Thursday, June 17, 2021

Wizards edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

 

In this 2007 anthology, many of the biggest names in fantasy have come together with stories of magic and wizards.  All stories are original to this work.  The authors include Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Mary Rosenblum, Kage Baker, Eoin Colfer, Jane Yolen, Tad Williams, Patricia McKillip, Elizabeth Hand, Andy Duncan, Peter Beagle, Nancy Kress, Jeffrey Ford, Tanith Lee, Terry Bisson, Terry Dowling, Gene Wolfe and Orson Scott Card. 

The stories vary in length and focus although all share the criteria of magic and wizards being the main theme.  The book ends with a novella by Orson Scott Card called Stonefather about a boy who learns he is a stone wizard after he runs away and ends up in a city that abhors stone magic.  Of the other stories, my personal favorite was Jane Yolen's Slipping Sideways Through Eternity which is about a young girl and the time traveler magician Elijah.  Each reader will find their own personal favorite as they sample the best in fantasy.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

 

Neil Narayan is a typical Indian teenager, caught up in his parents' expectations of high achievements and future successes.  His older sister, Prachi, is the golden girl with early acceptance to Duke and a finalist for the Miss Teenage Georgia.  He lives in an Atlanta suburb full of doctors, lawyers, accountants and other CEO's all of whom expect the same from their children while maintaining the Indian culture many of these parents brought over when they arrived to go to college in the United States.  

But Neil has a problem.  He just isn't feeling it.  He doesn't make bad grades but he isn't a high flyer.  He doesn't already know what he wants to do and isn't on the merry-go-round of constant activities to pad his upcoming college applications.  He wonders how all his peers are so motivated and know exactly what they want.  His next door neighbor, Anita Dayal, is another example of someone fated to fly high.  They have been friends forever growing up together although that friendship has taken a hit in the social standards of high school.  But he is still in and out of the house she shares with her mother, Anjali, to help with things that her husband can't do since he is out in California with the software company he created.  Neil comes across the secret of Anita's motivation and persistence one day by mistake.  Her mother is lifting small pieces of gold jewelry from the families she caters to.  That jewelry, imbued with their motivation and success, is melted down and put into a drink that Anita takes religiously.  Neil wants that same help and soon he is taking the drink also and his grades and activities improve dramatically.  Everything is going well until a disaster crashes all that Neil knows.

Sanjena Sathian has written a novel exploring a culture most readers don't know much about.  A common stereotype is that Indians are extremely smart but most who throw off such a statement don't know about the parental focus that goes into the academic success and career trajectories they envy.  This debut novel from an Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate refocuses the coming of age story into a viewpoint of the immigrant experience as well.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Aviary by Deidre McNamer

 


Things aren't going well at the Pleasant Run facility.  A building of lower rent apartments for seniors, it is showing signs of age and maintenance suddenly seems to be neglected.  The elevator has been out for several weeks which is a major issue for many of the seniors who are still mobile but not up to tackling several flights of stairs multiple times a day.  Instead they are basically trapped in their apartments.  Trash collection has been lagging since the new manager, Herbie, has appeared.  Herbie is a skulker, always around trying to find violations of policies but impossible to locate when something goes wrong that he is responsible for fixing.  Worst of all, there are rumors that the building is about to be sold so that high end condominiums can be built and sold.

The residents are a mixed bunch.  Rydell is a former professor who is hoping to land one more job at his former college.  Viola has tons of stories about an exciting past that most of her friends discount.  Cassie is Viola's friend but caught in a sea of depression.  Her husband and only child have both died and she wonders what is worth continuing on for.  Leo is a quiet man who spends his time painting landscapes.  Clayton is a teenager who seems to be hanging around for no discernible reason.  

Then there is a fire which starts in manager Herbie's apartment.  After it is put out, it becomes apparent that both Herbie and Viola have disappeared.  Lander Maki is the fire investigator who must decide if this was a fire caused by carelessness or if it was arson.  Is the fire related to the disappearances?

Deidre McNamer is a university creative writing professor.  She has written several other highly regarded novels such as My Russian which was a New York Times Notable Book.  In this novel, she outlines the issues that those of us lucky enough to become elderly will face.  Often lonely and neglected, it is unclear how best to alleviate the issues that beset this age group but it is clear that warehousing is not the answer.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

 

The 1970's were the Decade of Love.  All over the world, young people flocked to rallies and communes, sure that they were creating a brave new world based on love and naturalness.  Handy was one such man.  He was a singer and somehow managed to acquire the title to a deserted mansion and land in upper New York.  On it, he and his band of insiders create Arcadia.

Arcadia is to be the place where all can live and be free.  There is a dairy, a bakery, a laundry and greenhouses.  There is a nursery for the youngest children and a barracks for the older kids.  Handy's wife is Astrid who is a midwife.  The other founding couple is Abe and Hannah.  Abe is a master carpenter and renovates the mansion to be the main house for all.  The couple has one son, a boy called Bit.

But paradise is hard to sustain.  There is little money coming in and food is sometimes hard to come by.  Politics start to arise with cliques forming and soon there are those who come to live with no expectation that they will work and give back.  Eventually the commune falls apart, the inhabitants disappearing into the nights.

Twenty years later, Bit is a photography instructor.  He has married Helle, who is Handy and Astrid's daughter and their friends are the kids they grew up with on the commune.  No matter how far away they are living they all keep up with each other and are there for each other.  Bit and Helle have a daughter, Grete, and Bit feels that his life is complete.  But life isn't like that.  Several life disasters send him back to Arcadia to oversee his parents' aging needs.  

This is a beautiful book.  Groff is an amazing writer and I'd read anything she wrote.  She understands the desperation that lives all seem to encounter and the basic truth that our lives are enriched by love and kindness.  Horrible things happen to her characters just as horrible things happen to many of us but she gives hope that things will follow a natural path and that the good outweighs the bad.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Show No Fear by Perri O'Shaughnessy

 

Nina Reilly is barely holding her head above water.  She is a single mother and trying desperately to improve life for her son Bob and herself.  Nina is working as a paralegal by day and going to law school at night.  Her life is a constant round of working, studying and finding time to play and work with Bob.  

