Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Everything is changing at Belle Vie, Louisiana.  A historical state site, it is a restored plantation and demonstrates life as it was lived in the antebellum South, complete with mansion, slave quarters, and all that went with maintaining the Southern planter's lifestyle.  Caren Gray is the manager of Belle Vie and lives there full-time with her daughter.  The plantation now has daily shows, and is a popular site for weddings and debutante balls.  Caren actually grew up on Belle Vie land.  Her mother was the cook for many decades and Caren can trace her relationship with Belle Vie back to her ancestors who lived there as slaves.

But all is changing.  A woman's body has been found on the land, and she was murdered.  Who killed this woman, a migrant worker who worked for Groveland?   Groveland is the large agricultural company that rents the Belle Vie land and grows sugar cane there.  There are rumors that the Claney family which has owned Belle Vie since the Civil War are thinking about selling out and closing it down. 

Caren gets caught up in the investigation when one of her workers is suspected of the murder.  Caren's life is also changing, and she isn't sure what she will be doing in the future. Her daughter's father is back in the picture, and their relationship is uncertain.  There are still embers in her former relationship with one of the Clancy brothers.  There is also a new man who she meets as she races to solve the murder before someone else is killed.

Attica Locke has written a tense, compelling mystery.  The atmosphere is moody and dark, the actions clothed in the mysteries of the past.  The changes in the plantation echo the changes Caren is undergoing in her life, and neither will be settled until she reconciles with the past of her family's relationship with the land.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Yard by Alex Grecian

The year is 1889 and Scotland Yard is just becoming organized as the crime fighting organization it is known as today.   The London Police are reeling from the loss of public confidence due to their lack in solving the Jack The Ripper case, and the new Murder Squad at the Yard is meant to solve the loss of confidence and decrease the crime rate.

Since the squad is new, so are the detectives making up the first group to be singled out as murder specialists.  There is Inspector Day, fresh to London from a more rural part of the country.  Hammersmith started life in a coal mining community and was determined to break away from the life his entire family knew as coal miners.  Blacker is not sure what he wants, but knows he is good at detecting.  Dr. Kingsley is the Yard's first medical examiner and is excited about a crime detection method he has just been introduced to--fingerprints.  Colonel Sir Edward Bradford is the head of the Yard, and has been given the job to develop it into the type of crime fighting unit London can be proud of.

There are, as always, plenty of crime to be solved.  The Murder Squad only has twelve detectives, and one of them has been murdered.  Such a murder makes the men determined to do whatever it takes to catch the killer.  But this isn't the only death they have to work on.  Bearded men are being killed off, and shaved before their throats are cut.  Children disappear from their families, sometimes to live on the streets, but sometimes for more chilling lives as victims. 

Alex Grecian has written a compelling crime novel that mixes history and heart-stopping thrills.  It is fascinating for those who follow crime to read about the start of one of the world's most pre-eminent crime fighting organizations, and the start of modern crime detection methods.  Each of the detectives in the novel have fully developed characters and the reader is pulled along to the end where all the disparate threads of various investigations are pulled together into a satisfactory ending.  This book is recommended for readers of historical mysteries.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lineup by Liad Shoham

A brutal rape occurs in the northern part of Tel Aviv.  The young woman who is raped is a reluctant reporter, but her parents convince her to notify the police about what has occurred.  Detective Eli Nahum is assigned to the case and is determined to find the rapist.

The victim's father watches outside her apartment, and is rewarded with finding a man skulking around the area at night.  He takes a picture and follows him home, sure that he has found his daughter's assailant.  After confronting her with the picture and getting a reluctant identification, he calls Nahum and turns in the man, Ziv Nevo.

Nevo was in the area, but not as a rapist.  A year ago, he had been fine with a job he enjoyed and a marriage with a small son he adored.  But a series of bad decisions had taken away his job, his marriage and his son, and he is left destitute and unable to find work.  He reaches out to a former friend in the Army, and finds some work, but soon is wrapped up in the clutches of the Israeli mob.  Now Nevo is in fear of his life as both the police and the mob are sure he is someone they need to put away for a long time.

