Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Books In for 2013

Before I shelf these, here are the last books to make it through the door in 2013:

1.  Curse Of The Mistwraith, Janny Wurts, fantasy, book 1, Paperback Swap
2.  Traitor's Knot, Janny Wurts, fantasy, book 6, Paperback Swap
3.  A Snug Life Somewhere, Jan Shapin, memoir, sent for book tour
4.  The Sense Of Touch, Jan Parsons, anthology, sent for book tour
5.  The Blood Of Heaven, Kent Wascom, historical fiction, Christmas gift
6.  The Last Dark, Stephen Donaldson, fantasy, Christmas gift
7.  On The Floor, Aifric Campbell, mystery, Christmas gift
8.  Flyover Lives, Diane Johnson, memoir, sent for book tour
9.  Brain, Dermot Davis, literary fiction, sent by author
10.  Twisted, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, purchased
11.  I Shall Be Near To You, Erin Lindsay McCabe, historical fiction, sent by publisher

Guests On Earth by Lee Smith

Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, is noted in the 1930's and 1940's for its caring and innovation therapies for those with mental illnesses.  Evalina Toussaint comes to the hospital in 1936 after losing her mother and being an inconvenience to her father who is married to another woman with whom he has children.  Evalina is depressed by these events, and Highland is considered to be a good solution to both Evalina's issues and the fact of her existence.

She is to grow up at the hospital, staying for years although it is acknowledged that she doesn't really need treatments after a while, and she becomes part client, part staff.  Evalina has great musical talent which is developed by the wife of the hospital's founder and most famous doctor.  She develops relationships with the other patients and staff members, coming to consider them her friends and family.

Evalina is sent to a boarding school, and finds love with a man she meets through her musical work.  After their whirlwind affair, she finds herself once again depressed and at loose ends, and returns to Highland Hospital for another stay of years.  Once again, she develops friendships with those who surround her.

There is Dixie, the typical Southern belle, who is inexplicably depressed at times.  Jinx is a seventeen year old delinquent, sent to the hospital in lieu of jail.  Zelda Fitzgerald is the wife of famous novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and the most famous patient of the hospital.  Pan Otto is a groundskeeper who came to the hospital as an abused child and never left.  As Evalina makes her life there, it becomes clear that many of the patients would never be hospitalized in todays' society.  In the 1930's and 1940's, with their emphasis on conformity, many people, especially women, ended up in institutions when they couldn't fit into the lives around them and couldn't be coerced by normal societal strictures to conform to the picture of an approved way of life.

Lee Smith, a North Carolina author, has written a touching novel of society and the way it handles those who do not fit into the normal molds.  The clients are portrayed sympathetically and the reader comes to empathize with their inability to handle life's trials.  The book is an accurate portrayal of how mental illness was handled, with insulin and electric shock therapy, with art and gardening and long walks.  This book is recommended for those interested in North Carolina history and those interested in how we treat those who are different than us. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo

A series of deaths have the police playing catch-up in Oslo.  The victims don't seem to have any relation to each other that anyone can find, but each has been killed at five o'clock and has had a finger severed.  On each body jewelry has been found that contains red star-cut diamonds; the kind of jewels that are called The Devil's Star.  In each case a bicycle messenger has been spotted in the vicinity.

Detective Harry Hole is pulled onto the investigative team.  Although he only has three weeks left until his dismissal from the police department, he is the best they have and the only one with serial killer experience.  He has been dismissed both because of his drinking and because he insists that one of the department's rising stars is in fact a criminal himself and heads up a smuggling ring.  Since he refuses to recant his accusations, and since he won't or can't stop the drinking, a decision has been made to release him from the force. 

Harry is of two minds about this.  While he can't really imagine doing anything else, perhaps it is for the best.  When working, all else goes out the window, keeping him from relationships.  The horror of what he sees keeps his drinking fueled.  But will he be able to keep away from what is central to his life?  Can he find the killer before his time as a detective is up?

Jo Nesbo has scored another hit with this latest Harry Hole novel.  The reader cannot help but be attracted to Harry in the same way that his friends are, recognizing his essential goodness while repelled by his single-mindedness and determination to drink away his problems.  No author can pull the reader into the inside of a murder investigation like Nesbo, or provide as many shocks along the way to a solution.  This book is recommended to mystery readers, and to fans of Harry Hole.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Republic Of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora is in trouble.  In exile with his best friend, Jean, he is seriously ill.  They succeeded in their last caper, but at a price.  Lamora has been poisoned, and none of the doctors and healers Jean has found have been able to heal him.

Finally, Jean approaches a Bondsmagi, Archdame Patience.  Bondsmagi are to be avoided at all costs, but without their help, Lamora will soon be dead.  Patience is able to reverse the poisoning, but there is a price.  There is always a price with Magi.

The Magi are about to enter the Five Year Plan, an election that determines the Kouncil that will rule the city they protect.  Each side is involved in maneuvering the election to obtain a victory.  Who would be better at trickery than the Gentlemen Bastards, Jean and Lamora?  She obtains their services and promises them help after the election in leaving the land. 

Jean and Locke take up the challenge, but there is one thing Patience forgot to tell them.  The other side has purchased the services of another member of the Gentlemen Bastards clique; Sabetha, the only woman Locke has ever loved or ever will.  They are pitted against each other, each knowing the tricks and wiles of the others.  Which side will win, and will the battle end the love of Locke and Sabetha before it can be given another chance?

Fans of Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastard series will rejoice to read this third entry in the series.  The characters are compelling; the tone sprightly.  Locke is a force to be reckoned with, loyal to the death to his friends, and willing to stop at nothing to fulfill his missions.  The book moves between the current battle and the time that the Bastards worked together in a play, The Republic Of Thieves, when Locke and Sabetha's love first bloomed.  There is fantasy but it is just a background accompaniment to the action, not overwhelming.  This book is highly recommended to fantasy lovers and readers interested in a rollicking tale that will leave them obsessed and anxiously awaiting the next installment in the story. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best Food Writing 2013, edited by Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes has a long history of editing a compilation of the best food articles of the year.  She has put together a food anthology each year since 2000.  This years, Best Food Writing 2013, is another worthy effort and will be enjoyed both by those who identify themselves as ‘foodies’ and by those just interested in good writing that explains someone else’s obsession. 

The book contains articles by well-known food writers.  Authors include Michael Pollen, Corby Kummer (senior editor at The Atlantic for three decades), Matt Goulding, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl and Jonathan Gold, the first ever food writer to win a Pulitizer Prize.  Some of the articles are written by chefs, some by food critics, and many by those who write about food for their living. 

The articles range both in subject and voice.  There are articles that cover food fads and fashions such as slow eating, the local resourcing trend, the tyranny of chefs who have gone from those providing a service to those who give diners what they want to cook rather than what the diner wants to eat, and the emergence of food trucks.  There are humorous articles about cooking ribs and fighting squirrels.  There are emotional pieces that describe the role that food has in discovering love, parental connections, the connection between food and gratitude and food and memories.  There are profiles of chefs and descriptions of dinners with more than twenty courses.  There is complicated food, simple food, expensive food and comfort food.  