Nina's personal life is not trouble free either. Her parents are divorced. Her mother has been diagnosed with an ongoing condition which affects her health and balance.  After going to a doctor for some alternative medicine, she is left much worse off and is contemplating a lawsuit.  Nina's younger brother is drifting through life, out of college and dabbling in drugs.  Her father has just informed her that he is having a new baby with his much younger wife.  Then there is Richard.  Richard is Bob's father but Nina didn't tell him about the baby when she got pregnant and he has never been a part of Bob's life.  Although Richard is a successful attorney, his narcissistic personality and controlling nature made him someone to avoid not someone to parent a child with.  Now suddenly, Richard has shown up and is making noises about wanting a relationship with his son. 

Things take a much worse turn when Richard's body is discovered.  Nina is an instant suspect as are her brother, father and mother.  Richard had a partner who needed and feared him.  He had other women in his past who regard their time with him as a mistake.  He had debts at every gambling establishment nearby.  Who killed Richard?

Nina had met an interesting man named Paul but it turns out that he is the investigating officer of Richard's murder.  Although Paul is interested in Nina, she realizes that it would be a mistake to get involved with him.  As he investigates the murder, things keep coming back to Nina and her family.  Who is responsible?

This novel is part of the Nina Reilly series.  Although it isn't the first in the series, it gives readers a look back to the time before Nina becomes an attorney and gives her story.  Readers will find themselves cheering for Nina who balances all her responsibilities while forging a future for her son and herself against long odds.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Booksie's Shelves, June 8, 2021

 


Summer has arrived in North Carolina.  It has been hot and steamy and all the trees have bloomed.  We have been cautiously getting back to normal.  We have eaten out in restaurants several times and one of my book clubs met in person last month although outside.  It is wonderful to start getting back to normal and picking up plans that have been put on the back burner.  I worried that my reading would take a back seat once that happened but last month I read seventeen books so it's been fine so far.  Here's what's come through the door:

  1.  The Photographer, Mary Dixie Carter, thriller, sent by publisher
  2. A People's History Of The Supreme Court, Peter Irons, nonfiction, purchased
  3. Savage Tongues, Azareen Oloomi, literary fiction, sent by publisher
  4. How To Find Your Way In The Dark, Derek Miller, mystery, sent by publisher
  5. In The Aftermath, Jane Ward, mystery, sent by publisher
  6. The Artist Colony, Joanna Fitzpatrick, historical fiction, sent by publisher
  7. The Magician, Colm Toibin, literary fiction, sent by publisher
Here's the ebooks I've purchased:
  1. A Children's Bible, Lydia Millet, literary fiction
  2. The Watcher Girl, Minka Kent, thriller
  3. In Her Tracks, Robert Dugoni, thriller
  4. Stoned, Aja Raden, nonfiction
  5. The First To Lie, Hank Phillippi Ryan, mystery
  6. Beneath Devil's Bridge, Loreth Anne White, thriller
  7. Long Bright River, Liz Moore, mystery
  8. The Grave Tattoo, Val McDermid, mystery
  9. The Pale Faced Lie, David Crow, memoir
  10. Red Bones, Ann Cleeves, mystery
  11. Blue Monday, Nicci French, mystery
  12. Weather, Jenny Offill, literary fiction
  13. The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis, literary fiction
  14. Blue Lightning, Ann Cleeves, mystery
  15. Beneath Black Sails, Clare Sager, pirate fiction
  16. Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson, nonfiction
  17. Those Girls, Chevy Stevens, thriller
  18. Soulsmith, Will Wight, fantasy
  19. Blackflame, Will Wight, fantasy
  20. Skysworn, Will Wight, fantasy
  21. Ghostwater, Will Wight, fantasy
  22. Underlord, Will Wight, fantasy
  23. Uncrowned, Will Wight, fantasy
  24. Wintersteel, Will Wight, fantasy
  25. Bloodline, Will Wight, fantasy
  26. Lethal Guardian, M. William Phelps, true crime
  27. Choose Me, Tess Gerritsen, mystery
  28. The Seven Day Switch, Kelly Harms, woman's fiction
  29. The Rib King, Ladee Hubbard, literary fiction
  30. Blind Your Ponies, Stanley Gordon West, literary fiction
Here's what I'm reading:
  1. Blue Monday, Nicci French, mystery
  2. Arcadia, Lauren Groff, literary fiction
  3. The Kingdom, Jo Nesbo, thriller
  4. Wizards, anthology
  5. The Queen Of The Night, Alexander Chee
Happy Reading!


Monday, June 7, 2021

The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

 

Nina Hill has a life that suits her just fine.  She has a job in a bookstore and since reading is her favorite activity, she loves it.  She has her cat to keep her company.  She has her trivia team for a social activity plus she runs a couple of book groups at the store.  She grew up with a mother who was rarely home and no father in sight.  Her mother was a freelance photographer who wouldn't say anything about Nina's dad.

But changes are on the way.  Nina is informed that she does have a dad and he has died.  Furthermore, he left a huge family as he was married multiple times with children with each wife.  Now Nina has tons of relatives, some of whom are not happy with a new person being in the will.  

Things are changing elsewhere as well.  The bookstore is struggling financially and may not be able to survive.  There is a man on another trivia team who Nina might be interested in and who might be interested back.  All of a sudden there are so many things up in the air that Nina doesn't know what to do next.  

