Thursday, July 31, 2014

Marine Park by Mark Chiusano

Marine Park is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, and the location of the largest public park in the borough.  It is the home to middle class families; storeowners, firemen, policemen, and those who just seemed to end up there.

Mark Chiusano has written an anthology of stories about those who live in this neighborhood and what it means to be from there.  The majority of the stories focus on one family, with two sons, Jamison and Lorris, a father who is a driving instructor and a mother who is the school secretary.  The stories weave in and out of their lives, starting when the boys are young and following them as they grow up.  Other families and residents of the area star in other stories in the collection.

'They had lived alone together for many years...'  This is the opening phase from the story Vincent and Aurora.  Those seven words sketch quickly the status of a marriage where there is no true communion.  Many of the stories have this quick shorthand turn of phase that quickly illumines the topic being discussed.

There are stories about relationships, about kids growing up and finding their lives' work, about sports and how they define one, about how our neighborhood can define us and how we relate to others who live nearby.  The author has the ability to bring the reader into his world and give him food for thought.

Mark Chiusano received the Hoopes Prize at Harvard for outstanding undergraduate fiction.  His stories have appeared in the Harvard Review, Narrative, Guernica, Tin House and Paris Review Daily.  He was raised in Brooklyn and now works as an associate editor at Vintage.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy short stories and those interested in a sense of place and self.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Song For The Dying by Stuart MacBride

Eight years ago Ash Henderson was caught up in the investigation to find a heinous killer, The Inside Man.  This killer kidnapped women, cut them open and sewed them back up with a doll inside them.  Ash came close to capturing him, but was injured in the chase and the killer escaped. 

Eight years ago Ash had a career, a marriage and a family.  Now all is gone.  His career ended when he was kicked off the police force, his marriage ended when his own daughter was kidnapped and killed.  He is now an inmate, the toy of a psychotic woman high up in the crime organization that runs the city.  She makes sure he never gets parole by sending other inmates to attack Ash days before his hearings; attacks that he has to defend himself in to save himself but that make him look violent and not a candidate for parole.

Now the Inside Man has returned, and the lead investigator pulls strings to have Ash released from prison.  He is hired as a consultant to the investigation and along with a young psychologist, Alice, and his former mate, Shifty, he tries to catch the killer before he can take more victims.  Can they catch the killer this time around?

Stuart MacBride is one of the premier mystery authors working today.  His characters ring true as they make their way through the violent criminal culture, and they manage to get justice out of the horrors they encounter daily.  His pace is breathtaking and the reader is swept up in the investigation.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Harriet Burden is an artist.  Married to one of New York's most famous gallery owners, she feels her own art is neglected by her husband's refusal to show her work.  It also goes unnoticed by other galleries, her name just an add-on to her husband's fame.  After his death, Harriet decides that she will make a name for herself and prove society wrong in its preference for male artists at the same time.  She hatches a plot to display her work under the name of various male artists.  She uses three men at different showings, or does she?

The Blazing World is Siri Hustvedt's exploration of the art world as well as the question of gender differences, the formation of personality and the difficulty of trusting one's perceptions.  Told after Harriet's death, the novel unfolds through a series of documents.  There are Harriet's extensive journals, interviews with her children, lover and the men who she chose for her ploy, articles in art magazines, etc.  A picture emerges of how Harriet's personality was formed and the different ways she was viewed by those she surrounded herself with.  The reader is left to decide if Harriet really created the works she claimed she had done and then masked by using men to front for her in shows.  Was this real and Harriet a true artist not given her due?  Or was this false, a strange plea for recognition by an artist not judged worthy of acclaim?

Readers will be drawn into this world.  Harriet takes her inspiration from the medieval writer, Margaret Cavendish, who wrote the original The Blazing World, and whose work was never given the recognition it deserved.  Questions of whether the world is still male-centric, whether women can ever be given true recognition outside of the roles of mother and wife, and what role perception plays in exposing reality must be decided by each individual reading this material.  The book is a tour-de-force and readers won't be surprised that it is a long-list nomination for the 2014 Mann Booker Prize.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Spook Lights Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

In 1895, female detectives were not common in San Francisco.  That's one of the things that made the detective agency of Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon so notable.  The other was the success that they had solving the troubling cases that come to them.  That successful reputation is put on the line when they take on cases that leave their expertise in doubt.