The reader will enjoy learning about the subject.  Each article is a gem in its own genre.  There is a short biography of each author before the piece, and the book is organized into subjects such as The Way We Eat Now, A Critical Palate, Farm To Table, The Meat Of The Matter, Home Cooking, To Be A Chef and Personal Tastes.  Those interested in cooking and food will find much to interest them, and those who are more mundane cooks will enjoy the view into the world of those for whom food is a compelling interest.  This book is recommended both for food enthusiasts and those interested in the subject of cooking and why it matters.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

10 years Calamity came and life changed forever.  The Epics arrived; superhuman individuals with amazing powers.  At first, humans believed the Epics were heroes, but they quickly learned that was wrong.  Epics came to rule and they rule with an iron fist.  Any resistance or even getting in an Epic’s way for a minute results in death.  They regard men as tools to further their rule.  No one can fight them. 

But some still want to.  David was eight years old the day he saw the most powerful Epic, Steelheart, up close.  He and his father were in a bank when Steelheart came in and killed everyone he saw without hesitation.  He didn’t see David, and David knows Steelheart’s greatest flaw.  He saw Steelheart bleed.  Every Epic has a fatal flaw and only by using that flaw can each be defeated. 

After years of study and plotting, David is about to get his wish to fight the Epics.  He works his way into a team of Reckoners.  Reckoners are the counter-terrorists and are humans willing to sacrifice everything to kill an Epic.  David is made part of the team for his extensive Epic research and his ability to improvise.  He joins Prof; the Reckoner team leader and his crew of Tia, Abraham, Cody and Megan.  Together they plan to not only fight the lesser Epics but to take down Steelheart himself.  Is there any chance they can succeed? 

Brandon Sanderson has written a story straight from the world of graphic novels, using words to paint the visual images.  He has created a new world, populated with recognizable heroes and evildoers and set them in a struggle from which only one side can emerge.  The words deliver a punch and the action is nonstop.  This is the first book in the Reckoner series and readers will be waiting  impatiently for the next.  This book is recommended for those who enjoy movies such as The Avengers or Superman and Batman. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On The Horizon, December 17, 2013

Not a lot of reviews to post this week.  I'm in the middle of about eight books, so there will be lots of reviews soon, but I haven't finished any of them yet.  But the books keep rolling in.  Here's what's hit the doorstep lately.

1.  Savage Girl, Jean Zimmerman, historical fiction, won in contest
2.  The Spook Light Affair, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Dark Mirror, Barry Maitland, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes, literary fiction, purchased
5.  Vanishing Point, Ander Monson, literary fiction, sent by author
6.  I Am Abraham, Jerome Charyn, historical fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Finn, Jon Clinch, literary fiction, Paperbackswap book

That's all!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Entertainer by Margaret Talbot

Lyle Talbot is not a household word, but he was the stock in trade of the entertainment business.  While they might not be able to name him, many viewers would recognize him as a character actor in the 1930's on.  Lyle studied his craft and participated in all the entertainment venues of the times.  In The Entertainer, his daughter, Margaret Talbot, reviews his life and the entertainment industry in its many facets.

Lyle grew up in the Midwest.  He got his start in entertainment as a teenager, when he started touring with carnivals and repertory troupes.  In these years before movies became popular, there were many of these groups touring town to town, bringing entertainment to those whose lives didn't offer much otherwise.  From this experience, he learned to be a professional; to always come with lines learned and on time, to make sure the show would always go on.

In the 1930's, Lyle got the call to Hollywood.  With his clean-cut looks and tailored elegance, he was touted as the next leading man.  That didn't happen, but he worked for decades in the movies and rubbed shoulders with such names as Clark Gable, Pat O'Brien, Loretta Young, and Mae West.  Lyle was a man about town, known for his romantic life as well as for his acting.  He was also one of the original twenty-four actors who started the Screen Actors Guild, as a protest against the grueling work schedule expected of actors at the time.

Like many actors, Lyle found it hard to resist the lure of Broadway.  He left Hollywood and worked in one of the longest running plays around the time of World War II.  He also spent his summers throughout his life doing summer stock to keep up with the world of live theatre.

When television grew up, Lyle transitioned to it.  He became a regular on the Ozzie and Harriett show, one of the most popular early shows.  He played the next door neighbor.  One of his sons, Stephen, played another familiar character.  He was one of Jerry Mathis's friends on Leave It To Beaver

Margaret Talbot has written a fascinating, well-researched book about her father's life and about the various forms of the entertainment world.  She tells the good as well as the bad about her father, but there is no doubt she loved this kind man who spent his life bringing joy to others.  This book is recommended to those interested in the early days of Hollywood and television, as well as those interested in the life of an actor.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Last Snowman by JC Little

This charming tale is especially appropriate with winter closing in for another year.  A mother is watching her children building a snowman from her kitchen window.  As she watches, she realizes that it will probably be the last snowman her fourteen year old daughter will build, and the book explores this bittersweet moment.

As the mother of a fifteen year old, I recognized the sentiments expressed in this book.  When children are small and need us twenty four hours a day, we can find ourselves wishing they would grow up and leave us more time to ourselves.  When they do just that, we are torn.  While we are proud of our children's independence as they learn to stand on their own two feet and experience life for themselves, it is difficult to realize that this time in our own lives is coming to a close, and that we will need to find new ways to relate to our children as they become adults.

All this is expressed succinctly in the story of the last snowman.  The illustrations are also adorable and portray that tug of war between child and adult.  This book is recommended for all parents and for children old enough to understand how their changes affect the adults in their lives.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Explanation Of Everything by Lauren Grodstein

Andy Waite has a fairly decent life.  A widower raising two young daughters, he is a biology professor on the tenure track at a college in New Jersey.  Maybe he doesn't have everything, but what he has is enough.  The college isn't first tier as he imagined when he was the protégé of one of the most famous evolutionists of his time, but it is good enough.  He hasn't gotten massive research grants, but the college lets him work on his selected research projects without interference.  Maybe he doesn't have a love life, but he isn't sure he wants one after losing his wife the way he did.

Andy's favorite class is one he teaches in the fall.  Nominally outside his field, he teaches the evolution course, familiarly known as the 'there is no God' class, where he guides students through evolutionary thought and writings.  This year, however, things are a bit different.  A female student, Melissa, has come to him to ask him to supervise her independent study.  She wants to research the intelligent design theory.  Andy has no use for this theory and his first thought is to say no, but Melissa is so disarming and in need of a mentor that he agrees to take it on.

Soon Melissa has worked her way into his family's life.  She volunteers to babysit, and babysitting is something a single parent finds hard to resist.  His girls love her, and he can't deprive them of this comfort, even though she talks about religion with them, and soon, they are asking to go to church.  Even Andy starts to wonder why Melissa seems so content, so able to handle the obstacles life throws at all of us.  Could he have been wrong all these years?