Abbi Waxman has written a novel that will resonate with many readers.  It is a coming of age story that readers in their twenties who are still figuring out their lives will appreciate.  Nina is interesting and the reader will cheer for her to get exactly what she wants once she figures it out.  This book is recommended for readers of young adult books.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Irreparable Harm by Melissa Miller

 

The news is dire.  A plane has plowed into a mountainside, killing all aboard.  What could cause such a tragedy?  Mechanical failure?  Pilot error?  Whatever it is, there will be legal implications for the airline, Hemisphere Air.  Sasha McCandless works as a lawyer at the firm representing the airline.  The first lawsuits for the survivors are ready to file the day after the crash.  The airline requests that Sasha head up the team of lawyers who will defend against the suits.  It's a huge career boost for Sasha who is on the cusp of making partner.  That is, a huge boost if she is successful and a career killer if she fails.

As Sasha starts to look into the case, she begins to doubt that Hemisphere is at fault at all.  Instead she believes that the airline has been the victim of terrorists; not terrorists for a cause but terrorists who want to make millions.  They have created software that will incapacitate the manual controls and can send a plane to its doom.  They can sell this software to the airlines for millions if not billions of dollars.  Now those same people have Sasha in their sights.  

Sasha soon finds that the other side is ready to play rough. People involved in the case are killed and Sasha herself is attacked several times.  Luckily, she has help in the form of Leo Connelly, a federal air marshall.  She also has her Krav Maga training which makes her a bad person to attack.  Can Sasha and Leo find the terrorists before they find and put an end to them?

I listened to this novel.  The narrator, Suzanne Fortin, read competently but I would not search out another narration by her.  Her tone was close to a monotone and didn't appreciably change regardless of the action occurring.  In a thriller, the narration should indicate when something major is happening.

Melissa Miller is a former attorney herself.  That gives her legal thrillers the necessary expertise and knowledge of legal procedures that makes them believeable. She has written more than two dozen legal thrillers and this title is the introductory one in the Sasha McCandless series.  This book is recommended for legal thriller readers.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

I Hear The Sirens In The Street by Adrian McKinty

 


The time is 1982 and the place is Belfast, Ireland in the midst of 'The Troubles'.  Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is an usual detective in this time and place.  He is a college graduate in psychology rather than coming to the police straight out of secondary education.  He is also a Catholic which makes him mistrusted both by the other police who are overwhelmingly Protestant and who regard Catholics as those who make their daily lives dangerous and by the Catholics around him who regard him as a traitor.

Life is never boring for a policeman.  The latest case is a man found stuffed in a suitcase.  After investigating, the man turns out to be an American tourist who is an ex-military man judging by a tattoo.  He has been poisoned by a rare poison. Who is he and what in the world was he doing in Northern Ireland to get himself killed?  The investigation uncovers links to American industries relocating to Ireland, notably the automotive factory owned by John DeLoren, aristocratic Irish landowners down on their luck, land rich but money poor and ready to make money however, and enticing women who seem to take an interest in Duffy.

Along with the investigation there is plenty of other things going on.  The Troubles make every day tense with the need to check under one's car every time before turning the ignition.  A riot on Duffy's street flares up when a young African-American woman moves in to the dismay of those already living there.  There are tensions at work as Duffy tries to do what needs to be done regardless of rules and while training his subordinates.  Then there is a changing list of women who he is interested in.

I listened to this novel and it was a glorious experience.  The narrator is Gerald Doyle who has narrated scores of novels.  He was an out of work actor who more or less fell into reading audiobooks and his warm, lilting Irish voice is perfect as a reflection of Duffy.  The book is the second in the Sean Duffy series and readers will find a multilayered book that portrays the era as well as providing a twisting mystery.  This book is recommended for readers of mystery.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

 

This is novel nine in Robert Jordan's epic fantasy The Wheel Of Time.  In this story, Elayne has returned home and is working to consolidate her claim to the throne.  Rand has come to the realization that some of the men he has trained to work alongside him are treacherous and trying to kill him.  Perrin discovers that his wife Faile has been kidnapped by a band of Aiel and he leaves to rescue her.  Mat has been recuperating from injuries and is ready to leave the kingdom where he has been the lover of the queen and somehow agrees to break free several Aes Sedai imprisoned by the Seanchan.  

As the story progresses, several important events happen.  Rand resolves his conflict about loving three women, Elayne, Min and Aviendha.  The book moves toward a climatic end where Rand attempts to accomplish the impossible; take the taint out of accessing the Power.  Without the taint, he stands a chance of not going mad as all men before him had done.

This was one of the more eventful novels in the series.  Much more happens than outlined before and the books remain an incredibly detailed story that intertwines many threads of diverse events.  There are scores of characters to keep track of and plots and subplots, betrayals and victories.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty

 

In London, two women meet and become friends.  They couldn't be more different.  Hannah is an Australian who has been in London for three months.  She is working a mediocre job she dislikes and has made no friends.  She punishes herself physically by running for hours and denying herself pleasures.  She is running from a secret in her past; a secret she cannot forgive herself for.

India is running also although she would refer to it as traveling.  She is also Australian and has been moving around the world for months, staying nowhere more than a few weeks, making new friends everywhere she goes.  She is impulsive and bold, changing her appearance often.  When she meets Hannah, she is determined to solve her mystery and help her be happier.  Can the two women help each other?

Nicola Moriarty has written an intriguing story of two women who meet by chance and who are immediately drawn into each other's lives.  There is a bit more coincidence in the book's resolution than I prefer but overall it is a charming story with lessons for every reader.  This book is recommended for readers of women's fiction.

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

 


Jax gets the call she has dreaded for years.  Her sister, Lexie, is dead.  Jax is a social worker but Lex, who growing up was the golden girl, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early twenties.  Their grandmother had left the family house to Lexie and Jax was so upset to be excluded that she moved across the country.  She had suspected that Lexie was off her meds as she had been getting phone calls on her message machine and each sounded more frantic and out of control.  When she called her aunt Diane and asked her to check on Lexie Diane found her floating in the pool, already beyond revivial.

