiction, won online
9.  The Dogs Of Christmas, W. Bruce Cameron, anthology, sent by publisher
10.  Mechanical Animals, anthology, sent by publisher
11.  The Winters, Lisa Gabriele, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm reading:

1.  Rembrandt's Eyes, Simon Schama, hardcover
2.  Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Kindle Fire
3.  The Templars, Dan Jones, hardcover
4.  Absolute Proof, Peter James, audio

5.  The End Of The Wasp Season, Denise Mina, Kindle Fire
6.  The Children's Crusade, Ann Packer, hardcover
7.  Something For Nothing, David Anthony, paperback
8.  Welcome Thieves, Sean Beaudoin, paperback

Happy Reading!





Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Devil's Half Mile by Paddy Hirsch


When Justy Flanagan returns to his hometown of New York, he is changed from his time in England.  He left an angry young man, uneducated and ashamed of his family ties to one of the most powerful underbosses of the city.  His father had just died and he knew he wanted something else, something more.  That same underboss, his uncle, had paid for Justy's time abroad and his education as a lawyer.  Now Justy has returned with a mission, to find out who was responsible for his father's murder.

Justy didn't just get a legal education during his time away.  He also spent time with the fledgling French police who were starting to approach crime and detection in a forensic manner.  Flanagan is fascinated with the ability to scientifically arrive at the truth.  He feels that his return will be profitable on both a financial and a personal level.

At first glance, not much has changed in 1799.  His uncle still rules the waterfront.  The same financial scalawags who almost crashed the nation's economy are still at work, although it took Alexander Hamilton to rescue the nation's economy the last time they plotted to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.  These financiers are ensconced on the Devil's Half-Mile, or Wall Street.  Justy is able to work his way into their company with his new legal skills and connections.

He soon discovers things are not much better.  Girls are being killed and discarded.  Crime is still rampant everywhere and his best friend, Kerry, has turned to street crime and maybe worse.  Kerry has also grown up and is now a beautiful woman, not the pesky tomboy that followed him everywhere.  Justy realizes that the same men are back to their financial tricks, a modified Ponzi scheme that has the ability to trash the entire economy.  Can Justy prevent their schemes while avenging his father?

Paddy Hirsch has created an intriguing figure in his main character, Justy.  America's colonial times and the start of our government and institutions is under a revival with plays such as Hamilton and TV shows about the era.  The mix of historical fiction and thriller is a potent one and readers will enjoy the mix.  This book is recommended for mystery and history readers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver


Dellarobia Turnbow is the first person to see them.  Thousands, maybe millions of brilliant monarch butterflies who turn the mountain on her husband and in-law's farm to molten gold.  What are they doing there?  Are they a miracle sent to brighten her life?  Is God speaking to them all?

Dellarobia could use a miracle.  She sees nothing but tedium ahead of her in her rural Tennessee life.  She married early to a kind man who she will never love and the best they have been able to do in life is to live on her in-laws land in a house the in-laws built them and under the in-laws thumb.  She had hoped to be one of the first to get out, to go to college but an early pregnancy put paid to all that.  Now there is no work and little money, just a constant scrabble to pay the bills and provide for her two children.  She is under her mother-in-law's rule and that means going to church whenever the doors open and doing whatever she's told.  What does this beauty mean in such a tattered, hopeless life?

As the word of the butterflies gets out, things start to change.  A team of scientists come to study the butterflies and what this change in their migration pattern means.  Dellarobia gets to know them and to work for them as a general manager to the college students who come to volunteer.  She is surrounded by people who have science as their base knowledge and who see this as a cautionary event, not a wonderful thing.  Her son is entranced with these new people and Dellarobia sees him stretching and growing and starting to see possibilities that she is determined to find a way to give him.  Her in-laws are not happy and the townspeople aren't sure what to think of all the tourists.  The church hasn't weighed in but Dellarobia knows that may be the determining factor of everything in this area that is so connected to it.