Lauren Grodstein has written a novel that lays out the arguments on one of the most divisive issues in modern life.  There are few who don't have an opinion on the subject of religion, and each side is firmly convinced the other just doesn't understand how life works.  Readers will be interested to watch Andy grapple with the issue and to follow his thought processes over months of exploration.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy books about issues and how individuals react to them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On The Horizon, December 10, 2013

It's been a fairly busy week for books.  I won a contest and got three Charles Todd books!  Here's what I've gotten lately:

1.  Hunting Shadows, Charles Todd, mystery, won in contest
2.  The Walnut Tree, Charles Todd, historical romance, won in contest
3.  Proof Of Guilt, Charles Todd, mystery, won in contest
4.  The Secret Rooms, Catherine Bailey, nonfiction, sent by publisher
5.  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Mayhem, Sarah Pinborough, mystery, Vine review book
7.  The Alhambra Decree, Lilian Gafni, historical fiction, sent by author
8,  The Longest Date, Cindy Chupack, humor, sent by publisher
9.  Leave Tomorrow Behind, Judy Clemens, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  Mastermind, Maria Konnikova, nonfiction, sent by publisher
12. The Boxed Angel, Robert DiGiacomo, Historical mystery, sent by publisher
13. The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco, literary fiction, purchased

A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson

Chief Inspector Alan Banks moved from London to the country for the lower crime rate he expected to find and for the most part, he is right.  So he is surprised to have his Sunday dinner interrupted by news of a murder.  Harry Steadman has been murdered and buried in a field.

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely murder victim.  Steadman had been a professor.  When he came into an inheritance, he and his wife had bought a house and come to the area to retire.  They had spent time in the area twenty years before as newlyweds and learned to love it.  Steadman had an interest in the local history and spent his time excavating local sites for his research.

Who could have borne him enough hatred to kill him?  His wife seems heartbroken, and has an alibi from the neighbor she spent the evening with.  There was a skirmish with a realtor who wanted to develop a site that Harry felt had historical interest, but it was hardly heated enough.

After investigation, Harry starts to wonder if the roots of this murder extend into the past; that past when he visited the area before.  He had befriended a young teenage couple and they accompanied him on his archaeological visits.  The young man had gone on to college, become a professor himself, and a colleague and friend of Harry's.  The young woman had become a fairly successful folk singer, but returned to the village.  They drifted apart and some wondered in Harry was the reason. 

This is Peter Robinson's second Inspector Banks mystery.  The reader is transported to a rural English countryside, and the way crime occurs and is handled there.  The ending is enough of a surprise to delight the reader and make them eager to continue the series.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Kept by James Scott

When Elspeth Howell returns to her family's farm in 1897 after working away from them for months, the first thing that strikes her is the silence.  She moves quietly into the farmhouse and she sees what no mother should ever have to see.  Four of her five children lie dead, as does her husband.  Before she can look for her remaining son, she is hit in the chest by the blast of a shotgun.

Elspeth doesn't die although she isn't sure how she will continue to live.  When she is well enough to travel, she and Caleb, her son, leave the farmhouse.  They leave to track down the killers Caleb saw and watched from the barn.  They plan to wreck revenge on those who have stolen so much from them.

After weeks of travel, they find themselves in the small town where Caleb was born, as the signs point to the murderers having fled there.  They move into the local hotel and take jobs, searching, ever searching.  Not only are they searching for the men who led them there, they are searching for each other and for the love they need to survive as a family again. 

James Scott has written a stunning, original novel that is so powerful that its images will be blazed into the reader's mind.  He portrays a brutal world, unfeeling for its inhabitants, a world in which life must be fought for against the elements and the others who are also fighting for survival.  Scott's genius is that he can portray such a world and at the same time portray the tenderness and love that a family provides; its support for one's weaknesses and forgiveness for one's sins.  Caleb and Elspeth are such original characters that their story will remain in the reader's mind long after the novel is finished.  This book is recommended for all readers; it is a literary tour-de-force. 

A Wonderful Holiday Gift Idea For Book-Lovers Everywhere!

Wondering what to get the book-lover on your list?  Or wondering what gift to give that expresses your personality to the recipient?

Wonder no more.  Penguin has come out with a wonderful line of t-shirts and tote bags based on their classic series.  It is a curated series of lifestyle goods from Penguin Classics, featuring the best of our book designs from the award-winning Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions. Our t-shirts and tote bags are high-quality items designed and produced in the US. 

Available for purchase online, these custom t-shirts for adults and children and book-friendly cotton tote bags, designed with exclusive Penguin Classics cover art from beloved books such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Candide, Heart of Darkness, Moby-Dick, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Wizard of Oz, and more. These collector-worthy goods feature cover art by leading graphic and comic artists and illustrators working today including Chris Ware, Seth, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Rachell Sumpter, Jillian Tamaki, and Lilli Carré.
I plan to order more than one.  What a great holiday gift! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Blooding Of Jack Absolute by C. C. Humphreys

Jack Absolute fans, rejoice!  Jack is back with all his charm and bravery.  In this novel, we get the back story of Jack and how he came to be the man he is.  It starts with his early years, when he thought he was the bastard son of a second son of the Absolute family; an outcast who was treated badly by the elder son who he lived with.  When his father came into the title instead, Jack finds out that his parents were actually married and he is no bastard.  He is the heir apparent to the Absolute fortune, and moves from being a thick country lad to London, where he is raised as one would expect from his position, with boarding school, trips to the theatre and a gang of friends.

Jack also gets his education in love.  In a pivotal point of his life, he is balancing three women.  Clothilde is the daughter of his French tutor, and he has a pure love for her.  His love for Fanny is sensual but secret as she is the mistress of a powerful man.  Then there is the actress who always has time and a bed for Jack when he needs one.  When Jack becomes the target of both Fanny's protector and his childhood enemy, his luck runs out.  He finds himself in a situation that his father must help him avoid, and afterwards, both of them must leave England.

Jack finds himself in the British army and then quickly sent to the colonies to help in the conquest of Canada.  The enemy are the French and their Indian allies.  Only sixteen, Jack soon is immersed in the business of war, and his blooding is soon accomplished.  After a battle, he is separated, and we then find out how he meets his Mohawk friend, Ate.  They spend a winter together and after that, are brothers of the heart for life.