There were rumors about the pool and had been their entire life.  Years before, a hotel had stood where their house now stood, a hotel built around the springs that provided water that many said could provide cures for any illnesses.  But there were also whispers that if the springs gave something they would also take something.  More drownings that would be expected had happened there and the hotel went out of business.  Even after Jax's grandfather bought the land and springs, things continued to happen in the pool.  Jax and Lexie's oldest sister, Rita, had drowned there when they were small children.  Now Lexie has met the same fate.

As Jax returns to handle the funeral she gets caught up in the stories about the pool.  She remembers things from her childhood that seem to reinforce the rumors and Lexie was firmly convinced something was going on and had focuses all her time and attention to finding out the truth.  What is the truth?  Is there something there that will rise again to cause more tragedy?

I listened to this novel.  The narrator was female and captured the rising tension in the book, the back and forth between the questions about the pool and the certainties Jax has that it is all just rumors.  The story is told in alternating chapters between Jax's trip home and the story of her grandmother who made the first bargain with the pool.  The narrator handles both these voices quite well, differentiating between them to make it clear which woman is speaking.  This book is recommended for readers of psychological thrillers.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Lost On Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

 

After living on remote, lowly populated South Pacific islands for several years, J. Maarten Troost decided it was time for a change.  He decided to visit the most populous and largest country on Earth, China.  Everyone has thoughts about how China must be; the legends of coolies and Emperors, samurai and geishas with bound feet.  Troost went to see if these impressions were real.  It was particularly amazing since he didn't speak the language.

While they might have been at one time, today's China is vastly different.  The peasants in the countryside have in huge numbers moved into the cities.  Cities of a million or more spring up everywhere and industrialization is the key.  This results in huge heaps of coal and slag everywhere and the most smog-ridden air found anywhere.

Troost is known for his wry humor and there is much of that here.  He talks about the crowds and how shoving and pushing to get onto trains and buses is the way it is done.  His dilemma in restaurants where he rarely knew what he was ordering and surprised at how every part of every animal and insect was used is hilarious.  He talks about the time of Mao and how the country was torn apart and of the One Child policy that has resulted in millions of men unable to find wives and the resulting widespread prostitution that tries to alleviate the situation.  

Troost visits the crowded cities.  He visits the shores and the mountainous country near Tibet.  He sees many museums and religious shrines as well as the Great Wall and the terracotta soldiers.  He travels by air, by boat, by train and by car and insists the Chinese are the worst soldiers in the world.  His favorite part is Tibet where the air is cleaner, the population less dense and the people pleasant and welcoming.  He leaves knowing that he has only scratched the surface of this huge land and the customs of its people.  This book is recommended for travel writing readers.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

To The Power Of Three by Laura Lippman

 

They have been a force together since childhood.  Three best friends with no issues between them, just friendship.  Kat is the popular one; smart, beautiful but so friendly and open that no one seems jealous of her.  Josie is a tiny thing and an athlete who has a gymnastic scholarship already locked up.  Perri is the actress, always involved in a play and the acknowledged leader of the drama department.  But today is different.

At the end of today, one is dead, one is in the hospital in critical condition and the survivor isn't talking.  What went on in that bathroom at school?  How did the gun get there and who did the shooting?  What secrets had that friendship hidden?

Laura Lippman got her start in journalism, working on newspapers in Baltimore and writing for various magazines.  She has won the Edgar and Anthony mystery awards and has several series as well as stand alone novels.  Her work is known for going beyond the surface events to delve into the mysteries of the human psyche and that layer of complexity makes her work rich and compelling.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin

 


Lynette doesn't have an easy life.  She lives in Portland, Oregon with her mother and mentally challenged brother Kenny.  They have rented a house for many years but their landlord has informed them that he is ready to sell the house and given them first refusal.  In her late twenties, Lynette knows this may be their only chance to own a home as prices have raised exponentially.  She has worked several jobs, some shady and some just exhausting to save enough for a down payment.  The plan has always been for her mother to sign for the mortgage loan as Lynette doesn't have the credit rating necessary.  But now, here at the last moment, her mother is changing the plan.  She doesn't want to load herself down with debt although it will cost the family more to rent a place than buy this house.

Desperate to hold onto her dream, Lynette frantically tries to make up the money her mother would have provided.  In doing so, she revisits old haunts that had almost destroyed her emotionally, burns friendships and does dangerous deeds.   The whole time her dream of providing a home for Kenny and the family is paramount in her mind.  Can she reach her goal?

I listened to this novel and the narrator was Christine Lakin.  She did a wonderful job portraying Lynette, her exhaustion and her desire to live a normal life as a family.  Her voice portrayed the inevitability of the trouble Lynette finds herself in and the way life has beat her down.

Willy Vlautin is a writer's writer.  He is admired by those in the know in literary circles and his novels tell the stories of average people beset by disasters caused by circumstances beyond their control.  In this novel, the circumstance is the gentrification of the cities which push out those of average to low means who may not be able to finance a house and who end up having to pay more to rent.  He writes nonjudgmentally about Lynette and the choices she is forced to make.  This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

 

A reader who picks up this anthology seeing the name Neil Gaiman may think this is a collection of science fiction/fantasy stories.  Instead it is a collection of stories whose criteria for inclusion was that they provide a moment of magic.  The editors write "We wanted to read stories that used a lightning-flash of magic as a way of showing us something we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it at all".  

The authors included in alphabetical order are Richard Adams, Kurt Andersen, Lawrence Block, Jonathan Carroll, Jeffery Deaver, Roddy Doyle, Jeffrey Ford, Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Hand, Joanne Harris, Joe Hill, Kat Howard, Diana Wynne Jones, Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Moorcock, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates, Stewart O'Nan, Chuck Palahnuk, Carolyn Parkhurst, Jodi Picoult, Tim Powers, Al Sarrantonio, Michael Marshall Smith, Peter Straub, Michael Swanwick and Gene Wolfe.  Readers of all genres will find stories that match their preferences and everyone will be delighted at the quality of the stories.  This book is recommended for short story readers.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Eddie's Boy by Thomas Perry

 

They've come again.  Michael Shaeffer and his wife have just hosted a party at her aristocratic home in England.  Michael is an American and never thought he'd end his days married to a woman with a long family heritage and a fortune that put his own in the shade.  He had retired to England when his business had made an exit necessary.  Michael was a paid assassin, working mainly for the Mob.  After he set up a Mob boss who hired him and then didn't pay him but tried to have him killed instead, the United States was too dangerous.  Twice before in his long years in England men have come to kill him.  Now they've come again.

