Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Sign Of The Book by John Dunning

Life is different these days for Cliff Janeway.  He gave up his career as a police detective and has reinvented himself as a bookseller, a trader and seller of rare books.  The book store is humming along as is his love life with his girlfriend, Erin D'Angelo, a lawyer.  He's about as content as he can remember being.

Then Erin comes to the bookstore, obviously upset.  When she decides to tell him what's wrong, he hears a story about betrayal and first love.  Erin had been engaged to a man, Bobby Marshall.  The engagement ended when Marshall and her best friend, Laura, had an affair.  Erin cut them both from her life and the two married.  She hasn't had any contact for over a decade when Laura's lawyer calls.  Bobby has been murdered and Laura has been arrested.  She wants Erin to come and defend her. 

Erin is torn.  Laura is planning to pay for her defense with the rare book collection Bobby had amassed and Erin asks Cliff to drive to Laura's town, check out the collection and see what the facts are in the case.  Once he reports back, Erin will decide if her former friendship is an obligation to defend Laura and dredge up old memories.

Janeway drives to the small Colorado town where the Marshalls have been living.  He encounters a small town mentality that has already convicted Laura, antagonistic law enforcement and a book collection that surpasses all his expectations.  There are already unscrupulous book dealers circling around.  Erin decides she must come to Laura's rescue.  Can she save her old friend?

This is the fourth in the Cliff Janeway mystery series.  Cliff is an interesting detective, mixing knowledge of legal investigation and books.  The mystery moves along quickly with interesting twists and turns.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Times are difficult in 1922 England.  Many of the nation's young men have been killed in the World War and its trenches, leaving their families to carry on as best they can, holding on to lifestyles from before the war with reduced incomes.  That is the case with the Wray family.  The two sons have been killed and the father dies of grief and illness, leaving Frances Wray, 26, to look after her widowed mother and support them.  Gone are the days of servants, and Frances spends her days scouring the floors, figuring out bills, cooking meals and trying to entertain her mother.  She sees nothing ahead but more years of this.

Finally, their monetary reserves are gone and something has to be done.  They do a bit of renovation and advertise a suite for rent in their upstairs.  This is a drastic step, as they are very private people but money must be found somewhere.  A young married couple, Len and Lillian Barber, take the rooms.  They are not the kind of people the Wrays would have ever chosen to associate with; young and full of life, boisterous and louder than they expected.  Soon their upstairs suite is filled with furnishings that are cheap and a bit tawdry. 

Yet, as the weeks go by, a friendship emerges between Frances and Lillian.  As they get closer, Lillian reveals that all is not well in her marriage to Len.  It was a hasty arrangement that doesn't have much love in it, yet Len is jealous of anyone who pays attention to Lillian.  She socializes only with her family and Frances, yet the jibes and sarcasm from Len is unrelenting.  The tension in the house mounts between Len and Lillian and the Wrays and the Barbers.  When something horrendous happens, it seems inevitable.

No one does setting and characters like Sarah Waters.  She has created a stifling atmosphere in which the smallest turn of phrase or gesture is magnified, and in which the brooding resentments that arise rush headlong to disaster.  This book gives insight into the aftermath of war that is often overlooked and into the social structure of the country that held individuals in a straitjacket of conformity.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mantel

Where were you when the world changed forever?  Kirsten Raymonde was eight years old and a child actress.  She is on stage in a production of King Lear when the main character, played by legendary actor, Arthur Leander, collapses and dies.  Jeevan Chaudhary, an EMT in training, is in the stage and attempts to give Arthur CPR.  Arthur's best friend, Clark Thompson, has sold out his artistic yearnings long ago and is now a management consultant.

What changes the world?  A disease with an innocent sounding name, the Georgia Flu.  But it's not mild and sunny; instead it is the most virulent strain of flu seen.  The survival rate?  One percent.  In a matter of days, ninety-nine percent of the world's population is gone.  Then everything else goes.  Flight, the Internet, communications, grocery stores, everything gone, gone, gone.  All that is left are the survivors, attempting to find ways to manage what life is left to them.

