Thursday, October 30, 2014

Glimpsing Heaven by Judy Bachrach

Several years ago, if one asked Judy Bachrach what her greatest fear was, the answer would be swift and sure.  Death, not being, the end of existence.  Her mother had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she knew her time was short.  Bachrach volunteered in a hospice center, but it didn't give her the answers she sought.  As an investigative reporter, she decided to research the subject of death and went to the prime source, those who had clinically died and returned.

These individuals don't use the term 'near-death experiences'.  Instead, they call themselves Experiencers.  They weren't near death, they had died.  Some were in hospitals and declared clinically dead.  Some drowned or were hit by lighting and stopped breathing.  Some were old, some young.  Some were religious, others were atheists.  There was a common experience among them.

The overwhelming experience each experienced was bliss; the realization that everything in the universe is connected, that we continue as ourselves after this life, and that everything has a purpose.  Some reported seeing a wonderful light; others reported meeting those they loved who had died before them or meeting someone wise and full of all knowledge.  Some underwent a life review.  All were glad to be in this new place, and hesitant when they were told they must return.  When they returned to their bodies and life, many could recite details of things they could not have seen or heard but somehow had. 

The Experiencers were changed by their journey.  Many left jobs they had loved and strived in before, as what was important to them changed.  Many divorced as their mates could not accept their new reality or the changes they underwent.  A significant percentage returned with unexplained powers such as healing or the ability to see things or know things without being told.  The one commonality was that none returned with any fear of death.  They don't want to die before their time but are sure that they will be ready and that it will be a new experience when their time comes.

Judy Bachrach is an investigative reporter on international affairs, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.  She spent several years interviewing the Experiencers and those in the medical field who are working on this field of study.  There are respected doctors and tenured professors who study this common experience and the feeling is that humanity is about to peel back the layers of death to find what really occurs.  For example, brain cells are alive for hours after death has been declared.  Glimpsing Heaven is a fascinating overview of the subject, and those searching or grieving will find comfort in its page.  This book is recommended for anyone interested in the human experience and what it means to be human.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Swing State by Michael Fournier

Armbrister, New Hampshire, isn't doing well in this economy.  Most of the men in town worked in the mills, but the mill work went overseas and the mills closed down one by one.  There wasn't much else in the way of work; not much construction when no one could afford to buy, not many restaurants when eating at home was cheaper.  Stores closed down and the people of the town struggled to make it from month to month.

Three young residents typify the population.  Royal finished high school but with bad grades that meant no college for him.  He joined the military, went to Afghanistan and is back in town when an injury sent him home.  He's willing to work but can't find a job.  He's getting by playing pool for money and spending days in the library to keep warm.

Dixon's brother is the town's star athlete, the one everyone says has a chance to make it to the pros.  The college recruiters are visiting.  Dixon's family just wants to be sure she doesn't mess up his chances with her juvenile delinquency and her reputation for getting high and maybe being too friendly with the guys.

Zachariah is the fat kid.  He used to be one of the guys, on the soccer team and part of the gang, but after he had an embarrassing incident, everyone dropped him and now he's the kid no one wants to talk with.  No one except those who want to torment him, like Dixon.  Even his father, who lives for Armbrister football, beats him.  Zach knows he needs to find a way to escape.  He spends his days baking and working on game shows that he hopes will take him to another life.

Michael Fournier has written two novels.  He is founder and co-editor of Cabildo Quarterly, a literary journal.  His writing has appeared in the Oxford American, Vice, Pitchfork and the Boston Globe.  He lives in western Massachusetts.