Barbara Kingsolver's novels often use literature to illustrate the way our world is changing and the dangers of how civilization and the consumer society threaten our world.  She uses natural wonders to illustrate the themes of science, responsible behavior and the ability to use knowledge to transform lives.  This book does all that and the reader will find themselves both appalled at what is happening and cheering for Dellarobia to make the changes that will enrich her life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Cassowary Hill by David de Vaux


In this debut novel, Tom Pryce-Bower lives on an animal sanctuary in Australia.  Tom is a ghostwriter among other things and the peace and solitude suit him.  His days are surrounded by large birds called cassowaries, fruit foxes and the other animals that make up the inhabitants of an original forest on this continent.  Tom is divorced after finding out that his wife and best friend had an affair and is not quite sure what to do with his life from this point.

An old American acquaintance contacts Tom, suggesting that he might be the perfect person to help a young photographer with her memoirs.  Bia is from East Timor, an island nation that most have either never heard of, or have little knowledge of.  She was there during one of the worst governmental massacres in modern times and wants to tell that story along with her other life stories and display of her work.  The old friend, Emjay, becomes an important force in Tom's life.  A further change is when his former friend, Jack and a friend of Bia's decide to take on the United States government in the form of a former general who was involved in the East Timor's troubles.  Above all, Tom is in a phase of discovery, of what is important to him and how he wants to live the rest of his life.

This was an interesting novel and bodes well for the writing life of de Vaux.  The reader learns about many things; the flora and fauna of Australia, human events and evil done by governments, the culture of other lands and the ability to find love at any stage in one's life.  The novel is written in first voice and the reader may have difficulty separating the character from the actual novelist.  This book is recommended for readers of general fiction and those interested in discovering information they didn't know before. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo


Things are about the same in North Bath, a dying Rust Belt city.  There isn't much work and most of the city's young people are moving on.  That leaves a collection of older individuals, whose outlook is backward rather than forward most days.  Chief among them is Donald Sullivan, or Sully as he is known far and wide.  Everyone knows Sully and there are many stories told about him.  He is the type of charismatic person who others revolve around even if it isn't clear from the outside what draws others to him.  Sully has never been rich; he's made his living doing manual labor and he loves nothing more than making fun of the establishment and what others say needs to be done for a successful life.  But change has come to Sully.

The biggest issue in Sully's life these days is that there appears not to be much left of it.  The doctors are watching a heart condition and tell him that without treatment he will be lucky to have a year or two.  This makes changes in him.  He isn't working since one of his elderly neighbors left him her money about a year or so ago.  He isn't making love with his longtime married mistress, Ruth, although he doesn't stay away from her cafe where he has hung out for years.  His best friend, Rub Squeers, a handyman who doesnt' have other friends and is constantly worried that Sully doesn't like him either, now has another reason to worry about his relationship with Sully.  Sully has adopted a dog and named it Rub also.  Now no one is sure who he is talking to or about and that suits Sully's sense of humor just fine.  Then there is Doug Raymer, the town's police chief.  He's never been a friend of Sully's as it's obvious to everyone that Sully has little respect for the law.  But now Doug has his own problems.  His wife died recently in a fall down the stairs in their home and Doug hasn't been the same since.  He isn't sure if she fell or was pushed and finally decides that he needs to see the body again to determine and lay his suspicions to rest.  There is no one in the world who would help with his obsession and need to dig up the body except Sully so Raymer forms a temporary alliance with him.  Will Sully end his days and leave all the characters of North Bath behind?

This novel is a followup to Russo's novel, Nobody's Fool, where Sully and his friends were introduced.  It is a New York Times Notable Book.  Readers of the first novel will be entranced to pick up Sully's story years later and newcomers to Russo's work will be delighted by the irascible yet charming Sully.  Everyone loves him; it's just that no one knows why.  He holds nothing sacred, teases everyone yet his heart of gold peeks through.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.



Monday, November 5, 2018

Girl In The Afternoon by Serena Burdick


Many would envy eighteen year old Aimee Savaray.  She has been born to a wealthy French family and now in the 1870's, she seems to have it all.  Her father is successful and her mother is considered one of the leading lights of society.  She is an only child except for Henri, who is the son of a family friend but who has lived with them for many years.  Henri is an artist, and he encourages Aimee to paint also.  Then one night, Aimee and Henri kiss but before anything else can happen, he disappears in the night.