Kirsten joins a group of artists who move from settlement to settlement, called the Traveling Symphony.  Jeevan is now a settlement's nearest thing to a doctor, although the rigors of post-antibiotic and pain medicine surgery is daunting.  Clark was one of a group of people who were on the last flights, diverted to a small airport where they have been living for twenty years now.  In addition to being survivors, they are connected by a small comic series, Station Eleven, created by Arthur's first wife, about the rigors of living in a post-trauma world.  Once entertainment, the series is now inspiration.

The three come together to fight a threat, a Prophet who believes only he is right, and that everyone else must do what he commands.  As they do so, they continue to struggle towards a new life that can replace the one they lost.

Emily St. John Mantel is one of the best of the new novelists, and this is probably her breakout book.  Her writing is calm, moving on inevitably, taking the reader along.  Not a word is extra and the pace moves the story along quickly.  Her vision of what the world would look like after a disaster and how the survivors would interact and build something new is inspiring as well as chilling.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction as well as science fiction fans.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Year's Best Science Fiction And Fantasy, 2012 Edition, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Jonathan Strahan is known for his ability to select and collect the year's best stories in the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  He has done several of these volumes, and the 2012 edition is one of his best.  This is a long work, at 643 pages.  It includes established authors as well as new voices.  There is a good mix of male and female voices, as well as authors from diverse cultures.

The authors are: Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman, E. Lily Yu, Caitlin Kiernan, Karen Joy Fowler, Catherynne Valente, A.N. Owomoyela, Geoff Ryman, Hannu Rajaniemi, Paul McCauley, Peter Watts, Nalo Hopkinson, K.J. Parker, Kelly Link, Cory Doctorow, Michael Swanwick, M. Rickert, Ken Liu, Dylan Horrocks, Maureen McHugh, Peter Beagle, Jeffrey Ford, Stephen Baxter, Robert Reed, Robert Shearman, Bruce Sterling, Margo Lanagan, Libby Bray, Nnedi Okorafor, Ian McDonald, Kij Johnson and Ellen Klagesti.

In addition to diverse voices, Strahan has included an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction.  Some is science fiction written for the engineer and mathematician reader; some are dragon stories for fans of fantasies.  Some stories are very short while others are novella length.  My personal favorite was the one by Libby Bray in which a group of wild women banded together as thieves similar to Sundance and the Kid.  Every reader in these genres will find a story to love.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction and fantasy as well as those who enjoy anthologies and discovering new authors.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, December 22, 2014

It's the last post of books received for 2014! It's hard to believe another blogging year has come and gone.  Here's to all the great books of 2014 and the great books yet to come in 2015.  The following have come through the door:

1.  Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel, literary fiction, sent from Paperbackswap
2.  Principles Of Navigation, Lynn Sloan, literary fiction, sent for book tour
3.  Border Songs, Jim Lynch, literary fiction, sent from Paperbackswap
4.  The Iris Fan, Laura Joh Rowland, historical fiction, sent for book tour
5.  So Much For That, Lionel Shriver, literary fiction, sent from Paperbackswap
6.  The Wednesday Group, Sylvia True, sent by publisher
7.  The Devil You Know, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, mystery, sent by publisher
8.  The Body Snatchers Affair, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, mystery, sent by publisher
9.  At The Water's Edge, Sara Gruen, historical fiction, sent by publisher
10.  The Reawakening, Aric Carter, fantasy, sent by author
11.  The Secret Wisdom Of The Earth, Christopher Scotton, literary fiction, sent by publisher
12.  Fifty Mice, Daniel Pyne, mystery, sent by publisher
13.  The Gods Of Second Chances, Dan Berne, literary fiction, sent by publisher
14.  The Year Of Dan Palace, Chris Jane, literary fiction, sent by author
15.  Saving Grace, Jane Green, literary fiction, sent by publisher

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Innovators, Walter Issacson, Kindle
2.  Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter, paperback
3.  Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel, hardback
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  The Book Of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez, paperback
6.  What Has Become Of You, Jan Watson, hardback
7.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
8.  The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Kindle Fire
9.  The Black Country, Alex Grecian, paperback
10.  Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen, paperback
11.  The Perfect Stranger, Wendy Corsi Staub, paperback
12.  The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig, hardback
13.  The Killer Next Door, Alex Marwood, paperback
14.  Rescue, Anita Shreve, hardback
15.  Traitor's Blade, Sebastien de Castell, paperback
16.  The Sign Of The Book, John Dunning, hardback

Happy Reading!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Murder At The Book Group by Maggie King

When Hazel and Carlene become unhappy with the library's bookgroup, they decide to start their own.  They start a book group focusing on mysteries, taking turns hosting the club at the member's houses.  Most of their members are close friends or relatives and the group is a big success.  But this evening is different.  For some reason, Carlene is worked up, tearing a book to shreds.  That kind of attitude is one of the reasons the members didn't like the other group, so everyone is surprised and put off. 