Sabina has been hired as to watch over the debutante of the season, Virginia St. Clair, during her coming out parties.  She should make a stellar marriage, and her affection for a lowly clerk is putting that goal in doubt.  Sabina is to watch over her and make sure Marcus, the clerk, gets nowhere in his pursuit of the heiress.  During her first debutante ball, however, Virginia leaves the dance.  Sabina follows her through the grounds in the dark, only to arrive at the cliffs on which the mansion is situated in time to see her client jump off to her death.  Even more stunning than the girl's suicide is the disappearance of her body.  For while the trail of her fall is clear to see, her body is nowhere to be found.  Sabina is accused of incompetence.

John, in the meantime, has taken on the task of finding the money stolen in a Wells Fargo bank robbery.  The agency will receive ten percent of the money stolen if he recovers it, a handsome reward.  He discovers the gang most likely to have committed the crime, but the case goes nowhere as the robbers are killed off one by one by somebody.  In frustration, John takes on a case where a new oceanside neighborhood is being disturbed by what seems to be a ghost.  Soon the partners find that all three cases are tied together and that to solve any of them, all of them must be solved.

Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini are recognized stars in the mystery field.  Married for many years, both have been recognized for their mystery series.  Muller created one of the first female detectives, Sharon McCone.  She received the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award in 2005.  Her husband, Pronzini, creator of the Nameless Detective series, received the Grand Master Award in 2008.  Each has a devoted fan following and readers of this combination mystery will be rewarded with the work of two masters at the top of their game.  This book is recommended for mystery readers, especially those who enjoy historical mysteries. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, July 25, 2014

Back from the beach and to real life.  I've been exploring the art world and gender issues in Siri Hustvelt's The Blazing World, back in Aberdeen, Scotland with Stuart MacBride fighting crime, in the jungles of World War II building a railroad with Richard Flanagan in his The Narrow Road To The Deep North, and with Emily Arsenault in her What Strange Creatures.  Great books have been coming in.  Here's the list:

1.  The Hundred-Year House, Rebecca Makkai, literary fiction, sent by publisher
2.  Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Marco Effect, Jussi Adler-Olsen, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman, fantasy, gift from friend
5.  The Lost Tribe Of Coney Island, Claire Prentice, nonfiction, sent for book tour
6.  The Splintered Kingdom, James Aitcheson, fantasy, sent by publisher
7.  The House Of The Four Winds, Mercedes Lackey/James Mallory, fantasy, sent by publisher
8.  Death's Witness, Paul Batista, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Dead Wrong, Allen Wyler, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  France On The Brink, Jonathan Fenby, nonfiction, sent for book tour
11. California, Edan Lepucki, literary fiction, sent by friend
12.  Band Of Giants, Jack Kelly, history, won in contest
13.  The Dunning Man, Kevin Fortuna, anthology, sent by publisher
14.  Island Fog, John Vanderslice, anthology, sent by author
15.  Further Out Than You Thought, Michaela Carter, literary fiction, sent by publisher
16.  Desire Lines, Christina Baker Kline, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's the list of what I'm currently reading:

1.  Advent Of A Mystery, mystery, Kindle
2.  The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt, Kindle
3.  I Adored A Lord, Katherine Ashe, Kindle
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  The Fever, Megan Abbott, hardback
6.  The Spook Lights Affair, Marcia Mueller/Bill Pronzini, hardback
7.  A Song For The Dying, Stuart MacBride, hardback
8.  The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan, paperback
9.  The Scrivner's Tale, Fiona McIntosh, paperback
10.  Marine Park, Mark Chiusano, paperback

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault

The Battle family knows how to handle disappointments.  Of course they do, they've encountered so many of them.  Jeff, who has a genius IQ, has never gotten going in life.  He has worked a series of dead-end jobs and drinks a lot.  Theresa, his sister, has spent years working on a dissertation on a medieval female religious hysteric, her marriage dissolved and her years working as a copywriter for a candle company mounting.  She lives alone surrounded by her pets.

Teresa worries about Jeff so when he asks her to pet sit his latest girlfriend's dog for the weekend she agrees.  She doesn't really care for Kim, but if it makes her brother's life easier, she is agreeable.  Kim is going home to visit her family but then she doesn't return, and upon inquiry, she never went home at all.  No one seems to know where she is and then days later, her body is discovered in a town where she seemed to have no connection.

That's horrible but what is worse is that Jeff is arrested and charged with Kim's murder.  The Battle family rallies round, but don't seem to have any positive ideas about how to help Jeff.  Theresa decides that she needs to investigate Kim and what she was doing in the last days of her life since the police seem to have stopped the investigation with Jeff's arrest.