C.C. Humphries has created a character that is so lovable, so brave and so full of life that it is a delight to read about him.  The history is well-researched, and the reader is transported to another age, where life was cheap and honor was everything.  Jack is that scamp whose charm and well intentions lead one to forgive him any trespass.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and anyone interested in a wonderful read.  It is one of my favorite series and I can't wait to read the next Absolute tale.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On The Horizon, December 3, 2013

Here's a list of what's come in lately and is on the list to be read and reviewed:

1.  Our Love Could Light The World, Anne Leigh Parrish, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Fear Nothing, Lisa Gardner, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Crystal Ships, Richard Sharp, historical fiction, sent by author
4.  Children Of The Revolution, Peter Robinson, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  A Burnable Book, Bruce Holsinger,  historical fiction, sent by publisher
6.  Above All Men, Eric Shonkwiler, sci-fi, sent by publisher
7.  Steeled For Murder, KM Rockwood, mystery, sent by author
8.  Flash History, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ann Atkins, biography, sent by author
9.  In Mint Condition, Ambannon Books, anthology, sent by publisher
10.  Flamingo Moon, Carolyn Holm, women's fiction, sent by author
11. Shadow Play, Frances Fyfield, mystery, Paperbackswap
12.  Where The Moon Isn't, Nathan Filer, literary fiction, Shelf Awareness win
13.  Dark City, F. Paul Wilson, Suspense, sent by publisher

This doesn't count all the Kindle books I've accumulated over the past two weeks.  I'm reading Luminairies by Elenaor Catton, Mystery Walk by Robert M. McCammon and The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo on various Kindles.  As always, more great books than I can read quickly.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

White Fire by Preston & Child

What do an upscale ski resort, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, a carnivorous grizzly bear, serial arson, an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story and mining operations have in common?  All are ingredients in the latest rousing FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast mystery.

Corrie Swanson, a criminal justice student and Pendergast's protégé, has come to Roaring Fork, Colorado, to work on her thesis.  She wants to study the historical case of a man-eating grizzly who killed eleven miners in the early days of the settlement.  When she falls afoul of the law and ends up in jail, Pendergast arrives in time to save the day.  Coincidentally, he arrives in time to witness a series of grisly fires, set in some of the town's biggest mansions, where the structure and those inhabiting it both are consumed by flames. 

As Pendergast helps the local law enforcement, he keeps coming back to an old story.  Oscar Wilde had visited the town back in its mining days, and left with a story that was unbelievable.  He shares it with Conan Doyle, who uses the grisly details in a Sherlock Holmes story, one that was never published as it was outside the realm of what the public would accept.  Pendergast comes to believe that this story has ties to the modern murders occurring in the town and that finding the story will be the only way to solve the mystery.  Corrie is also working on the murders and apparently, someone believes that she is getting close to a solution.  She is targeted for murder herself with a series of increasingly violent incidents.  Can Pendergast solve the crimes and save Corrie from her curiosity?

This is the thirteenth Pendergast mystery, and fans of the series won't be disappointed.  Readers who have not read the prior novels in the series will not be left in the dark; while there are touchstones for former readers there is no need to know the events leading up to this case.   The action is non-stop and the crimes grisly enough to satisfy any mystery lover.  The solution is complex and satisfactorily ties up all the threads in the story.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Friday, November 29, 2013

City Of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

Musicologist Sarah Weston has returned to Vienna.  She is on a mission to save her protégé, a 13 year old blind pianist named Pollina.  Pollina is sick with some sort of lung infection and is getting near the end of her life.  Sarah is determined to do whatever it takes to find a cure for Pollina.  She comes to Vienna to track down a famous immunologist named Bettina Mueller, who has a history of saving those medicine has declared a lost cause.

But it isn't easy to reach Mueller.  She disappears shortly after Sarah meets her, and sends Sarah cryptic messages outlining her demands for working on Pollina's case.  Sarah has allies in Vienna.  Max is the love of her life, a modern day prince who she let go when their lives took different paths.  Nico is a dwarf and not only a dwarf, but one who has already lived four hundred years and is immortal.  Can this group of friends solve the mysteries and give the scientist the things she desires in time to help their friend, Pollina?

Magnus Flyte has written an engaging novel that adroitly mixes fantasy and history, along with musicology, the Lipizzaner stallions, time-travel, descendants of the Hapsburg empire, and alchemy.  Sarah is a strong female character, and willing to do whatever is necessary to meet her goals.  This is the second book in a series, but works well as a stand-alone novel.  The first in the series, City Of Dark Magic, introduces the reader to Sarah, Max and Nico.  This further adventure of the trio will deepen their successful entry into the reader's imagination.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers and those interested in history with a twist of whimsy.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence by David Samuel Levinson

College towns in the summer are different.  Without the students there, the town sleeps and stirs lazily.  The energy level drops dramatically as everyone waits for the coolness of fall and the students' return. 

Catherine Strayed is living in such a town.  She works in a bookstore and works through the grief of losing her husband, Wyatt, a talented novelist.   Wyatt's novel was groundbreaking, but killed upon birth by an influential critic, Henry Swallow.  With the death of his novel's success came the death of Wyatt's career, and Catherine watched him struggle and finally give up.  The final blow was Henry's move to the college where Wyatt worked and the realization that he had to see him and work with him each day.

Everything changes when Antonia Lively blows into town.  She is the latest celebrity novelist, her debut hailed by everyone.  It doesn't hurt that she's Henry's latest protégé, and he can use his influence to move her career forward.  Her novel explores her own family's tragic history, and she sees nothing wrong with using such personal material.  Isn't that what novelists do?

The summer progresses with Catherine being drawn further into Henry and Antonia's lives.  There are so many motives and old stories intertwined that it is unclear who loves who and who are mortal enemies.  What neither Henry or Catherine know is that Antonia has determined what her next novel will explore and that is the complicated relationship that Wyatt, Catherine and Henry all had with each other.  Will this new excavation of pain prove fatal to Antonia?

David Samuel Levinson has written a complicated, plot-twisting novel that is sure to keep the reader turning pages.  The reader is as enthralled with the twist and turns of these individual's relationships as Antonia is, and it is impossible to turn away from the tragedy it is clear is coming.  This book is recommended for readers interested in authors' lives and those who love books about relationships.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Palaver Tree by Wendy Unsworth

Ellie Hathaway lives a quiet life in Berriwood, Cornwall.  She had married late to her husband, John, but life with him was sweet.  She lived a life of preplanned routine, gardening, going to various village functions, spending time with her best friend, Dianne.  That all changed the night John went out to walk the dog and didn't return, the victim of a hit and run driver.

John leaves Ellie very well off.  Needing a change in her life, she is an easy prey for Gabriel Cole, the founder of The Hope Foundation, a charity Dianne fund raises for.  He offers Ellie a position as the teacher at the African school the foundation maintains, in return for her financial support of the charity.  Desperate for a change, Ellie agrees and flies off to a new life in Africa.

Once there, she settles into her new life.  She loves the school and all the children there, although she had not realized how destitute the area was or how much poverty affected the lives of all who lived there.  She makes friends in the area.  First are Promise and Sulieman, native teachers at the school.  Soon she meets Marc and Pax, cousins who are native-born although white.  She soon develops a romantic interest in Marc, which he returns.

But all is not well.  The longer Ellie is in Africa, the more suspicious she is of Gabriel.  His stories don't seem to add up.  The school constantly needs money, while he lives in a mansion.  There are differing stories about what happened to his wife.  Then there are the women.  It seems that there is a woman wherever you turn who Gabriel is stringing along, either for money or sex or both. 

As Ellie starts to add up her suspicions against Gabriel, the country explodes.  A new President takes over, and immediately starts to wreck havoc and take revenge against those who oppose him.  Soon civil war erupts, and life is not safe, especially for the foreigners who have come to the country.  Will Ellie survive her new life?