The family is stunned but accepts his disappearance after time.  Mrs. Savaray has a son after many disappointing trials at childbirth and Aimee loves her little brother.  She continues to paint and is mentored by one of the most famous artists of her time, Edourd Manet.  Several years later, the family finds Henri but his reappearance brings to light a dark family secret which tears the family apart.  Aimee also has a secret as does Henri.  Will all these secrets be displayed and will that clear the way for Henri and Aimee to be together?

Burdick has written an engaging historical novel that explores the Paris of the Impressionsists, highlighting the role of women and the emergence of a new way of looking at the world.  Aimee is a young girl who takes years to finally find her way and discover that secrets can tear a family apart so that it can never reunite.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter


Julia Carroll is a college freshman with the typical freshman issues.  She has two sisters still living at home that she has a tight relationship with.  Although she is living in a dorm, her parents live only a few minutes away, since to her dismay, the home town university had the best program in her chosen field.  Julia is interested in becoming a journalist.  She is also interested in shedding her virginity and keeping up her grades and all the other issues that come along with being out on one's own for the first time.

As she works on the school newspaper, she comes across the story of a girl her own age who disappeared and has not been heard from since.  The stories are ambivalent about this.  Was the girl drinking that night?  Was she careful on the street?  Was she flirting and leading on the men she met?  As Julia researches her case, she discovers that over twenty young women are snatched off the street or from their homes each year in her city.  Is there a common thread?  Some are raped, some are killed, some have just disappeared.  Is Julia right in suspecting that there is a common thread that links some of these girls?  Will that thread lead her to a dangerous place?

This is a novella by one of the top suspense writers.  Julia is recognizable as a college freshman with the typical problems and issues encountered as one works on becoming an independent adult.  The issue of women's safety is one that is relevant in every town, not just in college towns.  There is a twist at the end that the reader doesn't not expect.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Record Of A Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers


Hundreds of years ago, the Exodus Fleet had a mission; to rescue as many of Earth's inhabitants as possible by taking them into space as the planet became increasingly uninhabitable.  The descendants of those who left call them the Exodans and still live on the ship, even though through their journey they discover many habitable planets.  These days, few ever come to visit the Exodus, but Exodans often leave to live or visit other places. 

There is a definite society, based on the needs of a space fleet.  Nothing is wasted and all is recycled, lessons necessary in order to survive on a space ship.  Although they revere their culture, many of the other cultures they have come in contact with consider Exodans to be quite primitive.  The culture has taken some of the best of other cultures but still are insulted to be considered less than the technologically advanced civilizations they are surrounded by.

This novel focuses on the question of whether this Exodan culture is worth saving and if it still has a purpose hundreds of years after it served its original purpose.  This question is considered through the lives of several of the inhabitants; a caretaker of the dead, a woman who is raising her children while her husband travels to send back money, an archivist who is concerned with saving the story of each inhabitant, a young man searching for his purpose and career in life, and a rare visitor who thinks the Exodan society may be a starting over place for him. 

This is the third novel in the Wayfarer's series by Chambers.  They have been successful as the author manages to humanize the space environment as few other sci fi authors do.  Viewing the problems of a society very unlike ours yet facing many of the same human problems of the need for purpose and connectedness through the lives of the inhabitants brings the big questions down to a smaller, approachable platform.  This book is recommended for sci fi readers.

Monday, October 29, 2018

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy


It's 1948 in southern Texas, and sixteen year old John Grady Cole has his whole life laid out.  He has been raised on the farm that has belonged in his family for decades and he plans to live and die on it as well.  When his parents divorce and he finds that his mother plans to sell the farm, his world crumbles.  He and his cousin Lacey Rawlins decide to take their horses and ride down to Mexico to live the life he is denied at home.