As she delves into Kim's last weeks, she discovers a strange crew of acquaintances.  There's Kyle, who was Kim's first lover and who has remained in her life.  Nathan worked with Kim and is a strange guy with a penchant for snakes and mysticism.  Zack is a former teacher of Kim and Jeff's; his class on memoir writing where the two met.  Then there is Missy who knows many of Kim's secrets stretching all the way back to childhood. 

Emily Arsenault has written an engaging novel about the intricacies of families and what they will do to support each other.  Theresa is a memorable character.  At one moment she seems full of self-knowledge but at the next unable to act on the knowledge she has to carve out a satisfactory life.  The mystery about what Kim was up to is interesting enough to keep the reader going.  This book is recommended for mystery readers and those interested in family relationships and stalled lives. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

In the third DS Logan McRae crime novel, things are about the same in Aberdeen as criminals never seem to take a break.  Someone has dumped a body outside Emergency and the investigation takes the police force inside the seedy world of BSMD.  Logan's trying to find an eight year old killer and finding him elusive.  Then there is a serial rapist who is escalating and getting more and more violent with each new victim.  There's evidence that the rapist might be Aberdeen's star football (soccer) player and charging him will make the police even more unpopular.

Logan's personal life is also still complicated.  Logan is still torn between two bosses as both DI Steele and DI Insch think they should have all Logan's time as they compete against each other to have the best crime solve rates.  Logan is still living with Jackie Watson but Jackie was used as bait in the footballer's case and is determined to prove him guilty no matter what it takes.  One of Logan's contacts is determined that she should be dating him instead of Jackie and he's tempted.

Balancing all these threads and weaving them into a satisfactory resolution is what makes Stuart MacBride one of the best crime writers working today.  Logan is a compelling character and the reader is caught up in his cases and firmly on Logan's side in his day to day battles.  Aberdeen Police are portrayed as hard working and hard playing, their daily lives served up with a splash of morbid humor.  This book is recommended for mystery fans.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

They don't have time for a new relationship.  Each is facing big troubles.  Ed is one of the newly rich, a software developer who has struck it rich writing software.  To avoid the business side, he sold the company to another firm and is now facing jail for what the police are calling insider trading.  To Ed, it was just a way to get an unsatisfactory situation with a woman out of the way, but the law doesn't see it that way.  

Jess is one of the struggling poor, especially since her husband walked out two years before saying he just couldn't cope.  He left his son by a former marriage, Nicky, who is routinely getting bet up for being a goth kid who is sensitive and doesn't fit in.  It's even less likely that Tanzie will fit in when she gets to high school next year.  She is a math whiz and young for her age.  Jess can already see the mean girls circling and knows that Tanzie's sweet spirit will be crushed.  Then there is Norman, the biggest, smelliest dog in the world.  Jess is working two jobs to barely keep things afloat.  One of her customers is Ed, and she's not impressed with him at all.

Then a miracle happens.  A local private school offers Tanzie a place for the next year due to her math ability, or at least they have a place if Jess can come up with what is a fortune to her.  She hears about a math contest in Scotland with a prize that would pay Tanzie's school fees, if she can only get her there.  Destitute, she tries to drive a car her husband left behind and doesn't even make it out of town before the police pull her over.  Luckily, Ed comes along and for some reason he doesn't even understand himself, offers to take the whole crew to Scotland.  Can they make it in time and will Tanzie win the competition?

Jojo Moyes has written a charming tale full of love and the power of optimism.  Jess is a mother lion, proud and determined to do whatever it takes to save her kids.  Ed is a man with a good heart but who hasn't quite grown up.  The story of the relationship that develops is charming and the reader will close the book with their faith in good things happening to good people enforced.  This book is recommended to readers who enjoy women's literature and those in need of some sunshine in their lives. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, July 12, 2014

This past week has been an exciting reading adventure.  I went to Neverland to learn about Captain Hook's side of things in the battle with Peter Pan, followed a police investigation into a serial murder in London, time traveled with a man frozen in an iceberg for a hundred years then brought back to life, and followed the case of a lonely hearts killer in West Virginia.   As good as this week's reading was, the books that arrived show promise of even more exciting tales.  Here's what came through the door:

1.  Marine Park, Mark Chisusano, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Sweetshop Of Dreams, Jenny Colgan, woman's fiction, sent by publisher
3.  The Perfect Stranger, Wendy Corsi Staub, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Fractured Legacy, Charles Neff, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Death Box, J.A. Kerley, mystery, sent by publisher
6.  Stalkers, Paul Finch, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  Escape From Differe, Mikelyn Bolden, fantasy, sent by author
8.  Dead Float, Warren Easley, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Double Whammy, Gretchen Archer, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Double Dip, Gretchen Archer, mystery, sent by publisher
11.  Traitor's Blade, Sebastian De Castell, sent by publisher
12.  Skin Of The Wolf, Sam Cabot, thriller, sent by publisher