Wendy Unsworth has written a fascinating tale of Africa and how easy it is to be taken in when one wants to change their life.  She has lived in several African countries so the surroundings she creates in the story ring true.  Another major strength is the creation of Gabriel, a con man extraordinaire.  Reading the book, it becomes clear to the reader how easily an average person who lives their life as morally as possible can be tricked and scammed by someone who doesn't share their moral outlook.  Readers will enjoy the trip to another land, and the neat resolution of all the threads of the story in the end.  This book is recommended for readers interested in other cultures.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pinkerton's Great Detective by Beau Riffenburgh

Hard as it is to believe, the detective has not existed as an occupation for that long.  When one considers that many city police departments came into existence in the late 1800's, it is less surprising to hear that detectives, as we now know them,  also got their start in this same time period.  Pinkerton, the ultimate name in private detective agencies, started in the 1850's.  It rose to national prominence largely due to the sensational cases that featured the agency's first famous detective, James McParland.

McParland was an Irish immigrant, who came to the United States with his brother.  After trying several occupations, he realized that his talents were best used as an investigator.  At this time, the private detective had as much power as did the police, and often handled cases that were beyond the resources of local law enforcement.  McParland parleyed his first big case into national fame and then rose in the ranks of the agency.  He remained a detective for the rest of his life.

The book is broken into three sections, each featuring one of the large cases McParland worked on.  Each case took months or even years of effort to bring the criminals to justice.  The first case was that of the coal miners in Pennsylvania.  The miners were attempting to start the first union to represent the working men against the owners of the mines.  Most miners were Irish, especially those involved in the secret organization called the Molly Maguires.  The mine owners wanted to break up the Maguires, as they suspected them of crimes such as intimidation, thievery and even murder.  McParland was sent in undercover to learn the inner workings of the Maguires and to help control them.  He spent months in this nerve-wracking occupation, playing each side against the other while learning the innermost secrets of the organization.  When he left the organization, he was key in the many trials that accused Maguire leaders of organized murders and maimings.  This case was so sensational that McParland's name became known across the country, and he became the epitome of law and justice in the 1870's.

McParland was too notorious after this to work again in the East, so the company moved him out to a Western office, where he soon became one of the main managers.  Under his management, the second big case occurred.  The Pinkerton's were hired to track and catch the Hole In The Wall Gang, better known today as Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  Their organization of loosely joined outlaws terrorized the West, robbing banks and trains and murdering those who got in their way.  While the main individuals escaped to South America, McParlane's investigation succeeded in breaking the back of the gang and bringing most of the men to justice.

After this, McParland returned to his roots and worked on the case of the miners attempting to organize in Colorado and Idaho.  The same tactics as he had seen in Pennsylvania were taking place, with murders and beatings commonplace.  The job increased in prominence when a former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, was assassinated.  McParland again used his tactics of coercing confessions from those in the mining organizations against the leaders, as he had done in Pennsylvania. 

McParland's fame, or notoriety, helped define what a private detective was, and what role he could play in society.  Most saw McParland as a hero, who used whatever means were available to crush organizations that terrorized entire states, and that local law enforcement were often powerless against.  Yet, those on the opposite side saw him as a traitor and a rat, an informer of the worst sort, who would stop at nothing to gain his wins.  These two opposing viewpoints are still prevalent today, depending on one's view of the labor wars.
Beau Riffenburgh has written a meticulously researched history of James McParland, and the large cases that consumed the country as law enforcement became stronger and the unions and the capitalists fought their battles.  The reader is given all the facts and left to make their own decision on whether McParland is a hero or a horror.  This book is recommended for history lovers and for those interested in the law enforcement occupation. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Absence Of Mercy by John Burley

Dr. Ben Stevenson lives a  normal life.  The county's medical examiner, he is married to Susan who is also a doctor.  They have two bright, energetic sons.  Thomas is sixteen and Joel is eight.  The Stevensons left the hustle of the city and traded in their stressful lives for the easy day-to-day life of a small town, one where everyone knows everyone else and not much happens.

That all changes one day when a teenage boy goes missing and is found killed in the woods.  Not just killed, but brutally mutilated.  Ben is drawn into the case since he has to do the autopsy, and he can't stop seeing the horrors inflicted on this child.  He becomes defensive, wanting his wife to take the boys and leave town but she convinces him this was a random act that won't reoccur.

Until it does.  The next victim is a girl whose attack is also savage, although she barely escapes with her life.  Her parents are close friends with the Stevensons, drawing them even further into the investigation.  A suspect is located but escapes the police.  The town starts to change, with fewer people outside and everyone starting to look askance at their neighbors.  Trust is starting to dissipate, and there are murmurs against those heading up the investigation. 

John Burley has written a chilling look at how quickly our everyday routine lives can change and how quickly neighbor can be set against neighbor.  He explores the parental responsibility in such a situation and how differing parental styles can create stress in a marriage.  The reader is caught up in a situation that he can barely imagine, and yet can imagine only too well.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On The Horizon 11/20/13

Time for another listing of books I've purchased or otherwise acquired in the past few weeks.  These will be reviewed as I can get to them.

1.  Still Life With Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen, Shelf Awareness book
2.  The Housemaid's Daughter, Barbara Mutch, Shelf Awareness book
3.  Psychotherapy Of Character, Robert Berezin, sent by author
4.  This Dark Road To Mercy, Wiley Cash, sent by publisher
5.  After I'm Gone, Laura Lippman, sent by publisher
6.  Princesses Behaving Badly, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, sent by publisher
7.  Commodore, Simon Sobo, sent by publisher
8.  Neope's War, Tod Langley, sent by publisher
9.  Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart, Shelf Awareness book
10.  Philida, Andre Brink, Paperbackswap book
11.  The Black Isle, Sandi Tan, Paperbackswap book
12.  Day For Night, Frederick Reiken, Paperbackswap book
13.  Organized To Death, Jan Christensen, sent by author
14.  The Book Of Jonah, Joshua Max Feldman, sent by publisher

I'm especially excited to have received Neope's War by Tod Langley.  This is the final book in his The Erinia Saga and I've read and reviewed the first two.  Add to that, Tod is a super nice guy and you'll see why I can't wait to read this one!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Enon by Paul Harding

Charlie Crosby is an average guy.  His wife, Susan, is a teacher, and Charlie runs a landscaping business.  They live in Charlie's hometown and have one daughter, Kate.  They don't have much materially, but what they have is enough.  Kate is the best thing they've done in their lives and is the center of their existence.  Charlie loves the town and its history and spends lots of time with his daughter introducing her to the land and the history.  When Kate is thirteen, she is struck on her bicycle by a car and killed.  Enon is the story of the year that follows.

It is clear fairly quickly that Kate was the reason for their marriage; the glue that held it together.  Susan goes home to her family for a visit soon afterwards, and never returns.  Charlie is left to himself, to endlessly replay the shining moments he shared with Kate and to experience the fathomless grief that overwhelms him.  Work falls by the wayside first.  Then he falls into addiction as he attempts to get past the rock that crushes him, the fact that stares him in the face every moment he is awake. 