There are four this time but Michael is able to get the jump on them and kills them all.  He disposes of the bodies but he knows he has to go back to the US and take care of the problem.  He sends his wife to stay with friends and is on a plane by morning.  

Michael was orphaned at age three, his parents recent immigrants to the Philadelphia neighborhood.  Michael was headed to social services and a life in the system but the neighbors got together to discuss the situation and Eddie, the local butcher, volunteered to take Michael in and raise him.  That was agreeable to everyone so Michael had a new home.  But Eddie wasn't just any butcher.  He was a hitman and he taught Michael his trade.  Michael made his first kill at fourteen and spent years becoming the best in the business.

Now as he returns to America he learns that the boss he had imprisoned all those years ago is up for parole.  He has to be the one causing Michael's problems. Michael has a lifeline to a federal prosecutor whose life and children he saved years ago so he gets some information from her.  Then he sets out to solve his problems once and for all.

I listened to this novel.  The narrator had a deeper male voice.  He was the perfect unemotional voice to bring to life the story and thoughts of a solitary, driven man.  Michael was logical, learning long ago that emotions were the enemy of the lightning fast actions he needed to take.  This narrator has that calm unemotional voice down perfectly.

This is the fourth in the Butcher Boy series.  I wasn't aware of that when I started this novel, and it didn't make any difference although I will definitely go back and read the first three.  Thomas Perry is also known for his series featuring a woman who helps people disappear.  In both series, his ability to lay out logical sequences of precautions and the planning that is necessary for success is evident.  The reader will know he shouldn't be cheering for Michael but won't be able to help doing so.  This book is recommended for readers of thrillers.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

No Rest For The Dead by Various Authors

 


Ten years ago a museum curator's body was found in an iron maiden which had been returned to Berlin.  The man was Christopher Thomas and his wife, Rosemary, was in charge of the department which had borrowed the iron maiden from the German museum.  When investigation showed that the couple had been fighting over Christopher's numerous infidelities and nefarious dealings, Rosemary was arrested.  Other evidence tied her to the crime and after a trial, she was convicted and eventually executed.

Now on the anniversary of her death, a memorial is planned where all the participants from a decade ago will be gathered.  There is Jon Nunn, the detective that found the evidence that convicted Rosemary but who now believes she was innocent.  Nunn's ex-wife is now married to a lawyer who had been involved in Thomas' activities.  Rosemary's brother inherited the vast family fortune once she was gone.  There are several women who were involved with Christopher.  Will the real killer be uncovered?

The real story about this book is that it is a joint effort of twenty-six different mystery authors.  Each chapter is written by a different author yet the narrative flow never feels disjointed or choppy.  The authors include well-known names such as Sandra Brown, Jeffrey Deaver, Faye Kellerman, R.L. Stine, J. A. Jance, Lisa Scottoline and Jeff Lindsay.  There are also authors which were new to me such as Andrew Gulli who was the main editor and whose idea the book was.  This book is recommended to mystery readers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Five Days by Douglas Kennedy

 

Laura's life is not going well.  She is trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who barely talks to her.  One of her children is grown and gone while her daughter has only one more year until she leaves for college.  She works as a radiologist technician and lately when she sees the evidence of bad news on a patient's scan, she is overwhelmed with anxiety and depression.

Laura is recognized as an especially diligent and skilled employee and her boss decides to send her to a conference in Boston as a reward.  Laura is hesitant at first but decides to go.  When she gets there, she meets Richard as they wait in a line to check in.  Richard is a middle-aged man, graying and an insurance salesman.  She thinks offhandedly that he seemed pleasant then went to her room.

When she runs into Richard again at a movie, they go for coffee afterwards. As they talk, they realize that they have a lot in common.  Both are working jobs that overwhelm them and are married to spouses who ignore them.  Both love words and literature.  Both are starting to realize that it's up to them to change their lives if they are going to.

They fall in love.  They move hotels to a nicer one and make love.  They plan a new life, going so far as to put down a deposit on an apartment.  Is it this easy to change their lives?

Douglas Kennedy's novels center on human relationships and the little events that can change a life in an instant.  He has a deep understanding of people's lives and their longings for connection.  The reader will be cheering for Laura and Richard, hoping that they find the courage to make the changes that will make their lives better.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

 

Bree Cabbat has an enviable life.  Born and raised poor in rural Georgia, she managed to get to college and afterwards, met Trey at a museum opening.  Trey is from money, an old family and a partner in a law firm.  They marry and as the novel opens, have three children.  There are two girls and Bree has just had a baby boy.  Trey makes enough that Bree is able to be a full time stay at home mother which is just what she wants to do.

But today is different.  While she is watching the rehearsal of a play one of her daughters is in, Bree turns her head to watch for a minute.  When she turns back to her baby, Robert, he is gone; his baby carrier and all.  In its place is a note telling her that someone has her baby and that she is being watched.  She is to go home, telling no one and wait for a call.  

Bree does that after dropping her girls off at her mother's condo for the weekend.  She doesn't know what she is facing and Trey is out of town.  When the call comes, it is not someone she expected.  It is an elderly woman and Bree remembers the old woman she had seen in her yard looking in the windows recently.  The woman says she has Robert and will kill him if Bree doesn't do what she wants.  She wants Bree to go to a party at the law firm that night and drug Trey's partner and oldest friend, Spencer.