Here's the list of what I'm currently reading:

1.  Advent Of A Mystery, mystery, Kindle
2.  One Plus One, Jojo Myers, hardback
3.  The Book Of Life, Deborah Harkness, hardback
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  Broken Skin, Stuart MacBride, Kindle Fire
6.  The Spook Lights Affair, Marcia Mueller/Bill Pronzini, hardback
7.  A Song For The Dying, Stuart MacBride, hardback
8.  The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan, paperback
9.  The Scrivner's Tale, Fiona McIntosh, paperback

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George has had a successful career with her novels centering on the London police and particularly the career of Thomas Lynley.  There are twelve Lynley novels before this one, and readers delight in the intricate detailing of crime and the procedures used by the police to solve them, as well as the relationships Lynley builds both professionally and personally.  At the end of the twelfth book, With No One As Witness, George creates a stunning climax when Lynley's wife is murdered on their doorstep.  Readers were aghast, unsure why an author would write such a dramatic and unexpected conclusion.

In her thirteenth novel, What Came Before He Shot Her, George explores the societal factors that inevitably led to the murder.  Three siblings are left with their grandmother when their father is killed and their mother hospitalized for mental illness.  Tiring of her responsibility, the grandmother leaves London for Jamaica and dumps the children on their aunt.  Kendra, the aunt, has no idea what to do with these children.  Ness, the sister, is fifteen.  Her oldest brother, Joel, is eleven and the youngest boy, Toby, is seven.  Each has multiple issues that precludes a successful life for them.

The book follows the children's lives as they attempt to adjust to Kendra's house.  Ness immediately moves into the street life, mixing with girl gangs and hoodlums.  Joel is determined to take care of Toby, who has mental health issues of his own, but is unable to carve out a place of safety for them.  He is slowly drawn into the life around him, where individuals are forced to join one side or the other for protection. 

Many of George's fans were lost when she made her decision to have Inspector Lynley's wife killed.  They couldn't bear to revisit the pain that decision brought to them and were in no mood to hear about any explanation.  Yet George forged ahead and wrote this book to explain the reasons that crime occurs and how society fails those least able to make their own way in the world.  This book is recommended for fans of George's prior novels and will help them reconcile her decision and enjoy the series again. 

The Keeper by Luke Delaney

Detective Inspector Sean Corrigan gets the 'special cases'.  His own background as an abused child has left him sensitive to those whose warped minds lead them to commit horrific crimes.  He can visualize the crime scenes and get into the killer's mind, inching closer and closer until he knows their identity and the best way to catch and stop them.

Louise Russell has gone missing.  At first it doesn't seem like a case for Corrigan and his team, but soon there is the discovery of a body and it becomes clear that Louise is not the first woman who has been captured.  Someone out there is taking women from their homes, women with short brown hair and gleaming green eyes.  He keeps them for about a week then discards them when he is done.  Louise is just the latest in his game.  Can Sean and his team find her before her time is up?

Luke Delaney has created a compelling hero in Sean Corrigan.  His ability to use his own pain to form bonds with the most repulsive characters imaginable to save the innocent from their wretched compulsions is striking.  Along with the special talents Corrigan brings to an investigation, the reader is also brought into the inside of police procedure.  The bravery and dedication of those prepared to serve and protect are highlighted and the tale is finished with the feeling that the world is a better place for those who are willing to give so much for others.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

We all know the story of Peter Pan.  He's the original wild boy, the boy who won't grow up and brings a collection of children to his land of innocence, Neverland.  He fights the good fight against the evil Captain Hook, aided by the Indians and the fairies who also live in Neverland.  He is joy and the promise that you can have it all if you only believe.

But we've never heard Captain Hook's side of the story until now.  In Alias Hook, Liz Jensen brings us Hook's backstory.  He is born the son of wealth in London, educated and raised to be a noble.  He becomes a pirate out of the need to escape when he is captured while going to oversee his father's holdings on Jamaica.  He spends time in prisons and working in gold mines, and after betraying his lady love, a Caribbean witch, is cursed to spend eternity in Neverland.  He is always defeated by Peter and can never die, which means he dies a thousand deaths and must watch his crews be constantly defeated and killed.  Everyone there is his enemy, Peter and his boys, the fairies and the Indians.  He sees Peter, or Pan as he calls him, differently, a cruel, spoiled boy who will do anything to get his way and who rules Neverland with an iron fist.  Nothing and no one can survive there without Pan's agreement.