Swing State explores what happens to a town and those who live there when the jobs dry up and everyone is struggling to get by.  The characters try different strategies, but only the rare individual manages to carve out a life that is satisfying.  But these are strong individuals and they keep trying, refusing to give up and accept that their lives will never be better.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in other's lives and how they handle the obstacles life gives them. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, October 25, 2014

October is almost over and the mornings are getting cooler.  It's about time for my annual drive alone for a day in the mountains, where I can watch the colors and stop whenever and wherever I choose.  All of us need some solitude in our lives along with the hustle and bustle of others.  I think readers value solitude more than others as most of us are never happier than sitting somewhere reading by ourselves.  Here's what came through the door lately:

1.  Singing To A Bulldog, Anson Williams, memoir, sent by publisher
2.  Heart Of Stone, Debra Mullins, fantasy, sent by publisher
3.  Apache Courage, Cynthia Darling, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  Power And Passion, Kay Tejani, women's fiction, sent by publisher
5.  Glimpsing Heaven, Judy Bachrach, nonfiction, sent for book tour
6.  Risky Undertaking, Mark De Castrique, mystery, sent by publisher
7.  Mr. Samuel's Penny, Treva Melvin, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  The Paris Winter, Imogen Robertson, historical fiction, sent by publisher
9.  Lizzie And Jane, Katherine Reay, women's fiction, sent by publisher
10.  Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  Umbrella, Will Self, literary fiction, sent from Paperbackswap
12.  Pass On The Cup Of Dreams, Bruce Fergusson, fantasy, sent by author
13.  More Awesome Than Money, Jim Dwyer, nonfiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of The Year, Volume 6, various, Kindle
2.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, paperback
3.  The Rule Of Nine, Steve Martini, hardback
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  Sold For Endless Rue, Madeleine Robins, hardback
6.  New York, Edward Rutherfurd, paperback
7.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
8.  The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Kindle Fire
9.  Perfidia, James Ellroy, hardback
10.  Night Film, Marisha Pessl, paperback
11. Swing State, Michael Fournier, paperback
12.  Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whitemore, paperback
13.  The Hidden Ones, Nancy Madore, paperback
14.  Glimpsing Heaven, Judy Bachrach, hardback

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

This is definitely not the high point of Detective Cormoran Strike's life.  A former military investigator who lost his leg in Afghanistan, Strike has returned to London and opened a detective agency.  Things have not been going that well, and money is tight.  Make that more than tight; Strike is broke.  To top everything off, he and his long-term girlfriend have just broken up, so add having no home to the mix. 

Things appear to be looking up when John Bristow shows up looking for an investigator.  John is wealthy and wants someone to look into his adopted sister's death.  That sister was supermodel Lula Landry and three months ago she fell to her death from the balcony of her apartment in an expensive, high security building.  The verdict was suicide and Bristow just doesn't believe it.  He wants Strike to check everything and see if the verdict is correct.  Strike was a schoolboy friend of Bristow's brother so he thought of him first.

Strike is pessimistic that anything was missed in the first investigation as it was of such a high profile individual, but he is willing to try.  His temporary secretary, Robin, is fascinated with the entire detection field of work and helps where she can.  Strike's investigation takes him into the worlds of rock, movie making, high-end legal firms, peerages and also into drug-addicted individuals, freeloaders and paparazzi.  Can he separate the flash from the truth and find out what sent Lula to her death?

The worst kept secret in publishing is that Robert Galbraith is in fact J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.  Her ability to tell a tale is evident here, along with a facility for quickly painting the personalities of her characters.  The novel has an interesting investigation with an ending many won't see coming.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Certainty by Victor Bevine

Newport, Rhode Island, transformed during World War I.  Always a training center for the Navy, the sailor population exploded topping twenty-five thousand men, up from the normal five thousand.  As the war came to a close, those men who had escaped death in the war had to face the pandemic Spanish flu and many died.  Then there was the boredom of demobilization, waiting to be discharged and trying to find ways to occupy the time.

With so many unattached men, crime exploded.  Prostitution and drinking were common.  The crime the Navy found the most disturbing was gay sex, although it wasn't called gay at the time, but depraved, unnatural and an indication that a man had no moral fiber.  Determined to stop the crime, the Navy set up an investigative team to discover those engaged in it.  The team were sailors who were tricked or agreed for the perks to entice other men to engage in sex, and then to turn them in to military justice.

Caught up in this witch hunt was a local clergyman, Samuel Kent.  Reverend Kent was beloved for his work ministering to those sick and dying of the flu, and for his unending kindness to all he met.  But when he was lured into the trap, the government was quick to try to make an example of him.  A local attorney, William Bartlett, agreed to represent the reverend and his faith in  the man's innocence made him willing to take on what was considered an unsavory case.