Bree doesn't see how she can possibly get dressed and go to a party but the thought of Robert helps her get ready.  She manages to spike Spencer's drink and then everything goes wrong.  Bree is left to go home reeling.  She realizes that she needs help and confides in Marshall.  Marshall is a childhood friend and was married to Bree's best friend.  He is also an ex-cop.  When the woman calls again with more tasks and directions, the two of them create a plan to figure out what is going on and to get Robert back.  Will they succeed?

I listened to this novel and the narrator was a woman, telling the story from Bree's point of view.  The voice wasn't quite what I had imagined for Bree's voice but the narrator did a good job of reading and emoting without going overboard.  I needed to listen to this at regular speed since speeding it up lost the slow Southern drawl I was expecting.

This was my first Joshilyn Jackson but it won't be my last.  The story was fast paced and the twists and turns came roaring along when least expected.  Bree manages to find the courage to face an ugly story from the past and do whatever it took to get her child back.  The backstory was complicated and believable and the consequences were more than anyone would have expected.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Stoned by Aja Raden

 


Most of us are fascinated with jewels.  Their beauty and rarity attract us.  In this book, historian and jeweler Aja Raden uses the history of various jewels to show how they affected human history.  The book is divided into three main sections, want, take and have.

In the want section, the reasons we desire jewels is explored.  It is often a manufactured desire and Radan gives examples of this, the best being diamonds.  Diamonds are actually very common so why do we think they are rare and beautiful?  Because the De Beers company managed to corner the market on diamonds and spent a fortune on marketing along with controlling the number of diamonds that hit the market at any one time.  Another example was the purchase of Manhattan Island for the proverbial twenty-four dollars of glass beads.  However, the Indians didn't have glass beads and so they were entranced with those shown to them by the Dutch and were happy with their end of the bargain.  The third story is that of the massive number of emeralds taken by the Spanish explorers from Central and South America and how it funded the Spanish empire.  When they became too common, the market collapsed almost overnight.

In the take section, there are several interesting stories.  One is of a famous pearl that was given to Queen Mary by her younger and distant husband, Prince Philip.  Her half sister, Elizabeth craved the pearl and the interplay between the two women is explored.  Another famous necklace with historical implications was a diamond necklace that a jeweler tried for years to sell to Marie Antoinette.  She never bought it, but the jeweler was tricked into thinking she had, and the scandal was one of the factors making her the hated monarch she was.  A final story in this section is about the Faberge eggs and how their history was intertwined with that of the Russian monarchy.

In the have section, two items were discussed.  The first was pearls, specifically cultured pearls and the role that the Japanese manufacturer Mikimoto played in bringing them to market and making them acceptable as luxury items as well as being jewelry that anyone could find a price point at which to buy.  The other item was wristwatches and I found it fascinating that wristwatches are fairly modern with their acceptance as male jewelry coming only during World War I when split second timing was needed in the trenches to successfully use the new weapons of that war.

Aja Raden studied history in college while working in the auction house of the famous House Of Khan.  Later she worked as a jewelry designer.  These two careers and interests make her the right person to write this book.  At times the narrative is a bit breezy but it is relatable by almost any reader and provides an interesting overview of history and a unique focus through which to study it.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.  

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

 

From the outside, Alison's life was perfect.  She had a career as a lawyer and had just been assigned her first murder case.  She had a loving husband and an adorable little girl.  What more could she want?

But from the inside looking out, it doesn't seem so wonderful.  Alison spends her nights and weekends drinking way too much.  Her marriage has been full of tension since her husband lost his job and was rebuilding his career as a therapist from home.  Worst of all, she has been having an affair with a work colleague for about a year.  Each time they meet she swears it is the last but the next time she finds she can't say no.

Then the drinking gets much worse to where she is having blackouts.  She starts to get anonymous messages on her phone that seem to be calling her out for her affair.  Her home life gets worse and worse as her husband turns away further from her.  Can she pull things back?

This is a debut novel.  The author was a barrister for ten years before her first child was born.  That makes the legal part of the story realistic, the hurrying from case to case, the ability to talk with someone in crisis and find a way to make things better if possible.  The dissolution of the marriage is also written about in realistic terms.  The affair is portrayed as a constant betrayal not only of the woman's marriage but of her sense of herself as the man pushes her closer and closer to her boundaries.  This book is recommended for readers of psychological thrillers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

While Other People Sleep by Marcia Muller

 

Things are going well for San Francisco-based detective Sharon McCone when she first hears the news.  Her agency is buzzing along and she just hired a new investigator she has high hopes for.  She and her partner, Hy, are doing well in her personal life.  She isn't caught up in any high risk cases.  All in all, things are great.

Then she hears from a friend that someone was impersonating her at a galley opening.  The woman had a business card, in fact, one of Sharon's business cards, and was passing herself off as Sharon.  She looked much like Sharon although younger.  Although it gives her a moment of unease, Sharon decides to shrug it off as someone using her credentials to get in someone they might not otherwise be able to enter.

But it doesn't stop there.  Sharon starts to get more reports of the woman who has apparently decided to pass herself off as Sharon all over.  This is concerning.  It can impact the business, especially when Sharon starts to hear from men the imposter is picking up, sleeping with and convincing that they have slept with Sharon herself.  One of her staff has started acting strangely so much that their partner asks Sharon to look into it.  The woman impersonator starts leaving gifts around, showing up in the private parts of Sharon's life such as the airport where she and Hy keep their plane, and soon it's obvious the woman has broken into both the office and Sharon's home.  She orders things using Sharon's credit cards then cancels them.  What is her purpose?  How can Sharon find her before she does something worse?

This is the eighteenth novel in the Sharon McCone series. Readers of the series will be happy to encounter so many of the same characters from the earlier novels while those reading this as a stand alone will find enough material given that they don't feel lost.  The tension is slowly cranked up until a confrontation occurs that brings everything to a head.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Blood Grove by Walter Mosley

 


Easy Rawlins' life is going well at the moment.  His detective agency is ticking along.  His adopted daughter, Feather, has settled in and is thriving.  He has a girlfriend who definitely holds his interest. 1969 is going well for him although whiffs of unease and unrest are in the air in sunny California.   The last thing he needs is a young, white Vietnam vet for a client.