The moment passes and the group moves on to a discussion of poisoning in books, specifically cyanide poisoning.  During the refreshment period, Carlene seems fine, serving the members food and drink, having her own special tea.  She asks to speak to Hazel in her office so the two leave for a moment.  Or so Hazel thinks.  Instead, Carlene collapses and dies before Hazel's eyes.  The verdict?  Cyanide poisoning.  Who did it?  The police believe it is suicide, as a note is found.

Hazel decides that she is in the best position to find out what really happened.  She and her cousin Lucy start to talk with everyone at the meeting and everyone who knew Carlene.  They quickly discover that she was not the reserved woman she seemed to be, but a woman who loved sex and who was not choosy about partners, taking husbands and boyfriends regardless of who else they were with.  She had affairs with co-workers and sons of friends, with strangers, with almost anyone.  Can Hazel and Lucy find out who was mad enough to take revenge?

Maggie King has written a mystery that seems more realistic than most mysteries.  The novel would be in the cozy category, with a cast of characters who each have a secret to hide.  King captures the inter-relationships that arise when people marry multiple times, and the way that a mystery can tear apart a social group.  This book is recommended for mystery readers.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Mabel Dagmar is sure someone has made a mistake.  She's a dowdy, scholarship student at her East Coast college, her parents and their dry-cleaning shop thousands of miles away back in Oregon.  Somehow she has ended up with Genevra Winslow for a roommate.  Genevra, or Ev, is gorgeous, smart, popular and very rich.  She knows how to handle any situation and cares not a whit for the rules and regulations of society.  Needless to say, the two girls have nothing in common.

But living together tends to eventually lead to friendships.  After Ev has a situation in which she needs a friend, the two girls become close.  So close that at the end of the year, Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at the Winslow summer enclave; a family tradition that goes back more than a century.  Mabel is entranced and excited; she falls headlong in love with the entire Winslow family and all the tradition and entitlement that huge family wealth seems to bring with it.

But as the summer goes on, Mabel starts to question the pleasant life into which she has landed.  There are family secrets that are kept by everyone to insure that life goes on as it always has.  Family comes first and everything else is a distant second.  When Mabel discovers one of the biggest family secrets of all, she must choose between what she knows is right and what her heart desires.  She discovers that doing the right thing could even expose her own secrets and she must decide what is most important to her in life.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore has written an intriguing family saga, one that draws the reader into the privileged world of the wealthy.  There is love, sex, intrigue, art, secrets, family relationships, betrayals and the realization that one is never an adult until they put aside the childish view of the world we grow up with.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those who enjoy family sagas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Hidden Ones by Nancy Madore

Nadia Adeine seems to have it all as the CEO of a rescue organization devoted to helping those whose lives are ruined by disasters.  On top of her work, she is beautiful and well off financially.  But none of those things mean much when Nadia finds herself kidnapped by a secret society, one that stretches back centuries to that of the Essenes.

The men who kidnapped her believe that Nadia is the embodiment of evil.  They believe in the Biblical stories of the angels set to watch the earth, and the children they sired, the Nephilim, when they couldn't resist the women of Earth.  The Nephilim were giants, much more powerful and intelligent than those around them.  They were able to advance the lives of ancient civilizations.  But like many powerful individuals, over time their good turned to evil as they insisted on remaining in control.  The angels were sent to find and destroy all the Nephilim.  The Nephilim didn't want to go, and as they were killed, their souls did not move on, but roamed the Earth, searching for bodies they could inhabit.  They became known as djinn or demons.

The kidnappers believe Nadia is the human embodiment of a famous, strong djinn named Lilith.  They also believe that Lilith and others like her are about to launch a terrorist attack that will decimate the West.  Can Nadia convince them she isn't who they think she is in time for them to work together to foil the attack?