Victor Bevine has written a compelling novel that outlines the true events that became known as the Newport Navy Vice Scandal of 1919.  Franklin Roosevelt was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and many regard the court cases as his darkest decision and hour.  It is difficult to realize that it was less than a hundred years ago that gay sex was considered so wrong and those who were different were ostracized and penalized for who they chose to love.  Many readers will only have experienced the more tolerant atmosphere found today, and reading about these cases will seem unbelievable.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in a dark side of the American experience. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Olde School by Selah Janel

Paddlelump Stonemonger is not your average troll.  Sure, he is eight feet tall, built like a tree and fearsome to look upon.  He does have a bridge where he charges tolls.  But Paddlelump is a modern troll.  He uses his laptop to keep his accounts, and hires a goblin lawyer to watch his business interests. 

Paddlelump is mild-mannered.  In fact, he is so laid back that people tend to take advantage of him.  He is one of the wealthiest beings in Kingdom City and everyone wants some of his money. Even his maid is taking advantage of him, taking his money, refusing to clean the house and leaving early and coming late.  His watchbird, Clyde, is sarcastic about Padd's strength and character.   His friends, more traditional trolls, worry about him and want him to just 'troll up'.

Things are changing in Kingdom City.  Under the rule of High King Thadd, all creatures, trolls, ogres, humans, elves, brownies, fairies and anything else, have learned to live and work together.  Now, suddenly, all seemed to be scheming against each other, willing to do anything for an advantage.  Paddlelump seems to be a target, with low-level princes suddenly appearing and trying to kill him, willing to do that to win a princess' love; a princess they have only met online.

Then people start going missing, and the signs point to the Forest on the other side of Padd's bridge, the forest he owns.  When Paddlelump goes to investigate, he finds something so vile and horrendous that he can't believe it.  He also finds King Thadd who gives Paddlelump a quest to fulfill.  Can Padd fulfill the quest and save the kingdom?

Selah Janel has written a charming modern fantasy that turns the tradition on its head.  Paddlelump is a hero everyone can relate to, a troll with a heart of gold who isn't sure he is up to the demands life places on him.  Readers will be charmed by him and cheer him on as he attempts to follow his quest and save his town and friends. The mix of modern technology and attitudes with traditional magical creatures is well done.  This book is recommended for fantasy readers and can be read by young readers as well.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Lost Tribe Of Coney Island by Claire Prentice

At the St. Louis Exposition of 1904, the runaway favorite exhibit was one dedicated to the native tribesmen of the Philippines, the Igorrotes.  People flocked to see another culture, one markedly different from their own.  When the exposition was over and the tribesmen returned to their own country, they had marvelous tales to tell of the wonders they had seen in America, things and luxuries unimaginable to those who had stayed behind.

Spurred by the success of the exhibit, Dr. Truman Hunt proposed to put together a commercial exhibit of the tribesmen at an amusement park, Luna Park at Coney Island.  There were many Igorrote volunteers, eager for a chance at adventure and financial gain.  Forty-nine men, women and children 'signed' contracts agreeing to be in the exhibit for one year.  They were to be paid ten dollars a month each (a princely sum at the time) and also get money from the sale of items they made. 

Hunt had a history in the Philippines.  Originally brought there by the army, he stayed on after the war and soon had a reputation for his medical care of the tribes.  He established a hospital for cholera, and worked tirelessly to improve the health of the native people.  He was highly regarded by the tribe and those he met in the government and easily obtained the permits he needed to start his grand commercial adventure.

His plan worked marvelously.  The Igorrotes were the hit of the season.  Hordes of people flocked to see them and their recreation of their native villages and culture.  Hunt took in hundreds of thousands of dollars, a fortune indeed at that time. 

But as time went on, things turned bad for the Igorrotes.  They were confined to their exhibit area, and the shows they put on was a poor substitute for people used to roaming their habitat, being busy all day.  The sensationalist aspects of their culture, such as head-hunting and eating dogs was emphasized.  Their native dress, very minimal coverage of their bodies, was titillating and drew in crowds.  Worse, they were split up into groups, sent all over to different parks and fairs, often living in squalid conditions.  The pay they were promised never materialized, and the year they agreed to came and went. 