Liad Shoham is one of Israel's leading crime writers, and an attorney.  American readers who haven't had a chance to sample Israeli crime writing will be interested to read this novel, his fifth bestseller.  The plot is intricate, and the characters are finely drawn.  In addition to Nevo and Nahum, there are portraits of a crime reporter looking for a big break, a prosecuting attorney who knows something is wrong although she doesn't know what, the head of the Israeli mob, the editor of the local newspaper, and the other police Nehum works with.  All the threads are woven together into a garment sure to please the reader.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

One evening Li Lan's father comes to her with a strange question.  He asked if she would like to become a ghost bride.  A ghost bride was a living woman married to a man who had already died.  The family of Lim Tian Ching had inquired of her father if he and Li Lan would be amenable to this request.  The Lim family was quite wealthy and Li Lan would have no material worries if she agreed.

But, she had no desire for such an inhuman mating.  Indeed, she had fallen in love with Tian Ching's cousin, Tian Bai, and he had been promised to her earlier before Ching had died.  The family now wanted to cancel that engagement and marry her to the dead man they missed so much as a son. 

Soon, Ching began haunting Li Lan's dreams, showing her the palaces and feasts she would have as his wife.  Scared, she got medicine from a medium, but one night when she was more terrified than normal, took too large a dose and her spirit slipped out of her physical body.

Li Lan goes to the Plains of the Dead, to try to determine how to get back into her body and how to ward off her unwelcome suitor.  While there, she tiptoes between those who would help her such as her own deceased relatives, and those that wished to do her harm.  Will she manage to get back into her body before demons claim her?  Can she ward off Ching and find happiness with her first promised mate, Tian Bai?

This is the debut novel by Yangsze Choo, and she shows promise of an intriguing career.  The writing is dreamy, captured in the mists of Chinese beliefs and superstitions.  The reader is caught up in Li Lan's quest, and cheers for her to gain what she most wants in life, someone to love who can love her back.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in literary fiction.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

Life is different for Inspector Harry Hole, but he is trying.  He has a new boss, as his old boss has been transferred to a quieter location than the Oslo murder division.  The new boss is spit and polish, by the book, and that means either he or Harry will need to change, and change isn't something one associates with Harry.  Harry is also trying sobriety, and that is also something the verdict is out on.

But one thing never changes and that is crime.  It becomes clear that there is a paid assassin operating in Oslo.  The strange thing is that he seems to be targeting Salvation Army officials, who seem an unlikely target for organized crime.  The bodies start to mount, and it becomes clear that this is a Croatian assassin, trained in the wars that tore his country apart.  A war where he got his nickname 'The Redeemer' for his agility and ability to kill the Croatian enemies in the brutal civil war that tore his country apart. 

This is a worthy opponent for Inspector Hole.  He tracks the killer, barely missing him over and over, while he tries to unravel the motives behind the crimes.  There is also a new woman in Harry's life, and perhaps this one will be the one to calm his soul and bring him happiness.  Can Harry find the assassin before he kills again?

This is the sixth of the ten Harry Hole novels by Jo Nesbo.  Fans of the series will be fascinated as always by the intricate plotting and the ways that Harry maneuvers in his job despite his personal failings.  The pace is jolting, and Nesbo spares no one in his storytelling.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers whether they have read prior Nesbo novels or not.  Those who pick up this book are in for a compelling read that will leave them breathless and satisfied.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lowcountry Bombshell by Susan M. Boyer

Things are heating up in Liz Talbot's life.  After her grandmother's murder, she moved back to the small South Carolina island where her family has lived for decades, and decides to pursue her private investigator career from her home town.  Her new case promises to be challenging.  When she opens her door, her first instinct is shock.  Standing on her porch is Marilyn Monroe, or at least it seems that way.

Calista McQueen not only looks like Marilyn, she shares disturbing similarities to her life.  She was born at the exact date and time as Marilyn, her mother named her Norma Jeane, and she spent her childhood in foster homes.  Her second marriage was to a ballplayer, Joe.  Now Calista is worried that she will be murdered on the anniversary of Marilyn's death, and wants Liz to help her escape what she fears is her fate.

There are plenty of suspects.  There are her birth mother and her mother's best friend, the women who made it their lives' work to remake Calista into the spitting image of Marilyn.  Her first husband has been searching for her for years since she moved away.  Liz isn't happy about the current people surrounding Calista either.  There is a yoga instructor who is in and out of the house, a doctor who seems much too interested in his patient, and a housekeeper with ties to the island but who no one knows much about.  Strange things are occurring as the anniversary gets closer, and Liz is determined to find out who is behind them.

Liz's personal life is heating up also.  Her partner, Nate, has finally realized that they should be partners in life as well as business.  In the meantime, Matt, her ex, has decided to try to win her back.  Nate is her dream but comes at a price as he wants to move her off the island and back to 'civilization'.  Who will she choose?