The two boys ride down across the land, going further and further into Mexico.  Along the way they are approached by a fourteen year old boy, Jimmy Blevins, who has two distinguishing characteristics.  He is riding a thoroughbred of a horse that he insists is his, and he can shoot the leaf off a tree at a hundred paces.  He loses his horse after a storm and when he finds it and is refused ownership by the man who found it, Blevins steals his horse back.  He takes off with federales in close pursuit, leaving John Grady and Lacey to go on their way.

They end up at a large Mexican horse ranch.  They live the lives of gauchos, rounding up horses and breaking them to saddle.  John Grady gets to develop a personal relationship with the farm's owner, a wealthy man who is worldly having lived in many lands.  He appreciates John Grady's ability to do anything with a horse but he is outraged when John Grady falls in love with his daughter and she with him.  Soon, he betrays the boys by turning them in to the marshals, who are sure that they are as guilty as Jimmy Blevins.  How the boys turn into men and the hard lessons they learn as they do so make up this difficult yet beautiful novel.

Cormac McCarthy is one of the United States' national treasures.  He writes of a country and a way of life that has mostly disappeared and makes the reader believe in it.  John Grady personifies the belief that a man must work hard, be honest and make his word his bond while refusing to allow others to make him move from what he knows is right and honest.  The reader is taken along on the ride as John Grady learns what is important to him, what he can do and what he must accept.  The novel won a National Book Award in 1992 and is the first book in the Border Trilogy.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Crossing by Michael Connelly


Harry Bosch has retired and he doesn't like it.  He was forced out and has a lawsuit against the force and he is at loose ends without the career he has been dedicated to.  When his half-brother, Mickey Haller, asks him to look into the claims of a client that he is innocent, Bosch's first response is an emphatic no.  He and his fellow detectives regarded those in law enforcement that became defense investigators after retirement as traitors; that they had crossed the line.

But the more Bosch hears about the case, the harder it is for him to refuse his help.  A man is sitting in jail, charged with the brutal rape and murder of a Los  Angeles city worker who was married to a sheriff's deputy.  The man in jail had a record from his youth when he was in a gang, but that was years ago.  He is now an artist and claims he was in his studio working when the murder occurred.  What finally sways Bosch to look into those claims is the realization that if the charge was false that it meant the real killer was free and walking around, maybe to commit more crimes.

As Bosch looks into the case, it doesn't take long before he stirs up interest in the minds of his former co-workers.  As he expected, he is regarded as a turncoat.  As he digs in further, he begins to undercover a plot that will expose corruption unheard of and a series of related crimes that no one else has thought to put together.  None of that makes him any more popular.

This is the eighteenth novel in the Harry Bosch series.   Those who like the series will be interested to see how Harry reacts to retirement and to being at loose ends.  It is interesting to see how his instinct for when something doesn't seem right leads him to one of the biggest cases in his career.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Bernie And The Wizards by Steve LeBel


Bernie has a problem.  He's been given a project that as a god and a builder he should be able to solve.  A universe that another god has created isn't performing as expected.  It was created to produce guidpeppers.  At first everything worked fine and the production and harvest of the peppers proceeded on schedule.  But lately, something was wrong.  Pepper production was way down and even worse, the inhabitants of the planet, a docile group created for their docility and farming skills, were not acting normally at all.  There was a war going on with entire villages being burned and its inhabitants slaughtered.

Now Bernie has to fix someone else's mistakes and he has to do it quickly.  Much is expected of him as he has just won the most prestigious builder award in years.  He has to handle the publicity and adoration that has brought into his life, and that's a tall order for someone who has just finished his training and isn't really sure about himself at all.

Bernie visits the planet and what he discovers dismays him.  The inhabitants believe in magic, of all things, and their social structures revolve around the village shamans.  The shamans are the first born children of previous shamans and they must undergo seven years of intensive training to become fully vested to serve.  But the shamans have no answer to what is happening and the aggression that is tearing their society apart.  Worse, the builder gods are constantly threatening Bernie that the easiest thing to do would be to kill off all the inhabitants and start with a new species.  Since Bernie is one of the few gods to believe that their creations also have souls, he wants to find a solution that will avoid that.  Can he solve his problem and save the inhabitants?