The government learned of the scandal and were determined to help the tribe, but Dr. Hunt was a wily character, moving the tribesmen around and using his network of spies and well-wishers to evade the police.  Could the government return dignity to this tribe treated so shabbily?

Claire Prentice has written an engaging book about a time almost unimaginable in today's modern world, when gaping at those different was considered acceptable and the native was stripped of their native dignity and their ignorance of the modern world used to betray and control them.  Readers interested in history will enjoy this story and the look at America at the turn of the 19th century. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sharp Hook Of Love by Sherry Jones

The Sharp Hook Of Love tells the famous story of Heloise and Abelard in Paris in 1115, and the scandalous love that made them famous and brought them ruin.  Abelard was a canon, a famous teacher and philosopher who gave up his claim to nobility to pursue a life of the mind.  He was renowned throughout France for his writing and much beloved in Paris for his wit and looks.

Heloise was also a scholar, a rare thing in that day and age for a woman.  She was raised in Argenteuil Convent, left there by her mother who had her as an unmarried woman.  She left in her late teens to live with her uncle, Canon Fulbert, in Paris.  He wanted to use Heloise's beauty and scholarship to advance his own career. 

The stage for tragedy was set when Abelard agreed to become Heloise's tutor.  He moved into Canon Fulbert's house to facilitate her learning and a love affair ensued.  When they were discovered, Fulbert was enraged.  By then, Heloise was pregnant and Abelard arranged to send her to Brittany to his family for her confinement. 

When she returned to Paris, the pair had a secret wedding to appease Fulbert.  When rumors of their marriage leaked out, Abelard had Heloise return to the convent.  He was not allowed to marry as a canon and put his career ahead of his love.  The affair ended in tragedy for all.

Sherry Jones (pictured at right) has written a novel that explores the role that women had in medieval Europe.  They had little if any freedom and their choices were always made by the men in their lives.  Men were free to corrupt and then put aside women, which substantiated the idea that women had to make men commit to marriage to remain safe.  Women had no role in intellectual affairs, except for some women who had risen to head religious orders. 

For more information and additional reviews of this book, you can go to  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Death Box by J.A. Kerley

Detective Carson Ryder is at the top of his profession, a detective whose specialty is the detection and capture of serial killers.  When he decides to leave his home in Mobile, Alabama, he is quickly offered a job in Miami.  He barely gets into town when his services are needed as a horrific discovery has been made.  An old cistern on deserted land has been found.  In it is a solid column of concrete.  Concrete mixed with bodies, their final resting place a frieze of torture and death.

Ryder starts the investigation.  His new teammates want nothing to do with him, as they are less than impressed with this new guy in town.  Ryder teams up with a new junior detective, Ziggy Gershwin.  As the bodies are chipped from the concrete column, it appears that they are all Latin Americans.  Is this gang warfare? 

As the investigation continues, Ryder and Gershwin discover that this is not gang warfare.  Instead it is human trafficking, and the women brought here are then forced into prostitution.  They are horrified to discover the extent of this sordid practice, and determined to break up the ring and solve the murders.  Their only chance is a woman who has managed to run away from the traffickers, Leala.  But Leala has been trained to be as frightened of the police as the men who stole her and it is difficult to persuade her that the police are there to help.  Even worse, there is a price on her head and every lowlife in the city is scouring the streets to find her.  Can Carson and Ziggy find her first?