Susan Boyer has written an engaging mystery that will have readers reaching for a glass of sweet iced tea as they relax on their porches.  Liz is the typical Southern belle, which means her charming exterior masks a steel interior and a determination to win whatever contest she engages in.  The mystery is intriguing, and the denouement is surprising.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Old Rectory by Julia Ibbotson

As Julia Ibbotson and her husband took stock once the children were gone, they decided that they wanted a change.  They decided what they really wanted as their lifestyle was to move to a more rural setting in England, one where they could be close to the land and its rhythms, where life was slower and easier to savor.  After an extensive search, they found what they thought was the perfect house.  A former rectory, it had been built in the late 1800's and offered the space and location they wanted.

The Old Rectory details the Ibbotson's acquisition and renovation of their dream house.  As one might expect, the house had significant flaws that had to be fixed; dampness and mold as well as antiquated wiring.  The couple wanted to not only modernize the house, but restore it to its original Georgian style.  They also wanted to restore the grounds to their former glory.

Julia is a woman who adores cooking, and each chapter details various traditional English dishes appropriate to the season in which the chapter is written.  The reader will learn how to make such dishes as the traditional English roast, lamb with mint jelly, lots of various fruit puddings, and other wonderful meals. 

As the couple worked on the house, they also became part of village life.  Soon they were involved in various village functions such as choirs, craft classes, a walking group and a group that went on outings.  They made new friends who shared their love of English culture and thought it worth fighting for. 

Ibbotson has written a charming account of how life can be changed as one moves into the later stages of one's life.  The renovation and research into the house's history are interesting, and the recipes are enticing.  American readers need to take extra care with details such as oven temperature and measurements and be sure they have correctly translated the measurements into their American equivalents.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy cooking as well as those interested in history or how to enrich one's life after the work of raising children is over.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Turk Who Loved Apples by Matt Gross

Matt Gross began his travel writing career right out of college when he took a job that required him to move to Vietnam for a year to work as an English teacher.  He found he loved living in a foreign country, figuring out the best way to maneuver the streets and find food and friends.  He wrote a few articles and soon found himself with a marvelous offer.  He became the Frugal Traveler for New York Times for several years.  This required him to pick up at a moment’s notice and travel all over the world, identifying ways that his readers could travel economically.  After that job ended, he found other jobs that continued to pay him to travel and document his adventures for those who enjoyed reading about travel or needed guidance for their own trips. 

While the book contains elements of traditional travel writing with lists of various places and experiences and sights he encountered there, the thrust of the book is more of a memoir, how travel changed him and how he came to view travel over the years.  It is more an explanation of what traveling is than a blueprint of how to handle travel.  Some of the interesting chapters included traveling with family which gave the story of his courtship and marriage as well as the family relationships that he enriched with travel and one on prostitutes and other stranger individuals he encountered over the years.  He talks about the difference between a traveler and a tourist, about how one reconciles the immense poverty and misery encountered in foreign lands with the wealth we are surrounded with, and how his goal as his travels progressed was to get lost to recapture that new to him feeling of a new city or country.   

Matt Gross has written an engaging look at the world of travel writers.  For those who enjoy this genre of writing, The Turk Who Loved Apples is a perfect addition to their travel writing library along with books by Bill Byson, Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Mark Twain and other travel writers.  He is obviously a well read individual who enjoys Zola and William Vollman (a Booksie favorite), as well as an enthusiastic foodie who seeks out regional food and delights in trying anything.  This book is recommended for memoir and travel writing readers and will be a wonderful addition to anyone’s reading list who is curious about the world and how other people live. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Boo by Pat Conroy

As  most readers know, Pat Conroy spent his formative years after high school at The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, SC.  The Boo is Conroy's first book, recently re-edited by him.  It is a memoir of that time, but especially of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Nugent Courvoisie, the Commandant Of Cadets, nicknamed 'The Boo' by the cadets he oversaw.

Courvoisie was in charge of cadet behavior, and he was feared and respected in equal measures by those young men.  Although those who broke the rules lived in fear until caught by him, he was also capable of great kindness and sometimes even leniency to those in his care.  He thought of the cadets as lambs and he was their shepherd.  He had to be tough to get them through the perils of Citadel life, which would either crush a young man's spirit or toughen him up and give him self-respect for life.