Or at least that's the way it's always been.  Then one day, Hook finds something amazing.  He finds someone lost, which is common and how he gets his crews.  But this is a woman.  A woman?  Pan will never allow a grown woman in his paradise, but here she is.  How did she get there?  What is her purpose?  Is this a crack in Pan's control?  Perhaps Hook can widen this crack and exploit it to find his way out of Neverland forever.

The woman is named Stella Parrish, and she is no meek and mild woman.  She is strong, lusty and determined to get what she wants.  As time goes on, Stella and Hook form a partnership that they believe will be eternal.  It will take everything they can do and everyone's help, even Hook's enemies,  to break Pan's spell and leave Neverland behind.

Liz Jensen has written a cunning, charming recreation of Neverland.  This is a seriously wonderful book.  It is a retelling of a tale we thought we knew everything about, a tale of self-discovery and love, of discovering that there is more in the world than what we thought we had to settle for.  Love can change us in mysterious ways, making us more than we thought we were or could be.  This book is recommended for fantasy lovers and readers interested in reading a book that makes us believe in ourselves.  I can hardly wait to see what Lisa Jensen will do next. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

The year is 1931 and while life moves more slowly, human beings are always the same.  Astra Eicher, a young widow living in Chicago with her three children, is haunted by financial troubles.  She thinks she has found the answer when she joins a matrimonial bureau and starts to correspond with an eloquent man named Harry Powers.  He says he is rich and looking for a wife to share his good fortune.
He asks Astra to marry him without the two ever meeting.

Unfortunately, Harry Powers is one of the many false names of a scam artist who is writing women all over the country.  After finally meeting the women, he kills them and takes their money and possessions, netting little as these are not wealthy women.  In Astra's case, he kills her and then returns to the family home to retrieve the children who he also kills.  Harry Power is finally indicted for murder for his last victim, the woman after Astra.

Emily Thornhill is one of the few female journalists for the Chicago press.  She is drawn to the story of Harry Powers.  What made him so appealing to women?  Why did he kill them once he had conned them out of their meager possessions?  More importantly, how many women are victims not yet identified?  She is drawn into the story and is compelled to find out Powers' secrets and those of the women he betrayed.

Jayne Anne Phillips has written an interesting book based on a true case.  Harry Powers, born Herman Drenth, lived and had his murder chamber in Quiet Dell, West Virginia.  He is suspected of as many as fifty murders.  He lured his victims through the use of matrimonial bureaus and flowery missives, luring them to his garage in Quiet Dell, which he had outfitted with basement cells.  Phillips spends less time on the gory details of the case than the emotional fallout and how those involved in the case handle the realization of Powers' crimes.  She accurately recreates the feel of the Midwest in the 1930's.  This book is recommended for fans of true crime and historical fiction. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

On a scientific expedition, researchers find a core of what they call hard-ice in a massive iceberg.  These scientists are gathering specimens, usually krill or shrimp, which have been frozen, and experimenting on reviving them, sometimes after long periods of freezing.  Now they have found a huge vein of ice and what appears to be a large mammal frozen there.  They expect to find a seal or a walrus, but what they find instead is a man, frozen solid.

After freeing him from the ice, he is transported back to their institute, where the same regimen is carried out, and the man is reanimated.  This is Jeremiah Rice, who went to sea and was swept overboard in 1906.  He has been encased in ice.  Although the experiment is successful, there is a world of difference between reanimating shrimp and a man.

Rice remembers his life before, his love of his wife and child.  He remembers his former occupation as a judge and what occurred those hundred years before.  He is amazed, startled and a little taken aback at how the world has progressed and the miracles that are commonplace in the modern world.  He struggles to understand what is around him and to establish relationships with the people he meets.

Everyone he meets has an agenda and not all are benign to him.  There is Cartage, who runs the institute and sees this project as his route to fame and fortune.  There is Dixon who is the journalist assigned to the project and is willing to ride it to his own measure of fame.  Then there is Dr. Kate Philo.  The head of the recovery project, she develops the closest relationship with Jeremiah and starts to question the validity of the project and what it is trying to accomplish. 

Can we come back and live a second life?  Would we want to, even if it's possible?  What are the things that are most important in a life?  These are some of the questions Stephen Kiernan asks in this poignant novel that sweeps the reader into a sea of inquiries that each must answer for himself.  The reader is entranced by the emerging relationship between Jeremiah and Kate and what the outcome will be.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in time travel and science.