Soon Charlie spends his nights wandering the towns, walking miles in an attempt to recreate past moments of happiness and to avoid remembering the hell his life has become.  He takes no care of himself and is soon gaunt and unkempt.  As the year progresses, he falls further and further outside his previous existence, as he tries to chase down the meaning of what has occurred and how he can ever start to live life again.

Paul Harding is that rare author who strikes gold with his debut novel.  Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize the year it was published, and was an American Library Association Notable Book.  Harding won the Pen/Robert Bingham Fellowship For Writers.  In this second novel, he returns to the New England environment and the family of that book; Charlie is the grandson of the protagonist of Tinkers. 

Readers will be taken into the intimate, soul-wrenching events that occur after the death of a child.  It is a harrowing read at times, but tells the truth of those parents who have lost their child.  There is no grief that can compare, and that grief is a greedy one.  In addition to the child, it can eat up marriages, jobs, health, and the will to live.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, and those who want to know what this life event is like from the raw inside. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cinnamon And Gunpowder by Eli Brown

Woe has befallen Owen Wedgwood.  It is 1819, and he has just been kidnapped by the notorious female pirate, Hannah Mabbot, the redheaded scourge of the seas.  A sworn enemy of his employer, Lord Ramsey, and the Pendleton Trading Company, Mabbot has made it her task to plunder and sink every trade ship of the company she encounters.  Now she has captured Ramsey and his crew, and wastes no time executing them all.  All except Wedgwood, Ramsey's famous chef.  To him, Mabbot makes a deal.  She will keep him alive for as long as he makes her a gourmet meal once a week.

Thus begins the story of the pirate and the chef.  As the days turn into weeks and then months, Owen's initial fear and loathing of Mabbot turns into something more like admiration.  She does have the love and loyalty of her crew, and it isn't an easy job to win the hearts of a pirate crew.  She does love his food.  Who wouldn't?  Here is the description of one meal:

"Three courses," I announced.  "Herring pate with rosemary on walnut bread.  Tea-smoked eel ravioli seared with caramelized garlic and bay leaf.  As as touché finale, rum-poached figs stuffed with Pilfered Blue cheese and drizzled with honey."

As time goes by, Owen makes grudging friendships with the pirates and learns more of Mabbot's story.  Rather than being a miscreant out solely for treasure and impelled by greed, she fights Ramsey's company due to their trade in opium and the lives they destroy with this trade.  She also fights Ramsey for the Brass Fox, the only other pirate feared and admired as she is.  They both want to find the Fox and win him to their side in their war.

Eli Brown has written a lilting, adventurous tale of pirates and treasure, of loyalty and treachery, of food and friendship and a different way of life.  The characters are larger than life, and the reader is drawn into their world, fascinated by this glimpse into another way of life.  This book is recommended for readers interested in adventure and those looking for a book that is just plain fun.  For above all, Brown has created a fun tale that will leave the reader smiling as they close the book for the last time. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The House Of Journalists by Tim Finch

The House Of Journalists is a government sponsored organization in London set up to provide shelter for refugee journalists who had been forced out of their own countries by political actions of the government.  Many of these men and women had lost their families, had been tortured and reviled, and escaped at great personal cost to a country where they hope to find refuge.  The House is set up to provide that refuge and to give these journalists a place to freely express the stories that were prohibited in their own countries.

The stories are horrendous.  There is Mr. Stan, a journalist who was born afflicted with a crippling disease.  Almost the only part of his body unaffected were his beautiful hands and his active mind.  When he is arrested and held by the government, his torturers ruined his hands, beating them with hammers until they are nothing more than stumps.  Mustapha is grateful for the shelter, but he misses the family he has left behind so badly that he spends many days in his room, too depressed to interact with others.  Agnes, a photojournalist, has escaped at great personal cost, and of course the atrocities visited on women differ from those meted out to men, including sexual abuse. 

All are grateful to have found the House of Journalists, and its freedom.  But are they really free here?  Their days are structured by the rules and regulations of the House, and their stories are co-opted by those who would use them for their own purposes.  There is Julian, who created the House and now rules it with an iron fist.  There is Edward Crumb, a liberal novelist who sees the chance to use these stories for his next big book. 

Tim Finch has written an interesting look at the refugee issue that explores this problem from all sides.  The stories are compelling, but before a refugee is granted a permanent stay, the validity of that story must be decided on by a committee who grants extension, or deports the individual before them.  The refugees are grateful, but also realize the freedoms they are giving up to be sheltered by others.  This book is recommended for readers interested in the world and how political wars and governments shifts can impact the population of those living there, and what those of us lucky enough to avoid such titanic shifts owe to those caught up in this nightmare.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is known these days as the voice of the independent bookseller after opening a successful bookstore in Nashville.  She claims that title with pride, but of course, she is also one of this country's preeminent novelists.  In This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Patchett lets the reader into her life.  The book is a collection of essays she has written at various times, and is an exploration of her life. 

One of the early essays is titled The Getaway Car.  In it, Patchett explores her writing life; how she learned to write by starting with short stories, the mentors she had such as Allen Gurganus and Grace Paley, and the friends she made such as Elizabeth McCraken who sustained her as she found her writing voice.  She talks about her time in education, both on the undergraduate level and in a MFA program.  Along with these memories, she dispenses writing advice to those interested in becoming authors; what worked for her and what she has found unhelpful.

Other essays explore her childhood in Tennessee, her first disastrous marriage, the jobs she took in order to support herself as she got established as a writer, and her family relationships.  She discusses the love she has for her mother and father and the great influence her grandmother had on her life.  Patchett writes about her successful second marriage.  She also writes about one of the other loves of her life, her dog.

In 2006, Patchett's book about her friendship with Lucy Grealy was chosen as the freshman required read at Clemson University in South Carolina.  Lucy was also a writer, and her life was marked by her childhood bout with cancer, and the years of surgery and chemotherapy that cured her, but only after disfiguring her severely.  After her death, Patchett wrote the book Truth And Beauty to memorialize Lucy's life.  Fundamentalists in South Carolina disapproved of the book which had sex and drugs in it, and attempted to get Clemson to rescind the selection and ban Patchett from the campus.  She writes about this time in her life, and the convocation speech she gave to that freshman class.  It is a stirring indictment of ignorance and how a writer should respond to such criticism.

This book is highly recommended for both readers and writers.  What shines through is Patchett's true vocation as an author; one that she was willing to make any sacrifice for.  It is interesting to note the loyalty she gives to anything she takes up; her family, her pet, her marriage, her friends, even her city of Nashville, Tennessee.  It is rewarding for readers to hear about the authors she thinks are good authors, and validating for those who also appreciate them.  The reader will finish this book with a new appreciation for Patchett and her mark on American literature. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Miranda's Big Mistake by Jill Mansell

Miranda can't seem to catch a break.  She's the lowest rung on the totem pole in Fenn's successful hair salon, mostly stocking shelves and washing hair when she knows she could be a great hair stylist.  She can't afford a place of her own, but luckily has found accommodations with an older woman who needs some help about her place.  Her best friend, Chloe, has just had her husband walk out when hears the news that Chloe is pregnant.  Worst of all, Miranda can't find her own true love.