This is the tenth novel in the Carson Ryder series.  Fans of the series will welcome another Ryder adventure with a new locale and supporting characters.  Those who are new to the series will be able to quickly pick up the pace and become fans.  The action is fast paced and the reader finds themselves quickly turning the pages to see how everything turns out.  This box is recommended for mystery lovers.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, October 3, 2014

October is here and fall can't be denied!  It's time for pumpkins, blazing fall colors and cooler weather.  Perfect reading weather and I've been busy getting books to read.  Here's what's come through the door:

1.  First Impressions, Charlie Lovett, mystery, sent by publisher
2.  Blond Cargo, John Lansing, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah, sent by publisher
4.  Hieroglyph, Neal Stephenson, anthology, sent by publisher
5.  Hanging Hill, Mo Hayder, mystery, take-one shelf at Sports Center
6.  Rooms, Lauren Oliver, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Down Solo, Earl Javorsky, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  The Killer Next Door, Alex Marwood, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz, mystery, sent for book tour
10.  The Vineyard, Michael Hurley, literary fiction, sent by author

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of The Year, Volume 6, various, Kindle
2.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, paperback
3.  The Rule Of Nine, Steve Martini, hardback
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  Sold For Endless Rue, Madeleine Robins, hardback
6.  New York, Edward Rutherfurd, paperback
7.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
8.  The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Kindle Fire
9.  The Death Box, J.A. Kerley, paperback
10.  Night Film, Marisha Pessl, paperback
11.  The Sharp Hook Of Love, Sherry Jones, paperback
12.  Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whitemore, paperback
13.  The Hidden Ones, Nancy Madore, paperback
14.  The Lost Tribe Of Coney Island, Claire Prentice, paperback

 Happy Reading!

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

Jodi and Todd have what looks like a dream life.  They live in a lakefront condo in Chicago.  He is an entreprenuer, a real estate developer and contractor.  She works from their home part-time as a psychologist, her patients limited to those who are stuck in their lives and need help moving forward.  Their lives are measured and routine, restful and full of peace.

Except.  Except that Todd is a serial adulterer.  Except that Jodi denies that there is an issue.  Except that Todd is bored with the peaceful routine.  Except that Jodi doesn't know what to do except continue to do what she has always done even though it isn't working anymore. 

Then the routine changes.  Todd's latest girlfriend is more serious than the others; he credits her with pulling him out of a midlife crisis.  Soon she is pushing him to leave Jodi and move in with her.  As usual, Todd says nothing at home, letting Jodi spoil him and enjoying the creature comforts she provides in their home.  Finally, when he can balance no longer, he makes his choice and sets a disaster in motion.

A.S.A. Harrison has written a chilling narrative of what goes on below the surface in a marriage.  It's common knowledge that you can never understand a relationship from the outside; Harrison delves deeply inside.  She shows how denial can be as great a relationship issue as more overt ones are.  The reader is swept along, step by step, to tragedy.  This book is recommended to mystery and women literature readers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn

The year is 1928, and the Grand brothers are at the peak of their movie-making careers in silent films, although there is trouble on the horizon with the ever-increasing number of talkies being made.  Micah is the idea man; extroverted, full of vision, always looking to cut a deal.  He serves as the movies' director.  His twin, Izzy, is his opposite.  He works behind the scenes, cutting and splicing the scenes together to use film to create a story.  He is shy, socially awkward and gay, none of which encourages him to move into the limelight.

Their producer, outside of insisting talkies are just a fad, has other business failings and soon the company is on the verge of collapse.  The producer, Marblestone, has an idea.  He'll send the Grand brothers to Africa to film their latest silent comedy and while they are there, they can shoot film stock he can sell to other companies to avoid bankruptcy.  The brothers aren't interested, but when Micah gets himself into trouble trying to bamboozle a set of Harlem gambling crime lords, they decide maybe Africa is the place to be.

The brothers discover many things about themselves in Africa.  In addition to the silent comedy, they shoot footage of a script given to them by the gamblers that shows the capture and migration of Africans to be slaves in America.  Micah is drawn to the king of the village they go to, and spends his time learning from him.  Izzy falls in love and is loved back, a stupendous discovery that is life-altering.  Their idyll is ended with a tragedy, and the brothers are left to return to America and attempt to pick back up the pieces of their lives.

Andrew Lewis Conn has written a sprawling novel that explores the worlds of silent film-making, the heady, early days of Hollywood, the issues of racial prejudice, the validity of marriage and love relationships, gender inequality, the lives of Africans in the time period and how they differed from African Americans as well as the messages we learn about ourselves while viewing films.  The characters are interesting and unique and the reader turns the last page with much to ponder.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.