Steve LeBel has created an interesting world that proves a setting in which ethical questions can be played out.  There is the question of whether these created individuals should have the same rights as the gods do.  There is the question of how Bernie will adapt to sudden fame and if he can retain his childhood friends when he is surrounded by others who now want to be with him.  There is even the problem of how he will handle his father who deserted the family but now wants to reconcile.  The reader will be interested to see how these problems are resolved.  This book is recommended for young adult fantasy readers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Beasts Of Extraordinary Circumstances by Ruth Emmie Lang


Not everyone is average.  It's taking Weylyn Grey a while to realize that.  Most children grow up in loving families and do all the normal childhood things like going to school, trick and treating, waiting for Santa, playing with their friends and learning to become adults from their parents.  Weylyn has a different route.  He grows up living with a wolf pack after his parents are killed.  He doesn't go to school and has no touchpoint with the usual childhood activities.  He doesn't have human friends until Mary finds him in the woods and befriends him.

But Weylyn knows his way is different.  Strange things happen around him.  Like having a horned pig for a pet.  Like having snowstorms come up from nowhere and drop inches of snow in a short time.  Like being able to stop a tornado or a hurricane or regrowing timber that was cut overnight.  The strangeness keeps others away and on the few occasions when Weylyn makes an attempt to be included, he soon pulls away himself to protect others from the natural disasters that seem to follow him around.  Can he ever find love?

Ruth Emmie Lang has written a charming book about an unforgettable charcter.  Weylyn draws the reader in and they cannot but help cheering him on, even as they experience the fact that his otherness seems to be the barrier that will forever keep him apart.  The connections between characters and the happenstances that are unreal but seem perfectly formed make this a book few will forget.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

The Lewis Man by Peter May


After his son is killed in a hit-and-run traffic accident, Fin Macleod's life falls apart.   His marriage is over as it was a passionless affair held together by the love each had for their son.  He ends up quitting his job as a detective inspector as it just doesn't mean anything to him anymore.  After his divorce goes through, Fin is drawn back to the land of his youth, The island of Lewis, an island high in the Scottish sea, remote yet compelling.  He left there as a young man and returns with a need to reinvent himself again.

Fin is not sure what he will do there but decides to start by rebuilding the ancient farmstead where his parents lived their lives.  He reunites with the people from his youth, his former love Marsaili and her son Fionnlagh, now a father himself, his best friend Donald, now a pastor.  He foresees himself living a quiet life, spending his time discovering what can make a life after he has lost everything but a quiet life is not to be.

A man is discovered buried deep in the peat that makes up the soil of the island.  At first it is thought that this is one of the famous bog men that occasionally turn up, men preserved for hundreds of years in the peat.  But a tattoo on the man's arm of Elvis puts paid to that idea.  Who is this man and how did he come to lie in the soil of Lewis?  How did he die and who was responsible?  Soon Fin is drawn into the mystery as it turns out that the man is related somehow to Marsaili's father, a man now lost in the fogs of dementia.  Can he solve the mystery and bring peace to those left in his life?

This was my first book written by Peter May and I've discovered another mystery author to follow.  The setting is wonderful, reminiscent of the series Shetland.  The characters are attempting to live their lives but their presents are overshadowed by their pasts.  Fin is a great character and the reader is drawn into his life, hoping that some good can come to a life burdened by loss and regret.  This book is recommended by mystery readers.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

White Bone by Ridley Pearson


Although it is unimaginable to those living in the United States, in many areas of the world ivory from the tusks of elephants and rhinos are highly prized and valuable.  They are used in spurious health remedies and virility extracts and there is never enough supply to meet the demand.  This leads to the deadly gangs of poachers in Africa and the entire network of ivory smugglers.  The park rangers attempt to capture the poachers and the government tries to stop the export but neither are very successful.  Add in a layer of governmental corruption and it seems that nothing can stop the murder of these animals.

Into this deadly stew, Grace Chu has gone missing.  Her military contractor partner, John Knox, drops everything and heads to Africa to find her.  Grace is a financial and computer expert and she went to find out where their employer's money has disappeared to.  In the process, she has run afoul of someone and is now nowhere to be found.