The Boo is a series of vignettes about various infractions that The Boo discovered and the punishments given out.  There are many written explanations in the cadets' own voices, explaining their behavior and asking for forgiveness.  Although punishment was almost always sure, the men were in awe of The Boo and they recognized that he cared deeply for them.  Many spent years afterwards asking for his advice, knowing that he would always be there for a cadet who needed help, no matter how many years had passed.  He was enormously popular with the cadet corp, and when the administration decided to strip him of his job, it was an incredibly unpopular decision.

Pat Conroy is one of America's national treasures, an author whose every book serves to identify and explain the male psyche to the world.  In particular, he has a particular skill in explaining those men with military backgrounds, and those who grew up with alpha fathers and who spent their lives trying to be a success for these men.  The Boo is his first book, and it is raw, but what is noticeable above all is the raw talent that would make Conroy a beloved author.  This book is recommended for Conroy fans, fans of Southern literature, and those interested in what makes a man. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Thinking Woman's Guide To Real Magic

Nora Fischer's life is not going well.  She is stuck on her doctoral thesis and her advisor is making hints about a probation.  Her boyfriend has come home, not to propose as she thought, but to announce he's marrying someone else.  Distraught and fed up with life, she wanders off on a mountain walk and inadvertently falls through a door into another world.

As Nora walks, she comes upon a gorgeous country estate.  The owner, a beautiful, sophisticated woman who reminds Nora of those 60's women like Jackie O, seems delighted to find Nora trespassing and insists she stays for a party that night.  Somehow, that party stretches into weeks, and before Nora knows it, she has fallen in love with the woman's son and they are married.  However things are not what they seem.  For she has fallen in with fairies and the enchantment she is under falls apart when she sees her husband for what he is, and he tries to kill her.

Escaping by the wiles of a magician she had met, she realizes what had happened to her.  The magician is an man of vast age, charismatic and known throughout the land as the greatest magician ever, but he has his faults.  He is often remote, surly at times and not one to suffer fools gladly.  Then there are the rumors about how his own marriage ended, and the rumors aren't good.  Nora comes into his household as a servant but slowly begins to become his student and learn magic herself.  When the chance to go back to her own world opens up, which world will Nora choose?

Emily Croy Barker has written an engaging, charming fantasy.  It is full of dangers and romance, evil and good, battles and spells and alliances.  Who could resist a world where hungry ice demons can be warded off with poetry or where one starts to learn magic by putting back shattered plates?  Nora is a believable heroine and the reader will fall in love with her, while the magician, Aruendiel is a man any woman would love to meet.  This book is recommended for fantasy lovers and those English majors who suspect that there is more to life than books.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Early Decision by Lacy Crawford

Anne is the 'application whisperer'.  Her specialty is shepherding high school senior through the college application process and there are plenty of parents willing to pay handsomely to make sure their child gets into one of the Ivy League schools.  These are the helicopter parents, who have been overseeing their child's extracurricular activities and schoolwork for over a decade with the singular goal of making sure their application will be ones of those accepted at the school of their choice.

This year's crop of seniors is no different.  There is Sadie, whose whole life has revolved around service to others, a goal her parents have pushed aggressively.  The family spends weekends and vacations serving others around the globe, although the parents can't quite seem to work actually spending time with Sadie one on one into their schedules.  There is Alexis, the rare child who is so stellar that she could get in anywhere, but her anxious parents just can't believe she can make it without professional grooming.  Hunter is a nice boy, not a straight A student but one rung down, whose dreams vary from what his parents regard as acceptable.   William wants to study drama, but his parents insist on a profession that is safer and more likely to lead to financial success.  Cristina is the one who makes it all worthwhile, a Hispanic student who would have no chance at college despite her amazing mind and grades, without the help of someone like Anne to find the financial resources she will need.

While arranging the lives of others, Anne lets her own life stay on hold.  She left graduate school, not sure where she was headed and why she was there.  Her boyfriend, older by more than a decade, has commitment issues and the relationship seems stalled.  How can Anne know what to do for everyone else and be so unsure of her own way?

Lacy Crawford has written a novel that will strike fear into the hearts of every parent.  Once parents are sure their children are healthy and doing well, the drums start beating about getting into college so that they can be successful in life.  Everyone I know is caught up in this game to varying degrees, and willing to make sacrifices to increase the odds of getting into a 'good' college.  It is believable that parents so invested in their children's lives would hire someone like Anne to make sure that their children are launched successfully.  Whether this is a path one should pursue or whether children should be left to their devices is one of the questions this novel raises.  This book is recommended for parents facing this dilemma as well as those interested in modern life for families.