The Hidden Ones is the first book in a planned trilogy by Nancy Madore.  Her interest in history and mythology has led her to write this series.  The book is compelling as well as interesting, making it difficult to put down.  The reader is drawn into the world inhabited by the Nephilim, and unable to leave without finding out what happens next.  This book is recommended for readers of Christian literature, and fans of mythology.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sold For Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robins

Life is hard in thirteenth century Italy, and especially for women, subject to the whims of any man in their orbit.  Laura is a slave girl, captured and enslaved by the men who killed her family.  Breaking free, Laura finds refuge with a woman healer who lives alone.  Crescia takes in Laura and acts as her mentor while shielding her from the slaver who searches for her.

Laura is interested in the healing Crescia does and as the years go by, the two manage to even get her an education and entry into the famed medical school in Salerno.  Laura becomes one of the few female physicians, renowned for her skill.  Her only regret is that she has no husband or child.

Laura leaves Salerno and moves elsewhere to make her career.  When a couple moves in next door, Laura befriends the wife and shepherds her through her first pregnancy.  But her motives are not beneficent; instead she claims the baby as her own in order to shield the husband from charges of thievery.

Laura takes the baby, a girl she names Bieta, back home to Salerno.  She is determined to protect Bieta from everything she has endured and to help her to also become a physician.  But Laura forgets the lesson learned from fairy tales.  Fate will have its way, regardless of human interference.

Madeleine Robins has created a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale and set it in medieval Italy and a historical novel of women's lives.  Laura is a strong woman, sometimes headstrong in her determination to wrest a life for herself and do the work she loves.  Her major flaw is that she is blindsided by the effort it took to win her life and unable to see that each person must follow their own dream, not that of someone else.  This book is recommended both for readers of historical fiction and those interested in retelling of familiar old tales.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Why are we so fascinated by Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson?  Countless movies, television shows and books have been written about this character.  Whether it is the old atmospheric movies starring Basil Rathbone or the newer ones starring Robert Downey, Jr., the television series such as the British Sherlock starring the irrepressible Benedict Cumberbatch or the American show Elementary featuring Jonny Lee Miller as the detective, we can't get enough of this character.  There are books written studying the phenomena and even books that claim to help you 'think like Sherlock Holmes'.  We love this character.

Anthony Horowitz has been authorized by the Doyle family to continue the series and give the reader new Sherlock stories.  Moriarty is his second Holmes novel after the success of the first, The House Of Silk.  In this novel, the story revolves about what happens after the climatic scene at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland when Sherlock and Moriarity tumble over the falls and are swallowed up by the mist. 

With the death of the two adversaries, a vacuum exists and we all know how nature views a vacuum.  Soon, another crime mastermind emerges and wrecks havoc in London.  Two detectives pair up to attempt to bring this new criminal to justice.  Frederick Chase is an American Pinkerton detective while Athelney Jones works at Scotland Yard and helped Sherlock on some cases.  Together they attempt to use the precepts they learned from Sherlock to solve the most infamous case since his fateful fall.

Horowitz has written a novel that will be must reading for Sherlock Holmes fans.  There are twists and turns and plot secrets but all along the motto remains the same; the most famous Sherlock maxim: "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."  I've always been a huge fan as are many IT employees.  Holmes' use of logic over emotion and rationality as king is a huge attraction.  This book is recommended both for diehard Holmes fans and for mystery readers new to the characters.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

A fifteen-year old teenager, Holly Sykes, runs away from home.  Her parents disapprove of her boyfriend and she is ready to chuck school and everything else for him.  When she discovers that he is not as entranced with her, she takes off to show everyone how much they will miss her.  Holly isn't your normal English teenager.  She has always been the one who knows a little too much; psychic phenomena surround her.  Holly isn't sure if the voices she hears are real, but she knows she hears them.

When Holly returns home after a weekend on her own, it is to a changed world.  Her family has been disrupted and things will never return to normal.  Holly is also changed and as she becomes an adult, she enters the life of various individuals, who are also changed by meeting her.  These individuals return throughout her life, with actions in one decade echoing and returning in later ones.  Holly is the nucleus; the focus of two groups of mystics; one who wants to help humanity while another wishes only to prey upon it.  Both regard Holly as a pivotal player in the fight for dominance.