Knox uses unorthodox methods to find Grace.  He depends on a street smart teenager, a millionaire who has dedicated his life to saving the elephants.  A native policewoman is helpful when Knox needs help getting around or breaking through the layers of corruption.  A ranger, who is a legend for stopping as many poachers by whatever means he deems necessary is another ally.  Can this team of men and women find Grace in time?

Ridley Pearson has written a page turner of a novel that exposes the horrific world of ivory smuggling and those who are fighting to insure the animal's survival by whatever means necessary.  The plot is complex and the action is nonstop.  There is tension and an education in bush survival.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Templars by Dan Jones


Most people have heard of the Templars and the mysteries surrounding them.  They are still current in stories of the Middle Ages and most people have a nodding acquaintance on what they did and who they were.  In this comprehensive book, historian and award-winning journalist Dan Jones outlines the complete history of the order and their downfall.

The order of the Templars was created in 1119 when the Western Christian countries wanted to insure that they were in charge of Jerusalem, location of the majority of Christian shires and tourist sites.  Ownership of Jerusalem was hotly contested with various Muslim groups in the area with the Christians being in control at times and the Muslims at others.  Each tended to make worship at the others' sites difficult when they were in authority.  The Templars and the Hospitallars were created to fight the wars necessary to win the territory and to support those injured in the constant battles.

Many of the legends associated with the order came from the high profile of the various leaders of the Crusades.  Richard the Lionhearted of England, Louis IV of France and Frederick II of Prussia were some of the storied men who led the armies that fought for control.  On the Muslim side, such famous men as Saladin were in control.  These two sides fought for control over the area for hundreds of years.

Although the Templars were started as a monastic entity, over the years the order became very wealthy.  Kings and church leaders granted them lands and freedom from levies and taxes.  The Templars not only fought but provided banking services to others as they were trusted and had the military authority to secure funds.  They also provided security to tourists and made money shepherding them to and around the Holy Lands.

Finally, in the early 1300's, envy of the Templar's wealth and their stubborn insistence on their independence from governmental control brought them ruin.  On April 13, 1307, a Friday, hundreds of Templars in France were arrested and then tortured during their imprisonment until they made confessions that they were anti-Christian.  The Church became involved in a power struggle with the French king and finally to resolve it, declared the Templars disbanded.  The order was not persecuted in other countries as they were in France, but their power and wealth were over. 

This is an interesting compilation of what is known about the Templars.  Readers may be surprised at the sheer numbers killed in the Crusades and at how often the Christians were utterly defeated only to rise and try again and again.  Jones has written extensively on English history and he brings his easy to read style to this topic as well.  This book is recommended for nonfiction and history readers.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott


If your family has an exceptional child, your life is different from those of other families.  Every resource the family has, time, money, attention is spent on supporting that child and making sure he or she reaches the goal they are pushing toward.  That was the case of the Knox family.  Their daughter, Devon, is a golden girl of gymnastics, one of the few each year who has the realistic potential to make the Olympic team and even medal at the next Olympic games.

Everything the Knox family did, it did with that goal in mind.  Katie, the mom, leaves her full-time job so that she can spend the time taking Devon to practises at a gym that can support her.  There is a second mortgage on the house and Eric, the dad, serves as the parent representative.  There aren't vacations; only family trips to distance cities where Devon is competing and maybe a few hours snatched between rounds.  The money goes quickly on gym fees, private coaching, competition leotards at several hundred dollars each, hotel bills, eating out, etc.  Devon's little brother, Drew, grows up on bleachers where he and his mother spend hours waiting on Devon to end practice.