The young man shows up at Rawlin's office and is desperate for help.  He tells a disjointed story of taking a date to the blood orange groves he learned about as a child only to encounter a man there.  There is a fight and the man is knocked out.  When he awakes, his date and dog are gone and he suspects that he might have killed the man he fought with.  He wants Easy to find out if there has been a death and to locate his girlfriend and dog.  Rawlins is not inclined to take the case but his connection with other veterans tips the balance and he agrees to help the man.

Rawlins starts the investigation with help from various friends.  At home, there's another issue.  Another young white man has shown up and he is Feather's uncle.  He wants to meet her and while Easy knows Feather deserves to know her background and family history, he can't help but wonder what this will mean for the life he and Feather have built together.  

As the investigation deepens, Rawlins encounters con men, robberies, his client's mother who is a former dancer and prostitute, and plenty of racist cops.  This is the beginning of the Black Panthers and a realization by those of color that things need to change and this may be the time.  But there are plenty of people who don't believe change is necessary and they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the status quo.  Bodies start to show up and Rawlins is determined to get to the bottom of it all.

I listened to this novel and the narrator is perfect.  His vocal style is like the main character's name, easy and smooth.  There are no disquieting pauses or breaks to interrupt the story's flow.  

This is the fifteenth novel in the Easy Rawlins series.  Walter Mosley is a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers Of America and has won numerous prizes for his crime series.  His work has also won several NAACP Image Awards as they portray an accurate vision of what racial prejudice means to those living in it and how things have started to change over the past fifty to sixty years.  The story in this novel is complex with many characters but everything is resolved satisfactorily by the end.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.  

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Lost Light by Michael Connelly

 

Detective Harry Bosch is not an LAPD homicide detective any longer.  He has retired and several months in, he's pretty bored.  His thoughts turn to his cold cases, murders that didn't get solved which never set well with him.  He did get a private investigator's license so he decides why not poke around and get some answers?  Maybe the cases could be solved by someone who had nothing but time to devote to them instead of the constant interruption of new cases that handicapped investigations in the department. 

He decides on his first case.  A woman was found murdered in her apartment.  Several days later a robbery occurred that she seemed attached to.  A film about a robbery decided that only real money would do to be filmed and arranged to borrow two million in cash from a local bank.  The woman was a production assistant on the film.  But instead of filming the money, armed robbers appeared on the scene and made a getaway with the money.  Bosch had been there and wounded one of the robbers but they made their escape and had never been found, nor had the money.  The case went to the robbery division and the two detectives who headed the investigation didn't make much progress before their disaster.  The two men walked into a bar while a holdup was going on and a shootout occurred.  One was killed and the other was left a quadriplegic.  That pretty much made the case a cold one.

Bosch knows he won't get the cooperation he was used to as a detective with a badge but is surprised at the resistance he encounters as he investigates.  His former partner, moved into administration, turns up to warn him off the case.  The FBI are less polite.  They use intimidation to make it clear that this is their case as they believe one of their agents, now missing, is involved somehow.  But Bosch is determined to take the case to its conclusion and find out who killed the woman in the apartment all those years ago.  Will he be successful?

This is the ninth book in the Harry Bosch series.  Harry is the same determined man he was as an authorized detective and his tenaciousness and serious investigative skills make him a force.  His case takes him to Vegas where he reunites with his former love, Eleanor.  Readers of the series will remember their love and their breakup and will be cheering for them to reunite.  The mystery is tricky and Bosch sees things that would go over most people's heads; his dicey background making him adept at reading people and seeing duplicity that others would miss.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

We Thought We Knew You by M. William Phelps

 

Mary Yoder along with her husband Bill ran a chiropractic clinic in upstate New York.  Bill was a bit older and about to retire.  Mary was sixty and did the majority of the patient work.  They had grown children and their youngest, Adam, was still in the area, going to college and trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.  He had a longtime girlfriend, Katie, who his parents had hired to work at the clinic as the receptionist and office person.

When Mary came home one day feeling ill, Bill didn't think much of it.  But she was so sick by the next morning that he took her to the hospital as a precaution.  The doctors admitted her but felt that it was a digestive virus that would quickly run its' course.  But Mary didn't get better.  She died the next day after coding multiple times.  

Her death was perplexing to the doctors and her family was in shock.  They quickly agreed to an autopsy to find out what had gone wrong.  What the autopsy showed left everyone reeling.  Mary Yoder had been poisoned by an obscure drug used to treat gout.  

The police immediately started an investigation.  Despite attempts to throw them off with anonymous letters, the truth emerged.  The poisoner was Katie.  She and Adam had broken things off, an occurrence that had happened many times over their relationship but this time Adam was serious about the breakup.  Katie had poisoned his mother to pay him back and to try to throw suspicion on him.  

The narrator for this book was not my favorite.  His voice was wheezy at times and as the book progressed became irritating.  However, he read well without stumbling and carried the narration through to its end. 

This case happened in 2015.  The author carries the case through Katie's trials and talks about the crime, the relationships and the heartache that an obsessed person can cause others as they single-mindedly pursue their goals.  There is an active group still convinced that Katie Conley was falsely accused and convicted.  The author offered to talk with them to get their side of events but they did not choose to participate in the book.  This book is recommended for true crime readers.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

 


Blue has never lived the 'normal' life of a teenage girl.  How could she?  Raised in a house full of mediums and clairvoyants, she will always be considered weird by teenage standards.  Then there is the curse.  From a young age, Blue is told that she will kill her own true love and his death will come after kissing her.  That tends to make a girl standoffish as well.  Add in growing up poor and Blue doesn't have a covey of buddies.

But things are improving in Blue's life.  She meets four of the rich boys from the local private academy, Aglionby.  Blue has always avoided Aglionby guys or Raven Boys as she calls them from their mascot.  They are rich, entitled and only interested in local girls for sexual purposes.  But these four seem to be different.