David Mitchell is one of the finest novelists working today.  His prose is always entrancing; the reader led along only to be surprised at the destination at which they arrive.  This is his first entry into fantasy, although some would put his novel Cloud Atlas in that category.  Like that novel, this one depends on interrelated stories and relationships to advance the narrative and the reader is not disappointed at the end result.  This book has been longlisted for the Mann Booker Prize for 2014 and is a highly original work.  It is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The River Of Souls by Robert McCammon

In 1703, there is more scope in society for a man such as Matthew Corbett.  Matthew is what he calls a 'problem-solver', someone who those in need can turn to when life has thrown them a curve ball.  As the novel begins, Corbett is given an easy assignment.  A rich man in Charles Town, South Carolina, wants to hire Corbett to escort his daughter to a local ball.  Corbett, at loose ends after a difficult assignment, agrees since it seems a good break from his usual strenuous work, although he expects that the daughter must be very unattractive indeed if her father is reduced to hiring out of towners to escort her.

When Corbett meets the young lady, he is astonished to find that she is gorgeous.  They go to the ball, where he discovers the reason she needs a paid escort.  A local man, huge and unsocial, has decided that he will marry the rich debutante and challenges anyone who escorts her to a duel.  Matthew defeats this man, Magnus Muldoon, in a duel of wits as he realizes that the lady enjoys the attention way too much and there is no reason for bloodshed.

But blood is shed.  The daughter of a local plantation owner is murdered, and a slave is suspected.  The slave, along with his father and brother, have run away.  The plantation owner sets a reward for their return, one so high that an entire group of trackers and local men start after them.  They quickly see that the slaves have run away up the local Solstice River, which is known as The River Of Souls and is widely suspected of being cursed.  Matthew teams up with Muldoon, who he has befriended after the dance fiasco.

This starts an adventure that quickly turns Corbett's easy trip into a nightmare.  The group encounters aggressive Indians, snakes, alligators, quicksand, impenetrable bush, and a terror known as the Soul Cryer.  Then there is the human treachery and greed to content with.  Men start to drop and soon Corbett and Muldoon wonder if they will ever leave the River Of Souls alive.

This is the fifth book in Robert McCammon's Matthew Corbett series.  Matthew is an unusual man who lives by his wits but isn't afraid to get physical when needed.  Characters from the earlier books make an appearance but don't affect the reader's ability to read this novel as a stand-alone.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction or suspense. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Booksie's Shelves, December 3, 2014

December already!  It's hard to believe 2014 is almost over but it's been a year full of great reading.  For the first time I can remember, I'm not requesting any books this year.  I'm overwhelmed with the stacks already here and need to make a major dent in what I already own. At last count, I have around 6500 books in my physical library and about 1500 ebooks so it's time to start widdling the stacks down. I read and review everything I accept, but have become more selective in what I accept since the early days of blogging.  On the other hand, I have just joined the Kindle Unlimited program once I realized that some of the books were audio and that I could listen to them while I exercise.  I'd been going to the library to get audiobooks, and really, that is like setting a child loose in a toy shop so the Kindle Unlimited option will work better for me.  Here's what's come through the door lately:

1.  Grown Ups, Robin Antalek, women's literature, sent by publisher
2.  Hush Hush, Laura Lippman, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  The Kind Worth Killing, Peter Swanson, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  The Wilderness Of Ruin, Roseanne Montillo, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  The Fragile World, Paula DeBoard, literary fiction, sent by a friend
6.  Everlasting Lane, Andrew Lovett, literary fiction, sent by publisher
7.  The Barter, Siobhan Adcock, suspense, sent by publisher
8.  Well In Time, Suzan Still, historical fiction, sent by author
9.  Alphabet House, Jussi Adler-Olsen, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  Lost And Found, Brooke Davis, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  The Pocket Atlas Of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky, travel and reference, 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 River Of Souls, Robert McCammon, paperback
4.  The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Kindle Fire
5.  Sold For Endless Rue, Madeleine Robins, hardback
6.  The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell, hardback
7.  The Rise And Fall Of Great Powers, Tom Rachman, paperback
8.  The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Kindle Fire
9.  Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whitemore, paperback
10.  The Hidden Ones, Nancy Madore, paperback
11.  The Perfect Stranger, Wendy Corsi Staub, paperback
12.  The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig, hardback

 Happy Reading!