Now, it's about time for all those sacrifices to pay off.  Devon is approaching the biggest trial in her career, the one that will put her in the stratosphere from which the Olympic team is chosen.  Nothing, nothing can be allowed to distract her or take time from her preparation.  Then something does anyhow.  A young man who is a fixture at the gym and who dates on of the young coaches, is found dead.  Even worse, it appears to be a case of hit and run, his life cut short on the side of a road.  The gym closes down but the rumor mill starts up.  Did the coach kill her boyfriend?  As she is the niece of the gym owner, it starts to affect practises.  The rumor mill gears up.  Hailey is being questioned by the police; Hailey and her boyfriend were seen fighting, Hailey was known for her jealousy.  Soon the gym is shutting down for hours and then days as the gym owner supports his niece.  What will happen next?  Will this put an end to Devon's dreams?

Megan Abbott has captured the concentration and focus that supporting a child with a dream entails.  The drama and suspense builds slowly, exposing the bones beneath the appearance of a successful family who has spent their lives focused on one thing.  It questions when support becomes obsession and exposes how it can affect every relationship.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dark Saturday by Nicci French


Twelve years ago, a murder case hit the headlines and became a media sensation.  Eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was accused of murdering her mother, stepfather and little brother in a rage against the family.  The evidence was clear and there was never any doubt.  Since then, Hannah has been held in a secure psychiatric hospital but her name still strikes fear and repulsion in the public mind.

Now Dr. Frieda Klein has been approached and asked to meet with Hannah to give her read on Hannah's mental state.  Klein is reluctant but she is being asked as a favor she owes to a man high in the government who helped her and her police detective friend when she needed help so she feels she must agree.  She reads up on the case and goes to meet Hannah.

What she finds upsets her.  Hannah is unresponsive, a girl who is battered and bruised, obviously the recipient of inmate or staff abuse.  She is drugged and can or will make little sense.  Frieda is appalled and starts to think about the case in a different way.  What if Hannah wasn't guilty and has instead been buried alive to hide someone else's guilt?  What would that person do to keep their part in the crime hidden?  As Frieda begins to investigate and talk with those involved in the tragedy, her doubts continue to mount.  Can she solve the case that everyone thought was solved twelve years ago? 

This is the sixth in the Dr. Frieda Klein series.  Klein is an interesting protagonist.  She seems introverted which is a strange characteristic for a therapist to have.  She lets few people into her life but those she lets in she cares for intensely.  She is driven by a sense of injustice and her ability to sort through the tangled threads of a messy situation to discover the truth is a fascinating procedure to watch.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon


They are The Three spoken of in lore and myth.  Rhapsody is a Singer, one who speaks the truth through Naming a person or event's essential truth.  Achmed is the hidden one, an assassin who is destined to lead his people who have been considered monsters or half-men.  Grunthor is the giant who trains and leads the armies of Achmed and who is fiercely loyal to the others. 

Together they are to fulfill the prophecy of the Children of Blood, uniting all together, merging the civilizations that fled an Island kingdom only to unite in marriage with the Dragon civilization.  After a rupture in that union, all the various tribes of men have separated into their own realms and become deadly enemies of each other.  Now there is a chance of reunion.

This is the first novel in a nine novel series called The Children Of Blood.  Haydon has created an interesting world, filled with novel characters who have flaws to offset their virtues.  Rhapsody was a prostitute before she trained as a Singer.  Achmed was an assassin who served dark masters until he could break free while Grunthor cheerfully admits to cannibalism and murder.  The world frame laid down in this first novel will lead to more intrigue and depth in the eight following ones.  This book is recommended for readers of fantasy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff


At first glance, Jonathan has it all.  Fresh out of college, he is living in Manhattan and working at an ad agency with his best friend.  He is engaged and about to be married.  He even has two dogs, his brother's pets that he couldn't take overseas so they are staying with Jonathan.  But when the top layer is peeled back a bit, Jonathan's life is anything but perfect.  He hates his job where he has no creative input and spends his days drawing his masterpiece, a comic version of the nine levels of hell.  His Manhattan apartment is one that doesn't even have a lease and he's not sure who owns it or when they will want it back.  His friends don't like his fiancee, who is an uptight, organized type, and now that it's getting closer, Jonathan isn't sure the wedding is a good idea either.

The only constant are the dogs.  They never complain, never seem to think Jonathan has made a major mess of his life.  They seem to support him in ways that others think are in his head but he's almost sure they are guiding his life.  But that's nuts, isn't it?  Is Jonathan headed for a crisis or is everything bound to work out fine?