Then things seem to change.  She meets and falls for Greg, who seems to be the man of her dreams.  He even asks her to marry him and gives her a ring.  The thing is, he is the cad that just walked out on Chloe, and when that comes to light, obviously the relationship is over.  Miranda meets other men, some attractive, some not, some interested, some not, and continues seeking for the true love that will change her life.

Jill Mansell cannot write a bad book.  Her novels are the ultimate feel-good, picker-upper books when one needs some relief from the unending drama of heavier novels.  The characters are always engaging and endearing.  The plots are complicated, yet all seems to end up well, with the good guys always triumphing in the end.  Readers will turn the last page with a smile on their face, satisfied that all has worked out for the best.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy a light optimistic read which leaves them feeling that all is right with the world.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Police by Jo Nesbo

Things are going pretty well for Harry Hole these days.  He's off active duty in the police department where the stress and danger almost killed him.  Instead, he is teaching at the police academy, much healthier and happier.  He is back with Rakel, his longtime love, and her son, Oleg, who he considers his own. 

And yet.  It would be foolish to say Harry didn't miss the department and active investigations.  When you are the best at something, it's hard to put it down.  He still has secrets and enemies more than ready to reveal them if he comes back.  How he manages to make enemies of people like the Chief of Police and his right-hand man is hard to understand for those who don't know him.

Then the unimaginable happens.  Police are being targeted and killed.  Not just shot in the commission of a crime, but lured to the scene of former murders and killed in an imitation of the previous crime.  No one who knows and loves Harry wants to pull him back, but when they are stumped, it just is inevitable to ask.  Harry resists, but as the crimes start striking closer and closer to him and targeting his former friends and colleagues, he is pulled back into the investigation.

This is the tenth Harry Hole mystery, and the reader turns the last page eager and impatient for the next.  Jo Nesbo is at the top of the crime writers' game.  His lead character is distinct yet believable, and his loyalty to those he loves is admirable.  The crimes are unusual and the solutions always a surprise.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

Imagine, if you can.  You're a typical middle-class family in a small town.  You run a small business and your husband is the assistant principal at the local high school.  You have twin sons just starting high school and a daughter who is graduating.  She excels both in music and grades, and has a bright future in front of her.

Now imagine that you are in a courtroom.  The crime?  A young high school teacher is on trial for sexual crimes against a teenager.  Your teenager, your bright golden girl.  Now imagine she walks into the courtroom and instead of sitting with you and your husband, marches over and sits behind the defendant, showing the entire court that she is on his side, and that she insists they are in love.  He insists that it never happened, that your daughter had a wildly inappropriate crush on him and made advances but that he never responded.

This is the nightmare that Kristina Riggle serves up in The Whole Golden World.  She explores the feelings of all affected.  Seventeen-year-old Morgan Monetti is determined to stand by the man the world thinks has ruined her life.  The family must move from a typical life with friendships in a small town taken for granted, to a life where whispers and comments about them are the norm.  The family of the teacher, TJ Hill, are also affected, so embarrassed and shamed that they want to disappear.  Except for his wife, Rain, who also believes in him and is determined to stand by him.

Readers of family dramas and parents will find this novel riveting.  As much as one wants to believe it could never happen to them, Riggle makes it plain that it could happen to anyone when circumstances line up perfectly for disaster. Morgan feels neglected in her family, looked over in favor of her brothers.  TJ is struggling in his first year of teaching calculus and as his marriage is strained by everyday events, looks elsewhere for validation.  His wife is determined to make her marriage work and have the family she always dreamed of.  All must look inside themselves to discover what led to this place and how to move on from it.  This book is recommended for those interested in family dynamics and how to survive a tragedy. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

On The Horizon, October 30, 2013

This week was an explosion of books!  Most were either Vine review books from Amazon or review books for the site Curled Up With A Good Book.  I've got my work cut out for me!

1.  The Republic Of Thieves, Scott Lynch, Vine
2.  The Explanation For Everything, Lauren Grodstein, Vine
3.  Guests On Earth, Lee Smith, Vine
4.  The Kept, James Scott, Vine
5.  30 Days In Sydney, Peter Carey, Paperback Swap
6.  The Child's Child, Barbara Vine, Paperback Swap
7.  The Mirrored World, Debra Dean, Curled Up With A Good Book
8.  The Kill Room, Jeffrey Deaver, Curled Up With A Good Book
9. The Small Hand And Dolly, Susan Hill, Curled Up With A Good Book
10.  Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson, Curled Up With A Good Book
11.  Field Notes From A Hidden City, Esther Woolfson, Curled Up With A Good Book
12.  Best Food Writing 2013, Holly Hughes, Curled Up With A Good Book
13.  Farthing, Jo Walton, Curled Up With A Good Book
14.  The Bones Of Paris, Laurie R. King, Curled Up With A Good Book
15.  Under The Wide And Starry Sky, Nancy Horan, Curled Up With A Good Book
16.  Our Picnics In The Sun, Morag Joss, Curled Up With A Good Book
17.  Ghosts Know, Ramsey Campbell, Curled Up With A Good Book
18.  City Of Lost Dreams, Magnus Flyte, sent by publisher
19.  The Deepest Secret, Carla Buckley, sent by publisher
20.  The Family, David Laskin, sent by publisher
21.  Surviving 26th Street, Carol June Stover, sent by author
22.  Andrew's Brain, E.L. Doctorow, sent by publisher
23. The Last Enchantments, Charles Finch, sent by publisher
24.  Darshan, Amrit Chima, sent by author
25.  White Fire, Preston & Child, sent by publisher

Visit in the coming weeks and months for reviews!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

Twenty-five years ago, Jade Walker and Annabel Oldacre were the most famous and most reviled children in England.  Left to their own devices by uncaring parents, they had drifted together for an afternoon; an afternoon that ended in the death of a five year old child they were watching.  The country exploded into recriminations and discussions about whether an individual can be born wicked.  The girls were sent into the prison system and released when they were adults, with new names and the hope that they could live reformed lives.

Now there is a murderer in the coastal town of Whitmouth.  Whitmouth is a tourist town, cheap for those without the means to go overseas.  It is a collection of take-away food, cheap amusements such as pubs and Funnland and the wax museum.  Four women have been killed by the man the press is calling The Seaside Strangler. 

This case will have far-reaching effects beyond that of the murder case itself.  For the girls, who haven't seen each other since their trial, will both be drawn in.  Annabel is now Amber Gordon, the head cleaner at Funnland.  She spends her nights cleaning and has carved out a small life for herself, with a live-in boyfriend and two dogs to spend her affection on.  Jade has done a bit better; she is now Kristy Lindsay, a journalist who is assigned to the case.  Kristy has clawed her way into the middle class, with a husband, children and a respectable job. 