Gansy is their leader.  He is confident and obsessed, determined to find an ancient king he believes is buried near this town.  Ronan has been Gansy's best friend since childhood but is grieving the death of his father and lashing out at all around him.  Adam is a local boy like Blue, also poor but on a scholarship to the academy which he views as his steppingstone out of his limited circumstances.  Nick is shy and on the fringes but Blue is comfortable around him.  Both Adam and Gansy seem attracted to Blue and she's not sure what to do about that.

As the five teenagers search for the ancient king, their search uncovers magic, real magic that they had hoped for but never really believed existed.  What secrets will the magic uncover and what danger will the five have to overcome?  Will they all survive?

This is the first book in the Raven Cycle series, a set of four books.  Blue is an interesting character, full of longings for a normal life and uncertain how to set about getting that.  The boys have very different personalities and one wonders what exactly has brought them together into the brotherhood they seem to have adopted.  This book leaves the reader interested in reading the rest of the cycle and is recommended for young adult and fantasy readers.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

All The Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

 

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have left Quebec to come to Paris for a joyous occasion.  Their daughter Annie, married to Armand's former second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, is about to give birth to a daughter.  Their son, Daniel, and his family are also living in Paris.  Making the occasion even more special, Armand's godfather, billionaire Stephen Horowitz, is in the city for a meeting as well.  The entire clan gathers for a dinner for all to catch up.  Afterwards, Armand walks Stephen back to his hotel but tragedy strikes.  Stephen is mowed down by a hit and run driver and must be rushed to the hospital.

Armand suspects that the accident was instead an assassination attempt.  Horowitz is a major figure in finance circles and he knows many secrets.  When a murdered man is found in the apartment Horowitz keeps in Paris, Armand's suspicions are confirmed.  Someone wants Stephen dead but why?

Although the French police are investigating, Armand is not sure they are doing a diligent job or taking Stephen's position into account.  He decides that he must investigate himself with the help of Jean-Guy and his various contacts in Paris.  The group quickly discovers that there is corruption involved that reaches to the head of corporations and the government itself.  Can they hope to solve the case and avert more tragedies?  Complicating matters is the fact that Armand and his son, Daniel, have been somewhat estranged for years and this estrangement blows up as it becomes clear that Daniel may also be involved.  

I listened to this novel and the narrator was excellent.  He had the perfect accent and his voice, while not emotional, was not deadpan.  It was a perfect reflection of a man in Armand's professional position who is now embroiled in a matter that touches his own family deeply.  Such a man is not overtly emotional but would not be able to successfully tamp down all emotions when his family is threatened.  The narrator was able to convey this with his change in tempo and inflections.

This is the sixteenth novel in this much beloved series.  It explores the Gamache family's relationships and old friendships while filling in much of the backstory of Gamache's early upbringing and the forces that shaped his life.  The mystery behind the assassinations and the degree of corruption is breathtaking and the reader is left hoping that it is not realistic while fearing that money and governments may be entwined in corruption as portrayed.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

 

The story begins at a highly competitive high school for the performing arts.  The place is New York, the time the early 1980's.  Mr. Kingsley is the lodestone around which the drama department revolves.  He uses his talent and access to force the students in his program to confront themselves and their fears, to trust each other and their talent.  Two students stand out.  David is handsome and rich but hesitant.  Sarah is an outsider, her contributions to the plays wardrobe mistress rather than onstage performer.  The two share a summer romance and then spend the next two years in a love-hate relationship that those around them recognize but who no one knows how to move forward.  

Then the book shifts.  We see the same events from the viewpoint of Karen twenty years later.  She was another student who stayed behind the scenes.  After a successful career as an executive assistant and organizer, she returns home to the city where they all grew up.  David is back in town also, working now as a producer and director.  Sarah has become an author and has a hugely successful book out.  When Karen reconnects with Sarah at an author signing in Los Angeles, their reminiscences lead to Sarah agreeing to come to the debut of David's next play, which Karen is starring in.  What happens there is surprising yet in some ways long overdue.

This novel won the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction.  It explores the relationships between teenagers with their overheated dramatic friendships.  It also delves into the trust that teachers demand from their students and how easily that trust can be abused.  Although none of the characters are particularly easy to relate with, their stories are fascinating and show the power of friendship and betrayal.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Widow's Web by Gene Lyons

 


The story doesn't ring true to the police called to investigate.  A man lies dead in his bedroom, a gunshot to the head causing his death.  His wife, Mary Lee Orsini, says that she found the door locked and when she unlocked it and went in, found her husband dead.  She says that she and her eleven year old daughter had been in the house the night before and heard nothing and that she slept in her daughter's room as she was feeling ill. Once it becomes clear that this is not a suicide, she has lots of possible perpetrators for the police to investigate, including her brother.

Orsini is a master manipulator.  She is compelling and people are fascinated with her, even if her stories don't hold up.  She claims a college degree although she didn't finish high school.  She claims connections with prestigious people and insists that powerful criminals have it out for her.  Her attorney, Bill McArthur, isn't sure his client is innocent but he is sure the police don't have enough evidence to take the case to trial.  When a grand jury refuses to return an indictment, Orsini is set free and McArthur believes his job is done.

But it isn't.  Orsini attempts for months to pull him into her web of lies and fabrications.  She has several boyfriends during this time and uses them to further the plans and plots constantly spinning in her mind.  Things take a more deadly turn when McArthur's wife is found shot and dead in his house.  Orsini, who by now is upset that McArthur never took her up on her flirtations, does what she can to cast suspicion on him.  Before it's all over, a sheriff with political aspirations becomes part of Orsini's web and McArthur is hounded in and out of court for months.  

This case took place in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Readers will be as fascinated with Mary Lee Orsini and her manipulations as those caught up in the case were.  She is an example of a narcissistic sociopath and her need to be in the spotlight cost the lives of two innocent people.  This book is recommended for readers of true crime.