Meg Rosoff has written an engaging novel with a protagonist the reader can't help but fall in love with.  Jonathan is the child everyone wants to protect, the good guy who just can't seem to catch a break but possibly, he is about to take charge of his life.  Rosoff has written six novels.  Her first, How I Live Now, was nominated for the Orange Prize for Women's Literature.  Subsequent novels have been nominated for such awards as the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I See You by Clare Mackintosh


Zoe Walker is headed home after a long tiring day when she sees it.  Glancing through the newspaper, she stops short at the advertisements.  Did she just see that?  What in the world?  Zoe has seen a picture in the personal ads and somehow, the picture she has seen is her own.  Looking again, she isn't as sure and thinks maybe its just one of those doppelgangers everyone seems to have.  She makes her way home, a bit uneasy but ready to shrug it off.

Then it happens.  She had checked the other ads when she saw the one that seemed to be hers.  Then she is watching the news and a shock of recognition comes over her as she listens to the crime news.  One of the women on the news has been robbed on the subway.   Even worse, as she focuses in on the news in the next few days, a recent murder of another woman brings the realization that she, also, had her picture in the ads.  What is going on?

It's not like Zoe doesn't already have enough problems.   She has a job that is stressful due to the bullying her boss provides; he knows she is not in any position to leave a well-paying job in the economy they face.  She faces a long commute daily which doesn't leave her as much time at home as she'd like.  Neither of her teenage children seem to be moving forward in life and neither likes her live-in partner.  They haven't forgiven her for the divorce when she left their father as she shielded them from his infidelities. 

Zoe reports her suspicions to the police.  They aren't interested until Zoe connects with a policewoman who is looking for a way to get back on the fast track at work.  Kelly made one mistake that almost ruined her career and has been working diligently to try to retrieve what she threw away in one moment.  Kelly listens to Zoe and as the murders start to pile up, brings the police force in on the deadly game that is being played out under their noses.  Will they solve the case in time to save Zoe?

This is a chilling book for any woman to read.  The reality of danger from the merest of suspicions makes the reader check their own lives for touch points and to wonder how safe they are as they go about their daily routine.  The author is a twelve year veteran of the police force in England so those portions of the book ring true.  The suspense builds slowly and steadily and the ending will surprise most.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee


In the early 1900's, Sunja, a young girl from a poor Korean family, is not sure what her life will be.  She lives with her mother in the boardinghouse they run.  Her father, a crippled fisherman who loved her dearly, has passed on.  She expects her life to be spent on the island where she was born, working in the boardinghouse.  A chance encounter in the marketplace leads her to a relationship with Hansu.  Hansu is a tall, rich Korean who lives in Japan where he can pass as Japanese.  The two start a relationship and it is only when Sunja finds herself pregnant that she discovers that Hansu is married with three daughters in Japan.

This is a disaster to her family.   She has brought shame on them all and there is now no hope of marriage as no other man will look at her.  Then a miracle happens.  The two women have been taking care of a sick young man at their boardinghouse.  He is a minister who became ill on his trip to join his brother in Japan as a missionary.  Grateful that the two women have nursed him back to health, he offers to marry Sunja and take her with him.  With no other options, she accepts Isak's offer.

Thus begins Sunja's life in Japan.  Her son with Hansu is Noa but Isak considers him as his own son.  Later the two have a second son, Mozasu.  The couple live with Isak's brother and his wife and it takes everyone to carve out a living in Japan, where Koreans are discriminated against and given only the lowliest jobs.  As the years and decades pass, the family goes through many changes with deaths, new loves, marriages, new children, etc.  The constant is poverty and hard work and the bedrock of family and obligation.

Pachinko is a National Book Award finalist as well as a New York Times Notable Book for 2017.  Readers will be immersed in a culture about which they likely know very little.  It also explores the themes of family, obligations, prejudice and love.  Multigenerational sagas are often described as sprawling but this story is tightly plotted and will draw the reader into a world they never imagined before.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.