The women run into each other in the course of the investigation, and realize the truth of who each one is.  They have no desire to see each other again; each is a reminder of the worst day of their lives and all that they have fought to overcome.  Yet circumstances force them together and before everything is over, they will have to decide if they are still the wicked girls or if they have learned a new way of living life.

Alex Marwood has written a suspenseful story that captures the reader at the first chapter and never lets go of them.  The reader can emphasize with each of the women and with what is happening to them as the investigation pulls their lives out of control.  It brings up the question of nature vs. nurture and how one can redeem an evil act.  This book is recommended for suspense readers.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Twenty-seven years into a marriage everyone assumed was solid, Annie and Orion Oh have split up.  They seemed the perfect family.  Orion was a psychologist and Annie a rising star in the art world.  They have three children, male and female twins and a younger daughter.  Not only are they breaking up, but Annie is getting remarried.  She is marrying the woman who represents her art, Viveca.

Shaken to the core, the family looks backward to see if they can determine what went wrong.  Orion was the typical work obsessed husband and father, leaving most of the child care to Annie.  Annie resented her long hours at home with three small children when she was consumed with her artistic vision.  She is also haunted by her family background; her mother's early death and father's subsequent disappearance into a bottle, leaving Annie to be raised in foster families.

Slowly, over a series of scenes from the past, the secrets of the family are uncovered.  Ariane, the elder daughter is a do-gooder who is letting her own life slip by as she tries to help others.  Her twin, Andrew, doesn't seem able to maintain a relationship.  The youngest, Marissa, is trying to become an actor to limited success.  Their failure to thrive is explained as the reader learns the family secrets and what went on in their childhood, tainted by Annie's own miserable childhood.

Wally Lamb has written a fascinating exploration of what makes a family, what holds it together and what tears it apart.  As more layers of family secrets are finally exposed, the family learns about each other in an unvarnished truth and how to find each other as adults.  The book explores the many facets of love; marital love, the love of a parent for a child, and of children working out adult relationships between each other.   It also details the unforeseen tragedies that can result from festering secrets.  This book is recommended for readers interested in family relationships and how we can help, not hurt, those we love most.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

They were the Lola Quartet, a group of Florida high school seniors who came together  to make music.  Their futures were bright as they finished their high school careers before venturing out into the world.  Gavin is planning to escape the heat of Florida to his dream city of New York City to pursue journalism.  Sasha is planning a life of books as she pursues a degree in literature.  Daniel is planning a career in house construction.  Jack, the best musician of them all, is taking his talent to college for a music degree.  Then there is Anna, Gavin's girlfriend and Sasha's sister,  who is always around on the periphery, kind of a wild child who will be staying behind for another year.

Ten years later, the dreams have not materialized.  Gavin is a newspaper reporter until he commits a professional error that can't be forgiven and loses his job.  Jack is mired in drug addiction.  Daniel is now a policeman while Sasha is a waitress in an all night diner, recovering from out of control gambling.  No one is really sure what happened to Anna, who disappeared after that summer.  Some said she went to live with an aunt, some say she went out west, but no one is really sure exactly where she is or what happened to her.

All four are back in their small Florida town.  Gavin's sister finds a picture in a house she is viewing in her role as a real estate agent.  The little girl in the picture looks exactly like she and Gavin, and when she asks, the woman keeping the girl says her name is Chloe Montgomery.  Montgomery is Anna's last name.  Did Anna have Gavin's baby a decade ago without telling him?

This discovery fuels the rest of the novel.  Gavin is determined to find Anna and Chloe to make sure they don't need anything from him.  Daniel and Jack seem to know parts of the story, maybe even where Anna is, but won't tell him.  Jack is too caught up in his drug dreams, while Daniel seems hostile.  When Gavin finds Sasha, she starts to give him bits and pieces as he uses his investigative skills to extract the story of what happened all those years ago.  Gavin's investigation puts a deadly plan in place, as it is misinterpreted by the players as a danger to the secret they've all been hiding for a decade.

Mandel has written a novel that explores the way life turns out so differently from what we had planned and expected as young adults.  Dreams don't always come true, but there is comfort in ordinary lives as well.  Early ties can turn into adult relationships that can provide sustenance, both material and emotional.  Her strength is character development, and the reader inhabits the lives of all the main characters, understanding the motives that drive their actions and hoping for satisfactory resolutions.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction and those interested in how lives twist and turn as we constantly reinvent ourselves.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Death Of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell

Today is Christmas Eve.  Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them was beloved

This opening is one of the most startling beginnings I can remember. Marine has spent her childhood taking care of herself and her younger sister, Kelly. Their parents are drug addicts and it is never as important to provide for their children as it is to get the next fix. So when they die from their habits Marnie decides to just keep on taking care of her family and not risk being separated from her sister by the social services system.

Lennie is their next door neighbor, an elderly gay man whose partner has passed on.  He realises that the girls are alone, and starts to have them over to feed them. Soon a new family has formed. Kelly thrives under the attention and Marnie starts to relax.

Unfortunately, things don't last. It turns out her dad had stolen money from the local drug dealer and he wants it back.  The girls' grandfather shows up and wants them to move in with him although he is a stranger to them. Will the girls ever catch a break and find peace and a family to love?

Lisa O'Donnell has written a compelling novel about family and the lengths we will go to in order to feel we belong. Marnie is a tough, no nonsense heroine that the reader can't help but to cheer for. This book is recommended for readers ready for an uplifting book that will surprise and delight them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In A Small Town by Marc A. Di Giacomo

Detective Matt Longo is shot with a shotgun blast as he goes to pick up a pizza.  A young detective, he now has a shattered shoulder.  As he recuperates, he starts to look back over his career, and the deaths he has attended as a policeman.  He thinks about his fellow officers, especially his partner Donny Mello, who is currently in Italy attending a family member's funeral.

Eventually, Matt goes back to work.  Donny returns from Italy, and all returns to normal.  Or at least that's how it seems at first.  Then Matt gets the word from a FBI agent that the agency has information that the shooter who tried to kill him is coming back to finish the job.  Matt will need all his skill and connections to make sure that the assassin isn't successful.

Marc Di Giacomo is a retired, highly decorated police detective who worked for a police department in an affluent community in New York.  He draws on his real life experiences to show the reader what the daily life of a police detective is like, as well as the heart stopping terror it can provide at any moment.  This book is recommended for readers who like hard-boiled mystery stories.

On The Horizon

Last week was a slow week in books in, which is good as it means I'll get a chance to catch up a bit.  Here's the weekly catch:

1.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Won from Shelf Awareness
2. The Blooding Of Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphries.  Sent by publisher.
3.  The Geek's Guide To Dating by Eric Smith.  Sent by publisher.
4.  Pinkerton's Greatest Detective by Beau Riffenburgh.  Sent by publisher.
5.  Theft by Peter Carey.  Paperbackswap.

Here's what I'm reading this week:

1.  In A Small Town by Marc Di Giacomo
2.  The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
3.  The Wicked Girls by Alec Garwood
4.  The Death Of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
5.  The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel
6.  The Palaver Tree by Wendy Unsworth